Remembering Futures Past

A few times a year, I re-read some classic science fiction, just for some variety, but also to see if it still works. One of the funny things about our age is the past is increasingly more alien to us than any imagined future. Reading stories, written in the 1950’s, that depicted life in the far off future, you get some insights into the society that laid the groundwork for our age. Often times, though, it reveals the foolishness and, in retrospect, absurd optimism, about the future and technology common in the last century.

The old science fiction guys got some things right about the future. Jules Verne, who is the father of science fiction, had amazing insights into the future of technology. You can read Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea today and it still holds up pretty well. On the other hand, a lot of science fiction turned out to be wildly wrong about the future, even by the standards of fiction. I recently re-read The Martian Chronicles and it is laugh out loud terrible in parts. It is corn-ball pulp fiction now.

Of course, people were much more optimistic about the future in the heyday of science fiction writing. If you would have told Ray Bradbury in the 1950’s that man would not be on Mars by 2018, he would have thought you were a ridiculous pessimist. Of course, man would be exploring the solar system in the 21st century. We would have conquered human suffering, united as one and be riding around in nuclear powered flying cars. Instead, the future is trans-gendered otherkins stalking your daughters in public toilets.

We cannot blame the people of the last century for not seeing this stuff coming. We are living it and it still seems impossibly insane. For Americans in the 1950’s, optimism about the future was natural. America had conquered the world, saving Western Civilization from itself. Technological progress was making life comfortable, even for the poorest. There was no reason to think we were heading for a bad turn. It is a good lesson that no matter how bad things are now, they can get worse. The future is not written.

Reading The Martian Chronicles, I was reminded of something that turns up in old black and white movies. That is the acceptance of casual violence. In the 1950’s, fictional characters would say things like, “You better give it to me straight or I’ll bash your teeth in” to some other character playing a store clerk. In one of the Bradbury stories, a man from earth arrives on Mars and starts talking with the Martians. The conversations are peppered with threats of personal violence, but in a casual, haphazard manner.

Imagine going into the local retail store and seeing one of the customers telling the clerk that he was going to bash in his skull if he did not hop to it. I doubt fist fights were a regular feature down at the piggly-wiggly, but the threat of personal violence was a common occurrence in movies and fiction. It is reasonable to think that the people in the audiences for this stuff found it perfectly normal that men talked to one another in this way, which suggests it was how people talked in their normal lives.

Similarly, most of the characters in Bradbury’s future smoked. In one story, the first thing the earth men do when they land on Mars is have a smoke. Maybe Bradbury was a smoker, but his best writing is when describing the joys of smoking on Mars. I guess it makes sense to think that the future will have better versions of the stuff you really enjoy today. Imagine going back in time and telling sci-fi writers that in the future, men would not only not be on Mars, but smoking would be a crime. They would think you were crazy.

The other thing about old sci-fi, and it jumps out in The Martian Chronicles, is the fascination people had back then with rockets and nuclear technology. It makes perfect sense. Both seemed impossibly amazing to the people of the time. The fascination with nuclear energy is amusing in hindsight. Science fiction writers 70 years ago thought it was perfectly logical that tiny nuclear reactors would replace all of our energy sources. Still, nuclear powered garments to keep you warm at night is laughably silly in hindsight.

Putting that aside, it is amusing to look back at these conceptions of the future. Many were wildly wrong, because they wanted to be wildly wrong. It is fiction, after all. It is easy to forget that writers in the first half of the last century were expecting their stuff to be read by men with high school level educations. Granted, a 1950’s high school education was much more than what we see today, but the audience was not a collection of literary sophisticates. The job of the writer was to entertain, not lecture, the reader.

Still, reading old science fiction has a utility to our age, which goes beyond mere amusement. The people of that era, producing this stuff, were optimistic about the future. They were committed to building a better world. Granted, it all went to shit in the 60’s and we have yet to pull out of the death spiral, but they did not know what they could not know. Our generations do not have that excuse. We have the hard lessons of failed social experimentation. We have no excuse for tolerating this stuff. We know better.

94 thoughts on “Remembering Futures Past

  1. The original “Rollerball” was on the other night. Pretty good predictions on the money and corruption in professional sports. How it is the new circus for the masses to keep them distracted. It was made long before ESPN was invented and hired people to yak about a football game for an entire week.

    The evil corporation stuff was kind of overblown but Roger Goodell and his arbitrary suspensions would have been a good subplot.

