What is it about sci-fi books whose settings are in the near future not being as popular as books whose settings are from millions of years from now? A lot of the more popular sci-fi books aren’t based on WHAT TYPE of future is going to be there but WHAT TIME the book is set in. Bad or good, the futures of these books don’t matter to people as long as it isn’t in a future that will come in their lifetime.
Now this hasn’t always been the case, but more recently authors have been depicting events that are too believable with their books that are set in a time that is coming soon. These events are often depicted as deeply disturbing, traumatizing, and concerning. With the coming of shows like Black Mirror, sci-fi is front and center, causing many to dwell on the would-be terrors that come with that fact. It is a deeply rooted tree that demands our attention and casts shadows on our own visions of what will eventually be.
Books like War of the Worlds and 1984 are what I believe to be the start of the age of dystopian nightmares in the past decade or two and with the fast advancement of technology, it’s no wonder. Books like these started to show the lengths mankind would take to secure a future for themselves, whether it defied their ethics or not. Humans are trying to produce technology that would expand a persons' life and they are toying with the laws of nature to find answers to questions they probably shouldn't be asking. We are now closer to sentient artificial intelligence, and closer to endings like I am Legend, The Mitchells vs The Machines, “I, Robot”, and The Terminator. A future in which technology comes to life and takes over the future is not so far-fetched.
So why are these books not as popular as ones in the distant future? Could it be due to the fact that we aren’t having to face that reality compared to the very real possibilities that the near-future books shove in our face? Distant future books show the same situations and sometimes have the same problems but they are vastly more popular. So why is it that we fear the near future when most futures in sci-fi are alike? A fear that is so palpable that is has given rise to a new genre of sci-fi called Solarpunk that is working toward brighter, sustainable futures that could put an end to the nihilistic stories that we have been getting for generations.
I think the problem lays in the fact that humans are capable of their own destruction and have proven that they are willing to ruin a good future over and over again. In a world that is changing so quickly and with super powers around that world that are vying for “King of the castle”, we can see that futuristic dilemmas (such as the ones in the near future tales) are quite imaginable and will come to fruition quickly if we do not handle our growing capabilities with care. Stephen Hawking once said "Success in creating AI would be the biggest event in human history. Unfortunately, it might also be the last, unless we learn how to avoid the risks." Meanwhile, we have a grand ole time reading about a future in which we WILL NOT exist; leaving our children, their children, or even their children’s children’s children to deal with the eventual complications/blessings that may or may not come.
Ultimately, we do not think of the distant future often so it does not bother us as much. Let the aliens come, let the government fall, let a disease wipe out half the world; it’s no skin off our nose because we will not be there to witness it. But, if greater minds tinker with Siri and she suddenly goes rogue then all of a sudden our concern for the future skyrockets and everyone panics. As humans, we do not imagine the time and place of our demise (I do a lot but that’s because I have anxiety. Anyone else??) and we choose to live life day by day so it just goes to show that someone can throw a wrench in our timeline by making the impossible possible by tweaking with our present to make our nice, helpful technology turn into our greatest threat.
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