Read A Planned Improvisation Online
Authors: Jonathan Edward Feinstein
Tags: #Science Fiction/Fantasy
Copyright © 2012 by Jonathan E. Feinstein
I’ve always wanted to predict an invention in my science fiction. I have not seriously tried to do that and, in fact, many futuristic devices in my stories are either quite similar to those used by other authors or else they are only slightly different from current technology at the time I write.
I read an essay on science fiction back when I was in high school (I think) in which the author, who might have been Isaac Asimov – I just don’t remember for certain, but I read a lot of his stuff back then. Well, whoever wrote it stated that most of the science in the best science fiction was actually ten years behind the times. The author went on to give examples of technology that was in existence well before it became an SF staple.
I think ten years is a bit archaic these days. Heck the average computer only lasts about three to five years – yes, many last longer, but many also never get out of warranty. But it is still not entirely inaccurate to say that the most believable SF inventions are based on current technology, and why shouldn’t they be? Current technology is real and is firmly based on real science and does not depend on conjectures on what might be developed in the future. Take something you have now and make a small, but convenient change. Voila! A science fiction invention. Of course this often leads to technology that looks really dated very fast. You have to guess right.
Some have made some astounding predictions that came true. H.G. Wells predicted tanks and the atomic bomb, Jules Verne described the first trip to the moon in fascinating detail much of while turned out to be true if you can discount the notion of shooting the vehicle into space with a big gun. Arthur C. Clark predicted virtual reality games. On the other hand Robert Heinlein’s moving roads were predated by decades in the form of escalators and moving walkways, and Jules Verne’s
was predated by the Confederacy’s
, the first submarine.
In any case, I have not intentionally tried to predict technology while writing my stories. For one thing, I am not a hard SF writer. My plots do not depend on the technology used within. My background is in anthropology and archaeology, and I’m more interested in the charaters. Technology is just part of their world.
So imagine my surprise when I was proof reading
A Planned Improvisation
and I suddenly realized that Park’s computer pad was nothing less than a modern tablet computer. In the stories I never really describe the pads in detail, but they have touch screens that can also be manipulated by a stylus depending on what you want to do. And I thought to myself, “Holy crap! I invented the iPad!
Well, kinda. I did look up when I wrote
An Accidental Alliance
and the roughdraft does predate the introduction of the iPad by at least two years. But a little more research showed me that I was hardly the first writer to predict tablet computers. Arthur C. Clarke did so in
2001: A Space Odyssee
with a device he called a news pad, but he too was a relative late-comer. The earliest tablet computer prediction I could find was in
Return from the Stars
by Stanislaw Lem. Both devices were more closely related to a Kindle and Clarke’s was more geared toward reading downloaded newspapers and magazines and Lem’s was a digital book reader. Neither were really what we think of as portable computing.
Okay, so I predicted iPads, Android and various other tablet computers. My computer pads even connect to cloud storage and app servers, although I didn’t call them that. Park’s pad connects to the Project Van Winkle computer and through that to the Mer data network and if both a self-contained computer and a terminal for services and data from the Pangaea world network. So where are my royalties from Apple or Google or even Microsoft since their Windows 8 tablets will look even more like my computer pads than the first two?
Well, I think I’ll have to get in line behind Verne, Wells, Clarke, Asimov, Heinlein, Lem and many other authors. We all might have imagined the technology but cashing in on it is something else. Still, it’s fun to think I thought up something that is now a part of so many people’s everyday lives.
My computer pads were not really complete inventions on my part. The XP generation Windows Tablet Computers, which were closer to laptops with flipable screens, influenced my thoughts. I saw and played with those older tablets and imagined a more compact and light form. It’s also possible that other authors thought them up before me and I just never read those stories.
But just remember you read it here first… unless someone else thought them up earlier.
Jonathan E. Feinstein
March 22, 2012
Slightly beyond the orbit of Saturn, Veronica Sheetz counted down, “Five… four… three…” Her voice betrayed none of the excitement she was feeling as her finger hovered over the button on the console. She wanted to brush the stray lock of hair out of her face, but that was a trivial annoyance. It would have to wait. “Two… one… zero.” As she finished, she lifted her finger away from the button. It had been there, not to activate a sequence, but to abort it. “Probe away,” she reported calmly.
Outside the Earth ship
a small missile that Ronnie had personally converted moved swiftly away and then suddenly vanished from view. “We have successful insertion into Other Space,” Marisea Waisau announced from the ship’s bridge. Marisea was monitoring the launch from one of the radar stations of
. Curled up in her lap was a representative of one of the few surviving true mammals and the only primate found to date, a small brown burrower she called “Cousin.” Meanwhile, Captain Parker Holman and the rest of the crew watched. “Congratulations, Ronnie.”
crewmembers were human, but Marisea was one of several Mer, a race of genetically enhanced people who had been designed to look like the mythological merpeople; human from the waist up and with an aquatic tail instead of legs. It was not a fish’s tail, however. It more resembled that of a dolphin.
There were also several trainees on board from among the Atackack, a sentient species of insects that had evolved naturally on Earth. They resembled giant ants and spoke in a language mostly composed of clicks and clacks. They all wore metal torcs around their necks that, among other things, instantly translated their speech into ancient English or any other language they had been programmed with. All members of the crew were wearing those torcs. They were the ultimate electronic tool, better than any PDA, smartphone or computer pad that had been known in the late Twenty-first Century.
