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How Well Did Robert Heinlein’s Predictions For The Year 2000 Pan Out?

Unlike any other genre, science fiction is specifically in the business of keeping our eyes on the horizon, constantly imagining what tomorrow might look like, and what we as a species need to do to get there (or avoid getting there, depending on how bleak the predictions are). Over the decades science fiction stories have predicted everything from broad social movements to specific bits of technology (sometimes disturbingly so). Of course, they don’t always get it right, or I’d be writing this from my lunar apartment before taking my flying car over to the spaceport for my vacation to Alpha Centauri.

The very act of writing science fiction is inherently a predictive art form, even if you’re just trying to tell a ripping good yarn. Occasionally, however, some of the genre’s luminaries have set out specifically to try and second-guess the future. The legendary Robert Heinlein did just that way back in 1949, penning a list of predictions for the year 2000. It was eventually published in Galaxy magazine in 1952. Now, the website Lists of Note has posted Heinlein’s predictions. With 2000 now over a decade in our rearview, how well did Heinlein’s predictions turn out? Let’s take a look at the list, and we’ll track his success as we go.

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Sci-Fi Assassin: How Lost Snuck Into The Mainstream And Why We Should Stop Looking For A Replacement

It’s time to put away the notion that there will ever be another Lost. The series ended in 2010, and even before the castaways walked into the light, networks were trying to recapture the magic. There’s never a new anything when it comes to television shows; something we sci-fi geeks should accept.

Seinfeld left, and was replaced by nothing. But we can find solace that eventually there was The Office, Modern Family, Community, among other great network comedies. Someday there will be a huge network hit that delves deep into sci-fi mysteries.

It could be said that Lost was the next X-Files.This is because we’re not talking about a show full of mysteries as the harbinger of TV greatness. There are scores of those shows each year; all vying for your attention with sound bites that vaguely remind you of a program about some interesting people who survived a plane crash. What people really mean by “the next Lost” is a science fiction based network program that garners attention from everyone, including the CSI and Law & Order watchers. The networks aren’t looking to find the next engaging sci-fi program; they’re looking for the mega ratings.

We already have the next Lost in spirit with Fringe. But where Lost was a stealthy assassin, coming upon you slowly from behind with its crazy science and hoodoo; Fringe let its freak flag fly from the start. What Lost proved about the general public is that you have to sneak sci-fi into the mainstream audience’s blood.

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Sci-Fi Classic: Farnham’s Freehold By Robert Heinlein

farnham.jpg I’ve always been a major fan of Robert Heinlein. Actually, scratch that. I’ve always been a major fan of Robert Heinlein’s early work. Old age did not do well by Bob H, and as he got older his biting, pointed writing became bitter and the sexual freedom he espoused in his work turned into the mad ravings of a crazy old man who was clearly, despite his age, still very very horny. His early and mid-career work is genius though, and he’s one of the original fathers of meaningful, modern science fiction. He’s also written a lot of books, forty plus years of material actually, and even though I’m something of a Heinlein superfan there’s still some of his stuff I’ve missed. Stuff like “Farnham’s Freehold”.

“Farnham’s Freehold” fell into my lap courtesy of my brother in-law, who’s blind and therefore has awesome access to all kinds of free reading material online. He has access to thousands of books in plain text format, which he then plugs into a voice program to read it back to him. He had “Farnham’s Freehold” sitting on his computer, and when I saw Heinlein’s name on it I demanded he hand it over. So I spent the next few nights squinting into my Treo, where I’d dumped the text of the novel in a blatant act of literary piracy. Hey, give me a break here. It’s not like you can walk into a bookstore and find it on a shelf. I read whatever I can get my hands on.

As a Heinlein fan I know how hit or miss he can be as an author, but it only took a few pages before I knew “Farnham” was a hit. The book instantly sucked me in, with its Cold War era tale of a family hiding inside a home constructed bomb shelter when the doomsday clock strikes eleven and nuclear war lands right on top of them. The interesting thing about Heinlein’s writing, perhaps here more than in anything else he’s ever done, is the way in which he manages to convey such a vivid picture of what’s happening… but without bothering with actual visual descriptions of the environment in which he thrusts his characters. Rather than describing the way his world looks, Heinlein chooses instead to describe the way his characters react to it, and through them his readers not only get the picture, but sometimes a deeper understanding than you’d get had he described simple surface knowledge.

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