I was looking around the NBC News site the other day when I came across a slide show of pictures from space for 2013. I, being the science nerd that I am, clicked through the slide show. There were a variety of pictures in it, including shots of earth from space (city light patterns, patchwork of fields), shots of space from space (supernova, Venus seen through Saturn’s rings), and shots of space from earth (the Northern Lights).
It dawned on me when I reached the picture of the supernova that though I was fascinated, and had I been more awake, probably awed, I never once thought to myself “this is impossible,” or “this has to be fake,” or even “how scary.”
I’ve said before that I don’t feel small looking into space, even though it is a giant swath of sparkly, dangerous unknown. No air, no sound. Just big balls of heat floating in an endless void, occasionally circled with smaller, round objects that are unlikely to support life.
It dawned on me, when I saw that picture of a supernova, that I was different.
I wasn’t like the scientists, who would see such an image and think of all the technical possibilities and implications. I wasn’t like some of the public that would see such an image and wonder at the technology used to get it. I wasn’t like other parts of the public that may fear such an image for reasons I can’t begin to comprehend.
Nope. I had the unique perspective of an avid reader of science fiction. The technology used to get that image, in my mind, is a foregone conclusion. It’s a miracle of science, but it is also just an exploratory tool. I couldn’t ever hope to understand how they made it, but I know that they did, and that it works, and that it sends back images of a larger truth.
That little robot they sent to Mars? The Curiosity Rover? Also a miracle of science. But when I heard about it, one of my thoughts was “Damn, it’s about time. Don’t they have jetpacks now? Where are those?”
People, scientists and everyone else, are stunned when they find evidence of life on other planets. Such discoveries are groundbreaking, and exhilarating, and at the same time I think “Well, of course. We can’t be the only ones.”
Even such things as solar or wind power, that can be so revolutionary, are mundane to a certain section of my brain because I have seen civilization master them.
I have been to different solar systems. I have found sentient life on hundreds of different planets. I have been part of (at least) two empires that spanned galaxies.
I have seen things the majority of the population has yet to dream about, all thanks to the power of the written word.
I started reading science fiction shortly after I was introduced to the Star Wars movies in late elementary school. I started reading the expanded universe books, and then I moved on to more true science fiction and read Dune.
Frank Herbert, I think, was probably the most influential in developing my perception of space and technology, and the implications that galactic rule might bring. Reading those kinds of books really warped my concept of reality, in a good way. That which most people find impossible I may only find improbable.
That supernova picture, which is essentially a snapshot of the distant past because we’re seeing light that has taken countless years to get to us, is neither impossible nor improbable. It’s simply truth. Beautiful, sparkly, dangerous truth.
It’s funny how reading a bunch of lies based on theoretical concepts gave me a more open mind.
Lie to me, science fiction. I promise I’ll believe.