Old Science Fiction Entertains, Prompts Reflection

September 10, 2022

I’m still reading books I’ve been saving for years because I hadn’t had a chance to read them yet. Last night I finished one that I think was a birthday present in 1969, the year I turned fifteen. There’s an Ex Libris sticker in the front showing Charles Shultz’s Linus looking into a bookcase, with my name, SANDY GEIB, printed neatly in all caps below.

The book is Three for Tomorrow: Three Original Novellas of Science Fiction. Meredith Press, New York. 1969. Arthur C. Clarke, of 2001: A Space Odyssey fame, wrote the foreword, in which he laid out a theme that the three authors were invited to address: ‘With increasing technology goes increasing vulnerability; the more Man conquers Nature, the more prone he becomes to artificial catastrophe.’

I didn’t think any of the novellas were particularly compelling or well-written, but I found it quite entertaining to read old sci-fi from a point in time after the period in which the stories were set. The authors got some things amazingly correct, such as the consequences of climate change, self-navigating cars, and nationwide databases that track everything from criminal records and gun ownership to medical history and insurance. Other things they completely missed, such as the advent of cell phones. Characters in at least one of the tales still utilized phone booths. Some things they got sort of right, but the timing was off. In the authors’ minds, our civilization should have been much more advanced by the first decade of the twenty-first century than it actually turned out to be.

The attitudes and mores expressed, however, were still those of the mid-twentieth century. Women, in all three of these stories, appear only as decoration. They certainly had no brains, and they were only marginally necessary for one of the three plots.

As many women stew today about our hard-won rights being eroded, I realize how much progress my gender has made just during my own lifetime. I remember the slogan, We’ve Come a Long Way, Baby, from an old commercial for Virginia Slims cigarettes.

Well, baby, I think we still have a long way to go.

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