Scottish Journalist and KILTR member, Jonathan Whitelaw with today’s KILTR guest blog post. Jonathan takes a look at science fiction and the future.
During my ritual trawling of news and views websites, I came across an interesting article. Featured on the BBC’s news site, the title ambitiously announced Blade Runner: Which Predictions Came True?
As a fan of the movie, and of science fiction in general, it seems to be more prevalent that articles like this are appearing in modern journalism. Living in 2012, the year itself is ladened with futuristic leanings, even now in the present As the hands of time tick on, making fools of us all, the years that once seemed so very distant are now coming and going with impossible ease.
Blade Runner, set in a dystopian Los Angeles of 2019, was released in 1982. An era when Michael Jackson ruled the airwaves, The DeLorean Motor Company went bust and a mustachioed Graeme Sounness battled Brazilian Socrates for the best facial hair/perm combination at the World Cup in Spain.
Thankfully, the world has moved on more than a little since then. But has it moved on enough? According to the BBC’s article, we are living closer to the science fiction of Blade Runner and copycat movies like Minority Report than we think.
The predictions, however, fall ludicrously flat in comparison to their Hollywood counterparts. One such faux pas refers to the now famous hover cars of the Blade Runner universe.
Going for the less travelled, “optional extra” route of key less technology and electric engines, a passing reference is made to the more fanciful inventions of our American cousins. Coming in at an eye wateringly cheap £180,000, the prototype for what could become the next generation of personal transport is referenced as a credible homage to the fictional science of the movies.
Terrafugia’s, a US private corporation run by blue-sky thinkers, or mad scientists depending on your point of view, boast their latest attempt at a “roadable aircraft” has been approved by the FAA (Federal Aviation Administration) and the NHTSA (National Highway Traffic Safety Administration). Again, it doesn’t sound quite as sexy as the Hollywood equivalent. It therefore may be a while before the skies above George Square are as congested as the Kingston Bridge at rush hour.
Some successes have been created however. Iris and facial recognition are commonplace amongst security systems, even breaking into mainstream, commercial use in parts of the US. The talking onboard computers and portable, pre 3G face time tablets of Demolition Man are now commonplace amongst society, without anybody really noticing their arrival and admission into the collective consciousness.
But the more the years tick on, the more glaringly obvious it becomes that society has not lived up to the imaginations of the writers, poets and artists who have come before us. The problem, of course being that science fiction’s only limitations are those of the creator’s imagination.
Being the creative geniuses they are, the normal trend now in science fiction writing is to set the action in an impossibly far off timescale. One which none of the present readers are ever likely to see and subsequently write a vindictive article about.
Perhaps it is unfairly cynical of me to be so scathing of science’s leaps and bounds in the past three decades. The personal longing to be Rick Deckard, Han Solo or even Marty McFly of Back to the Future Pt II fame can maybe take the blame for my harshness on the white-coated boffins. But, alas, it seems altogether a less than inspired choice by the likes of Ridley Scott, Steven Spielberg and the venerable creative tag-team of Arthur C. Clarke and Stanley Kubrick to have set some of their definitive work within such an attainable time scale.
Indeed, rather than finding mythical monoliths on the surface of the Moon, I spent 2001 as a spotty, bespeckled teenager, nursing the wounds The Phantom Menace had left on my soul. Not quite the glamorous future that had been predicted in the late 1960s.
Although it does feel all incredibly Scottish. As a nation we are hardly the most cheery, optimistic bunch at the party. The dystopian fantasy of Alasdair Gray’s Lanark is hardly the brightest beacon of hope amongst the genre’s annals. So perhaps the lack of light speed progress is perfectly suited to the dour and caustic grey skies of this fair nation.
All of this is, of course, completely defeatist of what the ideals of science fiction are based on. Eternal optimism, a future shining bright with world wide unity and the end to famine, disease and war are still dreams of most of us. Dreams, perhaps that may be realised any moment soon. After all, tomorrow is another Earth day.