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Never Mind Flying Cars…

December 4th, 2009 No comments

Where’s my Permanent Undercaste of Developmentally Limited Slave Workers?
(And Other Failed Predictions from the Annals of Science Fiction)


Science fiction is littered with the failures of writers who should have known better to accurately predict the future… But it’s even more littered with the failure of reality to keep up with their warped ideas. Here I shall consider a few of my favorites.

 
Permanent Undercaste of Developmentally Limited Slave Workers
Brave New World

A knowledge work job for life, constant lusty adulation from lower caste members of the opposite sex, after work orgies, free drugs, and a workforce of fetal alcohol syndrome hobbit monkeys at one’s beck and call… Who wouldn’t want to live in Huxley’s world?

Moralizing neo-cons, that’s who!

As someone who’s devoted a lot of thought to transhumanism lately, I have to say that this book remains a challenging one. In some ways, Huxley’s argument in Brave New World looks like the sine qua non for people like Francis Fukuyama freaking out about the H+ movement. While we don’t have the technology to do some of the things described in this book yet, perhaps the intention is there? I do hope so, because it would be a vast improvement over the Epsilons-Shopping-at-Walmart stories people on the Eclipse Phase Facebook page came back with as soon as I took up this line of thought.

 
Pretty People Forced to Wear Hideous Masks to Make Them Average
Harrison Bergerand

Leaving the most recent Lady Gaga video aside, Vonnegut’s parable of an average American Übermensch forced to wear myopia-inducing goggles, a racoon coat made of metal racoons, and a grotesque mask hasn’t played out as advertised. As anyone in human resources will tell you, above average people are valuable. Your best approach is to put them in offices where all the C students don’t have to look at them, stack their workload so high that their brains don’t work much better than Harrison Bergerand’s Dad’s at the end of the day, and pay them enough to behave. After just a decade of this treatment, the combination of repetitive stress injuries, office chair-related back pain, and fat rolls sprouted from years of drinking and poor diet normally add up to the same handicaps forced upon Bergerand… no mask required!

Really, Kurt, you were over-thinking the problem.

 
Soviets on Jupiter (or Luna, or Mars, or Anyplace, Really)
2010: A Space Odyssey

Mr. Clarke, get real. The Soviets’ played-out, oppressive social regime and internal instability meant that they couldn’t get to the friggin’ Moon, let alone building a space ship capable of travel to the Jovian system.  Oh, wait… Americans can’t, either.

How embarrassing.

 
Reduction to the Status of Chattel for Women (May Substitute White People, Academics, Gun Lovers, Mormons, or Whatever Freaked the Author Out Most)
The Handmaid’s Tale

Although I actually think LDS paranoia about being oppressed for wanting to have lots of babies a la Ender’s Game is more entertaining, I’m including Margaret Atwood here because she’s such an ivory tower Henny Penny about being described as a science fiction author. Get over it, Margaret; no one’s going to force you to show up at Worldcon. It’s almost as silly as Lisa Gerrard and Brendan Perry freaking out about being called a goth band. Also, Ken MacLeod wrote a novel about talking squids in space, and it was fucking awesome, so you shut up.

I was going to write something about alarmist, overwrought narratives posing as plausibly framed social commentary, but look, I just ended up going off on Margaret Atwood for a whole paragraph instead. Whatever, moving on…

 
Food Pills
The Jetsons

I tried to make these when I was a kid by taking white bread and squishing it into the densest little dough bullets I could. When you added peanut butter and jelly, it didn’t work so well, but I’m sure modern food technology could do better than an eight year old with a rolling pin and time on his hands. Never mind that compressing a full meal into a pill would result in a pill that weighed about half a pound. The demand is out there. “But the Jetsons was a cartoon,” you protest. Pish tosh! Serious sci-fi writers kicked this idea around, too. Of course, if they had kicked an actual food pill they would have probably stubbed their toes badly and discarded this idea right quick.

 
Absurdist Totalitarianism
Brazil

The failure to appear of a preposterously Kafkaesque state where interrogators wear weird baby masks and dissidents get hung in garment bags aboard mobile armored hall closets would mark Terry Gilliam as one of sci-fi’s dimmest lights in the art of prediction, if not for the abject lack of imagination it displays on the part of the oppressive regimes we already have. Really, if glue-huffing African child soldiers could work out that neon wigs and women’s clothing would freak the fuck out of their opponents, you’d think the meatheads at Abu-Gharaib could have come up with something better than scaring people with dogs and making them form naked human pyramids. They could have been using, I don’t know, creepy octopus masks or something. Were I an Iraqi detainee, I’d pretty much poo myself instantly if some crazy white man dressed like a cephalopod came at me with a list of questions.

 
Unreliable Experimental Medical Procedures That Make Mice and Retarded People Smarter
Flowers for Algernon

Sadly, this is not a widely explored trope, but that’s okay, because Keyes had it in the pocket.  The key implication of his idea, though, has not inspired the type of vigorous exploration that, say,  virtual reality did. Which is too bad, because if you could perform an operation to make mentally retarded people more functional, just think of how you could improve all of the people who are technically of average intelligence but do stupid, stupid things all of the damned time.

And think of all the incidental spin offs you’d glean from the massive amount of human experimentation along the critical path to reach this outcome! It’s clearly a winner.

 
So There You Have It
Quit snoozing, reality, and try to keep up.