A Little Perspective

Tony Chester (1994)

I put down my SF book and glanced at my digital, voice-activated alarm clock. It was time to go shopping. I turned off the CD player, put on my coat, and left. I caught the bus, with its pneumatic doors, video surveillance cameras and two-way radio, down to the local shopping mall.

I walked past the shop that looks like a lawyer's office, or building society, but is in fact just selling diet plans, and turned into the supermarket. The automatic doors swung open on the produce of the World. I made my healthy, low-fat, high-fibre purchases and joined the queue at the checkout. The laser read the bar codes, and the computer itemised and added up the bill for the printer, while simultaneously shining the amount from an LED. Reaching into my wallet I realised I had no money. No problem. I handed across the appropriate plastic card, and a machine read the magnetic strip and debited my account, over two hundred miles away.

Inside the mall, I put the same card into a slot in the wall, pressed some buttons, and was duly awarded some money. I looked around at the designer signs, cloaked in air-conditioned comfort, not listening to the piped muzak, and decided to buy some dietary supplements -- little red pills. Information in neon and back-lit plastic flitted through my short-term memory and failed to make an impression. Around and about I was filmed and recorded, interacting with many systems, but not often smiling. I caught the bus home, put away my purchases, made some coffee, then sat down and switched on the word processor. I typed these words:-

I AM IN THE WRONG FUTURE.

You see, I wanted a future where health care was the right of everyone; where all but accidental ills were rare; where individuals received fast and efficient attention. Instead I got private medicine, where only the rich can afford to be healthy; hospitals closing down; quotas at my general practitioner's; AIDS, SIDS and ME.

I wanted a future with homes and apartments for everyone. Instead I got a million homeless, or in seriously sub-standard accomodation, in the UK.

My future had rising standards of education, free to everyone, no matter what age or background. I was given the demise of ILEA, an unworkable and ill-thought-out national curriculum, rising illiteracy, and I had to pay to take my A-levels, despite being unemployed.

I wanted spending on science, but my government spent 11 billion in one day to keep us in the ERM for twenty-four hours, only to pull out anyway.

I wanted fast and cost-effective public transportation. I got deregulation, privatisation, congestion and pollution.

I wanted free sustainable energy. I got Sizewell and Chernobyl.

I wanted free sustainable resources. The planet got raped.

I've been charged for water, though two-thirds of the Earth's surface is covered with it. They tried to charge me for air, but we beat off that one (for a little while; it'll be back). The poll-tax reared its ugly head again in the face of six hundred years of protest -- it was another minor victory, thankfully. Instead of feeding the masses, there is global famine. Instead of peace, I got terrorism, wars over pathetically small patches of land, and several calls to bring back capital punishment. What little we gained in arms reduction was won not through compassion or rational thought, but through the ability of fast-food chains to sell hamburgers to Muscovites. Unfortunately they were also responsible for deforestation, desertification and the destruction of the planet's radiation shield, the ozone layer.

I AM IN THE WRONG FUTURE.

And so are you.

I glance at my SF book and wonder what it's good for.

Perhaps I should recycle it?

It was SF that gave me all my expectations, and is responsible for all my disillusionment. But I can't hate it. I still have Hope, you see, and I still believe that SF can be one of the keys that gets us out of the mess we laughingly call the present, but is in fact THE WRONG FUTURE.

SF can play a part in making sure that it doesn't go FURTHER WRONG.

A little perspective, maestro, if you please!

You see, this isn't a rant about the dystopia we're living in, or the one ahead. Life isn't like that, even when you're being beaten up by the police in front of Brixton Jail. Haven't you noticed how the SF dystopias keep getting moved back, never quite arriving? 1984, 1999, 2008? Not that the utopias are getting any nearer either, but the Sword of Damocles hasn't fallen yet.

It might though. It just might.

Nor is this a millenial Message of Doom -- there will be more than enough of them over the next few years. I'm not sure if people will be relieved or disappointed when Judgement Day fails to arrive on schedule, but Time will march steadily on, no matter what their reaction. No, no prophecies.

Just this.

What SF is good for is pushing back the boundaries of thought, increasing our scales of perception, expanding both Time and Space. Forget about fandom; fandom is an institution, admittedly sub-cultural, and like all the rest it is resistant to change. I could go on for ages about its inherent conservatism, and how sad that is given that it is supposed to celebrate the literature of change and ideas, but I won't. I want to talk about SF.

SF is good for creating a little perspective, for widening a wider perspective, for promoting the idea of change. Other art and literature can also do this -- sometimes better, sometimes worse -- but SF carries as standard tropes the ideas necessary to better the lot of the human race. Free, clean energy from the Sun; practically unlimited chemical and mineralogical resources from space; the room to expand and grow in health, in peace; freedom from stagnation; cultural cross-fertilisation; tolerance.

SF can expand the mind, like a good drug or a philosophical religion, increasing perception, widening perspective.

But enjoying SF, whether written or visual, is a passive pasttime, and we can no longer afford to just sit and consume. If we do, then we add to the problems, while reading the solutions.

We must act.

We must preach.

And all we need do is pursue our activities more vigorously, more aggressively. Because SF will not Change The World; SF will not Save The World. But its practitioners and audience can contribute to change. You can spread a little perspective.

If only you'll stop sitting around, consuming, passively. If only you'll stop styling yourselves an elite, and recognise and celebrate your misfit individuality. If only you'll interact with the wider society, arguing your cases persuasively, without fear of ridicule. If only you'll act.

You are what you do, and you are THE FUTURE.

What Future do you want to live in?


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