Almost all the science fiction I know is built upon some very futuristic setting; and the whole mood is as if tasks like time travel, meeting extraterrestrials and using Aperture Science Hand-Held Portal Devices are but second nature. Right from Asimov’s positronic brains to the Infinite Improbability Drive, scientific progress has been taken for granted. And I guess that is what Fiction is about.. otherwise, what would be the point, mostly?
But today, I happened to come across this article, which provides more evidence of our inability to cross the speed-of-light barrier. And that is when I was suddenly struck by the extreme other possible end of the future.. Imagine that somehow after centuries.. or millenniums, despite all scientific attempts, we fail to create artificial intelligence; plus, no aliens seem to exist; nor can we visit most planets because we are still brutally nailed down by constraints like the speed of light. Further, consider that all this pent-up zeal for Progress might find an outlet by completely solving our environmental/socio-economic problems. That would be a scary nightmare.. leaving us with nothing to worry about; but nothing to do either, except maybe waiting indefinitely for that alien phone-call.
“Look at us, hurtling through space on this big, blue marble. ” – Seinfeld
But a while after I was immersed in this rather kill-joy view of the future, I remembered Jules Verne bravely discussing submarines in Twenty Thousand Leagues Under The Sea(1870) and space travel in From the Earth To the Moon(1865).. a full century ahead of the Apollo 11 ! No doubt these ideas seemed as fantastic back then, as do Portal guns now; yet Verne had such tremendous and accurate vision of the future path of Technology. This somehow does offer some reassurance that we will, despite all odds, break all barriers and actually become the sophisticated civilization that science fiction envisages. Asimov’s Foundation might be our future, after all.
Yet; the above do not eclipse the solid, unyielding statements that have withstood brutal cross-examination for about a hundred years now: Einstein’s Theory of Relativity and the speed-of-light barrier. The odds still remain.. what lies ahead?
(PS: The only science-fiction story I can recall that has been set in a believable real-world framework, is Jules Verne’s Around the World in Eighty Days(1873). Do you know of any others? If so, kindly mention it in the comments below)