Maybe Next Year

I cringed when I saw the cover of the new issue of Scientific American. Trying to predict what technology will be like 50, 100, 0r 150 years in the future is a parlor game, not a serious intellectual exercise.

To understand why, you need only read a little 1950s-era science fiction. The predictions made by the authors about what the 21st century would be like were not just wrong — they were wildly, spectacularly wrong, by turns far too bold and not nearly bold enough.

My favorite example is Isaac Asimov’s early stories about robots. He built his robots’ brains using vacuum tubes, because the transistor hadn’t yet been invented, much less the IC chip. And yet, sixty or seventy years down the line, we still don’t have autonomous thinking machines of the kind Asimov envisioned. He had not the shadow of a clue about the real technological difficulties over which he was leapfrogging.

The migration of humans to colonies in space has been a staple of science fiction for close to a century, yet none of the authors who have written about it has come close to grappling with the real issues, which are probably more economic than technological, though the technological challenges are beyond imagining. And yet, here is Scientific American blathering about “starship humanity.”

Dissecting the rosy vision of space exploration in this article would be an amusing exercise, but it would take days. There’s a howler in almost every paragraph. Author Cameron Smith imagines Mars colonies staffed mainly by “farmers and construction workers,” which sounds reasonable if you limit your vision to the tasks that colonists would have to spend most of their time on. But who on Earth is going to pay untold billions of dollars to put a handful of farmers and construction workers in sustainable habitats on Mars? Smith has not a word to say about the (if you’ll pardon the term) astronomical costs of such a project.

As a matter of strict fact, we don’t even know how to build a sealed, sustainable habitat here on Earth, where gravity and loss of air pressure are not issues, and where you can pop open the hatch and call a taxi to take you to the doctor if you get in serious trouble. The experiment has been tried. It failed.

Nor does Smith spare a word for the benefits that might accrue to those who shoulder the costs and brave the dangers. Why? Because we don’t know of any benefits. The central error in which visionaries of this ilk wallow, consciously or unconsciously, is that they romantically imagine that colonizing space will be pretty much like how the Europeans colonized the Western Hemisphere.

Guess what, folks: Mars ain’t like that. There are no trees. There’s no water and no air. There’s no dirt to plant crops in, and no animals to hunt for food or hides. I’m imagining a short story — hell, I ought to write it — in which a settler in Kentucky, circa 1760, is offered a chance to go to Mars. I imagine him asking a few pointed questions about what he’ll find when he gets there, and then, when he hears the answers, spitting a chaw of tobacco on the ground, picking up his flintlock musket, jamming his coonskin cap on his head, and saying as he stalks away, “Hell, what kind of idiot would I have to be to want to go to a place like that?”

He’d be right.

Smith goes into some detail about the likely genetic changes that space colonists would undergo, if there were ever to be any space colonists. (I’m not betting on it.) He seems to be a credentialed expert. Yet his vision is oddly stunted. His discussion of embryonic development, for instance, when women start getting pregnant in space, is based on our current, very fragmentary understanding of this enormously complex process. As we learn from reading science fiction, basing your predictions about the future on what is known today is just plain stupid, because there’s waaaaay too much that we don’t know. As Donald Rumsfeld might put it, we’re neck-deep in unknown unknowns.

Or consider Smith’s notion about how humanity will evolve in space: “The only thing we can predict with confidence is selection for increased resistance to radiation damage. Some people have better and more active DNA-repair mechanisms than others, and they will be more likely to pass their genes on.” He may be right about DNA repair mechanisms — I wouldn’t know. But the bland phrase, “they will be more likely to pass their genes on,” conceals a grim reality: fatal childhood cancers. Because that’s how genes don’t get selected for in a population — people with less advantageous genes die before they reproduce.

