The future promises to be so wonderous and terrifying that it will exceed even the furthest reaches of the human imagination. Though this is not saying much, as the human imagination has really only been able to think up eight possible futures:
8An Oppressive Totalitarian State
Forcibly proscribed social roles and classes; a creepy, overbearing "beloved leader" and equally creepy propaganda posters on every wall; an ultra-brutal police force; the repression of all written communication and creativity; a huge underclass of drone-like proles paralyzed with paranoid anxiety; a moratorium on rainbows, strawberry ice cream and butterfly kisses. Basically, it's the Cold War-era Soviet Union.
George Orwell's 1984 laid the macabre groundwork for the Totalitarian State future vision, and while the actual year 1984 didn't pan out quite as he thought it would, you have to admit that Michael Jackson's hair catching on fire was pretty terrifying. Orwell also gets credit for creating newspeak, thereby giving nerds everywhere a new way to express their distaste for this week's double-plus, ungood episode of Heroes.
Aldous Huxley's Brave New World helped cement the Totalitarian State in the public's imagination. He added genetic modification and sanctioned drug use to the mix, at least one of which is a clear improvement over the present. Sylvester Stallone's 1995 brilliant masterwork Judge Dredd should also be mentioned, if only because it took the novel stance of making a member of the ultra-brutal police force its hero, while simultaneously stripping out the ironic undertones of the British comic on which it was based. Way to go, America!
V for Vendetta, Brazil, Fahrenheit 451, The Handmaid's Tale, The Giver, Gattaca, Soylent Green.
Why It Will Never Happen:
Governments have been evolved and advanced to achieve stunning levels of incompetence that Orwell could hardly have imagined. Sure, we did wind up with wall monitors in our homes, but they display mostly porn and advertisements.
Besides, the entire reason the Orwellian future genre survives is because it scares the crap out of people. It's what gets the ACLU and Libertarians out of bed in the morning. Sure, the president would probably like to make himself Lord Protectorate and live in a giant crystal tower, but these days he would have to ask permission of several multinational corporations first.
7A Retro-Futuristic Utopia
A complete obliteration of all littering and public nudity; food-mo-trons, laser showers and other assorted impossibly useful machines; miracle trains that require only one rail; happily hetero- and socio-normative nuclear family units; an all-powerful but inexplicably benevolent government; spandex clothing with no pockets whatsoever; robots that do all the work now performed by illegal immigrants; a dearth of illegal immigrants; a statistically perfect assortment of pure-bred ethnicities to distract from how staggeringly white everyone has become; flying cars.
With its robot maid, its four-hour workdays and its unseen, but surely starving surface-world population, The Jetsons perfectly sums up the naïve, unbridled optimism we once showed for technology. It's hard to out optimism, a future vision that has us all living on mile-long poles, flying to disco dance clubs, taking field trips to the moon, and siring sons who routinely invent devices Stephen Hawking would lunge out of his chair to get his hands on. If only Mr. Spacely wasn't such a flaming asshole.
Disneyland's House of the Future, Metropolis, Back to the Future II, Star Trek: The Next Generation (when they go to Earth), Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow, Demolition Man.
Why It Will Never Happen:
Utopian writers always seem to be working with a completely different species of humanity than exists now. Bug-free technology? Streets free of filth? It's less like a possible future and more like an alternate universe, a place where somehow 100 percent of both the politicians and citizens actually give a shit (a 97 percent increase over the rate).
Sure, we'd like a flying car. Until, that is, we imagine our drunken uncle, passed out behind the stick, hurtling toward some high-tension power lines at 300 miles an hour.