Lifestyle

When the future is the present, will fact be stranger than fiction?

By Shepparton News

SANDY LLOYD IS DREAMING OF ELECTRIC SHEEP

The future arrived last month.

That’s when iconic science fiction movie Blade Runner is set. In November 2019.

I guess when Ridley Scott made it 37 years ago in 1982, November 2019 seemed like a suitably far-off date for a futuristic film to happen.

Just as in 1968, when Philip K. Dick wrote Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? – the novel Blade Runner is based on – 1992 must have seemed an impossibly long way away. That’s the year his novel is set in.

Because that’s the problem with a fictional future. Eventually the present reality catches up to it.

It happened to 1984, George Orwell’s classic dystopian novel published in 1949.

It happened to 2001: A Space Odyssey, a story written by science fiction grand-master Arthur C. Clarke and acclaimed director Stanley Kubrick for the 1968 movie. Their script, and then Clarke’s novel, were based on Clarke’s short story The Sentinel written in 1948.

It happened to Back to the Future – made in 1989 and set in 2015.

It happened to The Island – made in 2005, but set in a 2019 where clones are raised for organ harvest.

And it will even happen to Star Trek. But it will be more than 200 years before that becomes a problem.

Star Wars has neatly got around the problem by declaring itself to be set ‘A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away’. Not much chance we’re going to bump into that ‘reality’ – unless we get a lift from a time-travelling Doctor in his or her TARDIS.

So what happens when fiction catches up to fact?

Whenever we reach one of these fiction ‘milestones’, writers and commentators eagerly point out everything the movies or novels predicted, but hasn’t happened.

On some levels, that’s a good thing. Many science fiction futures are dystopian, so I’m happy not to be living in the bleak 2019 Los Angeles of Blade Runner.

And yes, no manned spaceship is heading for Jupiter to meet humanity’s destiny in the shape of an alien monolith (2001: A Space Odyssey) and police don’t use flying cars to hunt down robots so lifelike no-one can tell they aren’t human (Blade Runner).

But some of the technology envisioned in those films is either reality or not far from being reality.

We do have talking computers running our lives, through our sat navs and smartphones and Siri and Alexa. Maybe they’re not as murderous as HAL 9000 in 2001. But give them time.

In the same way many people reach for their smartphone the moment they wake, in Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep the first thing Deckard (that’s Harrison Ford in the movie) does on waking is reach for his hand-held device to search its settings to plan his day.

In many ways, our technology is ahead of that imagined in these movies. It may not be as advanced in what it can do, but it’s certainly more advanced in terms of what it looks like. But that’s more the fault of the special effects limitations of the time the movies were made, than the writers’ imaginations.

We don’t have flying cars (damn it), but we do have drones and Uber is promising ‘air taxis’.

We aren’t capable of space flight that can take us to Jupiter, or of colonising other worlds – but we’re working on getting to Mars.

The same goes for artificial intelligence – it is nowhere near the same level as the replicants (androids) in Blade Runner, but robotics technology is growing fast. And raises as many ethical issues in the real 2019 as it does in the fictional.

And that’s the key for me. I think we shouldn’t focus on the gadgets we don’t have (Back to the Future hoverboard, anyone?) and instead look at the themes and ideas these movies and novels give us.

Climate change, overpopulation, pollution, animal extinction, the breakdown of social connections, technology taking over our lives – they are huge issues for us right now, just as they are in Blade Runner’s 2019.

While we’re not breeding people as body part replacements (The Island), genetic research and cloning is an ethical and moral minefield for society right now.

And the rise of hard-right politics, erosion of democracy and crushing of human rights around the world is scarily reminiscent of the totalitarian dystopia in 1984.

But the last word must go to The Running Man, a movie loosely based on a Stephen King novel, made in 1987 and set in 2019 (yes, another one).

It depicts the United States of 2019 as a totalitarian state, where reality TV has become an (often deadly) obsession and fake news is the norm.

Sound familiar?

I AM LISTENING...

To old Mental As Anything songs, in memory of their writer, singer, keyboard player and all-round lovely bloke, Andrew ‘Greedy’ Smith, who died this week.

I’m not a huge Mentals fan, but their songs are part of the soundtrack of my youth and Greedy was a larger-than-life character.

My favourite Mentals song is their first hit, The Nips Are Getting Bigger. It came out in 1979, the year I moved from the Timmering farm to Canberra, which was an enormous change in my life.

So songs from that year echo loudly in my memory. Vale Greedy, you will be missed.

I AM WATCHING...

Yet another musically-themed movie, Blinded by the Light. This one also fits neatly with my love of quirky British films – which meant I had to leave Shepparton to see it.

The lovely old Eaglehawk Town Hall in Bendigo has become a cinema, with couches for seating and old-fashioned choc tops for eating. Blinded by the Light is set in Thatcher’s grim 1980s Britain.

Teenager Javed is caught between his strict Pakistani heritage and a British culture that won’t accept him either.

Then he discovers Bruce Springsteen’s music. And with some help from the Boss’ lyrics, finds his way.

I AM ORGANISING...

My 2020 calendars and diary. That doesn’t mean I’m organised for 2020. Far from it. But I can pretend I am if I’ve got the tools ready.

I’m still an old-fashioned paper diary person, clinging stubbornly to my personal organiser. I love having my diary, contacts, birthday list and reminders to myself all in one place – and the only thing that needs changing each year are the new diary pages.

I know I can do that online, but I don’t want to. I’m set in my ways with my calendars as well: Guide Dog ones for the house, Leunig’s wisdom for work. So hit me 2020 – I’m (kind of) ready for you.

I AM EATING...

Turkey and Gravy chips. Who knew that was a flavour combination you could get in a packet? Coles has a new ‘Roast’ collection of potato chips, which also includes Beef and Mustard, and Honey Glazed Ham.

And yes, the Turkey and Gravy chips taste like roast turkey and gravy – but with crunch.

Chip flavours have gone bonkers – Coles also has something called Special Burger Sauce Chips. Coles can’t say it, but I can – they taste exactly like McDonald’s ‘special sauce’.

In other words, a Big Mac with crunch. Remember when chip flavours began and ended with plain, chicken or salt and vinegar?