Now that we’re free, where are we going? So ends a speech by science fiction writer Ursula Le Guin and begins the introduction to Living in the Future’s third issue, ‘New Lands: Beyond the Fields We Know’. While I don’t know that anyone living in today’s free world would be so simple as to call it free, Le Guin’s question remains: where are we going? Are we going anywhere at all? There was a time when science fiction writing felt surreal, otherworldly, hanging on to the realities of our existence only by the thinnest threads of plausibility. Now, it reads as uncanny at best. Everything that is written about, everything that is caricatured and exaggerated and futurized, comes to fruition by the date of release, always sooner than we thought. There is no future that is not already happening.
Living in the Future is living in the present, too, in a sense. Many of the 20-plus stories and excerpts read as blankly present-day as “A week later you texted me: Want to have breakfast with me?” from Holly White’s short story, ‘Dogs’. Some swing back before falling forward, like Francis Patrick Brady’s Houellebecqian ‘The Mundane Edda and the Tale of Forty-Six Thousand, Six-Hundred and Fifty-Six’ which takes the reader from the blank Word document of a new Windows 95 PC to the abandoned floor of the Grand Hotel some thirty years into a war no one has yet envisioned.
Or maybe we have. Maybe the war, too, is too near-future to be science fiction, but reads instead more like a newspaper: horrifying in its absolute predictability. “[E]vents are broken into forgetting,” Llew Watkins writes in part 3 of ‘Hinterland Shift’, another story found in ‘New Lands’ that tells, fleetingly, of Emily and a disheveled, Beer Festival shirt-clad Captain. “[T]he strongest constant is always forgetting,” Watkins continues. It is forgetting that allows history to repeat itself, and it is a willful forgetting that allows the oppressed to remain oppressed and their oppressors to remain unsullied. To forget one’s history is to self-colonize, to allow a hegemony without domination. In fact, Watkins begins the story with a question: “Can we consider that Emily is a world that is perpetually self-colonizing?”
Signalling her ironic take on Le Guin’s quote, Living in the Future co-editor Rebecca Bligh in her introductory essay quotes the cyberlibertarian John Perry Barlow and his declaration of freedom, speaking “with no greater authority than that which liberty itself always speaks” when he proclaims: “On behalf of the future, I ask you of the past to leave us alone. You are not welcome among us. You have no sovereignty where we gather.” Bligh knows, as we do, that the assertion “now seems impossibly naïve”—not only is cyber space no longer free, quite literally, but it was never free of coercion, and here Bligh cites both Aaron Swartz, who committed suicide while under federal indictment for data-theft, and Anita Sarkeesian, who underwent a systemic campaign of sexist harassment for daring to mention a lack of female representation in video games. “Likewise”, Bligh writes, “white/male freedom to–, has often conflicted with other people’s freedom to–, and freedom from–.” Freedom, too, is a zero-sum game. **