Imagining Reality…Or Realizing the Imaginary?

Often, Hollywood (or some literary mastermind) comes up with something interesting. An idea. A concept that screams, “Hey, we could be experiencing this someday.” In my last post, I talked about our cosmic neighbor, Mars, and how we found some water there. Again, that was big news. But, to anyone who has been reading science fiction for the past 100 years, it should have come as no surprise. Or rather, it was to be expected. Or maybe it was exciting / expected / holy-cow-those-sci-fi-nuts-were-right? Well, either way, I felt the need to look into it further.

Early 20th century writer Edgar Rice Burroughs (author of Tarzan), wrote a series of books about a character named, “John Carter.” You may recognize the name as it was made into a film a few years ago. Unfortunately, John Carter was not the mega-hit Disney had hoped for (I still liked it and am hoping for a follow up, personally). However, that’s not as important as this: Carter’s tale takes place on Mars. A Mars in which the author, Burroughs, imagined to be devoid of toxic wasteland and instead, be flowing with – hey, you guessed it – water. Now, was Burroughs taking secret trips back and forth to Mars? Discerning there was salt water on the red planet? No, that’s insane. But, he did have the creative sense to think outside the box. He imagined it. And he went for it. Turns out, that presumption was correct.

As for all the green aliens and people with red skin walking around? Yeah, that wasn’t exactly spot on. But, hey, that water though….

Sometimes, like in Mr. Burroughs’ case, imagination meets reality on a collision course. I recently finished reading Orson Scott Card’s Ender series and made another interesting discovery. One of Card’s main characters is a computer program named, “Jane.” Doesn’t sound groundbreaking to have a computer program with a female name, but here’s the deal: “Jane” speaks via a device implanted in one’s ear. Sound familiar? Yeah, it sounds like a bluetooth device. And Siri, too. But again, Card’s books were written before we took bluetooths seriously. Or had Siri answering questions like, “Do you love me?”

Now, does sci-fi always get it right? No, not exactly. I’m sure there are plenty examples out there. And I’m sure we could name them. But, point is: sometimes our imaginations point to what could be. While in other cases, our imagination exceeds anything we could possibly do. At least for now anyway. The Star Wars franchise is synonymous with hyper drives and lightspeed travel. Can it be done? Well, the answer is unequivocally, undeniably….maybe?

Perhaps my kids will see it. Or their kids will. At which point, I’m fine with that generation having a go at it. I’ll be happy watching from the sidelines.

 

Mars and Science Fiction

Wow. It’s been a while. Let’s get right to it.

Being a sci-fi enthusiast, I found myself anxiously awaiting NASA’s big Mars announcement this week. I mean, come on, we’re talking about Martians here. Did we find’em? They out there? Every book that’s ever been written about the red planet would be turned on its head if so. But, as we know, that wasn’t the big news NASA had for us. Make no mistake though, what we got was still big news: flowing salt water. Water. Flowing freely. That’s pretty cool, right? I mean, water is a precursor for life. And though there are slim chances of a Mars shark or a Mars dolphin swimming about the water highways of Mars, there’s always that slim chance something with a heartbeat could be on the red planet. Right?

Or as so many science fiction minds have imagined in the past: absolutely. 

From a literary perspective, Mars has been a source of inspiration for more than a handful of stories over the years. Perhaps most well-known is H.G. Wells’ War of the Worlds; one of modern literature’s first attempts at the alien invasion genreFirst published in 1898 (hard to imagine), Wells’ classic detailed a battle between Earth and Mars’ inhabitants, the technologically advanced “Martians.” The book was received well and consequently influenced several other science fiction writers. Most notably, perhaps, was Edgar Rice Burroughs; the man behind the John Carter series, who wrote a series of books on Mars and his fictional race of people who lived there.

But, that’s not all we got from Mars over the years.

There was the trippy and engaging film, Total Recall, that took us to a Mars where people were trying to make the air on Mars “breathable.” Oh, and there’s mutant people in it, too. Then there was Mission to Mars, a film that tried to explain the theories of the universe through the eyes of highly intelligent alien life form (I guess that’s like having mutant people?). And there was the unfortunate box office flop, Red Planet, that tried to convince us of Martian “nematodes” that eat people. No mutants, just yikes. And for the less-than-serious takers, there was the satirical Mars Attacks! A film made to intentionally mock old school alien invasion movies while poking fun at its cast throughout. Jack Nicholson is in it. Pierce Brosnan is in it. Natalie Portman is in it. And so is… well, that’s all you need to know. Mars has been host to more than a few stories where alien life is bent on our destruction. And naturally, the general public loves it. Even if it’s coming from brother Mars.

But, what about now? Does the discovery of flowing water change much? I’d be reluctant to say that it hasn’t. If nothing else, it’s provided even more inspiration for us Earthen folk. And with Matt Damon’s The Martian coming out this year, it seems like the timing couldn’t have been better. We may not be dreaming of terrifying tentacles or tripods with ray guns (well, not as much) but we do have that much more to work with. Ice miners on Mars? Rivers filled with Martian fish?

As I said earlier, I’m eager to see what’s next.