  2. One of the things that makes me at least somewhat optimistic about the future of space travel is the fact that private corporations are now taking the lead. Like Elon Musk’s Space-X, and Richard Branson’s Virgin Galactic. Read about them here:
    Robert Heinlein in his “Future History” stories (collected in the book “The Past Through tomorrow” imagines private companies making the first trips into outer space. He got that wrong, since NASA was and is a government agency. But like any government agency, its funding and projects are at the mercy of Presidents and Congress, so although some projects were done – Voyagers, Mariner rovers on Mars, the International Space Station and the Space Shuttles, there hasn’t been a lot in human space travel – we haven’t been back to the moon in 40 years or so. Virgin Galactic wants to make a business of space tourism.

    So maybe Heinlein really had the right idea about how space travel could flourish – let private enterprise lead the charge (and get government out of the way), which seems to be happening in our own times.

  3. Know what they got spectacularly wrong? Women. Most sci-fi I read back in the 1960s and 1970s had a future where women were still housewives, but with kewl gadgets to make life easier.

  4. Bradbury was not a smoker. At least not in later life. I have no experience with him before the early 70s.

  5. I was born in the 50s….people were more social back then…and men drank more back then…that was the spark for violence…and yes nuclear was much on everyone’s mind…I read a lot of science fiction, and it prompted me to go into the navy as a nuclear reactor operator…

    and it didn’t go bad in the 60s…it was really a progression over time…segregation started in the 60s, and really got implemented in the early 70s…but the genesis of all that ruin started decades earlier, at least in the 1930s…maybe even earlier…
    anti-white multiculturalism started in the elite colleges and seeped into the educational curriculum over decades…the elite judges that attended elite schools were already indoctrinated by the 1940s….

    • There’s a lot of truth to what you say, chan, it certainly was a continuum, but there was also a sharp inflection point where things speeded up, between about 1965-1970. I remember that, and I’m sure if you look back, you will too. But no, a lot of the roots of the Sixties can be found in the 1930’s and 1940’s, among the “educated classes”. The fish always rots from the head down. A lot of the “better” literature of the 1940’s and 1950’s is proto-Sixties stuff. Read “From Here to Eternity” if you don’t believe it – the book is very different from the Sinatra movie…

      • yes, toddy, and one big problem is that the dissident right is not as well read as they think they are…the whole pro-black/anti-white attitude was already present among the educated elite in the 20s and 30s

  6. Science fiction has never been able to convincingly describe a realistic scenario for overcoming the space/time continuum. Rocket ships just “do it.” A. E. van Voigt got close with “Far Centaurus.” But there are still problems that go unaddressed.

    • I want anthropological and political SF in the vein of Leguin and Herbert, but addressing the Muslim, African, and (Semitic) aspects.

      For a look at our future, see the Company stories/series by the late, great Kage Baker.
      ‘The Life of the World to Come’ is a scathing, hilarious prophecy of our PC destiny. Baker is an absolute delight.

      Doomed orphans, throughout time, are made immortal cyborgs by the Company.
      Their job is to rescue great works lost to war and disaster for future salvage.

      But, all history will stop in the year 2355.
      No-one knows what follows, not even the dread neanderthal Angels of Death.

  7. There’s a collection put together by Pournelle of his favorite short stories as well as some discussions on beating the Soviet nuclear menace as well as how barbarians cannot be expected to assimilate as citizens. It’s titled Imperial Stars, my personal favorite is The Star Plunderer by Poul Anderson. I also have The Best of Cordwainer Smith. Now there’s an author that truly cared about The Underpeoole!

    • Pournelle was pretty much Heinlein’s inheritor, insofar as he had one. He wasn’t quite as imaginative a writer as Heinlein, but his stuff also lacked a lot of the later Heinlein weirdness. “Lucifer’s Hammer”, “Footfall” and “The Mote in God’s Eye” are just plain good. A real shame that they are both gone now.

    • Huge upvote for Cordwainer Smith – the Ballad of Lost C’Mell, Scanners Live In Vain, Norstrilia, the Discovery of Man.
      Wondrous. The Underpeople!

  8. One of my wife’s colleagues recently retired, old-timer pediatrician. He is a fascinating guy to talk to because he points out things like we’ve largely cured the childhood diseases likely to affect most people. Sure, cancer is still out there, but we’re knocking on the door of that. Polio is gone, smallpox is gone, influenza is mainly an opportunity for people to point out that they don’t bother with the shots, malaria is gone, diptheria, measles, mumps, rubella (MMR). It has made pediatrics in some ways a much less interesting field, but in other ways more interesting in the sense that the really rare stuff is stuff you get to practice. Outside of severe genetic defects or freak accidents, infant mortality is practically nonexistent in our society. I think in most respects the SF writers were onto that pretty good.

