We love a good science fiction story, but sometimes reality is just as strange. While we may have seen 2001 come and go without an actual space odyssey, the last eight years have been full of events that - had they not actually happened - could easily pass for science fiction. Here are five real life events that still seem like they've come straight from the set-up of a big budget summer blockbuster.
Estonian Cyberwar: It may not have been the biggest cyber attack ever, but it's probably the strangest. Last year, Russian hackers got so ticked off when the tiny nation of Estonia digs up the remains of Soviet war heroes that they shut down Estonian newspapers, banks, and practically the entire government by using denial of service attacks on a huge scale. It's still unknown whether the culprits had help from the Kremlin as some have suggested, but given Russia's staggeringly large population of hackers it's not impossible that the crippling shutdown of an entire country was perpetrated by independent citizens. And you thought Live Free Or Die Hard was far-fetched.
CERN: You need only look at pictures from inside the Large Hadron Collider to realize the incredible, science fictional scale of the apparatus. The story of this machine has all the makings of a hard SF story: particles accelerating to truly dangerous energies as they swoop under the border of France and Switzerland, scientists eager to confirm their various theories and discover new, ever more ephemeral particles, and of course the ever present worries that the European research organization's experiments will blow up the world! All we need to complete the set-up is some rogue scientist who plans to use the invention to hold the world to ransom and a sexy spy out to stop them.
Space Tourism: Movies and television have long promised that space travel will eventually be available to private citizens, but the real-life development of space tourism had been agonizingly slow until recently. Now, however, aspiring astronauts can book a weeklong stay at the International Space Station for around $20 million, or take advantage of offers to shoot you around the moon for a mere $100 million. Plus, it always helps to have an eccentric billionaire like Sir Richard Branson in the mix. Maybe he can work on bringing the price down for those of us who don't have a few million lying around.
SARS, bird flu, and the other near-pandemics: Outbreaks of crazy viruses have long been an SF favorite, and even though this century has conspicuously zombie-free - so far - we have had some pretty worrying scares. It isn't hard to imagine race-the-clock medical thrillers hidden amongst the investigations, all those mysterious men in yellow hazmat suits, the mass slaughtering of potentially infected poultry, et al. We just see the headlines, of course; there could be dozens of extraordinarily science fictional stories hidden in the 21st century, and we might never know. Who's to say that A&E's The Andromeda Strain wasn't just a particularly well-lit documentary?
9/11: Yes, I know, but hear me out: Though the reality of it is all to apparent now, before 2001 the idea of nineteen guys armed with little more than box cutters and a plan causing so much destruction and changing the world so easily would have seemed a bit unbelievable even as the stuff of Hollywood. Science fiction tends to imagine and speculate about things that have never happened before, changes the world has never seen. 9/11 was, for most of us, precisely that sort of unexpected in the most horrific way possible.