Wednesday, April 20, 2011

A Brief Timeline of Events of Future Past.

So, with all the talk about insane AI yesterday, I failed to mention that it was an important date in science fiction for another reason. On April 19, 2011 at 8:11 PM, SkyNet became self aware. Or at least that is what we're told in Terminator 2. If that were true, according to the movie's calendar, the weather for tomorrow would read as follows: “Cloudy, with a chance of Nuclear Missiles.” I failed to make the connection between this significant date in science fiction history and the release of a major video game about a rogue AI... well played, Valve. Well played.

This got me to thinking... what other events in the history of popular sci-fi have already come and gone? I know I'm going to miss a few here, probably quite a lot of them. Science fiction is most often set in the future, and the imagination of the authors about what that future is going to look like is part of the appeal of the setting. The logical progression of current technologies, social ideas and how the two interact forms a lot of the basis for the “science” in “science fiction.” A near future setting is easier to imagine, to project how technology will evolve and improve, and what impact it will have on culture. However, when you reach a date mentioned in classic sci-fi and we don't have flying cars, the stories look humorous, even quaint.

There's some disagreement about the SkyNET date, but some are more topical today than others.

Here's a few examples from a timeline that never was:

1984: Well, this one's pretty obvious. George Orwell predicted a grim future of the ever-seeing eye of Big Brother, a pervasive government authority with language adapted to be inoffensive, surveillance everywhere, and social controls in place to keep a populace docile and subservient. This grim future is currently 27 years late, and counting. Oh yeah... Governments of the Western World? This wasn't supposed to be an instruction manual. Just sayin'. (Source: 1984)

1987: The Ranger 3, piloted by Captain William “Buck” Rogers is launched on a mission that is imperiled by the failure of critical life support systems. He is presumed dead when the failure freezes him solid, until he is revived 500 years later, in the 25th Century. (Source: Buck Rogers in the 25th Century)

1995: Sam Beckett, a physicist begins leaping uncontrollably into the bodies and lives of people in the past, and with the assistance of Al, a friend and colleague from his own time who appears as a hologram only Sam can see, he begins to put right what once went wrong. Time travel, 3-D holograms in full color with perfect movement animation and clarity, and hand-held portable computers. A great time to be a physicist, back in 1995... a shame I was so bad at math. (Source: Quantum Leap)

Oh, boy.

Summer, 1996: Simon Phoenix is apprehended by John Spartan in a confrontation that results in the destruction of a building and most of a city block. The discovery of the bodies of Phoenix' hostages inside the ruins of the building leads to the arrest and conviction of Spartan, as well. Both the disgraced police officer and the psychopath are frozen solid in cryo-prison, where they are exposed to a computerized rehabilitation program designed to reform them in stasis. They are also capable of keeping very large drinks cold. (Source: Demolition Man)

January 12, 1997: HAL becomes capable of emotions and insight in addition to his capabilities of superior calculation and data processing. HAL 9000 becomes an integral (and murderous) part of the 2001 mission to investigate a monolithic artifact that is millions of years old. We have yet to produce an independently intelligent computer or program, but we're sure of one thing. Once we get there, AI will try to kill us. (Source: 2001 – A Space Odyssey)

Summer, 1997: As World War 3 winds down, former special forces soldier, current dangerous criminal “Snake” Plissken is forced into the prison city of New York on a mission to rescue the President of the United States, or at least to recover the cassette tape with nuclear fusion data the president had when he crash-landed. Following orders is normally a problem for Plissken, so explosives are introduced into his body as a source of encouragement. (Source: Escape From New York)

The only character Kurt Russel played who was more badass than Jack Burton.

October 16, 1997: The Jupiter 2 begins its mission with the Robinson family aboard, and shortly after launch, the space shuttle is sabotaged by Dr. Zachary Smith, who is trapped aboard. The damage to key systems and the weight of an extra passenger causes the mission to divert from its intended course and the family is awakened prematurely in order to prevent the destruction of the spacecraft from a field of asteroids. What we know, is that 1997 was a very dangerous time to be anywhere. DANGER, WILL ROBINSON! (Source: Lost In Space)

December 31, 1999: Race Riots threaten to tear apart the city of Los Angeles at the death of rapper and activist Jeriko One. Lenny Nero, a former police officer who now deals in recorded experiences that are played back through a neural interface called a SQUID, is caught between his addiction to his own product and the need to get to the bottom of the mystery of Jeriko One's death before his enemies kill him or the city destroys itself. (Source: Strange Days)

I'm aware that this movie is a little less popular than most of the other sources I've linked here, but if you haven't seen it, it is on the real short list of good cyberpunk films. Actually, it might BE the list.

What other visions of our dark future that our favorite films, TV Shows and Books promised have slipped by? If I get enough of these, I'll likely do a sequel to this article chronicling beyond the year 2001, up to the current day.
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The Angry Lurker said...

Death Race 2000?, you definitely nailed most of the popular ones with your list:D

Alpha said...

Ha, definitely good dates to keep in mind.

Jessica Thompson said...

Nice one, think you got all the important stuff!

Chris C. said...

Makes me wonder how much people in the 23rd/24th century are going to giggle when they eventually see how we envisioned them in Star Trek, Babylon 5, etc.

G said...

lots of Doctor Who dates...

Jay said...

so Valve is Skynet?


Porky said...

Fun post and good research! But what's with '97 being so important I wonder?

A Beer for the Shower said...

Whatever happened to Kurt Russell? He was SO bad ass as Snake Plissken...

Erika said...

idk... from where I'm standing, we pretty much are living in an Orwellian society. Okay, so it's not as dark as it's made out to be in the book Nineteen Eighty Four but that's only cus it's being sold to us in shiny packaging. We are being monitored. We are being controlled. Just not so obviously. Take Facebook for example....

Moobeat said...

great post. Ive only seen like half of these >.>

Grafted said...

Great list!

Patti D. said...

it makes me sad, those movies had set up great expectations, and now what?!!

Unknown said...

Actually the 2011 skynet date was from the TV show, not T2

DocStout said...

@Matthew: Yep, that would be why I didn't cite Terminator 2 as the source, and mentioned "disagreement" about the date in the picture caption from T2. For some reason, though, the date from the Sarah Connor Chronicles is the one the internet seems to have collectively accepted as official.

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