“Too soon to congratulate me,” Ronnie told the young Mer. “The probe should have re-emerged by now.”
“The radio noise of emergence has not yet reached us,” Iris Fain, Park’s wife and the ship’s chief gunnery officer suggested. “We sent the probe one astronomical unit outward toward Uranus. It should take about eight and a half minutes to reach us.”
They waited in silence, but re-emergence was not detected. “We’ll wait an another hour,” Park decided after the deadline had passed and doubled. “It may have simply come back out farther than we intended.”
“Or not come out at all,” Ronnie admitted. Van Winkle Project’s chief engineer had not suffered many failures since the humans had come out of stasis some two hundred and fifty million years later than they had expected. Earth had changed almost unrecognizably in the interim. Eurasia, Africa and the Americas had collided to form a supercontinent called Pangaea Proxima, although more often than not it was simply called Pangaea by the humans. To the far south Australia and Antarctica had drifted together to merge into another continent. The maps called it Australis, but so far no one had found the time to explore there. Pangaea was just too big for a few thousand humans to have seen all of it. The Mer were semi aquatic and their cities were all along the coasts. If not for occasional trading with the Mer, most of the Atackack tribes would still be living as Neolithic farmers and herdsmen. In fact, the Kogack bands still lived as nomadic hunter-gatherers. In any case, the Atackack territory only covered one third the land mass of Pangaea. There was more than enough room for everyone.
“It is possible it might take an adjustment to the drive while in Other Space to effect re-emergence,” Ronnie speculated at the end of the hour.
“Are you saying we should send a manned ship in the hopes we can figure a way out once under way?” Park asked incredulously.
“It might be the only way, Park,” Ronnie pointed out.
“Let’s try a few more probes first,” Park suggested. “This is time consuming and expensive, but at least it doesn’t cost us lives.”
“There are some differences in programming we can try,” Ronnie admitted, “although it is possible we just missed the sound of break out.”
“Or it’s still in Other Space headed for the next galaxy twice removed,” Park shrugged. “Well, we can’t expect perfect results every time, can we?”
“Especially with technology our fellows would have called impossible back in the Twenty-first Century,” Iris added.
“And so we are prepared to go out into the world and into Space beyond to take our place in the Universe itself,” Marisea Waisau concluded her commencement speech. Graduation Day at Van Winkle Town was warm and sunny with a mild breeze wafting across the grassy quadrangle between the buildings of the local branch of the University. There was only one University on all of Pangaea, but it had campuses in every large city. It had been the campus at Marto Lesta, a Mer city on a tropical island off the coast of Kamchatka that had decided to establish the experimental branch in Van Winkle Town nearly a continent away.
Marisea had been at the top of her small class, but her grades would have earned her the valedictorian spot even in Marto Lesta. Her classmates and their guests applauded the speech, but Park knew that before the establishment of Van Winkle Town, Marisea’s sentiments would have been unthinkable even to Marisea.
The Mer had been confined to Earth and even though they had spaceships capable of interplanetary voyages were never allowed beyond close Earth orbit. Their maximum distance from Earth was roughly one hundred miles. Park and Van Winkle Base Commandant Arnsley Theoday had found the situation unbearable and had launched three communications satellites into geosynchronous orbit. Those might have been ignored, but one of the satellites had malfunctioned. When Park had commanded a repair mission his ship had been attacked by warships that had been stationed on the Moon.
That had been their first contact with the people the Mer referred to as the “Galactics,” but who called themselves The Alliance of Confederated Worlds. Through sheer luck they had managed to get back safely to Earth in spite of crash landing in savage Kogack territory. The entire crew might have ended up as a banquet for the Kogacks if not for the intercession of an Atackack mystic named Okactack. Okactack, Tack for short, had a vision and while he had never divulged all the details, Park was led to understand that the mystic saw that Earth was in grave danger than that only two “savior-strangers” could save the world.
Park never truly believed Tack’s vision, especially since he and Iris
seemed to be Tack’s savior-strangers, but he did have to admit that the humans of Van Winkle Base had not found Earth in an enviable position. Since “waking up” from stasis they had discovered that a large faction of the Alliance of Confederated Worlds’ central government or Diet, wanted to purge all life from the Earth because of a religious belief that the world had been defiled and could only be cleansed through atomic fire.
The chief members of that faction called themselves the Premm and believed they alone were the unchanged descendants of the Original humans. Scientific study since the arrival of the humans had shown that even the so-called Originals were not
Homo sapiens sapiens
, but a closely related species that had evolved or had been created sometime after the colonists of Van Winkle Town had gone into stasis. Outside the Premm, in fact, most scientists even debated whether Earth was the original home of mankind or whether humans had naturally evolved on several similar planets in that sector. However, the Premm believed that Earth was the Originals’ home. It may have been the only belief of theirs with which Park agreed.
When the humans and Mer returned to repair the distressed communications satellite, however, they went with a ship armed with ancient missiles and an invention of Veronica Sheetz, the multi-phase laser, or phaser. When Galactic ships attempted to destroy that second ship, they got the surprise of their lives. In the aftermath, Moon Base Lagina surrendered to Park’s ship and conceded to all his demands. It should have been the end of the matter.