Bad Bad Futures Which Didn’t Happen – The Serial Number Version

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The other day husband and I were in front of the computer that’s used as a TV, and he was looking at trailers (I think I was writing, but I might have been painting something.)   After about the third “science fiction” movie trailer, my husband said “Do they realize all these futures are essentially Maoist?  They all dress alike, they’re addressed by their rank in society, they have completely scripted lives?”

And I realized he’s right and it’s not just the dystopias, even.  In all imagined SF futures, STILL, everyone dresses alike and is some kind of cog in a big machine.

Okay, I give Star Trek a pass, as what we’re seeing is more or less the military in this society.  (Or perhaps the Peace Corps. Or yes. I never figured it out, fully.) But even then you have a feeling private citizens live pretty similar lives.

Why?

Well, movies are downstream from written SF and also tend to ossify more, because after a while viewers look for a certain “look” in SF/F (which is why even I in sf/f covers use the full body-suit thing because in people’s minds THAT is science fiction.

And when I started reading science fiction the “citizen 54, report” type of SF was normal — and please keep in mind that I read very bad European (mostly French) science fiction that my friends were reading (one of which I’m sure was a science fiction romance, as the only even vaguely original scenes were the sex scenes.  Which means at fourteen I was both bored AND bewildered and wondered why my otherwise sensible friend like this.  In retrospect, I think Mr. Hormone had just called on her earlier than on me.  I mean, the main character had a robot who–  never mind.) as well as Argonauta, which was mostly US sf, a lot of it alas award winners, which even then meant a lot of it was … odd.

A lot of it seemed to be based on the idea that Brave New World was inevitable, so, therefore, we could only write variations of it.

The idea that in the future we were all addressed by rank and number was so built into those books that this was the default setting.  you were — even outside the military — engineer 459 or architect 890 or whatever.

It was tied in with the overpopulation idea.  My brother with whom I discussed this, said of course in the future some number would be part of your name (if not your full name.) Just because there would be so many of you, and a computer would need to administer everything.

Oh, and I can’t emphasize that enough.  In the seventies and even early eighties, mostly because people believed the lies from the Soviet Union, it was assumed as a default that of COURSE central control and administration was not only more efficient, but the future that waited us all.  The future was vaguely human ants working and living for the good of the colony, administered by the best people and of course computers.

Remember that a lot of people on both sides of the isle grew up with this idea, and that science fiction ideas shape even “mundane” society.  A lot of the internationalists f*cking up the world are doing so under the assumption that the one-world-government administered by “smart people” and computers is not only inevitable, but the best possible in an imperfect world. They refuse to see the true results of central control because they can’t. Their entire life narrative would collapse.  That “people want to be part of something greater” means they’re invested heart and soul in bringing this about because the books and movies they read and saw as kids sold it to them.

Me? I’d probably have wandered off sf if I hadn’t found Simak — yes, depressing, but his people were people — and Heinlein who didn’t sing in THAT choir.

But in truth, we’ve moved past that narrative, and even the supposedly non dystopias set in “everyone wears same clothes and is directed by voices from the wall” world feel vaguely creepy and scary now.

Because that dream was a nightmare, and thank heavens we’ve awakened from it.

However the future will be, it won’t be Maoist.  Sure, there will be disgusting periods in future history — as there were in the past — but whatever lies in future for us long term is not the “perfect” centralized state, with or without computers.

I’m an individual, not a number.  And so, gentle reader, are you.

For which I’m very glad.

(UPDATE ON THE GREAT BOOK SALE: New list tomorrow, probably close to noon.  Sorry, I’m combating either a bug or my thyroid going low again (yes, I AM having tests) and last night I was too tired to box.  I also need to do a more careful turn-over on the library to figure out if I can locate that series of Night Shifters. I will, probably, in the process, find other things, like probably older books/copies.)

 

228 responses to “Bad Bad Futures Which Didn’t Happen – The Serial Number Version

  1. Christopher M Chupik

    They’ve given you a number, and taken away your name . . .

    • I hope not. I’d be the worst Secret Agent Man in history.

    • Number 6, meet the new Number 2.

      • I am not a number, I am a free (well, free-ish) man!

        • It is appropriate to remember on this, the centenary of Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn’s birth, that stone walls do not a prison make, nor iron bars a cage.


          Take it from an old Stalinist singing a German folk song, Die Gedanken Sind Frei.

          … I think as I please
          And this gives me pleasure
          My conscience decrees
          This right I must treasure
          My thoughts will not cater
          To duke or dictator
          No man can deny
          Die gedanken sind frei
          Tyrants can take me
          And throw me in prison
          My thoughts will burst forth
          Like blossoms in season
          Foundations may crumble
          And structures may tumble
          But free men shall cry
          Die gedanken sind frei

          The irony is strong in this one.

        • Unmutual today, are we?

        • And, the car in the opening segment was a Lotus Seven.

    • Am I the only one who’s always heard that song as “Secret Asian Man”? Even knowing the real lyrics, it still doesn’t sound like “Agent” to me.

    • I am not a number. I am a free man!

      • I guess this thought is a repeat; not only one thinking of The Prisoner,. Of course The Village is the left’s “perfect society”.

        • I remember being quite impressed with The Prisoner when It came out, even though I didn’t catch all the episodes. I think I caught all those missed episodes in reruns later. It is now available on Amazon Prime. I hope to find time to watch the whole series again while it is available there.

          • OK, Wiki refreshes the dates. In the mid 1980s, D. Scott Apel hosted a rebroadcast of The Prisoner on KTEH (PBS, San Jose). The hosting included a good explanation of WTF was going on, and other interesting bits, like CBS not broadcasting the episodes in proper order, and skipping one (IIRC, it was “Living in Harmony”, unusual by even that series’ standards).

            It looks like his commentary is up on the Tube of You. The obvious searches should find it.

        • It takes a village.

          Funny how the “adults” asserting that now were the teens complaining about stultifying, oppressive suburbia then.

    • I’ve seen the case made (defending banks and other institutions) that giving you a number actually reinforces your identity — otherwise, the institution has no way to know you (assuming your name is John Steven Anderson, for example) from that other John Steven Anderson.

      Indeed, I would add that this is a good point. I once proctored a test where I had to check everyone’s school-issued ID to confirm their identity as they took the test — and two students had the exact same first, middle and last names, so they *had* to be differentiated by (a school-issued) number.

      It remains a fact, though, that most *busy-body bureaucrats* do this because they don’t want to treat us as individuals, they just need a quick way to identify the cogs….

      • Nonsense. There are 26 letters and only ten digits. Just give the guy another name, like Big John Steven Anderson, or John Steven Anderson the Cook, or John Steven Fredovich Anderson.

        • I actually have the seeds of a story bouncing around in my head. One idea I had for it was to have a list of names, about 200 or so (half male, half female), and a unique identifier for an individual is created by selecting N of those names.

          Either N or the list of names might have to be pretty large, though, because it was intended for a galactic population….

          (Part of the story would involve the discovery of a planet superweapon that had been lost to time, and the discovery of individuals that don’t have such names….)

