People often put science fiction writers in the position of the seer. The thinking goes like this: if science fiction authors are writing about the future, it's because they've spent inordinate amounts of time thinking about a realistic one. Thus, they have some foreknowledge, or at least intuition, about what the future holds. That translates into readers thinking that they are glimpsing the actual future. There are obvious problems in that assumption, but ignoring them allows us the opportunity to imagine the cool things we could see and do in our science fictional future. Here's a look at some of the things that science fiction has promised us.
1. Living on Another Planet
If you're like me, the recent landing of the Mars rover has me longing to see what it’s like to live on another planet. I'm not interested in the colonization of the planet so much – there are a lot of hardships there. Allen Steele's Coyote sequence, particularly the first novels, give a good sense of those challenges. I don't want to have to worry about taming the wild unknowns. I'm lazy that way. I'd just like to kick back on my space Barcalounger once in a while, y'know? I'm more interested about living in the full-fledged, Blade Runner-esque cities of Gavin Smith's War in Heaven, for example. Sure, a simple, worry-free life seems contrary to the rigors of space colonization – I get that. I'm just saying I don't want to end up on the titular planet of Brian Herbert's and Kevin J. Anderson's Hellhole books, where the world is a last stop for all the miscreants of society.
2. Meeting an Intelligent Alien Species
Living life on a colony planet would be fine, but humans are social animals and need to mingle. I could socialize with my ex-Terran neighbors, of course, but I could've done that back on Earth. As long as I'm living the dream of life on another world, I'd prefer to meet aliens and see what their lives are like. However, science fiction has shown us that there are different types of alien encounters. The good news is that there are sometimes benevolent species to engage in meaningful (though translated) conversation. The bad news is that when things go wrong, they go wrong in a big way. I’m talking about alien invasion and planet-wide destruction. I do not want to see an alien spaceship hovering over the planetary capitol, as occurs in Kameron Hurley’s Rapture. Nor do I want to get caught in the middle of the confrontations portrayed in Eric Brown's Helix Wars. And I especially don't want to get anywhere near the bloodthirsty aliens of Chris Roberson's Further: Beyond the Threshold. The bottom line is that I’d be happy to host a party where we could meet friendly, extraterrestrial friends … and if they bring beer and chips, all the better.
3. Vacationing to the Stars
So let’s see, I’m living on another world – which would no doubt be amazing – but let’s face it, everyone needs a break from the everyday. Where would I vacation? I’m already on Mars, so the next logical move – barring a return trip to Earth, but who wants to go to that boring old place? Been there, done that – is traveling to planets outside our solar system. And that means more space travel and more spaceships. One cool thing about space travel in science fiction is that it often features marvels of engineering, like the miles-long spaceships of an Alastair Reynolds space opera or the wondrous ships in Michael Cobley's Humanity's Fire sequence. I'm not sure where I'd go but the ride would sure be fun (though I would love to see with my own eyes the bowl-shaped shell half-surrounding a faraway star as in Bowl of Heaven by Gregory Benford and Larry Niven).
4. I Will Be Effectively Immortal
So we've decided that spaceships could be fun, but we've ignored the elephant-in-the-spaceship regarding space travel. The cold, hard truth of deep space travel remains: space is huge! Sure, there are solutions like the generation ship of Brenda Cooper's Creative Fire – which is still cool even when you take its divided social structure into account – but I'd like to see my destination within my own lifetime. What’s the point of going to a planet outside our solar system if the trip will take longer than I have to live? Science fiction has a solution here as well: effective immortality. I'm talking about shedding our outer layers of meat (obviously metaphorically, because ... eww!) and embracing post-humanism. The ability to electronically copy our thoughts and identities is not without its merits. As books like Peter F. Hamilton's Commonwealth series and Hannu Rajaniemi's The Fractal Prince have shown, if we backed up ourselves regularly, then any catastrophic, life-ending event could be erased with a simple reset from the last backup. Or, you could have multiple copies of yourself running around. You could stay on Mars and visit the stars! Problem solved.
John DeNardo is the editor of SF Signal, a Hugo Award-winning group science-fiction and fantasy blog featuring news, reviews and interviews. He also likes bagels.