Nov 3, 2009

The Next Big Thing? The FuturePast

Vampire books need to be staked. Zombies novels are overripe and starting to smell. Even Steampunk is getting a little rusty. So what's the next big thing?

I'm seeing a subtle but growing trend of books I call the FuturePast.

I feel like this emergent genre is a natural result from the rise and fall of posthumanist science fiction in years past. While the Singularity is an interesting topic, it's intrinsic nature makes it almost impossible to predict. The Singularity assumes exponentially change until the resultant species can no longer be defined as human.

While it's fun and frightening to think about but in terms of motivations people who don't eat, don't love, and don't die are very hard to empathize with. It's also hard to come up with logical plots that could even be comprehended by our inferior minds. There's a reason why there aren't a whole lot of PostSingular novels.

But at the same time, the Singularity appears likely. At least as likely as the chances of humanity colonizing other solar systems as depicted in the latest, greatest space opera. So authors looking to write in the mid- to far-future (200+ years) have a decision to make: implausible Space Opera or cold, unrelatable PostSingularity.

But with the looming threat of resource scarcity, overpopulation, and global warming, another option has presented itself: The FuturePast. The FuturePast assumes that the rise of environmentalism fails, that the Green Revolution will be too little too late. Instead the world will experience significant but not catastrophic change. Wars will be fought for remaining resources. The current transportation paradigm will crumble without the lifeblood of oil. The population will fall as millions or billions are cut off from society and starve. But not permanently. Eventually, we will again reach a sustainable way of living and begin to pick up the pieces. We will start over again, hopefully learning from our original mistakes and making strides in different directions than before.

This FuturePast allows for authors to prognosticate into the future without straying too far from the present. It reintroduces the conflict of mere survival that is virtually gone from 21st century American life. It resets technology to 19th century standards while still allowing for exotic exceptions. It offers any number of geopolitical states resulting from a war for resources that could offer story upon story in its own right. And if you write it logically, it could even be plausible.

Along with it's sibling subgenres of EcoPunk and GreenPunk in which humanity successfully manages to avoid a technological Dark Age before the Resource War, the FuturePast is poised to be the next big movement in science fiction. People are interested in green technology; new authors will want to preach about the dangers of consumer culture and rampant ecocide and provide their own solutions; readers will want to read about the dozens of different ways the green revolution will change our lives.

Spaceflight defined the science fiction of the 50s, 60s and 70s. Computers shaped the SF of the 80s, 90s and 00s. Will the Green revolution influence the SF of tomorrow?

You can already see the seeds sprouting. There's Robert Charles Wilson's Julian Comstock, Paolo Bacigalupi's The Windup Girl and Pump Six and Other Stories, and even possibly S.M. Stirling's Novels of the Change. There's a fun new playground out there for anyone who's willing. The FuturePast is coming. Or is it already here?

Feel free to add your own examples of FuturePast SF in the comments.


  1. Interesting!

    I'm also wondering what happens after the GFC confirms that the oligopoly model of economics doesn't work. We're already seeing big corporations crash and burn while micro-businesses thrive by adopting direct-selling of products either locally or globally via e-commerce. Slow Food is not yet threatening McDonalds' bottom line... but maybe one day...

    EconoPunk anyone?

  2. Just what we were thinking...

    So upcoming from Angry Robot (May UK, June US) - DAMAGE TIME by Colin Harvey. In a bankrupt New York that's been divided up between the Chinese and the Muslims, a despairing cop is framed for a political murder.

  3. I hope this doesn't happen, because it sounds predictable and boring. Global Warming is a hoax and the data is wrong.


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