More often than not, we romanticize the past. The ancient Greek Poet Hesiod described his culture’s belief that the world began with a Golden Age, followed by a Silver Age, a Bronze Age, then a general continuance of decline to the Shit Age of his own 8th century BC. Although I have paraphrased the last bit, we can draw clear parallels to the Garden of Eden, The Roman Republic, and for the Republicans of my day, the Reagan era. We similarly romanticize our own pasts, a predictable tendency as life invariably follows a trajectory from promise to at least physical ruin.
Our sense of the present, usually a reflection of current conditions, fills the wide range of human possibility. Thoughts of the future, though, seem divided into two main camps—the apocalyptic and the hopeful.
For a child growing up in 1980s America, apocalypse ruled the day, our collective futures seeming to mushroom up over the quaking skylines of New York City and Moscow. My generation associated the word “silo” with the word “missile.” In 1983, the ABC network aired an original movie called The Day After that detailed the weeks leading up to a nuclear war and the war’s resulting fallout. The movie played during primetime and more than 100 million people watched it. I never saw The Day After again after that initial viewing, but I still remember the scene of children on a playground, bouncing balls and running around while an electro-magnetic pulse wave churned toward them from a nearby target point, obliterating everyone and everything in an instant. That was the future.
Dread for tomorrow was not a new phenomenon, however. German 19th century poet and writer Heinrich Heine had this to say: “The future smells of Russian leather, of blood, of godlessness and of much whipping.”
In current fiction, most notably in novels for young adults, dystopian futures serve as popular settings. Since Lois Lowry’s The Giver (1993), pre-teen and teenaged protagonists have generally picked their way through ruined cities, been orphaned, enslaved, tortured, and sometimes made to kill each other for sport. There seem to be more novels of this sort every year. They sell.
No one, though, writes much about any future utopias. I guess the hopeful don’t spend their lives crouched over a keyboard. And, of course, stories interest us with conflict. We appreciate some whipping.
No one, either, seems to predict a future continuance of the plodding sameness to which most of our individual lives stick. Something big approaches. I don’t mean to imply that change isn’t happening—the Digital Age has offered plenty to alter our lifestyles—but it happens slowly enough for most of us to adapt, and overall, the human score appears largely unchanged. That said, I will make a few predictions of my own:
In the future, some people will be famous, often for no apparent reason, while most others live in almost complete obscurity.
In the future, a few handfuls of rich fuckers will exploit a much larger working-class.
In the future, some people will work insanely hard to help the exploited mentioned above, and mostly get nothing for their efforts.
Many terrible movies will be made and watched and some will win Academy Awards.
A father will tell his teenage daughter to be home by eleven, and she will think, Fuck you, Old Man.
Some of us, or at least me, will wish we could stay in the present, no matter how boring or contrived, or wish we could fall backward into an older future, one that some really hopeful folks dreamed up.
This week’s short story, “Leaving George” by John Duncan Talbird, tells of a future after the robots have taken over and initiated a nuclear holocaust. Talbird’s speculative fiction works in layers—a compelling narrative, a look into the workings of the human heart, even a kind of religious dialogue. The story’s framing adds an excellent texture.
In “Fragment 3,” David Stromberg’s unique premise involves suicide as subversion by oppressed, future humankind. Healing touch becomes a weapon of control. This flash piece accomplishes a lot of haunting in a very little space.
Rachel Unkefer’s poem, “Controlled Falling,” darts in musical bursts, a reflection of our gait. A tightly composed five quintains, “Controlled Falling” swerves gracefully from its analysis of walking to a specific walk and a relationship lurching into the future.
Photo by Vince Lamb