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7 March 2012

I’ve been rereading several SF books that were originally published in the 1980s, and ran into a problem for writers of SF who are using the background of our own earth but setting the book in the future.
This one gives a time-line at the start of the book.
1969: Neil Armstrong sets foot on Earth’s moon.
1990: Series of Treaties between Inited States and Soviet Russia created the CoDominium.
2008: First Interstellar drive tested.
2020: First interstellar colonies created. Great Exodus begins.
And that’s the trouble with time-lines. And something I’ve noticed about SF for years. SF writers seemed to assume we’d move into space far faster than we ever did. I know after the moon landings there was a huge surge of optimism, a belief that now we’d left Earth the only way was up and that’s where we were going – right now!
But we didn’t, and it looks to me of late as if we’re going backwards. As if we’re slowly retreating from Space and all its possibilities. In the 1960s SF writers thought that in another 30-40 years we’d be out in space in real numbers, building domes on the moon, colonizing Mars, moving outwards as we identified other possible earth-like worlds and looked them over.
And none of that has happened. All we have is a shabby space station, shuttles stood down, less money allocated, and fewer politicians interested. They say you can extrapolate from previous events, well, judging on the past few years, by 2020 we won’t be creating those “First interstellar colonies and the Great Exodus won’t be beginning.” Instead we’ll have abandoned the space station, built no more shuttles or rockets, and even astronomers will be fighting for funds to do anything at all.
I know it costs money to explore space, and it would cost even more to set up just a small colony. I know there are people starving on earth, I know welfare and health benefits are important, but I wonder – what happened to the dream?
In my lifetime I’ve lived to see men and women go into space. I’ve seen the discovery of planets, like Earth – and completely unlike earth. On my TV screen I’ve watched rockets climb out of our gravity well and humans step out of them to set foot on places that are so far from Home. Now, before I die am I going to see all that abandoned, space empty of humans, and no country caring any longer about what could be? I hope not, I hope with all my heart – but I’m a realist, and I fear that that may be our reality and our future.

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