The Future is Rural

Tuesday , 24, June 2014 6 Comments

For all its complexities and controversies, history — or at the very worst ideal history–is linear. This can lend to the personal illusion that history is progressive: that the dark ages were bad, the rennaisance was better, the enlightenment quite excellent and our modern comforts simply the height of luxury and moral conduct. If you prefer, that the 1930s were horrible, the 1940s traumatic, the 1950s restrictive, the 1960s innovative, and so on and so on, until NOW, the upward pointing arrow toward an even more corrected tomorrow.

First Astronaut on Iowa

Thus science fiction which anticipates a future history of some sort is capable of portraying a close-quarter, secular, multi-species galactic space station that has fewer social conflicts than a hermitage. Or cities that are megapopulated, packed in, technologically adaptive, and clean. Conversely, post-apocalyptic literature tends to harmonize with dog-eat-dog, last man standing, “zombie” takeover themes, set either in wilderness or collapsed cities. This is considered “dystopic” in nature: in other words, what the opposite of Progress will look like if we fail to do X,Y, or Z.

I wonder: what if the future is not progressive? If history is both linear and cyclical, it is just as possible that Robocop would instead be employed in abandoned Detroit to harvest an abundant deer population. Perhaps the problems of future population decline have nothing to do with a bomb or a virus or climate change: maybe they have everything to do with voluntary birth rate. Perhaps the good things in the future: government, community, space travel, personal conduct will be smaller and more narrow. Perhaps a dystopia won’t be due to fallout but to too much fall-in.

Don’t get me wrong, I love galactic stories with galactic stakes and galaxy-class cruisers launched to win them. I just sometimes look at the patterns of history and suspect that, at least sometime, the future could be bright…and small.

  • Jack Amok says:

    I love stories and settings that are the “new rural frontier” with room to stretch your arms. But then I’ve always preferred small towns to either urban or suburban life.

    What’s the point of colonizing space if we’re going to be even more crowded there than here?

  • VD says:

    There is a lot of possibility of social science-based SF, but unfortunately, the current lot of SF writers is almost spectacularly unfit to make use of it. Mostly because the social science they give credence is of the sort that is already science fiction.

  • SH says:

    First of all, the Iowa landing was faked. Everyone knows that.

    Seriously though, nestled in this rather small post are some big ideas. We have the progressive, linear model, juxtaposed against the dystopian “this is what happens when we leave the golden path” model. And those two constitute reams and reams of sci-fi. It is refreshing to see it called out. Despite their faults, I think the later Dune novels had an interesting take on this. If I recall, freaky worm Emperor Leto II “regressed” mankind to a more idyllic state.

  • Jill says:

    I just watched a documentary on tiny houses last night. I could have written that sci fi story ten years ago. My absurd imagination: large spinsters and small couples who choose not to have children, but go to yoga class because there’s no room for downward facing dogs in their tiny houses, which have peat bucket toilets, as they aren’t piped into the septic in their grandparents’ backyard. An environmentally friendly romp about [plump] women in trousers, I like to call Tiny Housers.

  • Jill says:

    **Except it’s no longer my imagination. The future is small. It’s very small.

  • I agree with you. I’d love to see more science fiction that envisions a future whet everything has not, necessarily gotten steadily bigger and shinier. That’s why I’m working on a novel (first in a series –I hope), in which the future of humanity has split –many populated worlds (no intelligent aliens in this future) has learned the dangers of increasing reliance on technology and reverted to a more agrarian model on a more human scale , while many of the other planets have been amalgamated into a Terra Novan Union, which is aggressively technological, invasive and controlling of its citizens, and now threatening, once again, to subsume all world which have, so far, evaded its grasp. My focus is on a small group that will step outside the culture clash for a generation or so, as they seek to build a society that is small, peaceable, prosperous and humane. Expect trouble.

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