…a goodly number of us dreamers are going to ruefully reflect that it was entirely possible for humanity to establish off-planet settlements following the Apollo program. Settlements that likely could have been self-sustaining by now because in the alternate reality where humankind put as much effort and resources and brains as possible behind establishing populations outside this fragile egg basket we call Earth, the early ones could have been in orbit and on the moon in the 1980s.
There could have been nearly 40 years to chase the kinks out of the recycling loops and life support and hydroponics. To build solar power plants all over the darn place up there and drag a water-ice comet into Earth orbit if we couldn’t find enough to fling up to orbital colonies from Luna with mass drivers.
40 years to send more and more people up and for people to start being born up there.
40 years to establish a reservoir of human beings and our technological knowledge out of range of Kim Jong-Un and Kim Jong-Trump (brothers of another ego-rage-spiritual mother) and their shoe-on-podium nuclear chest-beating.
I posted this story about a year ago, before I started putting the stories on images.
I like the story being on the image much better. It looks better. Somehow it makes the story feel better. And you can easily save and share this image anywhere you want if you like. You couldn’t do that before.
If you do decide to save and share the image, I’d recommend clicking on it to expand it first. Hopefully WordPress will be nice and give you the full size which is somewhere around 2000 pixels wide.
As for the 13 word story itself, I leave you to ponder the potential of robots, androids, AI-what-have-yous as force multipliers for small numbers of humans, even a single human.
Or, if you’re into visions of Terminatoresque futures, for themselves.
Of course, there are a host of reasons why a scenario like this is highly improbable. The safeguards we devise will expand and improve along with the technology to create autonomous war machines. However, determined humans have a way of finding a way to bring their dreams to life.
Even if those dreams are nightmares.
(This post appeared on my Patreon page on the 18th of this month — my patrons see posts 3 days early. When I publish a new ebook, they get a FREE copy THIRTY DAYS EARLY even if I charge for it everywhere else! Even a pledge of a single buck per month gets you those benefits — and you also get the pleasure of supporting a financially struggling self-published author whose wife, 3 kids, and self insist on extravagant luxuries like “food” and “electricity” and even — GASP WHAT FRIPPERY — a 20 year old minivan. We’re such softies.)
So, I’ve gotten in the habit of posting a substantial companion ramble/rant/essay/callitwhatyouwill with these 13 word stories. I couldn’t sleep last night, so I propped my chest up on my zafu (stiff meditation cushion, usually for butts & not writing in bed, for anyone who hasn’t run into that word before), nudged myself over perilously close to my restlessly sleeping 2 year old boy where the dim light of the nightlight was brightest, and proceeded to write about 700 words longhand. I’m sure that was wonderful for my eyes, probably aged them an extra year and I’m already in progressive-lens trifocals. Sign me up for a writers’ purple heart, I suppose.
After a bit of editing, as my edits usually go, the companion post ended up expanding to 805 words. Plus all these words I’m typing here. I’m a glutton for composition.
Without further ado, here’s the post:
We talk and think a lot about the end of the world. For my and my parents and grandparents’ generation (once that last passed through the Great Depression and World War II) the vision of the end of the world is tied up in Cold War visions of nuclear holocaust. I don’t know about you, but this Gen Xer has a copy of The Day After on DVD – the movie, which I saw in its original airing on television when I was 13 — was a distillation of all of the vague fears of death at the hands of Soviet ICBMs that occasionally haunted my nightmares and daymares. I’m sure I’m not the only one with those experiences.
Today that nuclear war specter is still around, a shade still fearful but overshadowed by younger, more vital terrors, banished to the edge of consciousness. We’ve become comfortable with our eternal wars waged against small nations lacking nuclear arms, and even with current events in the Middle East and the South China Sea and Crimea, few even bother to wonder if a third world war might be in the making, or to fear the potential for a mass detonation of thermonuclear weapons.
Pollution as a human-world-ender, too, has lost some of its former luster. Russia has survived the worst of messy Soviet industrialism and Chernobyl as well – few pay attention to what aftermath there might be. The same for Japan and its Fukushima, China’s current smogs and rare-earth-mine pollutant pits, the Flint, Michigans and flaming fracking faucets of the United States, the landlocked oil spills and leaky pipelines the petroleum multinationals have splotched major portions of several nations in Africa with. Even the once-vivid fears of bioengineered, weaponized anthrax and smallpox have faded.
These confidences that the old dangers no longer threaten hold their own danger – that if a danger does arise from those quarters, we’ll find it easy to overlook until it’s too late.
Today, we sublimate all those fears, along with our fear of civil unrest and mob rule, into zombie fiction, as far as I can tell. A nice, safe end of the world, one unrealistic enough yet barely plausible enough to allow suspension of disbelief and provide a nice, safe thrill, like a rollercoaster with a secure safety caged seat.
But unlike we older folks (though many of us are catching on) the Millennials and – have we decided on a name for those following them yet? The Trans-Millennials being born now, like my littlest sons – have a world-ending specter as vivid and potent as any child of the Cold War ever had: climate change.
