Over at the Classic Science Fiction book club a member said she would gladly go off with an alien visitor to see their world. We were reading Calculating God by Robert Sawyer last month, and the main character has to make that decision. Other members in the club also said they would go if they didn’t have wives and/or children. The original replier even said she’s take an anal probe if that’s what it took to hitch a ride as long as the aliens provided her with the necessities of life. She thought it would be the grandest experience possible.
I’ve seen this discussion before and many people claim they would hitch a ride on an alien spacecraft. But why? When I was young I would have said the same thing because I had space fever so bad, but now that I’m older it doesn’t seem wise. Don’t get me wrong, I want to know about life on other planets, and I’d love to see other worlds, but HD video will be plenty good for me.
Has science fiction oversold the romance of space travel?
Now this discussion is for a one way trip only. All or nothing. And it still get takers. When NASA was first planning trips to the Moon there was even discussion of one-way trips, and one-way trips to Mars have also been discussed, and there’s always folks claiming they would volunteer in second.
How bad do people want to go into space? How much do they want to see another habitable world? Evidently quite a lot.
Now in the book Calculating God the main character is dying of cancer and his decision is whether to die on Earth or out in space, so the hardest part of the decision was whether to leave his wife and kid, losing his last few months with them. But I’m hearing from people they would go even if they weren’t dying.
I have to compare this to Christians who want the Rapture to hurry up and come. It seems some people want certain answers very badly. In Calculating God the whole world knows about the alien visitors. They are scientists who come to Earth to work with other scientists, and when they leave they ask a few human friends if they’d like to come along exploring with them. Under those circumstances my questions about life on other planets would already be answered. The aliens brought lots of data and video with them about their worlds and the worlds they had already explored, so that would have been good enough for me. So why do some people just have to go no matter what to see for themselves?
Do some people need a deeply mind-blowing adventure to make their lives worthwhile? Is a portion of our population totally dissatisfied with a normal life on Earth? Or is there a travel gene that makes some people want to roam?
Or has science fiction sold us a romantic view that’s irresistible to some?
Or consider the reverse, maybe we love science fiction because we have genes that want to explore the universe and we can’t go.
I’ve always compared science fiction to religion, and outer space is the modern substitute for heaven, and aliens are the angels.
A couple of book club people mentioned they’d like to be ambassadors for the human race. And one member said if he was the only one going it would be more important than if he was one of hundreds, so the desire to have a unique experience is a factor. Another member reminded us of Close Encounters of the Third Kind where the Richard Dreyfuss character leaves seemingly without thinking about his wife and children. That implies a very strong desire to go joyriding with aliens.
This overwhelming desire to go to an alien world reminds me of love and sex. How often have you been overwhelmed with love and sexual desire and then got lucky with the person of your desire, only to discover that the sex and relationship wasn’t everything you dreamed it would be?
Is travel to the stars so irresistible because it’s something we can’t have? What if we got to consummate this love and the aliens turned out to be annoying as hell, and you became jaded over their beautiful exotic world after six weeks?
This desire to go to the stars seems very powerful. I wonder if Freud or Jung ever examined it?
JWH – 8/2/11