      • OK, then whyinhell did Wells Fargo let some other guy with my first and last name (so he said), but a completely different driver’s license number drain my checking account? (Inside man at the Skonk works was the smart money explanation; semi confirmed by the local branch manager of Wells having kittens when I told him the theft was already reported. )

        They paid up, and I closed the account. Never heard if notRnotCnotPete ever got caught. I assume notLikely.

        • Unfortunately, just because a unique number makes it *possible* for an institution to treat you as an individual, doesn’t mean that it *will* treat you as an individual. This is largely because the bigger an institution gets, the more likely it is to be filled by bureaucrats….

          Come to think of it, I’m reminded of an attitude attributed to Robert Heinlein: “When a society gets big enough to require ID documents, it’s time to move on to less settled pastures…”

    • “I am not a number, I am a free man!” https://youtu.be/nW-bFGzNMXw

  2. Timothy E. Harris

    The whole point of the Domain Name System (DNS) is that the vast majority of people are terrible at remembering numbers and prefer meaningful names.
    Otherwise we’d be typing 184.72.104.138 or 172.217.0.142 to get to a search engine.
    Machines will use numbers to represent individuals but for their output to be useful it will keep using names.

    • Please pardon a geeky aside. Using the one-true-identifier is computer-think from the old days. As a practitioner of service oriented architecture, I learned quickly that the one-ID-to-rule-them-all idea is a non-starter. Currently I spend much of my time as an ontologist where we focus on reasoning away ambiguity rather than enforcing uniformity.

      • It was amusing that Google+ (which is going “in a year”.. oops.. “even sooner than that”) started out claiming to be an “identity service’ but demanding the legal-name identity rather than something more unique. I found it hilarious as if I did a Google (yes, that particular search engine) search for the ‘legal name’ i have, I find multiple instances of which most, of course, are Not Me (at least one is dead, which is just such a delight to find). But if use a name that I’ve used since 1996 by MY choice… it’s a unique identifier and I find… me. And nobody else. But that wasn’t acceptable. I might miss G+… just not very much.

        • Good riddance. Google+ just had yet another big data breach. 52 million users effected this time.

          • And that’s why the (accelerated) closure. Alright, general closure. Allegedly an ‘enterprise’ version might live on. For how long… gentlemen, place your bets.

          • About those data breaches – in Finland we have bit of an ongoing scandal. Our bureau for traffic safety – HAH! – just seems to have released the driving license information of EVERY license to internet a little while ago, on their own service but you could just go there and find them. For every single driver’s license in the country. On purpose. Because freedom of information or something. Well, there was a big hue and cry about it, of course, and right now their whole net service part is closed. But damn it, the information includes your whole name and home municipality and birth date and… F**K the idiots!!!

        • I signed up for a G+ account many years ago, maybe used twice. It’s probably still out there. But I don’t remember having to put my “real” name in any more than I did for FecesBook. I don’t have my actual real name listed on social media except for work. Which, if you do enough data mining, you can figure out, but I’m such a little fish I doubt anyone would bother.

          • The name I was using was, by nature, unique. had I used *this* name then I might have been overlooked as at least being *possible* if a bit improbable. The other name… well, for one, it is a single word/name, not a pair or set. And since I am not a “celebrity”.. that wouldn’t fly.

          • I actually used it more than FB, but that was an accident of the internet. Most of the OSR congregated there when they migrated off of blogs (which was only partially done unlike some other areas) more than they did FB.

            There has been a bit of a scramble with the announcement and MeWe seems to be the more common choice than FB, but a return to blogging seems to be as big, if not bigger (it was enough to get me to set up FreshRss on my server space to have a multi-location feed reader to keep up to date. I haven’t relied on a reader in years (and now wish I hadn’t quit).

            • For a while, there WASN’T a really good RSS reader– I think it was Google that killed the last reader I used.

              Eventually these guys managed to reverse engineer the old reader:
              https://theoldreader.com/posts/all

              I’ve been using it for free for a couple of years, now; wish they offered sharing to more than Facebook, but oh well.

              • That’s a big part of why I quit using one. Google Reader was excellent and nothing really matched it, especially that would sync across multiple computers.

                Fresh RSS is pretty close. Plus, as it is OSS so if I need a feature I can add it.

        • There are several FN+LN versions of me around the U.S. There’s even a FN+MI+LN in New York. However, to the best of my knowledge, there are only two major branches of Houst in the U.S., and any possible relationship between them is buried more than 15 generations back.

          • There are 3 distinct Hamblet families I know of in the U.S. A southern branch that’s been here a long time, a northern branch that’s been here for a long time, and my branch that arrived in 1892. 20 or so in the smallest branch- mine. All trace back to brickmakers in Worcestershire in the mid 1700’s. There’s a half dozen or so Hamblets living in the area then, but no record of them before them, and no one has yet traced a common ancestor. Whether in England or here, they all use the same forenames over and over and over- making it hard to trace them. There’s 5 of my fn-ln aside from my father and grandfather and me. Using my middle name-ln yields more than a dozen, and my brother’s fn-ln even more.

            The brickmaker connection and Worcestershire origin convince me we’re all related. If I were really dedicated to finding out I’d track some of them down and say “Hey- let’s do a DNA test!”

            • Married last name is all over. *First name is very common. There were 6 or more of me (with 4 different spellings), k through 12. Thus the combination of the two meant there were 6 of us with the same first/last name, of which 4 of us had the same middle initial; & this was at the doctors office of a small/medium city on the Columbia River (not Portland/Vancouver).

              Last name, however. West coast, other than dad’s family, only one or two individuals, not related to. Does not hold for southern or eastern US. More common there (including a very large famous medical clinic/facility). For all that grandpa’s family had been in Oregon for at least 2 generations, he was the only one of his generation to survive to have children.

              *Last job had regulars who’d call for support/changes, they were the regular contact for that client, same name as mine. They’d forget & not say which location they were calling from. My response “Okay, I know I’m not calling. Which one are you again?”

              • // darn it. Need to “click” follow …

              • My last name is not uncommon, but my family seems the only one able to spell it correctly.

              • While I have a first and last name combination which seems to be unique. Countless net searches and I have never found anybody with exactly the same name.

                Of course it helps to be a member of a relatively small language group. My country has a service which lists first and last names, and you can check numbers of names given each year from it (it used to give an exact number, but has switched to approximately) and according to that there are about 2000 people with the same first name, and another 2000 with the same first name, so with those odds somewhat more likely to hit a combination nobody else has.

                Makes me a bit nervous sometimes. This country has way too much information freely available online, and I would be very easy to find when you know my name.

        • Facebook has the same problem.

          And this is a problem even before we get to that point where some people *have* to be anonymous, because of literal life-and-death situations!

        • I used to work at Hewlett Packard. One other guy had the identical first and last names, (different middle) but was in the UK. To make matters worse, he worked for another guy with the same first name, but with an almost identical surname (extra ‘e’ at the end). Misdirected emails were a lot of fun, for various values of head-to-desk banging.

