I started reading science fiction at a comparatively young age. Even younger if you want to count those Scholastic Books SF offerings like The Runaway Robot or Revolt On Alpha C.
I was probably eight or so when I began this journey. I’d already progressed to Heinlein and Tolkein by the age of ten. Young, naive, precocious, impressionable and obviously enamored of imagination and possibility, I know that it all greatly affected my world view, but I’m really just getting around to examining exactly how it did.
Somewhere along the line I had to have sussed out the concept that what I was reading wasn’t real. But I seem to have unconsciously added a caveat. The word “yet”.
I don’t know if it was the particular authors I was reading (start with Heinlein, add Le Guin, Bradley, Chandler, Clarke, Asimov and build from there) or the age I grew up in (space is the place as long as we don’t blow ourselves up first) or some inborn, native, genetically predisposed psychology, but I seem to have always received the messages and lessons I was being taught by the literature in a positive, optimistic way.
I quickly learned that there were all kinds of horrible fates awaiting mankind – atomic armageddon (or their friends biological and chemical), alien invasion, rogue planets, ecological disaster, resource scarcity, religious fanaticism, technology run-amok, you name it – and that human beings, once they got their act together, killed or rendered moot the (stupid) humans who just didn’t get it and put their heads together in a coordinated way, could over come any obstacle and would do so in a way that benefited all humankind (and usually ended up creating some new science along the way). (Except of course for the bad guys. They’d disappear, or die or maybe even learn the error of their ways and become fast friends and allies of the good guys.)
Growing up in the shadow of the Apollo missions did absolutely nothing to dissuade me from this growing sense that humanity could do anything, could do it well, would do it just because it was a nifty idea and would deliver the accrued benefits to all in an altruistic manner. After all, the citizens of the United States pulled together and achieved an impossible goal in less than a decade. They put men on the Moon using World War II technologies; we all reaped the benefits of the technological advances and the placard on the Moon didn’t say “We Came For the USA and Now It’s Ours”. (It actually says “We came in peace for all mankind”. Seems even our lunar placards have become sexist when viewed through a modern lens, although I hope the intent still comes through.)
Apollo also reinforced that caveated “yet” I mentioned earlier. When I started reading science fiction, the US and Soviet space programs were barely capable of putting people into orbit and getting them back safely (and there were no other private or national space programs anywhere). Anyone who seriously thought we’d visit other planets was still viewed as being a few tons of LOX short of a full tank.
But I believed that “yet” and I watched it turn into reality with my very own eyes. On July 19th, 1969, it was true that “No human being had ever set foot on another planet.” Yet.
On July 20th, 1969, the “yet” disappeared.
Traveling to other planets was not the only “yet” I encountered. I learned about all kinds of futures that, over the years have gelled together in my mind. In that future –
there would be a largley hands-off world government, one that concerned itself with empowering its citizens, protecting the environment, husbanding global resources, organizing aide and comfort where needed and intervening only when the whole planet or all of humanity were threatened with dire consequences; after all, why waste all those resources duplicating efforts every couple of thousand square miles or so?
the people of that world would all be pretty much the same: they are all universally healthy because health and well-being were long ago judged to be not only an essential right that technological advance made it possible to achieve economically, but also because it made simple economic sense: healthy, happy workers are less expensive to maintain – prevention is less expensive than cure.
These future people are all pretty much universally happy because no one cares anymore about who was sleeping with whom, living with whom, rearing children with whom. In fact, it was nearly impossible to devise a relationship type that wasn’t common, accepted and embraced. More importantly, everyone was mature enough to realize that the universe didn’t give a rats ass who did what, how, with whom and it was a lot smarter to spend emotional energies elsewhere. Besides, it just makes economic sense as healthy and happy workers….
Speaking of energy – the cost of producing it dropped to nil once fusion, or shipstones or spin dizzies or…became available. With no need to extract economic benefit from producing energy, getting as much as was needed became another birth right. Naturally, with so much energy freely available, combined with advances in other technologies, everyone could become an artisan of one kind or another and consumer goods could be produced so cheaply that it was almost an insult to pay for them.
The society of the future afforded unfettered opportunity to everyone and anyone who wanted to educate themselves; a well-educated planet makes better decisions.
It helped that the “haves” stopped stressing over coddling free-booters once it was amply demonstrated that caring properly for those who couldn’t or didn’t want to care for themselves was orders of magnitude less expensive than not doing so. (Besides, if things went wonky, it was nice to have a ready reserve for the Soylent plant)
Of course these people of the future look a bit different too. While representative samples of the different races could still be found, most folks are tall, lean and well-muscled, “brown” in coloration with mostly “kinky hair” and brown eyes with slight epicanthic folds. (I can’t remember where I read it, but that description is based on speculations on what humanity would look like if all the races were allowed time to completely intermingle.). Everyone is mature enough to know that they’re members of the “human” race. They’re also educated enough to know that everyone on the planet has some not-too-distant familial relationship with everyone else, so naturally bigotry and racism and sexism and many other isms simply don’t exist.
Other ills of society are solved in a variety of ways and means, some preceded by painful social change, others achieved relatively simply because the society of the future is peopled with humans who are decidedly more mature than ourselves; they’re much more apt to allow logic to trump emotion, have learned to prefer long-term planning to short-term and have accepted that each individual should be allowed to go to hell in their own handbasket, so long as doing so doesn’t upset anyone else’s applecart.
In this imagined future, the purpose of the human race is to better itself, to learn and to explore.
Of course it’s a utopian future, cobbled together from equal parts Star Trek, Robert Heinlein’s Future History and with something from just about everything else I’ve ever read or watched or listened to thrown in for good measure.
All things that are fun to imagine, interesting to contemplate. All things that haven’t happened.