July 25, 2006

Failed anticipation

While away this past weekend, I greedily began devouring my latest sci-fi book (the 4th of this summer), Robert Heinlein's The Door Into Summer. I'm about 3/4 of the way through it, but as with all "dated" sci-fi books (DIS was written in 1957), what's interesting is contemplating how the author's "prescience" worked out. The most obvious "sci-fi" aspect of the novel is the application of suspended animation. The protagonist unwittingly enters this "cold sleep," and awakens in the year 2000. As I said, the use of suspended animation is the needed sci-fi facet. But Heinlein's world of 2000 doesn't utilize computer technology whatsoever. In its place, robots have taken over jobs of many mundane tasks. But the robots are not essentially automated computers -- they have "gears" and "circuits" and -- my favorite -- "memory tubes!" Tubes! And, for example, these automatons wouldn't merely do any word processing themselves; they'd do the typing themselves -- on a typewriter!

With the state of computer technology in 1957, one cannot fault Heinlein overmuch, that's for sure. However, in Isaac Asimov's The Caves of Steel, first published in 1953, an overpopulated Earth approximately three thousand years in the future still uses nuclear fission as its main source of power. This is the same nuclear power that we use today, here and now! The biggest hassle with this type of power is the toxic waste products, and Asimov deals with this by having his future Earth digging deep, huge tunnels into the planet's crust to house the waste. What gets me is how Asimov didn't take the next logical step and have his future Earth use nuclear fusion, the very clean -- and cheap -- source of power that, once humans are able to harness it efficiently, will provide cheap energy for ... well, just about forever! Nuclear fusion was already an established principle when Caves was written -- the first hydrogen bomb was tested in 1952, while Caves was penned in 1953. It's estimated that economically viable fusion power could be safely utilized in some 30-40 years, maybe longer. It seems silly that Asimov's future Earth (3000 years!) wouldn't have used fusion power, let alone moved on to something even more powerful and efficient.

To be fair to 'ol Isaac, thirty years later he began continuing his "Robot," "Empire" and classic "Foundation" series, and attempted to link them all together. He made the most of the computer technology and power sources of the time, and extrapolated. Fusion power was supplanted by gravitic power sources (as seen in Foundation's Edge and Foundation and Earth) and human-computer interfaces were introduced.

These examples are really just two off the top of my head. What are some other "big misses" of some of the great sci-fi authors?

Posted by Hube at July 25, 2006 09:44 AM | TrackBack

Comments  (We reserve the right to edit and/or delete any comments. If your comment is blocked or won't post, e-mail us and we'll post it for you.)

One of the conspicuous things that I don't buy is the death of modern mass media in favor of a return to books and literature. Don't see it.

Posted by: Jeff the Baptist at July 25, 2006 10:44 AM

The Jetsons. The whole thing. They said we'd all be toolin' around in flying cars by now.

Posted by: Ryan S. at July 25, 2006 12:51 PM

Oh lets not forget UAVs. Every sci-fi I have ever scene has human flying around in space craft and space fighters. Where are the unmanned combat robots? I suppose Star Wars episode I got that right at least...

Posted by: Jeff the Baptist at July 25, 2006 04:45 PM