by Jane Hu
As told by Arthur C. Clarke’s 1990 novel The Ghost from the Grand Banks, 2012 is the year that would see the Titanic resurrected from the ocean floor. But the year is now 2012, and the Titanic continues to sit 12,000 feet below the ocean surface, rusting more with every passing year (indeed, it’s predicted here that by 2045, only the hull will remain). The likelihood that any of us will live to see a resurrected Titanic outside a James Cameron movie now seems very slim.
While some predictions of science fiction have come to pass, if we were to compile a calendar of future events based on speculative fiction (taking in works from both science fiction and fantasy genres), we would run some hazards — not least the natural reluctance of authors to affix specific dates to their imaginings. Think, for instance, of the novels set in the not-too-distant (Man Plus) or far, far future (Ender’s Game), or perhaps a dystopic future (Farhenheit 451, Anthem) such as, oh, after some apocalyptic event (The Last Man, Oryx and Crake), not to mention those that follow alternate time (Foundation series) and world systems (Anathem) entirely. By leaving their dates murky, writers allow their predictions the possibility of eventually coming true.
We’re either living through (or have already passed) many of the milestone years set out in the speculative fiction of decades past. In his very first novel, The Sands Of Mars, published in 1951, Clarke predicted that human voyages to Mars would occur in the 90s — well, not quite, but the landing of the Mars Curiosity Rover on Monday was exciting. Meanwhile, in a time capsule created by sci-fi writer (and Scientology founder) L Ron. Hubbard in 1987 various sci-fi writers prophesized, that space colonies would exist by 2012. Alas, still a dream, but perhaps the date is the only thing they got wrong? Take George Orwell’s vision of 1984 that describes phenomena with which our world is still coming to terms. Modern surveillance isn’t quite as heavy-handed as that depicted in 1984, but prevailing anxieties over privacy and uninterrupted flows of information suggest that Orwell, too, might have described the right future, just not the right year.
While some speculative fiction aims to depict utopias, more often their future worlds are downright terrifying — heavy literalizations of current social capitalist fears. There’s a reason that Zager and Evans’ song “In the Year 2525,” was a hit in 1969, what with propositions such as:
In the year 6565
You won’t need no husband, won’t need no wife.
You’ll pick your son, pick your daughter too
From the bottom of a long glass tube
Zager and Evans promise of social revolution comes by way of technological advancements, for the two are rarely separated in dreams of the future. My favorite science-fiction novel is Edward Bellamy’s 1887 Looking Backward: 2000–1887 because of its stunningly prescient descriptions of technologies comparable to modern credit cards and radios.
Looking forward to science fiction dates that have yet to come, here are some dates to put on your future calendar.
(We’ve stuck to novels and stories here; for a great timeline from the movies, look here.)
Devrie Konig enters Institute of Biological Hope to endure medical experiments that result in the finding of God.
— Nancy Kress, “Trinity,” 1984
The USA loses its position as world leader to Japan. Extraterrestrial life is detected — and it sings.
— Mary Doria Russell, The Sparrow, 1996
General paranoia about the AIDS virus reigns, leading to the imprisonment of society’s so-called “subversives.”
— Kay Kenyon, The Seeds of Time, 1997
You no longer need a computer to use the internet, because the internet can be accessed directly through your brain.
— Geoff Ryman, Air, 2004
American John Boone becomes the first human to walk on Mars.
— Kim Stanley Robinson, Red Mars, 1993
The last baby was born 25 years ago because women can no longer bear children.
— P.D. James, The Children of Men, 1992
Humanity gets turned upside down: If androids are the ones that don’t have feelings, then why do those humans seeking to hunt and kill them seem like the heartless ones?
— Philip K. Dick, Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?, 1968
A mutant great white shark stalks the sewers of New York City.
— Matt Ruff, Sewer, Gas and Electric: The Public Works Trilogy, 1997
After WW4, resources are scarce. When men aren’t hunting for food, clean water, and weapons, they’re seeking the most valuable resource of all: women.
— Harlan Ellison, “A Boy and His Dog,” 1969
Housing is scarce in New York, but a giant housing project at 334 East 11th Street provides a home for some NYC residents.
— Thomas M. Disch, 334, 1972
The University of San Diego is at the fore of library technology, which can digitize an entire library in hours. After this process, all books at the UCSD Geisel Library (and ultimately worldwide) will cease to exist.
