This brief essay was commissioned by Shanna McNair and Scott Wolven for the literary magazine The New Guard Volume IV and was published in 2015, along with several other similar/dissimilar Letters to the Future.
Okay, I admit it. I’ve been chasing you for forty years now, writing my little scenarios of what you would bring -- and they were mostly all wrong. We’ve dodged nuclear war so far, which makes all my fallout nightmares published during the Reagan years seem quaint. Most of us aren’t going to space anytime soon, so there go a couple of my early novels. Meanwhile, no Star Trek or Star Wars in my lifetime but then again, no Alien, Aliens or Alien Resurrection. Thanks for that! My predictions about politics? Not so great. I’ve got stories in my backlist, really good stories, that reference the Soviet Union in the Twenty-first Century. Back when Bill Clinton signed the ridiculous Defense of Marriage Act in the middle of the night in 1996, did I imagine that my gay friends would be getting married in less than twenty years? Nope. And even close to home, in my chosen profession of writing and publishing, I just didn’t Get It. I never saw Amazon coming until it stomped on my local bookstore like a capitalist Godzilla on a rampage. I thought the internet would be all about personal communications: email and bulletin boards and maybe telepresence. Not self-publishing, ezines and Netflix originals. I mean, I didn’t even understand about the phones. Do you realize how many species of plot your mobile phones have driven to extinction?
Some futurist I am. At least I have the bitter satisfaction of knowing that the professional futurists, the guys who got paid the big bucks to look into their statistical crystal balls, got it wrong too. We all chase you, but nobody catches the future. Even if we managed to clutch at your sleeve, you twist out of our grasp and dodge in a different direction.
Deep down, I knew it would be like this. But in order to get the stories written, I had to pretend that maybe, just maybe, I could anticipate where you were going. I needed that act of intellectual gymnastics to suspend my disbelief in order convince myself that the work was important because it could really happen. Now I know that if the work was in fact important (and heaven help me, I still believe some of it was) it wasn’t because it was some flavor of future history, or even that it was plausible, but because it was about people dealing with some very odd situations.
Which is the human condition here in 2015. You are more unknowable than you’ve ever been because you keep going faster and faster. The half-life of a science fiction story used to be measured in decades, now it’s five, maybe ten years. Then it decays into fantasy. 2001, A Space Odyssey, that most famous of science fiction novels and movies? It is, as we sometimes say in my genre, counterfactual. Alternate history. The real 2001 was much stranger than Stanley Kubrick and Arthur C. Clarke could have imagined. And 2015 is even stranger. So yeah, future, the one thing I know with absolute certainty about you is your acceleration, which means that you are going to be very peculiar indeed.
But don’t you even think about slowing down! I’m still right behind you.