Science fiction is a funny genre. There are those (like me) who devour it, who sometimes feel there’s something missing in a book that doesn’t include at least a little imagined science. Then there are those who just don’t get the genre, are completely alienated by it. To them, it’s weird and unreal.
Yet in the best science fiction, there’s nothing more real. It looks ahead to what might be and extrapolates not just the science, but how people adapt to the science. It can show how one change, small or large, completely transforms a people, a society.
The Green Movement in Iran and the more recent Arab Spring got me thinking about a Larry Niven story I read thirty or so years ago. “Flash Crowd” showed the impact of the transfer booth, an instantaneous, essentially free form of travel. You step into a transfer booth down on the corner near your house (like a way cooler bus stop) and in the next moment you’re downtown, or at the university or at the local mall.
What happens in the story is that folks start hearing about something interesting going on at Santa Monica mall (a stretch of several pedestrian-only open air blocks in Santa Monica, CA) and all those people jump into transfer booths. This near immediate influx of people on the mall leads to a riot, something that never could have happened if folks had to climb into their cars, negotiate Los Angeles freeway traffic, find a place to park, etc. Easy availability of transfer booths = riot.
Transfer booths haven’t been invented yet, but think about their virtual equivalent. The Internet. Facebook. Twitter. Texting. The demonstrators during the Arab Spring used those near instantaneous forms of communication to organize, to plan, to keep their compatriots and sympathizers and the outside world updated as to conditions on the ground. The protesters couldn’t instantaneously appear in the streets of Cairo or Damascus, but the Internet and cell phones have facilitated their movements.
What Larry Niven predicted when he published “Flash Crowd” in 1973 didn’t come literally true. We still haven’t figured out how to instantaneously transport matter from point A to point B. But that phenomenon of informing the world in an instant has come to pass and in the case of the Arab Spring (despite the current state of affairs in Syria), I think that can be a good thing.
Have you read a book or a short story that has projected a possible future? Have you seen that projected future become now? Leave a comment. Include the title and author if you have it.