Those of you with long memories (or who are fans of obscure film facts), will know that this year, 2015, is the year that the film Back To The Future II was set in, and that should mean we are in a world where everyone finally has their own personal hover boards. Yet, despite the occasional hover board hoax, we are still a long way from having real hover boards which can be use any where, although we are getting closer.
This, then, is the danger for writers who wish to write books or films which are set at a specific date in the future. When the work is originally created, the chosen date may seem a long way off, but when it finally does roll around, there will be no end of people to point out exactly what the author got wrong about their predictions for the future (and, much more rarely, what they got right).
Think about George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four. That year must have seemed an eternity away when the book was written in 1948 (with Orwell simply reversing the last two digits to get his future date) but when 1983 finally came to an end, there was everyone ready to point out exactly where Orwell’s predictions failed. The thing is, I don’t think Orwell necessarily got it wrong, I think he was just a few years ahead with many of his ideas. After all, look at the world we now live in, with what seems like constant war, near universal surveillance of everything we do (all in the name of our own security), the biased media coverage, the preference for personality amongst our politicians rather than substance, and western populations kept placid on a diet of meaningless reality TV (one of which, Big Brother, even takes its name from Orwell’s book!).
The same goes for the Terminator series of films. In the second film in this franchise, the date when Skynet becomes self-aware, so marking the start of the fall of humanity to the machines, is given as the 29th of August 1997, yet on that date, there was nothing even remotely close to sentient machines, and even the web was still struggling to find its feet. Of course, by the time of the third film, Judgement Day had been shifted to 25th July 2004, and then to 21st April 2011, and still humanity has yet to find itself having to fend off sentient machines which are hell-bent on our destruction. This having been said, in 2014, no lesser a person than Stephen Hawkings was warning that this could be a real possibility in the near future. Maybe he was being serious, or maybe he was just having a bit of fun, but we are still along way from living in a world of sentient machines (sometimes I’m not even convinced that we live in a world of sentient human beings!).
So is this a bad thing for writers? Well, if you don’t mind lots of people pointing fingers at you and telling you exactly what you got wrong in exquisite detail, then no. If anything, you might find that you get an unexpected spike in sales as the date where your book or film is set as people revisit it, just to see how wrong you got things.
However, if like me, you would likely find this type of rather pointless scrutiny irksome, then it’s probably best to avoid the mention of specific years as settings for your works of futuristic fiction. This doesn’t mean that you can’t still use specific dates, just that you need to leave the year off. A great example of this is found in John Wyndham’s The Day Of The Triffids. Here, while the 8th of May is given as the day the world ended, no specific year is given (although some people have tried to work it out given that he says this date is a Wednesday). This means that The Day of the Triffids, rather than being criticised for getting things wrong, can actually be looked at as predicting certain key elements of what is our present, but was Wyndham’s future. He certainly foreshadows genetic engineering, and the risks that it could pose if genetically engineered plants escaped into the wild and were allowed to run amok. There are also worries about fuel and the greed of big business, as well as concerns that our modern way of life is uneasily balanced on the edge of a precipice into which it could slip if given even the slighted nudge. This means that The Day of the Triffids holds up much better to modern readers than something like Nineteen Eighty-Four, which, while futuristic when it was written, now appears somewhat dated, even if some of his predictions have, more or less, come true in the years since his story was set.
Anyway, to get back to the main topic of this posting, writers of anything set in the future need to be very careful about setting things in a particular year. This is not to say that this is something you shouldn’t do, just that you need to be aware that if you do, you may well live long enough to regret it when the year you have chosen finally comes, and everyone starts point out exactly which bits you got wrong. Now, just to emphasise the point one final time, happy 2015 … now, WHERE’S MY HOVER BOARD???
From the author of For Those In Peril On The Sea, a tale of post-apocalyptic survival in a world where zombie-like infected rule the land and all the last few human survivors can do is stay on their boats and try to survive. Now available in print and as a Kindle ebook. Click here or visit www.forthoseinperil.net to find out more. To download a preview of the first three chapters, click here.
To read the Foreword Clarion Review of For Those In Peril On The Sea (where it scored five stars out of five) click here.