I’ve been reading quite a bit of historical fiction recently, which as I blogged on some time ago, I think is a good source of inspiration for a science fiction writer in that it describes very different worlds to the one we live in today. I’ve enjoyed the Bernhard Cornwell series The Last Kingdom set in the times of King Alfred and his immediate successors and I ‘m currently finishing Bring up the dead, the Hilary Mantel follow up to Wolf Hall about Thomas Cromwell. I have also been an avid reader of fiction and non-fiction on ancient Rome and Greece. We look back on those times as detached, observers of history. They were often to our eyes quite brutal. We tend to forget that those times were occupied by people, much like ourselves, with hopes and dreams and wanting, what passed for in those days as, a decent life. And many of those people (who could afford the luxury of thinking) would believe they were at the cutting edge of a modern society, as we do now.
So that sets me thinking that we are also someone’s ancient history, or we will be, or at least I hope we will be. And what will they think of us and the times we live in? One major difference maybe, will be that they look at us as a global society for perhaps the first time. In the past it was Rome, Greece, Tudor England or whatever. But, looking back from five hundred or a thousand years in the future they may well view us as one world. Sadly I think they may also view our times as brutal. Despite everything we think of as ‘civilised’ we are still killing each other in many horrific ways and huge numbers of people in this global society are still starving and exploited.
It may turn out that we are viewed as an age of great technological advancement, when we could first dream of reaching for the stars. However, they will undoubtedly also see us as the first ‘age’ that had to get to grips with problems on a global scale such as a population growth that is unsustainable, climate change, mass migration, vast wealth inequality. How we deal with those issues now will impact the world for the next thousand years or more, much as Alfred the Great’s vision for a united England influenced my own country a thousand years ago. And we are sure to be judged on how well we meet those challenges, in the same way he is now judged by history.
Of course as a science fiction writer I believe that the human race will build on our scientific and technological achievements and our dreams of reaching for the stars. I hope future generations will look back on us as providing the earliest foundations for those dreams, rather than the period of human history that ran away from its problems, almost destroying the planet as we did so. I hope that planet earth will not be some redundant, broken relic, because if it is, the blame for that will be laid on the people of the twenty first century.
Perhaps, if we thought a little more on how history will regard us we might act sooner and with more concentrated effort to address those problems that we can all see are just round the corner. We might act now, with a view to ensuring that the future thinks well of us and believes, that we laid the foundation for a better global society. If we’re lucky they might see in us (as in Alfred), that we had a vision for the planet (as he did for England) that persisted and impacted, in a positive way, on the future for many generations to come.
We can but hope (but it is by no means certain) that the future will look back kindly upon us.
As always comments are welcome.