The open secret of speculative fiction is that no matter how far into the future you place your story, you’re always talking about the present. Our society is future-oriented because we who live in it are obsessed with figuring out how to make “now” better. The future is the light – or the shadow – that we chase as we act in the present.
There is one such story that, like a wandering preacher, I tell every time I get pulled into a conversation about how screwed up the world is, and how we are DOOOMED (with three o’s) because of (insert world-breaking problem here). I tell it because I gamble that every time I do so, I plant a seed in someone’s psyche that will grow, just as it has in mine.
The story is “The Toynbee Convector”, by Ray Bradbury. This is the nanoscale version:
In the late twentieth century, a guy built a time machine, went a hundred years into the future, came back, and said the future was awesome. Humanity not only survived, but thrived. The entire planet had been repaired, rebuilt, and rejuvenated – and he had proof in the form of objects, film, and audio.
Sure enough, a hundred years later, humanity had cowboyed up and made the world awesome. One reporter in the world was granted the privilege of interviewing the time traveler on the anniversary of his arrival.
The world counted down the seconds like it was the dawn of a new age.
The clock struck zero.
The traveler turned to the reporter and said, “I lied.”
When the stunned reporter asked why he did this, the traveler said it was because the world a hundred years ago was in the throes of despair: Not only were there so many problems to solve, but much of the world had convinced itself that they could not – and would not – solve them.
So he told the world a story – a lie – then helped the world build it.
The moral of the story – the moral that I got out if it – is if you believe the world is going to hell in a handbasket, then you will, in some way, shape, or form, help build the basket. The corollary to that of course, is if you think the world will be better in some way, then you will, in some way, contribute to making it better.
Does this future-centric perspective make the past irrelevant, the present a fate mechanized? No, not by a long shot.
Does this perspective make the troubles of the world unimportant or easy to solve? Absolutely not.
The works presented in this issue try to say something about how we view the future, and how that view shapes our perspectives on the past and our actions in the present. But the arrow of time only moves forward.
As you read this issue, take the time to consider the future you wish to give a damn about. Whether that future is based on data or a beautiful dream, make some effort, however small, however great, to bring that future to life.