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The Impossible Just Takes Longer

I love reading books, and at one time my greatest love was Science Fiction. But wheeeeeew, there's a lot of bad Sci-Fi out there, and I don't mean just the fanfic. Sometimes that comes down to bad story-telling, but more often it's because the author misjudged what things would be like, and cast a world which was obsolete soon after the publication of his story. In a perverse manner, I find it fascinating to read some of these visions of the future, and consider what happened to send them off-track. I am happy to say that a principal cause of the mistakes comes from the writer being too pessimistic in many cases; a lot of future histories assumed the continued rise of tyrannies like the Soviet Union, central-government bureaucracy, and the failure of capitalist economic and ecological systems. That is, the good guys really do win most of the battles, and God watches over us with grace and care. I don't suppose I need to mention that many failed predictions fail to consider the power of faith and the intervention of God in human affairs. As if we managed half a century of intercontinental nuclear weapons stockpiles without blowing ourselves off the planet because we were, what, a mature race which never made big mistakes?

That's not to say everything is better. The world of the 21st Century is no Nirvana or Utopia. We have millions of offenders in sordid varieties of criminal behavior which were far fewer in ages past. Slavery and Piracy have once again become common practices in parts of the world. We face serious threats from groups which eagerly contemplate the deliberate extinction of entire classes of 'inconvenient' people. Financially, the divide between Rich and Poor remains unacceptably wide, especially since being poor still includes threats from Famine, Disease, and dismal prospects for the rising generation. And while long proven invalid, many people still embrace Fascism, Communism, Caste systems and Racial/Gender prejudice. And we must add to this the increasingly radical tide of violent protests, from the insanity of individuals who speak for the 'sanctity' of life by bombing buildings, people who show their love of Diversity by vandalizing the offices and property of the opposing political party, and people who "support" their nation by cheering on monsters who want to kill innocent civilians, in the name of 'dissent'. We have schools which neglect core academic skills in favor of politically correct curriculae, we see media which sometimes showcases entertainment which is vulgar and promotes immorality and violence, and we see a judicial system which rewards the side which has the most clever lawyer, but does not protect the innocent or encourage conscientious idealism. We obviously have a lot of work to do.

So we seem to be looking at a future somewhere between 'Star Trek' and '1984'. But in general, I'd say the good outweighs the bad. I was diagnosed with a form of Cancer which a generation ago meant dying within a couple years with no hope at all, but which today can be treated in a number of ways with excellent survival prospects. Systems like the Amber Alert, Code Adam, and Escape School provide the means for children to avoid abduction, and if abducted, for law enforcement to find them quickly. In most developed nations, the rule of law protects the rights of citizens far more consistently than ever before, and more nations have effective constitutions which make government accountable to the citizens than ever before. A person in the United States who is willing to make the effort, has better educational and occupational opportunities than ever before. My daughter, who is the result of a mixed-race marriage, has better reason than ever before to expect that she will not be punished for her race or gender, but allowed the same opportunity as anyone else to show her ability and character. Conduct by elected officials which used to be passed-over as 'the way things are done', is now regularly scrutinized by law enforcement, and when a crime is committed arrests are made and the official is tried in court. We have safer cars with better fuel efficiency than ever before, we have phones and music players that can go virtually anywhere conveniently and at low cost, more Americans own homes than ever before, and more nations are allowing private investment and ownership of property than ever before.

Sure, there are obstacles, problems, and challenges. But while we will never create a perfect world, we have the opportunity to improve everything along the way. It's not impossible, and even the parts which are impossible, will not always be so.


Comments (14)

Well done and well said.</p... (Below threshold)
WildWillie:

Well done and well said.

This is a great country even though it is one of the youngest nations on the planet. We do have problems, but with the free access of information via the internet, it is increasingly difficult for elected officials and civil servents to hide. I am an incredible optomist but I have to say sometimes it is difficult to be. The good in this country far out weighs the bad but unfortunately we only hear about the bad. Good doesn't sell.

I pray for your continued recovery and strength. ww

Well done, DJ. And I have ... (Below threshold)
Cousin Dave:

Well done, DJ. And I have to agree with you on the current state of sci-fi. I too used to read sci-fi and pretty much stopped because the quality of the product declined so badly. I trace this to two things, both of which began to appear around 1990. One is the use of the names of famous authors to market novels by unknowns in such a way that the reader has to look closely to realize that the famous author is not in fact the author of the novel. For example, "Author C. Clarke's Sci-Fi Bananarama, (in smaller type) written by Joe Schmoe." If you read the small type carefully, you realize that Clarke never met Joe Schmoe and had nothing whatsoever to do with the novel in question.

