When I was a kid, it seemed like the world was gonna get a whole lot of neat stuff down the pipeline. And you know, we even got some of it. Sure, our parents have been griping about a lack of flying cars (like they were promised) though honestly I can say that is a blessing in disguise. The average motorist isn’t in very good control of their vehicle, and honestly, adding a third axis to their navigation duties would be less awesome than it might seem.
My generation got computers. We got video games. We got the internet. We have video phones, and two-day shipping. We have more safety built into the things we love. We got advances in medicine. Cybernetic prosthesis. Sure – a lot of it costs an arm, a leg, and the promise of your firstborn child, but these things are here.
But, there’s one thing that we’re simply not getting, and with every passing day, it becomes more and more clear that the thing so many of us wanted will be outside of our reach unless we see a quantum leap in terms of longevity and quality of life in said longevity. And that thing is the stars.
From the birth of my generation, we had a guy in a god-awful turtleneck telling us all about this amazing place outside of our gravity well. A realm of infinite exploration. A place where we could unravel the mysteries of our world – and countless others. Our parents’ generation even got to go to our moon. Our freaking moon. Knowing that human feet have set foot on it, put flags there, and left at least one golf ball, I know it made me want to go there. I can’t look at photos from the Moon, Mars or even Venus without saying ‘what would it be like to see that in person?’
As a result, I loved reading about this kind of stuff as a kid. Between shuttle launches, space broadcasts, a trip to Kennedy Space Center, I’d digest my fair share of fiction and non-fiction. I’d possibly credit this as to why I only found the fantasy side of the science fiction/fantasy section at the bookstore so late. I was watching science fiction happen on television. Watched it become real, if with fewer laser beams, invading aliens, artificial gravity, and all of the rest of it.
Sometime in the late nineties though, it all kind of started to fade. We were still sending up missions. The ISS was starting to become a thing. But the longer people looked around and the worse the economy got, it seemed fewer people were enthused about spending money on space or a shuttle program. Not with so many earth based problems around us.
But, the aforementioned turtleneck savior, Carl Sagan was always telling us that the problems here on earth were shortsighted if humanity was going to do anything other than scrape by:
If our long-term survival is at stake, we have a basic responsibility to our species to venture to other worlds. Sailors on a becalmed sea, we sense the stirring of a breeze.
— Carl Sagan, Pale Blue Dot: A Vision of the Human Future in Space, 1994
Yet, decline the program did. There are days that I think the only reason NASA is still around is to make sure that NOAA and our armed forces are still collecting data from somewhere in orbit. That and to make sure that the satellites are still in enough working order to zap pornography between continents who so desperately need it.
As we stopped covering space so closely, as we started to focus on the practical, I suppose that’s about the time I finally bellied up to the bar and read Tolkien for the first time in college. I branched out into all sorts of stuff. Space was briefly forgotten in the lands of the fantastical that are likely to stay fantastical. I doubt I will ever see an elf. Minas Tirith is not under construction (yet). Neither the Underdark or the Feywild are real places, and while some people may claim to be Harry Dresden, those people are full of shit.
I spent a long time in the realm of the fantastical. I got to know a broader group of writers. Stephen Brust, Jim Butcher, Scott Lynch, Brandon Sanderson, and lots of others. There’s an appeal to Magic. It’s a nice, tidy way to plug the holes and caulk the cracks of the world we live in. It takes no proof. It’s just a thing out there. And it makes wonderful stories – even if it isn’t real.
But, as of late, I’ve come back to some of my original loves. I credit it mostly at this point on the backs of a couple of good titles: Leviathan Wakes for one, and also from some classics like Frontera. With the recent missions to Mars and the flyby on Pluto, I look to the stars and wonder again. As I read my science fiction, I am again reminded that science fiction has so much to practically offer. While Star Trek is not something I really love, it informed our modern technology. Smartphones? Tricorders – you’re welcome. Videophones. Yep, that too. Transparent Aluminum? Actually a real thing now.
I think it’s why I’ve always loved Science Fiction – you can look at it with both wonder and horror and think to yourself, this is possible. Fantasy is nice, but maybe, just maybe, we’ll see sci-fi come around in our lives.
So, buck up, readers. We might not get that sweet house on the moon we always dreamed of. But maybe our kids might.