New Year’s Eve is always a bittersweet time for me: I inevitably find myself dejected when I reflect upon all of those yearly resolutions which I made 364 days earlier that I never managed to attain, but I’m also a little hopeful – maybe next year will be the year that I finally publish that critically acclaimed collection of poetry or finish that novel or stick to a workout schedule for more than a few weeks…
I experience those exact same emotions when looking back on humankind every year as well. There were certainly some remarkable achievements in 2009 – Obama being sworn in as President; the two U.S. journalists freed in North Korea after former President Clinton’s visit with Kim Jong Il; NASA’s Hubbel Telescope receiving a long awaited upgrade – with spectacular results; B&N launching its eBook reader, nook; etc. – but there were just as many noteworthy lows – the Swine Flu scare, record unemployment, the Bernard Madoff and Mark Sanford scandals, and let’s not forget the Balloon Boy hoax, Jon and Kate Gosselin, the Salahis, and MTV’s Jersey Shore….
As a lifetime reader of science fiction, I find the passing of the years particularly intriguing – especially how legendary SF writers from the past imagined the world in the 21st century, the 22nd century, etc. Did they believe that by 2009, humankind would have already colonized the stars? Or would we have destroyed ourselves with nuclear weapons, bioengineered warfare or just plain stupidity? (And did any writer predict Octomom?)
For example, Harry Harrison’s dystopic classic Make Room! Make Room! – originally published in 1966 and made into the movie Soylent Green starring Chuck Heston in 1973 – was set in a 1999 New York City with a population of 35 million. The novel explored the consequences of overpopulation and chronicled a looming environmental and societal collapse.
Lucifer's Hammer by Larry Niven and Jerry Pournelle – published in 1977 – is set in 1970’s California and chronicles the defecation hitting the rotating oscillator after a giant comet hits Earth.
One of science fiction’s most visionary (and under-acknowledged) masterworks, George Zebrowski’s Macrolife – originally published in 1979 – is set in 2021 and, like the two aforementioned novels, envisioned a future Earth that is well on its way to becoming uninhabitable. After a disaster of unprecedented proportions involving a seemingly indestructible building material, humankind is forced into space where they begin constructing artificial habitats inside of hollowed out asteroids. The new mobile environments eventually give birth to a new society, one that is significantly more advanced than anything that could ever develop on a planet, which are somewhat disturbingly described as “geothermal bombs, plates of mud and rock floating on a molten core.”
Thankfully, Harrison’s vision of an overpopulated and undernourished Earth hasn’t come to fruition – yet. And neither has Niven and Pournelle’s giant comet or Zebrowski’s speculation of an uninhabitable planet – yet. (Dann’s vision of a large-scale outbreak of shared insanity, however, did manifest itself temporarily in 2009 when The Twilight Saga: New Moon opened in theatres and the phenomenon known as Twilight Moms swept the nation….)
So, with a new year quickly approaching, I wanted to make you all aware, once again, of humankind’s – and your own – gloriously limitless potential. We can do anything if we truly set our minds to it. Look around. Every single one of us is going to die sooner or later, be it by simply growing too old or by getting squished by a wayward comet. The future is now! Let’s make this year one of the best years of our lives! Like the characters in the science fiction novels I mentioned who have to deal with a plethora of cataclysms – starvation, disease, plague, mass death, etc. – let’s live life with a sense of urgency in 2010 and do something extraordinary!
Even though the near future in these novels is bleak, the one universal theme throughout is hope. There is always hope – it’s just a matter of what we do with it.
What do you want to achieve in 2010?