The Future is Now... just tweak it.


We live in the midst of it.

I want you to picture a sci-fi set, complete with CG and other effects. Depending where you are, you might want to avoid the dystopian Skynet kind of thing, and instead picture Alderon*, or one of the paradise planets from popular series. Picture tall buildings, spaceships cruising by above, green-verged pathways and high-tech vehicles whooshing by with a high-pitched whistle.
Now, as I look around me, I see some interesting things.

There are boats here, on the Thames, with radar and sonar and satellite Internet linkups. Solar panels bedeck the decks, and the crafts can either roar with uncanny speed through open ocean, or bugle along, calmly, the placid waterways.

Off to my right there is a bridge, over which electric and internal combustion vehicles whoosh or rumble. In these, as well, are Internet uplinks and computers monitor the functioning of the ultra-precise engines and systems on board. It is possible that one or more of them may even be driverless (I have a good friend who had a job as a passenger in one, in the United States, cruising along while the vehicle did its thing). These are manufactured globally: an engine in Germany, batteries in the US, something else in Mexico, and yet another component in SE Asia… all shipped and assembled in some other place, then brought here, complete and ready for that Sunday drive, or commute to work.

Above me (I live west of Heathrow, one of the busiest airports in the world), occasional jets float by, high enough that the scream of the engines are little more than a quiet thunder in the distance. They are huge, carrying tons of people and cargo and, I kid you not, some of them have small shopping malls and bars on board. Most airliners are limited to a cruising altitude of 45,000 feet, but the Concorde flew at 60,000, and if one is lucky enough to live near the right airstrip, it is possible to catch a glimpse of a shuttle rocketing up into space, or cruising back down to land once the mission is complete. We even have a floating space station, now permanently-manned, in a stable orbit, falling endlessly around the earth. We’ve driven remote control vehicles on Mars and, before too long, a manned trip to its surface will be attempted.

When I go to the doctor, I have the option of an internal scan, mapping and displaying my body, inside and out, almost to the molecular level. I’ve watched a veterinary surgeon take bone from a dog’s pelvis and graft it onto a front paw, effectively growing new finger-bones to replace those cut away by a machete attack. Bionic assistance is also common, with implants to allow some deaf people to hear via vibrations picked up by acute sensors in there heads. I even had a phone call not long ago, during which Skype translated my sentences into German, and the German responses back into English (oblique Star Trek allusion this time).

My point (perhaps at long last) is this: we are living in the midst of it. We are in the centre of a sci-fi setting, and most of us are unaware of it. Those things we have now will be what we have in 50 years - but probably more so. Barring an apocalyptic event that throws us all into a dystopian wasteland, our current surroundings are the bast source of material for any futuristic setting. On the surface of it, this might make the writing more mundane, but beneath that level is another, one in which the very normalcy of it will allow the writer to focus on the underlying themes, layers, and intricacies of the story. With rare exception, the setting is, after all, just a framework upon which to hang the events and developments of the characters. With only a very small adjustment in paradigm, what is right before your eyes becomes the exotic, and the immediate experience within it will produce a realistic, engaging source of story.

* I have recently become aware of the frequency of Star Wars references in my blogging… I make no apologies, but only reply with the explanation that I am a child of the seventies, and as any other North American child of the seventies may attest, there was no greater pop culture influence than the worlds and characters of (the Reverend) George Lucas.

Jeff SpenceComment