The other one was the absolute gully-washer of post-nuclear-apocolypse novels that we were treated to in the '90s. Every writer under the sun suddenly, for some reason, made the assumption that all-out nuclear war was just around the corner. And all of the novels were depressingly similar: the West destroyed, people's faith in freedom and individualty destroyed, and the lament that if only we'd had more socialism, this never would have happened. And then you have the archetype anti-hero, who roams the countryside doing... well, doing something, but it's hard to tell what, or why. Even some of the very best authors, David Brin to name one, fell into this trap. Young authors came up thinking this was the kind of dreck they had to write in order to get published, and it just killed the genre. And it really hasn't recovered yet.

The future will ALWAYS be s... (Below threshold)
Paul Hamilton:

The future will ALWAYS be somewhere between Star Trek and 1984. We will never evolve beyond human nature, and that unfortunately includes both greed and hatred, so so me problems will always be with us. OTOH, human nature also includes love and compassion so there will be those among us who strive to make the world a better place as well. The best we can do is to try to have the good guy outnumber the bad.

And remember that any literature requires conflict, and scifi generally creates a future which is a magnification of the present, so the nuke worries of the era were transformed into the nuke armageddon of tomorrow. That way the readers could empathize with the characters.

And I wish you continued success in your battle with cancer. Your courage and positive spirit are an example for all of us.

It's much more healthy for ... (Below threshold)

It's much more healthy for a society to be happy with its successes while not forgetting there is always room for improving the not-so-successful endeavors. But we have a considerable core group of people who are never happy with anything less than perfection; however they define "perfect" and no matter how trivial the less than perfect aspects are.

Not long ago I was turned on to an excerpt from Walter Miller's "A Canticle for Liebowitz" by a commenter from another blog, which sums up the mindset of some. The words have been "seared" into my memory now and I find them applicable in so many ways.

The closer men came to perfecting themselves a paradise, the more impatient they seemed to become with it, and with themselves as well. They made a garden of pleasure, and became progressively more miserable with it as it grew in richness and power and beauty; for then, perhaps, it was easier for them to see that something was missing in the garden, some tree or shrub that would not grow. When the world was in darkness and wretchedness, it could believe in perfection and yearn for it. But when the world became bright with reason and riches, it began to sense the narrowness of the needle's eye, and that rankled for a world no longer willing to believe or yearn.

Perhaps this is the mindset of those who see a bleak future, always underestimating or ignoring the power of good and focusing only on what is bad.

I've gotten into military s... (Below threshold)
Veeshir:

I've gotten into military sci-fi for just that reason. Once Niven and Pournelle started that crappy "Burning whatever" series, they lost me.

I like John Ringo a lot. His Posleen series is really good and his Prince Roger series is also pretty darn good. He writes a good story and occasionally manages to make you laugh out loud (on purpose, not unintentionally like Barney) with his characters' dialogue.

SM Stirling has some good books, like the Island in the Sea of time (almost alt-history, but time-travel, alt-history), and 1632 is similar and pretty darn good.

However, there will be a ti... (Below threshold)
nehemiah:

However, there will be a time that we will lose the battle for a while in the end times, and that tribulation period will be a worse time than ever before.

We need to do what we can, but that time will come before He comes again.

There has been a wave of ne... (Below threshold)
Tim in PA:

There has been a wave of new sci-fi writers who seem to be reversing the trends you guys were complaining about, as of late. Don't give up on the genre too soon.

On topic, though, I read a couple of books each weekend at work. Recently I read a collection of short stories by Frederick Pohl, "Nightmare Age". A mere 36 years has made a number of those authors look foolish; generally, the writers bought the whole Malthusian panic, hook line and sinker. It's an interesting read, in a morbid train-wreck sort of way.

Veeshir, I read 1632 and am... (Below threshold)

Veeshir, I read 1632 and am reading 1633. As a matter of fact, 1632 and 1633 can be read, unedited and unabridged, online. There are other sci-fi books that can be read online at the Baen Free Library. Reading 1632 online prompted me not only to buy the hardback, but the rest of the series.

Oyster, have you read Islan... (Below threshold)
Veeshir:

Oyster, have you read Island in the Sea of Time? I think it's much better and far more.... plausible (as long as you accept time travel in the first place).
In 1632, they're still shooting their modern guns and most especially their .50 caliber machine gun a year later. Sorry, but that's not very likely. They mention something about "reloading", but it would need some serious reloading to do that. And reloading anything requires special dies. You don't just reload .50 BMG bullets with primers from a .30-.06 or a .357 magnum. They arm a small army with shotguns. Fairly easy to make, except the primers.

In Island, Stirling has them work their way up the line. They are back to crossbows for a while. Then, muzzle loaders, then breach loaders and then more modern stuff. It's a natural progression that doesn't make you suspend too much disbelief.
And it's not just guns, it's all sorts of other things like transportation and whatnot. You believe it.