          This was also early enough in email days when “reply to all” was misused too commonly. Urk.

          • Kid sister & her husband worked for HP. Started Bay area, both ended up in Vancouver (WA). Retired when HP had the big balloon bail out a number of years ago (10? now). He more than qualified on age + years worked, she barely did. They figured he was retiring, but she’d be too far down the list. Were they wrong!!!

            • I was in the portion that became Agilent. When the dot com bubble burst, Agilent lost interest in building semiconductors. I was in the first wave, and got a tolerably good buyoff. It wasn’t much later that they sold the product lines and laid everybody else off.

              Sort of funny (not amusing), the guy who did the bet-everything on the dot-com bubble getting bigger managed to get to be the CEO of Agilent after a while. OTOH, he’s the kind of guy who could sell oil futures to environmentalists.

        • My name isn’t particularly unusual. There were four of us in my small town. The other three were all felons. Which caused more than one “interesting” encounter with the police…

          When the Web came about I did a search for my name and found a guy in the town I was born in, born in the same hospital, supposedly two days after I was. And we look enough alike to be twins. *And* we have the same name. Including middle name. If my mom hadn’t passed away some years prior, I would have been asking some questions…

          Later, I found out that one of the most wanted terrorists in the world is walking around with my face. He’s supposedly a year younger, and Libyan to my Irish-Scot-American Mongrel, but the genetic dice are apparently loaded. Which is why I’m rather paranoid about facial recognition software… over whatever the world population is, faces are NOT unique.

          • My name is common enough that I’ll get a first/last match fairly often, though the HP situation was a bit much. There was also a wheelchair athlete with that name, and a grad student where I was studying. I got his football tickets once; he had better seats than I did, though our team sucked.

            The fun part with the later was dealing with the occasional panic-stricken student who forgot where the big exam was supposed to be held. Having no clue about the answer, I’m sure I didn’t help the panic. (Shrugs.)

          • Not only are faces not unique, but faces aren’t stable over time, either. When I was young and skinny, my face looked a lot like my Dad’s: long and angular. As I’ve gained weight, my face has come to look more like my Mom’s, sans the beard. Heck, my face looks like my maternal Grandpa’s, when he had a beard!

            I can’t help but wonder: if I met a doppelganger today, would that doppelganger have been one when both of us were in high school? Will that doppelganger be one in 10 or fifteen years?

            There’s a member of my congregation who I could almost swear is a member of my Dad’s extended family. The thing is, though, he is largely English-descended, whereas my Dad’s father is half Danish, half Swiss. I’m not as familiar with my Dad’s mother’s ancestry, BUT that’s even irrelevant, considering that this member of the congregation looks like he comes from my Dad’s father’s side of the family….

        • For non-programmers, let me explain the way you generate a “universally unique identifier”. The steps are very complicated: ready?

          Step 1: pick a random number between 0 and 5 trillion trillion trillion (5 times 10 to the 36th power).
          Step 2: write it down in hexadecimal.

          That’s it. Step 2 has some subtleties (you can have optional hyphens, and there’s a hex digit or two that is supposed to go in a certain place), but that’s the entire process for picking a “UUID” (universally unique identifier) for your program to use for this piece of data or that. Programmers therefore use them all the time (in the program I’m working on, each dictionary entry is identified by a UUID because the word might not be unique: there might be one entry for “bank”, the place where you keep your money, and a second entry for “bank”, the action of tilting a plane to turn it).

          • The fun thing about the process is that there isn’t even a guarantee that the identifier is going to be unique — that’s impossible to guarantee, *particularly* since a major purpose of a unique identifier is that you can generate it when you have no internet access, so that when you can get connected again, you can give it an identifier more appropriate to your system, but still be able to identify it before then without worrying about losing track of it, or mistaking it for something else.

            The reason why it’s *expected* to be unique is that the space of numbers to choose from is so large, that you have to generate a *lot* of unique identifiers before the probability of hitting a duplicate is likely (where “likely” may mean a 1 in a million, or even 1 in a thousand chance). I’m not interested in running the numbers, but I’m now curious about how many UUIDs you need before you get a 1 in a million chance of having duplicates…..

            • If this formula is correct, to get up to a 1 in a million chance of having a duplicate, you’d need to generate around 3,000,000,000,000,000 (three thousand trillion) UUIDs. Once you’ve generated about 500,000 UUIDs per person alive today, then you’d get a 1-in-a-million chance that somewhere in that huge set, there would be a single duplicated pair.

    • Chesterton observed once that it might be easier to FIND 1013 Fourth Street, but it’s easier to remember The Oaks, Green Hill Street.

  3. This might be tied to the “faction” approach I’ve been noticing in a lot of sci-fi and fantasy these days. Groups and organizations that share a collection of shared personality traits and character and often a ‘costume.’ And sometimes, disturbingly, a portrayed physical type. And everyone ends up being slotted into these categories like a horoscope.

    Admittedly, the examples I can think of readily fall into the Teen Dystonia Genre.

    • Christopher M Chupik

      The Krypton depicted in Man of Steel. All Kryptonians have genetically predetermined roles in society. Superman’s parents give him the gift of freedom by conceiving him naturally.

      • Except even then Kal El’s role in society was genetically predetermined. His role was to be a wild card. They chose random chance for his genes, a random future, in a society that they had no knowledge of, i.e. random.

        • I realize now that I missed the most obvious ‘faction’ split in sci-fi. Brave New World. Alphas, betas, deltas and epsilons…

          Which also disturbingly ties in with Krypton’s planned society as well.

          Come to think of it, the Zentraedi and Maltrandi from Macross were similarly part of a larger planned society. They were the bred warrior client-species, who did the fighting, but knew literally nothing else. So when their food processors broke down they starved, they didn’t know how to fix their view screens, and their injured either had to tough it out or just have a machine replace the broken parts and most importantly they couldn’t (well didn’t know HOW to) reproduce on their own.

          I’m starting to see why Heinlein inoculated our hostess so well.

          “Specialization is for insects.”

    • I am reminded, however, about what Isaac Asimov said about creating races, particularly for fantasy (but I would imagine it would apply to science fiction as well): a race is a stereotype. Characterization of a given character is, to some degree how much that character deviates from the stereotype.

      This approach actually makes sense to me, and it probably makes sense because it’s likely how our brain makes sense of the world. Every person coming from a culture has a certain number of traditions that they learn when growing up, and every member of a race has skin tone, build, and so forth…but there are plenty of people who deviate from the mean of physical build (“at 5′, he was tall for a dwarf, and at 6′, she was short for an elf”), and every individual develops their own traditions….but stereotypes are a good starting point for what to expect….

  4. “Do they realize all these futures are essentially Maoist? They all dress alike, they’re addressed by their rank in society, they have completely scripted lives?”

    It is observations like this that make me glad that the worlds that are portrayed in movie and television science fiction have failed to materialize.

  5. I don’t quite understand why almost all science fiction polities are kingdoms or empires. Why are there so few republics?

