The Death of Science Fiction
by Bret Funk
Page 1 of 2
Remember the glory days of science fiction, when everything and
anything seemed like a possibility? When nothing was certain, and the future
applications of scientific discovery seemed as ridiculously fanciful as… well,
as fantasy? I’m not sure I do. Born in the mid-seventies, at the start of an
exponential growth phase in scientific discovery, it seems that every passing
year has turned one more ‘impossible fantasy’ into a reality.
Less than a hundred and fifty years ago, Jules Verne wrote about
exploration under the sea and to the moon. Now such things are common place.
Old hat. Comfortable. Few people marvel at the wonder that is a submarine, and
moon exploration (except, perhaps, for those few who believe the whole thing an
elaborate conspiracy) lost its appeal soon after we realized we could do it.
Today, the ‘laws’ of nature are redefined constantly, and our
understanding of what is possible changes as often as the tides. From Newtonian
to Relativity to Quantum, physics underwent a drastic metamorphosis in the last
century, pulling the other sciences along kicking and screaming. We take for
granted what our grandparents and great-grandparents could do only in their
wildest dreams, and technology currently on the horizon threatens many of the
mainstays of science fiction.
Not until well into the 20th century did humanity know that DNA
was the ‘building block of life.’ Now the code is cracked, the map drawn. The
ability exists, not only to identify the sites that cause specific diseases and
traits, but to alter those genes considered undesirable. Though still in the
early stages of development, genetic modification holds great promise, grave
danger, and a very big knife to the throat of science fiction. As
outlined in Kim Stanley Robinson’s Mars series, nothing but time and a thin
layer of ethics prevents mankind from splicing genes from other species into
its own genome, allowing it access, a-la Dr. Moreau, to all the advantages of
the animal and plant kingdoms. Along similar lines, what is to prevent a
‘Eugenics War’ like the one that created the infamous Kahn in Star Trek,
or the development of a super soldier?
Cryonics is no longer a fiction, it’s a reality, and more than a
few people have had themselves frozen—thankfully, posthumously—until medical
science can devise a cure for their condition. Which might not take that long.
New procedures and drugs are created daily, and some of last century’s greatest
killers are no longer a threat; others have been all but eradicated from the
Earth. The average life span jumped by more than twenty years in the last
century (in the U.S., at least) and other burgeoning technologies promise to
revolutionize both medicine and the human condition.
In 2001, the first full, self-powered artificial hearts were
transplanted into dying patients, many of whom lived far longer than expected.
The age of the cyborg is upon us; it won’t be long before artificial parts are
used to replace our failing organic ones. At present, the need for an external
power source makes the AbioCor heart less than comfortable, but an internal
battery allows for a full half hour of independent action, and the development
of fuel cell technology (another fiction rapidly turning into fact) and
longer-lasting batteries may soon make the artificial heart a viable transplant
option for the thousands who die each year from heart failure.
Next generation prosthetics will include computer chips and
sensors that will measure nerve conduction and allow the limb to move as
instructed; hydraulic technology is now in development to provide joint action
in knees and elbows, and from there, attempts will be made to mimic the more
complex movements of the hand. Optical implants can now correct for a variety
of eye dysfunctions, and research is underway on implants that feed directly
into the optic nerve, bypassing the need for eyes altogether and allowing for
the detection of wavelengths beyond the range of our simple, outdated human
Copyright© 1999, 2000, 2001, 2002 Bret Funk, sffworld.com. All rights reserved. No part of this may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the author.