the need for faster-than-light speed
famous Canadian Science Fiction writer
Mark A. Carter rants about the positive influence of
Science Fiction on technological
innovation in the past and the present, and the need for a new
conceptual breakthrough in
propulsion to get off this world if we are to have a future.
Peter ed. Science Fiction Encyclopedia. Garden City, NY:
early 16th Century woodcut
creates a startling symbol of Conceptual
Breakthrough, as a monk plunges his head through the
sphere of the stars to find the complex machinery behind the
scenes creating the movements of the heavens.
Whether a story
ends with a vicious solar flare toasting
the Earth as in
Knowing (2009) or a rogue planet colliding with
the Earth as in
Melancholia (2011) or some other unforeseen
Cosmopoetic event obliterating the
Earth, Science Fiction warns us of a need to get off
our planet if we want to survive. It's good advice. There is
only one small glitch. We
are still playing with sky rockets.
Fiction shows us surviving planetary disaster of our
own making. Although Skynet's Judgment
Day in The Terminator
(1984) vaporizes three billion
human beings, the survivors fight the robots in their
post-apocalyptic present and
past, in an attempt to subvert the machines. In the
1979 film Mad Max,
which also occurs in the wake of global thermonuclear
war, an Australian Highway Patrol
officer is confronted with a lawless new
dark age controlled by devolved
war lords driving cannibalized
vehicles in a fight between good and evil.
Based on my own
theory that Science Fiction
is predictive, I am confident that global thermonuclear war,
and the horrific aftermath, as foreseen in
Terminator and Mad
Max are likely. Unless we dismantle entirely, it
will happen because it's in our nature. We hate to have toys
we can't play with. And like the simpletons we are, we enjoy
a good light show. We stare at fireworks like mindless idiots.
So, why wouldn't we blow up the whole
shebang just to put an end to our miseries?
All that will
be required will be two US Air Force
ICBM missileers of like mind, sitting behind the locked
blast door of their underground capsule,
in charge of ten Minuteman
3 missiles, in Montana,
or North Dakota, or
Wyoming, who suddenly wake up from the mass delusion
we all suffer from, and actually see things as they are. They
will see, like schizophrenics
and writers, that reality is hideous
beyond belief. They will see the broken, dead, and radioactive
Pacific Ocean, the
oil-polluted Gulf of Mexico, the
global warming, increased
desertification, violent hurricanes and typhoons, the
ozone hole over
Antarctica, the glucose-fructose
and gluten in our
food, and the bacteria in the baby milk they bought on-line for
their newborns because their wives both have breast cancer and
cannot milk. And in disgust, they will put an end to the planet.
They will turn their keys at the same time and launch the missiles
under their command. And to quote
Sara Connor in the 1991
film Terminator 2: "Anybody
not wearing two million sunblock is gonna have a real bad day.
That being said,
to avoid utter disaster of the Cosmopoetic
kind at an unimaginable scale, like that seen in
Knowing and Melancholia,
as opposed to the meteor impacts and the ensuing
Extinction Level Events as seen in
Armageddon (1998) and in Deep
Impact (1998) that we are able to survive by using
our nukes to diminish the
encroaching threat, we have to get
out of Dodge. But, to be practical, that means we need
to develop a whole new means of propulsion. Rockets just
don't cut it. They aren't efficient. And they're too
I fully believe
that the next step in human evolution is to get off this planet
and to colonize other worlds. We owe it to ourselves to graduate
from Mother Earth and go elsewhere
as soon as possible not merely when danger is imminent.
"Man is an artifact designed for space travel.
He is not designed to remain in his present biologic state
any more than a tadpole is designed to remain a tadpole."
- William S. Burroughs
leaving only when danger presents itself is shortsighted and
will be too late. We should be getting off this planet as a matter
of course for years, decades, and perhaps centuries in advance
of anything untoward happening. It would increase our chances
of survival as a species because to remain on this
ball of wax is putting all
of our eggs in one basket. Put plainly,
it's just asking for it. And, as everyone now says: "It's
not a matter of if. It's a matter of when."
mention that Science Fiction
is predictive. But it's a double edged
sword. If you want to be negative, there are plenty of
stories to read and movies to watch catering to
disaster junkies. I have already mentioned a few. Disaster
movies bring in big box office revenues. But, yes
Virginia, there are actually stories in print that spin
a positive view of our future. And they do indeed show us out
there amid the stars.
need a Conceptual Breakthrough.
