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6 Ways Sci-Fi Lied

The 1961 film, “The Phantom Planet” begins with a narrator telling us that since the splitting of the atom, Mankind has triumphed in breaking through the atmosphere and is now exploring the vastness of space. It depicts rocket launches occurring from the moon and artificial gravity inside the oddly Hobbit-sized rocket ship. It’s a vision of a future we know little about, but we should. After all, the story is set in 1980. 19-fucking-80! None of that shit happened. What a load of bollocks. (See for yourself. The whole movie, which is pretty hysterical, can be watched on Hulu) Ever since people started writing fiction with science in front of it, we’ve been given hypothetical potentialities for futures that, at the time, seemed so far away and yet, we’ve more or less passed all of them. It’s to the point where thinking about it is laughable for having missed the mark so badly. Here are the 6 most egregious errors committed by science fiction.

Back to the Future Part II

To say nothing of time travel, which is excluded for not being commonplace, Back to the Future part II shows us all the really unnecessary bits of technology we have to look forward to in five years (the movie takes place in 2015). For example, food hydrators preparing Pizza Hut in seconds, a weather service that can accurately predict a rainstorm to the second, and holographic movie ads that pretend to bite you in half. But the most glaring lie is the fact that cars can fly, or “hover” as they say in the movie. Now, hovercrafts we have; they’re big pillows that go about two inches off the ground. These things fly, through the air, and have traffic lights and taxi cabs up there. Doc Brown mentions that he got the Delorean hover-converted in the early 21st Century, which would seem to allude to sometime within the first decade and unless we’re gonna hover-convert the shit out of our cars this year, BTTF2’s claim in just plain phony.

Escape from New York

The conceit of this 1981 movie is that the crime rate in the United States gets so bad in the future that there wasn’t any more room in the prisons. The solutions was to move every criminal in the entire country to a fenced off and patrolled Manhattan where they could roam freely and do whatever they wanted to each other. The trouble is, this was all supposed to happen in 1997. I’m damn skippy that didn’t happen. In 1997, Bill Clinton began his second term, arguably the most prosperous time in America for a long-ass while, the crime rate was the lowest it had been in 20 years, and the New York Yankees had just won the World Series. I feel like Rudy Giuliani saw this movie and said, “Aw shit, people think we’re a penal colony. All right, no more whores!” As much as I love this movie, it could not have been more wrong. Though the Duke of New York is still A-Number 1.

Alien Nation

In one of the more audacious examples of counting your chickens before they hatch, the film Alien Nation was released in 1988 about a world coping three years after aliens land…in 1988. Yes, the filmmakers so wanted to date their film, they made the initial landing of alien Newcomers just a few months after its release. That’s about as “near” as the “near-future” can possibly be. The bulk of the action takes place in 1991 where the Newcomers have become part of the society and are discriminated against in a thinly-veiled allegory to racism, a veil thinner than the one worn by Princess Di on her wedding day. (80s reference!) People watching this movie during its initial video release were already in a world where this couldn’t possibly be real, since aliens did not indeed land and gentrify the nation in 1988. Couldn’t they have even waited until 1990 for the fictional landing? At least give people a little time to pretend. We all know it’s fictional, but that seemed destined to fail from day one. Keep a look out for the short story I’ll post tomorrow about a swarm of robotic Nazi ferrets that invade next Thursday.

Terminator 2: Judgement Day

This is something I feared for a long time, and in many ways still continue to fear. Ever since I saw the ’80s TV movie “The Day After,” I have been scared to death of the end of the world via nuclear annihilation. Then I saw Terminator 2 when I was 14 and it actually gave a date to this horrible event, 29 August 1997. I was petrified. Until I remembered that it was six months earlier. Yes, James Cameron’s best film is still considered among the top ten sci-fi and action movies ever made, and in 1991 when it was released, it could still be seen as visionary. Skynet, the insanely smart computer thing, is going to become self-aware in 1997, and it’s up to the Connor clan and a re-programmed T-800 to see that it doesn’t happen. Or, they could just not do anything, cuz it fucking didn’t become self-aware at all. We were not vaporized by atomic explosions, nor have huge mechanoids started marching up and down the streets with machine guns set to merc. I needn’t have worried. Of course, I never understood why computers becoming self-aware was such a bad thing. I bet they’d just act like anyone who has a menial 9-5 job. They might even perform better knowing they’re being judged mercilessly. I know a fair amount of humans who could benefit from being a little more self-aware.

Blade Runner, Total Recall, etc.

