Science Fact > Science Fiction. Again.

After I posted today’s Headline Muse, the following leaped into my consciousness, unbidden:

Though it promised us trips through the stars,
Cryogenics, and yes, flying cars,
Science fiction must bow
To our science facts now…
That’s the word from our robot on Mars.

Science fiction is cool. It is. I remember reading about time travel, and human colonies on distant worlds, and paranormal abilities, and robots, aliens, androids, and the future of human evolution.

And it was really cool.

But I also remember us landing on the moon. And as cool as the possibility of the moon’s being made of green cheese was, a real human footprint beat that all to hell. And then there were the various probes, and the Hubble, and orbiters around distant planets.

And great science fiction is still great. But damn, we have landed a robot, with cameras and a laser and analysis equipment, on Mars. Mars. The quintessential science fiction planet. War of the Worlds. Please. The Martian Chronicles? Even the recent Doctor Who had The waters of Mars–and don’t get me started on Marvin the Martian. (I have no doubt that my readers are well aware that I have barely scratched the surface here, and that dozens more examples of Martian literature exist.)

And every day, the Mars Curiosity Rover is kicking the ass of every single one of these examples. In the same way that falling in love kicks the ass of reading about falling in love. As it always is, and always should be. Writing about Martians is different now… now that Curiosity is tweeting from Mars.


  1. bobmunck says

    It sounds like you haven’t read any science fiction since the sixties. There have been quite a few brave new worlds beyond Mars since then. Consider Diamond Age or Old Man’s War.

  2. Crudely Wrott says

    I have a love of early science fiction from the first half of the last century. I’ve always (since younger than ten years old!) considered it a mythology from the future. I’m not bashful one bit to say that it informed much of my thinking during my youth and adulthood. In this I am in good company. Just see the declarations of so many of today’s scientists including those who are at this moment making a living putting robots on Mars. They are also adding to this mythology of the future by testing the themes of those venerable stories and putting flesh on the bones of erstwhile fantasies.

    There is also a mythology from the past which had themes and fantasies every bit as incredible as those of the Golden Age of science fiction but for one thing. Those ancient myths were poorly informed, relying only on human fears and longings rather than valid insights of reality.

    While science fiction has no shortage of the same it has one thing that the ancient fictions didn’t have; practical knowledge of the world and the wider cosmos in which it exists. Particularly its limitations. I see a sharp difference between the two which I think is simply stated.

    Mythology from the past draws us backwards. Backwards in time as well as backwards in our philosophies and world views to a time when human aspirations were defined and limited chiefly by the priests and medicine men.

    Mythology from the future impels us forward and informs our philosophies and views defined and limited instead by the processes that are built into the fabric of the universe.

    These improved limitations, while sometimes seeming as capricious as those of the past, have the advantage of not being subject to he whims of the established church or the latest medicine man down on the local street corner.

    In short, the old myths impose limitations that are symptoms of human tendencies to seek power and influence over others. The new myths impose limitations that bestow greater abilities and a wider sense of equity which makes for much greater utility.

  3. embertine says

    Off topic, but interesting:

    Reminds me of something I had forgotten, which is that I saw a little cuttlefish in the wild when I was on holiday in France as a child. It was on a sandy beach with very clear water and a gentle incline, and I put a piece of ham sandwich in the sea because I thought the fish would come. A little cuttle, maybe seven centimetres long, came up to investigate although he did not eat the sandwich.

    Can’t believe I had forgotten that.

  4. sheila says

    I can’t remember the fine details, but I seem to remember hearing about a little boy who loved Star Trek. He thought the ion drive was particularly cool.

    Now he’s grown up and works for NASA, and the ion drive he designed is propelling New Horizons to Pluto.

    That’s not just cool, that’s cryogenic.

  5. machintelligence says

    Sadly, there is a great deal of “been there, done that” sentiment. Kids today haven’t been dreaming about exploring the solar system, for them it’s ancient history (before they were born.)The moon landings, beginning in 1969, and the Mars Viking missions in 1976 really got folks fired up. Today, not so much. I personally am in nerdvana. but I think I’m in the minority.

  6. Thinker says

    “dozens more examples of Martian literature exist”

    It could have been a simple misread or wishful thinking, or perhaps just in the post’s spirit of “anything might be possible”, but I read this as “there exists plenty of literature authored by Martians”.

    Peter Englund*´s Eighteen could surprise,
    Looking well beyond this planet’s skies
    (if not to the stars),
    And give someone on Mars
    The Nobel Literature Prize.”

    *Permanent Secretary of the Swedish Academy (a.k.a. “The Eighteen”), which selects the Nobel Laureate for Literature.

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