Moving to Freedom, .Org

Rubbing sticks together to make math on Mars.

Book Cover: 'Red Planet' by Robert Heinlein

I think Robert Heinlein’s Red Planet was the first “grown up” science fiction book I read, in 1982. It was published in 1949, but seemed modern enough to my eleven-year-old self. (With one notable exception, which prompts this post.)

Wikipedia says: “The first Golden Age of Science Fiction — often recognized as the period from the late 1930s through the 1950s — was an era during which the science fiction genre gained wide public attention and many classic science fiction stories were published.”

Or maybe you’ve heard the saying, “The Golden Age of Science Fiction is ‘twelve’?”

Putting those two things together made 1949’s Red Planet a good introduction to science fiction for nearly-twelve-year-old me. My dad had always been a voracious SF reader. One day I came across this book he had left out on the table, decided to give it a try, and was pleased to find I could follow the story.

Except, what was this slide rule thing the characters were talking about? I determined that it must be some advanced technology that Heinlein had made up.

Similar to the missing cell phones in Star Wars, basic technology assumptions drifted off course over a period of thirty years. Heinlein had us colonizing Mars while still using sticks for calculations, because that’s what he was familiar with in 1949. Thirty years later in 1982, the concept of a slide rule was lost on a new generation, and now it was obvious these people would have had something like my extraordinarily sophisticated TI-35 scientific calculator instead, just as it’s obvious nearly thirty years later in 2009 that Mars colonists would be using laptops or smart phones, and of course thirty years from now, we’ll know the actual colonists had neural interfaces.

Or maybe robots have taken over all our thinking and calculating by then.

Or maybe we’re back to fingers and toes after our civilization has collapsed into savagery.