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Sci-fi writers cannot determine time.


Anime and Manga

  • The Excel Saga episode "Legend of the End of the Century Conqueror" (a parody of post-apocalyptic anime, mainly Fist of the North Star) opens with the announcer shouting "The Future, 199X!" The studio audience shouts "It's already over!" and the flustered announcer replies "Oh Crap, you're right!"


Comicbooks

  • In Watchmen, soon after Dr. Manhattan arrives on Mars, he mulls to himself about trilobites two million years earlier, at the time as the Andromeda supernova. Except that the last trilobites went extinct about 250 million years ago; he's off by two orders of magnitude. Rather, he should have been pondering Homo habilis. This still sort of works out since one of his defining traits is that he experiences time differently from humans.
  • The 1998 DC Comics Crisis Crossover DC One Million has members of the Justice League of America travel to the 853rd century (specifically the year 85.271, because that's the year when DC expects to release issue #1,000,000 of their original Superman title Action Comics), where they encounter their distant descendants, who are members of the "Justice Legion A".


Films -- Live-Action

  • In Demolition Man, the entire mainstream society gets completely overhauled, eradicating violence, swearing, and anything deemed hazardous to one's health, within 30 years. There are people (or at least one police officer) who were working adults in the ultra-violent past society, who are still in the workforce.
    • There is also no information on whether these practices are in use in the rest of the USA, or for that matter the rest of the world. Dr Cocteau seems to only preside over San Angeles, so either it's the new capital or they seceded in the past (which is not entirely unlikely).
  • When The Matrix enters Bullet Time, the bullets from semi-automatic handguns are sometimes only a few feet away from each other. That would only be possible if those handguns had about the rate of fire of a minigun. Rule of Cool almost certainly has something to do with it.
    • In every movie that features bullet time, the gunshot is always heard when the bullet leaves the barrel, regardless of how far the camera is from the gun, despite bullets usually traveling faster than sound waves.
  • At the end of Waterworld, the protagonists find the dry land - complete with sandy beaches. It takes a LONG time to erode rock into sand.
    • Not to mention the confusion when you realize that their society somehow still has a supply of gasoline and canned goods that are still edible, while no living person can remember dry land and some people have begun to evolve gills which would take hundreds of generations to begin. No spam would still be good at that point.
  • Santo and Blue Demon vs Dracula and the Wolf Man: Before Dracula could be brought back to life, seven solar eclipses and seven lunar eclipses had to pass. This is specified in the film as taking 400 years. Earth averages one total solar eclipse every 18 months, and has at least two total lunar eclipses per year. (If those eclipses were all supposed to be seen in the same locale, which is not specified in the subtitles but might be in the original Spanish dialogue, Dracula and Cristaldi must have jumped in a time machine before their fight. The average cycle for total solar eclipses visible in one spot is one per 370 years; getting seven of them would take 2,590 years on average.)
  • One of the biggest time examples comes in A New Hope with Obi-Wan's line that the Jedi Knights were the guardians of the Old Republic "for over a thousand generations". A generation is about 25 years (defined as the time from one generation's birth to their giving birth to the next generation), so 25 times a thousand equals... 25,000 years?!? Just for reference, that's the same amount of time that's passed between the end of the Neanderthals to the present day. The Expanded Universe kept faithfully to that number, even though it means that the Republic has gone the whole length of human civilization with no major advances or changes, and even managed to keep the same overall government. George Lucas may have eventually thought better of it: the prequel trilogy has Palpatine saying instead that the Republic's stood for "a thousand years", which seems like a more reasonable estimate. Of course, nowhere is it suggested that Obi-Wan was just being figurative.
    • As if to prove how stubborn people can be, later Expanded Universe material continues to state that the Republic did start 25,000 years ago, but it reformed in the "Ruusan Reformation" about 1,000 years before the films, which is what Palpatine refers to.
    • It could be argued that since a trainee "graduates" to Padawan at about 10-13 years of age, 1000 generations of Jedi would only be about 10,000 to 13,000 years. Still a ridiculously long time of stagnancy, but a little less crazy than other ideas.
    • There's also some indication that the stasis is because scientists in that universe have actually mastered all the laws of physics and there isn't anything else left to discover in that group of sciences. In Knights of the Old Republic, one NPC remarks that all that seems to be changing is that every year, ships get a little faster.