    • Easier to show the politics when you have a small, unchanging cast.

    • Same as the same-clothes-all-the-time: it’s just easier. Not better, good, or sane. Just easy. In (traditional) animation it might make sense. In a collective system (and yes, military counts) uniforms make sense. In real, for true private life? Even if one chooses to be formal and wear a three-piece suit everywhere but bed and bath/shower, chances are at least the tie color/pattern changes if not the shirt and suit itself. And ‘normal’ people tend to cycle through t-shirts or sweaters or whatever. Anyone not required to maintain uniform that does.. is broadcasting that they have some sort of issue. They might NOT and simply prefer to have fewer decisions to make (e.g. Feynman’s choice of dessert – always the same – one less decision) but the transmitter is on anyway.

      • Japanese school kids are often required to wear uniforms, and they do. But… for a while (I think it has gone out of fashion now), the young women were wearing extreme socks — the required white socks, but extra long, so they looked like mufflers on their ankles? Basically, despite extreme pressure to wear identical clothing, they still manage to express their individuality (and group memberships).

    • My theory is that because democratic politics tends to be a game for the old. Someone who’s elected president in his mid 40s is considered absurdly young. Science fiction, however, often combines politics with adventure, and adventure stories tend to be a game for the young; someone in his early 30s is probably a wise old mentor helping the real hero learn the ropes.

      Now, sometimes people combine these successfully by making their adventure stories about older individuals, and sometimes they try to make younger characters successful politicians (see George Lucas and his 14-year-old elected head of state). The easiest way, however, is to make the positions inherited; no one questions a teenage or even child ruler if he’s a king rather than a president.

    • Not enough people know as much about the Roman Republic as David Drake, so they don’t know how to write a functional republic with enough corruption to drive drama without being a bad strawman of the modern West.

    • Most people are copying Lucas who was himself copying Asimov (who was himself cribbing from Gibbons) and Herbert (who went more for Byzantium).

      • Lucas had only the vaguest notions of what all those political name thingees meant – his use of them is pretty much “Republic good”, “Empire bad”, without the slightest thought as to how those things would work.

        The big political hook in the first movie (The throwaway line about the Emperor disbanding the Senate and the regional Governors ruling directly) is more like the fall of the Empire than the final Imperial victory sweeping away the “last vestige of the Old Republic” – The Emperor is taking power from an easily dominated fractious body of thousands of people who gained their power by buying into and sustaining the Imperial system, and instead giving that power to a small number of power-hungry minions with their own local military forces. That will end well.

        • It kind of makes political sense if you happen to have a giant, hyperspace capable superlaser able to make the rebellious minion’s planet disappear in an Earth Shattering Kaboom.
          But, should some farm kid make your superlaser go Kaboom instead, then your great political plan kind of goes off the rails.

          • “Send for the backup Death Star!”

            “Uh… that was the only one.”

            “What?! We’re supposed to have a whole fleet of Death Stars!”

            “Uh… you never signed off on the budget, so they didn’t get built.”

            [does remote-choke-thing…]

            • [Later]
              “Your Highness, we’re ready to begin construction of the Death Star II at the Kuat Shipyards.”

              “Good…good… but we’re not going to build it there.”

              “Sir?!? Where are we going to build it?”

              “I have a cunning plan- we’re going to build it in the middle of nowhere, at the Endor moon, as part of a brilliant plan to destroy the Rebellion once and for all!!!”

              “Yes sire, but, but… what about our logistics? Manufacturing facilities for sub assemblies? Do you know how much time, money, and cargo shipping it will take just to get all the bits there!?! We’re hard pressed with GAAAKKKKKCHOOKE…”

              “STOP ASKING LOGICAL QUESTIONS!”

        • The replacement of the Roman Republic with the Roman Empire meant the average citizen was a lot safer. Always noticed that with Star Wars.

    • Because in the end Marxists want a return to a feudal aristocracy. They aren’t mad at the idea of a ruling elite; they are mad it isn’t them.

    • A less cynical answer (yes, I strained myself coming up with one) is that republics are a lot rarer than kingdoms (and maybe empires that aren’t feudal) in human history.

      Then again, I’m on record really questioning that most people really want freedom in the sense of liberty although I acknowledge they do want freedom in the sense of license.

      Liberty is hard work.

    • Snarky but not entirely cynical answer: SF is about the fascination of the exotic, and most SF fans today already live in one form or another of republic, so republics aren’t exotic for us.

      Add in the dullness factor of civilization being, by definition, the places where large-scale, high-impact adventures and excitement don’t happen, and it’s unsurprising all the really interesting places are the ones where the politics can get genuinely dangerous. Consider the most well-known republic in SF, the United Federation of Planets: almost no stories ever told in STAR TREK that I can think of were set on a civilized world featuring protagonists who lived there.

    • Because elections clutter up the story when your character wants to DO something.

      Plot irrelevant stuff tends to get left out.

    • Well, think about how/why monarchies arose in the first place: strong man attracts followers, protects them in exchange for their service. Monarchical systems can be quite stable, too, which might be important for a new colony. They don’t *have* to mean an hereditary aristicracy, either.

      Plus, if you *start out* as a monarchy, you can do an in story transformation into a republic. Although, constitutional monarchy can work well, too, and even preseeve liberty. It’s all in how you write/imagine it.

      Weber’s Star Kingdom is pretty illustrative of how it can happen. Established colony needs a new infusion of people due to unforseen planetary plague, but wants to preserve the privilege of the first investors? Instant constitutional changeover to a monarchy (from original plan, which I don’t remember being much fleshed out but I assume was a republic, planned at least.)

  6. I just figured that all the TV/Movie writers were lazy and didn’t want to write an actual realistic future.

    One of the reasons why I liked the Aliens movies was that they seemed more realistic in the people. They were still running around in cargo pants and tennis shoes. Firefly was a little like that as well, with a bunch of different people appearing differently, though they still sorta had “uniforms” for their various classes of people.

    • Alien is probably my class example of “lazy costumers” because of the “they are space truckers so just dress them like truckers” costuming.

      Then again, it worked well, so who am I to call them lazy.

      Firefly did have a bit of the uniform bit, but I’d say it mostly matched the setting. There is also the uniform look as a class identifier, which is common even now with often subtle variants. I mean, metal heads, rivet heads, goths, spooky kids, and emo kids all wear all black as a “uniform” but the uniforms are different:

      Firefly did those uniforms very well in that it aided the story telling without being too much of just identical outfits.

  7. Christopher M. Chupik

    This is a great theme, Sarah. Plenty of tropes to skewer.

  8. I think Star Trek deserves a lot of blame for this one, even though they aren’t really guilty of it themselves. Star Trek was so influential, at least for me, in the view of an interstellar future that it was hard for me to imagine space exploration where most of the characters weren’t part of something that was essentially Starfleet. I think that much the way a lot of fantasy copies Tolkien without ever looking at the reason for the tropes, a lot of sci-fi does the same with Star Trek.

