Poagao's Journal

Absolutely Not Your Monkey

Jul 22 2005

I just finished reading Arthur C. Clarke’s Tales o…

I just finished reading Arthur C. Clarke’s Tales of Ten Worlds. I used to love Clarke’s books when I was a kid, especially 2001 and 2010, but this collection, published in 1963, is more depressing than interesting, because like many early science fiction pieces it extrapolates our progress in space exploration based on the momentum we had in the 60’s, momentum which failed in the 70s and has yet to recover. So all of the interplanetary travel, moon bases, travels to Mars and other planets simply aren’t feasible or possible given today’s prevailing attitudes. Oh, we could do it if we wanted to, we reassure ourselves, but why spend all that money if there are still problems like hunger and poverty on Earth?

Well, there will likely be such problems on Earth for the next few hundred years, if not longer. If you adopt that line of reasoning, we’ll never get off this planet. What if we’d never left Africa? A single storm or other natual calamity could have easily wiped the entire species out. The only difference is a matter of scale, and probability, which we don’t know enough about in any case to accurately predict our chances of survival on a planetary basis.

There are some areas where we’ve matched or even outstripped the visions of the 60’s. In one story, “The Road to the Sea”, which takes place many thousands of years in the future, we get this:

“On her breast Yradne was wearing a large group of jewels, suspended from her neck by a thin golden chain. It was quite a fine pendant, but there was nothing particularly unusual about it, and Brant wasted no time in saying so. Yradne smiled mysteriously and her fingers flickered toward her throat. Instantly the air was suffused with the sound of music…”

It seems Yrade has an iPod shuffle.

In another story in the nearer future, called “Into the Comet”, a spaceship, coincidentally named Challenger, is trapped inside the debris of a comet headed away from the sun because its main computer is down. The main character has an exchange with the head scientist about the matter:

“‘That’s ridiculous! The ship’s in perfect condition, we’ve plenty of food and fuel-and you tell me we’re all going to die just because we can’t do a few sums.’

‘A few sums!’ retorted Martens, with a trace of his old spirit. ‘A major navigational change, like the one needed to break away from the comet and put us on an orbit to Earth, involves about a hundred thousand separate calculations. Even the computer needs several minutes for the job.'”

Today, you could probably get your mobile phone to do the job for you if you had to (or, in a pinch, the microwave). My run-of-the-mill PC desktop is capable of several billion calculations per second.

And yet I’m not likely to see anything beyond the atmosphere of this, our one and only planet.

posted by Poagao at 3:59 am  

No Comments »

No comments yet.

RSS feed for comments on this post. TrackBack URI

Leave a comment