The Wonders of the Future

Scott Shackelford - Bloomington, Indiana
As heard on The Bob Edwards Show, May 13, 2011
Scott Shackelford
Photo courtesy of Indiana University

Gene Rodenberry, Isaac Asimov and other science fiction writers transport readers to times and galaxies far away. Law professor Scott Shackelford believes sci-fi gives him a way to connect with his father and sharpen his own intellect in the real world.

Age Group: 18 - 30
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I believe in the power of science fiction. Not just for its capacity to transform dreams into reality, but also for its power to bond together those who share a common vision of the future. For me, that’s true for my relationship with my dad. Some fathers and sons bond over sports, or fishing, or hunting. My dad and I bond over Star Trek. We tried demolition derbies, monster truck rallies, and even a trip to Disney World, but one of my earliest memories wasn’t Mickey, but a Klingon battle cruiser menacingly de-cloaking in the Enterprise viewscreen.

Over the years, nearly every setting and situation has become a galaxy far, far away for my dad and me. When it’s snowing at night, we’re not driving along some dark street in Indiana, but going at warp speed with stars whipping by. Both of us are thinking it, without needing to say a word. When we’re rummaging around in the car looking for a map, we quote Khan from Star Trek II: “The override, where’s the override?” We can’t say “two weeks” without sounding like Arnold Schwarzenegger in Total Recall when he’s going through customs on Mars. A new foreign language phrase that neither of us has heard becomes “klaatu barada nikto” from The Day the Earth Stood Still.

When either of us Googles something and sends it to the other, we invariably preface it by writing, “From an entry in the Encyclopedia Galactica,” quoting Isaac Asimov’s Foundation series. Nightmares become “monsters from the id,” vis-à-vis Forbidden Planet. Even my choice of expletives has been affected: I now use “frak” from Battlestar Galactica rather than the colloquial alternative. The summation of these visions of other universes has together created a private universe for my dad and me.

Gene Rodenberry, creator of Star Trek, once said, “Science fiction is a way of thinking, a way of logic that bypasses a lot of nonsense. It allows people to look directly at important subjects.”

A lifetime of sci-fi has influenced more than just my relationship with my dad, but has also helped me shape my own hopes for the future. I’m now a freelance science writer, I am hooked on Nova, and I grab the Science Times even before the comics. My doctoral dissertation is on property rights in the commons, including outer space, and I spent my first summer of law school working at the NASA general counsel’s office.
Yes, sci-fi has made me into a nerd, but it also has been a source of joy for my family, and has made me an optimist while enabling me to think critically about the perils of technology. Thank you to those authors who have shared their visions; the world—and my family—are better for it.

And thank you to my dad, who is both the best storyteller and the best man I have ever known because he helped realize the truth of Tennyson’s words, “For I dipped into the future, far as human eyes could see, saw the vision of the world, and all the wonders that would be.”

Scott Shackelford is an assistant professor of business law and ethics at Indiana University. A native of Indianapolis, Shackelford studied economics and political science at Indiana University, international relations at Cambridge, and law at Stanford. He enjoys writing about science and technology, traveling, and sharing a love of science fiction with his father.