Saturday, November 29th, 2008

Dated References in Science Fiction

Many science fiction stories are set so far in the future that whatever situation they describe could at least in theory happen by that date. Surprisingly though, a lot of this science fiction contains references to events that were either in the future at the time it was written which are now past and didn’t happen or which were in the past when the story was written and are now unknown to many readers. A science fiction story set well into the future can therefore appear dated due to these references.

Let’s consider a couple of examples. One is Jerry Pournelle’s future history series. A significant past event upon which much of the series relies is the joining together of the USA and the Soviet Union to form the co-dominium A lot of this series was obviously written before 1989 when the Soviet Union broke up. The timeline in more recent books lists a future date upon which for some unexplained reason the Soviet Union is reformed – basically in order that it can then subsequent to that time join with the USA in order to allow the references to that joining throughout all of the books to be considered to be correct.

Another example would be in Robert Heinlein’s book “Starship Troopers”. When the lead character is required to attend the hanging of one of his classmates who had gone AWOL and then murdered someone, reference is made to their marching to the parade to “Danny Deever”. That term is also used as an alternate way of describing what is to happen. How many readers today would be that familiar with Rudyard Kipling’s work to recognise the reference. I know I missed it for a long time and in fact was only able to see the point of the reference when listening to classical music on the radio earlier this week when the radio actually played a version of “Danny Deever”. Would people at that future time be that much more familiar with Kipling compared to the average person today?

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