Many people firmly believe that science fiction was the original inspiration for sending men into space and going to the Moon. I don’t know if that could ever be proven, but there’s a certain logic in thinking dreams come even before the horse or the cart.
The space program has lost its way. The Shuttles are being mothballed, and we’ve never left LEO for four decades now. If we’re honest, we’ll admit it was the cold war politics that got us to spend billions on NASA, and I’m afraid real science has made space a far less appealing destination than the fanciful vistas of old pulp fiction. Robotic probes have toured the solar system and we have a very realistic view of off Earth real estate, and the sites are far from the exotic locales described by our cherished space opera.
Yet, I have to ask: Can a new kind of realistic science fiction, incorporating the latest scientific knowledge about space, make the final frontier sexy again? I remember talking many years ago with a young woman about space exploration. She said unless we had spaceships like the Enterprise in Star Trek: The Next Generation then it wasn’t worth traveling in space. I have a feeling most people think that too.
I told her it was unlikely we’d ever have spaceships like NCC-1701-D and she acted like I had told her there was no Santa Claus. She had assumed such luxury space travel would be available soon, or at least well within her lifetime. Her attitude was, if we can’t travel in comfort, why go into space at all.
And there’s the rub. The final frontier will be rougher than any frontier a pioneer has experienced in the history of our species. Science fiction originally sold space exploration as an colorful adventure vacation. Now we know it’s going to be more like years of reconstructive surgery and physical rehabilitation with little hope of full recovery.
There are only two destinations for people in our solar system: the Moon and Mars. Forget the satellites of Jupiter and Saturn, they are much too cold and those systems have tremendous radiation levels. The Moon and Mars are far from habitable, but with determination we might colonize them. But we can’t oversell those two worlds like Kim Stanley Robinson did in his Red, Green, Blue Mars series. That trilogy was among the best “realistic” science fiction in recent decades, but it had way too much fantasy for the kind of science fiction I’m suggesting here.
Can a new generation of science fiction writers envision practical human life on the Moon and Mars in such a way as to sell the idea to the tax paying public? So far a majority of the public refuse to believe in evolution, so I find it hard to imagine such scientific science fiction selling, but it’s still a possibility.
JWH – 6/21/11