Isaac Asimov's novel length collection of short stories
Foundation, we witness the
extropy of humans spreading out into the
Milky Way. Robert Heinlein's 1959 novel
Starship Troopers and its film version
(1997) directed by Paul Verhoeven
depicts us out there fighting a galactic war with alien
insects. Harry Harrison with
his Bill, the Galactic Hero
(1965) shows us out there among the planets of our system
and beyond. Alien (1979)
written by Dan O'Bannon and
directed by Ridley Scott also
shows us out there mining asteroids and smelting in space rather
than continuing to pollute the Earth
despite alien encounters of
an unsavory kind. Even Pitch
Black (2000) directed by
David Twohy shows Riddick
and human beings out there getting
down and dirty in their fight for survival on a desert
planet scorched by three suns during the perpetual day and plagued
by hammer-headed carnivores during the prolonged solar eclipse;
and in Chronicles of Riddick
(2004) also directed by Twohy,
by extradimensional Necromongers
who want to possess us body
and soul. Despite the challenges, despite the odds, and
despite the risks, Science Fiction
indeed shows us out there
like nobody's business. And that is a positive thing.
The problem is,
given the inadequacy of rocket propulsion and the need to travel
faster than light, how do we get out there? It defies the current
laws of physics to travel faster than light.
Albert Einstein's Theory of Relativity puts a
cosmic stop sign at the speed of light. So, how have some
Science Fiction writers worked their way around it?
Herbert in his 1965
novel Dune sees
Guild Navigators folding space and enabling ships to
travel without moving between the stars. This rapid movement
between two regions of space has since been named a
worm hole, and has been used by many authors including
American astronomer, astrophysicist,
and cosmologist Carl Sagan
in his 1985 novel
Contact and in the
1997 film based on it. And for his
Star Trek TV Series which ran from
1966-69, Gene Roddenberry developed the idea of
Warp Drive that allowed the
Enterprise to travel faster than light through a parallel
region of space called hyperspace.
Science Fiction is merely fanciful dreaming, as most
people see it. Or is it? My theory is that we create what we
dream. Science Fiction provides
the inspiration for innovation. But don't take my word for it.
one man can imagine, other men can make real."
- Jules Verne
As I mentioned,
physicists currently believe that faster than light speed is
impossible. But when I hear the shouts of
scientific absolutism, I also
hear a shoe drop because every time physics has
thrown down its gauntlet, we have
rolled up our sleeves, put our minds to the problem,
and found a way to prove it wrong. Barriers are meant to be broken.
There was once
a time when travelling thirty
miles per hour by horse was considered
as fast as it gets. But the steam locomotive proved that
wont to say things like: "If
man was meant to fly, God would have given him wings."
But in lieu of that, the Wright Brothers
flew at Kitty Hawk
that Jules Verne's Twenty Thousand
Leagues Under the Sea (1870) was fanciful. But
Captain Nemo's Nautilus indeed provided the inspiration
for the first actual submarine, the
Turtle, a hand-powered acorn-shaped device designed by
the American David Bushnell
to accommodate a single person. It saw battle in
1775 during the American Revolutionary
War. And nuclear powered submarines, inspired by
Verne, currently ply the world's oceans.
ray guns imagined in the comic
strips of Buck Rogers
(1929) and Flash Gordon
(1934) were made real by Theodore
H. Maiman in 1960
with the first working LASER,
which is an acronym for
light amplification by stimulated emission of radiation.
At first we didn't even know if it had any practical
applications. Now we bar code scan
everything. Our communication systems rely on miniature
laser LEDs. The speed of the
internet would be impossible without them. Powerful carbon dioxide
lasers are used in engraving,
surgery, and welding. And with the recent developments of
Yuriy Stepanenko at IPC PAS,
who developed the desktop size
10 terawatt laser, we are indeed on the threshold of
the powerful hand held ray gun.
barrier ... broken in 1947
by Chuck Yeager in
the Bell X-1.
is out of reach." Yet in 1969,
Apollo 11 landed on the moon and
Neil Armstrong placed his boot print in the dust of the
Sea of Tranquility. Need I say more?