— Vernor Vinge, Rainbows End, 2006
Scientific expeditions to Saturn are now possible.
— John Varley, Titan, 1979
First colonial voyage to Mars.
— Kim Stanley Robinson, Red Mars, 1993
In California, robotically-controlled houses run like clockwork (cooking, cleaning, garden sprinkling), even after their inhabitants are gone…
— Ray Bradbury, “There Will Come Soft Rain,” 1950
Lady Gaga arrested for civil disobedience after winning Nobel Peace Prize.
— Charlie Jane Anders, “Six Months, Three Days,” 2011
New York is enclosed in a big dome. AIs are governed by the Turing police and Turing-coded laws.
— William Gibson, Neuromancer, 1984
A cure for autism now exists, but a few people remain doubtful that they want to join what is seen as the “normal.”
— Elizabeth Moon, The Speed of Dark, 2002
Privacy Act of 2037 passes, protecting identity of copied personae from later users.
— Michael Swanwick, “Trojan Horse,” 1985
Systems administrator Odell Vyphus has to shut off — aka kill — the first AI.
— Cory Doctorow, “Epoch,” 2010
Cyberjournalists can get infected by computer viruses.
— Gwyneth Jones, White Queen, 1991
Demon curator takes over the world, creating a museum with one enormous painting to convey the events of each year of history.
— Robert Shearman, “Restoration,” 2011
The Turing Test continues to be used to differentiate between levels of artificial intelligence.
— Ian McDonald, River of Gods, 2004
Around this time, Daniel Weinreb leaves suburban Iowa for New York City, where he attempts “flying,” or astral projection. He also has dreams of becoming a musician.
— Thomas M. Disch, On Wings of Song, 1979
All human technology is destroyed.
— John Varley, Eight Worlds series, largely between 1974–1980
You can leave earth by hiding in a giant sperm whale.
— Arthur C. Clarke, Childhood’s End, 2009
An influenza epidemic threatens to take over Oxford.
— Connie Willis, Doomsday Book, 1992
Someone violates the laws of the time-travel continuum by bringing a cat back from the Victorian era.
— Connie Willis, To Say Nothing of the Dog, 1997
In post-apocalyptic America, humans finally recognize cyborgs as capable of love. Communication involves being able to project oneself into cyberspace.
— Marge Piercy, He, She and It, 1991
People finally live on the moon.
— Robert A. Heinlein, The Moon is a Harsh Mistress, 1966
A giant meteorite hits Eastern Italy. This leads to other encounters with alien star ships. People still use cameras.
— Arthur C. Clarke, Rendezvous with Rama, 1972
Virtual reality is literalized, as people are able to become fully immersed in an online world called the Net.
— Tad Williams, Otherland tetralogy, 1996–2001
Aliens are surveying the earth. Siri, a crew member aboard the space ship Theseus, observes and attempts to understand the alien vessel.
— Peter Watts, Blindsight, 2006
A plague that has spread across Europe and America now reaches England. People come from America to plunder Europe. Some Europeans escape to Switzerland, but eventually die of typhus.
— Mary Shelley, The Last Man, 1826
First landings on Mars. (Again? Again!)
— John Wyndham, The Outward Urge, 1959
The Culture contacts Earth for the first time.
— Iain M. Banks, Consider Phlebas, 1987
Everyone blogs about themselves, all day, without shame: “only perverts do things in private.”
— Ben Elton, Blind Faith, 2007
If you’re between 12 and 18 years old, you might be chosen to fight to the death. The odds are not in your favor.
— Suzanne Collins, The Hunger Games trilogy, 2008–2010
Joshua Ali Quare lives in an apartment on Mars, with his voice-activated laptop. He can also change his gender at will.
— John Barnes, Kaleidoscope Century, 1995
The United States and the Eurasian Coalition (China/Russia) try to build a space elevator, are unsuccessful.
— David J. Williams, The Mirrored Heavens, 2008
Doraemon (Gadget Cat from the Future) is born on September 3.
— Fujiko Fujio, Doraemon series, 1969–1996
Overpopulation being a problem, everyone has to report to their schedule termination at age 21.
— William F. Nolan and George Cayton Johnson, Logan’s Run, 1967
A suburb in San Francisco becomes the world’s first solely teleportation-based community.
— Isaac Asimov, “It’s Such a Beautiful Day,” 1969
The flip-side of interstellar travel: wars are now intragalactic.
— Orson Scott Card, Ender’s Game, 1985
First landing on Venus.