    • I think we find the same uniformity if we go back to the Flash Gordon serials of the Thirties, although there is not enough money in this world to get me to watch those again. Buck Rogers at least had the justification of awakening in a world at war, as I recall.

      • “Future Clothes” show up in a lot of places. It actually stands out when they don’t. I actually remember being surprised at the future in Bill and Ted’s Bogus Journey. Everyone’s wearing something unique (except the bad guys). It all looks garish, silly, and weird (especially the enormous boots everyone wears), but its unique. The same with Fifth Element where the director apparently didn’t just want unique future fashions, he wanted future fashions for all sorts of people (from the fancy to the jeans and t-shirt set).

        I also remember in the anime Gun X Sword when we see people in ceremonial get up or really formal, formal attire they frequently have a chain or large tie that hangs from a pronounced collar. We only find out later that the entire planet used to be a prison colony. They never bring attention to it, but its an interesting bit of detail.

        We really do need more of a focus on ‘future costuming’ in our visual sci-fi.

      • I loved Flash and Buck in the serials.

    • Farscape had a variety of costume designs. Of course, the Peacekeepers were always in uniform but the other character varied wildly.

    • Well, if you think about it, it’s hard to do a SF story about the merchant starship carrying legitimate cargo. Too dull. Merchant ships on the frontiers, yes. Smugglers, yes. Pirates, yes. But the big one is Space Navy…it’s a wellspring of plot opportunities.

      • It’s been many long years, but Poul Anderson’s Nicholas van Rijn would seem to rebut that. Per Wiki:

        Van Rijn is president of the Solar Spice and Liquors Company – a reference to the spice trade with the East Indies, of the Netherlands’ Golden Age. In this the character is meant to suggest the Dutch merchant adventurers of that time, and is far closer to them than to the 20th century Dutch. He is libertarian in his philosophy, expressing contempt for government and believing that unfettered commerce is the only path to peace and prosperity. He describes commerce as “swindling each other”, enjoys watching yacht races, is two metres tall and “globular” in shape, has a goatee beard, dresses in colourful and anachronistic fashions, wears numerous rings, and is called “Old Nick” by his employees. He routinely speaks in a loud, basso voice which Anderson often likens to the sound of a hurricane or avalanche, much as his physical bulk is often compared to a mountain or a Jovian planet. He is apparently impervious to personal abuse but is angered by stupidity, incompetence, prevarication, and delay.

        • As would Andre Norton’s Solar Queen novels, the delightful fungal-inclusive Quarter-share series, and the Cedar Sanderson’s no-doubt-soon-to-have-a-sequel (hint, hint) Tanager’s Fledgling.

        • If you read those books, van Rijn IS a merchant on the frontiers, and all of them involve him out either prospecting for new business or defending current business, often with weapons.

    • No, you can’t blame Trek for this one. It goes back a lot further than that — at least to the 1930s, when A.E. van Vogt was writing The Voyage of the Space Beagle. The protagonist in those stories, Grosvenor, stands out precisely because he is the only cross-trained, free-thinking person on a starship that is otherwise packed to the brim with specialists who know their own field and nothing else. Most of them don’t even get a first name.

    • …and then note that the handful of human characters we saw who weren’t part of Starfleet were… Cyrano Jones, Khan and his crew, “space hippies”, etc.

  9. The future of central planning, everybody in uniform clothing, rank and numbered names is the one with flying cars, so we ain’t gonna get it. Instead we’re getting the future i which private investors relaunch our space programs and investment groups fund colonies just as the British East India Co. once did.

    Of course, to get there we have to defeat the Social Justice Police with their web-monitoring and facial recognition software and Chinese “social credit” structure.

  10. Am I the only one whose reaction to “in the future, everyone will be known by a number” was “Why the pluperfect hell should we give up an identifier based on a symbol set of 26 in favor of one based on a symbol set of 10?”

    • Whoops! You beat me to it!

      And no, you are not the only one. But it does show that numbers are a mythic attribute of power to modernists, and they have taught most people to accept them as such.

      • Admittedly there are some (current) advantages of alphabetic names which will be acquired by numerical identifiers.

        “Hi! Glad to be joining the team. I’m 47953-8645721.”
        “Funny – you don’t look Hispanic.”

        One overlooked advantage to numerical identifiers will be elimination of the hyphenated names now abounding so rapidly; couples will simply multiply* their surnames to establish a new name for their unity, thus fulfilling the Biblical mandate to “Go forth and multiply.”

        *Some will no doubt argue for taking the lwest common denominator but that’s just obscene.

        • Well, getting married always has been a calculated risk.

        • A single hyphen? That’s practically plebeian. You need some vons and de las in there, and some d’s with apostrophes, and some intercaps – intercaps are the NewCool – and come accented letters, so you can complain bitterly every time the school, DMV, or IRS don’t spell your name as you prefer!

          – TRX von Sydow-della Morte-d’Arsonval-3Com-FitzGibbon

          (hey, 3Com was passing out cash to parents who added “3Com” to their kids’ names. At least they beat the “Preparation H” people to the recovery toom…)

          • Is it true that every person with “KY” in their name is plugging a certain lubricant?

            Gee, if hospitals followed the lead of sports franchises in selling arena naming rights, I see a great opportunity for Jiffy Lube in delivery wards!

    • Ugh. Tell me about it.

      The university just did that with the budget account system, trading identifiers that consisted of 3 characters from the symbol set of 26 plus 3 characters from the symbol set of 10… for identifiers that consist of 6 characters from the set of 10.

      Except for athletics, which gets to use all letters. Because athletics is special.

    • Even hexadecimal doesn’t have enough characters.

  11. Everyone dresses the same and is from the same culture on a world that is a single ecosystem?

    • Yep. I really want to see a movie where at least half of the adventure happens on ONE planet, but it resembles an actual planet, with lots of different parts and different cultures and a sense of BIG, like hey, you could really spend several lifetimes here and still not see everything, at least not in person, because there just is too much to see. Maybe if something like the Empire of Man series, the first parts, where they march through several areas of the same planet in their attempt to get off of it, got made as a movie or movie serial…

      • If they ever do make and release that Ringworld movie…

        • It will be awful as Pak Protectors will be used to show why humanity’s natural state is communism run by an elite group of protectors.

          • “Yes sir. We can cure you of all your diseases, prevent the trials and tribulations of old age, give you super strength and speed, extend your lifespan a hundred times longer, and make you into a super genius. How do you like that?”

            “That’s so cool! Uh, what’s the catch?”

            “Nothing too bod. You have to undergo the process before menopause for women, and approximately 40 to 45 for men. You lose all your teeth and hair. You lose all your sexual organs. And you look ugly as sin.”

            “So I live forever, but I have to give up sex? What’s the point of that?”

            Immortality is wasted on the young.

    • …and has no clothing styles?

      Though as far as I can tell, style-for-showing-off wasn’t a thing until a few hundred years, when impractical shoes and hats suddenly made an appearance. Before, clothing was mostly based on social class, occupation, or region.

