Space opera and fantasy

The implications of radically diverse futures

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by Mike Meyer

There was a time when science fiction was a step above comic books and no one took that stuff seriously. Then the kids that read it grew up and started to make they the things they had read about real. Now we are in a world at full boost to a future far outside our original orbit. Our most significant planetary corporations are, literally, the stuff of dreams fifty years ago.

But our full society has not been able to admit this or really understand it. We know it and read about it but it isn’t allowed to mean anything in real life. The portion of our society most traumatized and frightened has desperately attempted to grab control in order to stop everything. But they were way too late and they were definitely never the sharpest knives in the drawer. Their leaders are dangerous but stupid. They are a large pain in the ass and may accidentally kill us all before we can get them put away for their protection and ours.

The great chasm in post industrial societies playing out in triplicate in America is the gap between reality and our primary entertainment fantasies. The lost ones who have triggered regression to fascist/feudalism live in a crumbling reality with the rules sliding into strange forms they never imagined. They’re language has been derailed into a dialect no longer understandable by the majority.

The functionally urban majority have moved steadily into another reality defined by the steady growth of science fiction in many forms and fantasy now merged into the science fiction forms. Our thoughts and dreams, fantasies, and fears are based on the future and multiple streams of virtual reality. We are losing the ability to understand the older dialects and the lost ones who insist on speaking them. Now we are becoming frightened by the decay and violent denials that seem to shape the lost one’s reality.

This divergence began sixty years ago with the rise of science fiction and fantasy to dominance in our imaginations. The gap is not actually a political chasm but a full reality split. It was created by those who built their lives on understanding the future.

It became important to try to predict, not just the future, but implications for society and people in a world of intense technology. The fictional forms of entertainment became more attuned to both the fears and the growing anticipation. We all needed a little help in figuring out what was going to happen and what it might mean.

Space exploration and alien contact were traditional themes that steadily became more sophisticated. And darker.

The once and future, future evolved. Near future societies struggled with the current trends and growing problems in an effort to anticipate the range of optional futures. The science fiction themes became part of series literature by capable writers exploring how these things will change us and the things about us that might not change.

Wealth and longevity flitting about among the stars became post-apocalyptic efforts to survive whichever of our tendencies triggered the death of planet earth. The alternate was the logical expansion of the inherent structural failure of capitalism to adequately distribute wealth as this became more obvious. Population, poverty and escape from planetary squalor that proved to be doomed for various reasons became a standard of our future.

This theme moved steadily toward disaster in the 21st century. Hope was survival and moments of sanity and understanding in the midst of climatic collapse. The required ending became the handing off of one’s children to some scientific or semi magical savior as the rest of us wait for the lingering death that can no longer be avoided. The magical realism of serious literature mixed with magical science to produce the tragic loss of hope that found newer types of hope or, at least, recognized the loss of our species’ youthful naivete.

The others, our lost ones, were never a part of these worlds except as bad examples and the collateral damage of those unable to work out an active future in the new, diverse group consciousness.

Escapist literature merged science fiction, fantasy, and the romantic genre into a magical world with extensive amounts of military genre and hierarchy as the standard. This has some very interesting developments that begins to suggest more radical changes coming.

The steady spread of scientific knowledge in an information deluge forced more sophistication even in the escapist literature. The classic space opera was always well short of reality in things related to interstellar travel, not to mention gravity, functioning AI and Machine Learning, along with the problems of warp drives or wormholes.

Over the last few years the space opera genre has acquired magic as the only logical solution to interstellar distances and the laws of relativity. Most people have become uncomfortable with idea of a quick trip to a star system fifty light years away and back in time for next week’s meeting.

General scientific level awareness of laws of relativity and the nature of light as the a structural speed limit could only be dealt with for so long by using Star Trek's engineering and warp factor 10. The laws of physics in this universe are not nearly as flexible as we once thought. But magic from the fantasy side allows a new level of suspension of disbelief. It dispenses with the struggle against physics, time, and the speed of light and pulls magic in from an alternate universe.

