Many years ago, when I was in the Army stationed in Germany, I remember seeing an album cover by a local band called Nektar. The title of the album was Remember the Future. I always thought it was a cool cover and a really cool title. But what did that title mean, remember the future? I believe we all make up our futures depending on what we see around us. We predict, we plan, and most times we are wrong. Each generation makes its own future. Edgar Rice Burroughs, in Beyond The Farthest Star, envisioned a world where great air fleets battled the skies at supersonic speeds, with props. That was what they saw as the ultimate in aerial technology, so they pushed the envelop with what they knew. Back in the Golden Age it was thought that we would have moon bases in the 1960s, space stations in orbit, maybe even flights to Mars and beyond. It was also thought that the world would have three or four massive computers and everyone would send their data in to be crunched. Sure, we have mainframes, more than they imagined. But no one saw the billions of smaller computers, desktop, notebooks, even intelligent phones, and the international net that links them together.
The future of my childhood was shaped by the space program. From the west coast of Florida I watched the launches of Saturn Vs across the peninsula, their sun bright flames pushing them into orbit and beyond. Man walked on the Moon. There were plans to push the envelop, Moon Bases, Space Habitats, trips to the outer Solar System. 2001 came out in the 60s, a science fiction novel written by a real scientist. It predicted Howard Johnson’s restaurants in orbit, regular flights into orbit (though Pan Am didn’t survive much past the novel), a major complex on the surface of the Moon, even a voyage of exploration to Saturn (the original destination, which was changed to Jupiter in the movie and subsequent books). So WTF happened? I think it was the Cold War that sucked all the funding out of the planned space programs of the two superpowers. Fortunately the other prediction of the time, Nuclear Armageddon, also didn’t come to pass.
This generation’s vision of the future includes genetic engineering, nanotechnology, and virtual worlds. Again we predict the future we think will come, as well as the future we hope to hell never rears its ugly head. The old mainstays of scifi are still there. Space travel, FTL, Interstellar Empires. Most are set so far in the future that the writer does not have to worry about his world being destroyed by time. Some still make the mistake of wishful thinking and make the technology come too fast. My old mentor Charles Sheffield wrote novels in the early twenty first century that predicted an explored and settled Solar System in 2080, a date most thought was much too optimistic. As far as more Earthly technologies, everyone’s guess is as good as any others’. We can make predictions based on what we know about the here and now, and the logical progression of trends and technologies. What we can’t always predict is the new and the unusual, things which come without warning out of laboratories and Universities. The things which generate new trends, industries and cultures. But we still take a shot at developing the future, the settings for new stories, new characters, new history.
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