Has the future arrived unseen?
I hardly ever share that sentiment. The extrapolation of the present reveals much of what awaits us, and if we follow that direction we find ourselves in an imaginary landscape that resembles a more believable future than that of statistics and common sense. Many of my short stories have been the result of that process.
There is a slight problem with this approach. It’s the willingness of the reader to look at the enlarged themes and go along with the author, something I can not take for granted. In their introduction to the unique work by J.G. Ballard, The Atrocity Exhibition, Andrea Juno and V. Vale refer to a statement made by William S. Burroughs, which has always inspired me and is an appropriate point to make here: “The best way to keep something bad from happening is to see it ahead of time… and you can’t see it if you refuse to face the possibility.”
This path led me, for the first time, to the creation of a short story that sort of blew up our current economic system to the size of, what I called, the Super Economy. The result was not appreciated by all readers. The editors of the magazine that published that first story were divided: half of them loved the piece, the other half loathed it. I consider that a recurring compliment in my career, and it also proves my point.
So I stayed on course and wrote a series of extrapolating stories about themes I felt were relevant to our times as well as the near future. Many of these stories were received with similar ambivalence, but I’ve always clinged to the half of my audience that was willing to make any strange journey with me. So what kind of world emerges from this way of traveling into the near future?
The question What will our entertainment industry lead us to in the long run? resulted in the short story “In Snuff Park”. There is surely nothing beyond this point; the evolution of entertainment has been completed, and we can rightfully claim, referring to Neil Postman, that we are “amusing ourselves to death.”
Next on my list was the theme of eternal beauty, and youth. We will soon be able to extend life far beyond our current horizon, be it by cloning or by sustaining the bodies we’re born into. But I am convinced it is not eternity we’re after. It’s beauty and youth. The longer we live, the bigger the effort, and I’ve written the short story “Babyface Junkie” in that spirit. There is a price to pay for anything that lasts. Inspiration came, as you will find out, from artists dealing with beauty all over the arts: Thomas Mann, Stanley Kubrick, Steven Spielberg, Christiane F. You name it.
My next missions was the writing of “Narcissist Guru”, a short story that deals with the ego and the way we as individuals can drown in the media sea. But there’s more going on; this story has a tendency to incorporate other themes as well.
Further down the line, art comes into view as something more than to just stare at numbly in a museum. For a long time I was — and still am — mesmerized by the artistry of Christo and Jeanne-Claude, by the way they could change an object in public space and turn it into something else. Whenever a new installation was opened for the public, it changed the atmosphere, it changed the location for a short period in time, and it did so more powerful — for a variety of reasons — than a normal exhibition inside a museum. It was this changing of the public space that took possession of me and wouldn’t let go. The result was “Sketches of a Worldwide Christo and Jeanne-Claude”, a story that, I’m proud to say, received the artists’ acclaim.
The next story, “Territory Game”, engages the future in a more literal form. Sooner or later technology is going to render most of nature redundant. In Blade Runner, the landmark film by Ridley Scott, based on the novel Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep by Philip K. Dick, an artificial owl is considered nothing special, a cloned fake, just one step away from an entirely synthetic lifeform. What’s to keep us from creating nylon oxygen, to quote the Intergalactic Radio Station as created by Vangelis on his album Direct? And again, what starts out to be beautiful, soon rears its ugly head.
The final story moves to a more personal level, which ties this preface back to its beginning, the part where we never saw the future coming. And that is precisely what the heroin of “Beloved Stalker” must feel.
In a row, my short stories may not necessarily offer a pretty sight, but they put me at ease. We can take comfort in the notion that fiction can never be more barbaric than reality. That much we’ve learned after more than twenty centuries since we started counting. It seems only natural that any form of speculation about where we’re going ends in flames. If your pages start to burn while you read them, or if your device becomes too hot to handle, I am convinced you are on the right track.
Meanwhile I continue to follow my own tracks and hope to find myself in a world were everything is extrapolated. That way we can see the world around us anew, and wake up from our catatonic submission to the reality of modern times. The future has already arrived, at least the larger part of it — but we must learn to see it.
Taken from the Preface of the new short story collection “Allusions”. Visit the Allusions page for more information about the stories, the book and links to the Amazon and iBooks stores.