Tomorrow Town is one of the first sort; written in 2000, about a 1970s attempt to envision the world of 2000. (The visionaries, of course, get it utterly wrong.) Pattern Recognition counts too; it got labeled post-modern because it was felt like SF futurism but was set in the very recent past. Alternate-history carried through the present doesn't all count, but something like Fallout is very consciously about 'realizing' a 1950s view of the future.
The Gernsbeck Continuum is the best example I know of the second sort: it's the 1980 we imagined in the 1930s, experienced from the viewpoint of the real 1980. If I stretch the boundaries a bit, Time Out of Joint might count too; a 1950s world, 50s futurism included, recreated by a moon-colonizing future society. This has to be a pretty small list, though, and I'd love more examples.
I don't think Pattern Recognition really counts. Precisely when it was set was mostly irrelevant to the story and the "futurism" of the novel is largely due to the style of writing of William Gibson. It could have been set in the present or near future and nothing would really change.
I don't know what we do when a subgenre starts out as normal futurism, but hangs on to tropes long enough to age into retro futurism.
But Fallout is something different, because it embraced '50s retro-futurism from the beginning. (Though it got more obvious in the later games.)
This is a really interesting observation, thank you.
If we use Neuromancer a rough start date for cyberpunk, there was nothing 'alternate' about the whole "future of neon and kanji" style. And Snow Crash made an effort to change with the times; the Japanese stylings get justified as a character thing instead of a cultural one and the psychedelic hacking gets replaced with a decent anticipation of Second Life. The Diamond Age sticks with the Japanese emphasis, but brings in China and India as major powers, and updates the sci-fi focus to nanotech.
But somewhere along the line the strength of the aesthetic sort of overwhelms the attempt at futurism. Gibson came back to the near future and present, Stephenson went to the past, present, and then the far future. The last really future-facing cyberpunk novel I can remember reading was Infoquake, and reviewers kept saying that was "practically cyberpunk" or "had elements of cyberpunk".
And then at the other end of things, Altered Carbon has humans as an interstellar species, but still gives us a half-white, half-Japanese protagonist getting pushed around San Francisco by rich people. Shadowrun goes all the way to magic spells and centaurs, but the videogames retain the rainy East Asian atmosphere. And Big Hero 6 proves it's an aesthetic you can export completely; it might be a PG superhero movie, but it's about a half-Japanese kid named Hiro having illegal robot fights in a neon-drenched "San Fransokyo".
I don't know enough to do the whole rundown, but I suspect you're right about space opera too: Star Trek and 2001 start off as a modern/futuristic vision, but endure as this weird near-googie style we recognize as its own entity.
I suppose some aesthetics are way more fun to look at than to actually live in - we keep them around for art's sake long after they fail to take root.
I'm actually sort of learning from these books about the vibe of the region, some scraps of relevant history, and the area's economic relations with the US. Because otherwise it's mostly fantasy land to me.
As for Pattern Recognition, the postmodern label isn't mine. It's a massively overloaded term, certainly, and I know some writers cut off the "postmodern novel" era around 1990. But the sort of academics who include Paul Auster and David Eggers wrote about it as a postmodern work in postmodern theory journals. It's definitely not a clean example of "future in the past", since it could easily have been very-near-future - I suppose I mostly included it for the tone of an unanchored present, rather than the actual chronology.
The Gernsback Continuum is available online:
Then I couldn’t think of any stories set in the future with self-driving cars, flying or otherwise. It’s sort of ridiculous at this point to have a human pilot in any futuristic form of transportation, isn’t it?
But I guess all those space battles would be pretty boring without humans to run the ships.
The Will Smith I, Robot had shifting between auto and self driving modes as a plot point too if I remember rightly.
It feels like there are some good stories to tell around them too. I'm personally jealous of the generation of students who will get to wake up with a hangover in a car half way across the country, heading towards somewhere that seemed like a great idea the night before.
I seem to remember that in one of the Culture novels they mention that it's about 10,000 years since anyone had the title "Captain" on one of their ships - and even then it wasn't a serious role.
