Dan Goodman (dsgood) wrote,

Wrong Futures: James Blish, "Beep"

About the future of science fiction, I can make one surefire prediction. Writers will make wrong predictions. And the kinds of mistakes they'll make can be predicted by reading old sf stories.

James Blish's short story "Beep" was published in 1954. It begins centuries in the future, jumps back to 2089 or 2090, then returns to the far future.

Here is the late 21st century heroine: "Dana Lje -- her father had been a Hollander, her mother born in the Celebes...The conqueror Resident who had given the girl her entirely European name had been paid in kind, for his daughter's beauty had nothing fair and Dutch about it."

The Netherlands acknowledged Indonesia's independence in 1949. Dutch colonial officials were probably scarce for a while before that. In the last years of the 21st century, Dana is a bit old to be called a girl.

1949 was before 1954. The author missed social and political changes which had already happened.

Dana smokes incessantly, in other people's offices. Today's smoking restrictions weren't in place; but by 1954 there were medical studies which showed smoking caused lung cancer. Tighter rules on smoking could have easily been foreseen.

Technology, Blish overestimated and underestimated.

Overestimation: An extensive interstellar empire by the end of our century is unlikely. In the implausible future we inhabit, even Mars hasn't been settled yet.

By the way, Earth and its empire are run almost entirely by American men. The only female government employee shown is a secretary.

Underestimation: When the viewpoint character of several hundred years later is introduced, he's hiding behind a newspaper. A printed newspaper.

Print newspapers have gotten thinner, and include pointers to material only available on the Web. I do not expect them to be common centuries from now.

"Jo hailed a hopper." The hopper is apparently a flying taxi. Its driver -- male, of course -- is a hoppy.

Self-driving cars are becoming practical now. I expect human-piloted cabs to be very scarce in the far future.

Would readers have found anything implausible about this future? Perhaps the absence of the Red Menace. It was obvious to the meanest intelligence that the Soviet Union would still be strong at the end of the 21st century.
Tags: future, science-fiction
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