“Oh, but Jim, you’re being too pessimistic! We’ll be able to examine an individual’s genome and find out if he or she doesn’t have the right genes to survive radiation. Then that person can be advised not to have children.” Yeah, right. There’s a fatal flaw in this happy-face scenario. Are the space colonists going to happily sit back and accept the verdict of the Genetic Screening Board that they’re not fit to reproduce? In case you hadn’t noticed, human beings (like all other animals and plants) have a strong drive to reproduce. So people will be having outlaw babies because their instincts leave them no choice, but as it turns out, the Genetic Screening Board was right, so lots of babies will die of cancer. Babies with cancer — thank you for this charming vision, Mr. Smith.

Cameron Smith really seems to have no grasp whatever of the enormous difficulties past which he is careening — but the reason is not hard to guess. He’s a professional crystal ball gazer. He gets paid to come up with these predictions. If he threw up his hands in exasperation and said, “Shit, nobody knows,” he’d be out of a job.

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12 Responses to Maybe Next Year

  1. rosieoliver says:

    The best place to go to next for mankind isn’t Mars, but Callisto, one of the Jovian moons. It solves the radiation problem. Getting there is the difficult, but surmountable part. As to why would mankind go there? Well, apart from the obvious avoidance of the climate change disasters that are likely (but not definitely going) to happen, there’s in the longer term the rather too hot death of our Sun and in the shorter term overcrowding of our current habitat. You might even be lucky and have some privately financed adventurers go there in search of mining helium 3 from the Jovian gas clouds to export back to Earth for fusion energy generation (though Uranus and Neptune would be better planets to do this from).

    …I’m beginning to think, from your description above, I would have made a better job of the article in Scientific American. And all I’m doing is using common sense and extrapolation of current technologies. Let’s not go into disruptive technologies at this stage…

    • midiguru says:

      Helium mining is one of the few valid reasons I can think of to head out to Jupiter. It shocks me that this completely non-renewable resource is for sale, cheap, at supermarkets (in the form of balloons). With respect to your other points —

      1) No conceivable change in the climate on Earth could make it a hundredth as inhospitable as Mars or Callisto.

      2) The best estimates of the death of the sun suggest that it won’t occur for a couple of billion years yet. This is not a reason to spend hundreds of billions of dollars on a complex and difficult project. If you hanker after a complex and difficult space-based project, I suggest you think about building a system for the destruction of incoming asteroids. An asteroid impact that would end life as we know it is far more likely in the medium timeframe (a few million years) than the death of the sun.

      3) Overcrowded habitat? Sorry, but this is absolutely the weakest and least plausible reason to ponder space colonization that I can think of. How many babies do you think are born every minute? A couple of hundred, if not more. Per minute. Can you even imagine the size of the space project that would be needed to find extra-terrestrial homes for hundreds of new human beings every MINUTE? I can’t. It’s simply beyond imagining. No, space colonization will never have even a speck of impact on overpopulation.

      4) No, I don’t think getting there is the difficult part. STAYING there is the difficult part. We have no idea at all how to build a sealed, sustainable habitat. 100% efficient recycling of air and water and turning shit into compost (again with 100% efficiency, not 99%) are well beyond our current capabilities. We don’t even know what problems might appear that would require the redesign of such a system after it was already up and running. And don’t forget — dead people will also go into the compost heap, because their bodies contain valuable trace minerals. In effect, our imaginary space pioneers will be cannibals, and they’ll know it. Then there’s the need for a permanent source of energy. Solar power is not going to work on Callisto. Nuclear? As we’re now discovering, the problems that develop when a reactor goes bad are NOT something any sane person wants to take a chance on. (And yes, if you think nuclear power is just dandy and can be made 100% reliable, I’d say you’re insane. Sorry.)

      By all means, read the article. I’d love to see Scientific American barraged with critical mail. I’ve already sent them a brief email of the type that’s phrased so it can be published, but I didn’t take them to task on the details.