    I’d say on the whole the SF writers have overshot in some areas (the old flying car and colonizing the moon stuff), but vastly underestimated other things. Particularly the information revolution, which has changed this world in ways we still don’t completely understand. SF tends to focus on gizmos and gadgets, but the web and portable devices aren’t just gadgets…they have completely changed how people think about the world and interact with it.

    Humans found other, less daunting, ways to address the same problems. Flying cars were supposed to democratize travel. Deregulation of airlines, and cheap cars running on cheap gas that can last 200,000 miles and still look relatively new, accomplished that. As did the interstate highway system, which did not exist until Eisenhower started it, and it took many years to fully materialize. Nuclear powered underpants? You don’t need those if you can heat your home for pennies, and have vastly greater access to vastly greater technology to keep yourself warm. I’ll take my $15 Members Mark cozy throw any day and twice on Sunday when there’s a chill in the house. Sometimes the scifi writers have to write “sci fi” because just building a better blanket isn’t gonna sell books.

    Hillary Clinton, the great futurist, once lamented that the gas engine still gets about 20mpg which is what it got “a century ago”. That stupid cow “forgot” to mention that my 20mpg truck can carry 6 people comfortably, along with about 5000lbs of cargo, and drive nonstop from CA to PA and back without breaking down while everybody in the truck enjoys a movie in surround sound. We’ve solved a lot of the problems the sci fi futurists wanted to solve with snazzy tech…simply by building better products at affordable prices.

    I’d add Kurt Vonnegut to the list because of several of his books. The original Star Trek television show remains remarkably prescient both about human nature and the technology. It’s no surprise that Gene Roddenberry was a big fan of Isaac Asimov, and the two started to collaborate. We may in our lifetimes see laws resembling Asimov’s robotics laws. I would also throw in Arthur C. Clarke as a guy whose ideas have held up.

    Twain is another one to go back and read, not because he was a futurist, but because his fiction provides amazing insights into the past that you understand at a gut level faster than a history book.

    • Lileks’ site and the Woodpile Report are great resources for understanding times past. The trick is, that you get a lot of bits and pieces fed to you over time, and you then assemble them together as a coherent whole at your own pace, and extract your own observations and insights from that assemblage. Like pieces to a puzzle, the big picture emerges from all the little elements.

      You can do the same with old magazines, books, and movies. Do not read and watch what was “good”. Read and watch what was “popular”. Much of it was dreck, but that dreck gives you the feel for the times. As if anyone should trust the “history” that our “betters” have seen fit to feed us in the last few decades.

  9. Paul Kersey (who does the Amren podcast with Jared Taylor) has a book out called ‘Whitey on the Moon’: Race, Politics, and the death of the U.S. Space Program, 1958 – 1972′

    I haven’t read it, but the premise seems to be that we WOULD be on Mars by now, except for the fact that we chose to spend billions trying to buy off, I mean, bring black America up to standard.

    • Maybe so but there really is no point in going to Mars or the Moon really Both are far more vulnerable than earth and we have more resources than we need if we use them wisely.

      Shipping tons of air and water to an airless rock than somehow finding ways to preserve your guys health from massive amounts of radiation and low gravity is a stupid waste of resources

      It was far better to spend it on welfare in some ways.

      Also all that dystopian overcrowding fiction of the 60’s and 70’s was thwarted by the pill and TV and the resource issue while not yet perfectly handled by conservation, recycling and alternative technology

      Turns out actually solving the problems facing us would have been fairly simply caveat that we stupidly intervened in Africa , well and possibly the China issue as well.

      Had we retained the sexual and marriage culture and demographics of the 1950’s, we’d be doing fine without space

      • But of course, if we had the sexual and marriage culture and demographics of the 1950’s we’d have space as well.

  10. I got excited when it became apparent that this article was about SF, as I’m always on the lookout for great novels, only to be let down that it mostly focused on Bradbury.

    Most of the ’50’s SF novels I’ve read are downright terrible, both in terms of literary fiction and predictive acumen. From my experience Ray Bradbury is among the worst, even though he was quite the writer at the sentence-level. Clarke’s Childhood’s End–one of the best known “great SF novels” from the era–is absurd in the extreme.

