Examining the Narratives of the Future
In literature of the future, there are three primary narratives: apocalypse, evolution, and alternative. Apocalyptic literature takes place immediately preceding, during, or after the collapse of a civilization. Evolution narratives describe changes that have occurred in the characters’ world and to humankind, and explore the growth and/or regression that may have taken place. Alternative futures are based on other “possible” worlds, which may have come about if certain events did or did not take place, or parallel worlds, which share many similar and very different qualities with our own. As a whole, these different narratives help me better understand that, though narratives of the future may have different origins and paths, they show what could be if society continues down the path we are on, and the significance that a single event may have on our future as a whole.
Differentiating between apocalyptic and evolutionary narratives is more attainable when analyzing the different styles, signs, symbols, and metaphors that are typically present in the literature. In apocalypse narratives, the event that changes society is typically dramatic and happens quickly—in the Book of Revelation, Jesus suddenly releases hell on Earth, with plagues, rivers of blood, and beasts attacking the world’s population. Evolution narratives typically is more gradual, such as the economic decline and destruction of the climate in Parable of the Sower, though it is a blend of apocalyptic and evolutionary narratives. Evolutionary visions have a larger time scale, as well, according to “Future Narratives Compared” on the course website.
There is also a heavier presence of symbolism and signs in apocalyptic narratives, such as the numbers “666” or “7” throughout the Bible, and God being change is repeated throughout Parable. In evolutionary narratives, survival is also emphasized more—in “Stone Lives,” the titular character thinks to himself that “survival is his main—his only—concern.” This idea is also present in Katie Morin’s “Destiny Defined: Analyzing Narratives of the Future,” when she says that evolving is necessary for survival in these narratives. However, in apocalyptic literature, purity is a common theme: clearing the Earth of “impure” beings is one major concept, even in popular apocalyptic movies, such as Bird Box (2018).
Apocalyptic narratives appeal to many people as literature and culturally because there is often rich symbolism and signs, which helps connect ideas and gives readers the feeling that they can prevent the apocalypse from impacting them as dramatically—often through physical, mental, and, often most importantly, spiritual preparation. However, individuals are often written as unable to change the reality of the world as a whole, and can typically only influence their own wellbeing. In apocalyptic narratives, authors typically write about the decline of humanity, which requires an apocalypse to “cleanse” our world, leading to progress. The downside of this style of literature is that apocalypses are typically written as unpreventable, which gives readers a sense of helplessness.
Evolutionary narratives often do the opposite—since change is slow, readers feel that they can stop or at least be well-prepared if that situation comes to light, since these narratives often take place in a future that could happen if our society continues to go down the path it is on. However, there is often less control felt in those situations about how to live their lives—usually, characters have to adapt to their environment and hope that they are the fittest, and they cannot change the situation as a whole, just their own fate. Evolutionary literature can represent either decline or progress, depending on the authors’ perspective. This is especially noticeable in the Time Machine, as it can be debated that the world has progressed, since there is less need for wit or strength. On the other hand, it can also be argued that humanity has declined, either by looking at the Eloi, who have grown to be fragile, inattentive, and fearful, or by examining the Morlocks, who live underground and feed on the Eloi.
While apocalyptic and evolutionary narratives differ in many ways, they do have similar structures and features—one example of such is that there is only one reality, which, despite what many hope, is often unavoidable. Alternative future narratives, however, are centered around the many possibilities of what reality could be, and individuals often have more importance in these stories, as choices are emphasized to be largely impactful. In “Better Be Ready ‘Bout Half Past Eight,” Byron realizes that his child can be anything, which is an acceptance of alternative futures that was not present during his earlier emphasis of his son only being male. Time is more complex in alternative narratives: rather than being represented in a linear or cyclical fashion over thousands to billions of years, these stories can take place simultaneously, and time is more influenced by the one experiencing it. The different realities are often depicted as parallel worlds, forking paths, or mazes. One example of such was written in “Garden of Forking Paths,” when Albert expresses Ts'ui Pên’s belief in "an infinite series of times, in a growing, dizzying net of divergent, convergent and parallel times… Time forks perpetually toward innumerable futures.”
Overall, the emphasis of possibilities and choice in alternative narratives is a critical defining factor of the sub-genre. It appeals to many readers because the idea of other possible realities is enticing to those who wish their own reality would improve, and because of the basis of the narrative is a complex scientific theory—being able to understand it can be self-gratifying. Others may not enjoy this particular sub-genre for the same reason: it can be difficult to accept the idea of alternative possibilities of one’s own life, and the importance of choice can lead people having to face the guilt that accompanies decisions they make, as they can no longer deny the significance these choices may have. In the context of our culture, the values expressed in alternative narratives are often less absolute than the ones that are present in our reality. This can make these narratives even more difficult to relate to for some, but enticing to others. As literature, it allows for infinite possibilities, which is appealing to both writers and readers who want to explore new concepts.
While “Narratives of the Future” often paints a specific image in one’s mind, it is a broad genre that encompasses various natures and scales of time, roles of individuals and humanity, and literary appeals. Depending on one’s purpose for reading, at least one of the narratives will be able to fulfill the need.