I don't know when I'm living anymore.
When I was a kid it was easier. We were definitely somewhere in the present and, I was pretty certain, we were heading for the future. SF showed me what it was going to be like: computers, and aliens, and mile-long silver spaceships.
It ought to be the future by now. I just checked my calendar. I don't know what's keeping it.
What should have happened was this: we should have landed on the moon, and then a few years later we'd have explored Mars and Venus, all those fun places, then zapped off to Alpha Centauri. And then these nifty-looking aliens would have come along and informed us that we were now civilised enough to be admitted to the Galactic Hegemony. And because we were so bloody cool, and because we were Gen-u-ine 24 karat Human Beings, we'd have been running the whole show within a couple of years and from then it would have been Peace and Prosperity and Happiness for Everyone... er... thing.
I've read the books. I know what I'm talking about.
Trouble is, someone else didn't.
(I think it was those bloody aliens. I always knew you couldn't trust them. Too many arms, or tentacles, or pseudopods. They're probably out there somewhere, watching Star Trek re-runs and laughing behind their dweebles at us.)
So here we are: 1990, a futuristic date if ever I saw one.
Not that that means anything, as we all discovered in 1984. And what a washout that was. No little two-way tellies, no room 101, no Big Brother; not even the Anti-Seχ League (instead we got Yuppies which was, I suppose, much the same thing, but lots less stylish). All 1984 gave SF was Bill Gibson's 1001 Funky Things To Do With Your Personal Computer, a triffic future that already seems as dated as Orwell's.
I don't know.
I mean, the future has to be along soon. I just bought a CD player, and whenever I travel abroad, I wind up crippled in one shoulder because of the weight of the bag containing my laptop computer (and accessories) which is about as portable as a paving stone, and there are all these neat gadgets all over the house, most of which either don't work properly, or don't do precisely what they're meant to do, or are simply bloodyminded...
Which is how I know this isn't the future.
It's just more of the present, with an LED display instead of dials and switches. If this were the future, then computers would be a menace because they were Plotting To Take Over, not because of their tendency to crash, taking half a chapter with them at four o'clock in the morning, or their stubborn refusal to misbehave when the repairman finally turns up; and if this was the future, only an alien conspiracy would cause the microwave to turn out the strange black squidgy stuff that just came out of the packet in lieu of the promised 'Microwave Popcorn'. And if this was the future, then satellite TV would be something you watched in an L-5 colony...
Somebody hasn't been reading the right books.
Tesco's, for a start. I mean, over the last year they've been advertising something called Quorn -- a food protein derived from A Fungus (not mushrooms, they stress in their ads). Now, I've read the books. I've seen the movies. I know how this one goes...
There are these huge caverns, under England, and there's this huge fungus under there -- The Quorn. It pulsates from time to time, and glows palely in the darkness. And these technicians and other people in white overalls walk around it all day, and (this is the good bit) it's taken over their minds. And they're making it into food and sending it out into the World, and everyone who eats it gets taken over until a brave but tiny group of People Who've Figured Out What's Going On storm the cave and burn the thing to ashes, machine-gunning the entire Tesco's Board of Directors in the process because, of course, they've been taken over too.
Happy Ending. With the death of The Quorn we all get our minds back.
And then the epilogue, where we see a baby fungoid Quornlet growing in the corner of someone's cellar.
Or possibly under my bathroom sink.
It's pathetic. Quorn... I mean, the name's okay (sounds like a sinister version of corn), but I bet it's really totally innocuous. It's probably even good for you.
I can't figure it out. Possibly we could boycott Tesco's until they get their future right.
Sometimes, in my wilder, less lucid moments, I worry that there isn't any future. That it's going to be like this forever: sort of normal, and vaguely fu¢ked up, in the nicest possible way -- that all there is is the present, no matter how far back or forward you go in time.
Which is obviously untrue, isn't it? Of course it is. Has to be.
Even so, I'm beginning to get a little worried.
I hope the future comes along soon.
To tell the truth, I'm getting tired of waiting.
Neil Gaiman is a writer and graphic novelist wose works include the Sandman series and Miracle Man. His non-fiction includes Don't Panic: The official Hitch-hiker's Guide to the Galaxy Companion.
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