The kind of science fiction stories I enjoy the most are the ones where the fantastic elements blend so seamlessly with the mundane it becomes hard to tell the two apart. This is why I admire the work of Arthur C. Clarke; this is probably also why I am a fan of steampunk. In both Clarke’s work and in steampunk, the fiction is so interwoven with the ordinary that you actually feel that you are in the future, rather than just reading some magazine feature on it. It is the difference between Firefly and Star Trek.
Now the key element to writing fiction like that is to not stray too far from what is already familiar. The future you portray, therefore, isn’t so much a flight of fancy as it is an extrapolation of the state of technology and society – indeed, of humanity itself – within the time period you are writing about. This is also, as far as I understand, what motivates futurism at its core.
In #10YearsFromNow, I present my own futurist vision of the very near future, constructed from scientific and technological foundations as they exist today, and as they may exist in that future, 10 years from now. Therefore, flying cars are unlikely, and so are hand-held death rays – ship mounted laser weapons are fair game since they already exist. Some cancers may have already been cured, or AIDs perhaps, again given the current state of research into those diseases. On the reverse side of the disease issue, measles is probably more widespread as I don’t see the next decade bringing a significant decline in the vaxxer lunacy. And so on.
You get the picture. So I won’t burden you any further with all this exposition and present…
Melissa wakes up at five in the morning everyday, even though she doesn’t really have to. The early hour, however, gives her time to do an hour of exercise and half-an hour of meditation. By around half-past six, she’s already waiting for the breakfast delivery from the food service she signed up for when she first moved out of her parents’ house a year ago, at 23. She’s not too happy about the service though, and has been considering changing providers. Unfortunately, the one she had was the only thing she could afford on her salary. Her boss had been talking about making breakfast herself, but who had time for that anymore?
Today was no exception.
At seven, the food arrived, and it looked exactly like what she had the day before. That was the problem with these services, she reflected. They start out good and exciting. Keep it going for any length of time and all the reasons to be unhappy with it just start jumping out at you.
*There are no wireless networks in range* her computer’s beefcake voice informed her.
“Case in fucking point,” she muttered. Instinctively, she looked at the clock on her computer screen: 7:30AM. If she didn’t get a connection in 25 minutes, she’d be late. Again. But what could she do? She couldn’t afford a signal booster and she didn’t have time to go through the auction sites. In resignation, she glanced out the window, wishing again that she had been able to get a higher floor. The weak sunlight filtering through the smog was simply too depressing on days that started like this.She’d heard that above the 17th floor, you could actually feel the warmth of the sunlight if you stood outside. On her floor though, all you would feel would be the sting of the acid hanging redolent in the air.
*Congratulations -Melissa. We have a connection!* If she wasn’t paying too much attention, the voice sometimes sounded like Lem. At least until the voice hiccuped just before it said her name, or a number, or any other word coming from a variable input field. She wasn’t complaining about that today, though. The computer found the wifi with five minutes to spare. Just enough time for her computer to link up to the company and start streaming the day’s work load.
“What have you got for me today, baby?”
Diego got out of bed at four AM, to the sound of the television blaring out the day’s smog alert. By 4:30, he had crawled into his school uniform of grey shirt and greyer shorts. The shirt used to be white, but no one used bleach in the Briosa Estates. Too expensive, and they wore out clothes too soon. If his mother had used bleach, he would have never been able to wear his uniform after his two older brothers outgrew them. As it was, they were getting frayed around the neck.
“Ready to go?” his mother asked, standing by the door with a large nylon duffel bag stuffed full of odds and ends. “Don’t forget your mask,” she said as they stepped out of the run down hovel they called home.
In the pre-dawn darkness, the pair walked, hand in hand, for fifteen blocks, getting to the public market a little past five. Along the way, they’d side-stepped people passed out on the sidewalk, meth addicts crouched in alleyways, and the occasional police car, parked by the side of the road, rocking back and forth on its suspension. Diego knew what the rocking was all about, even if he didn’t let on to his mother. Being an Estates-kid in 2026 meant there was little you didn’t know about the streets.
The public market occupied the burned-out superstructure of what used to be a three story office building. In it’s heyday, it had been a good address, Diego’s mother once told him. But then the elevated train came and cast a pall over the entire avenue. Street-level crimes skyrocketed, property values fell, and most of the offices fled, leaving the buildings dark and empty. Not for long though. When it became clear that it was cheaper for the owners to let the buildings rot, rather than fixing them up for new tenants or simply demolishing them, the abandoned buildings became magnets for the homeless.
Three years ago, the new mayor embarked on an ambitious re-vitalization campaign for this part of the city and started with the public market. Where businessmen used to stride across marble floors, people now sold raw meat and undressed fish. The marble had long been cannibalised and in its place, rough concrete floors coated wet mud and fish scales.
Off to the side of the main market floor, the dry goods stalls sprang up. There, various merchants sold everything from blankets to cookery; second-hand clothes to gardening tools. As they’d done for the past year and a half, mother and son got their spot ready, setting out the cheap plastic and rubber toys they sold. By a quarter to seven, Diego was on his way to his school around the corner, just ahead of the morning rush.
At 7:00 o’clock, the students of the public school assembled on the school grounds and sang along with the national anthem, clenched right fists thrusting up into the air with each beat of the song. Everyday it was the same. The anthem, the oath of allegiance, the oath of loyalty to the President, then enjoying what amounted to an unprecedented second term, and finally, the calisthenics. Diego hated the calisthenics most of all; almost as much as he loved swearing loyalty to Papa, as the children were taught to call the President.
By the time Diego and his classmates got to their assigned room, the clock was almost ready to strike eight. One by one, the 40 students in Diego’s class filed through the doorway, kissed the flag standing by the chalkboard, and made their way to the back of the room where they all stood against the wall, awaiting the teacher’s arrival. Diego’s homeroom had more space to move about than most of the other classrooms. With only 40 students in the honors class, that wasn’t surprising. Like his mother always reminded Diego, being the best always had its advantages.
And in the public school system, one of those advantages was that there would be fewer students to share the learning tablet. At 8:00 am, the bell sounded and the teacher arrived, carrying four tablets encased in clear plastic. With almost reverential care, she placed each of the four tablets on small tables. As she laid the tablets down, the teacher would tap in a password and the tablet would make a small chiming noise as it connected to the school’s wi-fi network.
It was a routine that was repeated throughout most of the school. The only difference was that in each of the four honors classes, there were only ten chairs around each of the tables. In every other classroom, the tables had twenty or more chairs.
At a signal from the teacher, Diego and his classmates sidled up to the tables in groups of ten. Near the chalkboard, the teacher began the brief introduction to the day’s lesson she was supposed to give before moving on to the other classes. Sometimes, she wondered why she bothered with this class. Like all honors classes, this one barely even listened to her introductions anymore, preferring to go straight to the tablet to start the day’s work.
“Ah, so it’s math today, is it?” Melissa grumbled around a mouthful of the tasteless porridge that came with her breakfast. She liked math, and she liked kids. Better than wise-ass college students, she thought, adjusting the headset mic that curled around her face.
A pinging noise in her ear told her that she had been connected. On her computer screen, the faces of children peered at a point somewhere below eye-level, reading the introductory text to the lecture. One by one, as they finished reading, their eyes tracked upward so they were level with the tablet’s camera.
“Good morning, kids,” Melissa said with a smile.
“Good morning, teacher!”