    John Wyndham’s The Chrysalids and Day of the Triffids are exceptions. Richard Matheson’s I Am Legend is great. Vonnegut’s The Sirens of Titan is worth the read just for the sermons and its characterization of Mrs. Rumford. I also really enjoyed Walter Miller’s A Canticle for Leibowitz.

    Anyone care to suggest other good ones from the era?

    • EMP,
      Fritz Lieber(Faffered and the Grey Mouser)
      Roger Zelazney(The Courts of Chaos)
      Jack Vance, everything he wrote was amazing. Try the Dieing Earth series first.

    • I haven’t seen either L. Sprague DeCamp or Poul Anderson mentioned. I’ve enjoyed the vast majority of what they both wrote.

    • For space opera, none better than E. E. “Doc” Smith; I also liked John Brunner, “Traveller in Black,” “Stand on Zanzibar,” and others; Piers Anthony’s “Macroscope;” and I’ve just re-read Eric Frank Russell’s “Wasp” and “Sentinels of Space,” which I very much enjoyed.

      These days there’s a lot of material that is available for free (or cheaply,) that can be found through Calibre. That’s a fantastic free e-book reader & library tool that can search for ebooks, and there are a lot! A great many can be found on Project Gutenberg, and Amazon has a lot for free if you’re a Prime member or pay for their “Unlimited Reading” option.

      • I love John Brunner and ‘Stand on Zanzibar’ in particular. Funny I’ve recommended him and this book three times in the last week.

        I should read it again, because it’s been a few decades since I last did. As I recall though it was a good, realistic portrayal of a dystopian society suffering from over population. I liked the fact that so many of his novels were big canvas, 19th century novel type portraits of society.

    • Heinlein’s “Starship Troopers” is a master class in vigorous and engaging writing. It’s a 1950s sci-fi novel worth reading.

  11. Watching rivers set on fire, technology destroy ways of life and nearly save for one disobedient Russian nearly ending all of Western civilization in unrestricted H-Bomb warfare is enough to sour anyone on “progress”

    Its no wonder things like the SCA (society for creative anachronism) Frodo lives and Dungeons and Dragons came out.

    Turns out the jumpsuit future is probably going to be cyberpunk in in any case either is dehumanizing and shitty. The Middle Ages weren’t that great on a physical level and facets of modern medicine are wonderful but at that tech level no one will be injecting you with mandatory chips for your own good . You get to keep your soul and the soul of your people and your heritage and traditions

    In any case if you wonder why we don’t have the space ship future other than its stupid is the Internet. All the best minds went to chips and bits and after making people click Internet ads anyway

    • How stupid the “Space Ship Future” was can be debated, but there’s no doubt that after about 1970 or so, we got a lot better at moving information, and stagnated, or even backslid, on rapidly moving people and objects. There are a lot of reasons that can be adduced for this (damned hippies, EPA regs, Safety Nazis, diminishing returns, coming to our senses, etc) but there’s no doubt that its true.

    • What we have for a future is going to be crappy as technology invariably gets used for totalitarian ends by the state and business. We’ve already discovered that most of social media is meant to addict people to it like a narcotic. Amazon is busy putting big brother with a microphone and IR camera in everyone’s home that listens in and watches 7/24/365.

      Worse the Silicon Valley elite are total freaks and degenerates if this article is true:

      I agree that space exploration was killed by the internet/computer revolution since it absorbed a lot of top end talent from the 70’s. By the late 80’s most aerospace corporations went stagnant or regressed. The massive wave of aerospace mergers in the 90’s just wiped out the the old school talent pool. Once those with the experience doing massive, complex projects is gone, it’s gone for good.

  12. I cannot recall if it was a Bradbury or not. The it was a short story in one of the anthologies if I remember correctly, where all the blacks load up on a space ship and leave… and Whitey is left wondering what to do with himself because there’s no black people to discriminate against anymore.

    It was SUPPOSED to be dystopian… but looking back now… that would be an awesome deal for everyone. 😉

    Today most SF is message fiction pushing ‘Faggots In Space’ or ‘Lookit The Powerful Woman Space Marine’ and similar dreck. It’s all perverted derivatives of the old masters.

    • “The Other Foot” by Bradbury. The man was a liberal dolt that really didn’t write good or realistic human interaction. I know, others will vehemently disagree. Religion and race, not a clue. Probably never interacted or lived closely to Blacks to that foolish in the story.

      Interestingly and oddly enough, he had written or contributed to the movie screenplay King of KIngs.