      • Fashion became a thing when merely luxurious dress — fine material, bright colors, detail — was not enough to tell the upper crust from the riffraft, because the riffraff could ape the fine clothes. Therefore, the upper-class changed, a lot, because riffraff that could buy one fancy dress couldn’t buy a dozen, one every year.

        Unless the future suffers vast loss of capacity, fashion’s going to be a thing.

  12. “A lot of the internationalists f*cking up the world are doing so under the assumption that the one-world-government administered by “smart people” and computers is not only inevitable, but the best possible in an imperfect world.”

    I bailed on a Facebook group, I think it was Space Venture Alliance or some such. At first I was excited about all the neat pictures of space habitats and space stations and Mars domes, but gradually it became impossible to ignore the fact that except for me and one guy (who I “friended”) the most exciting thing about imagining a futuristic space habitat was the opportunity to finally have the perfect planned society. Everyone would simply HAVE to follow the rules. How wonderful that would be!

    *shudder*

    • William O. B'Livion

      It would be wonderful.

      As long as they were MY rules.

      • People daydream about perfect libertarian societies, too. Sea-steading on an old drilling platform… stuff like that. So if it were a general feeling that it would be fun to have various different experiments with setting up communities it wouldn’t have bothered me as much.

        But it wasn’t, after a while the conformity became more obvious (in much the way that a person can read iO9 for years and one day realize how depressing their future always is). There weren’t other possibilities. No other experiments. Not even the notion that the planned community would be their proof of concept. No. The Elysium style space station (though none would have made *that* connection) would force everyone to the one and single workable (communist) system.

        Oh gawd, I had to look it up… Asgardia… It’s going to be a “democracy”.

        “If you look at a nation’s population, statistically, 2 percent of the population are creative and productive and progressive, so we hope that looking at the population of Earth, 7.5 billion, we are hoping that 150 million would be those creative progressive people [who become Asgardians],” Ashurbeyli told Space.com.

        (…) Ashurbeyli described Asgardia as a state not distracted by things like infrastructure, such as roads and hospitals. He called Asgardia “… a mirror reflection of Earth in space, but without the borders, boundaries, religious constraints and without the state lines; a digital mirror reflection without all those drawbacks.”

        • I’ll admit that I would be fascinated to see how an isolated society made up solely of self-identified “creative progressive people” would function. In much the same way that I’m fascinated by the sight of a multi-car pileup on the interstate.

          • Kind of like the island society of all Alphas referred to in “A Brave New World”. Either they import serfs to do all the nasty, dirty jobs, or the “creative progressive people” bicker and argue over who has to go and fix the clogged sewage recycling system.
            As Huxley pointed out in his intro to his great novel, “Not philosophers but fret-sawyers and stamp collectors compose the backbone of society.”

            • William O. B'Livion

              or the “creative progressive people” bicker and argue over who has to go and fix the clogged sewage recycling system.

              Robots.

              Until one of the “brighter” sparks in their progressive, creative community starts on about how robots have rights too.

            • I don’t think it’s even just that. I’m reminded of a bit in one of the Hercule Poirot novels where one character suggests, “Imagine what would happen if, for one generation, only the intelligent were allowed to reproduce.” Poirot’s reply is, “A vast increase in the residents of the psychiatric ward.”

          • In one of the Titan books (the second I think) there is a digression on L4/5 colonies setup by various splinter groups. One common outcome is these perfect societies are not tenable to the point of everyone dying. This occurs enough that taking salvage on a colony whose population died in place, cleaning it out, and selling it to the next splinter group (who often don’t learn from how they got their colony space on the cheap).

            That is what I’d expect, within 5 years and that depends on how long they can afford to import food, because they’ll all be too good to grow it or do routine maintenance on anything including life support.

            • Or, they’ll import serfs to do the dirty work, and violia! Space Aristocracy!

              • (Nods) I’m working on a future history where one of the big factions is basically a bunch of Apple fanboys who went into space.
                I describe their system as Athenian democracy–ten percent of the population has a say in everything. The ninety percent of the population comprised of those descended from the third worlders the original settlers basically bought have a say in nothing.

            • If I was going to write Star Trek fan fiction it would be about Tasha Yar planet, how it was one of those utopian visions that disintegrated to rape gangs.

          • In my experience, few “self-identified `creative progressive people`” are correctly identified or creative, although they are progressive.

            Today’s word is: Anosognosia
            an inability or refusal to recognize a defect or disorder that is clinically evident

        • “Ashurbeyli described Asgardia as a state not distracted by things like infrastructure, such as roads and hospitals.”
          Words fail at the stupidity of this person. A space habitat IS pretty much nothing but infrastructure (air, water, power, gravity, food supply), and moreso than Earth. If you don’t “get distracted” by such things, you just plain die.

      • I know you’re kidding, but I think I’d hate that even if I got to make the rules.

        I love to argue too much to enjoy living with people who reflexively agreed with me. I’d have to argue with them about my own rules.

      • Oh, HELL no, not my rules. Think I’ve nothing better to do with my time than tell other people how to run their lives? Sod off and bother somebody else!

        • Paul (Drak Bibliophile) Howard

          RES’s First Rule is “Don’t Bother Me”.

          You don’t want to hear what happens if you violate RES’s First Rule. 😈 😈 😈 😈 😈 😈 😈 😈

        • No, you just lay down a few rules and this will magically lead to everything you want. It won’t take long.

      • Oh, f*ck, no. I don’t want it to be MY rules, because the ninnieswould expect me to administer them! Talk about a dismal job!

        • “It’s my planet, I just let other people live here.”

          “But nobody ever sees you ruling it. Most of them don’t even know you’re the owner.”

          “I don’t need to be actively involved in the day to day administration. That’s what regional governments are for. I get to visit anywhere I want, respecting people’s privacy of course. I’m not going to walk into someone’s house uninvited you know. Shows in Paris, hiking the roof of the world, walking the beaches in Bali, playing tag with polar bears in Siberia, drinking at a hole in the wall bar in Mexico, or just swimming in a pristine lake in the Adirondacks. Nobody assaults me or my friends; and everyone on the planet starts out as my friend, whether they know me or not. Nobody tries to take or break my stuff. If I want something you have, I’ll pay you for it, or if you want too much I’ll go find it somewhere else. There’s only one rule, don’t piss me off.”

          “Oh, so you really are a tyrant.”

          “More of a laissez-faire, benevolent dictator. You remember what happened to that strong man regional governor in the eastern Congo a couple years ago? Decided to kidnap for ransom, enslave or kill all the tourists. Normally, I’d have let the people take care of the problem. Except one of his squads knocked my drink out of my hands, and then shot me when I complained.”

          “At which point you declared all members of his government to be fair game and in season, and you hunted them down and killed them all.”

          “Hey. To be fair, I did warn them first. Not my fault they chose, unwisely. They broke the rule. They pissed me off. I was there to have an enjoyable month vacation and they messed it up. While I get a certain sense of satisfaction hunting and exterminating vermin; I find partying at weddings and barbeques to be much more enjoyable.”