It’s easy for some of us olders (and a few youngers too) to downplay or ignore climate change – though I’m given to understand that the United States is among those nations of the world in which the sport of ignoring scientific consensus is most popular. Some even like to chalk up the very concepts of climate change and global warming and rising carbon dioxide levels to a shadowy cabal of academics thirsty to line their pockets with grant money. As if that were actually lucrative – a local district manager for a snack food distributor stands to better that “fortune” by exceeding sales quotas. Some even go farther and more wildly afield into theories about Illuminati – but we’ve pretty much always had those. Before the internet the Illuminati or similar “explained” Cold War threats as the fruits of conspiracy as well. Those theorists and their imaginings come and go like the dew, appearing to explain what’s “really behind” each new dawn.
But climate change, like nuclear weapons, will not be going away. And nuclear war, except in its most extreme Cold War incarnations, is not a threat on the same enduring and growing levels.
If climate change is the existential threat the Millennials will grow up with – and it is – so will their great-grandchildren and those great-grandchildrens’ great-grandchildrens’ great-grandchildren.
Climate change may or may not develop into a truly existential threat in itself. But if it heads into Venus-greenhouse territory, or even becomes enough to shift the wheat belts to the poles and drive the subtropical and tropical rice bowls into trans-tropical heat and weather pattern, whatever those might be, the worldwide struggle to adapt and survive may well add nuclear war and disregard for pollution in favor of short-term industrial advantage and wars fought with engineered plagues.
And if the end of humanity does come at the hands of a climate-change driven complex of disaster, by simple extinction or reduction to the stone age or pre-intelligence as a species, perhaps in time another species will evolve to occupy the intelligent builder niche we humans failed to hold. Squirrels are as good a candidate as any – I welcome Earth’s new squirrel overlords, assuming we do screw things up badly enough.
(This story and commentary appeared first at my Patreon page on the 5th of this month — my patrons there saw it first. You can see my posts, too, plus get a FREE PDF of any short story I publish, even if I charge for the ebook elsewhere!)
Also, please feel free to save and share the image above wherever you wish. In fact, please do — it’s one way you can help me become better known as an author. Thanks!
This story is one possible form of the science fiction trope of virtual reality as an addiction, a no-drugs drug with the potential to spread so widely through the populace that society or even the survival of humanity will be threatened. The idea is that once virtual reality gets really realistic, it will offer people more than ‘real life’ does. People will withdraw from interacting with actual people and become shut-ins, ordering all of the groceries and other things they need delivered to their homes (perhaps by Amazon drones — no human interaction there). Toss in enough AI to hold a good conversation, and the VR addict won’t even need to interact with others through social media and discussions forums, as poor as that interaction can be for some. They can simply talk to simulated people.
As more and more people withdraw to their customized virtual worlds, the trope goes, society goes screaming down the path to hell in a printed-circuit handbasket. Nobody wants to leave the house. Nobody wants to fix the roads or the cars, nobody wants to participate in the work of governing, nobody wants to party, nobody has sex to make new children. The whole human race dwindles, becomes the last withered human locked in a basement ‘eating’ via IV, and finally even he dies leaving a mess of broken-down infrastructure and skeletons with funny goggles strapped to their faces for future alien archaeologists to figure out.
And sure, a fantasy life can be addicting. That’s what virtual reality is, just a high-tech way to enjoy a fantasy life. People do get into trouble with them — there’s a bit of that in my own past; I avoided a lot of real-life responsibilities, at one time when I was younger, by immersing myself in role-playing games. I was pretty useless to other people, but on the other hand my imagination got one hell of a workout. And of course we have plenty of other tales to choose from about the misuse, overindulgence, and addiction of/to fantasy. Perhaps you’ve seen stories in the news about the parents who neglected their child to uphold their raiding responsibilities in World of Warcraft, the young man who played his favorite game for a couple of days straight and keeled over dead, the people who have spent fortunes amassing Star Trek memorabilia or virtual property in Second Life to the detriment of their own finances. They exist, and like nearly anything else, fantasy can be overindulged with.
Virtual reality will be no different. Some people WILL fuck themselves up with it.
But the dissolution of society and extinction of humanity will have to wait a bit longer, perhaps for a really big nuclear war or engineered plague. Because like the other things we can overindulge in, virtual reality will be consumed in moderation by most, avoided altogether by many, and abused by only a minority.
Digging deeper, fleeing a greenhouse sky, in time humanity forgot sky, sun, stars.
I’ve been posting a piece of microfiction each month for Patreon patrons (a whole buck a month is the minimum pledge to see them) since March. This month’s offering is a vignette about a young man fishing in a place that makes the familiar Earth seem very alien indeed. It’s about hope and death and life and duty, and maybe a few other things, too. While a vignette isn’t quite a story of its own, this one sketches the edges of at least three big stories for your — and maybe my, in future works — imagination to work on.
You should read it. I think it’s worth seeing.