Where Fiction Fades
I gazed up to the sky in tears.
The breath caught in my throat. The moon was utterly absent, and in the resounding darkness there were so, so many stars. Their shapes are the same as ours. The sand beneath me felt cool as pool water as I pondered my infinitesimality. I took pleasure in rolling the ancient grains between the grooves of my fingers. I felt inside that I was mountain and sand, an insight guided by my first experience with psilocybin. Oh reader mine, the government must have been listening to my revelation, for when I got home, YouTube was prepared with a baggie of forbidden fruit. They knew that I craved to comprehend what all is out there. With no prior search history, the algorithm suggested to me several videos of black holes. Those cosmic bodies that would suck you in and spit you out in another dimension? I was never one for physics, but that changed after the first video. The light poured into me, bathed me in my own ignorance as I sank into my sheets. My mind was swirling like my son’s tail through pets and purrs (she’s a cat). How could single objects out there be as massive as 66% of our entire galaxy?
What really is the universe?
I required perspective, some idea. In this, my spirituality was reignited. During the following weeks and months, I ran through channel after channel, devouring all information within reach. I wanted everything: the standard model, general relativity, origin theory. I needed to know god.
Once my obsession pervaded my life, my work, my writing, a friend then suggested a book: Remembrance of Earth’s Past. Page after feathery page, the wonders of hard sci-fi nursed the hollow ache in my soul. Each story was a real potential world to explore, awash in the anguish of knowing that my life will be too short to witness it live and breathe. They painted alternate portraits within the same canvas as the one we presently populate, as unrealized possibilities. Resin and wax fantasies walked with me, over the metro bridge and under the softest sunbeams warming the 101 during rush hour. Pixels and polarized glass helped me imagine a fractal spreading, in my mind, in this timeline, on this planet, where there are children of physics not yet seen. Through the most accurate fantasies I could find, I’d project into a world in which I don’t survive.
With more understanding, the future threatened to reveal itself. I was sitting at work, under a velvet sycamore for one of the last sunny days of another COVID summer, browsing Deepmind’s recommendations. There were several stories with the same focus, a battle of arguments. Common sentiment is that nuclear fusion’s false promises were always 30 years away, despite progress’s continued demonstration of exponential growth. Yet through thread after thread, I witnessed fusion whisper her promises in the ears of blue bird scientists and freelance writers, to disseminate hope in a bleeding field. Just listen. She has never come, yet she’s scientifically possible, and can’t any non-magical possibility play out in eventuality?
Science fiction offers many imaginations, and she has proven her conviction well. In fact, so many of her children have come to exist, it’s like a new branch of life. I wish I could endure long enough to see the end of her tale. I remember in The Three Body Problem, characters enter cryo-sleep to see the story through. If I entered hibernation, instead of the no-longer-free 51 bus on a Tuesday morning, what would I wake up to?
The fractals flow forward. Money progresses tech, and the rich like weapons. Science fiction uniformly predicts similar future military technologies. From birthing stars to the utilization of a black hole – I’ve seen it all over my journey as a budding science nerd: lost throughout space, at the end of all eras, and in major Hollywood media properties. But reality tends towards the dark. Through glimpses of a future as bleak as the present, I am left disturbed. I know Hollywood has deep ties to the U.S. military. I know how the military manipulates information and technology. So wherever the digression between fact and fiction lies, I know the military will be tied up in it.
I might have never cared about physics. I might have suffered a faux peace waiting for a future rife with infinite energy and prosperity. I might have waited for fusion’s beautiful lies to transform into world healing promises. Or I might have been left in the wonder of what could be until my turn in the light that comes before the end. But the Deepmind had other plans for me.
One morning, I scrolled through my recommendations and saw my usuals: How to outline your novel. Physicist reacts to some film I don’t care to see. Another black person killed in broad daylight. China or Europe or MIT or some new player broke the longest ignition streak. The U.S. Navy patents fusion tech… With arid eyes I scanned that again. My stomach pulled like I discovered something plainly horrible, personally embarrassing, bitingly obscene. Behind real life closed doors, a force of violence flaunting massive reservoirs of funding, discussed the potential of not only Plasma Compression Fusion Devices but a Spacetime Modification Weapon. Capable of producing absolute hell on earth.
I stopped in my tracks. My phone fell away and swung on my arm like its final moment on the gallows. So early after my journey began, I see science fiction fading. Fantasies are being realized, and weaponized, and brought into our realm. Their words are no longer sticks and stones and I am no longer sure I want to witness what will be left when the facts settle.
Semaj Saint Garbutt is a queer social death theorist residing in Los Angeles. They write in bouts of lucidity, but mostly just try to survive spiraling with their cat Ju Ju. Some of their work can be found at riverfurnace.com.