Science fiction shouldn’t necessarily be about predicting the future. First and foremost, it should be about telling a story. With interesting characters. In science fiction, there is a usually some form of social commentary or maybe a warning. If we as a society travel down path a. them the future may well look like scenario b. Some science fiction inspires scientists and engineers to push technology and knowledge in certain directions. It is therefore impossible to tell whether any given prediction is indeed that, or an inspiration. So we come to 2084.
Inspired by Nineteen Eighty-Four by George Orwell (1949), 2084 is a Kickstarted book of short stories published by Unsung. Declaration of interest: you’ll find my name in the back as I contributed and received the paperback edition. According to Unsung:
“Fifteen predictions, seventy years in the future. By 2084 the world we know is gone. These are stories from our world seven decades later.
In 1948 George Orwell looked at the world around him and his response was 1984, now a classic dystopian novel. Here fifteen writers asked themselves the same question as Orwell did – where are we going, and what is our future?”
I am a fan of both Nineteen Eighty-Four specifically, and dystopias in general, so there is a lot of appeal in the ideas of 2084, which is why I contributed. I think it is important that great writers embrace a particular vision. I’m just a tad uncomfortable with the term ‘prediction’. And there are some great writers and some terrific stories on display here.
So what do we have?
The collection gets off to a cracking start with the brilliant Dave Hutchinson. Each story takes a different view of the future, and in just about every case, extrapolates from our world today:
Babylon by Dave Hutchinson tackles immigration from war-torn nations, and the search for a new world. Europe’s borders are sealed up. Maybe Brexit is just the beginning?
Here comes the flood by Desirina Boskovich is about climate change and environmentalism, with a touch of reality TV thrown in for fun. There is a sub-plot about over-population too.
Fly away, Peter from Ian Hocking is set in a Germanic future and is a comment on education, discipline and control. It has an unsettling climax that won’t be for everyone.
A good citizen from Anne Charnock takes the ideas of democracy, reality TV and referenda to extremes, and is perhaps the closest in tone to Orwell.
The Ending Market by E.J. Swift (perhaps my favourite of the stories on show here) is a horrific vision of endangered species and capitalism. A natural progression of the free-market economy where everything has a price.
Glitterati by Oliver Langmead is an odd little take about the obsessions of the beautiful elite, the powerful and the fashionable, with a particularly icky ending. Which I really enjoyed.
Room 149 by Jeff Noon is a suitably weird tale actually set 10 years after 2084. Like Hocking’s story, Noon’s is fairly Orwellian, as the title suggests. People are arrested for crimes against the state and ‘stored’, terminated or sent back to Earth.
Percepi from Courittia Newland examines the future of robots and ends with the inevitable rise of the machines. There has to be one, but this is the least successful story in the collection for me.
Degrees of elision by Cassandra Khaw has a prose style unlike anything else in the collection; and one I totally appreciate. Observe: truth is subjective and relationships are fragile. Life can be edited. Very Black Mirror.
The Infinite Eye from JP Smythe is all about surveillance and in a nod to Philip K Dick’s Minority Report sees drones and other tech assisting police in finding crimes that have not yet happened.
Saudade Minus One (S-1=) by Irenosen Okojie (btw, Saudade is a feeling of longing, melancholy, or nostalgia that is supposedly characteristic of the Portuguese or Brazilian temperament) features stillborn children brought to life by technology.
March, April, May by Malcolm Devlin is a great tale of defiance in a world dominated by a Facebook-type environment where everyone is monitored by their posts and habits. The modern filter-bubble gone to the nth degree. And how news is controlled by those in power. Damn those algorithms.
2084 Satoshi AD from Lavie Tidhar extrapolates bitcoin and it’s mysterious inventor into a branded future. Celebrity culture and media dominate life.
Uniquo from Aliya Whitely is the story of an augmented reality rollercoaster, and the power of dreams.
Shooting an episode by Christopher Priest, the final story in the collection, features the world of interactive gaming and extreme violence. Everyone is sheep. Again, reality TV is the big bad.
There isn’t really any duff stories in this collection, but none are outstanding. It is a solid and enjoyable (?) collection of short stories. One thing that stands out in this collection is there is very little that these 15 authors see as positive in our future. AIs and technology are out of control. Those in power keep those without down. Everyone is rated, policed and subjugated, often by their own actions and thoughts. It almost feels like there is no future.
Obviously, these stories were meant to reflect Orwell’s vision of the future. They are meant, as science fiction, to be predictions. But in the loosest sense possible. I can’t imagine for a second that Priest is actually predicting that we would happily watch a person being blown up in front of them, for entertainment, or Swift believes that humanity will end up buying the last Sumatran tiger for prestige. And if any of these futures comes true, for sure, we’re screwed.
George Sandison, editor of the collection, writes “There are warnings in this book – we would do well to heed them.” Indeed.