|Justin B Rye 01-Aug-08|
Retro-futurology is the study of retro futures, from the
Age of science fiction – or to be specific, the
study of attempts by major SF authors to predict the future, taking
advantage of hindsight to evaluate exactly how wrong they
were. Well, I came up with the word, and that's what I've
decided to use it for.
My collection consists of pages for each of the canonical
My original plan back in the nineties was that this collection
would be entitled
Mocking the Prophet, but as things turn
out, that gets entirely the wrong kind of Google-hits these days.
I should take a moment to emphasise once again that science fiction and futurology are two different things. If you're an SF writer with a plot in mind and you need a matching imagined future to set it in, a crystal ball wouldn't necessarily be useful – instead what's often wanted is a setting with as few distractingly unfamiliar background features as the author can get away with to justify the fantastic goings-on in the foreground. And if that foreground plotline is about an alien invasion, that doesn't mean the author believes in the imminent arrival of Martian War Machines any more than Tolkien believed in dragons.
And something I didn't want to cram in on the Heinlein page
itself, about his title, Pandora's Box. It
was the opening of that box that ended the Golden Age of Greek
mythology. Heinlein never had any very good reason for
mentioning Pandora, whose name means
all-giving, but her
husband is highly relevant: Epimetheus (
brother of Prometheus (
forethought)! I can picture
the domestic arguments already –
Come on, Prometheus,
what do you think this hope thing was doing in a box of
plagues in the first place?…
Meanwhile, a different mythology provides a handy excuse for not presenting predictions of my own for 2050: as far as Xibalba is concerned, the end of the world is due in 2012.
A few years ago, when it was too late for postscripts to my RAH page and too soon for an ACC page, I got bored and wrote the following Appendix, which is retro-futurology in a slightly different sense. The idea is, if you were a would-be visionary in 1950 trying to come up with your own list of predictions for the end of the century, but unlike Heinlein you had access to a genuine crystal ball, what features of recent history could you predict that would be surprising to your contemporaries and get you a score of twenty out of twenty?
Some of the following suggestions are already based on contributions from email correspondents, and further feedback is welcome, especially from elderly American SF fans. But before you ask, the reason I don't nominate President Mandela (the UN's favourite terrorist) is that he wouldn't have become surprising until the 1960s.
sputnik) will transform meteorology, astronomy, and telecommunications. By 2000 satellite navigation systems will be a well established dashboard accessory.
ray gunsused for playing music and radar-style microwave emitters used for cooking food.
rockand its successors) will become an industry to rival the movies, making many of its stars and many more media moguls immensely rich.
plenty more fish in the sea, and there will be increasing public alarm over deforestation, overpopulation, and other
ecologicalissues. The world will get obviously warmer, due largely to pollution from the ever-increasing use of fossil fuels. Meanwhile, a series of disasters will leave atomic power plants generally regarded as an expensive and dangerous failure.