Climate change. One theme you can’t escape is climate change. Kim Stanley Robinson uses this as a major theme of how the Earth will become nearly uninhabitable. It begins in his earlier books with an ice shelf breaking off Antarctica, which results in significant sea level rise that floods major coastal cities, and expands from there to pollution, increases in radiation, failing food production, and more violent weather systems. No wonder terraforming Mars becomes such an attractive option to his characters in his Mars Series (Red Mars, Green Mars, and Blue Mars)! But is it really a problem? My take is that it is, but it’s questionable how long it will be until we reach a point of no return. Obviously, we need to take steps to protect the planet now, but change comes slowly – both politically and environmentally. The effects of climate change are already upon us. The real question is, when do we reach a point of no return for preserving the planet?
Overpopulation. It’s a scientific fact that the Earth is overpopulated. Actually, we’re three times over optimum carrying capacity with 7 billion people and growing, and I can see the effects of this in my own home. Our county alone issued nearly 3,000 new housing permits in 2016-2017, along with countless other businesses opening in the area. The county is thrilled with the tax dollars from the urban sprawl, while the rest of us groan sitting in traffic on a highway system built for a 1950’s population. And you probably saw my social media posts on May 3 about the 10 car wreck that shut down I-20 for 12 hours. It literally disrupted traffic in the entire county, and parts of the adjacent county. And this is Columbia, South Carolina! You’d expect something like that to happen in Atlanta, or Phoenix!
Overpopulation is often tackled hand-in-hand with climate change, and it does seem that they’re tied together. With more people taxing our resources, it alters the planet that feeds into the biosystem. It’s all connected, and it’s undeniable that there are a lot more people in the world now than there were even a decade ago. Is it real? Absolutely. The problem is that every potential solution is considered unethical At best, it’s wrong to limit our freedom by mandating our bodies and families. At worst, go see The Avengers Infinity Wars. Nobody has the right to determine who gets to be born, who lives, and who dies. So what do we do? The only solution I see is in the next item.
Interstellar life/terraforming. Life in outer space has been a theme since sci-fi started, but lately it’s taken a turn from the outside coming in (aliens) to humanity going out. Obviously, we don’t have the technology to terraform moons in our solar system, or to build space stations to support non-scientific individuals. Even living in space presents mental and physiological problems that require a return to Earth. Can we come to a point where it’s possible to, say, live on Mars or Titan? I say maybe, but it’s a long way off, and with our exploding population we better find a way, because space and resources are running out Earthside.
As for aliens, I don’t think there’s really anybody out there, but it sure makes for fun stories.
Artificial intelligence. I recently got a great laugh out of a social media post that read “before we develop artificial intelligence, can we do something about natural stupidity?” Once I quit laughing, I realized that the answer is in the question, and it’s that AI is probably the answer to filling our intellectual gaps. We make jokes about Skynet from the Terminator movies enslaving humanity, but we’re usually doing it with a phone in our hand (or our pocket, at least). The truth is that we’re already dependent on technology, and that dependence is growing. I’d even go so far as to say that our evolution is heading toward the integration of man and machine. Is this AI? I think it’s a form of it, because the only way the machine can truly become sentient is to unite with a biological system (us). There’s no doubt that AI is already in development, and when it’s ready I feel certain that mankind will embrace it with open arms.
I’m no as sure about the concept of downloading our consciousness to AI, though, once we die. While it’s a nice concept, I don’t think we’ll achieve immortal life by downloading ourselves to a machine. At best, all it could do is emulate us. Without an active biological host, I don’t see how it could work – and frankly, I don’t want it to. Having a soul locked in the Internet – or any other digital network - is more frightening than Skynet!
Multiverse theory. The theory that there are parallel universes has been on the rise since the 1980’s, and it’s exploded with the proliferation of comic-books turned to movies. Multiverse theory is based on string theory, which proposes that reality is made up of various “string” that cross and intersect to create multiple possible universes beyond the dimensions we know of length, width, height, and time. If you watch a Marvel movie or a DC television show on The CW (The Flash is the main one that gets into multiverse theory), then you’re already familiar with this concept. I’m actually writing a novel right now based on this tentatively titled The Tenth Dimension, and as a writer I can tell you that while fascinating, it’s a tricky concept to work with. Modern story telling has enough with one reality to deal with. Add nine more realities (my research showed that current string theory hypothesizes 10 dimensions, but it might have increased in the past year), and keeping a straight storyline is downright mind boggling. Just ask my coworkers. I had sticky notes and pieces of paper tacked all over my cubicle wall last year while I was writing the rough draft of that novel just trying to sink it all in my brain and keep it straight!
But do I believe it? I’m not sure what I think. The concept that there are other “me’s” living different lives is interesting, but how does that mesh with being a unique individual? It’s so much in the theoretical realm that I’m not sure where I stand, but I will admit that it makes for great fiction. Bringing it to reality is a different story – and I’m pretty sure that’s way off in the future, beyond me and probably many future generations, at least.
Certainly, there are other themes that sci-fi tackles, but these are the main ones that I’ve seen recently. What do you think? Do you find the suspension of disbelief easier with some of these than with others? Let me know what you think here or on social media. As a writer and a reader, it’s fascinating to consider, and to discuss.
That's all today. Take care, and have a great rest of the week.