Two conventional types of sci-fi
1) In sci-fi, humanity often travels the stars. Either through massive speed, or by bending space-time to shorten the distance we have to travel, we colonise the universe. These stories usually centre around the things we find in space or the things we change into when millennia and lightyears separate us. They look at what happens when a person is one among quintillions, and what that means for the value of a life. They ask what it means to be an individual human in the vastness of the void.
2) A bit closer to our time, sci-fi often looks at the dystopian future where the government controls everything and is able to see everything you do and listen to everything you say. These 1984-style novels explore themes of hyper-capitalism, where corporations go from mergers to conglomerations to mergers to monopolies to mergers to the singularity – a single entity so powerful it’s put us in a techno-feudal state with an omnipotent, omniscient ruler. This is a fascinating idea to explore as it mixes totalitarian communism with capitalism; and it deconstructs human nature, our desire for self actualisation and freedom, as opposed to the meaning of being human as the first scenario does. The stories usually revolve around smashing the state, anarchism, libertarianism, the human desire for free thinking and the stagnation that comes about when it’s stifled.
1 + 2) I haven’t read any books that really mix these scenarios properly. The closest I can picture is Dune, with its fantastically deep political insights in a solar-system spanning society. I love sci-fi precisely because these things might be real someday. Sci-fi is where creativity meets divination, so, for me, realism is the most important part of any sci-fi story. It can be as far out as the writer likes, but it has to have logical congruency.
It’s hard to mix the 1 and 2 here because the themes are both massive, and it’s extremely difficult to do them both justice without writing an epic on par with Lord of the Rings. I’m thinking about it because of the dream I just woke up from: If star-travel was a cosmic sneeze and we travelled like germs across the unverse, what would that really be like?
A) We would keep on with our companies becoming bigger until a few envelop every industry, as Facebook is doing now; in fact, these entities would become so mega-powerful they would shed the idea of ‘companies’ and become something much more. Over aeons, we would sit with Orwell’s 1984 x 100: 198 400. What we know so far is that we, the public, will allow it to happen. Technology becomes better and enables us to do what our great grandparents would almost have considered magic, but as it begins tampering with our humanity, through augmentation and implants, it necessarily invades our privacy. Technology connects us so much that we forget what it was to not be connected *(has the internet already changed our humanity compared to fifty years ago?)*
B) We think this control has limits. Usually the argument goes that instant interstellar communication is too complicated because of distance, background radiation, the speed of signal, etc. We’d be universally connected within a relatively small distance, but we’d lose touch with the people outside of our own solar system. In believing this, we forget that every sphere of technology develops simultaneously, and information technology is our most advanced one already. There’s no reason to doubt that, by the time we reach Andromeda, we’ll have actual instant communication over any distance.
So what happens when we superimpose A onto B? We’d have this corporate singularity become a dynasty. The one that matures and manages to not cannabilise itself will become a galactic dictatorship. We’d have 198 400, where the controller is too established and t powerful for any person or group of people to ever overthrow. If Wall Street took so much destroying in Fight Club, then how insignificant would our aspirations to overthrow the system that connects us between planets, and handles all of our manufacturing, social grants and agriculture be? The larger our population, the more we need a coordinated approach to all of these things, to be as resource-efficient as possible, and if there isn’t this single dictator-god to figure it all out, we’d be killing numberless humans. We cannot have fifteen governments with different ideas on how to handle space-colonisation, because we cannot have global resources divided by fifteen if we seriously want to get out there. Our species will need an absolute dictator.
In my dream, the social elit’es consciousnesses were put into machines to have them immortal. These immortal aristocrats became their own types of gods, eternal, fickle and imposing. Their minds were on cloud so, even if you could destroy their body, you could never kill them. The crux of the dream was that there would be a council of gods, present everywhere through technology. It would know your dissent and would be able to send its own Jesus to gut-punch you if you thought of revolt. It would be a true god, untouchable and absolutely powerful. We’d be a Type II and eventually Type III civilisation where we harnass the energy in the stars to fuel our society. We’d live in an infinitely resourced dystopia where an entity would know all of our innermost thoughts, but we’d never be sick, we’d all have be relatively wealthy, live to a thousand years of age, have every pleasure available at our fingertips and be connected in a way where every human does not only have access to a universe worth of information, but also has the brain-storage capacity to interpret and analyse all of it. This alone will advance us an unimaginable distance from where we are today.
But that sci-fi plot still nags at us, we would be so much more than human, but our connectedness would be our binding. We wouldn’t be truly free.
It might not be the popular opinion, but I don’t think 198 400 is the worst thing imaginable.