Forms of the Future: An Analysis of Three Alternative Future Essays
In learning the three basic subgenres of futuristic literature—apocalypse, evolution, and alternative futures, I have found the alternative future narrative to be most complex and difficult to grasp. In reviewing three Model Assignments of students discussing the subgenre, I have deepened my understanding of the genre in comparison to its counterparts, which aided in the composition of my own assignments, especially in my analysis of Allison Baker’s “Better Be Ready ‘bout Half Past Eight.”
In her Midterm Essay 1, entitled “The Three Narratives: Hand-in-Hand,” Nikki Jones discusses “Better Be Ready ‘bout Half Past Eight”:
“The subgenre of this short story can be categorized as alternative future but it also has complimentary themes found in evolutionary literature. The main difference, however, is that it does not deal with alternative timelines on a large scale but with alternative future on a personal scale and instead of an entire era evolving, it is more about Byron’s growth and evolution on a mental, emotional, and physical level” (2016).
I feel this statement is nicely put and reading this before writing my own Essay 1 helped me to better develop my own ideas. Her inclusion of “personal scale” immediately made me think of the time scales we have been dealing with for our first two subgenres (linear and cyclical). I thought this correlation was especially interesting because one’s personal scale can be either predictable or unpredictable and is also limitless—much like the alternative future genre as a whole. Initially, after having read “Better Be Ready,” I thought it would be best to skip it altogether and write about “Mozart in Mirrorshades” since it is more obviously a work of alternative fiction. However, “Better Be Ready” serves as proof that the genre is so incredibly versatile and is not restricted to just time travel or otherwise physically escaping one’s present reality.
Part of the reason why “Better Be Ready” is so relatable is because nothing out of the ordinary or too far-fetched happens throughout the narrative. Nikki Jones’s Essay 2 Final Exam, “Science Fiction: A Tangible Future in the Classroom” reflects this sentiment as well, when discussing The Time Machine. She compares the Traveller’s experiences to those of a high school student curious about how their own future will pan out. She writes that high school students should “understand the curious nature of the time traveler and what compels him to travel into the future because they can relate to him wanting to know for certain what the future holds, only on a larger scale than theirs” (2016). This is something I touched on in my own essay, especially when analyzing the believability of a given work and how well it may or may not be received given how realistic and/or relatable it is. If a piece is too simplistic it runs the risk of being seen as dull and uninteresting, but if it is too extraordinary and unbelievable, readers are less likely to relate to it and can become disassociated. Being able to make these connections to one’s own life experiences is oftentimes important because it aids in the deeper understanding of a piece’s meaning, much like Jones states.
Finally, Rebecca Dyda’s Essay 1, “Discovering the Truth,” offers a more detailed description of “Better be Ready,”—one that argues that the alternative future narrative is a combination of both apocalyptic and evolutionary subgenres:
“The alternative theme takes the standard beginning middle and definite end found in apocalyptic novels, the gradual change found in evolutionary novels, and branches off into a texts filled with changes and alternate plausible endings.”
Dyda, much like Jones, explains how both Zach and Byron have two options: to either live as men or as women, and their decision will dictate one of two alternate futures in which they will live:
“Both of these characters create two separate forms of reality for facing what seems to be the same identity crisis. Both men seem to find some truth in themselves, ultimately making their own decisions on how to deal with this truth. Like in our Apocalyptic and Evolutionary themed texts, this texts found truth also sets the mood for the theme of the novel. In Better be ready at about half past eight, the characters find their own sense truth in their lives. This ultimately puts together two completely different timelines of what could have happened in each case.”
I had not thought of it this way, because I believe that the mere thought process Byron is experiencing classifies the narrative as a work of alternative fiction, and whether or not he chooses to live as male or female seems to be of little importance. However, this just further confirms how versatile the genre is, and how it can be interpreted multiple ways, either psychologically or physically.
Each of the three Model Assignments aided in my comprehension of Baker’s short story. Initially I struggled in trying to interpret the piece on my own, but reading the thoughts and opinions depicted in each of these essays further strengthened and developed my own ideas and understanding of a literary genre that was new to me before taking this course.