The Power of Story—Defining Worlds
The January 2013 issue of National Geographic "Why We Explore" brought it home. "The fastest spaceship ever built – the Helios 2 probe, launched in 1976 ... attained a top speed of 157,000 miles per hour. At that rate, a spacecraft headed to Proxima Centauri, the nearest star, would take more than 17,000 years to make the 24-trillion-mile journey ... Some scientists ... find the prospect of eternal confinement to two [Earth and Mars] small planets in a vast galaxy just too depressing to contemplate." (Emphasis mine.)
Where is this coming from? Are we unable to appreciate the awesome beauty and diversity of Earth, still partly unexplored and largely unknown to most of us? I suspect that the depressed scientists have been imprinted (as have we all?) with decades of stories, powerful stories, that assume humans can and should travel to the stars, even explore the galaxies and/or subdue them. True, star travel has also been irresponsibly oversold, but perhaps the power of stories based on time-bending warp drives has warped our perspective – the ability to sense the enormity of universal space and time.
Can stories really be so powerful? Religions of the world know they can be. In the holiday season, we know they can be powerful indeed.
Makes me wonder what kind of power horror stories have. How many vampire stories or dystopias are too many? Are they imprinting us with ugly truths about human nature or nature itself? Are we letting them take us down the road to self-fulfilling prophecies?
What good do they do? Wake us up to our current excesses? Maybe. But the nonfiction writers of environmental excesses also do that. They provide us with good data. One recent release does an excellent job at providing succinct facts and simple graphs that tell us why we need to consider new options. Enough Is Enough by Dietz and O'Neill then lists exactly what we need to do to build a secure, humane future for all time. But their argument comes alive because they begin each chapter with an engaging story.
I recommend their book as an excellent text and companion to The Webs of Varok, which portrays what their steady state world might be like. The story, neither dystopian nor utopian, illustrates how localized government works to enhance creative opportunities and assure a frantic-free, ages-long culture.