11/1/07

the Science Fiction club

    Sometimes, your mind can be just wandering, as you browse through old books or magazines. Something you find in and expected place will open a new viewpoint.  And something you find in the most unexpected place will change your life. 
    At the Baltimore Book Fair last year, the best booth belonged to the Science Fiction club.  Why was it the best one, in my humble?  They were giving away free books and magazines.  I picked up a sack full of old Analogs, Asimovs, and Fantasies.  By "old", I mean 1978 vintage old. 
    The expected epiphany was to read or re-read these 30 year old stories that were written then as if they would be written in the future.  Reading these stories today, I am empowered with vision and observation that the writers couldn't have but wished that they had. 
    Observations such as "the engineer picked his teeth with his slide-rule."  (Written before calculators.)  Or a scene where the main character has all sorts of high-tech gear, like video cameras in his eyeglass frames, but he needs to find a phone booth to make a phone call.   But in defense of the writer, the phone booth had video-phone capability. 
    A similar observation takes place with a re-reading of Clark's epic 2001, A Space Odyssey.  Why Dr. Clark placed his novel at the turn of the century I don't know, but as of that date we neither have manned expeditions to Jupiter nor Moon bases, nor thinking computers.  Computer programming is still at the level of a glorified library card index.  Computers still can not think, although pattern recognition programming technology is fairly well advanced. 
    At the 1939 World's Fair in New York, it was predicted that by 2001 everyone would commute to work in a "flying car".  So, where is my flying car? 
    Two aspects of living.  First, living in the present and reading about the future.  A science fiction story, a good one, will transport your to the future of the author's design. 
    Or, living in the future and reading about the future.  By this, I mean reading these old science fiction stories.   Not only judging how the author did or didn't get it right, but also looking at your own time from your own past.  It doesn't matter whether the story brings me my flying car or an atomic desolation and despair.  Expectations and hopes dashed; fears unrealized. 
    Looking back at today, I think that things have not changed that much.  If at all.  If anything has changed, it is I, and only in a few aspects.  I have become more observant, and less angry.  But that is another  blog.
    Things have not changed.  Things like relationships.  I was disappointed to read in the newspaper today that echs percent of our city's youth do not graduate High School, are in jail, and so on.  What happened to raising the younger generation to love, be happy, self motivated and successful, as we all promised to raise our kids when we were all starting out?  We failed to be any different than our parents, and it looks like our kids will fail to be any different than us.  In that respect. 
    My first transistor radio; I was in the fourth grade; I soldered a good pair of headphones to a jack that fit the radio; I walked around with it.  The adults and the other kids thought me as a geek.  Of course, twenty or thirty years later, everyone I know walks around with headphones.  I should have written a science fiction story about a world where everyone wears headphones - it would have been right on the money.  Ray Bradbury, in his Fahrenheit 451, has a character that listens constantly to a radio the size of a hearing aid, stuck away in her ear. 
    Some SF stories talk about overcrowding overpopulation.  People living on top of each other, little personal space.  All of the land covered in buildings.  I love it; when I close the story and come back to the real world, it is like time travel back to a simpler time.  That's right, the real world is like living in the past for me.  Example: Huck Finn by Mark Twain.  Huck and Jim float on a raft down the Mississippi, and go for miles without seeing any towns or settlements.  Try that today.  You probably couldn't get away from man-done development.  I would guess (although I haven't been there) that you would constantly see buildings and roads as you floated down the river.  Jim today would not get a mile down the river before the slave cops pulled him in.  But that is just part of the beauty.  Living in 1850 with Huck and Tom, and predicting that the riversides would be very developed by 2007, the author would predict how slaves would be guarded and protected on a much better level.  In 2007, Jim would just not be able to get away. 
    Sometimes, I picture myself, coming from the future, an overpopulated, crowded future.  And now, thank Heaven I have arrived a hundred and fifty years in the past, in 2007, where there is still undeveloped space and relatively fresh air.  Like Captain Kirk, who was born in Iowa but works in space, I (imagine that I) live in the future but sleep in the present.  Thus, reading science fiction makes one appreciate the present. 

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