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What's With All The Doom And Gloom? by Ernest Lilley
SFRevu  ISBN/ITEM#: EL0805
Date: September 2005 / Show Official Info /

At its worst, not including major solar disruptions and other external events, the worst case scenario is that Earth will be the easiest planet to terraform we'll ever find. Even a fair amount of nuclear war would do less damage to the planet than most of the rocks out there start out with. SF has no trouble imagining that we can take Mars and turn it into a verdant paradise in a few hundred years, but keeping the green hills of Earth green? Now that's a nearly insurmountable challenge. Of course, there are no people on Mars for us to have to deal with, and that's the real attraction.

Partly the reason is that in order to have a story you've got to have enough drama and conflict to make it interesting so there's little point in writing about days when nothing goes wrong. I always wanted to see a Star Trek episode where nothing happened. The vaccine gets delivered, the Ambassador gets greeted and departs amicably, the engines run properly, and nobody utters the words, "Captain! It's like nothing I've ever seen before!" The suspense would have been a killer. The animation series South Park did much the same the year they didn't "kill Kenny" in one Christmas special, but a bit more heavy handed than what I had in mind. With due respect for the need to put together a compelling story, I just find it sad that SF doesn't get the persistence of the present, the mundanity of things to come, and the old saw that "the more things change, the more they stay the same."

Mostly, I think we're hoping that every dog has his day, and that tomorrow will be ours. Sorry folks, we were never meant to win. Life's played a jolly good joke on us...we're the ones that don't fit in (apologies to Robert Sargent, whose poem, "The Men Who Don't Fit In", I paraphrased here).

It's a bit daunting to realize that the hero in SF really is the Mad Scientist bent on world destruction and the creation of a new world where he gets to be the leader of the tribe. A tribe he has to create, after killing off the old one, but a tribe of his own nonetheless.

What's amazing to me about all this is that while we're a group that is happy to hack reality for a technological fix for most anything, when it comes to dealing with "normals" we either fail or refuse to apply the "social hack" to the interaction, preferring to use a "sour grapes" on our exclusion from the masses. Worse, if you look at the physical and economic state of fandom, we go our of our way to ghettoize our lifestyles so that nobody else will want to emulate us, sparing ourselves the threat of competition for geek coolness, or individuality.

And so we create our own crisis of civilization. Unable to predict the bleak future we crave, we reject the meek future that actually shows up. All things pass, I suppose, so this is the natural (games theory consistent) order of things.

It's too bad. Not only did SF fail to predict/create the golden age of technology, but now as the golden age crew become the graying age crew, they're finding themselves marginalized even more, rather than embraced as the wise elders they would like to have been.

Popular culture has mined their memes for metaphors and moved on. Nobody takes them seriously because they are the boy that cried wolf, the kook with the end of the world placard, the constant naysayer...against whose cries life goes on.

What should we do? Get better PR and let go of both fears of fitting in and being ostracized? Sadly, both are probably as likely as the end of civilization as we know it. As long as people are at the heart of the matter, the story will be an old one.

Of course, come the singularity, the techno version of the resurrection, we'll all be transformed, or made irrelevant. But I'm betting on that tomorrow never actually arriving, and things hanging on much as they have for the last century or two. I could be wrong, but betting against civilization hasn't paid off for a century or more of SF, and I suggest that if we're all so darned bright, we recognize a losing strategy when we see one.

So it comes down to this. Make peace with your neighbor while you can, for the end of the world isn't coming and tomorrow will (no doubt) be another day. See you there.

Ernest Lilley
SFRevu September 2005

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