Sunday, May 23, 2010

12 Events and how they might turn out Differently.

The cover article for the June 2010 issue of Scientific American is entitled, “12 Events that will Change Everything,” with the subtitle, “And Not in the ways you think.”
The article is a summary of twelve developments, discoveries or disasters that could happen between now and the year 2050.  Each event is given a little mini-article going over what is known about the event in question, our progress toward it or the efforts to stop it from occurring, and rating each one’s chance of happening between now and the year 2050.  
The list of 12 Events, and their chance of happening per the editors of the magazine are: 
The cloning of a human being - Likely.
The discover of extra spatial dimensions - 50-50.
Contacting extraterrestrial intelligence - Unlikely.
A 'limited' nuclear war - Unlikely.
The creation of artificial life - Almost Certain.
Room-temperature superconductors - 50-50. 
Machine self-awareness - Likely.
The melting of the polar ice caps - Likely.
A Pacific earthquake (a.k.a. "The Big One) occurring - Almost Certain. 
The development of fusion energy - Very Unlikely.
An asteroid collision with the Earth - Unlikely.
A deadly pandemic - 50-50. 
The part of the article that catches my attention is the subtitle, “And NOT in the ways you think.”  I began thinking of Big Events of science and technology from the past and how they didn’t work out the way they had been intended.  
Take the laser as an example, which will have the sixtieth anniversary of its invention in August of this year.  The initial research for the laser was to develop a weapon for the army, the ‘ray gun’ of the science fiction movies and stories of the fifties.  It didn’t happen at first, the technological barriers proved to be too great at the time.  It’s only this year, in December, that the army will finally begin testing of a 100 kilowatt laser weapon built by Northrop Grumman (Click Here to read more).
Now, the laser has radically changed our lives.  Fiber optic cables may be transporting this blog (at least part of the way, depending on where you live) to you.  CDs and DVDs would not exist without the laser.  And while the military is only now getting its ray gun, they’ve used lasers to help pinpoint targets for their troops, and scientists use the same technology to measure the distance from here to the moon.  It definitely had an impact, just not the one intended.  
A more personal example: Watching the first men walk on the moon when I was a kid.  Being a budding science fiction fan (I loved the Star Trek television show that had just been cancelled a month prior) I was sure that what I was seeing was something BIG.  Just hearing the silence of the neighborhood at the time, feeling my mom’s arm squeezing my shoulder as I sat next to her, seeing the expression on my father’s face, all made me certain that there would be colonies on the moon and in space, and that we would be flying spacecraft to Mars and other solar systems 'soon.'  
It didn’t happen (at least, not yet).  The Apollo program brought a wealth of new technologies into our lives, and it changed our perception of what was possible (“We can send men to the moon, but we can’t…” fill in the blank with the appropriate thing we should be doing), but the promise of common space flight has yet to be achieved.
Moving further down the personal path, I created my own list of 12 Big Events.  These were things that happened in my life that altered my perceptions of what was important or what I should be doing.  They were: 

The Night of the Babysitter.
Watching the Moon Landing.
Getting Caught with nude-y pictures.
Cousin Steve's Christmas Gift.
The Haunting.
My best friend's breakdown.
The acting class at Chaffey College.
My ex-girlfriend dying.
Getting dumped by that actress.  
The Cross-Country trip.
The Last Audition.
The Honest Answer at the Business Meeting.
As with the Scientific American article, I am noticing how these personal events changed me in ways that were unexpected or unintended.  The event I’ve entitled, “Getting Dumped by that girlfriend,” is important to me because it directly lead to my first short story being published in a professional market.  At the time I had no idea that would be the result, but I can say with certainty that her telling me it was over was the direct catalyst to that first sale.  And the “Cross Country Trip,” which I had envisioned as a life changing event as I embarked on it, went in the completely opposite direction than what had been anticipated (I lost everything that I owned at the time and took a year to get back home.  Friends that knew me from before all told me I was ‘different’ when I got back).  
Each of the events listed in the Scientific American article have already been the basis for numerous science fiction stories.  But the ones that stand out, that stick in one’s mind, are those where the author has found a way to put an unexpected something into the mix.  As I write this blog, I am remembering the opening from a story I read decades ago (I believe it was in Isaac Asimov’s Science Fiction).  A football game is in progress.  An alien spacecraft appears over head.  It lands at midfield.  The hatch opens.  One of the football players on the field decides to ‘step up.’  He approaches the hatch and says, “Welcome to Earth,” in the most official voice he can muster.  The alien stepping out of the hatch looks at him and replies.  
“We want cocaine.”  
The story went on to be about the search for new experiences and the extent we will go to get them.   I can’t remember the name of the story (as you might guess from the alien’s reply, it was written in the 80’s), but that opening stuck itself in my head and can't be shaken free.  
I think it’s important to contemplate the changes we might face in the future, both good and bad, and think of ways to avoid or mitigate the results of the bad events, and exploit the advantages gained from the good ones.   But as a science fiction writer, I also want to do what I can to foresee the unexpected changes such big events can spawn.  The better I am at doing that then the better my stories will be and the more able I will be at dealing with the changes that will be coming. 
News and Current Projects
After reading the '12 Events' article, I decided to write my own story on each of the events.  As a way of finding that 'unexpected' outcome I've decided to borrow one of the story creation ideas I wrote about previously (see my blog entry for June 19, 2009 - "Story Generator") and combine one of my own personal life changing events with one from the Scientific American list.  "Discovering New Dimensions" and finding the direct causal link with "Cousin Steve's Christmas Gift" seems particularly doable.  And NOT for the reasons you might be thinking!  
I'm still working on the Long Ride.  I keep coming up with interesting scenes that I write out, but the story is eluding me (at this is at 10,000 plus words already written out).  Right now my plan is to drive to the end of my outline and see if I can figure out what I've been writing about then.  Wish me luck.  


Blogger slcard said...

Perhaps I'm more jet lagged than I believe, but I can't for the life of me think of what that"NOT" means. What am I supposed to be thinking? You've got me thinking, and I'm amused that I think I should be amused.

And I do wish you luck with Long Ride. Good luck!

May 24, 2010 at 9:25 PM  
Blogger Erick Melton said...

First off, thanks for the "luck wish," I think I'm going to need it on this one.

I guess I was assuming everyone got the context of my "NOT" statement. That's something I should watch out for when I'm writing.

May 30, 2010 at 10:37 PM  

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