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Flying Cars and Robot Servants (August 21, 2001)

posted Feb 12, 2011, 2:21 PM by Russ Smith   [ updated Feb 12, 2011, 2:29 PM ]
I've been thinking about this, and slowly gathering these thoughts, since the new year.  I'd better say it now, before I miss the year's end.

So I'm in my home office, from which I work every day via a persistent wireless connection of some 3400 or so times the speed of my first modem, working on a computer with over 16000 times as much memory, and so on and so forth, listening to classic Santana tunes pouring out of it at quality my LP player never had, talking to friends all over the country, and, indeed, world, doing my job from home wearing nothing but a pair of shorts -- not even glasses, because a laser was used to fix my eyesight after 27 years of corrective lenses.

It's 2001, isn't it?  Too right it is.

Oh, sure, I've heard the griping.  Where are the flying cars?  Why can't I camp on the moon?  How come we still have the same hideous conflicts in the world?

I have a lot of sympathy, I really do, in particular for that last one.  My point is not that utopia has arrived at last -- sorry, H.G. -- but that familiarity breeds not only contempt, but total lack of recognition.  It doesn't look like the future, because we had to walk here on our own, and we got to see all the in-between places.  If my 1981 pre-teen self had hopped the bus 20 years ahead, though, he'd have gone right out of his skull.

This is the future, baby.  The phones have no wires and fit in your hand, and you don't have to stay within 20 feet of your living room.  Or in your home state.  We've got copiers in the spare bedroom.  We can send documents to people we have no reason to expect would want them.  I did my taxes online, and got a big wad of money wired into my bank account.  My wallet grew, and so did the butt that guards it, because I didn't have to get up.

Many new cars practically purify the air that goes through their engines (although this may say more about the air than the cars), and they use a quarter the fuel of my first car (and look substantially less stupid). Breast cancer is still awful, but not necessarily fatal by a long shot. Space shuttle missions are practically routine and few people indeed make a point to watch every launch now.  A flick of the mouse, and you're looking in someone's dorm room.  Okay, so not all progress is forwards.  But it's freaky, man.

I'll say it again, in case you aren't following me: Welcome to 2001.  Do not pretend this is the 20th century.  It is not.  Things Have Changed.

Except us.

Okay, dig it.  The nature of people does not seem to change.  I am hip to this fact.  I love studying history because of the people (just like I love writing because of the characters).  They do things that are, well, so familiar.  In a weird way it's comforting.  In other ways, it's not, because maybe it suggests that people aren't going to change, either.  This may make science fiction easier to write characters for, but it does not bode well for the elimination (in this life, anyway) of famine, war, hatred and other stupidity.

Anthropologists tell us that there is no such thing as a primitive culture. It follows that there is no such thing as an advanced culture, either.  There is just us.

When you try to understand the industry, then, or the market, you have to understand that point.  Computer coloring is neat.  Heck, the whole board to scanner (or, hey, just digital pad) to printer process is cool. Emailing in a story from Rio is cool, if I'd ever been to Rio or had any real hope of getting to my files from there, I guess.  Those digital things that haunt Scott McCloud's every thought are nifty, whether they exist or not.

But none of it changes the basics.  If a committee formed of marketroids, random editors, and the owner's nephew walk on a story, it will show, no matter what machines you run it through.  (Check out the Life of Reilly column if you're unconvinced.  Some of Glenn's war stories there are the stuff of my nightmares.)  And the nature of the telling of tales hasn't changed, won't change, can't change, either.  When a storyteller has nothing to say, the story will bear witness.

But when you do have a story to tell...

If you do...

No power on earth should stand in the way of you telling your story.  And the tools are in front of you to do it.  To an extent, this has been true for a long time.  Write it, draw it, photocopy it, and you're in business. But now... you don't need to photocopy it.  You don't need to mail it. You just need to do it.

It's 2001.  Welcome to the future. Tell us your dreams, and we will hear you.  That's what comics have been about all along, and we have inherited a world absolutely drooling to let you do your thing.  Give us your story.  Nothing stops you.

And that's a wilder idea than any flying car.

Okay, at least that's off my chest.  I'd love to give you an insightful talk with someone in this spot, but I didn't have a chance to do it and I'm out of time, so you get nothin' but me, and I'm running a little short this week.  On the other hand, I come bringing gifts:

Store:  First we became an amazon.com affiliate, and now we bring it home with the new Galactic Bookstore.  We're still getting the text filled in, but as you can already tell we're going to suggest what to buy, why to buy it, who says you should buy it, and give you a good link with which to buy it.  Nothing could be easier.  Yours truly suggested several entries in there (for which he's working on the mini-reviews right now, honest) marking the peak of several genres.  We're not kidding around, here.  You want to own this stuff.

Contest: You're like a crazy person if you don't check out our First Anniversary Essay Contest Giveaway, man!  There's loot from Barry Windsor-Smith, Michael Avon Oeming, Tony Isabella, Brian Michael Bendis, Tom Beland, Eric Shanower, and who knows who else?  Well, you will, once you go look at the contest, and follow the instructions there.  Do it.  After August 30, you're too late.

Reviews This Week: Anomaly #3, Mighty Eyeball #6, Atlas #1, Hopeless Savages #1, New X-Men 2001 Annual, Captain Marvel #22, The Monarchy #6, Mystic #15, The Otherworld War, Just Imagine...Wonder Woman, Shadow Reavers #1, Generations 2 #1, Tom Strong #14, Dork #9, Amazing Spider-Man #34, Flash: Iron Heights, Batman: Gotham Knights #20, Operation Bollock #1, and a special review of the movie Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back.  All of the above courtesy of Capetillo, Gerard, Hilliard, Jizdeortega, Mathews, Nunley, Tecson, Weissburg, and the Princess.

Forum Topic: What's the best innovation of the last thirty years?

-- R. Francis Smith