28 March 2019
The Paths of the Future
When I began this course, I had no idea what to expect or how we would study literature of the future. I am very inexperienced with the genre of science or speculative fiction and usually avoid dystopian stories. I shouldn’t have been surprised that a major theme is time and structure, but I was. I found it interesting to learn that the course would be primarily divided into three narratives of the future, creation/apocalypse, evolution, and alternative.
The first narrative introduced was creation/apocalypse and I found this pretty clear to understand, especially in the context of reading texts like Genesis and Revelation. This narrative has a linear path of beginning, middle, end and might be more easy for the human brain to comprehend. There is also a focus on human relationships, such as families or communities and a clear distinction between good and evil. In Genesis, we are presented with the creation of the world, then scripture proceeds to follow human history, and then Revelation gives a vision for the end of the world. It is a linear path and it follows a chosen people as they learn to resist evil and prepare themselves for the end of time.
Parable of the Sower picks up this linear narrative and mirrors scriptural events. I didn’t realize how similar they were until reading Laura Wilson’s essay where she points out that Lauren begins the story in a community that is a utopia compared to the world outside of it, but she is then forced out and must face trials outside of it before beginning a new “utopian-esque” community. In this text, Lauren is the “chosen one” trying to bring her message to people and start a new community to face what seems like the end of the world. This linear timeline works well in literature as stories have a beginning, middle, and end. People might also like this narrative because of the human characters and the idea of a “chosen one” to root for.
In comparison, evolution is different from creation/apocalypse in that it is presented on a much larger scale, is not so human focused, and is not linear, but rather like a spiral with no set beginning or ending. There are lots of interconnected parts and the purpose is progress. “Bears Discover Fire” is a great example of how unclear evolution can be at times. Just as the title suggests, bears discover fire and start using it to keep warm now that they are not hibernating in the winter. The bears seem calm and intelligent and there are even theories that they had previously discovered fire, but had forgot due to their hibernation. In this case, there is no clear beginning and there are questions of when bears started evolving to this level, how long it has taken, and if they have evolved in other ways.
The Time Machine is another text that shows the immensity of the time scale in evolution narratives. Although it never specifically mentions how far into the future the time machine can actually travel, the majority of the story takes place in the year Eight Hundred and Two Thousand Seven Hundred and One A.D. and then the time traveler travels beyond that into deep future. Once further into the future, he continues to jump by a thousand years or more and eventually describes his last stop as more than thirty million years hence. This interaction with time is so grand, as humans normally think in years or maybe hundreds of years, but not thousands and millions of years. Besides the large time scale, The Time Machine also deals with another characteristic of evolution narratives, the decline of human form and societies. In the future, humans evolve into a species more animal like and in the deep future there are no human forms, but instead, giant animals and enormous landscapes and nature scenes.
While creation/apocalypse narratives are focused on communities and evolution narratives are focused on progress, alternative future narratives are focused more on choices and the individual. There seems to be limitless possibilities and choices and there is room for other cultures and genders. As I learned in my web highlights assignment, it can also be physical or psychological realities. The story "Better Be Ready 'bout Half Past Eight” is not focused on alternative timelines, but on an alternative future where gender and sexuality are not restricted and there is room to see differing personalities and points of view. It is a future in which the mind is not hampered by what the body determines and individuals can create new futures through the opening of their mind.
Besides the focus on choices and individuals, another characteristic of alternative futures is their unique time scale. Instead of being linear or cyclical, they resemble a branching tree or a maze with many paths to explore. The branching time line is clearly seen in the story "Mozart in Mirrorshades” and it shows how the past and the future can interact together. While it may not be for morally right reasons that the future is interacting with the past, it does show how people can make decisions to create different pasts to benefit their future. This mixed time scale enhances the theme of choices and the idea that there is not one “right” future, but many coexisting together.
By learning about these three narratives in science fiction, I have a better idea of what to look for in specific texts. It enables me to focus on smaller details instead of having to spend all my focus on the larger picture of structure. It has also given me a greater appreciation for the way writers work within these narratives as I continue to see different approaches and styles. Although I have addressed these narratives as having distinct characteristics and features, I have also learned that there is more interaction between them than I originally thought. What may appear to be strictly a creation/apocalypse narrative at first glance, could actually contain various evolutionary qualities or vice versa. Furthermore, alternative futures may also have an evolutionary nature in the feeling of repetition of futures or it could have an apocalyptic aspect of a branch breaking off the tree and ending. These narratives have proved more complex and diverse as I have continued to learn about them.