Perihelion Science Fiction

Sam Bellotto Jr.

Eric M. Jones
Associate Editor


This is the Hardest Thing I Do All Day
by Alexandra Grunberg

by Fábio Fernandes

Sixteen Tonnes
by Robert Dawson

It’s Not What You Think
by Davyne DeSye

Dreams of Clay
by J. Rohr

Mundane Applications
by Philip Margolies

by Eric Del Carlo

My Parking Space is Near the Door
by Gustavo Bondoni

Shorter Stories

Clothes Make the Man
by Peter Wood

For All Time
by Simon Kewin

You Belong to Me
by Tom Borthwick


More Than “Zarathustra”
by Dennis W. Green

When Words Divine
by John McCormick



Comic Strips





When Words Divine

By John McCormick

SCIENCE FICTION IS NOT ABOUT predicting what will happen, but rather about what we might expect to happen in society should certain scientific developments or inventions be realized. Nevertheless, many people outside the field do think it is about making predictions and, in fact, some exceptionally brave science fiction authors have often ventured to predict.

This is my personal take on a selection of these predictions. Many have been relatively ignored while others have, in my opinion, had too much credit given to their predictors for prescience. When judging these ideas, it is important to note from when they date.

Arthur C. Clarke wrote about communications satellites in 1947. H.G. Wells, on the other hand, wrote “The Shape of Things to Come” in 1933 and envisioned a world government run by pilots in gyrocopters. He actually was correct about air power, but not so much on government or aircraft.

“Star Trek” (the early Roddenberry series) missed seat belts despite the devices standard in many cars of the ’60s, but that was just a plot and visual effects matter, not a prediction that starship designers wouldn’t be as capable as designers of a ’65 Chevy Impala.

On the other hand, they did come up with tricorders and, with various attachments and apps, we nearly have medical tricorders on our smartphones today.

Isaac Asimov—what can you say about the good doctor that hasn’t been said many times? He actually did make a serious attempt at “predictions” at least once, for the 1964 World’s Fair (which I will get to below). Fellow Mensan Dr. Asimov had an ego as big as all outdoors, or larger, and gets my top rating for accuracy.

First, he invented robots as helpers and threat, almost tossing it off as a casual thought. It wouldn’t seem so unless you knew him, or all of his work. A few robot stories were about one percent of his total output. Asimov first gave robots the three laws, then showed how they were meaningless.

Need I point out that today we should be seriously debating whether we have already gone too far. Not just with the military supposedly developing robotic drones, but more than likely already testing flying weapons that certainly have the capability of selecting targets and firing without human intervention.

Point-defense weapons on warships are already fully automated once activated and “authorized,” selecting their own targets from the incoming Exocet missiles that seek out the largest radar and IR signatures.

But, as with most science fiction, robots weren’t so much a prediction as a plot device.

In 1964, Asimov made actual predictions about what what the world would look like today in an essay titled “Visit to the World’s Fair, 2014.” He wrote the following: “We will have robots, not very common or terribly good.” (True when you think about the Roomba; however, Asimov contradicted himself elsewhere in the list, saying the world would be automated and binary arithmetic would be taught in high schools. New math?)

Next, he stated that much of the human race would be very bored with their lives, and jobs that would mostly be meaningless; the elite would be those who are in creative jobs. His third prediction was that the coastal region from Boston to D.C. would be one continuous city. His fourth statement was that life expectancy would be dramatically increased for some.

Those predictions were all pretty much on target.

Otherwise, the fair was most notable for Ma Bell introducing a very expensive videophone service, and Ford introducing a rebodied Ford Falcon rebadged as the Mustang.

Asimov’s biggest misses were predictions of: widespread use of fission energy and of experimental fusion plants (sorry, Doctor, we barely use the nuclear plants we have now); common air suspension cars capable of crossing water; and that people would be living on the moon and underwater.

Arthur C. Clarke wrote about the use of geosynchronous space stations used to transmit radio and TV.

But in “Prelude to Space,” he envisioned space travel as a private rather than government project, and vastly underestimated the costs involved as he himself admitted in a preface to a later edition. However, I give Clarke high points because that book was written in July, 1947, and a decade later many engineers were still pooh-poohing the possibility of space travel days before the beeps of Sputnik terrified half the world.

I award points to “Prelude” because, although Clarke got the sequence wrong, today our best hope for space exploration is now seen as within the private sector, where failure is an option, even casualties without which exploration is not possible.

Many science fiction writers did write about the dangers of space travel. Their predictions were certainly correct.

Where No One Has Predicted Before

To “Star Trek” (the Roddenberry series) I give no points for the communicators, contrary to popular notions. They might have been cell phones, or not, but they were more like walkie-talkies. The military had walkie-talkies, even in WWII; true, they barely worked and have shrunk drastically but that required ... no big leap of the imagination.

