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Fire

The flickering light of the flames, the pulsing red of the coals, the sheer sensuous pleasure of the radiant heat.

There’s no doubt in my mind that the first major change to their environment early Hominids made was the taming of fire. And then they evolved to better take advantage of that warmth in the cold, the delicious food that happened when things were exposed to fire. The safety from predators in the night, a relatively safe way to drive animals over a cliff.

Oh, we evolved to fit better to agriculture, as we invented it, and cites, industry . . . but even now, I sit tapping at a computer, producing some blather that I’ll post on a world-wide web of high tech connections . . . and I am doing it while sitting here in front of a recess built into my house for the sole purpose of enjoying sitting close to a low wickering fire, with one arm warm and one cold. Something I inherited from some primitive ancestor is content to sit here, some sense that this is a safe place where I belong.

We’re now in a time of rapid changes to our environment. No, I’m not talking about climate change—climates has always changed, and we used our tame fire to deal with that.

No, I’m looking at technology, at culture clashes, at hostile political factions.

It’s all happening too fast for evolution to deal with, too fast for cultural evolution—I look around and see a society that is breaking, not adapting.

Do we have the resilience to adapt? Or will we fall apart and have to rebuild. Will we emerge on the far side to the final death of Communism and the bright future of individual freedom, responsibility, and striving?

I think one reason I both read and write science fiction is to explore those possibilities.

What if humans became the perfect soviet? Like ants, toiling as one, for the Hive? Sometimes I swear that is the goal of the would-be Hive Masters. I don’t think they’d actually like the results, even if they were on top. Because, speaking of hostile political factions, ants do go to war. Hmm, haven’t read any of that sort of SF lately . . . Although my Cyborgs (NaNoWriMo project this year) are actually quite close, even though I was working more toward the next subgenre.

 

What happens as we become our machines? Will we become dependent on the tech parts? Will we lose something that makes us who we are when we change what we are? I have so many friends that I think I know so well, on line. Haven’t met half of them in the flesh, but I want to. Bunches of them met online and now married or making wedding plans. Will we continue to value that last real world physical touch, or will it become more rare, until we’ve forgotten how wonderful it is to deal with others in the flesh?

And speaking of technology, what happens when we move to space habitats, other planets, other planetary systems? As travel times stretch from days to months, years, and many decades between groups of people will we evolve into different species, or will we be more like breeds of dogs? Incredibly different looking, but still dogs? The Founder Effect in interstellar colonies will be strong. I regret that I can only play with it in fiction, and will not live to see even the start of it.

 

What if we go out there and find other intelligent life? Friends, enemies, incomprehensible . . . SF is rife with our meetings and what can happen. I think this is where I see the most variety in SF. Thousands? Millions? Lots of people exploring all the possibilities. Mind bogglingly odd sometimes. I mean “Shakespeare in the original Klingon?” Really?

 

 

Genetic engineering. Still in its infancy, we’ve fictionally explored its use in creating horrible plagues or supersoldiers. We do love those unintended side effects, and things escaping into the wild that should never have been created in the first place. But we’ve also explored changing ourselves to fit alien environments and uplifting other species into sapience, for better and much worse. This is a field much loved by Horror writers.

 

 

And then there’s Time Travel. An exploration into the past, a study of what else might have been. which could often be mistaken for parables about the importance of not changing history. Closely related to both Alternate History and Parallel Worlds fiction. It’s odd, that the least likely field to ever happen is the one with the most real world applications to the here and now. Because we can look into the past and see where action could have avoided a horrible war, or a tragic disaster—and we can see where our current situation leads, if we just stand by and let something just starting, continue.

Science Fiction is often denigrated as “Escape fiction.” A way to not deal with the real world. I think that’s exactly wrong.

And my most recent, in which several subgenres collide head on:

21 Comments
  1. WordPress ate my comment, here repeated in a much more succinct manner: most of these biomechanical enhancements will be largely unremarked, like eyeglasses, dentures, or pacemakers. They do little more than restore normal functioning. Inventions like RAH’s powered armor, used to create the MI troopers, will cause little comment. Genetic modification, like Scalzi’s Forever War legions, will PROBABLY be more controversial.

    November 15, 2019
    • TheOtherSean #

      IIRC, Forever War was Joe Haldeman, Old Man’s War was Scalzi.

      November 15, 2019
      • Correct. In my feeble defense, it has been years since I read either one. I also can’t recall if Haldemans’ universe included any genetic engineering. Given the long spans of millennia that book spans, to not postulate such would seem a severe lack of realistic prognostication.

        November 15, 2019
    • What they’re doing with prosthetics is astounding, and they’re already making Terminators. 🙂

      November 15, 2019
  2. Genetic engineering, the down-side is epic.

