I’ve been reading lots of fiction set in the near future lately. Mostly William Gibson and Warren Ellis, who actually seem to have a lot in common. They both like to look at current bleeding-edge technologies and imagine what we’ll be doing with them in a few years or decades. They also like protagonists who are rule-breakers, saboteurs or iconoclasts, Certainly they both enjoy wide popularity among those of us who are interested in invention and change.
What’s weird is that they don’t really seem to looking forward to the future that much. Sure they’re fascinated with it, but it’s a deer-in-the-headlights kind of fascination. They know it’s barreling down on them, and they can’t bring themselves to look away, but they take no pleasure in its arrival.
Obviously, Gibson and Ellis are just two practitioners of the hugely popular dystopian future genre, which goes back at least as far as H.G. Wells. We have always feared the future, maybe with good reason. Whether we finally make the planet unlivable, sow the seeds of global economic collapse or indulge our taste for war to the point of genocide, there’s lots of evidence that the future will be worse than the present. The future, as a matter of fact, is when everything goes to shit.
And we love to imagine that. I know someone who will read almost nothing but post-apocalyptic fiction. End-of-the-world stories are at peak popularity. Why?