(Hieronymus Bosch “Visions of Hell” vs. Robert McCall, “The Prologue and the Promise”)
I posted another excerpt from The Alchemy of World and Soul. This one is about Apocalypse vs. Utopia. It starts like this:
The sunshine was like an ocean of light, drowning everything beneath the sky, washing out the green of the fields, and distorting the fences in the distance with its heat. Beneath my grandparents’ twin oak trees the heat felt bearable, the shade frequently supplanted by a warm, errant wind. The warmth mattered little because I barely noticed it. I hardly noticed anything. I was reading, deeply engaged in a world that existed only on thin sheets of paper and in the space between my ears. I was reading of a place distant in time and space. A place where things were very different from the world I lived in.
As a boy, I was fascinated by science fiction. It wasn’t so much the stories of alien worlds or intelligent creatures from other planets that interested me; it was the ideas that attracted me, particularly the notions about how the future might be. These usually came in two colors: the dark, broody tones of an apocalyptic future, or the bright, cheery hues of a utopia. Either way, they sparked my imagination and made me consider the reality of the world I was living in, how it might change, and what the causes for its change might be.
Because it was science fiction (and often, not very good science fiction), the change it espoused was usually due to advances in technology. Either technology would usher in a new golden age of prosperity for all, or it would plunge the world into some kind of technological nightmare where humanity was reduced to a cog in a vast and frightening machine. There is little realistic middle ground in science fiction; it isn’t dramatic. Unfortunately, there is little realistic middle ground to be found in contemporary, nonfictional prognostications about the future, either. Drama isn’t merely used to sell us science fiction about the future — it’s used to sell us the actual future we are buying every day.