When it comes to future tech, variations on a phrase in a roleplaying game sourcebook always stuck with me: “POOF: YOU’RE HEALED.”
That was the description for the top-level, beyond super-science medical technology of the far future. (For weaponry of that advanced era, it was “POOF: YOU’RE DEAD”; for transportation it was “POOF: YOU’RE THERE.” You get the idea. Also, possibly, I played far too much G.U.R.P.S. if its metaphors remain fixed in my head.)
One thing unquestioned, of course, and not within the scope of RPG rules, is the question: “for whom?”
When writing a story for Accessing the Future, I wanted to take a concept that has long fascinated me — reaching a star system via a generation ship — and explore what people surviving out in space for decades if not centuries would do to adapt. The equipment they started out with would have to last a long time; and as things broke down, successive generations on board would have to improvise and make do.
That would include, I think, adaptive technologies for any kind of disability, as it does for the main character in the story I wrote, “In Open Air.” Without access to external resources, everything on board need to be kept in good repair or possibly repurposed.
Another thing I wanted to explore was the nature of an unseen (or, really, ignored by others) disability, such as a partial hearing loss. The one that my main character Soraiya has is a moderate hearing loss she’s lived with her whole life, one that prevents her from hearing mid-range and mid-decibel-level sounds. That means, for example, conversational range when there’s a large group of people talking, so not being able to hear what people are saying, but still being able to hear things that spike on either of those axes — say, a loud peal of laughter, a high-pitched scream, a shout — very well. For many people with full hearing, being plunged into that soundscape would be very disorienting.
But a partial hearing loss means also being able to hear some sounds, so Soraiya learned to speak (and listen) in the languages used in the multicultural society aboard the generation ship. Some of the people she works with understand that it helps her to see their faces when they speak — reading lips and inclusive behaviour are adaptations — but others don’t bother to learn that and instead shout to her in order to be heard.
Thirdly, I wanted to look at how adapting to that kind of loss could open up other things. Soraiya is adept at reading different languages and alphabets and, consequently, making sense of language that has changed faster orally than it has in written form. In the course of the story, this becomes critical and puts her at the centre of the conflict when the isolated-for-generations culture of her ship must deal with a very different culture, and more than just language separates the two groups.
To address my earlier misconceptions about future medical science: no matter how advanced a society becomes, I don’t think the way we treat our bodies will ever be as simple as “POOF: YOU’RE HEALED.”
The first question I’d want to ask, now, is: “What exactly are you trying to fix?” The second would be: “Who gets access to this treatment/training/technology?” The third would be “What happens when it runs out?” (These questions, and many others, of course, are grappled with in different ways throughout the Accessing the Future anthology.)
As a postscript, I’ll add that I don’t think transportation will ever be as simple as “POOF: YOU’RE THERE,” either — because that doesn’t address the question of what we do when we get “there,” wherever that may be, and who will be going.
Accessing the Future is available July 1. There is a Facebook page with plenty more information and updates here.