Tuesday, 1 December 2015

The Future

What will the future be like? Meaningless question. How far into the future and starting from when? To my eleven year old self in 1960, we are now living in the future and I am doing one of the things that we imagined, not traveling to the Moon but communicating through a world wide computer network.

Poul Anderson's "Flight to Forever," published in 1950, begins in the future, 1973, when the gerontology is such that adults might survive for another hundred years. The setting is a rambling old house on a hill near some forested hills and a river above a village in New York State.

Martin Saunders, having twice tested the time projector - which uses vacuum tubes, not transistors -, found the house standing but with no one home in both 1953 and 1993. Saunders is the viewpoint character until Sam Hull and he depart in the time projector at which point we are told that Eve, watching the departure, turns to MacPherson: two stock characters, inventor and Saunders' girl friend. Saunders is a familiar Anderson hero, big and homely.

After a few minutes of swirling grayness seen through their single porthole, the two time travelers arrive in 2073, in a half-filled pit, the former basement. From the long grass at the top of the pit, Saunders sees the familiar landscape but with no village. So that is what the future looks like. As in Olaf Stapledon's Last And First Men, a pedestrian beginning to a narrative that will soar through the future.

They return in ten year steps, looking for the small automatic time projectors that had failed to return:

2063 - rain in the pit;
2053 - sunlight;
2043 - rotting timbers;
2023 - charred stumps;
2013 - fire-blackened basement and tarnished automatics;
2008 - ruined basement; still no village.

They realize that, because of an unsuspected physical law similar to the light speed limitation, they will drain their batteries before they get back another ten years. Thus, wanting to travel from 2073 to 1973, they will reach say 2000 and no further.Their only hope is to seek help in the further future. Their aim changes from exploration to communication.

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