— John Wyndham, The Outward Urge, 1959
The Macro Society, who practice macro philosophy, run the earth.
— Don Plym and Thea Plym, 2150 AD, 1971
With robots, humans have never been so unemployed. Many live on welfare support.
— Monica Hughes, Invitation to the Game, 1990
Tommy finds a real book in his attic, one that doesn’t have shifting words. Totally weird.
— Isaac Asimov, “The Fun They Had,” 1951
Due to a virus spreading across the earth, we send an ark into deep space.
— Ken Catran, Deepwater Black, 1995
Pickman Carter uses “strange means in repelling the Mongol hordes from Australia.”
— H.P. Lovecraft and E. Hoffman Price, “Through the Gates of the Silver Keys,” 1933
Population of Mars attempts to unify, break colonial ties to Earth.
— Greg Bear, Moving Mars, 1993
Bounty hunter: one of the last jobs left.
— T. B. Grover, Strontium Dog series, 1988–1990
Cats can walk through walls (though it’s seen as rude).
— Robert A. Heinlein, The Cat Who Walks Through Walls, 1985
After global nuclear war in 2044, earth becomes a socialist utopia.
— W. Warren Wagar, A Short History of the Future, 1989
Time traveler goes back to convince JFK not to go to Dallas, fails.
— Barry Malzberg, “Shiva,” 2001
In the United States, black and white people are prohibited to get together. Again.
— Monteiro Lobato, The Black President, or the Racial Shock, 1926
After a nuclear war between America and Russia almost destroys earth, the humans that remain are saved by genetic traders known as Oankali. Considered too erratic to reproduce with themselves, humans are only allowed to survive via mating with Oankali (which look like large sea cucumbers).
— Octavia E. Butler, Lilith’s Brood trilogy, 1987–2000
Colonialism is still a thing: Colonists, suspended in stasis for the trip, travel in cargo ships that can hold 20,000.
— Alastair Reynolds, “Galactic North,” 2006
In Northern California, 16 year olds all get the “pretty” operation — it turns you into a full-lipped babe, but also creates brain lesions that make you a more obedient citizen.
— Scott Westerfeld, Uglies trilogy, 2005–2007
Computer brains in bodies are still trying and failing to pass Turing tests.
— Kim Stanley Robinson, 2312, 2012
Thailand is fighting back environmental damages brought on by climate change: bioengineered mammoths on treadmills generate power.
— Paolo Bacigalupi, The Windup Girl, 2009
During the same century, climate change has forced some people off of the earth and onto the Moon and Mars, and later in Jupiter and Saturn.
— Paul J. McAuley, The Quiet War, 2008
Aliens!!! So many aliens!
— Wayne Douglas Barlowe, Expedition: Being an Account in Words and Artwork of the 2358 A.D. Voyage to Darwin IV, 1990
Population of Earth has reached 75 billion people. To compensate? Thousand-floor skyscrapers.
— Robert Silverberg, The World Inside, 1971
The Yukon Confederacy controls North America. China is still communist.
— Theodore Judson, Fitzpatrick’s War, 2004
Ulysse Mérou leaves Earth for outer space.
— Pierre Boulle, Planet of the Apes, 1963
Calling Zager and Evans! Babies grow in glass tubes so you ain’t got no use for husbands or wives.
— Aldous Huxley, Brave New World, 1932
Humans have moved to as far as the planet Resurgam, on the outskirts of colonized space. Archaeology is still a thing.
— Alastair Reynolds, Revelation Space, 2000
Humans have colonized over 900 worlds with help from the processes of “Ethnic Streaming.”
— Peter F. Hamilton, The Night’s Dawn Trilogy, 1996–1999
Finally, robot cats!
— Stuart Moore, “The Escapist 2966,” 2004
Aboard the battleships Lenin and MacArthur, research and security teams journey to the star Mote. Once there they’ll encounters Moties: sequential hermaphrodites. If a Motie remains female for too long without becoming pregnant, the hormone imbalance will kill her.
— Larry Niven and Jerry Pournelle, The Mote in God’s Eye, 1974
Political power is split across the galaxy. You can still get a liberal arts degree from Harvard.
— Samuel R. Delany, Nova, 1968
Honor Harrington is born.
— David Weber, Honor Harrington series, 1992-present
The world still exists.
— H.G. Wells, The Time Machine, 1895
Jane Hu would rather be a cyborg and a goddess.