Literature

  • The original Dune series by Frank Herbert was set 10,000 years (human history goes back 7,000 years at present) after the Robot War known as the Butlerian Jihad, featuring an old, decadent society that had presumably been going downhill for a long time. However, when Frank Herbert's son picked up the reins and wrote prequels set before and during said Butlerian Jihad, the prequels end with all the social orders and customs, and even the religion, of Dune already established as nearly identical to the ones in the original novel. And the reader is expected to believe that they stayed exactly the same for longer than the time between the invention of writing and the present.
    • Slightly averted in Sisterhood of Dune, set 83 years after the end of the Legends of Dune prequel trilogy. It shows that not all is as hopeful as the ending of the trilogy implies with much work left to be done. There is no Spacing Guild yet (and pre-folding FTL travel is still common), although Venhold is working on monopolizing interstellar travel and spice harvesting. Joseph Venport has also split off a company called Combine Mercantiles, the future CHOAM. The titular Sisterhood does not yet bear the name Bene Gesserit and is still located on Rossak. Additionally, Raquella Berto-Anirul is still the only Reverend Mother in existence, and all attempts at creating more failed. They are getting desperate, as the previously-powerful Sorceresses of Rossak are now dying out with no one to take their place. The Mentat school is only beginning with some protesting by the still-flourishing Butlerian movement. The Suk Medical Academy already exists, although there is yet no mention of mental conditioning.
      • The end of the book has Raquella Berto-Anirul establishing the Mother School on Wallach IX, the last of the Sorceresses killed by the Emperor's troops, and the mention of the mental conditioning for Suk doctors. Of course, that conditioning is mentioned to be House-specific, which completely ignores the authors' other books which state that Dr. Yueh worked for at least 2 other Houses before being hired by the Atreides with no mentions of re-conditioning.
  • George R.R. Martin's A Song of Ice and Fire has the earliest dates in its fictional world's history set at 12,000 years earlier, with the oldest family in the land able to trace their history back 8,000 years with apparent accuracy and detail, and with that family name never once dying out due to infertility, war or famine caused by the planet's frequent mini-ice ages. However, in the third book when one character is about to be elected the 998th Lord Commander of the Night's Watch, one of his friends is puzzled he can only find records of less than 600 previous ones, indicating the dates may not be reliable. Furthermore, Martin later confirmed that there are problems with date-keeping in the fictional history of Westeros, and dates much past 2,000 years ago are to treated as mythological, legendary and highly suspect. This may be due to the planet's highly unpredictable seasons (which last for years at a time), meaning that only a tiny minority of the population (those who keep track of astronomy) can accurately track the passage of time.
  • R. M. Meluch wrote a military series, Tour of the Merrimack, about a war between the United States of America and an interstellar empire that models itself on Imperial Rome, a populous, widespread, and powerful adversary ... whose people left Earth one hundred fifty years before. There can't be that many people willing to emigrate in order to declare themselves the Roman Empire In Space, but in less than two centuries, they've multiplied and developed their industrial base so drastically that they're a credible threat to conquer mid-25th-century Earth.
    • In series justification -- the people who established the Roman Empire In Space were part of an Ancient Conspiracy that had been in existence since the fall of the actual Roman Empire.
  • Orson Scott Card's Homecoming series is set about 40 million years into the future, with an external force creating technological (and to some degree, social and genetic) stagnation. However, nothing is enforcing geological stagnation, and the series tends to be rather hit-or-miss on the sort of changes that take place. For example, the main characters pass by the ruins of a city carved into the side of a mountain. The city has been abandoned for tens of millions of years (with the aforementioned external force keeping people away), but the degree of erosion described is more typical of thousands of years. (A thousand years will round off the edges of stonework, and can cause localized collapses of structures. Ten million years will make the mountain hundreds of feet shorter, with the slopes moving back a similar amount to maintain stability.)
  • The Alex Benedict series largely averts this. Historian Alex Benedict researches an important and well documented war that happened only 200 years ago, during a time when cameras and digital storage was cheap and common. However there are enough roadblocks and poor assumptions about the event to have him pouring through old data libraries, and visiting archeological sites for months on end. Benedict points out that even with all this information recorded, it's still scattered, misplaced, and largely forgotten as society created their own romanticized narrative of the event. In some instances, the material either contradicts itself, or was a flat out lie. Other times he has to deal with material from past historians who were just plain incompetent. The truth on even well known events that were witnessed by thousands of people was far different than what made it into the history books. Any other author would have felt obliged to move it thousands of years into the past as an excuse for why humanity has misremembered such an important moment.


