First there was fiction. Then there was fact.
I was watching bits and pieces of 2001: A Space Odyssey the other day, which is the only way I’ve ever seen that movie, and was surprised to see iPads featured in the film. iPads in 1968! Would today’s teens even blink watching that? Or would they just laugh at how many buttons were on the device and wonder why HAL couldn’t have had as much inflection in his voice as Siri?
It’s eery when you see it, but it happens again and again in fiction. A writer–science fiction writer, generally–imagines an alternate or futuristic world, and in time that world becomes our reality.
H.G. Wells wrote about the chain reaction energy release of an atomic bomb before the discovery of the neutron. He decided time was the fourth dimension in The Time Machine, and ten years later Einstein’s theory of relativity proved him right. Jules Verne’s 1865 description of space travel in From the Earth to the Moon reads like a pre-flight checklist for the Apollo 8 mission. Three astronauts? Check. Aluminum aircraft? Check. Launch from the coast of Florida? Check. Verne even pegged the weight of the space shuttle and both the fictitious and the actual return vessels landed dangerously close to their recovery ships in the same place in the ocean.
How does the science fiction writer feel, if he or she is around to witness the birth of their imagined reality? I think I can take a stab at that, after hearing about a new technology in contact lenses. Apparently somewhere there’s a team of people working on a contact lens that will wirelessly monitor the health of the individual wearing it and transmit the data to any cellphone in the world. The idea is that medical professionals can observe entire populations in remote regions, where people don’t have easy access to health care.
This sounds familiar. All the animals in The Dragon Keeper are monitored via SAMs–Sero-Adrenal Microchips–that track pulse, blood pressure, serotonin and adrenaline levels with virtually no human interaction. It’s a controversial technology and a few of the characters get pretty passionate about the ethics and capabilities of SAMs. Of course, it’s all completely made up. There’s no such microchip, or at least I thought there wasn’t. I was even a bit worried after I finished the book, thinking that SAMs would seem too far fetched to any intelligent reader. Apparently there was no need to worry. When I read about these contact lenses, I was relieved…and then somewhat dizzy. It’s a strange thing to watch fiction become reality. You see a line blurred and then it dissolves completely, and you wonder what else has crossed over between your worlds. Where does your imagination really lead you?
For Wells, it led to a terrible place. He was a bitter witness to the devastation of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. His warnings to the world about the dangers of atomic energy were not only ignored, but worse–his book is credited for giving Leó Szilárd, the man responsible for starting The Manhattan Project, the idea of a nuclear chain reaction. Before his death in 1946, he asked for his epitaph to read: “Goddamn you all. I told you so.”