When I was a youngster, I was an avid fan of science fiction books, from Asimov to Wells. Somewhere around the time that TV consoles shoved book cases into unreachable corners, I drifted away from books but still, all summer, went with my buddy Craig every Saturday to shout at the terrorizing antics of Godzilla or the Creature from the Black Lagoon. Much later, I glommed onto time-travel movies and TV shows, from Back to the Future to Quantum Leap and Journeyman.
The fun in all this was we knew that none of it would really happen, given the prevailing laws of physics and biology—but it might happen if we all were wrong by just a tiny bit. Last weekend I sat through a new science-fiction movie that, I think, convinced all of us in the theater that it was likely to happen unless we do things just a tiny bit more right.
Moon appears to be set in a future maybe a half-dozen decades or so away. Other than the voice of Kevin Spacey as a smiley-faced robot, the film has only one live character—sort of: Sam Bell. He’s a worker for Lunar Industries, Ltd., and is wrapping up a three-year contract mining helium-3 (a solar-wind-embedded source of fusion), which has become the Earth’s primary, seemingly inexhaustible source of energy. The mining, on the dark side of the moon, is carried out by four monstrously large automated machines prophetically named Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. Sam, the only person staffing the lunar base, keeps an eye on the machines and controls, heading out in a lunar rover to gather up the helium-3 from the devices and rocket the canisters to Earth.
(SPOILER ALERT—Stop here if you plan to see the movie; go back and enjoy the links above)
It turns out that Sam is one of innumerable clones of the original Sam Bell—the company keeps a plentiful supply of Sams in morgue-like drawers in the basement, onboarding a new one whenever the previous Sam becomes disposable—and is disposed of. Through accidental circumstances, two of the clones meet—and plot—in a mind-bending set of scenes. The shots of Sam playing a spirited game of ping-pong against himself are particularly disconcerting.
All of this seems much too plausible to me, given the space program’s thrust (so to speak) to go back to the moon to find minerals and potential energy sources, as well as the accelerating pace of stem cell research. The issues we’re communicating today—many of them driven by the presence or lack of political will—before long may by comparison seem universally simple to resolve.
While we are reaching out 30 or 40 years to envision the impacts of global warming, health care and electric vehicles, movie makers and market makers alike should be preparing for the really big changes and challenges ahead: Mining the moon, medical miracles and—literally—making more of ourselves!