But even this is used carefully because the magic is not really native to this universe so there needs to be some psuedo-scientific explanation of things to keep the audience from losing the illusion.

On the fantasy side the straight forward magic of Tolkien becomes increasingly sophisticated virtual reality that, at some point, ceases to be virtual. This resurrects Burroughs’ John Carter of Mars but with magic as a simple extension of physics.

I suspect the use of magic and virtual reality will merge, as it has already, into self created worlds that have whatever laws we want. Fully immersive virtual reality we know will soon be indistinguishable from our primary reality.

This circles back to CRISPR and genetic engineering that will give biological options. Sentient beings may have options foisted on them by their parents but these are repairable in a selected reality.

The blending of dystopia, magical science, scientific magic, and virtualization manage to do the same things as earlier fantasy and science fiction but they are only believable with much more extensive and sophisticated logic.

While this leading edge evolution is our constant collaborative planning for the world that is quickly losing the distinction between future as unchangeable and future as totally personal limited only by the pending singularity.

The remaining bridge between the evolving the lost ones is visible also in the popularity of militaristic space operas and mildly romantic productions of conservative authors who have no problem still ignoring physics. These stories manage to raise the constant threat of the cyborg, ignore any social changes newer than 1970 in future over the next two or three hundred years.

The gap is there. It produces at best rather strange and time frozen characterizations and at worst a glorified authoritarianism with aristocratic and monarchic forms. The future is just like the past and the language is frozen. Virtual reality is almost never present.

But what does this mean? Where is the heading and what are the problems that are being addressed?

The gap is the divide between those who live in the past even if projected into the future and those following diversity to as far as they can comfortably take it. That diversity changes the language quickly as we steadily expand the technology that both creates our imagined futures and results from that imagining in daily life.

While the dystopian threat on the front end is obviously human generated climate change that is much faster and much more intense than people have allowed themselves to see. This is increasingly being worked into our future as reality. The main theme seems to be that we must keep working to overcome this but the days of stunning scientific solutions are too unreal now even for imagining.

The future reality needs to move off planet or it will be much reduced and on the edge of full collapse. While this is a great simplification of the thinking in our future planning space it illustrates two important alternate aspects of our future realities.

Moving off planet places society in a command environment that is incredibly hostile to our biological forms. This is the ship of exploration that requires command and obedience. Can a form of group command work? Is the authoritarian nature of our history for this inevitable? No clear answer yet.

The climate disaster will inevitably push us to edge of civilization’s collapse. At the best it will steadily remove planetary regions from habitation while driving massive refugee populations to somewhere. Where?

This is working out the inevitability of our economic failures with asset allocation and governments as stooges for predatory capitalism. The result will be vast wastelands, failed states, lawless regions, and high tech fortresses safe from sea level rise. This a stew of libertarian isolationists built on massive extortion and billions lost in the struggle to save remnants of the technical promise once presented as a future.

It seems that we are going to struggle to find a replacement of the failing forms of limited democracy that will be, in any case, unsupportable in either main stream of stay here or go somewhere else.

One consistent theme that holds more hope than the others is, of course, the rise of sentient electronic or hybrid systems that provide the management and, potentially, the intelligence to get us back on track to something like the future that we could look forward too.

This is, I think, evolving steadily in defiance of the great fear of yet another Frankenstein. The lost one’s versions of a very limited science fiction future is almost never dependent on anything other than toughness, bravery, speed and aggression as a universal virtue.

As described above these seem nearly endless paeans to the great military strongman who will salvage the past and make the future just like it with help from limited intelligence in their weapons. It is the same dead end as we see among the lost ones around us in America. They can imagine nothing else.

And these are the elite of the lost ones who can imagine only a future like the present wanting to be more like the past. The mass of the Trumpian are lost in the grim reality of collapsing institutions as describe above.

Our futures are being worked on daily by those seeking the many possible roads to a future that might be better but probably worse. We struggle to bring some of this to life before it is too late.

Educator, CIO, retired entrepreneur, grandfather with occasional fits of humor in the midst of disaster. . .

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