Live-Action TV

  • Doctor Who, particularly during the Patrick Troughton era, dated an awful lot of its high-tech future stories to the 21st century. Going in the opposite direction, the story Doctor Who and the Silurians named a species after the era a million years before they were around. Someone caught this too late, and in their next appearance, the Doctor pointed out that their name was a misnomer.
    • And says that they're properly Eocenes - which is ALSO inaccurate.
    • In Frontios, the Doctor and companions travel to the extraordinarily distant future (millions, billions, and sometimes even trillions of years), only to discover humans have not changed in any way. In the episode Utopia, which is stated to be set sometime beyond the year 100,000,000,000,000 A.D., the Doctor handwaves this by saying that humans have evolved into higher life-forms countless times, but keep reverting to homo sapiens sapiens out of nostalgia.
      • What this doesn't explain, of course, are the relatively conservative levels of technology people seem to have, given that present-day scientists are expecting things like an omnipresent connection to the internet or extensive mechanical augmentation on humans within the next century. With billions of years having passed since the 21st century, society should, by all means, be utterly incomprehensible for a time traveller from that period.
  • Space: 1999 had an advanced base on the moon in the year of its title. In fairness, that didn't seem so far-fetched in the heady days of the Apollo missions, which was when the programme was created. This is more a depressing case of the opposite of Science Marches On.
  • Power Rangers has shown the year 2025 (Power Rangers SPD) to be more advanced than the year 3000 (Power Rangers Time Force) with the latter series actually being aired four (4!) seasons before the former, and once traveled back to show Salem-esque witch hunts in 18th century English-colonized California.
  • Parodied on Late Night with Conan O'Brien's Year 2000 sketches, where Conan O'Brien and Andy Richter would make ludicrous predictions about the year 2000 (the show began in 1993) while wearing "futuristic" robes and employing "dramatic" lighting (flashlights held under their faces). The sketches were set to dream-like music with "In the year two-thoooousaaaaaand..." repeated by band member Richie "LaBamba" Rosenberg. Even as late as 2007, Conan and different guests continue to make predictions about what will happen in the year 2000.
    • The absurdity was lampshaded by Andy Richter on the second episode of The Tonight Show with Conan O'Brien, which began in 2009. The replacement sketch, In the Year 3000 takes the lack of scale in the opposite direction, making predictions for a thousand years in the future based on current politicians and celebrities still being around.
  • The Star Trek episode "Space Seed" explained that Earth had been wracked by world wars and conquered by genetic supermen...in the 1990s. (If Khan were thirty when he ruled half the planet, the genetic engineering that produced him would have had to be possible at the time the show was first aired.)
    • Of course, the episode aired in 1967, when the previous World War had only ended a little over twenty years ago. The idea that another world war might break out some time in the next twenty or thirty years was frighteningly plausible at the time. Producing supermen before 1970, on the other hand...
      • There's a series of Eugenics Wars novels (basically Khan's back story), written in the 21st century, that explains that the Eugenics Wars really did take place, they were just done via covert ops, the results were covered up, etc), and that Khan and the other superhumans were produced through selective breeding (literal eugenics), a technology that was well-established before written language even if it hadn't been applied to humans.
        • The episode "Space Seed" itself states, repeatedly, that Khan and his brethren are the result of selective breeding(though Khan having five times Kirk's strength, as he claims, is rather implausible). It is "Wrath of Khan" which retcons this to Genetic Engineering, the general idea for which had come about between "Space Seed' airing and 1982 when Wrath of Khan came out.
  • An early Stargate SG-1 episode had the team encounter a civilisation which used technology to allow the knowledge of one person to be given to everyone else on the planet (giving the donor brain damage in return). The entire planet had no concept of school, traditional learning, or play (even the word play was unknown), despite the introduction of the technology having been only 50 years previously.
  • The Eureka episode "Ship Happens" has an organic computer in the form (and with the rough physical capabilities) of a human being, said to be packed incredibly densely with information. It starts writing out the information by hand, but says that it would take 2000 years to finish writing it all out. In 2000 years, a human could write out roughly 100 GB worth of data -- that is to say, the amount stored on a moderately-sized hard drive. If a human-sized object is densely packed with information, surely there should be a lot more of it than that...
    • she could be shortening it and changing it into a form humans can understand, or she could be using an algorithm similar to the ones commonly used in demo scene just more advanced, its also possible that she is writing faster than a normal human could.
  • Series set in pre-human times fall victim to this like woah. For example, there is currently some confusion as to when exactly Terra Nova takes place. Some sources say 80 million years ago, others say 150 million years ago. But heck, what's a 70 million year difference? Animals and environments stay the same for that long, right? Right.
  • Some science fiction series refer to the 20th century as "Ancient" despite only being set a few hundred years into the future; this is slightly jarring when you realise that applying the same scale to the present day would render the colonisation of the New World, the Renaissance and handheld firearms as also being "Ancient."
    • its possible that their civilization has through/is going through a singularity and the 20th century seems ancient when considering what has happened since then.
  • It is remarkable how many non-fiction TV documentaries there are that try to invoke a sense of foreboding when speaking of the fact that in four billion years our sun will swell into a red giant, frying the earth. "What will we do when this happens?" they ask. The earliest evidence of human history is a mere 35-40,000 years old. The human race as we exist is believed to be only about 200,000 years old. The dinosaurs were only 70 million years ago, and humans didn't exist then. Worrying about something that will occur four billion years in the future (that's 4,000 millions of years), as if we will be in the same boat then as we are now (or even still exist to worry about it!), is a little extreme.
    • The classic response when someone tries to scare you with this: "Did you say four million years?" "No, four billion." "Oh, good, you had me worried there at first."
  • Firefly's terraforming is simply too fast. The terraforming apparently finished in 2435, which means that—even if their system were the nearest star to Sol, the ships left Earth-That-Was tomorrow, went at 12% light-speed (the speed of the fastest realistic rocket), and only modified one planet's worth of gas (which would be remarkably little terraforming, unless All Planets Are Earthlike), they would still need to move 5 quadrillion tons of material in 388 years. Or in other words, 35,281,582,300 tons per day—or 14.6 times as much mass as the entire global oil industry ships per year, every single day. A civilization that could do that, could probably just build a fleet of "worldships" a la The Culture, and would certainly never have to fight the Independents or the Reavers.


