The Future of the World Via Science Fiction
Science fiction literature points towards the possibilities of the future. What will our homes look like? How will we get around? What will we do on a daily basis? Have the aliens come yet to induct us into the Supreme Galactic Society where we will be given the secret to warp speed travel?
Science fiction can seem pretty fantastical, but it’s a genre that literally shapes our future, simply by imagining our future.
The inventor of the modern submarine, Simon Lake, was inspired by Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea. He built the machine only 30 years after the book was published. Motorola’s director of research and development said that Star Trek inspired the company to design the first mobile phone.
But it’s more than technology. Futurist writers reflect our fears and hopes about what society will look like and how we will respond to never-before imagined challenges.
The future may not be now, but novels on the subject certainly are. Here’s a timeline for our near and far future straight from the books.
Novels Set in the Near Future
Date: August 20, 2018
Book: The Bone Clocks by David Mitchell
Achievement Unlocked: Recorded Precognition
Our first stop on the timeline of the future is…next month! It’s a pretty typical day. Character Crispin Hershey will have a hell of a time at a Chinese book festival (he’s really not doing too well as a career writer). The bright spot for us is that Crispin meets, Holly, a woman with an ability to predict the future.
Book: The Martian by Andy Weir
Achievement Unlocked: Colonization of Mars
A storm forces a group of scientists on Mars to evacuate. Astronaut and botanist Mark Watney disappears in the storm and is left for dead. He survives and utilizes every scrap of resource to stay alive until the ship comes back for him. Watney declares Mars colonized because he is able to farm it.
Book: Ready Player One by Ernest Cline
Achievement Unlocked: Virtual Reality (& Global Warming)
Humans struggle to overcome the effects of global warming and an energy crisis. Land scarcity forces families to stack trailers on top of each other. OASIS opens and most of the planet’s education system, business, and entertainment moves online in to the virtual reality world. Oh, and there’s an 80s revival.
Book: The Bone Clocks by David Mitchell
Achievement Unlocked: Energy Crisis
We’re back to the Bone Clocks, which is squarely in line with Ready Player One’s global crisis. The entire natural world is failing and humans fight to adapt. Holly tries to protect two children she’s guardian of, even in the midst of food rations and militiamen. Technology takes a giant leap back.
Book: Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep
Achievement Unlocked: Bio-engineered Humans
The movie Blade Runner 2049 is based loosely based on the world Philip K. Dick created in Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep. Replicants are bio-engineered human slaves. K is a Blade Runner, tasked with exterminating rogue replicants in a world filled with holographic advertisements and nuclear fallout.
Book: The Time Traveler’s Wife by Audrey Niffenegger
Achievement Unlocked: Biological Time Travel & Love
The last scene of the Time Traveler’s Wife is brief but provides a bright spot in our future timeline. At least we know enough that the world is still turning—there’s toast and tea and sweaters—and Henry and Clare will finally reunite one last time.
Book: Minority Report by Philip K. Dick
Achievement Unlocked: Precrime
Precognition is on the rise and the police force puts it to work in crime prevention. Three mutants, called precogs, can see up to two weeks in the future and an advanced computer system analyses their informaiton. The 2054 date is based on the movie version of the story.
Book: Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury
Achievement…uh oh: The Decline of Literature
All books are banned. Parlor walls provide all entertainment and society does not discuss the news. The Firehouse, in charge of burning all found books, has an eight-legged robotic dog. The 2050s decade is assumed based on a short story by Bradbury and his tendency to set his work 100 years in the future.
Novels Set 5+ Decades in the Future
Book: The Giver by Lois Lowry
Next Step?: Regulation of Society
Everyone in society is assigned to a job and Jonas is assigned to be the Receiver of Memory. He learns that emotion and color were sacrificed to achieve the sameness their community lives in. The date is based off the author’s grandson’s guess.
Date: 2100 AD+
Book: The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins
Status Quo: Classist Society
The Capital enjoys delicious food and technology while all others are forced to mine, manufacture, and farm in poverty. The government pits young people against each other to control the population. 2100+ is a safe guess based on the timeline of the revolution and reference to ancient Rome within the last book in the series.
Novels Set 500+ Years in the Future
Date: 2540 AD
Book: Brave New World by Aldous Huxley
Well, they’re trying somthing: Genetically Modified Humans and a Highly Regulated Society
Humans are grown in artificial wombs and separated into societal roles based on their intelligence and abilities. The population is kept content and under control with regular doses of the drug soma. Outside the futuristic cities, a few societies live primitively and have closer contact to the birth and death process.
Date: 2500 AD+
Book: Planet of The Apes by Pierre Boulle
Half Achievement: Near Light-Speed Travel and the Decline of Human Evolution
Ulysses departs Earth on a space ship and travels for two years before landing on an inhabited planet. The planet is remarkably like his own, but populated by intelligent apes and savage humans. Ulysses escapes with another human and returns to Earth to discover…it’s inhabited with intelligent apes.
Date: Here and there and 30 million AD
Book: The Time Machine by H.G. Wells
This is the end: Time Travel Machines and the Breakdown of the World
The host of a dinner party comes late and haggard. He revels that he traveled in time to discover the human race will split into two species: a naïve, peace-loving land dweller, and a violent, cannibalistic species. He then travels 30 million years in the future to find a red world with a dimming sun.
Our 13 moments in the future listed above present us with a wave in futurist literature. In our imagined coming decades, we’re still doing well and expanding technology. But then there’s a global shift in relation to energy and the natural world. Things degrade heavily for a while. Finally, in the far future, there’s a split in intelligent life, first via class and society, and then biologically.
If the dimming sun gets you down, look outside, we’re sure it’s shining just fine.
Our fascination with science fiction and literature that imagines the future is endless. You’ll have noticed that all of these books except one (The Bone Clocks) has been made in to a movie, some of them more than once. They hit us both in our creative and scientific parts of our mind, promising and warning us of the future.
Do you have a book that you think fits on this timeline? Comment below with the title and date of the setting.
Header Photo Credit to NASA