Subscribe / Unsubscribe Enewsletters | Login | Register

Pencil Banner

Indistinguishable from magic

Jason Snell | Jan. 7, 2013
As an adolescent, I loved to read the science fiction magazine Analog. One of my favorite Analog stories was "Hindsight" by Harry Turtledove. (I still have my copy of this "special spoof issue," dated mid-December 1984, in my garage.)

As an adolescent, I loved to read the science fiction magazine Analog. One of my favorite Analog stories was "Hindsight" by Harry Turtledove. (I still have my copy of this "special spoof issue," dated mid-December 1984, in my garage.)

In "Hindsight," a 1950s pulp sci-fi writer is startled to discover that an unknown author has published a story that remarkably resembles one he had in the planning stages. He and his editor investigate, eventually discovering a woman who reveals she's a sci-fi writer from the future who has returned to the 1950s--all the way from 1983!--to try to change the world through science fiction.

I love this story for so many reasons. I love the idea--one that even the most cynical sci-fi writers share, whether they'll admit it or not--that science fiction really does have the power to change the world. And I love how the woman from the future has repurposed historical events ("Houston, We Have a Problem," and "Tet Offensive") as pulp sci-fi stories. (We are all living in someone else's sci-fi world.)

But my favorite thing about the story is a scene in which the writer from the future ushers the two men into her back room, where she keeps her future technology. There's a 1980s-era word processor and a dot-matrix printer, charmingly outmoded from the vantage point of 2013 but stunning to the men in the story. And in the corner, a top-loading VCR attached to a small color TV set. She plays Star Wars for the writer, and he's flabbergasted--not just by the color picture, but by a recognizable-yet-aged Alec Guinness as Obi-Wan Kenobi.

I wish I could link to "Hindsight" itself, so you could read it, but as far as I can tell it's unavailable except as part of the ebook "3xT." It's worth reading, but probably not for $10.

Anyway, this is a long way of saying that I thought of "Hindsight" after reading a tweet this morning:

1956, and a 5MB hard drive is being lifted onto an aircraft i.imgur.com/uqKOX.jpg

The picture is of a man in a forklift lifting a gigantic metal box. I immediately thought about the 32GB iPhone--with 6400 times the storage capacity--that I carry in my pocket 57 years later. With "Hindsight" banging around in my brain all these years later, I wondered what residents of the 1950s would think of that phone if I could show it to them.

"Back to the Future"

I can't be the only person who thinks about this stuff. (I mean, Marty McFly's Walkman!) So I mentioned it on Twitter and suddenly found myself in a discussion about what Apple device you'd want to take back in time from today to blow away those sci-fi writers in 1956. (If you're interested, I've saved the whole thing on Storify.)

 

1  2  Next Page 

Sign up for Computerworld eNewsletters.