      • rosieoliver says:

        Helium 3 is an isotope of Helium and a rare one at that, which is why there is a need to go off-Earth for it (the Sun generates a higher ratio of Helium 3 to other helium isotopes which is why one of the suggestions for mining it was to sweep it up off the moon).

        Agreed the current estimate for the Sun becoming too hot is way way in the future… there is a but of very small probability though – we don’t know enough about the Sun’s functionality to be definite that it won’t suddenly be triggered to get very hot in the short term. The usual sunspot cycle has recently shown that it is not as predictable as it was at one time hoped.

        On overcrowding – depends how desperate people are for peace and quiet!

        Ships are supposed to have waterproof hulls… but they aren’t. That’s why they have things like bilge pumps. Also why are you assuming 100% recycling for the habitats? The nuclear power you are considering is the traditional fission power and would agree with you on that side of things. Nuclear fusion power is slowly being developed and there are promising signs in the research labs that it will eventually work. It does not have the poisonous by-products of the nuclear fission power generation.

        As for the size of the project… well at one time ships only used to be able to carry a few hundred… now they build big ones that can carry thousands. The rate of transferral will depend on economic factors.

      • midiguru says:

        Thanks for your comments! This is an interesting topic. I’m quite cynical as a rule, as I’m sure you can tell. Fusion power might be a solution. Building arbitrarily large spaceships wouldn’t really solve the population problem, however, not if rocket engines are being used for propulsion. The rocket exhaust alone would cause so much pollution that lifting even 1,000 people a day into near-Earth orbit, let alone 1,000 per hour, would make the project non-feasible, to say nothing of the need to educate tens of thousands of emigrants in how to survive in their new habitat.

        The main reason I’m envisioning 100% recycling is because of the prohibitive cost of lifting food and other materials up from Earth to the colonies. Ultimately, they have to be self-sufficient. Sure, if you have a source of water ice that can be purified, or a source of carbon, phosphorous, sodium, sulfur, and so forth, those can be drawn upon to make up for any wastage, but mining for useful substances and then processing them into usable form would be another huge expense. And then … why? What’s the point, when it would be so much easier to keep our own planet habitable?

        But really, the problems are economic and political. We don’t have the kind of infrastructure that would allow such a project even to be launched.

      • rosieoliver says:

        It depends what rocket fuels you are using and where those fuels come from. In the short term the Skylon space plane will be start the process of putting the necessary infrastructure into Earth orbit – estimated to be in service by 2020 (See Reaction Engines Limited – REL website for more detail). After that there’s the space elevators. Various designs have already been proposed and one Japanese company has said it wants its elevator up and running b 2050, though in my opinion the design they published was a bit out of date with current thinking – so I would expect them to improve it. The British Interplanetary Society has proposed a variant using balloons as part of the elevator’s infrastructure, which has some eco-engineering logic behind it.

        We don’t need to lift all materials from Earth – what we need to lift is the wherewithal to mine and process materials. Water deposits have been found at the poles- the Moon’s ice can act as a starter point to help get the population into space. However, that doesn’t stop us mining chunks of ice from the rings around the planets and asteroids – one story by Asimov (sorry, can’t remember the title off hand) made this very point exceedingly well.

        If there’s water ice, you can also process it for oxygen – yes it’ll take energy, but the interesting thing that nobody seems yet to have realised is that the wherewithal to produce energy is fairly abundant in the Solar System – so water and oxygen would not in the longer term be a problem. Nor by similar argument would carbon, nitrogen and hydrogen extraction be so problematic – i.e. we can make human protein and energy molecules. The real problems come with the trace minerals (especially for the heavier elements), the radiation (see previous note about going to Callisto rather than Mars because of this – this is a NASA conclusion by the way) and complexity of the automation required to support human life.

        I could go on ad nauseum… but given so few people read my science fiction stories, I suspect my message about it can all be done on the engineering side of things within several centuries would not be heard. So I’ll stop here.

