OnQ Blog

In Praise of Fictional Inventors

Feb 11, 2014

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With Proclamation 5103, president Ronald Reagan established February 11—Thomas Alva Edison's birthday—as National Inventors’ Day, “In recognition of the enormous contribution inventors make to the nation and the world,” Reagan wrote. “Such recognition is especially appropriate at a time when our country is striving to maintain its global position as a leader in innovation and technology.”

While the president sought to raise the profile of invention and inventors during a still-confrontational period of the Cold War, National Inventors’ Day gradually became a way to say thanks to those responsible for bringing us into the future. 

But what about fictional inventors? Sure, they aren’t real people who created actual things—and yet it’s hard to imagine that their machinations haven’t inspired the inventors on the other side of screen.

So let’s say thanks to fiction’s best inventors (and their writers!) for pushing the conceptual boundaries of what invention can accomplish.

Thanks, Doc Brown, for making a time machine that was more than an amalgamation of circuit boards, tubes, and wires—it was an amalgamation of circuit boards, tubes, and wires on wheels. We’re not sure why a car that can travel faster than the speed of light needs to hit 88 MPH to do so. But then again, we didn’t design the flux capacitor, so we’re sure there’s a solid reason behind this. Probably because flooring it from 0-88 MPH is awesome.

Thanks, Dr. Eldon Tyrell, for creating androids so life-like, they made us realize that humanity isn’t exclusive to humans.

Thanks, Han Solo. You didn’t invent hyperspace, and you took the Millenium Falcon from your best friend (albeit fairly!). But you and your Wookie friend taught us tinkerers that as long as you can keep your rustbucket of a starship running, you can make the Kessel Run in less than 12 parsecs, or deftly evade the grasp of the Empire through an asteroid field.

Thanks, Q. Your gadgets were often questionable in their practicality—a rocket-launching boombox? An iceberg boat? But we can’t help but admire your respect for the engineering, even if MI6’s most decorated agent refuses to bring back equipment in one piece.

Thanks, Miles Dyson, for engineering the microprocessor that became self-aware, nearly wiped out the human race, and got so powerful that humanity had to travel back in time (multiple times!) to stop it. If it wasn’t for your paradigm-shifting work in AI, we would have never developed a healthy fear of the robot uprising.

Thanks, Dr. Egon Spengler, for reminding us that science can explain even the most fantastic of phenomena. Even if that explanation requires a degree in parapsychology . . . and gets you kicked out of Columbia . . . and leaves New York City covered in irradiated Stay Puft marshmallow.

Thanks, Tony Stark. You built the world’s biggest defense company, stepped down, then created a one-man army of an armored suit—for yourself. Way to remind us that sometimes, you just gotta do you.

Thanks, Bruce Wayne and Lucius Fox. With your combined ingenuity you demonstrated that the right gadget (and a fair share of athletic prowess) can dismantle an entire criminal underbelly. And, if push came to shove, you could totally win in a fight against an oversized Kryptonian in spandex.

Thanks Doctor Octopus. Your ways and means are regrettable, but your work revealed that prosthetics should do more than replicate what humans can do. They should make us superhuman.

Thanks, Dr. Myron MacLain, for creating Captain America’s iconic shield. And for showing us that when you’ve run into the brick wall at the end of progress, a happy accident—like dozing off while fiddling with experimental metallurgy—is all you need to find a breakthrough.

Thanks, Dr. Bunsen Honeydew and Beaker. Your experiments almost always end in failure, and when they don’t, the end product is fairly useless. But you inspire us to keep experimenting, keep failing. Eventually, something will work. Or we’ll turn gold into cottage cheese. Either way, cottage cheese isn’t so bad.

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Steve Rousseau