"I am not an animal brain, I am not even some attempt to produce an AI through software running on a computer. I am a Culture Mind. We are close to gods, and on the far side."
Letting a human command a Culture warship would be like letting a bacteria command the USS Nimitz.
During a fight Killing Time destroys two other starships and thinks afterwards "Entire engagement duration: eleven microseconds".
I seem to recall that one of the later novels -- maybe Surface Detail or Hydrogen Sonata -- had an even more lopsided victory by one of the Culture's latest warships over a battle fleet crewed by foolish biologicals who wouldn't let their own AIs operate autonomously.
Haloes appeared around each of the missiles, like hundreds upon hundreds of tiny necklaces of beaded light. They flashed all at once and when the haloes disappeared there wasn’t even wreckage left behind. The view pulled back a fraction, the green ship shape seemed to hesitate, frozen, as the haloes surrounding it flicked, settled, flared. She felt a sudden urge to look away, but it was only to the next target, snapped out and then back in to watch another ship freeze in the ship’s targeting headlights; then another then another and another, then two at once; that felt like her brain was having its hemispheres ripped apart.
∼Fucking hell, she heard herself say.
∼You enjoying it? the ship asked. ∼My favourite bit’s coming up in a moment.
∼What do you mean, your favourite bit? she asked it as the next hapless ship appeared, transfixed, in the concentric targeting/ weapon-choice circles.
∼Ha! You didn’t think this is happening in real time, did you? The ship sounded amused.
∼This is a recording? she said – nearly wailed – as the tiny green ship blazed and turned to what looked like minutely shredded, wind-blown grass-dust. Instantly the view flicked back before throwing her down again somewhere else, her view wobbling to focus on another petrified target.
∼Slow-motion replay, the ship told her. ∼Pay attention, Led.
He turned to look at her, nodding once. ∼There you go, he said. ∼You’ve just seen one of the most significant military engagements of modern times, doll; lamentably but fascinatingly one-sided though it turned out to be. Strongly suspect they just weren’t giving their ship Minds full tactical authority. Demeisen shook his head, frowned. ∼Amateurs. He shrugged. ∼Oh well. Hopefully not the start of an actual proper all-out war between the Culture and our over-cute tribute civ – perish that thoughtlet – but they did shoot first, and it was with what they assumed would be full lethal force, so I was entirely within my rights to waste the miserable trigger-happy fuckers to a soul, without mercy. He sighed. ∼Though I am obviously anticipating the inevitable board of inquiry and I do slightly worry about being ticked off for being just a tad over-enthusiastic. He sighed again, sounding happier this time. ∼Still. Abominator class; we have a reputation to protect. Fuck me, the others are going to be so jealous!
I think a lot of people miss something important. Anyone who can imagine an autonomous robot can imagine a self-driving car (or a car driven by a robot). The reason they aren't more prevalent is because people in the past had very different ideas about what is and isn't worth automating. Today, most people think a walking, talking humanoid robot would be a bad idea. They were everywhere in 60s SF.
Not that I'd recommend it as a novel.
Also this: https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=XlXXoq7N4UQ
It's partly a cultural thing--we trust people to have a conservative sense of self-preservation and obligation to the "souls aboard" that we know computers lack.
And, we know that despite the computer's superior speed of mathematical computation, it remains a somewhat inflexible "thinker" that only does what it is told to do by a human. We have no way to rigorously account for all possible scenarios the plane might face, the we can rigorously account for the performance of the materials and fuel of the airplane.
But yeah, it’s definitely a plot convenience. In addition to your very good point it was also a way for Herbert to make transportation through space a monopoly. Technology can be stolen but without computers the Spacing Guild pilots were the secret sauce.
Make Room! Make Room! 
The world is overpopulated at 7 billion people, with 35 million people in New York City alone. The inspiration for the film Soylent Green (1973).
Maybe not surprising, but worth noting anyway just how pessimistic these stories are.
Blade Runner has always got the prediction closest, in my opinion. The future is ruled by corporations.
Arguably Orwell knew this.