      • midiguru says:

        I’m very skeptical about the elevator concept, for reasons of engineering and also economics. Tidal forces, unpredictable strong winds in the stratosphere, and significant expansion and contraction due to heating and cooling are all factors. Also ongoing maintenance and repair, because you REALLY don’t want the thing falling down. More important, perhaps, it’s very unclear to me how the cost/benefit analysis works out. Such a structure would only be economically feasible if the return on the investment was fairly easy for investors to see — nobody is going to invest hundreds of billions of dollars in order to lift a few tons of freight up to a space station now and then. What this means is that a space elevator (if technically feasible) will be built only AFTER there is already a significant commercial demand for it.

        I’ll buy the idea that a sufficiently advanced mining operation could supply an off-world base with needed materials on an ongoing basis. What I don’t buy is, again, the idea that there’s any reason to build and maintain such a base — other than pure ego, I suppose. “Because it’s there” applies as well to Mars as to Mount Everest, but climbing Everest is a stroll in the park compared to colonizing Mars, and an Everest expedition can be put together by a single rich person or a small group. It’s fairly unlikely that a single rich person or small group will ever have enough resources to build a Mars colony. An individual or small group landing on Mars purely to prove it can be done — yeah, that might happen someday. I’ll buy that scenario. But where’s the economic incentive to build a permanent base ANYWHERE off-world (Moon, Mars, Callisto, Titan, take your pick)?

  2. Ron Greenman says:

    The devil is always in the details. Jules Verne envisioned a giant cannon to shoot a New York men’s club sitting room to the moon. We did get to the moon, but not by cannon shot nor in such comfortable digs. We’re not so far from the computer Tom Cruise uses in Minority Report. Leonardo da Vinci’s parachute and airplane were both toys but I’ve used both and both were used by my grandfather. Fulton’s Folly? I’m not saying anything this guy is proposing is possible, probable, or even reasonable, but he is talking about the future and my or your predictions contrary to his is are as likely or unlikely. Remember that famous bit about the moon landing when kennedy said it would be done by the end of the decade about to do it we’d have to do something that was never done (put a person into space), with things that hadn’t been thought of, using materials that hadn’t been invented. Somehow those guys pulled it off, a lot of them working down on East Avenue when we were still kids.

    • midiguru says:

      All predictions and prognostications, including mine, are subject to cancellation without notice. I’m happy to pour a little cold water on simplistic optimism, though, just on general principles. It seems to me — again, based on my reading of SF from the ’50s and ’60s — that most predictions prove wildly wrong, in one way or another and usually in several ways at once. Many SF writers in the ’50s told stories about a future moon landing, but none of them predicted that it would be televised. Another favorite example of mine is the “two-way wrist TV” used in the Dick Tracy comic strip in the ’60s. Today such devices, while not worn on the wrist, are commonplace — and far from being a tool of law enforcement, as predicted in Dick Tracy, they’re the bane of law enforcement because they allow ordinary citizens to record abuses.

      There were a lot of SF stories written in the late ’60s and early ’70s about free love. None of them predicted the AIDS epidemic. For that matter, I don’t recall any that really addressed the issue of the mating instinct (as opposed to the sex instinct). And of course all of that “free love” in the stories was heterosexual, though Poul Anderson, if memory serves, did a wonderful, and at the time very controversial, story called “The Lovebirds” about homophobia.

      • Ron Greenman says:

        Lots of specific predictions fail because of the types of things you cite. Trends are a little more reliable to predict as they pushed along by the current way the wind is blowing but are subject the stray breezes that no one anticipated throwing he trend off course. A recent futurist book I enjoyed was “The Next One-Hundred Years.” The guy does make solid cases for the concepts and does keep reiterating that the details are there to flesh out the trend and keep the narrative entertaining, but won’t necessarily play out exactly as he describes. He does, though, fail to even disclaim that the trends could be utterly changed by events not anticipated. You’ll like this block of quotes:

        And I don’t read much science fiction, hell I don’t have much time to read at all without being noticed “doing nothing” and being given some chore, …so don’t complain too much about your solitary status, I pine for it often and grew into wanting it, imagine the shock to your system, at your age and after years of adjusting to such a lifestyle to having someone constantly around who, more often than not, does not fit into that fantasy, no matter how liberal you’ve devised it, of compatibility you envision… Oops, way off track. Apologies….