Ancient Greeks talked themselves to death because philosophical
argument can only take you so far. They needed more inventions
like the screw attributed to Archimedes
and less wars.
plumbing, and cement, the Roman Empire
failed too because they were in desperate need of a new
means of communication and transportation to connect and to service
their vast territory. But it never came. And their
Empire crumbled due to complacency, futility, and war
But today, if
the countries of the world would stop fighting their stupid wars
long enough to turn their most brilliant scientific and technical
minds toward matter replication, teleportation,
time travel, and warp drive,
as seen in Science Fiction,
perhaps we might not go the way of the
Greeks and the Romans
and all of the other civilizations around the world that have
come and gone.
Work has already
begun with matter replication.
They called it the replicator
in Star Trek. We call
it the 3D printer. An object
is scanned. The code is saved. Then when you want to copy it,
the information is sent to the printer. And by using powdered
molecules instead of ink like a usual printer, the object will
be constructed one layer at a time. The 3D printer will create
everything from soup to nuts.
The US Navy will be deploying
them on Carriers to recreate
parts and perhaps entire aircraft. And soon a small
3D printer will be in every home. And when you want that
oh so special slice of thin
crust pizza with green peppers, mushrooms, onions, and pepperoni,
it will be printed for you, on demand, out of thin air.
"Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable
from magic." - Arthur
Bradbury, a Science Fiction
writer who I respected greatly for his
1950 collection of short stories:
The Martian Chronicles; his
1951 collection entitled The
Illustrated Man; and his
1953 novel: Fahrenheit
451 was dismissive when I queried him about
Star Trek and matter
transport. He said teleportation
was impossible. Yet Professor
Eugene Polzik and his team in
Copenhagen have successfully teleported an object about
18 inches using light, quantum
mechanics, magnetism and a concept they call entanglement.
And so, it begins.
sadly disappointed me also when I asked him about
time travel. He said that it was impossible to travel
in time. But Theoretical Physicist
Brian Greene, author of the
1999 book The Elegant Universe:
Superstrings, Hidden Dimensions, and the Quest for the Ultimate
Theory and others, for all of their proofs, cannot
show that time travel is impossible. So,
hold onto your hats for the development of that too in
the not too distant future.
Now what we need
is work on warp drive. We
need this technology more desperately than the others. Our need
is not the need of a single country or people. This need is global.
It concerns us all. I'm talking about the survival of the human
race. What we need is a paradigm shift,
a new perspective, an examination of science on the fringe.
What we need is a new way of thinking about propulsion. What
we need is a conceptual breakthrough.
Unlike the simplistic fable of
Archimedes told in
Physics classes, enlightenment does not occur like a
light bulb going on suddenly in our minds. There is no
Eureka moment. Rather it is the unexpected result,
the fly in the ointment, the
experiment that goes wrong that takes our thinking in a new direction.
"The most exciting phrase to hear in science,
the one that heralds new discoveries,
is not Eureka! but That's funny..."
- Isaac Asimov
Thus far, we
have been jettisoning ourselves into space using rocket technology
invented by the Chinese in
the early thirteenth century.
But without a doubt, travelling to the stars needs a faster and
more efficient means of propulsion. So I call on the fresh minds
out there to suggest a new approach. Don't let the system crush
you or dissuade you with its tried and true concepts. Dare to
think differently, to take risks, to go out on the ledge, because
that is where the next breakthrough lies.
Possible Eureka' by Stevenson
© New Yorker Magazine.
me about Science Fiction and
a positive future for us is that, with this
genre more than others, life
imitates art. What is imagined becomes reality, as
Verne suggested long ago. Prediction becomes innovation.
So, whereas many people think that traveling to the stars is
for dreamers, I think otherwise. I believe that if we put our
best minds to the problem, a new propulsion system will be developed,
and Science Fiction will once
again inspire technical reality. And, in turn, the new technology
will be our salvation.
Fiction ... has become crucial to our salvation, if we are to
be saved at all." - Isaac
takes its Science Fiction
and its science seriously. Read: How
NASA might build its very first warp drive.
I have every
confidence that we will think up something completely different
and wonderful and indeed will break the light barrier one day
and will be able to travel back and forth between the suns as
easily as we jet between cities today. But unlike
Pal's 1960 film version of The Time Machine
by H.G. Wells, where
Filby reminds George:
"You've all the time in the world,"
we do not. For us, the clock