    • Is that the one where the blacks set up a society on some other planet, then later the whites come with their tails between their legs ’cause they screwed up Earth and need a place to live? And the blacks were like, “Ha, revenge time!” and were planning on lynchings and stuff but didn’t, because they were noble and better. Even as a teen, that kind of twaddle made me roll my eyes.

  13. I always get a kick out of the constant smoking in the old scifi books and movies. As if breathable air isn’t THE most important commodity in a craft traveling in a vacuum. Also – and you see this in modern scifi shows/movies – the HYUGE bridges/messes/cabins/etc. Again, as if space itself (that is, elbow room) isn’t the second most important commodity aboard a spacecraft.

    Re smoking and scifi, what are WE blindly assuming will be ubiquitous in the future simply because it’s so common now we no longer recognize it as a “thing” (i.e., it just IS and thus will always BE)?

    • Having served aboard actual warships, my questions were-

      1. Where’s the hatches on spaceships to maintain damage control and compartment integrity during general quarters? No, the little sliding doors don’t count.

      2. Where’s the Marines aboard the spacecraft to conduct landing operations? Why in hell doesn’t Kirk have a platoon of Marines instead of random redshirts and literally all his vital department officers along whenever he goes “ashore”?

      • True. Kirk and Spock both leaving the ship together on a strange planet would be a court martial offense.

        • This is part of the reason I never got into Star Trek. It’s far in the future, with starships and teleportation, but apparently there are no circuit breakers. Every time something happens, electrical panels all burst into flames & sparks; OK, it’s for the visuals, but geez….

          That just seems absurd, like the points raised above. Then when David Gerrold stole one of Heinlein’s plot points from “The Rolling Stones”- the ‘flat cats’- to make “Trouble with Tribbles” that finished me off. They could at least have given him credit!

  14. Every now and then I am made aware I am speaking in outdated colloquialisms when during a conversation with a young person they look at me like I am from another planet.

  15. Had the opportunity to watch “The Running Man” again several years ago. Some of the little things that struck me as being accurate about their version of the future, which I believe was supposed to be somewhere just before 2020. The TV’s were all 16:9 aspect ratio, a Pepsi in a vending machine was $5 and the airports were infested with security goon squads. And I seriously think we’re just one more TV writers strike away from “reality” tee-vee morphing into non stop Running Man imitations.

  16. I tried re-reading parts of the Martian Chronicles recently and found it unreadable as well. But maybe Bradbury was right when at the end, he has 99.99% of the colonists rocketing back to Earth to die in the nuclear war. By that point in the story cycle, he seems to have grasped that we really weren’t going to make the leap to the planets. That we were going to stay on Earth and engage in something self-destructive instead.

    • And based on the threats of our dads (who came of age in the 1950s) to give us knuckle sandwiches and to tan our hides, that kind of language was common.

    • I find Dick’s The Man In The High Castle to be unreadable – almost trying to be bad. Especially the Japanese samurai stufff, which is cartoon-like.

      • The pidgin English that the Japanese characters speak does wear on you. The idea that the novel’s world (and by inference ours) is a false one and that there are “agents” actively working to move the world back its “true” condition is original as far as I know. The Gnostics would say that only the enlightened few could reach that state and that the vast bulk of mankind was condemned to live and die in darkness. The mainstream Christians hold that the world is inherently true and that it is man who is corrupt. Only God’s grace can save man, but is available to everyone, not just the Gnostics’ spiritual elite. A Scanner Darkly and Radio Free Albemuth build on this idea.

  17. I read Bradbury in the 1950s while in high school and never liked his work. What I remember is he was promoting the meme that race was an illusion—he was a propagandist for the liberals, a foot soldier for the civil rights disaster and open borders invasion beginning in the 1960. Frank Herbert also struck me similarly although he came later toward the end of my reading SyFi. Both wrote not to entertain as much as to instruct from the Liberal point of view unlike Heinlein who I read but never, for some reason, really enjoyed much.

    The science fiction I preferred (especially in the 1950s) was that of A.E. van Vogt, Murray Leinster, Eric Frank Russell, and host of other space opera writers that so often were published in ACE double editions. I bought the books primarily at used book stores which had stocks of books that were no longer in print.

    Dan Kurt

      • And yes, Heinlein is a lot like scotch whisky – either you like it or you don’t, and people have very strong feelings both ways.

        • Herbert was so far ahead of his time in his understanding of religion.

          “Missionaria Protectiva” is currently called “Narrative”.