        And I don’t read much science fiction but I always did like Poul Anderson and Larry Niven.

      • midiguru says:

        There are trends, and then there are trends. Again I have recourse to the thin smattering of ’50s SF that I’ve read. It’s notable, I think, that while the men in those stories were zipping around in their flying atomic-powered cars, all the women were at home wearing aprons and saying, “Yes, dear, have a wonderful time on Mars.” Also, the men wore hats and smoked cigarettes. Women’s liberation — a trend that was not predicted. Neither, I’m sure, was the extent of racial integration that we have today (such as it is). We owe that trend in some small part to the original Star Trek, which _did_ get it right.

        I had dinner with Larry Niven once. That would have been in 1985, I think. WorldCon, or perhaps it was some other Con, was at the Claremont in Oakland that year, and my first novel had just been published, and my editor (who went on to bigger and better things at Del Rey — she was a go-getter, as I wasn’t) managed to get me a seat at a banquet table with Niven and Pournelle. I remember nothing except that they both got rather drunk. Well, I also remember Niven yelling something or other at Harlan Ellison, probably, “Sit down!”, but Ellison was across the room, not at our table.

  3. As usual, it seems, by the third PP I both strongly agreed and disagreed with you. It is not just a parlor game. Asimov not only inspired many of the roboticists that have made his work seem so dated, but in his laws of robotics he asked some very important questions that are still badly in need of an answer. Life and art imitate each other, so it is impossible to know how things would have proceeded without him. Would not the satellite have been invented without Clarke? who knows?

    All too often all science fiction is either describing essentially technology we already have, or never will, and usually a combination of both. Nonetheless, one is limited by the imagination of one’s audience and one’s self. One should not write fiction about the fourth century in Angle-Land in what one might imagine Anglo Saxon to have been at the time, any more than one would write up an anthropological dig of the period in Latin of the time.

    A properly written story, one could say, of the period 50 years hence would read as surreal, one would not know what is imaginary and what is real. Of course, none of it would be real, and chaos will rob even the most visionary work of any realism if set in the future. Increasingly this is true of the near future as well. Nonetheless, I find it very interesting to try.

    Sci Am should stick to reporting in my opinion, they once did an unparalleled job. Speculation is something they do not do well. I will probably read this article, so thanks for the heads up to keep my eye peeled for all the laughs.

    Mars colony?: also no natives to show us how to live and what to eat, then to die from our diseases and hatreds. Way station to the asteroids? why not on the moons instead? why not the asteroids that are inclined to hit us first? Maybe after we have mined the asteroids that cross our path this might make sense, but how or why? we have no way to imagine reasonably.

    Hey Newt, remember the bio-dome? why haven’t we colonized Antarctica, if we’re so ready for Mars???

    I think this kind of projection of current culture and human biology, and/or reiteration of past SF memes, is what is wrong with our present. We absolutely have no realistic comprehension of what we actually face, even in the very very near future, and it is due largely to such (mis)prognostication as Smith’s as you cite it here.

    It is quickly coming to a point where our ignorance about the future does not extend past the current year, if we are not already there. Without dealing with this issue itself, or at least glossing over it by assuming it has been dealt with, and incorporating the means to do so into one’s vision of future culture, one is writing pulp, and it may as well read similar to Flash Gordon.

    To me SF is about speculation on science, environmental constraints, and culture, none of which is meaningful without dealing with political realities and how they might change.

