It’s interesting—to me anyway—just how many elements from the science fiction realm have managed to make their way into popular culture and become part of everyday life. For example, many of the ‘space age’ vehicles we saw in the movies and on television back in the sixties and seventies looked quite bizarre next to the boxy, boat-like cars we drove back then, but—apart from their antennae and rotating mini-radar receptors—they would look almost contemporary next to today’s sleeker, more aerodynamic sedans, coups, wagons, and SUVs.
Likewise, I find it fascinating to consider how science fiction movies and television programs have been influenced—and dare I say limited?—by social and cultural elements in place at the time of their production. For example, were a version of My Favorite Martian or Lost in Space to make its way to the big screen today no doubt the clothing and hair styles worn by the cast would look vastly different than they did in the sixties—or even in 1998 when Gary Oldman, William Hurt, and Friends alum Matt LeBlanc starred in the movie version of Lost in Space. Moreover, thanks to computers and modern materials, their tools, technology and weapons would be a far cry from those of their predecessors, and largely influenced by what can be made or conceived of now.
Which brings me to my point—yes, I do have one—which is: Of all the things made ‘possible’ thanks to science fiction, there are five that, given the opportunity and resources, I would acquire in a nanosecond. Or, if I had access to a time machine, yesterday.
Let me be clear. I’m not interested in a time machine. Although I love the idea of rewinding the clock to buy myself more time, the fear that I will goof things up even more the next time around keeps me from willing this option into existence. In fact, unless I could go back to my younger days with all the wisdom and character that experience has given me up to this point, I wouldn’t go back to my teens, twenties, or thirties for all the polyester in China. In short, if I can’t do it better, I don’t want to do it again.
Nor am I interested in cloaking devices, photon torpedoes, or personal robot valets. I’ll leave the weapons and missile defense systems to the military and the self-styled criminal masterminds to conjure, and let the Jetsons and the Skywalkers have Rosie and C-3PO. Meanwhile, although Captain Picard’s beverage making computer is pretty sexy as household gadgets go, I’m happy enough to make my own tea—at least until such time as I’m as busy as a bald Star Fleet captain and no longer have time to locate a packet of Earl Grey and stand at the counter waiting for the kettle to boil. And while the Roomba seems like a handy thing to have, I suspect my family would appreciate one more for its cat harassing potential than as a floor cleaning implement.
There is one tool in Picard’s arsenal that I would love to have, and that would be the Holodeck. Used for training and recreational purposes, the Holodeck involves technology that can simulate reality. This beats the concept of a time machine hands down because I’d rather experience alternate versions of my life virtually than actually go back and do them again.
Another tool of the sci fi trade I wouldn’t mind having is the Star Trek Communicator. Better than a cell phone, this device is a hands free mode of communication that would allow me to talk to the Jarhead—or anyone for that matter—without having to stop doing whatever I happen to be doing with my Smartphone to take his call. Plus, it would come with a universal translator—in its most recent incarnation, anyway—which would allow me not only to understand every language and dialect spoken by members of the human race; it might also allow me to understand what my cat is trying to convey as he wanders through the house yowling with the toy mouse in his mouth before dropping it at my feet.
Even more interesting to me than a personal communication device and a simulated reality chamber, however, would be a teleportation device. Known as a Transporter on Star Trek and featured heavily in science fiction in general, teleportation is something I am more than ready for. Especially since the Wisconsin DOT started swapping out stop lights in favor of roundabouts, I would do just about anything to avoid travel by car. Provided it wouldn’t cost more than gasoline (if that’s even possible) I would rather teleport myself to the grocery store than have to stop and wait for yet another confused person to work their way the wrong way through a roundabout.
And yet—of even greater interest to me than the Communicator, the Holodeck, or the Transporter, is the Neuralizer from Men in Black. With the ability to erase memories, the Neuralizer would be ten times more valuable to me than a teleportation device. I say this not because I’m prone to crimes to which there are often witnesses whose memories I would need to alter in order to escape punishment. Nor do I say it because I tend to do things of which the Jarhead does not approve and whose memories I’d like to erase in order to remain in his good graces. In fact, my interest in the Neuralizer is even more selfish than either of those things: I simply want to be able to sleep at night. Don’t get me wrong: Most of the time, I sleep fine. But sometimes I’ll get into a memory loop from 1981 or whatever, and suddenly nothing—not even heavy narcotics or a sharp blow to the head—will render me unconscious and allow me to escape it. On nights like these, I’d be happy to reach into the nightstand, stare at that beautiful blue-white light—and wipe the files.
But of all the things I’ve seen or heard of thanks to my exposure to science fiction, the one I want more than any other isn’t a gadget that allows me to go anywhere or do anything faster or more efficiently. Rather, what I really want is whatever it was that Dr. McCoy gave the elderly woman as he passed by her in the hospital in Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home. I don’t know what it was called, but it baffled and amazed doctors by restoring her kidney function and eliminating the woman’s need for dialysis. If I could have just one dose of this to give my Auntie—plus one for every other person who suffers from kidney disease—it would be worth all the other science fiction inventions combined—no matter what it cost.
And if I can’t have that, then I guess I’ll settle for a time machine. At least then I could travel to some point in the future when they’ve found a cure for kidney disease, and smuggle what she needs back with me. And just in case there are witnesses, I suppose I’d better hang on to that Neuralizer.