One of the things I wanted to do on this blog was look at how speculative fiction is shaping the future and how the future is shaping speculative fiction. When I wrote that I hadn’t fully appreciated the scope of that thought. I’m overwhelmed by it now, and I find it difficult to quantify but still intriguing. So now I’m starting to catalogue some ideas about the near future that I think make up the primary challenges headed our way. I want to eventually collect and note works of science fiction, horror, fantasy, even mainstream fiction that reflect or illuminate these issues.
Here are four near future challenges that interest me both in my day-to-day existence and in my writerly imagination.
1. The growing tension between the evolving global economy and the rise of the machines. If things go well, one day we might hail this period as the one where labor was freed along with capital, global economic equilibrium was achieved, we’re all super creative entrepreneurs, and there are no more phone contracts. If things go badly, we might remember this period as the one where the notion of progress was thoroughly discredited and humanity wound up divided into the haves and have nots with both camps having robot armies and neither camp having a sense of purpose. (I hear Janice singing “Freedom’s just another word for nothing left to lose….” in the back of my head.) A very interesting discussion about this dynamic recently aired on “On Point with Tom Ashbrook.”
2. An unhappy earth. Usually this issue is relegated to the far future concerns because it is so often expressed in terms poorly translated from scientific jargon, but that’s deceptive. There are plenty of signs of things unwinding right now via small calamities like Californians replacing grass with gravel so they can keep their swimming pools or larger calamities like the submersion of coastal areas due to rising sea-levels. It reminds us that, for good or ill, we are the stewards of the land. When we are taking more than giving, ravishing more than nourishing, consuming more than producing, it bodes ill for the future.
3. Genetic modification. This complex of issues ranges from natural evolutionary consequences like growing bacterial resistance to antibiotics to modification of plants and animals that could accidentally or deliberately threaten the food supply to the modification of human beings, which I’ve already touched on here. There are undoubtedly positive aspects to this issue like remedying illness and increasing food production, but the nefarious consequences seem so much greater. And these changes are upon us. We must determine our stance on several ethical questions in like…hmmm….right now.
4. The collapse of political institutions. And finally, to bring the future even closer and make it more mundane, much of humanity is currently amping up wars. Plain old nasty power struggles, be they overtly political, couched in terms of race and ethnicity, or draped in the robes of one god or another, have more people on the move than we have seen since post World War II. In several parts of the world autocracy is looking attractive and democracy smells like three-day-old fish. If this ain’t a sign of the failure of political institutions, I don’t know what is. Daily media coverage of war is taken for granted and ignored until there is an outrageous slaughter or a new technique is introduced. And we keep writing checks for anti-terrorism efforts…. Even local unrest, like the protests and riots in Ferguson and Baltimore, are breaking into higher levels of violence in order to get any political attention on the issues that pain human beings.
What other major challenges are you reading or thinking about and which fiction authors are inspiring you with their future earth worldbuilding skills?