Religion

  • The founder of the Church of Happyology says that a lot of things happened to the Thetans trillions of years ago--gorilla-themed mental-implant carnivals, bear-themed mental-implant explosions, "little orange-colored bombs that could talk", a brass dog that sucked people through it with electricity, etc. He doesn't explain, however, how all of this happened despite the Big Bang happening around 13.7 billion years ago. Then again, the Thetans turned incorporeal at some point, so they might withstand the collapse of the Universe.


Toys

  • In Bionicle, the average lifespan of the characters, both biomechanical and organic lasts for more than a hundred thousand years. After the Shattering happened, and the planet of Spherus Magna blew into three separate planets, all forms of advancement came to a halt on the largest chunk, the desert planet Bara Magna. The story picks up 100 thousand years later, and literally, beyond the creation of the Glatorian fighting system, nearly nothing has changed. The death-rates are said to be high, yet no indication is given towards new people coming into being. Then, there's the fact that even 100 thousand year-old fighters, such as Gresh, are considered youngsters, and others treat them as if they were kids. And he becomes a skilled veteran just in a few months' worth of story time.


Videogames

  • The original Mega Man series, set in 200X, includes 4-foot-tall robots equipped with fully developed artificial intelligence, superhuman speed, reflexes, and fighting ability, and weapons involving plasma cannons, lasers, time manipulation, and holograms.
    • This was later revised to 20XX.
  • The speed of human political expansion in Mass Effect seems to follow this trope - integrating themselves into pan-galactic society to the point where they are commonplace throughout the galaxy and have the military-industrial capability to rival established alien societies that have been around for thousands of years; from Hidden Elf Village to N-11 in thirty-five years. And gaining (low or sole) G8 status by the end of the first game. However, that's the whole point: human expansion is so amazing and unprecedented that the rest of the galaxy is quietly terrified of humans. And even then, one has to realize that when aliens speak of colonies they are referring to hundred-million strong populations; humans are referring to supply outposts of maybe fifty-thousand. Eden Prime, the "pride of the Systems Alliance", has less than four million, Terra Nova only four and a half. And the push for colonization is so great because Earth is getting crowded; twelve billion people with all that implies. And on top of that, humans armed forces are only 3% (compare to 10%-40% of the others races) of the population, so they can't defend their colonies making them easy prey for raiders.
    • Humans aren't commonplace around the galaxy - on the Citadel, they are only common on the Presidium, where it makes sense (that's where their embassy and top financial institutions are), and Zakaera Ward (which is basically the Citadel's "Humantown"). The other locations where you can reliably find humans are human colonies (most of the locations visited), and Omega (because humans are scary good at crime).
    • Humans not putting armed forces, beyond a small ground force garrison, also part of what scares all the other races. They set up picket forces to defend each colony they have. Humans on the other hand, use the ground based garrison to get intel for the fleet of ships that show up within hours of the raiding force showing up. Sure you'll get to raid an undefended colony for a bit, but when that fleet then shows up your toast. There is a reason why humans have their armed forced nicknamed a "Sleeping Giant."
    • Only the Krogan, who are now almost totally sterile, and the vorcha (who only live a decade or two at the most and are very stupid) breed faster than Humans in the Mass Effect universe. Also, its implied that the human population has gone into overdrive since mankind got its new lebensraum in space.
  • Fallout 3 takes place around 200 years after the war, but by the general state of things you'd think only a couple years had passed. Unmaintained buildings are still standing, no new plants have grown, and pre-war packaged food is still fresh. Word of God has it that the developers were aware that by 200 years later the buildings would have returned to nature and new growth would be rampant, but decided to go with style over accuracy - a "post-nuclear role playing game" set in virgin forests with no standing buildings left over wouldn't be much deserving of its title, after all.
