Science fiction, predicting the present, the adjacent possible, and trumpian comic dystopias

Originally published at:

1 Like

Kelly suggests that these ideas are always around, that the inspirations for them… will occur to someone, once they are in the cultural mix.

What is the “cultural mix” before the advent of mass media? Da Vinci may have been a genius, but he wasn’t clairvoyant.

Many things. Metallurgy. Screw presses. Toys. Mathematical treatise.


And before any of the visions of populist dictatorship that the article mentions, there was Sinclair Lewis. Berzelius Windrip was just as Trumpian as any of Philip K Dick’s characters, or any bloated corporatist politician in a cyberpunk novel.

It’s an idea that’s as old as democracy. It wouldn’t astonish me if it were to turn out that Snorri Sturlusson wrote something similar!

Another way to look at it is that successfully predicting the future is the same as choosing it. I know various people have made that observation in different contexts, though I don’t remember who. Anyway, when the sci-fi zeitgeist predicts the present, perhaps it is just making explicit the decisions we have collectively made about what narratives to impose.

But artists don’t just report the zeitgeist, they also help to create it. The space age happened partly because of the tides of history, but also partly because Silver Age sci-fi authors willed it to happen that way. They wanted to make rockets the central theme of society, and they kind of made it happen. Same with cyberpunk and the dotcom era. But if Aldous Huxley’s vision had been dominant in the 60s, or Jeff Noon’s in the 00s, perhaps the whole world would have been different. I feel like individual creators have some agency, and aren’t just leaves in the cultural wind.

Obviously I am saying this because I think it might help if authors actively try to focus on more hopeful possibilities. If everyone’s just diagnosing how shitty things are, that probably becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy.


Classical education. Not mass media, but vast, both in terms of area and time covered.
A lot of ideas have been around “since always”, i.e. for quite a long time.
Case in point: human flight made possible by some sort of man-made device - Dealalus. And that’s not counting all the myths about transformations or gods granting powers or messing around in other ways.


I was going to mention nylon, but after checking Wiki, it turns out that the simultaneous invention in New York and London story is apocryphal.

This topic was automatically closed after 5 days. New replies are no longer allowed.