Back to the Future
Reading speculative/science fiction, or literature of future, is an interesting way to learn about the anxieties of our past or present. Many authors find a good way to shine a light on current events and issues is to write a tale of the future where that fear or idea has been amplified. It has the dual effect of holding a mirror to society, and creating a “through the looking glass” glimpse of what could be. These stories tend to be dominated, though not exclusively as the course terms/themes page points out, by three different narratives. They are creation/apocalypse, evolution, and alternative futures.
The most obvious example of the creation/apocalypse narrative is from the books of Genesis and Revelation in the bible. As Kimberly Hall discusses in her essay “The Power of Three”, these books contain the hallmarks of the creation/apocalypse narrative in that the timeline is linear and direct, there are clear lines drawn between good and evil, and the story features a chosen one, or chosen people. Octavia Butler’s Parable of the Sower is another example of this, and it follows the storyline of Genesis and Revelation fairly well. Like Adam and Eve in the garden of Eden, the community Lauren lives in is something of a utopia, at least amid the horrors of the city. Also like Adam and Eve, Lauren and a few survivors are cast out from their utopia and forced to travel through the dangerous world. Along the way Lauren preaches her religion Earthseed, and picks up several other wayward travelers who settle in a new utopian-esque community.
Where Parable differs though, is its blend into another narrative of the future, that of evolution. Evolution is primarily about change and progress, positive or negative, and change is the very essence of Lauren’s religion. But evolution is also about time being a cyclical force, and this is shown in Parable through Lauren’s likeness to her father, and that in her desire to progress and change she establishes something not unlike what she left behind. The evolution theme is also handles the nature of time on a much larger scale. The short story “Bears Discover Fire” by Terry Bisson explores this idea through bears that have learned to create fire. One of the reasons for this is explained that as the earth’s climate has changed, so has the bears need for hibernation and that has lead them to remember things they may have forgotten in their long sleeps. Tom Britt wrote in his essay “A Gift to the Dead and a Warning to the Living” that fire has always been associated with human progress, and that for a different species to harness that power shows change in a planet that seems stagnant to our human understanding.
The third narrative, and one that shall be discusses at a later date following the class sessions on it, is alternate futures.