For Love of Old Science Fiction

Oh man, I love old science fiction. I’m talking anything earlier than 1980. I love it because it takes so many chances, sends its characters all over the universe, and because I love to see what they got wrong.

Am I weird? Oh, probably. But I love to see how people thought the world was going to turn out in comparison to how the world actually did. No one could have predicted the way technology has gone, with smaller and smaller components making impressively powerful computers fit in your back pocket.

(Actually, technology seems to have pulled inspiration from science fiction, making an interesting cycle.)

So instead you get giant vacuum-tube supercomputers. In the book I’m reading at the moment (Inherit the Stars by James Hogan, circa 1985 or so) you can rent jets instead of cars, but in order to get data from one place to the other, it has to be relayed through a truly dizzying amount of satellites. There was no internet, and the idea that you can sit down in your living room and talk instantaneously to someone in Australia probably seemed too far fetched.

(Also, the company president states that he’s willing to ruin the production schedule for a client because they provide several hundred million dollars worth of business in a year. I’ve worked in the aerospace industry, and for several hundred million, you’re probably going to get two satellites, if you’re lucky. Most satellite programs run in the billions, easily. But that probably only bothered me because I’m familiar with such things. Who knows, maybe in the future that the book comes from, inflation has gotten so bad that we had to pull a Mexico and lop off a few zeroes at the end.)

I love how sometimes they’ll get the technology pretty well, but completely miss the societal changes. For example, Jules Verne’s From the Earth to the Moon isn’t too far off on some parts of space travel, but I love that he couldn’t figure out that some of the territories in the middle of the United States (the book is from the 1860s) would eventually become states. (There’s 36 states in the book. Which is about how many there were at the time. Colorado become a state in 1876 and is the 38th state.) (Also, I understand that Verne was French, but come on.)

(Here, have a Verne-related comic.)

I mean, look at 1984. We’re almost 30 years past that, and, luckily, that totalitarian government has yet to come to pass. I think part of that is an attempt to make an impact. When you are commenting on society, I can see how setting your story in the near future can be important. “Look at where we will end up if we don’t change our ways!”

Do you like to read older science fiction, Squiders? What’s your motivation to do so? Any recommendations?

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4 responses to this post.

  1. I definitely enjoy a lot of H. G. Wells stuff.
    Only Verne book I’ve ever read is Voyage to the Centre of the Earth and I didn’t like it all that much, so I’ve sort of shyed away from his other stuff… any you would recommend?

    Reply

    • I’ve only read From the Earth to the Moon and Around the Moon myself, but I found them fairly enjoyable (though I can admittedly stomach drier stuff than many people). What didn’t you like about Voyage?

      I love Wells too. War of the Worlds is brilliant. He does such a good job of chronicling the breakdown of society.

      Reply

      • Well, something I liked a lot about Wells’s books is how he managed to mix a strong plot and characters in with his exploration of sci-fi ideas, something that I didn’t really feel was present in Voyage. I mean, there was a plot, but I felt like it was more of an excuse than anything. I read it years ago so I don’t remember the specifics, but I recall the characters spending a good chunk of the book just traversing the tunnels leading down into the earth without there being much interesting going on, and when they finally reached “the core”, the story focused more on exploration and description than actual events.
        …which seems kind of weird now that I realise that description also matches another book, Lovecraft’s At the Mountains of Madness, which I like a lot.

      • Oh man, I love At the Mountains of Madness. But yeah, I think Verne typically cares more about concept than characters.

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