In the first post in this series I lamented the lack of optimistic science fiction. Of course that was an exaggeration, optimistic science fiction is popular, but I can’t help but wonder why it is less popular than the standard cautionary tales. Especially when it is so well written.
The future depicted In Kim Stanley Robinson’s Red Mars does not sound like the future – it feels like the present. Sure, its plot involves mankind colonising Mars and developing a new society, but it reads and feels like a contemporary novel. On the front of my paperback copy is a quote from the Daily Mail newspaper calling it “the ultimate in future history”, and that’s exactly what it is. Robinson writes as if this future already exists, a future in which we have taken the first baby steps away from our crib and begun living on another planet. Though the journey is extremely rocky, as building any new civilisation will be, the very act of writing it as a future history makes it one of the most optimistic science fiction stories I have ever read. After reading it, optimism almost feels misplaced – the future history presented seems so inevitable that such optimism feels as silly as being hopeful that the sun will rise tomorrow.
In the realm of optimistic science fiction however, there is one story that towers above all the others, perhaps not in its execution, but in the fervour of its optimism. It depicts a world where mankind has solved its petty differences and no longer wars amongst itself. It depicts a world where hunger, poverty, and even money itself do not exist. It depicts a world where culture, science, art and exploration are our primary goals.
That world is the world of Star Trek.
Sure, the ideal future painted in Star Trek is overly saccharine and sometimes strains credulity. A world where money does not exist, and people pursue their careers simply to better themselves? Who does all the laundry? And for christ’s sake haven’t they heard of seat belts in the twenty fourth century? Why are all the bridge officers flailing around and falling over whenever their ship gets attacked? But if you can overlook its flaws and believe it, then Star Trek truly paints a future worth striving for.
I could extol the virtues of Star Trek at length. I could talk about the wonderful acting (yes really), the superb plots, and the characters that worm their way under your skin; but I wont. At this point you are either singing “amen” with me, or derisively shaking your head. All I will say is this – watch it. Watch one episode. Go away and watch The Next Generation episode, The Inner Light, then come back and tell me Star Trek is shit. You can find that episode buried inside this torrent, or just ask me if you want to borrow it.
But this post and the one before it are not about Star Trek, they are about the future. However it is my interest in science fiction, particularly Star Trek, that has given me my obsession with the future of our race.
It is this obsession with the future that has made me the man I am today. I am an environmentalist because I care about our future. I endorse the advancement of science, education and the death of ignorance because I care about the future. I follow the progress of space exploration because I see a future in which we outlive the planet we were born on and the solar system in which it resides. I care about the politicians we elect because these leaders will help shape the future for us all.
My desire to have children one day is inexorably intertwined with my vision of the future. I will raise them as if this future already exists.
I often come across as a hopelessly cynical person, but the cynicism I express about the present is fuelled entirely by the hope I feel for the future. I see the world not as it is now, but as it will be, as it should be now. It is as though I am a time traveller from this ideal future, experiencing the present with a sense of horror at how archaic, ignorant and unjust it is.
Ultimately the future of mankind is unclear, but two outcomes are certain; we will either exist forever or we will perish. In order to exist forever we must become a better society, and we must start thinking about the future, not just our own, but the future of our whole race. Then we must act to create this future for ourselves. We will exist or we will die, there is no middle ground. It is for this reason I am optimistic; we are nothing if not self preserving.