There’s another kind of space, too, that we spend more time in than ever: cyberspace, the inner life of computers. It represents, says Kneale, a kind of retreat. “There has been a collapse of the idea that we’re all going to be exploring distant galaxies 100 years from now. There’s a pessimism about technology that wasn’t there before. We haven’t been back to the moon again, let alone gone any further except with robots. There is a
lot of argument about what this means. On the whole, people tend to think that we are exploring ourselves – exploring our time, now. We don’t have anything else to base our imagination on.”
The geekery of futuristic technology, naturally, is appealing. But few of us watch
Star Trek on repeat because we’re fascinated by the possibility of warp speed. Imagining the technological future can be a risky business, after all, because nothing dates faster than gadgetry. For every Arthur C. Clarke, pointing out in 1963 that in the future, all that will really matter is communication, there’s a Back to the Future
2 where we’re all on flying hoverboards but still using fax machines. (Though if the story’s great, it can be argued, it doesn’t really matter: who cares that Blade Runner’s future contains dashboard- mounted videophones but no mobiles?).
In fact, as Reeves points out, a lot of sci-fi is simply a damn good story, with the people always taking a back seat to the technology.
“And people like a good story,” she says. “Look at films like Independence Day – it’s about
a community beating what they think they can’t fight. There’s always got to be that human element. The audience don’t have to come out of a cinema believing what they’ve seen.”
The shiny robots and imagined gadgets are fun, but it’s the human element, that ability to imagine ourselves in these imagined worlds which are yet so close to our own, that keeps us dreaming about the future. After all, says Turney, “there’s
a thing which people in science studies talk about called the technological imaginary.
“One of the things being discussed in a semi-realistic way is geo-engineering; the idea of ‘terraforming’ (making a planet more ‘Earth-like’ and hospitable to Earth-like forms) is a staple
of sci-fi, as we used to think that there aren’t that many hospitable planets around. Now it seems there might be if we can get to them, but that’s another story.”