"Science fiction is almost never really about the future, and shouldn’t aim to
be — it’s much more effective as a way to make sense of the present. A book
like Octavia Butler’s Parable of the Talents
(about a brutally racist,
fascist United States, ruled by a president who ran on the campaign slogan
“Make America Great Again”) doesn’t act as a crystal ball. It acts as a mirror.
Butler wasn’t really writing about an imagined 2030s, when the book is set. She
was using dystopian fiction to create a lens through which the readers of 1998
(when the book was published) could see the rot that had already taken hold in
their own world.
Science fiction has been pointing toward a dystopian America, ruled by
prejudice and often outright fascism, for decades now. But that trend hasn’t
always made its way to television — especially not to the Star Trek
franchise, which boasts a utopian worldview of a humanity that settled its many
conflicts and united to explore the furthest reaches of space. Star Trek
not completely devoid of dystopias, but they typically pop up only in the form
of one-off planets of the week.
And yet one of the pieces of science fiction that has best seemed to herald the
2020s is a two-parter from the third season of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine
The episodes are set in 2024, but they were filmed in 1994 and aired in early
1995. They depict an America where inequality has spun out of control, where
homelessness is a problem that no one is particularly interested in tackling
compassionately, and where divisions centered on race and income spiral into
The “Past Tense” pair of episodes isn’t just remarkable for how uncannily it
reflects the world we live in now. It’s remarkable for how it’s been sitting
there for nearly 30 years, in plain sight, within one of the most popular TV
franchises of all time."
Via Dewayne Hendricks and Dave Farber.
*** Xanni ***
Chief Scientist, Xanadu
Partner, Glass Wings
Manager, Serious Cybernetics