  18. Try Bester’s The Stars My Destination…. (1956)

    There were land riots as the jaunting poor deserted slums to squat in plains and forests, raiding the livestock and wildlife. There was a revolution in home and office building: labyrinths and masking devices had to be introduced to prevent unlawful entry by jaunting.

    There were crashes and panics and strikes and famines as pre-jaunte industries failed. Plagues and pandemics raged as jaunting vagrants carried disease and vermin into defenseless countries. Malaria, elephantiasis, and the breakbone fever came north to Greenland; rabies returned to England after an absence of three hundred years. The Japanese beetle, the citrous scale, the chestnut blight, and the elm borer spread to every corner of the world, and from one forgotten pesthole in Borneo, leprosy, long imagined extinct, reappeared.

    Crime waves swept the planets and satellites as their underworlds took to jaunting with the night around the clock, and there were brutalities as the police fought them without quarter. There came a hideous return to the worst prudery of Victorianism as society fought the sexual and moral dangers of jaunting with protocol and taboo. “

    • When I was in my twenties I never thought that I would say this, but compared to the raving insanity we have today, the “worst prudery of the Victorians” is looking pretty good right now…

    • I remember absolutely devouring The Stars My Destination and The Demolished Man many years ago. I need to revisit them, thanks!

    • Bester also had a colony of True Believers in Science marooned on an asteroid: the “Scientific People.” Their religion was “science:”

      “They were savages, the only savages of the twenty-fifth century; descendants of a research team of scientists that had been lost and marooned in the asteroid belt two centuries before when their ship had failed. By the time their descendants were rediscovered they had built up a world and a culture of their own, and preferred to remain in space, salvaging and spoiling, and practicing a barbaric travesty of the scientific method they remembered from their forebears. They called themselves The Scientific People. The world promptly forgot them…..”

      “Quant Suff!” The Scientific People roared. “Quant Suff!”…..

      The Scientific People were all heavily tattooed, doe that remind anyone of today?

      James LePore mentioned Neil DeGrass Tyson. He’s one of today’s Scientific People, and he loves his blessed Holy Lab Coat and his Holy Erlenmeyer flasks. I can hear him chanting now!

  19. When wireless is perfectly applied the whole earth will be converted into a huge brain, which in fact it is, all things being particles of a real and rhythmic whole. We shall be able to communicate with one another instantly, irrespective of distance. Not only this, but through television and telephony we shall see and hear one another as perfectly as though we were face to face, despite intervening distances of thousands of miles; and the instruments through which we shall be able to do his will be amazingly simple compared with our present telephone. A man will be able to carry one in his vest pocket. Nikola Tesla, 1926

    • Apparently the cloud people haven’t given up on that fantasy.

      I just saw something the other day that said pretty much the exact same thing. The claim was that we’re approaching a point in time where we will all be connected – and that connection makes us like one huge organism , the same way a bunch of cells are needed to make up a living creature.

      Sounds like just another excuse for socialism and rule over us by our “betters” if you ask me.

      • My point is Tesla made an accurate prediction of the future based on evidence at hand in 1926. I can open my cell phone and within seconds be having a video chat, wirelessly obviously, with someone in Europe. I don’t know Tesla’s politics, but quantum physics tells us that we are all in fact part of a real (matter) and rhythmic (energy) whole. I’ve never heard the argument that this is a metaphor or predicate for socialism, which is as you say, fantasy, but I wouldn’t be surprised. It sounds like something Bill Nye or Neil deGrasse Tyson might posit, fools that they are.

        • Tesla also said that in the 21st century, robots would be doing the work that slaves did in the ancient world.

          • Robots do a lot of jobs people used to do cheaper. Its part of the reason the economy is not productive

            A global labor glut means constant downward pressure on wages and/or a tin of make work, State jobs and wasted effort.

            if we get to the point where most people don’t have work , we won’t have an economy anyone would recognize

            It will either be socialist to the point of near communism , grossly impoverished like Africa (note, if no one can buy much no one can be rich) or go to some kind of Feudal state control

      • Scott Adams (AKA the Dilbert guy) has a theory that (extreme summary from memory) the Big Bang was God’s suicide (what’s the ONE thing an omniscient being can’t know?), and that all history since is God slowly putting Himself back together again. Hence, single-cell orgs become Men become Tribes become Nations become a Unified, Interconnected World becomes…? Not a great future for Individualism

  20. I first watched the movie Network in the mid 2000’s. It was amazing to me, that a movie made in 1976 perfectly described society 30 years later. It is remarkable how things went to shit so quickly and have stayed shit for so long.

