This blog contains material I wrote and posted on between the years 2005 and 2011 only. It does not contain any new material. For newer writing, please check my main blog (Bill the Butcher).

Tuesday, 27 November 2012

In Which The Future Done Come

From Jan 2010

Today, while rubber-stamping the date on a prescription, I had one of those moments of weird dissociation which most of us have experienced at one time or another. I looked down at the date 12 JAN 2010 and it was as though a voice was muttering in my brain, “Why, that’s a science fiction date! That’s a date straight out of science fiction!”

You see, I was one of the people who grew up reading the products of the “golden age” of science fiction, the sixties and seventies, when Edmund Crispin was compiling anthologies and Asimov, Bradbury, and Clarke were writing at their best. Those were the days when the awful pulp science fiction of the fifties was a fading memory (try and read some of that stuff today, with its tales of blue-skinned Neptunian Xth smugglers and thinly disguised Cold War polemics; it makes one cringe). And science fiction hadn’t yet become what so much of it is today, hard to read and harder to comprehend and hardest of all to accept as science fiction and not some completely different genre altogether (take a look at one of Gardner Dozois’ recent compilations for an idea of what passes for science fiction these days).

Yes, science-fiction wise, I’m a child of the sixties and seventies, though I was actually reading the stuff in the eighties. Anyway, in those tales of robots, time travel, and exploring Jupiter’s moons, and so on, leavened with Bradbury’s thundering adjectives (Ray Bradbury is my favourite science fiction writer by some distance) – which was the most common era those stories were set in? When did those mysterious green lights shine out of the sky? When did our intrepid explorers wade through the primordial seas of Europa? When did the tideless (because moonless) seas of Venus (it was still an ocean world to the writers of that age) part before the hulls of expeditionary ships? You’ve got it – the first few years of the 21st century. That was the Golden Age when everything would happen; the world would set aside poverty and war and would unite under a benign government (albeit one where everyone usually had American names) and would, in John Jakes’ words

Where no man has gone before
Venture boldly now
To the blazing sea of stars
Point the shining prow.
Range the neverending dark
Seeking life’s undying spark
Out beyond all nature’s end
Bear the race that comes as friend.
Light years beyond the last red sun
Leave the mark of men
Then turn homewards, towards the day
You go forth again.

One look around us today – sharply rising poverty, the rapid disintegration of any idea of a world state, Endless War as an ideology, the retreat of logic before the forces of religious obscurantism – and one feels only helpless pity for the hopes of those writers, looking at the future and imagining it to be better. It’s difficult to see how humanity can survive in the long run, let alone tread the soil of another world circling a strange green sun.

Still, I looked at that date, and a strange shiver played down my spine. And I looked out of the window, and for a moment, just for a moment, I seemed to see a spaceship, like a multi-faceted dome all decked out in copper and green, hovering outside on columns of fire, about to launch itself into the unknown.

Just a moment, and it was gone, and I went back to filling in the prescription.

But a part of me went with it.

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