As for movie version, I'd wager Star Trek, at least up to Discovery, was similarly about a vision of a better society (to the point that, as I discussed with few of my friends and colleagues, for a lot of us it has subconsciously shaped our political thinking: "Is this law / action on the path to Star Trek future, or not":)
But they can be interesting stories in their own right - just probably not easy to expand to novel length.
The mess is extraordinary, and has to be seen to be believed, but if you don't have any particular need to believe it, then don't go and look, because you won't enjoy it.
There have recently been some bangs and flashes up in the clouds, and there is one theory that this is a battle being fought between the fleets of several rival carpet-cleaning companies who are hovering over the thing like vultures, but you shouldn't believe anything you hear at parties, and particularly not anything you hear at this one.
One of the problems, and it's one which is obviously going to get worse, is that all the people at the party are either the children or the grandchildren or the great-grandchildren of the people who wouldn't leave in the first place, and because of all the business about selective breeding and regressive genes and so on, it means that all the people now at the party are either absolutely fanatical partygoers, or gibbering idiots, or, more and more frequently, both."
Sounds like the utopian culture of the protagonists is surrounded by plenty of non-utopian drama.
Star Trek - a future where I might die because I chose to put on a red shirt in the morning. ;-)
You're not wrong, but the word 'surrounded' is significant.
Star Trek always felt odd to me because the non-utopian elements felt far too embedded in the utopian stuff. Not just the Maquis, where utopia is breaking down, but the constant presence of menacing rival powers and internal hierarchy. What happens if a captain loses their ship? It can't be trivial or the Romulans wouldn't be a threat. What happens if a private citizen asks the fabricator for a submarine instead of a hot dinner? Material/power/something is clearly bounded. And, yes, redshirts - quite a few people in utopia still get killed because no one knows how to keep them safe.
What I like so much about the Culture stories is that the drama is around their society. They're not just post-money but largely post-scarcity; one character's hobby is terraforming continents into custom residences, and resource limits don't seem to affect anyone much unless they're dealing with the sorts of energy costs associated with major spacetravel. Even when they go to war, it's from a truly foreign viewpoint. One (no-spoilers) conflict sees the Culture evacuate and destroy a space habitat for several billion people because they don't want to yield it to the enemy, and rebuilding it elsewhere is a minor concern.
The other appeal, less obvious from a summary, is seeing what the Culture does worry about. They're not the first post-scarcity civilization, and they're not entirely sure what's happened to the others...
Being placed in a total backwater, with the time to get Federation assistance frequently being a plot point, they could play with things like money and wealth feeling strange and foreign to the Federation citizens, but have them but up against it.
DS9 actually tries to address it to an extent. And it also gives the Ferengi a lot more depth and shows that they're not all greed all the time.
But I agree part of the appeal of the Culture is that it was taken to the other extreme of what a truly post-scarcity society might look like.
> and they're not entirely sure what's happened to the others...
... and on this point, they look like luddites. The Culture are those who are left, who have refused to go into virtual environments or sublime, and who limit their lifespans, and mostly retain their normal biological functions. It's fascinating to see a civilization that seems so advanced, and is so in terms of capability, but that in many ways have a lot in common with the Amish in having rejected taking the next steps.
That's because utopias are boring. Gene Roddenberry's vision if actually followed through with would have made for dismal television, so the writers had to back away from it now and then.
To me the flawed utopias are more interesting and even more inspiring. I can relate to people having to struggle to uphold their morals in a violent and uncertain universe, but not so much to people who are already perfect.
>And, yes, redshirts - quite a few people in utopia still get killed because no one knows how to keep them safe.
Despite it being canon that transporter buffers can be used to store a backup of a person's entire pattern and make copies of them. I can understand the redshirts thing in TOS when that bit of technobabble hadn't been worked out, but by TNG it should have been standard operating procedure to spin up new ones when the old ones got vaporized by the monster of the week.
In the Culture, they actually do that. Few people are in danger of unexpected death in the first place, but you can be restored from a pattern backup if you do suffer an unexpected death. It's extraordinarily rare for a citizen of the Culture to suffer involuntary permanent death.