According to these movies, and some others too, we took off from Earth, terraformed our nearest celestial neighbor, and began building a population. Blade Runner takes place in 2019, and although the action is entirely on Earth, there’s much talk of replicants being used for labor on Mars. Total Recall takes place in 2084, but we’ve already had a colony on Mars for some time in that film. Gonna get a little scientific on your asses now; here’s why we can’t do that. 1) GRAVITY: The surface gravity of Mars is just a little over 1/3 that of Earth’s. 2) COLD-ASS: The average surface temperature of Mars is -63 degrees Celsius (-81.4 degrees Fahrenheit). The coldest it’s ever been on Earth was in Antarctica where it bottomed out at -84 degrees C, whereas Mars routinely falls to -140 degrees C. 3) WATER: There’s no fucking water on Mars. 4) PRESSURE: The atmospheric pressure on Mars is ~6 mbar, and in its current condition, is well below the Armstrong Limit, 61.8 mbar for people to survive without pressure suits. Since terraforming cannot be expected as a near-term solution, habitable structures on Mars would need to be constructed with pressure vessels similar to spacecraft, capable of containing a pressure between a third and a whole bar. 5) MONEY: No one on Earth is going to give money for colonization of Mars when they could easily spend it on the new Miley Cyrus album or the Shake Weight. In short, we’re never going to Mars, apologies to Philip K. Dick.

2001: A Space Odyssey

I was really looking forward to this and here we are nearly a decade later and we’ve not had a single space odyssey. There is no regular transportation from the Earth to the moon, there is no artificial gravity, super computers have not reached sentience (see number III) and we’ve found no enormous slabs of black granite anywhere that inexplicably turn us into giant, glowing, omniscient babies. This is probably one of my top ten favorite movies and yet I still can’t get past the sheer wrongitude it displayed. Granted, it was made in 1968, a full year before Man set foot on the moon, so it had very little to work with, but come on! In the aftermath of Kennedy’s great “New Frontier” speech, the world seemed to be bursting at the seams to go live in space, but we just never got there. Too many worldly concerns got in our way, technology didn’t advance as fast as films had promised, and the world lost interest. This might also be the first example of a film AND its sequel being proved wrong. Part two of this saga, 2010: The Year We Make Contact is happening right now. Again, we’re not living in space, and we haven’t made contact with any alien life forms, save Lady Gaga.

So to sum up: Nothing cool will ever happen. The space race is over and we won, I guess. People nowadays are far too jaded to actually believe in the hope of ever breaching the stratosphere, and with the economy in trouble, NASA has just taken a huge budget cut, effectively putting the kibosh on even the smallest celestial glimmer. It seems that we as a people are too self-centered and small-minded, myself included, to realistically go into space, or even develop “space-age” gadgetry without an app being involved. Unfortunately, it seems, even our visions of the future are behind the times.

That ended on a downer. Boobs.

You’re welcome

Images: American International Pictures, Universal, Avco Embassy, 20th Century Fox, TriStar, MGM,

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  1. JW says:

    We aren’t there yet because because we’re all broke! “ALL” of the governments of the world are too preoccupied spending money on the war industry to ever think about paying their bills let alone spending money on invention and space scienc/exploration. If you think about it; space science and individual creativity has provided mankind with more health and human conveniences than has ever come from war. Don’t misconstrue this to mean that we should stop spending money on defense because I believe in a strong military; but the state of world disorder is getting to the point where there is no end in sight, current world conflicts are like wack-a-mole on steriods.

    Like the line in the Postman movie; If the leaders of the world duked it out between themselves instead of sending ordinary citizens into the war zone maybe the fighting would stop. Hey if that happened we could use the hundreds of billions or trillions of dollars spent world wide on weapons and war to focus on the important things like keeping us all alive and working and making life better for everyone!

  2. Josh Nash says:

    Think about all the morons driving around, do you really want those same morons flying?

  3. You are cordially invited to see my StrongMobile Flying Car Project at You can view a 2-minute video of my full-size mockup model.
    Rich Strong (Major,USAF,Retired)

  4. Jason says:

    Jeez… now I just feel so cheap and dirty for believing all this. I was wondering though, should #2 perhaps have been #1? Because in order for us to have colonized Mars, surely we’d have gone on a Space Odyssey or two.

  5. You listed the top-10 list of bad fiction predictions, there are plenty of ‘legitimate’ predictions that are just as funny. I remember fondly the Windows 95 promise that “Windows 95 makes everything easier.” Every version of Windows since then has basically been marketed with the promise “finally it isn’t quite as full of security holes and crap. At last, Windows will be easy to use and safe.”

    TVs were going to revolutionize education. They did; they gave 300 million kids an excuse not to do their homework.

    Our PDAs and cell phones and laptops were going to free us from the office. Instead, they freed us from having a personal life.

    There’s plenty of science-that-isn’t-fiction that didn’t turn out quite as we’d hoped.