I'll certainly look up your... (Below threshold)

I'll certainly look up your suggestion, Island. I'm always looking for something good. 1632 was enjoyable for me as I have little knowledge of reloading (or ordnance of any kind for that matter). I can reload my Glock. I can even break it down and put it back together. That's all *I* really need to know. So it's all believable to me :)

Veeshir: The machine gun in... (Below threshold)
cirby:

Veeshir: The machine gun in 1632 is an M-60, which fires 7.62 NATO, not a 50 cal.


I'd like to second the John Ringo books. The Aldenata books are a bunch of military fun.

Also: "The Atrocity Archives" by Charles Stross.
(Spy novel with a bit of Chthulian magic tossed in - very fun.)

Don't get me wrong, I reall... (Below threshold)
Veeshir:

Don't get me wrong, I really like the 1632/1633 books, the Island in the Sea of Time books are much more plausible.

Ahhh, I thought they mentioned .50 caliber.
It doesn't really matter though, they couldn't be using their modern rifles for that long. The primers are the bottleneck but it's pretty much ignored.

Like the oil refinery they have in 1633, pardon me but not freaking likely. One year on and they have built oil wells and an oil refinery and have some serious reloading capacity? I find that highly improbable. They drive a huge truck many miles through 17th century Germany with no gas stations on the way. That truck sounded as if it got gallons/mile and not miles/gallon. They also have enough for a small air force and for motor boats and for....
I just find that he glossed over too many things. It's not as bad as "Armageddon" (my poster movie for bad science) but it's still pretty bad.

But it's a very good story. Or at least, most of it is. The Galileo Affair ticked me off. That wasn't very good and I bought it in hardcover. I wasn't even angry at my puppy when he ate that book during his "I'm eating the book you're reading" phase.

It doesn't really matter... (Below threshold)
cirby:

It doesn't really matter though, they couldn't be using their modern rifles for that long. The primers are the bottleneck but it's pretty much ignored.

Actually, not so, especially once they get past the second book. The newest one (The Baltic War) spends a lot of time talking about just that issue, and how to work around it.

Like the oil refinery they have in 1633, pardon me but not freaking likely. One year on and they have built oil wells and an oil refinery and have some serious reloading capacity?

Oil refineries (especially low-volume ones) are really pretty simple - separating out fractions from crude oil is literally 17th century "alchemy" tech anyway (distillation was invented for spirits in about the first century AD), and it's been done on an industrial scale for about 150 years. Doing it on a larger scale is harder, but not much so (modern refineries are fiendishly complex, but that's because they're getting everything out of the crude oil, not just a couple of products).

Since most of the "1632" fuel needs are based on diesel and gasoline, that's pretty easy, and can be done with fairly low-level industry. Hit Wikipedia for "oil refinery" and notice how simple a basic refining vessel really is - early ones weren't even pressure vessels, just tall metal cylinders with outlets at different heights (and temps).

They don't have anything like "serious" reloading capacity, and if you go back and look, they haven't really burned through much ammo, overall, since their battles have been very short. They've been trying very hard to come up with "better" 1600s-era rifles, which use local or slightly better than, tech.

I find that highly improbable. They drive a huge truck many miles through 17th century Germany with no gas stations on the way. That truck sounded as if it got gallons/mile and not miles/gallon.

Not really, it's just a normal big truck. With a couple of drums of diesel in the back, they've got plenty of range and note that in the scale of the first book, "many" miles was under 100...

They also have enough for a small air force and for motor boats and for....

Yes - a SMALL air force, which is eating up most of their refining capacity. In the 1634 book, they do mention that the navy they're building is diesel-powered.

If you have issues with the tech base, go to the Baen's Bar boards and read the discussions - all of this stuff has been hashed out by a LOT of finicky fans.

Science fiction doesn't alw... (Below threshold)

Science fiction doesn't always become science fact, but it often does.

At the turn of the last century, it was not only considered impossible that a man should walk on the moon, but even that a heavier-than-air craft could fly at all.

The father of one of my own father's boyhood friends cut his finger paring an apple in the early '30s. The cut became infected and he died from it because there were no effective "antibiotics" at the time. When penicillin and the others were discovered later, they were considered "miracle drugs."

For many forms of cancer, only a few years ago there was no hope at all, as D.J. mentions. Organ transplants and dialysis machines give life to thousands who would have swiftly succumbed in days not long past. Respiratory patients once could only look to an "iron lung" machine to prolong their lives.

The future has always been bright and full of possibilities for those who reach for them. They must, like Wilbur and Orville Wright, often endure ridicule and negativity along the way, as Edgar Guest wrote.

But there are always those who will persevere and create the new reality. It is perhaps humanity's greatest virtue - which makes it all the more disheartening when significant groups of people look to the 7th Century as an ideal.




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