Sci-fi Anachronisms and Themes of Concerns of the Time

Photo by NASA on Unsplash

Photo by NASA on Unsplash

If you read sci-fi, or watch sci-fi TV or movies, you likely have seen technology that’s missing, or some that’s present that shows it was written before current times. The importance of cell phones in our lives is not taken into consideration in most stories that pre date the 1990s. Star Trek has some cell phone like tech, but they require a refrigerator box full of stand alone gadgets to satisfy what we can do with something the size of a pack of smokes – whatever that is.

I’m currently reading The Moon is a Harsh Mistress by Robert A. Heinlein, written in 1966, which is about The Moon in the year 2075, which is a politically suppressed colony springing from a penal colony, and the revolution that develops there. In ways it feels like Who Moved My Cheese or The Richest Man in Babylon for revolutionaries, with 60s political ideals. The story makes enough sense in terms of its setting and economy and struggles. It’s not entirely different from The Belters of the much more recent The Expanse series, in its depiction of class struggles and revolution. Where there are problems is the details of the tech, which, if you can overlook, it’s fine.

In Heinlein’s book we see a future without desktop publishing, without the Internet, AI or computers that can easily ingest, store and process massive amounts of data. It makes the future a little…. primitive, and makes for many explanations of things we take for granted now. This made me think of Fahrenheit 451, a sci fi book predicated on books still being on paper.

Prior to The Moon I read Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep, the Philip K. Dick inspiration for Blade Runner. In this book, written in 1968, which takes place 11 months from now, in 2021. The Dick’s world the Earth is poisoned from the last world war, World War Terminus, when many modern readers probably see disease and extinction more as a result of climate change and things you’d read about in The Sixth Extinction or Guns, Germs and Steel – disease, introduced species, etc. The books ideas about religion, controlled emotions and synthetic animals all seem pretty believable. Digital photography, powerful computers and flat panel screens don’t make it into the timeline for this view of the future. Self aware AI and androids indistinguishable from humans seems maybe 10 years out. What doesn’t seem scientifically or culturally and societally accurate is androids only being able to live for 4 years because their cells can’t replace themselves, and laws against intimacy with machines.

Similar to Asimov’s Laws of Robotics, as you’d find in his works like I, Robot, older science fiction made assumptions about how intelligent robots would be developed, how they’d become progressively more capable, and the controls that people would put on them. It’s clear rules and laws about the interaction between man and machine are essentially non existent now, and most likely this won’t change. The proverbial genie is out of the bottle. If anything, people are actively working on robots for sex and killing people.

Before Do You Dream I read The Martian and Ready Player One, and prior to that a bunch of novellas in The Expanse series – all very recent science fiction. The Martian and Ready Player One certainly seem much more pedestrian in their view of the future than the other books mentioned here, but certainly that could be bias because of my own placement on the timeline.


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2 Responses

  1. Tom Reid says:

    When you create an advanced or fantasy world, you must be very careful to follow your own rules. When a writer messes that up, it detracts from the whole story. And it is hard to do! Sometimes the anachronisms are inconsequential, and more importantly, as Star Trek has shown us, advanced thinking can guide our innovative thinking, from naming a Space Shuttle Enterprise, to cell phones (or Dick Tracy wrist TVs!), to advanced computers and scanners. Perhaps we will harness anti-matter, put it in reactors, and finally have replicators as well.

    • josh says:

      Star Trek has been a pretty impressive one in serving as a prototyping environment for tech. And yet we see a lot of technology now that’s more advanced than some of the tech on Star Trek. Following your own rules suggests to me having physics and science and inventions all make sense, as well as remembering what you’ve said in other parts of the story. All of it means you need to be organized.

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