Nov 22 2008

Future Fiction

Category: GeneralDave @ 12:04

The craft wasn’t that large. It contained the essentials for movement, sustenance, communications and sensing within its skin. And it was a skin. Although human beings of 10 or so millennia previously would not have recognised it as such it fulfilled the same functions as their purely biological one did. It separated the organism from the rest of the universe and was packed with sensors. The sensors in this case covered a very large slice of the electromagnetic spectrum as well as parts of other spectra. This allowed the craft’s single occupant to know what was going on around it. Actually, “occupant” isn’t really accurate – the craft and its occupant were one, a fusion of silicon and carbon-based components. It was no longer appropriate to talk of “biological” and “artificial” as the integration of silicon and carbon was complete. The brain was still mostly carbon but with silicon elements around the periphery, mostly doing a similar job for the other sensors that the eyes had originally done for “visible” radiation. The protection around the brain was rather better than the original of course, as were the other support systems, such as the blood substitute.

I was originally going to write a science fiction story based on the paragraphs above but I stopped. I realised that, although I could envisage a mode of “life” very different from our current one, there was no way I could get inside the head of such a creature. What would drive them? What would upset them? What would they spend their lives doing? I’m sure it’s possible to create a situation to put them in which would make a satisfying story for today’s readers – but how artificial would that be? Although, I suppose that’s true of most science fiction which takes place sufficiently far in the future. For example, Asimov’s original Foundation trilogy is supposed to take place thousands, if not tens of thousands, of years in the future and yet there has been no physical evolution of human beings and, more to the point, the drives, prejudices, mores, etc. of the people in that universe are no different to what we have today. I would have thought that time and expanding out into a large part of the galaxy would have changed that.

I can see how our thinking might evolve in the near future – and note that’s “might”, not “will” – but you then need to try thinking how such a changed mind might think to figure out what further changes might occur from there on. Although evolution is a continuous process, there are times one can point to and say “That’s when it changed from A to B.” This is, of course, an approximation but it works in practice. In terms of human evolution, there may come a point in time which a future generation could point to and say “That’s when we lost the habit of killing people for profit!” (Substitute your own preferred human vice here if you wish). Equally, they may view such loss as a bad thing – which brings me back to my original point: I can’t see further than one, just maybe two, imagined evolutionary step(s) ahead. I can make it up alright – that’s what fiction writers do – but it would still be from my point of view, in the here and now, or at the very best a few steps into the future. And so, any such story would inevitably be pretty much a tale of emotions, drives, ambitions, mores etc from our own era, more or less, set in an imagined physical future.

I may well still write the story of which the first paragraph is a short extract and see how far I can imagine. At the minimum, it should be an interesting exercise in imagination.

I have read much science fiction and fantasy and, although sometimes the author has given a different viewpoint, it’s not really that much different because it can’t be. Although one can try and imagine what it might be like to be a spacefaring organism that can live for as long as it likes, one cannot completely put aside what drives us today and that will colour our imagination.

So: what do you think you would do if you were that creature?

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2 Responses to “Future Fiction”

  1. avatar Mike Osman says:

    The lack of evolution of humans in the Foundation series was due to the fact that R. Daneel Olivaw
    was manipulating/pulverizing and ecoforming planets throughout the galaxy and populating them
    with earth animals and plants. There was no reason for evolution when that steady state was
    recreated with each new planet.

    • avatar Dave says:

      Thanks for the comment Mike!

      Two points:

      1. I was talking about the evolution that should have occurred before Olivaw was even built – remember that even that event is supposed to have happened way in the future. So, tens of thousands of years in the future, maybe millions, I would not expect human beings to be just the way they are now. Evolution is already changing our species surprisingly quickly. Medical technology (which Asimov could not have forseen) may also have interesting effects here 🙂
      2. Even if Olivaw was seeding planets with Earth life, it would have immediately starting evolving according to the local conditions. If each planet was terraformed first, then it would likely have still been only approximate, enough to sustain the implanted life. So each would have had slightly different conditions and in time they would have diverged.

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