I give high points for tablet computers, however. I have a number of tablets that are almost indistinguishable from those you saw carried around by Kirk’s Yeoman, Janice Rand.

The show included the first scripted interracial kiss on TV, despite forced by alien mind control, and placed women in equal danger on missions, mostly in “The Next Generation” series, and combat assignments. (Before Worf, the head of Enterprise security was Tasha Yar, played by Denise Crosby.)

Tricorders? You can talk to a doctor in real time, track exercise, heartbeat, and much more with apps on your average smartphone. If those aren’t tricorders in their infancy, I don’t know what else to call them. We already have remote sensing where doctors can monitor the health of elderly or seriously ill patients without them having to be in the hospital.

Talking computers and speech recognition are both in the original “Star Trek.” Majel Barrett was not only Number One in the first pilot, but was the only actor to have a role in all six televised “Star Trek” shows: Nurse Christine Chapel in the original program, and Lwaxana Troi, the voice of the Enterprise, and various computers in the later “Star Trek” series. It is difficult for those not in at the beginning of the computer revolution to know how big a deal that was. A year after “Star Trek” went off the air, I worked with a massive 360-65 computer installation. We still used punch cards (Hollerith cards) based on the old census machines!

Several years before I used punch cards on one of the fastest computers in the world, we had a preview of Siri, courtesy of Roddenberry’s imagination.


Today I can speak with colleagues in Australia right from my Kindle HD using Skype with full video and it is free, but in only one “Star Trek: The Next Generation” episode did mobile video exist—Geordi had one implanted in his visor by Klingon kidnappers.

“Star Trek,” in all but the latest version, lacked seat restraints. Seat belts and mobile video are both modern technologies. Neither were in Roddenberry’s universe, but I don’t count those against the show because, given portable video, most of the stories would have been impossible. Some confusion or lack of information is necessary for virtually any plot. I presume seat belts were left out because, in early TV technology, that meant to appear “real,” the cast had to clutch onto chairs and be thrown about the bridge as the ship moved or was hit by weapons fire.

Big Brother

Almost unknown these days, pioneer science fiction author Edward Bellamy, “Looking Backward: 2000-1887” (1888), said in the future people would have cards that they would use to pay for things instead of carrying cash. Sounds like credit cards to me in a day when people routinely carried gold Sovereigns. Bellamy also described massive and plentiful skyscrapers three years after the first one was built in Chicago. His device for watching and hearing concerts sounds a lot like TV.

George Orwell, "1984" (1949). Need I say more about Big Brother than “The Patriot Act” and recent WikiLeaks’ disclosures. In some cities you’d have difficulty moving outdoors without being recorded on TV. Orwell also postulated a state of perpetual war—The Cold War, which is heating up again, and terrorism. Alexis de Tocqueville also described a kind of Cold War resulting from the expansion of the U.S. and Russia, but he didn’t write fiction.

Today even individuals can keep an eye on things almost everywhere. Check EarthCam if you don’t believe me.

How bad is it really? Probably a lot worse (or better) than you may think. Here are a few examples.

According to the Beijing Security and Protection Industry Association, there are about 400,000 surveillance cameras in Beijing. The Greater London area has an estimated 420,000 CCTV cameras—a fuzzy number because many are privately owned. By contrast, the U.S. is almost devoid of cameras, with fewer than 4,500 in New York City, although there are about 17,000 in Chicago.

Finally, Newspeak is an even more pervasive aspect of modern life predicted by Orwell: “collateral damage” (dead children), “police action” (we’re still at war with North Korea), “wet work” (CIA term for assassination), etc.

I can’t really think of any other fiction writer (science or otherwise) who got so much so right that his name has become an adjective—Orwellian.

Robert Heinlein’s "Solution Unsatisfactory" (1940) actually predicted ending a world war with an American atomic weapon and, a few years earlier than Orwell, predicted consequences that included an arms race and something very close to The Cold War. He did so much more for the field that it hurts me to give him less than top rating. His stories were so good, but his predictions were well below average.

He missed on the basic concept in “The Roads Must Roll.” We could have moving sidewalks, but not of the scale he wrote about. He also said the sidewalks would use solar power, and also stated that they would soon be abandoned.

“Starship Troopers” (1959), and many of his other stories made a hero of the independent, even the anarchistic man. They featured powered body armor similar to strength-enhancing devices currently under advanced development. As “The Atlantic” recently noted, “Troopers” was probably the most misunderstood movie of the decade.

Those were just stories. Heinlein was another writer who was a futurist and consciously made predictions; his most famous list was in the February, 1952, “Galaxy.” Unfortunately he was wildly off in most of those predictions, including:

But Heinlein was correct on others, as when he said contraception would mean big changes in the war of the sexes. He also said hunger will become an increasing problem. And, finally, Heinlein really did predict cell phones and answering machines.

