Remembering Someone Else's Future
Science Fiction as a genre is roughly a 150 years old. Marking out the changed ideas about the future from the Victorian era forward, it captures both our hopes and our fears from technology. In the current era's endless nostalgia we’ve begun to embrace the alternate presents and futures from science fiction past.
Something like Fallout captures a version of the atomic age that never ended bringing the 50’s vision of the future to a dark conclusion underneath a mushroom cloud. What does it mean to take apart someone else’s future and restore it into something more cogent to modern times?
So much of Kubrick’s 2001 is steeped in the 60’s, there first half hour of the movie has more defunct brands than a failing shopping mall. Exploring the essential mixture of an acid trip and the space age, 2001 is beyond reproach. Not just as a masterwork in pre-CGI filmmaking, though you can argue that some of its effects hold up much better than most CG has, 2001 explores the idea of an alien intelligence influencing humanity from the earliest stages of evolution. The novels go into this in greater detail, as Clarke was less content to let the last word be a hallucinatory experience.
Moving forward through Cyberpunk we end up at the Matrix movies, which all seem to have at their center this idea that we will lose control of our technology and destroy ourselves. It is such a silly concept, but one that literally was the foundational idea of science fiction in Mary Shelly’s Frankenstein. Combining the fear of the unknown with the accelerating growth of technology, it's an ever-present undercurrent of science fiction. We revisit these fears through new eyes, not bringing the same fear forward. Most of the scientific trepidation present in Shelly's work has been replaced with
We will probably never reexamine the hallucinatory science fiction of the 60’s and 70’s in the way that we have the Golden Age of science fiction. Cyberpunk’s prescience about a networked society is going to make it the most likely candidate for a thorough revisiting shortly. The genre's patron saint, William Gibson, seemed to understand this and reacted by creating a trilogy of books set in the present.
Granted reality is far weirder than almost any sci-fi writer outside of Phillip K Dick could have imagined. But nostalgia for someone else's imagined future might be one of the most unique cultural artifacts of our time.