Destiny Defined: Analyzing Narratives of the Future
As someone who has yet to study the genre of futuristic literature, I was surprised to discover just how complex the genre truly is. Works of the future are multifaceted and can generally be grouped under one of three storylines: creation/apocalypse, evolution, and alternative futures. While these are just the three primary narratives of futuristic literature, these groups are not entirely exclusive of one another, and it is not uncommon to notice elements from one storyline present in another. As the semester progresses, I hope to gain a deeper understanding of each of the three storylines, and a newfound appreciation for a genre that is relatively new to me.
The creation/apocalypse narrative has a linear timeline, with a clear beginning and end. This is largely attributed to Judeo-Christian ideology, which brings to us the concepts of Alpha/Omega, beginning/end, and Genesis/Revelation. According to our course’s website, as a storyline, this linear “model conforms to Aristotle (Poetics VII) that a plot or narrative must have ‘a beginning, a middle, and an end.’” It is a straightforward timeline which most people have some level of familiarity with. However, in some instances, this linear model can become a bit more complex as it can appear somewhat cyclical—for example, certain aspects from “the beginning” or Creation reappear during “the end” or the Apocalypse. As discussed in class, a prime example of this is Genesis’s Tree of Life also making an appearance in the book of Revelation.
When considering the Bible, Genesis marks the beginning of Creation, while Revelation both begins the formation of a dystopia (the Apocalypse), and later in chapters 21-22, the beginning of a utopia: Heaven. A utopia is a society where everything appears to be running smoothly, and all of its members are seemingly happy/content. In contrast, as defined by our course’s website, a dystopia is a “society opposite from a utopia, a utopia gone dysfunctional, or the world just before an apocalypse or ‘left behind’ after one.” In works of the future, dystopias appear to be far more common than utopias. A prime example of a dystopian/apocalyptic society can be seen in Octavia Butler’s Parable of the Sower. In it, the story’s protagonist, Lauren, finds the world around her self-destructing—the government is corrupt, water is scarce, fire is rampant, and violence has her world in ruins. It is the start of the apocalypse, the beginning of the end, whether Lauren is ready for it or not.
In contrast, the second type of futuristic storyline, the evolutionary narrative, appears to emphasize free will and adaptability. Only the strong survive, and evolution is necessary in order to stay alive. Although Parable of the Sower falls under the creation/apocalypse narrative, Lauren herself exhibits characteristics seen in the evolutionary narrative. The world as she knows it is ending, but she takes it upon herself to evolve/adapt to her new normal. She begins to form Earthseed, her own religion, and Lauren repeats over and over that “God is Change”—she is ultimately able to save herself by evolving as an individual. Lauren also serves as an example of our course’s definition of evolution (evolution = change + continuity), as indicated by Karin Cooper’s midterm, “The Alternative Evolution of the Apocalypse” (2015). Cooper writes that while the group Lauren creates is new, Earthseed still resembles the community in which she was raised. Cooper argues that Lauren’s formation of a new group still falls “within the bounds of the evolution narrative because while the community she starts has similarities to the one she came from, it does have changes that make it more able to survive in the new environment in which it was founded.” While she still maintains certain aspects of the life she once led, Lauren must adapt and evolve in order to make it in her post-apocalyptic world.
“Stone Lives” by Paul Di Filippo exemplifies the evolutionary narrative in a more obvious way, where the protagonist, Stone, is blinded, then given a new set of bionic eyes, and introduced to a new world of technology. In order to survive the post-apocalypse, he must learn to adapt/evolve to his new surroundings, much like Lauren does in Parable.
The third and final of the three narratives, alternative future fiction, is one we have not yet covered, but I am looking forward to learning more about, as my knowledge of science fiction is largely restricted to films and television programs, not literature. As the semester progresses I hope to not only grasp a deeper understanding of the alternative future subgenre, but all three narratives collectively—their similarities, their differences, and the characteristics that make each storyline unique.