    Another prescient film was PCU. The 1994 PC college culture seems almost tolerable and somewhat sane in comparison to what we have today.

  21. Back when these books were written we were all more optimistic about the future. And why not? There wasn’t any PC police or SJWs to badger you.

    Others have probably seen this meme going around, but it gave me a belly laugh: 1998: in 20 years we’ll have flying cars, 2018: you have to tell people they shouldn’t eat tide pods.

  22. Science was making such fantastic advances in the middle of the last century that anything seemed possible. This clip from operation Ivy Mike, the first fusion bomb, is revealing:

    The level of cooperation needed to make this bomb work was incredible. Making liquid deuterium, and then shipping it from Massachusetts to the middle of the Pacific? Building a huge tunnel of gas filled helium bags to channel gamma rays to a detector? Flying jets through the aftermath of the detonation? Wow.

    Anything seemed possible then. Urban renewal is one of the saddest concepts to become popular after WWII. The so called slums, such as Mill Creek Valley, actually look pretty good in old photos:
    The idea was that slums were the result of old buildings. Tear down the old buildings and build high rise housing projects and the problem would be solved. The Pruitt Igo complex in St. Louis was destroyed even more rapidly than the houses and apartments of the Mill Creek Valley “slum”. The great migration was destroying American cities in the 1950’s, but no one really cared. The suburbs were new and pretty, and Buck Rogers would soon be on his way to Mars.

    • Yes, had things continued at the pace they were moving between 1900 and about 1965, we would be on Mars by now, All guys like Heinlein and Bradbury did was assume that present trends would continue, although Heinlein is the only SciFi writer that I know of who accurately predicted the ’60’s before the fact (“The Crazy Years”).

      Also, yeah, lethal violence was much, much rarer in the 1940’s and 1950’s than today, but minor non-lethal violence was more common. My Dad got in several fights at work as late as the 1960’s – he later became best friends with one of the guys he fought. And even highly-respected academics got into the act – Carleton Coon, the famous anthropologist, was famous for duking it our with his fellow academics, with seemingly few hard feelings. Today, you would get fired, shot, or both.

      • Yeah. Based on stories I’ve heard from elders and discussions at other blogs this does seem to be true. Murder rates are higher now but there does seem to be less fisticuffs or brawling amongst whites. Is it because we’ve matured past fisticuffs and casual violence? Or are we just low T soyboys who just don’t have the gumption to throw a punch? Idk

        • The US has moved from a free one to an authoritarian one over the last few decades . we imprison per capita more people than any other culture ever in human history and make a for profit enterprise of it as well

          All that said people in that period were essentially entirely White and from intact families, Two men could have a beef throw a few punches have a few drinks and move on without police involvement , well most of the time

          These days its a far more feminist culture , and with more than a little justification women fear male violence and with a lot of people with poor restraint or moral teaching

          Men well fight like women and take what is dominance posturing in the personal way that women do.

          Also in 1940’s and 50’s while there were few gun ownership laws for the most part outside of a few big cities and the stupid NFA , people weren’t normally armed.

          Many people, the sort who would be willing to resolve issues with an old fashioned friendly fight are armed and can’t take the risk anyway

    • The scientific and engineering progress going on in the 50’s was in the mechanical / physical realm. Unfortunately most of those avenues of progress have hit dead-ends or are now purposely blocked due to politics (i.e. advances in nuclear power).

      Nobody could have predicted the ways computer technology advanced so quickly over the past few decades while things like rocket-design have improved only incrementally since the 60’s.

  23. Just as 1920s-1950s SF had an optimistic core that assumed PROGRESS of all sorts, today’s young adult SF seems to be one dystopia after another. I am sure I am not the only one who fears we are staring into the maw of another Dark Age.

    The first Dark Age of the West had writers like Augustine of Hippo and Boethius to anticipate the coming age of destruction and decline, and to provide reasoned arguments to keep hope and belief alive. Today, we have Rod Dreher.

  24. Older SF simply assumes that the white males would continue to move things along. The original NASA space program, that took us to the moon, was white and male (no matter what people try to tell you today. And then there is the “Old Negro Space Program” video with the blackstronauts. A masterful sendup of Ken Burns.).

    If there is one thing that the old SF missed, it was the rise of the dusky and the female in the system. Even Serling’s Twilight Zone shows, which seemed to signify the beginning of the crack-up of the culture, ran almost wholly to the white male side of things.

