Since Interstellar Space Travel Is Impossible What Would Have Been the Impact Had Science Fiction Not Lied.

Why was Asimov so mad?


The thing that always impressed me about the essay that I can’t find (see previous blogs) was its tone. I have read many Asimov works (which I am assuming was a condensation of a longer essay in the book, The Relativity of Wrong, see previous blog) and he never ever appeared angry. In this essay he was angry, accusatory and attackive! How did he go from a 1984 essay discussed earlier where he blithely dismissed both time travel and faster than light interstellar travel (as impossible) as mere conventions to seeing those same concepts as dangerous?


Was it because he was ill with AIDS and knew he would soon die? That would explain animus in anyone I suppose. Asimov had discussed death before though and he seemed comfortable with it.


I think it was more than that. I think he thought space travel would die and that he was in part responsible for that death. Paraphrase begins {: He concludes the essay by saying that he fears that when NASA fails to come up with even routine planetary travel in the next 30 or 40 years that NASA which is expensive will be abandoned.:} paraphrase ends. But I think it was bit more emotional for him then that because he probably asked himself some tough questions and saw what the real answers were for both his craft (science fiction writing), human space exploration, and maybe even how we treat the planet.


What would Science Fiction have looked like without interstellar space travel? One of his firm beliefs was that early science fiction always stuck pretty much to the possible. The writers were keen on new technology and knew what was possible. THAT was the magic of it really? Artie Clark would write about satellites and BOOM 10 or 20 years later they were circling the globe. Many writers talked about travel to the moon and 60 or 70 years after the first story we were there. At some point that became too restrictive to the writers of the 60’s. They yearned to do more. They wanted to make science fiction “real” literature. To bring grand stories to the silver screen.



So you say, “So What”? Well imagine what the cultural world would be like if every science fiction work had begun with the disclaimer (imagine the Star Wars intro screen “rolling out” this way) The story you are about to see is IMPOSSIBLE. Humans will never be able to travel between the Stars and even planetary travel will be really really expensive and dangerous. Planetary travel may not even be routinely possible 400 years from now! Then IN A GLAXAY A LONG WAYS FROM HERE IN THE DISTANT FUTURE THERE WAS A BAND WARRIORS FIGHTING AGAINST TYRANNY. Or whatever the Star Wars intro was. I think that that might have slowed down our mindless rush into space. But lets take it a step farther. Lets say to be a science fiction writer you had to take a Pledge. “I Doug Nicodemus promised to write science fiction that uses technology available to humans only in the next 60 or 70 years” And what if you were thrown out of science fiction writing if you violated that pledge! No publisher would publish you.


Well first off the idea of Aliens would be radically altered. Not disappearing mind you because you could posit “foreign worlds” as long as you gave star coordinates for it. They could have all kinds of weird characteristics and they could even be zipping around their very different solar system. But no more than that.


Second there would be no aliens visiting the earth. There would be no UFO’s and every science fiction writer would laugh at people who claimed to have seen them as the lunatics that they probably are. Aliens can’t get here…end of story.


Some people have even told me that Science Fiction would have simply died out. I don’t think so. It most certainly would have had to get a lot cleverer. And might have made science a bit cleverer as well. Just as an example I could imagine a story in which we could use things that go the speed of light like really bright lights or radio wave to try to communicate with other planets. Just AIM and Fire. I mean really, SETI is nice and all but it doesn’t make much sense for us to just sit around and listen to broad frequencies for some “sound”. Under a premise like that you could weave an Evangeline like story where this guy and this gal establish contact fall in love but they will never be able to touch each other. There are tons of stories that could have been written about conquering Mars and the other planets. Which would have led to more and open discussions about different technologies that could have got us there. What our living quarters would look like and why we were there in the first place. Gold? Platinum? Fuels? I am no science fiction writer, buts it the people in the story that any good writing is about.


 Neil deGrasse Tyson has a thought or two on the matter. When I pause and reflect on our expanding universe, with its galaxies hurtling away from one another, embedded within the ever-stretching, four-dimensional fabric of space and time, sometimes I forget that uncounted people walk this Earth without food or shelter, and that children are disproportionately represented among them.

What has the impact of this “impossible dream” of interstellar space travel been on Environmentalism? Well if we are going to get a NEW planet then we don’t have to take care of this one. If we really are inhabitants of this little tiny cosmic island, isolated from the universe, except for what we can observe of it, as Tyson has said. And that had been rammed home over and over again, then maybe we would treat our ONLY planet EVER a whole lot better. Did Asimov realize that? I doubt it but it is a burden that we who are opposed to burning will have to over come. And soon.


ON the other hand maybe there was a reason GOD set the speed limit for those with so little understanding at 186,000 miles a second. So we cannot do to the universe what we have done to the Earth and may do to the solar system.

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