    In terms of leaving the Earth to survive our own repercussions? As far as we have come in mastering the destruction of our life support systems, and increasing the likelihood that we will extinguish ourselves, or even Earth’s ability to sustain us, even if it was our sole intent to do so we still have a long way to go towards making this planet less inhabitable than anywhere else we know of. Even after a all out thermonuclear war, it would be much cheaper, much easier, much more sustainable, to find a way to survive on Earth. I once heard a radio version of a short story, Bucket of Air, about a past future where Earth left it’s orbit and the atmosphere froze solid. Even such an Earth as this would be easier to live with than to leave.

    Fact is, until we can farm in orbit we have a very very long way to go before colonization, which I would define as farming, and raising children, off Earth.

    Our schedule for making Earth inhospitable to vertebrates is on a much shorter timetable, as is our ongoing plan to have all earthlings subsumed by the conglomerate’s robotic apparatus and computer mind. As I said before, politics is the key, and we already have a single conglomerate, precisely to the degree that corporations own the most powerful government, and the most corporations already have their business models, and inter-corporate interactions, codified in software and hardware networks.

    We’ve been losing well over 200 species a day for over two decades now, any day now we will all wake up on a Mars-like Venus; let’s focus on how we can learn to organize ourselves to consider, and survive, our own ramifications right here and now. Sci Fi can help with that, but as it has been televised so far, it has only exacerbated the real issues of confusion and control.

    The discussion is even better than the post.

    Helium; Yeah, just a few years from running out of helium, and DARPA is still planning current and future generations of hover-“drones” (autonomous bots), costing unimaginable amounts to build, and having already spent billions to design, which rely entirely upon it, and people are still giving away helium balloons as cheap advertising. If this is an accurate predictor of how things are going to be, as consumer prices completely ignore growing scarcities, we might as well give up the ghost right now.

    We’ll be happily solving pop gro with Soylent Green long before we can build off world habit fast enough to dent it.

    People just don’t get the whole bio-dome experiment, because the actual results, of the actual experiment, don’t create the news views, or the funding, that a human interest tourist attraction does. Fact is, currently, “staying there” in a hermetically sealed environment of attainable size is not an option, even on Earth. Anyone who has kept enough aquariums, or is familiar with the most important aspects of microecologies residing in humans, is well aware of the extreme management of population dynamics involved. The microbiotic issues within each body pale in comparison to closed ecologies of larger organisms like humans and stuff they can eat. It is not impossible that we will comprehend these issues under sufficient duress, but, once again, such understandings will be far more profitably put to use ameliorating the original issues, here, on Earth. Mining near Earth’s orbit asteroids to live in near Earth orbit remains an essential first step to humans reproducing any elsewhere.

    I’m starting to wonder whether I haven’t already read a Jim Aikin story or two, for I suck at remembering names, even those I want to recommend reading, esp. when it comes to fiction that is not iconic-ally famous.

    It’s not that we can’t recycle our wastes into food, it’s just getting increasingly hard to do it even here on Earth, where species diversity is already being drastically reduced, while the same human induced changes are also fostering opportunistic organisms simply by the simplification and yet constant rapid change we spew like so much landfilled garbage.

    It’s not just about pathogenic organisms and dangerous lack of diversity and stable populations, it’s the nitrates and nitrites that ultimately make every component of a closed system weak. These things are all about lots of open space and lots of energy (preferably direct solar) throughput. There is no way that built habitats off-planet can contain a fraction of a percent of our growth, much less sustain it for any length of time. Diseases, trace reactive gasses, and other similar issues would be constantly blowing up into priority catastrophes, sooner or later we would get hit from both sides of one or more problems at once, and either return home or die trying.

    It’s not unimaginable that we will solve these issues and become a space faring ecology, it’s just extreeeemly unlikely we will do so without first being able to, and practicing, confront(ing) these issues on the much easier larger scale of sustaining our lives on this planet. Think population growth is a serious problem on Earth? try building a bio-dome that can be inhabited independently for a year, much less one you can add to, and raise in, a single infant, to maturity. Confronting near term population growth is the easiest challenge to moving off world.

