Future in the present

William Gibson is quotable, as ever, on ideas of the future in an interview with Wired jumping off from his new book.

The one-time prophet of cyberspace now writes novels set in the present. Why?

“Before I started writing science fiction, my theory was that every fictive, imagined future can only be understood historically within the moment it was written. Because nobody really writes about the future. All we really have when we pretend to write about the future is the moment in which we are writing. That’s why every imagined future obsoletes like an ice cream melting on the way back from the corner store. It’s going to almost immediately acquire a patina of quaintness; that’s just part of what imagining the future in fiction is about.”

I can see bits of that being re-used as much as the oft-cited “the future is already here, it’s just unevenly distributed”. I’m certainly planning to…

As the round of interviews goes on, there’s also this interesting US/Euro suggestion, from The Atlantic:

I’m not going all Sex Pistols, shouting No Future!—I’m suggesting that we’re becoming more like Europeans, who have always retrofitted their ruins, who’ve always known that everyone lives in someone else’s future and someone else’s past. It’s the American aspect of futurism that, as I understand it, was for a very long time to assume that there was more space over the next rise where you could go and build an entirely new future. That was America’s experience as a growing country. If things didn’t work out, you moved West. There was a seemingly infinite amount of unsettled land that we had. People supposedly moved West out of their inevitable discontent with how things were going where they happened to be living.

Whether or not that was historically true I don’t know, but we carried that idea into our vision of the future, and it acquired its capital F around the beginning of the 20th century and held onto it until maybe sometime in the ’70s. It was still very capital F in the ’60s. At some point the blush went off it a bit, and we’ve been entertaining a different sort of future since then.

Interesting, as I say, though I don’t see the evidence for this idea that Europeans have “always known” this – a very American fancy. H.G. Wells, Condorcet, Bacon all belie the suggestion…  There are frontiers beyond geographic ones, as science fiction writers have been known to point out!

Explore posts in the same categories: fiction, new books

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