I personally think of the Culture as "Star Trek done right." They have the same basic toolkit of fictional technologies: strong AI, FTL communications and travel, replicators, abundant energy, artificial gravity, force fields, and teleportation. But instead of being stodgily conservative like the Federation they're making full use of the possibilities offered by these technologies.
Star Trek's utopia is supposed to be one where humans have evolved beyond petty desires and base instincts. There's no violence, no greed or vice, no intolerance, no scarcity or inequality. People choose to work out of intellectual or creative desire, or simply to better their community, or choose not to work, because everyone already has access to infinite free energy, matter replication and holodecks that can create any fully immersive scenario imaginable.
It would be a wonderful place to live, but less wonderful to read about or watch, at least not without an external force disturbing its placidity (or getting on a starship and taking the plot somewhere more... lively.) YMMV, of course.
The very concept of a utopia conveys the idea of a world, or a trajectory of constantly increasing excitement and betterment. The idea that a utopia would be boring because "everything is already as good as it can get" betrays a fundamental misunderstanding: if people born in a "utopia" consider it normal and boring, it's probably not a utopia.
There is a fair amount of overlap (mostly benevolent AIs) but he world builds better than anyone I’ve read almost anywhere and particularly in sci-fi, Spatterjay is brilliantly realised.
I'll check it out, thanks!:)
Incidentally, Subliming reminds me a bit of the transition from the Beyond to the Transcend in Vinge's Zones of Thought stories.
Amazon Prime currently has an adaptation of Consider Phlebas in the pipeline, something I have very mixed feelings about.
Whereas something like Excession - that can never ever be a movie, really...:-/
Yup. In fact, the Culture is in a way just scene setting; the protagonists in most of the novels either aren't Culture, or are very weird Culture people. The only possible exception would be Excession, where the characters are mostly Culture AIs.
Modern sci-fi is downright jaded. They don’t bother to introduce technology half the time. It’s jusr taken as a given that the guns shoot colored fireballs or death rays. All transportation just floats around, etc. and people mostly scrap by on whatever they can find and die often.
But you're wrong to say that it's a modern issue. That kind of sci-fi has been around since the 1920s at least, pretty much since the moment sci-fi got popular. The facade of grim cynicism may be newer, but it dates to the '80s at least.
Except for the diamond+ hard subgenre, Sci-Fi isn't really about the science anyway. The science serves as a mechanism for introducing premises that allow us to explore aspects of the human condition.
Less so in the newer series, but TOS, TNG, Voyager and DS9 very much follows a structure of setting a scene, introducing a conflict that at it's core is usually based around a simple dilemma of morality or ethics, and having a part of the resolution be a dialogue that explicitly addresses the dilemma.
I mean, which is really sillier, subspace or hyperspace?
They're very similar in that the tech is mostly veneer, but they're very dissimilar in why the details of the tech doesn't matter.
I can imagine a future with energy weapons and flying cars, but one in which corporations and governments don't leverage technology to oppress and enslave the masses, where the rich don't get richer and the poor don't die like dogs, just seems like propaganda.
(Pet theory; the Federation is a Soviet-ish military command economy. The episodes we see are in-universe propaganda produced by the state. That's why everyone is so heroic, and why all of the rival civilisations are mostly one-dimensional stereotypes.)
I think Banks' Culture is a better example of a utopia played straight, but most of the action in those novels takes place largely outside the Culture.
That is literally what they are, they're intended to act as mirrors to various aspects of humanity, or embody singular aspects of the plot of the week.
How... HOW do you have a technological, much less warp capable, civilization if you only speak in metaphor and allegory?
How do engineers get anything done? Do they write white papers in metaphors? Do the captains of their ships issue orders in metaphors?
Languages don't work like that. They literally can't work like that.
It literally makes me... mildly annoyed.
All language lives within a culture, and words only convey meaning through a mutually shared understanding. They’ve made allegories first class parts of language, the equivalent to our individual words. Similars happened in programming in so called third/fourth generation languages.
Slow, gradual improvement isn't as exciting as disaster and apocalypse.
Also, Men Like Gods by H.G. Wells is about an essentially perfect utopia.
