Technology Can’t Solve This (reprinted from the Metro Spirit, 8-28-14)
Over the past couple of months, I’ve been working on a concept for a science fiction story. It’s set in the standard sci-fi universe. You know, the typical long-time-ago-in-a-galaxy-far-far-away kind of place. The story is coming together well, but I’m not sure how to resolve all the conflicts. This column seems like a great place to solicit some feedback, so here’s what I have so far.
- · The lead male character is living on an underdeveloped planet with a 3rd world economy. The planet is in the midst of a deadly plague that threatens to wipe out the entire population. The lead character works for the Star System Directorate charged with providing relief. Unfortunately, while news of the outbreak reaches the more affluent systems, popular opinion is more concerned with quarantine measures rather than the provision of medical assistance.
- · The lead female character begins with her childhood in a tribal village next to desert oasis. The traditions on her planet go back many thousands of years and form the bedrock of a peaceful and productive community. One day before she was of age, off-worlders dressed black arrived from above and invaded their town. These off-worlders declared that the planet’s traditions were an abomination to the true god. The citizens are given a choice: convert or die. Through a series of fortuitous events, our female lead escapes the village. As she leaves, she turns back one last time and watches in horror as her father and brother are savagely killed.
- · The characters cross paths as they visit a planet known as a gateway between the affluent systems and those ridden with poverty and disease. For whatever reason, this planet is largely ignored by the star patrols. As a result, the planet hosts the largest black markets and organized crime syndicates in the sector. The planet is also home to millions upon millions of refugees looking to buy their way into a new life.
So, that’s what I have so far. What do you think? While I hope that you like the concept, I suspect that most of you recognize the gimmick. These characters don’t exist on a far-away star system. These scenes play out much closer to home. As a matter of fact, anyone can watch just by turning on the evening news.
It begs the question – Why does science fiction so often portray degenerate societies co-existing with technologically advance populations? Wouldn’t it seem the opposite? How could it be possible that a civilization capable of interstellar travel wouldn’t know how to put an end to sickness and poverty and greed?
The truth is, and science fiction writers understand this better than most, there are some things that technology cannot solve. Robotics can make us stronger and more productive. Computers can bring untold information to our fingertips. Starships can take us to places unknown. But at the end of the day, no technology can change the way we think, or resolve the conflicts that we experience in trying the live with one another. The technology can only amplify what is already there.
It’s our inherent human nature that, if left unchecked, will turn any utopia into a tyranny, whether it’s in the form of a corrupt government, a faceless corporation or a religious fanatic. No matter if it’s a thousand years in the past or a thousand years in the future, people will still manage to act like people.
If you don’t believe me, go check out what they are putting on YouTube.
Until next time, I’m of the grid. @gregory_a_baker