Friday, July 13, 2007

Welcome to the Future!

In my last post, I mentioned that my daughter will be 14 in 2020. When I was a little boy in 1972, there was a cartoon called Sealab 2020. I remember thinking, wow, they will have undersea laboratories in the future! Well, the future is not far away, and some of the science fiction genre's future is in our past.

It's always guesswork to try to anticipate what technology will exist by a future date and some movies and TV shows have been closer than others. George Orwell is said to have chosen 1984 as the setting of his famous novel simply by transposing the last two digits of the year of its publication, 1948. Some movies, like the popular X-Men franchise, wimp out by setting their films in "the not-so-distant future."

The 1979 Buck Rogers TV series always started with this narrative: "The year is 1987 and NASA launches the last of America's deep space probes. In a freak mishap Ranger 3 and its pilot Captain William 'Buck' Rogers are blown out of their trajectory into an orbit which freezes his life support systems and returns Buck Rogers to Earth 500 years later." Strangely enough, the deep space probe looked just like the Orbiter. And I've yet to see a manned deep space mission, so perhaps that was a bit optimistic, especially since the beginning of the show was only set eight yeares into the future.

In the Star Trek (original series, of course) episode Space Seed, the Eugenics Wars of the mid-1990s is mentioned. As far as I know, Khan Noonian Singh didn't take over 25% of Earth, so we're good. Star Wars had the Clone Wars, though, and that's just another example of George Lucas "borrowing" from TOS.

Lost in Space, set in 1997, sends the Robinson family in search of a habitable planet in the nearby Alpha Centauri system suitable for human colonization. I'm glad things aren't that bad just yet. I do want a B-9 Robot, though. They only cost $24,500!

In Space:1999, Moonbase Alpha is torn from its orbit by an explosion of nuclear waste and hurled across the cosmos. I always thought this show had the most realistic-looking ships of all the science fiction genre, taking elements from the actual Apollo spacecraft with bell-shaped thrusters, but in reality, we would be years away from establishing a permanent moon base even if we started the program today. Still, it was a pretty cool show.

2001: A Space Odyssey is a classic of science fiction and the technology depicted was generally considered to be attainable. Some of it was. I still want to ride the Pan Am space plane. Unfortunately, Pan Am went out of business in 1991.

I wonder how many more science fiction shows there were that were set in a future that has now come to pass. I have to think that they had no idea that they would be remembered now.

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