Friday, August 05, 2011

Science Fiction’s Impact on Real Science

I’d like to introduce Melange author Sultry Summers whose post today has tickled my fancy. As a science-fiction and paranormal die-hard. I hope all those out there who wonder what drives those in this genre will enjoy this treat!

 Take it away Sultry!


From the time man began to draw on the walls of his cave home, not every ‘artist’ drew of hunts or victories over the neighboring tribe. Some drew of the future, the way they saw it and some, in their tribe or perhaps the tribe that overran them or followed them, saw these drawings and found a way to invent – the wheel. Which came first science-fiction or science, and when did magic get transformed into science? Man as species has progressed a long way from the days we persecuted others for their different beliefs – haven’t we? Yes and no. However we have progressed past burning people at the stake, for the most part. Now people who dream and see innovations of the future are respected and their dreams and visions become technology or science. In modern life three visionaries come to mind who are possibly responsible for some of our more scientific and amazing innovations. Jules Verne is possibly the first author recognized as a science fiction author, followed closely by H.G. Wells, and later by Sir Author C. Clarke. That isn’t to say these are the only ones, just three who are well known and have given us not only technology but guidance.

In 1870, approximately one hundred years before the first landing on the moon, Jules Verne wrote about two adventurous Americans and an equally brave Frenchman who entered a capsule, surprisingly so close in shape and size to that of the Apollo launch vehicle only scant inches separate the vehicle’s dimensions. However, instead of being launched, Verne’s vehicle, or projectile, was ‘fired’ from a mammoth cannon which shot them out of Earth’s gravity and on a voyage which takes them close to the moon. Verne’s ‘visionary story’ pictured the condition of weightlessness long before science knew about such a condition. He called his ‘three’ adventurous explorers’ astronauts, meaning space traveler, and his launch site was situated in central Florida, with in a hundred miles of the modern facility used by NASA. 

Ironically, Verne’s reasons for choosing this site are similar to those of NASA. Launching nearer the equator, at Kennedy they launched to the east so the speed of the planet’s spin, its inertia, will assist the rockets and require less thrust to achieve escape velocity. Launching out over the Atlantic also cuts down on the risk of a possible failure over a populated area being affected should the worst occur. This was a proven especially in the early history of our space program. Possibly this story was Jules Verne’s most well known comparison to real science, however, not his only one. 

“Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea” and his launch of the submarine the Nautilus is also a well known prediction. That fantasy craft captained by Captain Nemo fueled the imaginations of future submarine builders and it isn’t coincident that Admiral Rickover, the father of the nuclear submarine named the first nuclear submarine the U.S.S. Nautilus. Though Verne’s version didn’t mention it was powered by an atomic reactor, only by a mysterious power source.

Verne isn’t the only science fiction writer to foresee the future in his fictional/fantasy writing. Another writer, a few years younger, H. G. Wells, also saw things to come. Well’s writings weren’t as scientifically precise but his influence on the world of science may have been more direct by association with the scientists of his time.  Before writing “The Science of Life” in 1930, he consulted his son, zoologist, and author George P. Wells and biologist Sir Julian Huxley. He met with Rabindranath Tagore in Geneva, Switzerland and discussed the modern civilization, government and education at that time, comparing East and West. As his writings became more popular he was becoming more of a celebrity and traveled the world meeting the leaders and authors of other countries. In 1933, he wrote “The Shape of Things To Come” and “The Holy Terror” in 1939, after studying the fascist dictators followed the same year by “The New World Order” and in 1945, “Mind at the End of its Tether”, his last book. During his associations and meetings H.G. Wells met some of the greatest scientists in the world, men who were the fathers of nuclear energy and the Atomic Bomb.

 It should be noted that one of his greatest fears, one that he took to his grave, was that humanity would destroy itself by the use the Atomic bomb. In the Preface to the 1941 edition of “The War In The Air” (first published in 1908 and again in 1921) he wrote: “Again I ask the reader to note the warnings I gave in that year, twenty years ago. Is there anything to add to that preface now? Nothing except my epitaph… That, when the time comes, will manifestly have to be:  ‘I Told you so. You damned fools’.  H. G. Wells passed away during the Atomic bomb tests in the Bikini Atolls in the Pacific carried out by the United States. He died believing we would eventually extinguish ourselves.

Yet another author, younger than H.G. Wells by about the same amount of age as he was of Jules Verne achieved as much of the same fame and notoriety. As a seer of the future, his writings have had a strong influence on true science. Sir Arthur C. Clarke’s opinion was respected and even sought after in the quest for man’s future technological development. Among his many accomplishments and writings that have helped to bring about developments which influenced science through science fiction could possibly be the three laws he set down in one of his early published science fiction stories.

Arthur C. Clarke formulated the following three "laws" of prediction:
  1. When a distinguished but elderly scientist states that something is possible, he is almost certainly right. When he states that something is impossible, he is very probably wrong.
  2. The only way of discovering the limits of the possible is to venture a little way past them into the impossible.
  3. Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.
These ‘laws’ are only the tip of the many ‘ideas’ Arthur C. Clarke has bestowed on the world. Beside his visions as entertainment such as his work with Stanley Kubrik on the epic “2001: A Space Odyssey” in 1964, as well as the sequel “2010: Odyssey Two” (or better known as 2010: The Year We Make Contact), the actual works he envisioned were a global satellite system in use today. The conception of a geostationary orbit of the equator appropriately named “The Clarke Orbit” by the International Astronomical Union, is an orbit held by a satellite at 36,000 kilometers (22,370 miles) above the equator. 

He wrote to Dr. Harry Wexler, the then Chief of the Scientific Services Division at the U.S. Weather Bureau, about satellite applications for weather forecasting. From his communications a new branch of meteorology was developed and Dr. Wexler became the driving force in using rockets and satellites for meteorological research and operations.

Arthur C. Clarke has been a prolific writer of both true science and science fiction. His influence with his visions of the present and future has given the worth not only entertainment, but a better and more secure future.

I hope this short look at three authors of science fiction and how their vision of our future in fiction has influenced our true science. These three past authors were neither the beginners’ nor the current or future of science fiction writers but three noteworthy ones. As a writer, reader or a fan of the science fiction genre of the movies knows, the more current and progressive writers and screen producers of today’s science fiction go much further into the, not only the future, but the technical avenues of science. The current Hollywood producers such as Spielberg, Lucas, Star Trek’s Gene Rodenberry, James Cameron, are taking us in a spectacular path that truly “where no man has gone before”, even inventing science as they go along. 

Least we never forget, any one of us who writes science fiction or sits and envisions the future has the capacity of being the next Verne, Wells, or Clarke. All it takes is imagination and the will to escape, if only for a short time into that vision and take that leap.


Sultry Summers said...

Thanks Mila - for letting stand on my soap box and voice one of my favorite subjects

Mila Ramos said...

You are most welcome Sultry!! I absolutely LOVED this post!!!