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Space colonization is just part of an entire missing future that I’ve believed in since the middle of the twentieth century. What does my missing future look like, and what caused this techno-dream to take root in my mind?

In retrospect, I can identify three major sources:

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Robert Heinlein

Robert Heinlein’s future world includes:

  • space travel throughout our solar system
  • large human colonies on the moon, Mars, and Venus
  • a Mars covered with canals and home to an ancient Martian civilization
  • a cool, habitable Venus soaked by constant rain and inhabited by Venerians
  • smaller human colonies scattered throughout the solar system, on places such as the moons of Jupiter and the asteroids
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The Heinlein books that had the most influence on me were the “juveniles” intended for the young adult market. In most of these novels, the protagonist is a young male in his final year of high school who gets caught up in various adventures. As well as featuring adventure and technology, many of the stories have a political aspect, touching on issues of personal freedom versus government authority, and the relationship between colonies and their home government. The novels that influenced me the most were

Have Space Suit Will Travel

Kip Russell wins a used space suit as consolation prize in a jingle-writing contest. While wearing the suit in his back yard, he responds to a radio distress call and becomes involved in interplanetary, interstellar, and intergalactic intrigue.

Red Planet

Jim Marlow, a high school student on the Mars colony, becomes involved in the colony’s independence movement.

Between Planets

Don Harvey’s mother is from Earth and his father is from Venus; Don was born in free fall. When the Venus colony breaks away from Earth, Don has to decide where his loyalties lie.

Farmer in the Sky

Bill Lermer and his family immigrate to a colony on Ganymede, one of the moons of Jupiter.

The Rolling Stones

Teenage twins Castor and Pollux Stone and their family buy a used spaceship and roam the solar system, buying and selling cargo and writing soap operas for a living.

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Magnus, Robot Fighter

Russ Manning’s comic book Magnus, Robot Fighter is supposedly set in 4000 AD, but the world it portrays isn’t much different than Heinlein’s near-future fiction. In Manning’s world, society has become overly dependent on robots, and most of the stories focus on the dangers presented by this dependence. Magnus is a human orphan raised and trained in robot-fighting martial arts by a robot that recognizes these dangers and seeks a solution to the problem.

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It wasn’t the content of the stories that influenced me as much as the artwork, which perfectly matched my mental images of the Heinlein stories. If Robert Heinlein had been a cartoonist, this is what his stories would have looked like. The main features of Magnus’s world are

  • robots
  • flying cars
  • space travel
  • gravity control
  • space-age architecture and fashion
.

The Jetsons

Back in the 1950s and ’60s, people believed that advances in technology would result in the leisure society. Machines would do most, if not all, of the work, leaving humans free to amuse themselves however they pleased. The Jetsons are a cartoon family that embodies life in the leisure society. Their world features

  • the nine-hour work week
  • food pills
  • flying cars
  • Rosie, the robot maid
  • space-age fashion and architecture
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I’ve read and watched a lot of interesting science fiction since the 1960s, but none of it has significantly changed my ancient vision of the future.

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2 Comments

  1. The Heinlein characters make me think of some kind of intergalactic Hardy Boys. I’ve never read any of his work. I recommend Ursula le Guinn’s books (if you haven’t already checked her out). It’s definitely disappointing not to have our own Rosies, or flying cars. It seems so dull in 2011…

    • I’m a long-time fan of Ursula Le Guin; my favourite books are

      The Dispossessed
      The Left Hand of Darkness
      The Lathe of Heaven


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