“Without vision, the people perish.” (Proverbs 29:18)
Dinosaurs Didn’t Write Science Fiction
You don’t ordinarily associate dinosaurs and KJV biblical texts, but roll with me a sec. The idea that vision–or prophecy, or seeing the future, sameo-sameo–is essential to the survival of a species couldn’t find a better exemplar than the poor, dumb Mesozoic critters who looked up at the sky and noticed a big streaker sailing across the heavens. If they had the gift of speech–oh, hell, let’s give it to them, we’re sci-fi readers and writers–they might have said something like:
“Damn, my brother Triceratops, what is that pretty light in the sky?”
To which the other replied, “I don’t know, fellow Horny-Head, but it’s way up there and can’t hurt us.”
You know what happened in Act II.
Any species that doesn’t look to the skies is doomed
Any species that doesn’t look to the skies is doomed to the same fate, sooner or later. That’s the first, most basic reason sci-fi is vitally important. It looks up and out and says, “What if…?”
Many early science fiction movies captured this primordial fear by casting an ensemble of bug-eyed, tentacled monsters to land on Earth with their invasion fleet, intent on eating all human males and raping all the females. I never understood, even as a kid, why a gray-green octopus with a ray gun wanted to ravish a white, blonde haired, B-movie actress.
The real danger isn’t from incoming flying saucers, it’s incoming asteroids in near earth orbits. Science fiction has raised the public awareness to this existential threat by movies like Armageddon and Deep Impact and a barrage of novels with similar plot lines.
The lethal asteroid impact may occur next year, or it may not happen until Trump leaves office, and therefore take some of the fun out of prematurely ending the world. Doomsday could linger a few million years. Politicians are in no hurry. But there are more pressing reasons why sci-fi is vital to our survival.
Science fiction raises humanity’s sights
Science fiction raises humanity’s sights on something at least as primeval as daily survival: We are, by nature, explorers. Without that vision, we perish. “Space, the final frontier…” Gene Roddenberry prophetically wrote. But he was wrong. Space is the endless frontier.
Let’s do the math. There are 400 billion stars in the Milky Way alone. Visiting one thousand star systems per week (if possible), would take 7.69 million years. And there may be 100 billion galaxies out there. Humanity will NEVER run out of new world to visit, new peoples to meet. The trick will be to learn from our mistakes and not repeat the gruesome, racist, xenophobic history of planet Earth. Another possibility is that alien species are as bloodthirsty as we have been, and humans will have to fight for every newly discovered, uninhabited world. (For a harrowing look at that possibility, read Old Man’s War by John Scalzi.)
We could simply become cosmic isolationists
We could simply become cosmic isolationists, for fear of discovery by the bug-eyed monsters who, so far, have overlook our pale blue marble in the ocean of stars. But sitting on Earth until the atmosphere escapes into space in the distant future doesn’t sound like a good plan. Science fiction allows its most creative thinkers to give us the vision hinted at by the Book of Proverbs. Let the visionaries and futurists show us the possibilities.
In an era before the key words shifted to other connotations, British scientist J.B.S. Haldane (1892-1964) wrote: “The universe is not only queerer than we imagine, it’s queerer than we can imagine.” And who knows? Maybe we’ll land on our first alien world in the middle of their bi-monthly Gay Rights Parade.
Science Fiction will save the world. If not, maybe it’ll help us get off. (Double meanings seem to abound today…)