    • RE: “Old Negro Space Program” – thanks for that , made me LOL. Perfect sendup of Ken Burns style documentaries and whole bunch of the “history” pablum that gets shoved down our throats.

  25. As a kid I just read whatever I could get my hands on. One of the first science fiction novels I read was The Chrysalids. I don’t even remember where it came from or how it found its way to our house.

  26. I would argue that Bradbury actually anticipated quite a bit. If you reread the chapter “Usher II” you can see he anticipated our PC political climate rather remarkably.

    As for the absurdity of his scientific projections, they weren’t even believable at the time they were written. The emphasis in Bradbury’s science fiction was always on the fiction, the science was mostly a stage prop used a setting for the tale. He wasn’t much one for conjuring up technical marvels for their own sake, he used the science merely as a setting for his stories. In many cases the science was merely a stand in for magic.

      • Agreed. I used to quote Harrison Bergeron at my Lefty friends, but they no longer read my e-mails. Player Piano is the best send up of corporate life I’ve read. Still works today.

    • I agree with your assessment of Bradbury and especially “Usher II.” I think that as a collection of stories, The Illustrated Man is a little better than The Martian Chronicles. But then again, Bradbury’s best work may well be Dandelion Wine (some magical realism, but essentially no science fiction content.)

    • what novel captures today’s prog madness better than Farenheit 451? Even the movie adaptation was damn decent.

  27. Even Disney movies from the 70s were far more grounded than their output today, which is mostly about suburban conformity and keeping up with the kardashians. Watch the Fox and the Hound. A young child suddenly becomes orphaned in an unpredictable world. Mom was hunted and taken out. Characters actually work at first order life sustaining tasks, rather than voting on Instagram popularity. Hard choices need to be made in order to survive scarcity, rather than easy first world choices framed as emotionally hard (because the wrong choice of shoes could be career suicide!).

  28. I started my childhood reading with all of Verne’s books, still like them.
    I have read a lot of sci fi since but can’t read any of the current or more recent stuff, pc nonsense , stupid world view, atheistic crap.

    Dune is example of what the genre could be. Yeah, the fifties has your grissled navy shipmen transferred to space. Tough cookies, womanizers, hard drinkers. Just like a lot of the movies from then. Then came Roddenberry and a future or people we will never see.

    Look at the sci fi of today on tv and Netflix. Not looking to a promising future which says more about our times then the ones to come.

    • “Tough cookies, womanizers, hard drinkers. Just like a lot of the movies from then.” And, just like a whole lot of, if not most of the guys plying the manly trades. I was there, plying one of the trades, but just average toughness etc.

  29. I really stick with the several anthologies of Phillip K Dick’s short stories. Most of his work steers clear of the Star Wars/Trek space aliens and laser guns stuff, and gets more at the heart of the craziness of modern day.

    It helps that he was probably insane.

    • PKD was not insane, he just took a lot of drugs. I find it kind of trippy that he was only a few miles away from where I lived, at the end of his life in the 1980’s.

  30. I like reading Robert Heinlein, but reading some of his work is just plain sad now. Farmer in the Sky showed an American pipe smoking Pop and son settling on one of Jupiter’s moons….. For Us, the Living mentioned a socialist sympathizing Wisconsin.
    Heinlein was willing to spin dystopic yarns but all in all he really seemed to think America would stay the white middle class nation he knew in the 1950s forever. Sad!

    • I’ll probably re-read The Moon Is a Harsh Mistress this summer. Heinlein is arguably the greatest sci-fi writer. His stuff holds up well.

    • Well, if you weren’t actually seeing the passage of the 1965 immigration act, why wouldn’t you think that America would remain the white middle class nation Heinlein knew? It wasn’t an inevitability until, very suddenly, we decided it would be.

    • I rather like Tunnel in the Sky and Beyond these Horizons. As to America staying a White middle class society, I rather like that thought too. If we had taken up his ideas of duty to country and suffrage, we’d be in a much better place than we are now.

    • In Starship Troopers, Heinlein did predict our current order collapsing under the weight of welfare and corruption. Then the Veterans picked up the pieces and established his vision of a utopian society.

      • Heinlein was really interesting, insofar as he wrote stories that appealed to counterculture hippies (Stranger in a Strange Land), libertarians (The Moon is a Harsh Mistress) and Hard-Right conservatives (Starship Troopers). Not an easy guy to pigeonhole, politically. But there’s no doubt that he loved America, and the society he grew up in, and that comes through in all of his books.

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