Sunday, February 24, 2008

Alternate Futures

Back in the late 1980's, I went through a period of being pretty pessimistic about the future. With Reagan in the White House and the US and USSR armed to the nuclear teeth, I read books like Jonathan Schell's The Fate of the Earth and really believed it would be a miracle if we made it to this century without a nuclear war.

Fortunately I was wrong about that, and while the world remains a dangerous, violent, and messy place, I'm somewhat more optimistic about the future. I believe that technology, education, and the wider recognition that we are all sharing the same small planetary boat may help us survive for a while longer. My interest in space and in educational outreach is related to this belief. International cooperation in space won't save the world, but it helps. Encouraging kids' interest in science and technology can also help. And so on.

But what about the Dark Side? While always in favor of cooperation and non-violence, I have also enjoyed naval strategy games and combat flight simulators with titles like "Total Air War." I also have read and enjoyed a large number of war novels and technothrillers, including a few classics by Tom Clancy (before he became so successful he could give up editors and have other people write his books for him). His WW3 novel Red Storm Rising was one of my favorites.

I noticed in the supermarket yesterday that Clancy is bringing back WW3, now set around 2020 and with a new but still quite familiar cast of characters. Tom Clancy's EndWar (written by David Michaels) is a new technothriller that is also a tie-in to an upcoming video game called EndWar (as you might imagine, the title is ironic). Although I don't personally play RTS and similar games, the video preview and interviews on the game make it sound pretty impressive (a lot of the game development seems to be in Shanghai). Based on the Amazon reviews, I ordered the book to read on my next trip.

Why? Well, I still do like the occasional technothriller, and I'm also curious about the premise, which as it happens involves the militarization of space as well as more fighting over oil. The book and game apparently put you in the middle of a global conventional war which had erupted a few years after Iran and Saudi Arabia had destroyed each other in regional nuclear war in 2016.

I will let you search for more information or read the book if you'd like to know more, but for some reason the fictional 2016/2020 events that I read about struck a nerve. Will the period from 2010 to the 2030's and beyond be a new golden age, in which technology and international cooperation help to solve many of the problems that plague us today, and in which we start to become a spacefaring civilization? Or will it be more along the lines of Clancy's imagination? I don't know, maybe neither. But I really think we ought to start building lifeboats just in case.

P.S. I jumped the gun and read Tom Clancy's EndWar in about 5 hours the other night. It's definitely an exciting and sometimes thought-provoking read, fast-paced, high-tech military fiction with some political background. Not as deep or good as Red Storm Rising, but quite a good read for a video game teaser.

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