November 2003
2003 Ernest Lilley / SFRevu
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Editorial License - The Unimagined Future
by Ernest Lilley

I was talking to Steve Sawicki (SFMags/Short Reviews) about the upcoming year and what Cons we were going to attend, when it occurred to us that 2004 wasn't a year we'd ever given thought to. It's a year we never considered, never wondered about, never worried or wished on. Not like the amazing events readers of Popular Mechanics had spent the last 75 years or more looking forward to in the year 2000.

Not like 1984, when we were pleased to find that Big Brother either wasn't looking over our shoulder, or that we were looking back over his. Not like 1999, when we were noted with mixed feelings that the moon wasn't going to blast out of its orbit due to spontaneous atomic explosions in a nuclear waste dump. Mixed because that would have required a moon base we don't have.  Not like the events of 2001, which required another moon base, as well as a manned deep space mission we didn't get, not to mention an AI like HAL. I think I missed HAL most of all, even if he did kill the discovery crew. But it wasn't his fault, really...I blame society.

2004 doesn't have a fictional universe hung on it, and we're left to imagine it in mundane ways.

Where will I be next month? How cold will the winter be? Hey, Worldcon is in Boston this year - we can make that! What are we doing for New Year's Eve, anyway? Wondering what the amazing future of 2004 will look like doesn't occupy much of my time at all.

On the other hand, I periodically hear folks whine about how they want to know where their atomic rocket car and Venusian vacation are. I might even have been one of them on occasion. These whiners seem to miss the forest for the trees. The future we live in isn't the same as the one imagined in the pulp pages of super science magazines in the first half of the last century, it's more astounding, for one thing.

The computer I'm using as a type writer has more power than those on the space shuttle, and fits in a box under my desk, not in a massive building maintained by geeky acolytes. I just heated up a cup of coffee in my kitchen of the future, and I made some soup using a recipe I downloaded off the internet. The internet, which provides much of the instantaneousness of teleportation, but with lower power costs. Isaac Asimov foresaw this one in the second of his Elijah Bailey novel's, The Naked Sun. Visiting a colony world to solve a murder, detective Bailey peers into a society where everyone stays home and communicates with others only by telepresence. If you've seen today's teens scramble home to go online and chat with friends, or most likely if you just look in the mirror, you'll see that we're already on that particular road to the future.

The sad thing for me is that imagining the future just isn't as much fun as it used to be. I think that he current Space Opera revival (see David Hartwell's essay: Space Opera: From Shit to Shinola in our August issue) is and attempt to revive the excitement of the past, and we'll see how well that works out. As author John C. Wright points out in my interview with him: "The disadvantage of placing one's nostalgia in the past is that nothing can be done about it. The disadvantage of placing too much hope in the future is that, when those hopes are dashed, one is left rootless and prey to nihilism."  You don't have to agree with him, but his interview is really worth reading (see Feature interview: John C. Wright)

None of this is new, of course.  Voltaire wrote about the downside of searching for utopia in Candide, which I urge you to read if you've missed it. Just insert "space" before every mention of the word "ship" and you'll feel right at home. After spending a lifetime looking for "the best of all possible worlds" with his philosopher adviser mentor, Dr. Pangloss, Candide comes to the conclusion that while the search for utopia is all well and good, the here and now takes precedence.

Maybe it's time we started imagining the present, and spent some time trying to make something of it. Of course if that doesn't work out, we can still look forward to 2010 and beyond.

2003 Ernest Lilley / SFRevu
columns - events - features - booksmedia                    home  /  subscribe