Science Fiction and Our Believable World

By Scott Spangler on January 15th, 2018

Way Station.jpgIt has been decades since I’ve read any science fiction. Roaming the dusty shelves of my memory’s recall, the last such cover I cracked was called, I think, The Way Station. Like the other tomes I’d read in the genre, it described a fantastic future implausible for the time.

The protagonist was named Enoch something or other, and an alien chose him to become the ageless caretaker of a backwoods cabin that was a way station for interplanetary travel in the vein of Beam-Me-Up, Scotty. It existed in prosaic world that could have been my home, had my suburb been more rural and wooded.  (Ha! Wikipedia suggests that I’m holding dementia at bay. Clifford D. Simak published Way Station in 1963.)

After Christmas, looking for way to spend my gift card at Half-Price Books, I came across The Martian by Andy Weir. With none of the nonfiction titles of the shelves capturing my attention, I thought, why not? I really enjoyed the movie (so much that we bought the Blu-Ray), which starred Matt Damon. It was worth $7 to find out how closely the movie kept to the book.

The Martian 2014.jpgThe screenwriter did an excellent job of distilling Weir’s 369 pages into a 141-minute movie. The angel’s share was the more in-depth explanation of the science the planet’s sole inhabitant, Mark Watney, employed to survive. There were a few other points, like the rover’s emergency pop-up tents, whose excision really didn’t hurt the movie but really added to the book’s reality.

In both mediums, what really got my attention was the reversal of believability. All of the science, aerospace, or otherwise that described the Ares missions to Mars and the science that made possible Watney’s survival was available and possible today. Like Right Now! The movie suggests this, and the books more in-depth examinations make this indisputably clear.

The book never really touched on the underlying fantastic unbelievable circumstances that made the five-part Ares mission to Mars possible, and the movie added just a few lines of dialogue that hinted at it, when the program manager urged the NASA administrator to seek Congressional funding for a sixth mission to Mars.

The idea that our leaders would maintain their attention span for the time it took to plan and execute the Ares exploration of Mars is the fiction. Following this tangent I searched my mind for the last big thing America built that wasn’t promoted by some sort of conflict, like global war or conquest of space and the moon. The Golden Gate Bridge and Hoover Dam were the first things that came to mind, and they were both public works projects with the ulterior motive of putting people back to work during the depression.

Another question I could not answer was when was the last time this nation had an approved federal budget in place before the next fiscal year started on October 1. I’m sure it has happened at least once since we declared our independence, but I can’t remember such an event in my lifetime, and I doubt I will see it in whatever time is left to me.

And given the increasing shortness of our national attention span and tolerance of ideas contrary to the one we hold to be “true,” it seems unlikely that this nation will ever again plan, build, and accomplish something big that’ not connected to the military. Pondering this sad reversal of achievable possibilities, one thing seems clear. I must read more science fiction. – Scott Spangler, Editor

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3 Responses to “Science Fiction and Our Believable World”

  1. Richard Steck Says:

    No big projects? Really? Do you not recall the interstate highway system that was initially an Eisenhower administration project? And more to the point, do you not recall the civilian air navigation systems and structures, also developed and built after WWII? Perhaps you don’t classify medicare and medicaid as great national programs, since they do not involve building physical structures or run contrary to your prejudices.

    Actually the list of large physical projects is huge. Go to Wikipedia and look up “List of megaprojects” which includes many US scientific and civilian projects and is not meant to be an exhaustive list.

    This Whine includes too much half-baked political posturing that is not a fit subject for this site. Your readers probably vary in political views and weighing in on the tribal war should be beneath you.

  2. Scott Spangler Says:

    Actually, the Interstate highway system started planning in the 1940s, but I’ll agree that it was a big long-term project that was a concerted federal-state effort.

    Yes, Medicare and Medicaid are substantial, but as you said, they are social programs that don’t involve physical structures. But in the context of sustained focus needed to create such programs, creating them today would be in the realm of science fiction, don’t you agree?

    Really, in any era political posturing is always half-baked, and rather than taking sides, my goal was to make the observation that over the past 40 years or so that the dominance of such posturing by any and all of the partisans has sapped our ability to focus on a long-term future because the immediate win for the group has become more important.

    Given the reality that this “tribal war” affects our aviation future, it seems worth discussing no and again. Thanks for taking the time to comment.

  3. Micah Says:

    Were you talking about the National Interstate and Defense Highways Act of 1956? Sure, the idea and some planning was done beforehand, but it was funded as a defense project, not public works. It was designed and proposed and supported by Eisenhower specifically to provide ground transport routes for military supplies and troop deployments in case of an emergency or foreign invasion.

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