No, I’m not desperate for some sci-fi. I’m just thinking about emergencies in science-fiction.
Over the weekend, I got some education on emergency response. I go to an annual campout near Austin called Burning Flipside. It’s something of a smaller version of Burning Man, topping out near 2500 instead of 50,000. We set up a small city out in the country for several days, have a party, and when it’s over, we pack the city up, and haul it out of there, doing our best to leave no trace.
In any gathering that size, particularly with as much alcohol as I see out there, there are bound to be some problems, accidents, and general snafu’s, so we have a few different safety teams, ranging from fire to medical to “rangers”. I’ll spare you the long history of these rangers, mostly because there are others who can tell it far better than I can. However, they’re the boots on the ground at these events, taking long walking patrols on the lookout for problems. Some folks mistakenly view them as cops, but they are not cops. They’re closer to park rangers than Texas Rangers.
So, anyway, I’ve been a ranger at Flipside for going on six years now. This past weekend was our second annual cross-department safety training, and we also got some brief training on the federal government’s Incident Command System (ICS). We’ve already had separate training on what to do if a campfire gets out of control or if someone falls and breaks an arm, and we’ve had several years of experience working smoothly across the departments to deal with minor incidents like this.
But if the shit ever really hits the fan, that’s when you want something like ICS. It’s designed to keep communication flowing to the people who need it, get workers where they need to be, and to not overwhelm the supervisors who need to make time-critical decisions. This was the third overview I’d seen, but it was my first time going through a mock incident as an exercise.
Sufficed to say, it’s a lot different on paper than it is when you’re moving through it. It was both exciting and terrifying, and that was just an exercise where there was no real risk. I imagine the real thing would be another exponential factor up on the OMGWTFBBQ scale. I’m proud to say that we didn’t completely fuck it up, but we also saw a lot of ways to do better. So yay, the exerise served its purpose.
So what does any of that have to do with sci-fi? Well, not a lot, but all that excitement and terror made me realize that there’s Drama there – yes, with a capital D. Situations like that make for great stories because then we can experience that adrenaline roller coaster without actually being at risk. Certainly, movies and television have provided plenty of these, but sci-fi is my genre of choice, so I find myself thinking about emergency situations in SF.
I’ve actually seen a few of these, though usually from the point of view of the would-be victim. For example, a woman’s air car malfunctioned and climbed up out of the atmosphere while she had no environment suit, so an orbital patrol managed to intercept her. Most of these are cases where stupidity or malfunctions send the characters into harm’s way, only to have them be rescued by some kind of rescue force.
But after that mock exercise, I find I’m interested in reading about it from the point of view of the rescue force. I’ve heard of a hospital series by James White called Sector General, and it sounds a little like a sci-fi version of the TV show “e.r.”. I think we’ve got a few of them rattling around our library, but I don’t think that’s really what I’m looking for. Instead, I find myself thinking more about that old 1970’s TV show “Emergency”, about some fire fighters and paramedics in Los Angeles. They got called out on everything from false alarms to epic disasters, and I find myself wanting to read some sci-fi stories similar to that.
Why sci-fi stories? As in, why not just buy the DVD’s?
Well, for starters, I’m a geek. Ok? But more than that, sci-fi can really complicate some of these emergencies:
- Are they on the other side of the moon part of the time?
- Is the black hole causing time dilation issues?
- Sure, you can reach their location, but can you match velocities?
- Are they so far off that the best you can do is talk them through a self-rescue?
- Is your ship on fire? Sorry, you can’t just run out into the vacuum.
So I find myself thinking about rescue stories where a shuttle with a misfiring engine is dropping out of Jupiter orbit. Or perhaps a land-crawler on the dark side of Mercury is stuck with the fiery dawn slowly approaching. The real life events of Apollo 13 are a good example of this kind of tale, but I’m also thinking about situations where there is enough mobility to actually mount an intercept mission.
Alas, I don’t know of any such stories. Maybe they don’t exist. Maybe they wouldn’t really be as interesting as I imagine they would be. Or maybe they just haven’t been written yet.
Can anyone point me in the right direction, or am I going to have to write these myself just to be able to read them?
You might try “The Ungoverned” by Vernor Vinge. It’s a novella; if you can find it in the compilation, “Across Realtime”, you’ll get one of my favorite novels ever, “Marooned in Realtime”. (Be aware that there were “Across Realtime” compilations that, for some reason, did *not* contain “The Ungoverned”.)