The Lies of Science Fiction

In 1989, or there abouts, I read an essay in Discover Magazine by Isaac Asimov titled Science Fiction has Created False Expectations. Or something like that. I am embarrassed that I cannot find it but I have tried and (to recreate Dave Barry I swear I am not making this up) I couldn’t find it. If I had the damn essay I could just (copy) BLATT! it up here or (cut) BAMM! a paragraph here and move on like Batman. But I don’t so I am going to have to paraphrase it here – really Asimov was a better writer – and keep looking.


Paraphrase begins{: He said that the older science fiction writers were deeply tied to emerging technology and the laws of physics (Clark, Heinlen, etc.) He argued that many of the modern science fiction writers were using a plot device, “the suspension of expectations”; to promise things in print that science would never be able to produce. His big complaint was space travel over large areas in short time periods with relative ease. (Star Trek, you name it, etc.) He argued that faster than the speed of light wasn’t possible. That just getting to Mars was going to be dangerous, expensive and slow. He concluded that such “science fiction” writing was fraud and had raised expectations so high in what we call the boomer generation that it would damage real space exploration for generations. :} Paraphrase ends


When I first read that, and I will find it, I thought well this is just an old guy fulminating about the younger generation of writers embellishing on themes that he himself had laid down. But the essay stuck with me. When we struggled to build a space station, I revisited the essay in my mind a 2nd time and thought well, in a way he was right but FRAUD?¬†And as the years passed I thought well this is getting “righter”. We are after all still not comfortable settling the Moon and Mars is not even an option. As one chunk of science fiction morphed into cowboy movies like Star Wars and another chuck of science fiction took a bent towards desperate fantasy like Deep Space 9 where wormholes are actually posited as a means of travel I began to get his drift. But it was not until I thought (a 3rd reconsideration) about what his essay meant for the environment that I began to understand his harsh criticism. I mean the charge FRAUD is usually reserved for those who make things while claiming to be telling the truth. Like if you claim you have performed cold fusion in a test tube. That seemed to me way over the top at the time but now I think I understand


I always understood why people from the 30’s to the 50’s had a hard time accepting the idea of stewardship for the Earth as mandatory. There were so few of them and they were raised to burn just about everything they could get their hands on. One could just move on to another unpolluted space, there were no real immediate consequences. Towards the end of their lives many of them told me it was up to there children and grandchildren to “solves these problems” through new technology undreamed of in their day. But I never understood why so many people born in the 60’s through the 90’s did not understand that stewardship of the Earth was our Number One Job. I understand that a lot of the green house gasses are odorless and tasteless but when the Rhine caught on fire and Los Angeles’ air turned orange you don’t have to be an “environmentalist” to think that something is wrong.


Why hadn’t people got the idea that this little planet all alone in a solar system on the outer edge of a minor galaxy far from the center of the universe was to be cherished and enriched? It was because the sad truth that Earth is all we got was too threatening to our current economic systems. If this truth was ever realized by the people here now all that manufacturing and assembly of stuff would become irrelevant. But also the idea that we would “be out of here” to other planets fit right in to the tribal expectations that lead to us burning things in the first place.

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