December 22, 2013

Most plausible sci-fi timelines?

Most science fiction deals with the future, obviously, hence the "fiction" part. In scifi literature, TV and movies, some future timelines appear more ... "realistic" than others. Notice I said "appear" because we are talking about science fiction. Older scifi efforts (like the original Star Trek) usually will appear more "dated" and hence, oft times, outright wrong.

So, first, let's take that of the original Star Trek (meaning, the original series and its spin-offs, not that of the two rebooted flicks). Here's a timeline of the "future" Trek history. The earliest stuff (that is, 20th-21st century), natch, is already incorrect. For instance, there was no interstellar probe launched in 2002, not to mention no Eugenic Wars which spawned the notorious Khan. However, a lot of the remaining timeline seems fairly feasible, especially since it was established in Star Trek: First Contact and the series Enterprise that Earth had the assistance of Vulcan. I do, however, have a beef with how quickly Earth was able to recover from its [largely nuclear] World War III and continue its scientific progress (which led to Zephram Cochrane's development of warp drive.).

I like rock & roll, getting drunk and in my spare time inventing warp drive.

I'm a huge fan of Larry Niven's "Known Space" universe which has, in the last few years, been updated with the "Fleet of Worlds" novels. Here's the Niven chronology. I think Larry has a very realistic outlook on the progress of human science; we're using fusion-powered interstellar ramscoops in the mid-24th century to travel between stars ... which takes years. And we'd still be using such if not for the intervention of an advanced species which sold us the secret of FTL (faster-than-light) travel.

What about Isaac Asimov's Robots/Empire/Foundation universe? Here's its timeline. Can humanity conquer the entire galaxy in 20,000 years? With the assistance of its robots (their actions are largely unknown to humans), why not? Only the early part of the timeline is unrealistic: we develop a "hyperatomic drive" by the mid-21st century and settle our first interstellar colonies by 2064. Ain't gonna happen.

The Alien-verse. According to this timeline of events, the supposedly omniscient Weyland Corporation discovers FTL travel in 2032 and begins practical application of it three years later with a spacecraft. Apparently this FTL tech did not lead to the elimination of the need for suspended animation, however (see: Alien, Aliens which occur in 2122 and 2179 respectively).

Then there's Snake Plissken's Escape From New York future. Somehow, in 1981, John Carpenter believed that in sixteen years Manhattan would be evacuated and turned into a maximum security prison. Oh, and that fusion power would be developed. (Remember that audio tape?)

What, you don't think "One-Eyed
Snake" is a cool nickname?

1975's Rollerball (a classic, in my opinion) posited that nations no longer existed and corporations ran the planet ... by 2018. I think this could certainly happen at some point, just not four years from now.

In 12 Monkeys, time travel is invented some years after 1997, even after a virulent virus has eradicated most of humanity. Uh, right.

The 1993 flick Demolition Man thought that the ability to freeze a human cryogenically would exist in 1996.

The 1994 film Timecop predicted time travel by 2004. And you get to ride in a cool-looking vehicle to make a trip (see below).

1973's Soylent Green told us that by 2022 there'll be over 40 million people in New York City, food will be scarce and global warming will be out of control. Ahh, remember when people used to believe that Malthusian bullshit?

A book I started some time ago but set aside is John J. Lumpkin's Through Struggle, The Stars. I didn't set it aside because it was bad; other things occupied my interest, is all. Nevertheless, check out how many colonies various Earth nations have settled by 2139. Does this seem possible to you?

Lastly, how 'bout these which really blew it:

  • Blade Runner. Humaniform androids and space colonies five years from now? Oops.
  • Back to the Future. Flying cars in a tad over a year's time? Not to mention hoverboards, food hydrators, thumb print currency, and self drying jackets? D'OH!
  • 2001: A Space Odyssey. Although one of the most scientifically accurate films ever, its predictions were way off. A huge space station and moon base by 2001? Nope. Immense spacecraft journeying to Jupiter? Uh uh. Suspended animation for long space trips? Sorry.

Posted by Hube at December 22, 2013 11:31 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.)

Remember the most famous, the original SF timeline--that created by Robert Heinlein in about 1939-1940. Full of plausible guesses although WW2 obviously made it clear very quickly that it was an alternate timeline.

Niven and Pournelle's Codominium history, based on the idea that we got interstellar travel before the US-USSR cold war ended has seen a lot of usage, also.

I also have a place in my heart for James Blish's "Cities in Flight" timeline, which--after all--goes from the present day to the end of universe.

Posted by: Steve Newton at December 22, 2013 06:54 PM

Steve -- I am unfamiliar with the Heinlein timeline. Is it online somewhere?

The only book I read related to the CoDominium was The Mote in God's Eye.

I found some references to "Cities in Flight" online ... looked pretty cool!

Posted by: Hube at December 23, 2013 01:17 PM

Heinlein generated his during 1939-1941 while selling his first raft of stories to Astounding. It is arguably the first detailed future history ever laid out in a table. It was published in Astounding and you can find the two-page spread in almost any Baen books reprint of "If This Goes On..." or The Past Through Tomorrow. It is the prototype of SF future histories.

Niven and Pournelle wrote only the Mote in God's Eye and The Gripping Hand in the Codominium universe. Otherwise it was pretty much the preserve of Jerry Pournelle alone for his John Christian Falkenburg mercenary stories, a series continued by SM Stirling, plus a few stand-alones like King David's Spaceship. It also provided the background for Pournelle's shared universe set of about five or six books called War World.

James Blish also did a timeline for his Okie "Cities in Flight" series. You can find it in any combo reprint of all four novels of the Okie series. You can essentially skip the first novel as it is an extended prologue that takes place mostly on Earth and drags a lot. The second novel is good, but obviously written as an SF juvenile in the style of the late 1950s. He hits his stride with "Earthman, Come Home" and ends everything grandly (and I do mean EVERYTHING in the universe) in "The Triumph of Time." Most combined volumes also carry an essay about how he based his work on Spengler's cyclical theory of history.

My other honorable mention is H. Beam Piper's Terro-Human Future History, which is also quite good. In a way, Piper closes the gaps between a Heinlein near-future history and an Asimov far-future history.

(Used to teach a course on futurists and future histories awhile back in my own timeline.)

Posted by: Steve Newton at December 23, 2013 04:46 PM

Good stuff! Thank you, Steve!

Posted by: Hube at December 23, 2013 05:40 PM

Another thing I just thought of: the bad future of "Days of Future Past" took place, interestingly enough in 2013. Because we all remember when the Sentinels took control and killed most of the world's superheroes and put mutants into concentration camps, right?

And Steve, didn't Heinlein also have the World-as-myth series?

Posted by: Carl at December 25, 2013 06:10 PM