    RosieOliver: again, you cannot conflate colonizing the “new” world with colonizing space. Bilge pumps do not remove the water from the Earth’s system, this is why we can build ever bigger ships; which even now is already seriously constrained by the limits of materials science. mining also would create more waste. Again, niether of us is saying we can’t ever colonize off Earth, just that we cannot do so as an immediate response to our current ongoing ramifications upon Earth until we have mastered those very same issues here. Again, in both cases the main issues are of actual practicing culture and politics, not theory nor engineering challenges.

    Fusion would solve many of these issues, potentially “burning” some problematic elements and compounds into other elements, if the results can be usefully separated.

    An effective elevator to orbit (also “invented” by Clarke) would solve some of these issues for near Earth colonization based mainly on near Earth asteroids, but besides sending asteroid mined materials to earth there is little economic rational for even such a more modest start. I also find the concept hard to imagine, but it is possible that future composite materials based on very long and strong carbon crystal backboned molecules may do the trick someday not to far away. Still, such tech could be better put first to use solving our issues here on Earth. With refined metals being dropped to Earth from orbit on the “return” trip, we could drive it relatively cheaply. In this way, as usual, it is far easier for me to see off world colonization as resulting from a larger system that includes, and is focused on, sustaining life on Earth. Again I agree, this is something that will follow on the economic needs and demands of such things as mining asteroids and processing Earth-bound ores into metals in orbit.

    Ron Greenman: The Apollo program did not have, nor even try, to solve the economic and political problems of our culture that so many assume will drive us into space, but colonizing “space” will have to.

    In 1982 many of my best hopes for a technical solution were collapsed by legislation of ridiculous patent guidelines for the genetic engineering industry. Since then I am convinced that all our problems are actually political ones. We have more technical solutions than we know what to do with, global warming and population are both excellent examples of issues that are no longer questions of how, but are all about why, we do what we do.

    I think Orwell’s 1984 is among the best examples of how predictions go wrong. Life imitating art is no small part of the chaos involved in prognostications not being born out.

    Dick Tracy watches are not just the bane of law enforcement, they also ARE law enforcement. Until open source ware becomes the norm such technologies will constrict our economics and politics as much, or more, than liberate or equalize it.

    To sum up, it’s too easy to just quote, and second, the last comment above:

    “while the men in those stories were zipping around in their flying atomic-powered cars, all the women were at home wearing aprons and saying, “Yes, dear, have a wonderful time on Mars.” Also, the men wore hats and smoked cigarettes. Women’s liberation — a trend that was not predicted. Neither, I’m sure, was the extent of racial integration that we have today (such as it is). We owe that trend in some small part to the original Star Trek, which _did_ get it right.”

    I still think Star Trek sucks, but I watched it. The ongoing series of series hardly managed to keep current with the interface technology of the day, and there was too much delay between introducing a tech, like replicators, and it’s obvious ramifications, like ablative armor, but they did manage to postulate a different economic and political culture even though based on rather silly expectations about command structures and boat-loads of people doing what one robot could do much better.

    Star Trek exemplifies the problem, exacerbated by the fact that good sci fi is only now beginning to be put on “film”. The expectations of the audience, and limitations of the writer define the genre, and excellence is defined, for me, be the ability for one’s imagination to rise above, and be prodded to rise further, by an attempt to make a good story about how culture and technology changes may intertwine to produce a possible future. Despite the impossibility of real success at prognostication without divine assistance (which I deem unlikely o exist), I find that SF is fertile ground for either speculation, or a good story. The rare true success is when both of these goals are somewhat approximated.

    Commercial success? that’s a whole ‘nother story, though without it one cannot even approach the greatest goal of culture or art, especially SF itself, to effect and/or affect positive change.

  4. Bummer, I’m several years to late to join this conversation!

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