Thursday, September 25, 2008

I'm Tired of Flying Cars

Or rather, I'm tired of people trotting out the cliched quip of "Where's my flying car?" whenever they talk about the future not living up to expectations. And I got to say, what's the big deal about flying cars? The future is certainly living up to my expectations without them. I carry over 7k songs around in my pocket in something smaller than a pack of cigarettes - that's every CD I've bought since 1985. I talk for free every other day to my buddy George Mann in the UK, on a "videophone" called Skype, and I read all my news off the same screen, and the pictures next to the columns of words all move. If I want to know the complete lyrics to a song that's rattling around in my head and I can only remember three or four words, I can call it up within 30 seconds on something called "Google" (and "google it" is an SFnal neologism if there ever was one), and just about anything else I need to know too. And I never get lost because my car, which admittedly doesn't fly, plots out all my guidance routes and then tells me where to go. It also tells me when it needs service and when the air pressure in my tires gets low. My television records things it thinks I might like without being asked, and it forwards them to my laptop. There's an International Space Station over my head right now. Meanwhile, when they aren't trying to sell me my next communicator, there are hard-&-software billionaires falling over themselves to commericialize space tourism.

So, I can do without flying cars, thank you. No, what I'd like to see is sane and rational leaders ushering in those SFnal visions of world peace, an end to poverty and disease, inequality. That's a future I'm still waiting for, one that's still worth believing in and writing about. So I find myself both in agreement and taking issue with this article in the Guardian by Damien G Walter, "Science Fiction Doesn't Have to Be Gloomy, Does it?" But certainly I'm onboard with this sentiment: "The best science fiction, as with all great art, doesn't just reflect the world but seeks to influence it."

Update: Kathryn Cramer's "Gloom & Wartime SF: A reponse to Damien Walter" is worth checking out. "...what I would substitute for 'influence,' as a goal, is that writers provide us with perceptual tools with which to understand the world, the future, and what is to be done. I view science fiction partly as a set of perceptual tools we take with us into the world. I don’t think SF can be held responsible for finding solutions to all the world’s problems, but I think it is SF’s task to help us understand them."

Update 9/26/08: Jetsie de Vries alerts us to his lengthy response to Kathryn Cramer. He takes issue specifically with her comments about SF's scope of influence, and says, "Now shoot me, but I like to think SF that's really audacious, gutsy and forward-looking dares to make predictions against the flavour of the month. Dares to make totally unexpected predictions, and -- in the process -- dares to be wrong: but nevertheless inspires others to carry the torch of progress. Depicting a world like today that's going down the drain is easy: people love to complain, and blame the world's problems on someone else. Depicting -- convincingly -- a world that changes -- even if marginally -- for the better, is much more difficult, for an SF writer."

In callng out SF's obligation to be audacious, to act as if it can change the world, whether or not that notion is realistic, he reminds me of one of my favorite quotes of all time:
The reasonable man adapts himself to the world; the unreasonable one persists in trying to adapt the world to himself. Therefore all progress depends on the unreasonable man.
--George Bernard Shaw, Maxims for Revolutionists


Ted said...

On the subject of the relative desirability of flying cars and Skype, I had an exchange with Ben Rosenbaum that you might find interesting; it's in the comments to his blog entry Jetpack or IM.

Ian Sales said...

Walter's argument falls flat in the first paragraph: "It's at times like these that people seek escape in the pages of popular fiction."

Lou Anders said...

Bingo. I am also tired of people who are sure we read for escapism. Escapism for me is American Idol.

Jetse de Vries said...

My take on this is

(Actually, Damien Walter posted on this first on
September 4, after a certain event.)

Lou Anders said...

Well said.

Anonymous said...

Flying cars sound pretty scary to me, especially when you imagine all those people flying around talking on cell phones. The technological wonders we do have go way beyond anything I imagined while I was watching The Jetsons and Star Trek as a kid.

Lou Anders said...

Exactly. I'll take the ability to regrow a defective heart over a flying car any day.

spadamchrist said...

Everything is controlled from the motorcycle-like handle bar. Push it forward and the two counter-rotating blades pivot forward. Push it back and it goes back. Norris says you won’t need a pilot’s license if you fly it under 400 feet in non-restricted air space. And he’s going to sell.
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