Visions of What’s To Come
One of the things that I’ve always enjoyed about science fiction is that the possibilities for it appear limitless. Science fiction is allowed to play with the past, present a possible future, and show mankind’s impending doom. As I stated in my previous essay, science fiction always led me to ask what if? Science fiction had always to me led to the basic questions of what if, and how I would be effected in I was suddenly plunged into the pages that I read.
For me the alternate histories/futures narrative intrigues me the most. Wells description of a distant future affected solely by the possibility of a changing political ideology leads me to wonder what is held for our own future just a few years down the road. What are the possibilities that await us? With the infinite possibilities that await us I am too reminded of the evolutionary narrative. Evolution to me was a common theme of science fiction, but it was not the slow time consuming evolution that science equates with the growth of mankind. Instead I’ve found that science fiction tends to bind the possibilities of the past and future, with the modern advances of mankind.
William Gibson’s short story, The Gernsback Continuum combines the two narratives in a unique way. Instead of taking his audience into the future to see what the world will become, or returning to the past to change the present, Gibson allows his protagonist to exist within his own present time and the present of a time that had passed them by. In these visions into, as I like to refer to it, “Earth 2” the narrator sees “the children of Dialta Downes's `80- that-wasn't; they were Heirs to the Dream” (50 Gernback). The narrator is existing within two worlds simultaneously, he is solidly in his own present time, but is haunted by the visions of a world that had long ago passed by without the chance to take root. When the narrator see the city of Tucson he does not see the city that he recognizes instead he sees a sleek spire like metropolis (49).
The idea of infinite possibility and potential to shape the world with every decision we as mankind make, to me appear as an important topic of discussion. We can approach stories like Gernsback not only asking, what the hell is going on, but also look into the story and ask what happened in our time that kept this from becoming our reality? In reading Gernsback I regarded the “Earth 2” visions that the narrator had, as the visions of a world where Hitler came to rule and his “perfect world” came to fruition. In Well’s Time Traveler though, Well’s addresses his fears of the communist party and the potential it could hold for the distant future. Rather than presenting a possibility that occur in an alternate world, Wells focuses on the possibilities that will be left to unfold in his world.
In a way Gibson approaches another possible future that can be achieved through technological advancements in the short story Johnny Mnemonic. Johnny is what is known as an “idiot savant”, simply meaning he is a living breathing hard drive with information he cannot access. Unfortunately for Johnny someone has placed information stolen from the Yakuza in his head and they want it back. Johnny is forced to revert to crude methods, his homemade shotgun for example, to defend his life. The future that Gibson depicts in the story is one that in reality is not that far off from the present day that we live in. At the surface the idea of a “war dolphin” seems quite silly and would appear to just to boost the ridiculous nature of Johnny’s present day. In reality though the U.S. military has been using highly trained dolphins to execute marine missions for decades. Unlike in Gernsback where the narrator simply had visions of a world that had passed by, we exist in a world where a vision of Gibson’s has come to fruition.
Gibson approach to the technological world is a unique one as much of what he writes about requires a complex understanding of tech that very few knew or cared to when stories like Johnny Mnemonic and Burning Chrome released. Burning Chrome to me holds particular significance when looking at narratives of the future as it does not appear to be literature of the future; so much as it is literature of the present. Burning Chrome focuses on two computer hackers taking down a complex mafia hard drive.
Gibson presents some very complicated language and an idea that at one time was foreign to much of the world. Now today in our present time we face the threat of computer hackers almost daily. By looking at the texts of Johnny and Chrome I cannot help, but to feel as though we are moving towards the future that Gibson depicts in these two stories. We reside in the possibility and potential that Gibson appeared to have in mind when writing these two stories and in no way appear to be shifting away from our world being by the need for the newest tech. The two stories present themselves as a tale of human evolution that occurs via technology. Gernsback presents an ideal world where the evolutionary changes of man do not appear so openly; whereas Johnny and Chrome show off the human evolution with pride and flare. Each story hinges itself to the idea of what potential we as humans have, and what the possibilities of that potential hold. I deem stories like Johnny Mnemonic and Burning Chrome to be alternate futures due quite simply to the potential and possibility for that future to become our reality.
Science fiction allows its audience to immerse themselves into potential and possibility. For me that is what the essence of science fiction is, potential and possibility. The narratives of science fiction allow for writers to toy with those two ideals. It is potential and possibility of science fiction that again leave me asking, what if? In some ways we have already answered what if, and have begun to ask what comes next?