          — Excerpt from an Interview with the Hidden Ruler of Earth

    • Some people just can’t understand that other people can keep a complicated, technological society running without needing Big Brother looking over his shoulder to make sure every i is dotted and t is crossed.

    • Everyone would simply HAVE to follow the rules.

      Heck, there’s no need to go to space for that; we have Home Owners Associations right here on Earth. We go to space to escape those.

  13. To be fair, the costume designers of any given TV show or movie production are working with limited budgets, even more limited time, and are required to design not around “what will be the most realistic depiction of this society?” but “what will let the audience keep track of who’s who, and who they’re supposed to be cheering for, very easily and rapidly?” with a distinct second-priority imperative of, “What will make our lead actors stand out and look good?” and “What will be easiest and quickest to produce in quantity for our extras, however many we have?”

    One of the best costume recreations of any alternate world or time period I’ve ever seen was Martin Scorsese’s GANGS OF NEW YORK, and the time and budget thrown into that was a huge component of the production efforts. And they had the big advantage of historical referents to go to.

    • That’s a point about recognizability… my Great Aunt (who has been rather deaf for a very long time, so goes a lot off of visual cues) always gave Farscape a pass despite generally liking sci-fi because she could never keep track of who was who and what she was supposed to think of them.

    • the full body-suit thing

      Yeah, the first couple seasons of Star Trek: The Next Generation went full-onesies, and as I understand it those costumes were very much hated and reviled – in addition to being hideously uncomfortable and unflattering, apparently spandex does not let go of odor, so in spite of everything the costumers could do, they stank.

      When the Starfleet uniform costumes changed in the third season they went more normal, separate pants and jacket, but still grabby rather than drapey, engendering the “Picard Maneuver” where Jean-Luc tugged the jacket front down every time he stood up to emote.

      Note they kept the ladies in the single-piece skin-tight costumes for quite a while, because Hollywood.

      But if you want to blame ST costumers for stupid uniforms, I refer you to the second and later ST reboot movies – from full-on soviet dress uniform including giant stupid soviet hat, to the latest (and hopefully last) reboot movie where they had costume changes in between scenes for no reason whatsoever.

      And as an extension of the same licensing construct, the ST:Discovery uniforms are equally as stupid (What the heck is that asymmetric deal at the collar?), though so far no soviet hats.

      • Although I did love the bodysuits continuing for the ladies in ST:TNG, Star Trek’s best uniforms were movies 2-6. They are one of the few things that made me consider taking up cosplay.

        • And here practicality enters the picture: For ST2-6, they were dealing with actors in a somewhat more advanced age range (ahem), so they had to have other-than-spandex costumery to flatter them. For STTNG, they cast young starving actor or bodybuilder body types, so they had the option of torturing them with spandex.

          The ultimate of this is when they built Jeri Ryan’s initial Borg costume so tight that she passed out on set due to an inability to actually, you know, breathe.

          The most practical uniforms in the Trek canon were the loose jumpsuits in Enterprise.

          • Thing is, most of the new advanced space suit designs I’ve read about being invented/constructed at technical colleges are all skin-tight, form fitting types that act as pressure suits and sweat/heat exchangers. So I’m not so certain they’re all that much different from wearing spandex.

            • Sure, for EVA suits – but note how fast the constrictive suits that divers (or even surfers) wear get doffed after they get out of the water. Nobody sits around in wet suits or dry suits or deep dive suits when not required to do the job. Even the survival suits that flight crew have to wear for certain ocean-crossing flights (like ferrying a light plane across the North Atlantic) get removed as soon as possible.

              It is certainly possible that space “uniforms” per se could be what you wear under that, but it’s also possible that the uniform is a coverall – I’m going to posit that you can survive a brief time in vacuum with a full face mask or better yet an emergency head bag (look up smoke hoods and imagine one with a teensy air bottle instead of a filter mouthpiece) – enough to get to an emergency locker where you keep more complete suits.

    • “what will let the audience keep track of who’s who, and who they’re supposed to be cheering for, very easily and rapidly?”

      Very much this. I once watched a production of the opera… “Tamerlane” I think, in which the costume designer had put three out of the four factions in the same color of clothing. You couldn’t tell who anybody was even with the program.

      To say nothing of the music itself, which was very boring because there wasn’t a bass or soprano in the entire score (libretto?).

      • The libretto is literally the “book,” the lines or lyrics (though in musicals it may refer solely to the spoken dialogue and exclude the lyrics of the songs). The designation of the vocal ranges used would be done by the composer, as part of the score, so your first usage was correct.

  14. The number bit I remember and I’m honest it has died as much as it has given how often people are expected to provide their SSN (which was not to be used for ID, said so on the card). I’m sure if you dig enough into the “Revelations is upon us” crowd you’ll still find a lot of variants on “SSN/credit score/smart phones/etc are the actual Number of the Beast” thing (and Patreon is the latest to provide them with fodder, especially after Jack C. last year on the taking away of people’s incomes).

    I never noticed the clothes much though. I’m trying to think of descriptions of clothing in written sci-fi and Wyoming Knot’s red dress is all that comes to mind right now. As far as visuals I remember some similarity in designs with most people in crowd scenes wearing color variants on a handful of styles. My touch stones are Logan’s Run, Buck Rodgers (the Gil Gerrad one in the 80s), Babylon 5, and similar. I tend to assign the similarity due to the constraints of costume designing for movies and TV as you’ll see similar in fantasy and pseudo-historical movies. A lot of lazy sci-fi looks like thrift shop costuming to be honest.

    • When I saw Padme’s costume at the end of the second Star Wars fan-fic prequel, I literally rolled on the floor laughing. They’d stolen Col. Deering’s uniform! It finished shattering any interest I had in the series.

    • Oh, my. Try the older works. Doc Smith comes to mind…the space-black and silver of the normal Galactic Patrol dress uniform – and the unadorned gray leather of an Unattached Lensman.

      • But don’t those qualify as military uniforms?

      • The Lensmen were a police/military force, so uniforms made sense. But the rest of that society, such as the zwiniks and asteroid miners, were not uniformed.

        For that matter, Dick Seaton, Martin Crane and Blackie DuQuesne all wore casual men’s clothes (when they wore clothes.)

  15. My brother with whom I discussed this, said of course in the future some number would be part of your name (if not your full name.)

    Try doing much without either a driver’s license number or a Social Insecurity number.

    • We already put numbers on our names to be unique: email user names, for one. Sometimes the number is sequential (945th Tom Jones on Gmail) or some people use a variant of their birthyear.

      The future is already upon us.

      • Paul (Drak Bibliophile) Howard

        I’ve used ppaulshoward as part of some of my email addresses.

      • I’m pretty sure I’m not the 995 or the 729 version of my emails, which is first initial + last name + # @ whatever … but they are my physical street # address & the phone # prefix … hey I can remember either number. Do this with user names too. Just the user names are more varied. Key is “remember”.

        • Basically the same as the last-name thing, Joe the Baker vs Joe the Butcher — my mom’s email has, IIRC, the year she got her first degree; dad’s is the family brand, Nate Winchester uses a favorite character (it’s how I found his blog, years ago).