Aldous Huxley’s “Brave New World” (1931) included widespread use of antidepressant drugs which weren’t even tested until the 1950s. I would give things to comeHuxley more stars if I didn’t remember that “The Real Thing” in original Coke was cocaine, and that various “natural” drugs such as marijuana were in widespread use until about the time he wrote his book. As predictions his book was noteworthy but not such a big stretch.

One major story theme was The Bokanovsky’s Process which let the government clone humans with various levels of intelligence. Unfortunately that could still come about—one of Huxley’s predictions that I really hope doesn’t.

But, in my opinion, by far the most accurate predictions were made by Jules Verne. Not just atomic submarines, but in a book you never heard of because it was never published until the manuscript was discovered in 1989 and published in 1994. To put things in perspective, “Paris in the Twentieth Century” was actually written about the time of the U.S. Civil War, 1863, and it would have been shocking and awe-inspiring if it had been published then.

Although he scored a big miss in the book by saying war was eliminated by the mid-20th century, his reasoning was technologically on point because he felt engines of war would become too terrible.

But he gets my top vote because he described automobiles and the need for paved highways, electric lights, skyscrapers, bullet trains and elevated trains, fax machines, elevators, networked computing machines, the wheelchair, and remote-controlled weapons.

Need more to convince you? Verne wrote about a decline in the arts at the expense of technology, mass higher education, department stores, and giant hotels, along with suburbs.

Also Worth Mentioning

In 1798, Rev. Thomas Robert Malthus predicted that overpopulation would lead to many problems, including increasing famine. We are facing many problems today, from famine to resource driven wars to global climate change, most of which can be explained almost entirely by population pressures.

“Rollerball,” a 1975 movie, described a world of corporate sponsored entertainment that demanded ever more extreme TV to keep the audience. Today it is becoming obvious that pro and college football players have to accept the likelihood that their five-to-fifteen-year career will result in severe brain damage, if not instant paralysis or death.

I also give a nod to Hugo Gernsback who wrote a serial story in “Modern Electrics” (circa 1911) about a device that let people see those they were talking with at a distance.

John Brunner’s “Stand on Zanzibar” (1965) gets very high scores from some but not from me. It is claimed, among other things, that Brunner predicted electric cars. Sorry, fans, until 1900 or 1901 every land speed record for automobiles was held by electric cars.

There was another remarkable point in his book, in 2010 there was a U.S. President Obomi—much less a prediction than a coincidence.

Brunner’s social ideas were far more accurate, but not that startling for someone writing in the age of hippies—free love, short-term linkups rather than marriages, terrorism, even school shootings. (The first record of a school shooting was on July 16, 1764, when teacher Enoch Brown and eight or nine children were killed in their classroom.)

I can’t include any modern fiction in this essay. Not that I don’t see lots of possible predictions, but because we don’t know yet if recent ideas will prove prescient or not. Unfortunately, the future looks “promising” for many writers of dystopian fiction. Daily, we are witnessing evidence of oncoming disasters that governments almost universally ignore.

Melissa Scott’s 1996 “Trouble and Her Friends,” foresees hackers operating at a much more advanced level, closer to what is possible today or in the near future, using direct brain connections to the Web. Scott wasn’t the first to postulate this, but she had an interesting take on it.

Blackrock Microsystems has applied for FDA approval of its “BrainGate” wireless computer brain interface.

In conclusion, although some authors have accurately predicted the future, there are others who, much as we love and admire them and their writing, are definitely not describing worlds or events which we would want to see in our future.

One of my favorite authors whom I sincerely hope did not make accurate predictions about our future was Philip K. Dick. Remember the world of “Blade Runner” based on his story “Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?”

I've mentioned Robert Heinlein, a most prolific and enjoyable author. Most of the worlds he envisions are ones I would not want to live in; and he made some major mistakes when viewing the immediate future. When he saw the danger of nuclear war, he decided to move to the safest area he could think of in the U.S. Unfortunately, he picked a spot almost within sight of what soon afterward became the number one target, Cheyenne Mountain, CO. Of course he had no way of predicting this, but it still must have been uncomfortable.

Conversely, we have future worlds which virtually everyone would like to see come to pass but which we all agree is very unlikely.

I put Gene Roddenberry’s vision right at the top of this list. Who but a madman would not want to live in the “Star Trek” universe with unlimited power, replicators, advanced medicine, holo decks, warp drive, and freedom from want? I would personally put up with a world that included Romulans and even The Borg to gain all the best of “Star Trek.” As Worf might remark: Qapla’! Today is a good day to read! END

John McCormick is a physicist, science/technology journalist, and author with more than 17,000 bylines to his credit. He is a member of The National Press Club and the AAAS. He recently launched the canine celebrating website, A to Z Dogs.


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