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.
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.