          We’re not referred to by numbers, numbers just entered the list of modifiers that we’ll use.

  16. Thinking about SF costuming, one cannot evade the possibility of going backwards. Here’s our Space Navy hero in his dress uniform…a frock coat and a bicorne hat. Gold braid. Or kilts.

    On the other hand, there is the Sukulomikov Effect noted by military historians. In any war, bet AGAINST the side with the best-dressed generals.

    • Credit where credit is due, but GROFAZ never went for flashy and ostentatious uniforms.
      However, Herman Goering more than made up for it.

    • It probably has a corollary with the Rimmer rule. Victory goes to the shortest haircuts. To quote…

      Rimmer: Think about it! Why did the US cavalry beat the Indian nation? Short back and sides versus girly-hippie locks. The Cavaliers and the Roundheads, 1-0 to the pudding-basins. Vietnam, crew-cuts both sides, no score draw.

    • Hmmm. Advanced FTL space travelers wearing roughly tanned animal skins and fur. Their society only permits them to wear what they kill, and the are only allowed the same parity of weapons the animals have naturally.

    • Looked up Sukulomikov. Couldn’t find anything. Link?

  17. Oops. Been meaning to mention this for a while now … although personally I think you get more done by putting your shoulder to the wheel. Sure seems to work when the car sticks in the ridge of slush the city ice scrapers so thoughtfully arrange at every driveway entrance and intersection.

    The Shoulder to Shoulder Option To Change the World
    By Sarah Hoyt
    I remember, back when I first read The Moon Is A Harsh Mistress by Robert A. Heinlein, doing a little cheer complete with pompoms in the back of my head when a character discredits the idea that “everyone” will boycott Earth goods, and march shoulder-to-shoulder on the Warden’s residence.

    I had to cheer, because, seriously, who wouldn’t who had lived for years (I think I was sixteen) in a “socialist on the way to the perfect system, communism” (as my 11th grade history book called it) school system?

    If anything was wrong, we were supposed to “shoulder to shoulder” it and make our displeasure known. We were all supposed to “do this” and “Not do that,” and when the plan failed, it was because we hadn’t believed in it hard enough, or perhaps not done more than our part to make up for the ten slackers per productive person.

    The flaw in “if we each do our share” is that it’s utopian, and thus impossible, as is “if we all grow wings and fly.” …

    • I absolutely needed to read that this morning, and hadn’t checked the her PJ column listing myself yet today. Thanks for the link! 😀

    • I was reading an article about grad students withholding grades in protest of a statue and the answer to the charge that students “supporting” this were intimidated when class time was taken to urge their support of not getting their grades and potentially having their financial aid screwed up.

      And the article quoted an answer to that that was something approximately like… “That’s not true at all…” and then went on to explain that they’d talked to the students about supporting them…

      And “shoulder to shoulder” makes me think of that. It’s right on the nose.

      And no answer at all about the students who want their effing grades because they have lives and need their grades.

    • There’s a very human thing of starting something perceived as good & beneficial, then failing to follow through with it. One common example is New Year’s resolutions, which mostly fall by the wayside before the month is over.
      Truth is, good intentions are a terrible motivator.

  18. Sarah, have you considered that rigidly structured Maoist societies might be a necessary precondition for the kind of stories that many SF authors want to tell? The most common plot setup in speculative fiction, SF or fantasy, is the “lone free-thinking renegade (or small group thereof) against the massive, mighty, impersonal, socially stratified, politically corrupt State.” It underlies everything from Star Wars to <iThe Stainless Steel Rat. But how do you make a lone free-thinking renegade important, if his/her society is full of and even run by other free-thinkers? A society that functions well is a poor setting for a rebel. They have nothing to rebel against. But a rigid Maoist society can’t function well, as we all know — so it will be rich in wannabe rebels.

  19. Re: Costume / Clothing

    There are a few exceptions,
    – where the diversity is a mark of depravity – Hunger Games Capital residents
    – where the conformity is a mark of depravity – The Matrix
    – where the diversity of dress is kinda cool background – The Fifth Element
    – where the conformity is mocked – Demolition Man

    Back to Star Trek (and Start Wars and military sci-fi and quasi-military sci fi like Aliens), a fair amount of uniforms is both somewhat expected and a way to keep stage craft / costuming costs down (NTTISAWWT).

  20. Okay, I give Star Trek a pass, as what we’re seeing is more or less the military in this society. (Or perhaps the Peace Corps. Or yes. I never figured it out, fully.)

    Neither did they. 😀

    • Paul (Drak Bibliophile) Howard

      Especially Next Generation.

      A rational Military Command would have looked into “why did the command crew almost lose their vessel that many times”. 😈 😈 😈 😈 😈 😈 😈 😈

      • It’s Mass Court Martial Time!!!!

        • Paul (Drak Bibliophile) Howard

          Yep!

          I really hated the episode where Riker is given this “mind control game” while on shore leave and nobody (especially Security Officer Worf) checks it out before playing it.

        • Well, only if you want to watch “The Ferguson Effect Goes to the Stars”.

          Space is a profoundly dangerous place, by no means fully understood, and you are sending people out there to poke into its’ out of the way corners where time to get backup is measured in days if not weeks. Now add various gangs. It will be even easier for the command crew to decide that “today is not a good day to die”, and have the precedent from the court martials you and Drak are rooting for to justify NOT pushing the ship to warp 8 emergency power to get to that distress call.

          The rational Military Command would review the logs and conclude that “almost only counts in horseshoes and hand-grenades”….. especially if the outcome was successful. It’s why Kirk could treat the Prime Directive as a suggestion and get away with it.

          • Paul (Drak Bibliophile) Howard

            Nope, too many Star Trek episodes only “work” when you decide that the command crew are idiots.

            The Next Generation episode “The Game” works only if you assume that an alien game could be brought onto the ship without being checked carefully.

            Worf (as Security Chief) would have run the same tests as Wesley Crusher did later. But then, it would be a much shorter story.

    • “Neither did they. 😀”

      You can blame Gene Roddenberry for that.

    • The example I believe Roddenberry (and certainly various other writers used was the Coast Guard. Which is both military (when needed) and law enforcement.

      • *chuckles* I think that’s an after-the-fact justification, though it works nice enough– in no small part because the Coast Guard is relatively dangerous for a military group, since they pretty much have to act like everybody is a perfectly innocent civilian.

  21. The Denver Art Museum hosted an exhibit last year of Star Wars costumes. After the obligatory nod to the Original Series (the real Star Wars)* most of the exhibit was from the prequels, with huge amounts of information on how the stunning costumes were designed and made (some of them rivaled the work on Elizabeth R – you can get episodes of the BBC series on Youtube).
    Amidala had a zillion different outfits, all intricately handmade.
    https://denverartmuseum.org/exhibitions/starwars
    *Of all the stars shown, only Luke had no mannequin. Of course, he had the ultimate boring costume, but still….