Future Phobia

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?

One thought on “Future Phobia

  1. Hi Uncle Bob

    Thanks for posting, I will check out those authors.

    I just like time-displacement, but would rather it was into utopia, or at least a future that is approximately as liveable as this time. I don’t really think I believe in the future being a dystopia any more than this time is a dystopia. Which may be wishful thinking

    Three years ago i wrote a short story in which I meet myself at age seventy, in a future madison, amongst the hulking shells of what used to be university buildings. I was probably feeling a little dystopic at the time, because the people at the red cross, were being mean to me because i called them out on their racist hiring/firing practices the very week that i wrote it, and it was around the time of the shrub’s second unelected innauguration. It’s very dystopic on the surface, as in the setting of the story, as the repugnicans have stopped letting any elections happen and class division has gone, the lakes have turned to sludge, and people can hardly breathe and what not, but the characters I meet, elderly betty and her friends, have found a way to survive and scavenge as a team and they are happy and loved, and it seems like a very fine functioning community full of people whose mental and physical vitality seems odd, given the environment. In fact I come back (or awaken in, it’s not clear) this time again, filled not with horror at what madison will be like thirty years hence, but filled with encouragement that my life is going to be happier and more meaningful than it is now. Not because of having to adapt to apocalyptic changes to town, but because of who i am and choosing to have good people around me. I mean i decided that after i wrote it, realized that even in dystopia i was making friends and having fun and being strong. The story kind of wrote itself i guess. And it gots time travel, which always makes me happy. I’m like Randy in My Name Is Earl, always asking people to tell me stories…. about seahorses… in outer space… that TIME TRAVEL. Yeah man.

    Didnt watch the new terminator series because the new bionic woman and the time-travel show called Journeyman both sucked so hard. I figured the sarah connor chronicles would suck too. But now i hear that show is good so maybe i’ll try it.

    Why are end of the world stories popular now? Didn’t know they were more popular than usual. I guess for a lot of our adult lives, millennialism or whatever ya call it, has influenced pop culture a lot, and the political landscape is very discouraging to any thinking person. The only two dem candidates that are saying anything meaningful about trying to improve domestic and foreign policy have been labeled fringey and crazy, and the people who are obviously invested in the status quo maintaining their status, are winning primaries.

    But as I have noted, even during the reagan years, even during the 90s (which i dont remember as being the heydey of peace and prosperity that the clinton campaign seems to recall them as), and even now during this salem witch trial of an administration, that people have for a long time, at least throughout the late 19th and all of the 20th century that I know of, had visions of the future being unworkable. Things are so corrupt now, and they’re not going to get better, and we are on such a breakneck course for disaster that life as we know it wont exist in five years. And here we are. When i was doing the time tape project in the mid 90s, (now I still have them and transferring from cassette to my computer, little by little), I remember my friend Chris saying in 1994, that by 2005 there wouldnt even be a university system and people would just be hiding in their homes because crime would be so rampant. We have had more muggings here in the past five years since madison’s economic bubble stopped really being there anymore. But, for most of us life is at least as good or bettier than it was in the mid 90s. Maybe that’s just me, that my mind and my life have shaped up a lot and I feel more satisfaction in general, and i’m just projecting that onto the rest of town. People who play the aint-it-awful game are boring. In fact i think most things are awesome, but maybe that’s just me 🙂

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