  • Assiduously avoided in Frontier: Elite II, which featured proper Newtonian flight physics via a velocity-vector, view-vector, thrust-vector avionics system and a galaxy of realistic size and scale. For some reason (radiation? gravitational perturbation?), hyperspace jump exit points are on the outskirts of star systems, meaning about 3 days or so journey is needed to get to a planet, even after using hyperdrive to get to the star system in the first place. Luckily, like the military sims of its day, it implemented "accelerated time" in logarithmic increments, up to 10,000 times real time.
    • The manual states that spaceships are legally required to do their jump into hyperspace at a minimum safety distance from the surface due to the harmful radiation produced from the process. The reason you exit hyperspace in the outskirts may be another safety measure, to avoid jumping directly into planets or other debris.
  • Similar to the Dune example, Knights of the Old Republic has planets, cities, societies, and even technology virtually identical to the six movies. Despite KoTOR being set 4,000 years prior. There are minor changes, particularly in the size of warships, but nothing significant.


Western Animation

  • Spoofed in an episode of Harvey Birdman, Attorney at Law. George Jetson, after arriving in our time, treats Birdman like an inferior creature, stating proudly, "We are from the future! The far off year of 2002!" Birdman glances at his calendar, which reads "March 2004".
  • The backstory of the various Transformers continuities typically extends back millions of years from the present date, and that's just the most recent activities of the current generation of characters. Granted, they're immortal robots, but still.
    • And in the original cartoon, it's implied that nothing of importance happened on Cybertron during the four million years the season 1 protagonists lay dormant on Earth until they reawakened in 1984. Shockwave promised Megatron that he would keep Cybertron as he (Megatron) leaves it, but... damn.
      • Shockwave is good at two things, being a Magnificent Bastard (a very creepy one) and taking everything to the logical extreme.
    • The Dreamwave comic series attempted to justify this by stating that due to ongoing rebellion and quashing of said rebellion, both Autobots and Decepticons formed a truce because they simply ran out of energon, and needed to go into a long period of stasis. In fact, by the time the Earthbound Autobots and Decepticons get home, they find that Cybertron actually is much better. The War Within series also had characters noting how, despite their level of technology, they had yet to go beyond their own moons.
    • The Marvel comics actually delved into the history of the war during those four million years in some detail, chronicling the rise and fall of multiple Decepticon and Autobot commanders, the raging of the battles over vast distances of the planet, and the gradual pushing back of the Autobots on every front, until by the time contact is reestablished with Optimus Prime and co. on Earth, the war on Cybertron has effectively been over for several thousand years and the Autobots are no more than scattered guerrilla bands fighting on against all hope. The comics also seemed to postulate at one point the existence of many other Transformer factions and neutral forces other than Autobots and Deceptions who rode out the war, but this idea was seemingly later abandoned with those factions not being mentioned much past the Target: 2006! story arc. The comic also suggested that many Transformer factions had abandoned Cybertron to live in peace on other worlds, such as the Cybertronian Empire under the Liege Maximo and the later-Headmasters under Fortress Maximus, spreading the war over a much vaster distance of space as well as time.
  • In the "Breakout" episode of Megas XLR, highly-advanced sentient beings are shown to imprison a criminal. A title card then says "1,987,462,128,012 years later..." and cuts to present day, making the timeframe a little over 132 times the current length of existence.


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