I’m a big fan of science fiction – the future of the possible, the documentation of tomorrow.  Part of it is escapist, sure, and part of it is the optimism that we will get through the present mess and do something with space.  I have hope, and want change.

At a library book fair (can’t call it a sale – something to do with receiving government money and also selling goods, so they give the books away and ask for donations) I picked up Robert Heinlein’s Beyond This Horizon.  I read the one with the cover that looks like it’s straight out of the seventies.

(pic compliments of Travelin’ Librarian)

I generally like Heinlein, although he got off into some strange sexual practices in his later books.  If I had a service that could expunge the junk, I’d be real happy.

Anyway, this story was written in 1942, and it had an impact on me in 1976.  That was the year that I was supposed to write a paper for English class, and kept putting it off, until I got an incomplete for the year.  After some parental re-focusing and some neighborly help with typing, I was able to put together a B+ paper on predictions that science fiction had made.  One of those was the waterbed.

And I found the reference in this book – on page 19.

Hamilton . . . settled down on the sheet.  The water rose gently under the skin of the mattress until he floated, dry and warm and snug.

A bit different in real life, where the water stays in place, but not too bad at all.

Something I really liked from the same page was not a technological innovation, but rather a foreseeing of future attitudes.

His telephone started to yammer as soon as he was home.  “Nuts to you,” said Hamilton.  “I’m going to get some sleep.”  The first three words were the code cutoff to which he had set the instrument; it stopped mournfully in the middle of its demand.

What I like is not so much the smartness of the phone, which is visionary, but the idea of choosing not to answer the phone.  Today’s phones can be an implement of torture in their insistence to be answered or looked at or paid attention to.  Heinlein saw, some 68 years ago, that the focus would come back to the human instead of the human serving the technology.  It’s a battle we still fight.

And yet Mr. Heinlein was not perfect.  In another of his books (that I cannot locate right now) the main character has to time something – and uses an egg timer.  In this digital everything world we live in, where even traffic lights in India have count-down timers, that analog glitch stood out.  Nothing wrong with it – I’m all for using simple technology where appropriate – but it seemed like a miss.

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