Magic Or High Tech?

While many tend to blur the difference between science fiction and fantasy, those involved in either field are quick to detail the differences. Fantasy may deal with elves or gnomes, shaman or wizards. Science fiction deals with alien beings that evolved much like ordinary life forms on Earth, except they evolved on Mars, or a planet around Sirius or Alpha Centauri (where a real planet was recently discovered). The characters in fantasy can work magic, fly broomsticks, or cast hexes. The characters in science fiction can invent spectacular devices, fly intergalactic spacecraft, or fire death ray blasters. So where is the difference except in explanations of how it is done? The difference lies in the claim that the devices and techniques seen in science fiction may actually be possible, while only those who believe reading tea leaves is valid could think magic will ever work.

Science fiction can justifiably claim success in predicting a lengthy number of real inventions. The author of “Man Without a Country” in 1869 had a story, “The Brick Moon”, run as a three-month serial in The Atlantic Monthly. This not only forecast artificial satellites, but predicted one of their real uses, as a navigational aid. Arthur C. Clarke himself in 1945 predicted communications satellites, and later wrote an amusing essay on how he could not have patented the idea because the patent office demanded to know how to get the satellites into space, so he failed to cash in on a billion dollar idea. H. G. Wells had the “Land Ironclads” in 1905, well before tanks made their appearance in World War I. Hundreds of stories were published about space travel long before Yuri Gagarin made mankind’s first spaceflight. Jules Verne had a very advanced submarine sailing in 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea. Hugo Gernsback invented both the word and idea of television in one of his nearly unreadable stories, so people who decry science fiction as unreal should, to be consistent, never watch TV, whether broadcast, cable or as a DVD.

Some even today are opposed to the American space program, not having accepted that it can turn a huge profit if allowed to mine asteroids, create lunar colonies, and do many of the other things science fiction has been predicting for decades. But the USA is not the only nation with a space program. Russia was first in space, and has a long tradition of science fiction (and of fantasy as well). China has plans for lunar landings followed closely by construction of a permanent base. Europe, India, and others have plans. The Apollo landings, if not followed by further efforts in the USA, could be remembered by history as having about as much significance as the Viking landings in North America. Except China and the others will not follow Apollo by 500 years, as Columbus did the Vikings. A sad possibility I envision in my story, “Late Breaking News”.

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