Wednesday, 21 December 2011

What Happened?

Have you had a stroll through the Science Fiction section of your local bookshop lately?
What happened to all those 'hard' scifi stories we used to gobble up? Authors like Heinlein and Asimov; tales of adventure in shiny new futures fully equipped with magical technology?
It's becoming quite difficult to find SF works by modern authors where the action is dependant on the fruits of our science, isn't it? More common by far are the archaic revival stories: wizards, dragons, wights, mystical lands which all seem modelled on the Sword In The Stone or, worse, on a Tolkien novel.
Sometimes I fail to distinguish between one of these modern authors and another.

What happened?

Having just finished a really good book by an author who is (perhaps surprisingly) new to me - Embassytown by China Mieville - I was wondering what happened to all our dreams of the future, and why we are chasing that rabbit back down the hole in the wall which leads to the land of wonder.

By "we" I mean, mostly, folks of my generation and the one before. The seemingly endless upward curve of humanity's technical ingenuity was the theme-setter for those halcyon days of hard science fiction and children who watched Moon landings. We looked forward to a future in which we had the fundamentals of human health under our control, where clever and universally available gadgetry would make the Earth a paradise. For humans, sure. Today, one of the commonest droll sayings from a Baby Boomer seems to be "..and where is my Flying Car, I'd like to know?"

Where, indeed?

These predictions, made in 1949 by Robert Heinlein, give a snapshot of some of the things we thought were waiting for us, up around the bend in time.
I think he got precisely one right out of 19. The phones, he nailed. All the rest...well, it sounds like another world - the kind we all expected to live to see being born.

Sometime around 1974 or 1975, I bought myself a book by Reginald Bosanquet, a BBC host and newsreader, on our projected advances into space in the next century.

We were supposed to have had a fully operational colony on Mars by now, you know.

So, for the third time: What Happened?

Did we come to our senses, grow up a little, and tailor our expectations more closely to reality?

Did we indeed start our slow descent into Marching-Moron-hood, letting our tech get away from us more and more?

Or did the real world - Nature Herself, and all of Us who are Her, too - clip us around the ear, just a little?