Sci-fi writers vs terrorists

We all know that science fiction writers are the architects of the universe. It goes something like this: young geek reads science fiction books and thinks, ‘One day, it really will be like that!’ That young geek grows up and has an interest and an aptitude for science, maths and so on. Subsequently, he goes on to become the inventor of the things he read about and loved so much. In other words, people that read science fiction are the unwitting slaves of science fiction writers. There are ideas people and making people – writers are the ideas people because we like to stay at home and not have to study too hard. Leave that to the geeks.

All right, I admit. Writers are geeks too. Of course we are, otherwise we’d be out meeting girls and stuff like that instead of sitting in front of computers inventing imaginary worlds. But I digress.

Why am I wiffling on about all this? Well, it’s very simple. It’s because that bastion of human rights, the US Department of Homeland Security has seconded the assistance of science fiction writers to come up with suggestions of how terrorists may target US interests in the future.

We all know that the best sci-fi stories are the ones where the downtrodden, yet morally intact and completely honourable Rebels are battling against the evil behemoth of the ruling government. It’s an against all odds scenario, where the little people with no access to the money and technology of the autocrats will rise up regardless through innovation and heart-stopping derring do to save the day, overthrow the oppressive regime and live on in a universe of peace and prosperity, raising little Jedi children that now have nothing to do. It’s Utopian. And, of course, it’s all from the mouths of sci-fi writers. It’s interesting that the US seems to be so in love with scenarios like that (Star Wars, War of the Worlds, Serenity, Space Balls) yet seems to completely miss the irony of its outrage when it becomes that which it hates the most. Psych 101 subject of the month right there.

As USA Today reports, the Homeland Security Department is tapping into the wild imaginations of a group of self-described “deviant” thinkers: science-fiction writers.

“We spend our entire careers living in the future,” says author Arlan Andrews.

The group of writers is called Sigma and was actually put together fifteen years ago to advise the government. The last time they met was in the late 1990’s to discuss what a post-nuclear age might look like. That meeting was obviously a little bit premature, but good on them for trying.

The group’s motto is “Science Fiction in the National Interest.” To join the group, Andrews says, you have to have at least one technical doctorate degree. Or, as Jerry Pournelle put it, “We’re well-qualified nuts.”

Larry Niven gets my quote of the week in relation to this situation. When asked why the group gave their imaginative expertise to the government rather than private companies paying big bucks, he said, “To save civilization. We do it in fiction. Why wouldn’t we want to do it in fact?” Now is he a proper hero or what?

Sigma
Sigma: (Back) Jerry Pournelle, Arlan Andrews, Greg Bear, (Front) Sage Walker, Larry Niven

Let’s give the last word to Christopher Kelly, spokesman for Homeland Security’s Science and Technology division, talking to USA Today. “We need to look everywhere for ideas, and science-fiction writers clearly inform the debate.”

Damn straight.

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