Like a future with interplanetary colonies and sentient robots but no personal computers and definitely no internet.
Or an internet, but it's virtual reality, and human consciousness is stored on data tapes.
Paper will survive magnetic fields , heat, and rapid changes in temperature that traditional storage won’t. It’s also cheap and disposable. Maybe one or more of these is an issue when trying to cost-effectively get the initial programming into these things. We conveniently don’t really know how they work.
Tokyo's current population is 37.5 million and the global population is above 7 billion, but the problems are so far not manifesting that badly in the West.
That remains to be seen I'm afraid, the long-term carrying capacity of the planet is unknown. The green revolution has allowed us to feed 7 billion+ people but is powered by fossil fuels. The costs are accelerated climate change, soil degradation and aquifer depletion. Feeding the current population for a few decades is one thing, doing so for centuries or millennia quite another.
Today in 2019, the idea of turning Manhattan into a walled-off prison seems absurd, mostly because the buildings in the city are now worth millions (inflation-adjusted) more than they were in the 80s.
Also, this is a recent one, but in Star Wars rogue one, I felt it was odd how they had what looked like an IT nightmare. Seriously, they had to physically fly to the base and deal with a robotic arm connecting hard drives (was it tape drives?). Sure they have humanoid robots that are way beyond any tech today, but their cloud storage was basically current and even old school tech. Why don't they have some tiny crystal that stores unlimited data or DNA storage in a small cylinder or something that you would expect in the future? To be fair it is a "long time ago in a galaxy far away" but still, are we technologically ahead of those death star builders in some way?
This is a consequence of a world where technology advances faster than people are able to understand it, and abstractions build on top of abstractions to the point where everything just seems like magic and nobody needs to concern themselves with how things actually work.
In fact, pretty much nobody writes code except droids. The droids are instructed on what to write by a programmer, who is usually some old gray wizard in a hooded robe that speaks about what needs to be created and how it should be done at a very high level, then the droids get to work. Nobody actually understands the code the droids produce, and trying to is mostly a waste of time since you can just tell a droid to rewrite it anyway. As a result, most UI is also built by droids. That's why it's more likely to resemble something like ncurses or maybe vim with a powerline plugin, rather than MacOS or Windows.
Because nobody actually understands technology, they tend to develop crude mental models about how things work, and you end up with people doing things the hard way just because they don't know there is any other way to do it. In fact, Star Wars probably wouldn't have even happened if the Empire had better IT security.
It's also likely that people in Star Wars don't understand the concept of one technology being more "advanced" than the other, as they have no skills to evaluate that. So you sometimes see better technology in older times and worse tech in newer times.
When you look at Star Wars this way, the world actually seems very futuristic, because it is the end result of thousands of generations of people who have come to accept technology as a magical black box where you simply give inputs and get outputs. We can even begin to see this effect in our own world today.
All of the Star Wars prequels (and the Star Trek series set before TOS) have the same problem, in that they have to present a "futuristic" universe that's acceptably so to modern audiences, yet maintain a sense of visual continuity as antecedents to shows or movies whose look was set in stone decades ago.
Also, you have to consider that Rogue One is an action movie, it's grand, swashbuckling Buck Rogers style space opera. You can't start with a thrilling orbital dogfight, then have close quarters urban combat, then... sitting at a terminal making database queries or something. It might be more realistic but it would also ruin the tone and pacing of the film.
It's what happens when you lock retro-futurism into the franchise's canon.
People carry multi-function pocket computers around, referred to as pads. A massive die-off of insects spells global disaster.
At the end, as breathtakingly wrong scenario, but who could have known: Manhattan more or less razed to the ground by a series of nuclear air-bursts, with the WTC Twin Towers nearly the only structures still standing.
The fact the book got so many things right in 1953 is pretty eye opening:
Predicted regular use of earbud headphones, interactive television, video wall screens, robotic bank tellers, the demise of newspapers and the prevalent use of factoids. Also had the Mechanical Hound and technology for complete blood transfusions.
> Blade Runner - Film - 1982 - Year set 2019
We are living in the future that seemed to be so far away when I was a teenager ...