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  • B.A. Simmons

What if?

"Speculation" is a word which evokes fear in many people. To speculate is to guess, to hypothesize, or to ask "What if?". We are not safe in speculation. What if's are dangerous entities to consider with any seriousness. For every "what if it does?" there is a "what if it doesn't"; not to mention the odd "what if it doesn't quite?" possibilities in-between. Speculation deals with unknowns, and our natural reactions to such tend to be fear and caution.


Yet no great scientific discovery has ever been made without venturing a bit into the unknown. It is only when we consider that we don't know everything, that we allow ourselves the opportunity to discover more. This is where speculation gets fun. This is a science fiction writer's life.


To us, speculation is the source of ideas. The what if's present us with possibilities to show a new world, an alternate history; a universe where what we know is turned on its head and rearranged into matter incognito. The what if's are better expressed as why not's.


We see this in the rise of technology in the late 20th and early 21st Centuries. As a kid, I watched Captain Picard and the crew of the Enterprise use strange gadgets to overcome the terrors and challenges of space exploration. How could we have known that such silly items like the tricorder, comm badges and three-dimensional holographic images, would become reality?

Whether or not the tricorder actually inspired some of the modern medical diagnostic devices, the similarities are plain. The Trimprob device invented by Clarbruno Vedruccio or the vein finding devices used in every clinic and hospital today, are essentially what Starfleet doctors used in the show. While Bluetooth devices involve less chest tapping than the sleek comm badges, they provide the same telephonic service. And who can forget the holograms of Elvis, Tupac, Michael Jackson and other celebrities who have passed on. The science fiction writer, in all reality, is the prophet of the modern age. What is imagined in story, sooner or later, becomes something our children and grandchildren will take for granted as a part of everyday life.


In my own writing, I think of our modern political trends as well as mankind's tendency to repeat history (for good or bad) and apply these same prognosticating principles. In the Archipelago Series, humans have, for the most part, returned to a feudal system of government. This is not to say that we in the 21st century will turn back to the royal families for their leadership skills when democracy fails. I cannot see the United States or China doing so after their violent departures from such governments. However as Vladimir Putin and Xi Jinping have recently demonstrated, there is a strong trend toward "strong men" type leaders staying in power beyond what is reasonably considered as necessary. Why not then have such men and women take charge on islands on Planet Archipelago, and then declare themselves local royalty. It's not necessarily that they are hearkening back to the feudal traditions of Earth's Middle Ages, though sometimes yes (and why not?), but rather they see the need for strong leadership over a long period of time and simply fill the niche. On some islands like Aruth, such leadership is still elected in a democratic process. On other islands, like Engle Isle, there is an oligarchy set in tradition. None of these leaders would use the distasteful moniker of "dictator", given the strong negative vibe it has in our society.


While "royal" families take over many of Archipelago's islands, they are still beholden to the will of the people they rule. This is something that our modern world sees now. Popular uprisings, successful or not (e.g. the Arab Spring of 2011), demonstrate the idea that individuals matter in every society. Each voice can and must be heard. And while the diminished technology suffered by these fictional humans on a fictional planet limits their ability to be heard. I see that close-knit communities of island-dwelling people would provide the small town aspect of everyone knowing everyone's opinions.


I enjoy toying with what if's. I'm selective in the speculations I entertain, but as any true writer should, I spend many an hour developing those that catch my attention. Perhaps, one day I will be considered one of the prophets of the future.


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