The Patterns of the Future
I was not sure at first as to how to organize my thoughts or construct what I have learned thus far in Literature of the Future until I read Christa Van Allen’s pre-midterm essay from 2016, “Telling Tales of Tomorrow” which inspired me with the confidence to explain my knowledge of Narratives of the Future through my own personal lens instead of trying to dismantle the entirety of future narratives. When I signed up for Literature of the Future, I anticipated that we would sort of get an idea of how people imagined the future would be but I did not realize the true scope of what I would learn. The classes that we have had have mainly focused on Revelations and other books from the Bible that reference Creation and the Apocalypse, Parable of the Sower, and The Time Machine as well some others such “Stones Lives,” “Garden of Forking Paths,” and “Better Be Ready ‘bout Half Past Eight.” From those stories and the class discussions surrounding them, I have already gleaned a lot of new insight into what I believe Narratives of the Future are all about. Namely, I realized that the point of the course is to delve deeply into how the future has been perceived by humans throughout the ages, spanning from ancient and biblical times all the way to the present day.
From my new perspective and angle on how I viewed Literature of the Future, I believe that Narratives of the Future are all about the way in which humanity has imagined the future to be or how they wished it could be in the future. There appear to be three distinct ways or frameworks in which how we imagine the future or predict the future can be categorized and organized: the Creation/Apocalypse way, the Evolution way, or the Alternative Futures way. The first way we explored as was mentioned above, was by reading the book of Revelations along with other chapters about prophesy in the Bible. These prophesies are first described in the book of Daniel by Daniel through the recounting of his dreams and realizing that they document or prophesize the signs that will appear when the “end-times” are nigh (Dan. 7.1-12.13). Jesus then briefly mentions the end times when asked by his disciples in the book of Matthew and he gives them a description or prophesy that closely resembles what Daniel described and goes as far as giving advice on what to do in order to survive during the Apocalypse (Mat. 24.1-51). Finally, in the book of Revelations, there are full-length descriptions of the seven angels coming down and bringing about the Apocalypse and following (although with much greater detail) the same signs that were first described by others in the Bible as well as Daniel and Jesus (Rev. 1.1-22.21). I found that these books and the Bible itself encapsulate perfectly that the meat and bones of what the Creation/Apocalypse way of seeing the future is all about is to have one complete story that accurately depicts both the creation of the world and the end of it that also lends to the idea that there is a divinity to humans and the world and there is a well formed plan that we can all trust in.
There are other stories in addition to the Bible, that fall into the Creation/Apocalypse category as well, such as Parable of the Sower by Octavia Butler. In it, we have Lauren, the main character, as a savior type who makes a prediction or “prophesizes” about how everything will end and fall apart, and it is only through the salvation that she offers that anyone can be saved, much like Jesus, Daniel, and John in the Bible do. However, Parable of the Sower transitioned our class into the realm of the Evolution way of looking at the future as well since it contains both. Lauren appears to have a mutation that she shares with what looks like a slightly different or new breed of human that have “hyperempathy.” This allows (or forces) Lauren and a few others to feel the pain of those around them and indicates some direction of evolution that would paint the picture of an extremely empathic and empathetic species of humans. A few characters even allude to what it would look like if no one could hurt anyone else without hurting themselves, that perhaps that would be a better world. “Stones Lives” by Paul Di Filippo, also exemplifies an Evolution viewpoint of the future as it is set in a more advanced future with people augmented by cybernetic advancements and appears to have progressed as a society. These stories depict to me that the Evolution way of seeing the future is all about some sort of scientific progress or at least how we as humans perceive that progress to look, i.e. a mutation that makes you more empathetic or actual more advanced technology.
However, much like Parable of the Sower, “Stone Lives” is contained within another viewpoint of the future, that of the most recent way we have learned about in class, the Alternative future. The main character, Stone, discovers in his research of the past how his current world came to be and it seems to be an alternative version of how our world went in which our nations devolved into different territory controlled by different corporations instead of how our nations are now in real life (178-199). Another good example of Alternative futures is presented in The Time Machine by H.G. Wells when the Time Traveler travels into the future and sees what becomes of our world and humanity. In a fusion of Evolution and an Alternative Future, he sees that humanity in this particular timeline continued to evolve into a perfected form in which there was no strife and consequently no growth and without that, humanity began to devolve into animals or simpletons. “Garden of Forking Paths” by Jorge Luis Borges, does an excellent job of explaining this concept of alternative futures or timelines in which the short story describes the work of the protagonist Yu Tsun’s ancestor, Ts'ui Pên. The work, a novel that acts as a labyrinth with contradictory chapters in which different events take place because of different choices from one chapter to the next, is used to create the image that the theme of Alterative Future is a network of different events happening because of different choices and different directions in the timelines, all stacked one on top of the other, all technically happening simultaneously.
There was another side of Alternative Futures as described by “Better Be Ready ‘bout Half Past Eight” by Alison Baker, in which the alternate future is described as one in which sexuality is more fluid as is exemplified by the main character and his best friend than what I presume the present stance on these issues was when Bakker wrote this story. Her prediction or image of the future is very much a reality in our current present, it must have been viewed as an alternative future in much the same way The Time Machine’s was (unless of course we all end up devolving into the Eloi) when it was first written but in a far more subtle way that actually came true. However, the alternate future ‘experience’ is presented in a second light and also an evolution way in Baker’s story, in the way that the main character, Byron, realizes that the world is very different from the world he has been living in: a world where the advancement of technology has brought to life and ‘resolved’ the struggles of people like Zach who were born a male but felt they were really a female. This presents the idea that an Alternative Future could be described in a more psychological fashion where an individual character suddenly realized they were living in an alternative future, different from what they thought they knew. After reading and discussing all of these stories in class, I realized that Alternative Futures were the visions of the future where our timeline has been altered or deviates in some way from what we know to be reality and creates a whole new world, some subtly different and others vastly that causes the readers to think, “What if?”
Ultimately, it is through these three main categories of future narratives that we are given a unique insight into the patterns into which humanity faces and conceptualizes the future and the unknown. Indeed, as explored above, many of the narratives we have read can be interpreted into at least more than one type, if not all, such as Parable of the Sower being a Creation/Apocalypse, Evolution and alternative future text. Timothy Morrow makes an important point in his pre midterm assignment “Apocalypse Near: Analyzing the Narrative of Decline in Science Fiction” that I agree with and states that there is in fact an underlying theme of decline masked behind a shallow perception of progress contained within all of the different Narratives of the Future that they seem to share in common. Every future story we have read in class thus far appears to describe this decline or be in response to this decline of humanity. Additionally, in many of these stories such as Parable of the Sower and “Stone Lives” both of the main characters are uniquely gifted with being the only one or one of few who can both see this decline and also (hopefully) have the insight to either stop it or salvage what they can from it. However, in addition to this common theme of decline there is also a common them of starting anew or something after that decline. These narratives all seem to be in response to some identified “great decline” in which the author either presents their story as a warning to make the readers aware or also presents a solution.