November 6, 2017
Working Together to Find a Future
While studying various future narratives it has become apparent that it is difficult to have one definitive type of story line without also having elements of others. The three main types of story lines, apocalyptic, evolutionary and alternative, seem to converge often among future narratives and blend together to create visionary tales of what lies ahead. For example. while all stories have a beginning and an end, which hints at an apocalyptic story line, most stories seem to have some type of cyclical pattern of ups and downs to get there, which suggest an evolutionary story line. Some stories can have both of these elements from apocalyptic and evolutionary as well as some alternative future traits where many time lines are occurring at the same time.
An apocalyptic story line is characterized by a linear path that occurs within an easily imaginable period of time, such as hundreds or thousands of years, or less. A great example of an apocalyptic story line is The Bible, where everything begins exceptionally well with the creation of the earth, the sun, the moon, people, plants and animals and ends in a fiery brimstone that ends the earth and focuses on a new beginning in their utopia in Heaven. Clearly, from Genesis to Revelation there is the beginning of the existence of Earth, but also its end. A seemingly straight line from creation to doom. However, after Earth is created the story quickly takes a downward spiral with the introduction of the antagonist serpent. Once Adam and Eve come to terms with their new life and have children the story continues on and on with many successes and tragedies before reaching the time of the apocalypse. Genesis and Revelation do have a beginning and an end, but the stories are also full of celebrations, mild dilemmas, severe tragedies and many other types of scenarios and situations that create a cyclical journey through time with an untold version of what may have happened after the apocalypse. In this way, The Bible also involves an evolutionary story line.
The evolutionary story line exists along a much larger scale of time, which can include millions or billions of years, or more. It presents a cycle of growth that is consistent throughout the story. In Octavia Butler’s Parable of the Sower, the reader enters into an evolutionary time line where people are struggling to survive. Throughout the narrative the time line is made known to offer a beginning to the current situation as the characters try to find their way back to some type of normal. There is a clear low-tech dystopia playing out throughout the text. As the story progresses to the end many ups and downs are involved with attacks, survival and the development of a new group to create a post-apocalyptic community. However, the reader is not left with a novel full of deceased characters nor a successful, safe new world. Instead we are left with the eerie reminder that when people appear to have things worth taking they will be attacked and left “with scraps of their belongings on their backs” (Butler, p.228). Parable of the Sower leaves its readers with many questions, but due to its cyclical pattern, it might be safe to assume that Lauren’s group will see more of the same in their future.
Another example of an evolutionary narrative is “Stone Lives”. This short story by Paul Di Filippo seems to have a dystopia among a utopia. It also shows how a character might learn from one lifestyle to help with the other. As Stone learns to survive without sight, the reader gets to journey along with him as he learns how to see. The vision portrayed by Filippo allows the audience to fear, grow, have pride, and lose what was just gained, Stone’s family, with true emotion. The story is one of survival and the emotional toll is also very continuous. Along the same lines, “Bear Discovers Fire” by Terry Bisson is another short story where bears evolve instead of humans. I suppose the humans evolve as well as they learn to accept bears camping out nearby as normal everyday bear behavior. The bears adapted right out of their hibernating habits, because bears with fire can keep warm during the cold winter months. This low-tech narrative was somewhat unclear where it was heading, as some people wanted to hunt the bears and others wanted to live among them. Hopefully this ecotopia doesn’t evolve into a dystopia.
The third type of future narratives is alternative futures. This story line varies in every way. It might branch, it might have several lines running parallel or perpendicular and it might change depending on occurring factors. A great example of this is William Gibson’s “Garden of Forking Paths”. This short story emulates how alternative futures work with multiple time lines that have differing outcomes which all occur in different spaces of existence. “Mozart in Mirrorshades” by Bruce Sterling and Lewis Shiner illustrates another example of an alternative future tale by expanding on wormholes and time travel. With mentions of Marie Antoinette and Mozart the reader journeys back in history only to find the future there. This narrative shows how time travel can affect other timelines, mostly negatively. In yet another future narrative, The Time Machine by H.G. Wells develops an imaginative creation of what the far future might look like. In this novel, like in “Stone Lives”, we see a utopia among a dystopia. It appears that some beings have evolved to survive, each in different ways. One group lives in light and the other among darkness. This novel is a bit more complex as it shows signs of an apocalyptic timeline, but also an evolutionary time line. For example, the time traveller only seems to travel in a linear line. There are no turns or directions, only forward and back. It also shows different creatures during different eras as evolved beings as they try to survive the changes that seem to be overtaking the earth.
I, admittedly, appreciate apocalyptic and evolutionary narratives as they are more familiar to me and more relatable. While high-tech tales of time machines and robots are manageable, I struggle to envision creatures and objects that don’t exist at this time. Once a story dives too deep beyond my reality I lose track and I lose interest. I believe this is why cyberpunk has a following of very distinct fans. Most readers need to be able to make a connection with their text to be able to enjoy it. Overall, future narratives show a true reflection of the future in the sense that we have no idea what is coming, how it works, or what else may exist. Good luck to all of us!