Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Science fiction writers are creepy...

So, I was reading a book last week. An anthology of time travel stories. And I found something both fascinating and a little frightening. There was a story called "Such Interesting Neighbors" by Jack Finney. It's about a couple that travels back in time and the husband is telling their neighbors the story about how they ended up there - though he's telling it as fiction, a kind of "what if" type thing. Well, at one point in the story, he also mentioned some "inventions" he was thinking of trying to get to work. Check this out: "Picture a flashlight with a little dial set in just above the button. There's a lens, but it curves inward, and it's painted black except for a tiny round hole in the center. Press the button and a little beam of light - a special kind of light - no thicker than a pencil lead, shoots out. The beam doesn't spread, either; it stays the same thickness." The neighbor asks what it's for and he replies: "For measuring distances. Turn it on, aim the little dot of light so it hits the end of any distance you want to measure. Then look at the dial, and you can read off the distance from the dot of light to the edge of the lens in feet and fractions of an inch."

Sounds a bit like this bad boy: doesn't it? I tried to find out when this thing was invented, but the internet hates me. However I WAS able to find out when the laser was invented - 1960. Which is interesting, because this story was originally published in 1957. Think about that for a second. Here was a guy writing about using something that hadn't even been INVENTED yet to measure distances, and here we are over 50 years later doing just that.

Which got me thinking... and internet surfing. And it turns out that there are far too many things that we have today that were first imagined by science fiction writers to count. Everything from tablet computers to cell phones, to the rockets that took us to the moon - all were first seen in sci-fi novels. Just as a small sampling. Turns out there are entire websites dedicated to this stuff.

Which brings up a question. HOW in the world are these things being predicted decades or even CENTURIES before they happen? My personal theories are that either these people are psychic - or someday we really WILL discover time travel (Another sci-fi staple, after all). Oh, I'm sure that the real answer is that scientists grow up reading this stuff and dedicate their lives to figuring out how to make it actually work. The stories are probably actually the catalysts that put these ideas into people's heads to begin with, rather than somehow predicting the future - but I think that my theory is more fun.

What about you? What's your favourite sci-fi creation that actually happened? And your take on HOW they predict this stuff?

And that's my semi-coherent ramble for today. Come back Friday to meet Marcus.

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