Alien Showed Us an Optimistic Future

After a recent discussion on 10C Social, I thought it would be interesting to watch the first Alien movie again. The last time I remember watching the film was sometime before 2002, and I'll admit that I've forgotten quite a number of the details. One such detail being the incredible amount of optimism that is portrayed throughout the shadows and gloom.

Alien takes place somewhere between 2122 and 2127 on and around LV-426, a very dense moon1 some 39 light years from Earth. The ship where all the horrible action takes place is a massive ore mining and processing vessel with a grand total of 7 crew (and 1 cat) on board. Not only is there a human-friendly atmosphere on every deck with enough intelligence to handle flame throwers and t-shirts, but there's consistent gravity on every deck, faster-than-light communications systems, and cryogenic stasis chambers so the crew doesn't need to be conscious during their down-time.

This is nothing short of amazing.

The Nostromo

Let's take a look at what all this means.

In a little over a century we have faster-than-light vessels capable of traversing a light year in 7 days2, artificial gravity without spinning ships, cryogenic stasis, incredibly reliable software that can power these ships and androids, ample power for unscheduled course changes and wanton disregard for things like using fire inside a closed environment. Then there's the fact we're travelling dozens of light years in castle-like ships for ore. Unless this is an incredibly rare, incredibly amazing ore, this seems like a really poor use of resources … unless these resources really are limitless. Judging from the size of the triple explosion at the end of the movie, maybe they really are.

Ripley, the last human to survive, hops into a shuttle that she knows does not have enough coolant for the atmospheric scrubbers, but never once worries about how much energy the vessel has. This shuttle also has cryogenic stasis chambers, which means that it's clearly designed to support long-distance travel, and it has proper gravity and all the other fun things that one would hope for in a modern interstellar craft. It even has its own faster-than-light engine that seems to be faster than the Nostrom's.

All this in 100 years.

While the Weyland-Yutani Corporation, the company that owned the mining ship and wanted a live specimen of any extra-terrestrial life form returned for study, is said to be a multi-planetary big corporation that is greedier than anything we could possibly understand today, the economy that would be required to make such an organisation possible would mean incredible benefits for a lot of people. Entire groups could head out to the frontier to colonize habitable planets. Terminally ill people could be "frozen" until cures for their conditions are found. Humans would never need to work in dangerous jobs ever again.

There would undoubtedly be social strife and the common complaints about over-reaching governments and excessive capitalism, but this comes with being human. To see this kind of technological advancement in such a short time and to see people take it all for granted? That is what's optimistic about this movie. Not only do we have the various technologies to effectively live as kings and explore the cosmos like science fiction heroes, but we have had these technologies for long enough that people just expect them to work.

So long as we don't have to battle the Xenomorphs, I would look forward to this future.

  1. given its 1200km radius and 0.86 Earth Standard gravity

  2. This was calculated by looking at the 39 light year distance and the 10-month travel time back to Earth. Math is fun!