  6. TC says:

    I am sincerly recpectful of your apreciation and respect as well as your response, True this is a humorous bit of pendanting not to be taken seriously , I am awat that being the Sci fi contributor your views on the genre are not that narrow and incomplete to echo you repy I was just haveing a bit of fun palying the part of an angry fanboy a la Comic Book Guy from The Simpsons or Steve-Dave from Mallrats and Chasing Amy sometimes its fun to be hyper-critical and I do repect the humor so laid out in the post and hope that someone would enjoy the bit played by me as nitpicker Sincerly and with Respect

  7. andoran_g33k says:

    Is there any other reason to complain, other than the fact that you can? 😉

  8. Kyle Anderson says:

    I appreciate your respect and sincerity, but I respectfully respond by saying this post and every opinion contained within was done out of humor and not to be taken seriously. Would I truly be upset that we weren’t obliterated in a nuclear war? I’m merely pedanting because I can.

  9. TC says:

    ahem this shall be a long and rant-ish comment
    I do agree with your basic point but I am here to poke holes in it
    on point 6; we do have flying cars or roadable aircraft true not to the extent of BTTF II but still it is legal on the street and in the sky
    Point 5 its a good thing thats not true, even Snake Plissken is the number one badass of all the times
    Point four you got me on that one
    Point three see point five and replace Snake Plissken with T-800 and number one with number seven
    Point two In Total Recall the Mars Colony is contained in like biospheres Thats how they beat the bad guy by sucking him into the void that is mars’s atmosphere
    And point one well you’ve got me there too
    but over all let go ahead and say this its Science FICTION I’m all for taking a movie seriously but a time come to turn it off
    SIncerly and with Respect

  10. Oluutaa says:

    Typo, rather.

  11. Oluutaa says:

    “BTTF2′s claim //in// just plain phony.”

    Spelling error.

  12. Joey says:

    damn fine job sir. So very proud of you.

  13. Derek says:

    Who didn’t click on this article knowing flying cars would be the first thing you’d see? Spielberg is a big liar. I’m still waiting for my phone glasses.

    Good article, by the way.

  14. joe says:

    i have another explanation as to why we aren’t returning to space: the scifi fantasies of the last 50 years presumed energy would continue to become only more and more cheap and plentiful. unfortunately, this has proven to not be the case.

  15. Mark Donohue says:

    Where is my godamn Jetson air car?

  16. Dale says:

    Flying car == Terrafugia Transition. ( No reason a Harrier system couldn’t be added to it to make it hoverable.

  17. Don says:

    Great job, Kyle. As I was scrolling through the list and chortling, I was hoping that I wouldn’t see 2001: A Space Odyssey on the list. It’s one of my all-time favorite movies as well.

    No, we haven’t dug up any giant monoliths designed to make our eardrums bleed and we haven’t sent a manned mission to Jupiter. There were however some pretty fan-fucking-tastic technological predictions which became reality.

    If you’ll give me a bit of wiggle room, these examples include video teleconferencing; a permanent space station orbiting Earth; and a commercial “airline” to orbit (well, soon, if Sir Richard Branson hurries the hell up).

    All ’round good work. Give me a Jetson’s meal-in-a-pill!

  18. Cami says:

    Very Cracked-esque. I liked it.

  19. Nathaniel Wedgington Hornswaggle III says:

    We have done all of those things. Just not in this dimension. Those films didn’t promise those things in THIS dimension.

  20. kade_zero says:

    #7. No Hover-boards!!!

  21. PSpeed42 says:

    The really sad thing is how much more of the movie Idiocracy starts to come true every day.

  22. Kyle Anderson says:

    Many apologies. I sit corrected.

  23. doug says:

    Dude! The Day After, a 70s movie? Try 1983. I know because I was a sophomore in high school. We all watched it. Directed by Nicholas Meyer, of Star Treks II and VI fame! The More You Know.

    /snark. Enjoyed the article!

  24. Cate says:

    Although I agree that these are all quite upsetting, I’m just frustrated that I still have to put effort into my attire. Weren’t we all supposed to be wearing shiny silver onesies by now? That would save me a lot of time each morning.

  25. I’m glad that somebody finally put all these facts together..I’ve been thinking about all these subjects for quite sometime now…thanx NERDIST! I love what you’ve done here.

  26. Andrea says:

    I am disgusted! I was so looking forward to any of them things to happen!That wasn’t Sci-Fi to me,that was the future.I think I’m getting
    a gun and hang myself.

  27. Richard says:

    If you want a good laugh, PHANTOM PLANET was done by Mystery Science Theater 3000 during their ninth season. Here is a link to the MST3k Info episode guide entry for it…

  28. Maeg says:

    Great list and all, but why is one of the tags “boobs?” Also, I will continue to fear computers becoming sentient and killing us all. Constant vigilance!

  29. Leland says:

    Kyle, I loved what you wrote about Escape from NY especially the part about former Mayor Rudy Giuliani

  30. Lincoln says:

    That’a boy! Welcome to the big time!