September 13, 2003
Crazy Science Fiction Premise

When I was writing the novel formerly known as The Do Over, I frequently recalled an idea that a friend of mine had asserted, that modern day America is a science fiction premise.

The friend in question was a grad school colleague, and he was referring specifically to the idea that any political scientist in 1959 who would have speculated upon the political ramifications of sending manned space flights to the moon would be laughed out of the Academe. Such fanciful notions were relegated to pulp science fiction because they could never be considered as a possibility in the real world. But once Kennedy gave his speech enjoining the nation to land a man on the moon and bring him back safely within the decade, the science fiction premise became, well, real.

While I was working on my novel about a man who travels to his own past -- his teen years in the mid 1980's -- I had fun exploring some of the anachronisms created by his memory of history and the reality of 1980's America. In one scene, he tries to confide in an old, dear friend about his plight, but his descriptions of the future do little to convince her. They have one such conversation while attending a hockey game, and the protagonist is asked by his friend if their team (the story takes place in Buffalo, so we're talking about the Sabres) will ever again be contenders for the Stanley Cup.

Imagine explaining to someone in the mid-1980's that your hometown hockey team will eventually make it to the playoff finals because they will have an amazing Czech goal tender named Dominic Hasek, who had also led the Czech team to take the Gold Medal that same year in the 1998 Olympic Games, but that Hasek and the Sabres ultimately lose the Cup to the Dallas Stars.

Your 1980's friend might point out that: a professional hockey player wouldn't be eligible to play in the Olympics, because only amateurs can play in the Olympics. Come to think of it, how could a Czech have enough time to win the Olympics, defect to the United States, go pro, join the NHL and then go to the playoffs? Oh, and why would anyone ever put a hockey team in Texas, given the recent collapse of professional hockey in Atlanta (remember, we're talking about the Atlanta Flames in the 1980's, not the Thrashers that play there now).

The whole idea is a science fiction premise.

But wait, you say. The player doesn't have to defect from Czechoslovakia to the US because there is no Czechoslovakia by the time all this happens (only fifteen years in the future), and the US by then will have had a long standing tradition of allowing players from former Iron Curtain countries to play in the US without having to change their citizenship. You explain that the Olympics will allow professional athletes to compete by then.

Your friend in the 1980's interrupts. The Olympics can't be held in 1998. Olympics are held during election years (as in, US Presidential elections). That would mean 1996 or 2000.

So you explain that the Olympics are now staggered, with winter games and summer games alternating every two years. And then you try to explain that the Dallas Stars came down from Minnesota, but before you can get into that, your friend realizes what you said about the Iron Curtain falling and that there's no longer a Czechoslovakia, and she asks you if there's going to be a war.

Well, yes, you say, but not between the US and Russia. The Cold War ends without bloodshed, you explain, and the Soviet Union just disappears.

And this is all just to explain about the Czech goalie who leads your team to the Stanley Cup finals in about fifteen years in the future. This story is the kind that any self-respecting science fiction writer would have a hard time coming up with: that in order to explain why one hockey team makes it to the playoff finals against an other team that doesn't yet exist, you would involve the radical redefinition of the Olympics, the bizarrely non-violent fall of the Iron Curtain and the peaceful end of the Cold War, the ensuing changes to US immigration law, and the inexplicable rise of hockey as a popular sport in hot-climate cities. And that all of that would happen within fifteen years.

Well, I just heard about something yesterday that sets a new standard for science fiction premises. It's a fundamental change to a cherished institution that would certainly have defied prediction by any prognosticator even as recently as a couple of years ago. You think the peaceful dissolution of the Soviet Union came out of nowhere? Try this on for size:

The libraries in King County, Washington (ie, Seattle, Redmond, et al) now feature coffee bars in the book section.

Yes. You can buy a coffee and drink it *IN THE LIBRARY*.

What's next for the libraries? Live jazz bands on Thursdays? Open mic poetry?

Although, in retrospect, I can see how this kind of change to our local libraries makes sense in the context of our evolving society, I'd have had a hard time predicting it could happen. The idea of Crystal Pepsi becoming popular was more likely than libraries opening cafes in the book section.

It's a crazy, crazy world in which we live, no?

Posted by on September 13, 2003 06:19 PM in the following Department(s): Novel-in-Progress , Writing


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