    It looks like such a Great Idea to build an army of Super Soldiers. There’s a certain kind of mind out there that LOVES that idea.

    But that is the same mind that does not understand there is no such thing as Society. You look out the window, you don’t see a country or a society. You see individual humans walking around. That’s the Reality (TM) of it.

    So from the view of an -individual- who got born as a Super Soldier, they’re going to experience their existence in a whole different way than what the idiot army builder had in mind.

    This assumes that what was intended is what actually happens. Given the complexity of the human body and how easily it screws up even in natural born individuals, how likely is that? You change a gene to make stronger muscles, but the kid dies because his muscle attachments couldn’t keep up. That’s an extremely likely outcome. Or it works, but there’s this unfortunate side effect that destroys the liver. And so forth.

    So to me, the reality of genetic engineering on Humans is death. The lucky experiments will die immediately, the unlucky ones will die later after suffering a while. This is why I’m hoping the Chinese experiments that were reported are a lie. Two little girls waiting their whole lives to see if Dr. Chang-enstein screwed up, that’s a shit life. We should not be doing that.

    November 15, 2019
    • Yeah. Especially not starting with humans. Lab rats have had all sorts of interesting things done to them, to study diseases. Goats with spider silk in their milk? Pigs, so their heart valves are closer human?

      It’s one of those areas where maybe excessive regulation is a really good idea.

      November 15, 2019
      • Something I’ve never seen in the media is the number of lab rats they lose while they’re doing their “something interesting” to them. How many turned out wonky and were put down?

        I recall the “glow in the dark” rats who had a gene spliced in from a jellyfish or something for phosphorescence. Big success, very amusing result. Awesome lab stunt. And of course because it was rats, we don’t care how many didn’t make it. But I wonder what that number was.

        November 15, 2019
        • I remember reading about a behavioural experiment where they eventually discovered the rat was actually messing with the results.

          Rats can be smart. Not all of them, but enough.

          November 16, 2019
    • Synova #

      Bujold’s genetically engineered super soldier, Taura, was one answer to that and I think that it’s the definitive answer, really. People who think it’s a good idea don’t understand war.

      I was quite disappointed in the Star Trek remake with Khan which completely missed the opportunity to explore the question in a direction different from the original.

      November 15, 2019
      • And her Quaddies another. And yeah, Khan had potential for something better.

        November 15, 2019
  3. Margaret Ball #

    I don’t think we’ll ever reach a point where we don’t value real world physical contact. We’re still apes with big brains. Ape needs to be in a room with other apes, if only to judge how serious they are about wanting to take all the bananas and redistribute them. Also, ape doesn’t reproduce online. (Granted, there are some idiots around who think that’s a great idea, because people bad for planet. It’s fine with me if those particular idiots don’t reproduce.)

    November 15, 2019
    • Mary #

      Evolution in action. Much of what the Left does is act as an evolutionary filtering mechanism.

      November 15, 2019
  4. TRX #

    Most of the electricity at my meter comes from a nuclear power plant 90 miles away. Yet I have a propane heater behind my chair to keep warm…

    “The future is here, just unevenly distributed.” – William Gibson

    November 15, 2019
  5. The cybermen from Dr. Who are a nightmare for very good reasons. If you read the books by Kit Pedlar and others, they started out as a medical what if. What if we could replace more and more of ourselves, improving, enhancing, eventually losing (or excising) emotion because some saw that as a weakness… The results are not positive. The Daleks are spooky on flat surfaces, but the cybermen are a bit too close to some of the things I hear some hyper-pro-technology espousing.

    November 15, 2019
    • That’s where SF can be useful, exploring all the possible ramifications of tech we can see on the horizon. We can see the pitfalls.

      This can also be a problem with too rosy a picture of the future, ignoring the downside. I sort of elided right past generations of test “animals” and into my genetically engineered Characters.

      November 15, 2019
    • Synova #

      Overly emotional robots would be an interesting direction to follow.

      November 15, 2019
      • Heh. C3P0. And wasn’t there one in Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy? It’s been a long time since I read it.

        November 15, 2019
        • Marvin the Paranoid Android. “I’m not getting you down, am I. Gawd, I’m so depressed…” Love the character. 🙂

          November 15, 2019
          • Marvin and Zaffod were my two favorite characters from Hitchhikers.

            November 16, 2019
      • Mary #

        Freefall has a cheerful take on it.

        Blunt can even handle that he is worried when he claims to have no emotions

        November 16, 2019
    • Stephen R. Donaldson’s Gap series had some people that were modified, both by humans and by aliens. In both cases I felt extremely sorry for those people as their lives seemed very bleak. It was actually one of the reasons I quit reading that series.

      November 16, 2019

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