This week’s topic for Top Ten Tuesday (hosted by The Broke and The Bookish) is all about stepping out of 2016 and into another time: historic or futuristic settings are what we’re talking about. I have gone for futuristic societies because I realised just how often these come up in my reading and how much I enjoy them. Also, discussing representations of the future gives me an opportunity to discuss Back to the Future II and the fact that 2015 has been and gone and I still do not have a hoverboard.
These are the futuristic settings I find most interesting, just to clarify; I am not masochistic enough to actually want to live in most of these places. Because, according to basically all writing ever, the future is going to really suck.
10: Nineteen Eighty-Four by George Orwell
As everyone in the world knows, Orwell wrote this novel in 1948, inspired by the wave of fascist regimes sweeping Europe. What’s scary is how much of what he wrote all those years ago has actually become part of our everyday reality.
The black-moustachio’d face gazed down from every commanding corner. There was one on the house-front immediately opposite. BIG BROTHER IS WATCHING YOU, the caption said, while the dark eyes looked deep into Winston’s own. Down at street level another poster, torn at one corner, flapped fitfully in the wind, alternately covering and uncovering the single word INGSOC. In the far distance a helicopter skimmed down between the roofs, hovered for an instant like a bluebottle, and darted away again with a curving flight. It was the police patrol, snooping into people’s windows. The patrols did not matter, however. Only the Thought Police mattered.
9: The Veldt by Ray Bradbury
Bradbury was a complete genius of futuristic short stories and this is a really creepy one. The story describes a scarily realistic virtual reality playroom, in which a brother and sister play terrifying games involving wild animals, while really freaking their parents out.
The nursery was silent. It was empty as a jungle glade at hot high noon. The walls were blank and two dimensional. Now, as George and Lydia Hadley stood in the center of the room, the walls began to purr and recede into crystalline distance, it seemed, and presently an African veldt appeared, in three dimensions, on all sides, in color reproduced to the final pebble and bit of straw. The ceiling above them became a deep sky with a hot yellow sun.
8: These Broken Stars by Amie Kaufman and Meagan Spooner
I’ve only just read this and I really enjoyed it. Although there’s plenty to find slightly troubling about the futuristic world depicted, in which mega-corporations are able to create and destroy planets, this is a far less creepy version of what might lie ahead.
For all their trendy Victorian tricks, there’s no hiding where we are. Outside the viewpoints, the stars are like faded white lines, half-invisible, surreal. The Icarus, passing through dimensional hyperspace, would look just as faded, half-transparent, if someone stationary in the universe could somehow see her moving faster than light.
7: The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins
I maintain a really strong love for The Hunger Games and I think Collins’ Panem is the most convincingly realised of the YA dystopian genre. The profligate Capitol, the impoverished Districts, the wildly inventive technology: all of it is brilliant. I particularly like the idea that, in the future, we will all have ridiculous names which aren’t even words. Yes, I mean Plutarch Heavensbee.
Sixty seconds. That’s how long we’re required to stand on our metal circles before the sound of a gong releases us. Step off before the minute is up, and landmines blow your legs off.
6: A Sound of Thunder by Ray Bradbury
Yes, more Bradbury because the man was a GENIUS. This story explores (and possibly invented) the idea of the butterfly effect: how one tiny action can have far-reaching and catastrophic effects. It’s the longest of the short stories I’ve included here, but every word is golden. It includes time travel, dinosaurs and politics; so, basically, all the things.
The sign on the wall seemed to quaver under a film of sliding warm water. Eckels felt his eyelids blink over his stare, and the sign burned in this momentary darkness.
TIME SAFARI, INC.
SAFARIS TO ANY YEAR IN THE PAST.
YOU NAME THE ANIMAL.
WE TAKE YOU THERE.
YOU SHOOT IT.
5: Illuminae by Amie Kaufman and Jay Kristoff
Obviously, Illuminae, because I am obsessed with it. The dystopian premise, with a mining colony attacked by a mega-corporation, soon gives way to a thrilling chase through hyperspace which I would kind of like to be in (clearly minus all the death and freaky stuff that happens to everyone).
If the Lincoln catches us, she’ll destroy us. There’s simply no other reason she’d chase us for months on end if it wasn’t to hide the last of the evidence. Wipe out the only witnesses who could tell the universe Beitech attacked another corp and hijacked their illegal processing plant and – oh yes, killed thousands of people.
4: Oryx and Crake by Margaret Atwood
As the first in the Maddaddam trilogy, Oryx and Crake sets up Atwood’s vision of a post-apocalyptic world and how it came to be. The isolated life of Snowman is eerily fascinating, and the gradual reveal is well worth the time it takes to get there. The blue people, however, really scare me.
“All it takes,” said Crake, “is the elimination of one generation. One generation of anything. Beetles, trees, microbes, scientists, speakers of French, whatever. Break the link in time between one generation and the next, and it’s game over forever.”
3: All Summer in a Day by Ray Bradbury
It’s really hard to choose my favourite Bradbury story but I think this is the one with the most compelling vision of the future. The premise is straightforward, focusing on a class of kids living on Venus; having endured 7 years of rain, they finally experience sun but lose something of their humanity in the process. It’s more about group psychology than the futuristic setting, but this only makes it more fascinating.
It had been raining for seven years; thousands upon thousands of days compounded and filled from one end to the other with rain, with the drum and gush of water, with the sweet crystal fall of showers and the concussion of storms so heavy they were tidal waves come over the islands. A thousand forests had been crushed under the rain and grown up a thousand times to be crushed again. And this was the way life was forever on the planet Venus, and this was the schoolroom of the children of the rocket men and women who had come to a raining world to set up civilization and live out their lives.
2: Ready Player One by Ernest Cline
I don’t know anyone who’s read this and not enjoyed it, and I think a major reason for that is Cline’s depiction of a dystopian future that seems worryingly believable; the concept of all of society living through virtual reality and barely interacting doesn’t seem all that unlikely to me, but the fizzing creativity of Ready Player One makes what could be a bleak set-up relentlessly entertaining. I can’t wait to read Armada when it’s out in paperback next week.
Things used to be awesome, but now they’re kinda terrifying. To be honest, the future doesn’t look too bright. You were born at a pretty crappy time in history. And it looks like things are only gonna get worse from here on out. Human civilisation is in ‘decline.’ Some people even say it’s ‘collapsing.’
1: Harrison Bergeron by Kurt Vonnegut
I love this short story; since discovering it a few years ago, I have taught it several times to my year 8 and 9 classes (age 13-15) and it always gets a brilliant response. The central conceit – that equality can only be achieved if the extraordinary are “handicapped” – makes a sick kind of sense, and even in just a few pages, Vonnegut manages to create empathy for Harrison’s parents, contempt for the authorities and admiration for Harrison himself. It’s a really astounding piece of work.
THE YEAR WAS 2081, and everybody was finally equal. They weren’t only equal before God and the law. They were equal every which way. Nobody was smarter than anybody else. Nobody was better looking than anybody else. Nobody was stronger or quicker than anybody else. All this equality was due to the 211th, 212th, and 213 th Amendments to the Constitution, and to the unceasing vigilance of agents of the United States Handicapper General.
Have you read any of these? Maybe you, too, are obsessed with Ray Bradbury? Link me to your TTT in the comments; I am an obsessive blog-hopper.