Speculative Fiction Tropes: Used Future
Today continues the April A-Z Challenge. This month, I'll be blogging (almost) daily about a different speculative fiction trope, one for each letter of the alphabet. Today's entry is on the Used Future motif.
But is this realistic? When's the last time every car you passed on the road sparkled with a fresh wash? What about that construction site you drove past? Did the equipment look sleek and new, or did it show years of use? How about the appliances in your office? Your home?
Realistically, the future will probably look a lot like the present. For every silken spacecraft you come across, every glistening hover-car, there's likely going to be an old, beaten junker or two. Certain features of any place occupied by a sufficient amount of "real" people are going to look used and worn after a while. Luckily, some writers and directors have made this realization, willingly embracing it for the aesthetic character it can bring a story's setting. One look at a grimy, dust-covered future tells you a great deal about that setting's people and culture, and this can be a valuable worldbuilding tool.
Inspired by Lucas was Ridley Scott, who would go on to utilize the motif masterfully in both Alien and Blade Runner, two acclaimed science fiction works that would become iconic in their own rights.
In the novel I was working on last year before switching my focus to shorter works, I used a motif similar to the Star Wars used future device. I gave looks into two separate tiers of a future society. One of them had access to seemingly unlimited resources and went to great lengths to maintain a perfect facade that extended to every facet of their culture, including the sleek look of their ships and equipment. The other was stark and utilitarian, making do with whatever they could get their hands on, the cheaper the better. One of the central characters is raised as a part of the former culture, only to be forced into the latter through events outside of his control.
I enjoy sci-fi that depicts a used future, especially in film, where its aesthetic value can really be felt. They often hark back to classic works of film noir, becoming ingrained in what has become the cyberpunk sub-genre. These kinds of movies really grab a hold of me, sometimes more so than their literary counterparts. There's just something alluring about those dark, smokey cityscapes and rundown pieces of technology, no matter how bleak a future they seem to predict. Sometimes it's just easier to reconcile a rusty tomorrow with the frequently chaotic state of the world today.
The Moon is a Harsh Mistress by Robert A. Heinlein
Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? by Philip K. Dick
Foundation series by Isaac Asimov
Gears of War