The Future in Print – WIF Bookshelf

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Books That Predicted

the Future

With Eerie Accuracy

When authors write about the future, they have to predict what technology and life might be like decades down the road. While the books are often written as a metaphor for their contemporary society, some authors have made amazingly accurate predictions about what modern life has actually become.

These are all fiction books that, somehow, managed to predict the future. 

10. They Shoot Horses, Don’t They? By Horace McCoy

They Shoot Horses, Don’t They? is a relentlessly bleak book that was published in 1935. It’s about a young man named Robert who moves to Los Angeles to get into the film industry. When Robert tries to get work as an extra on a movie, he meets Gloria, a young woman who wants to be an actress. After failing to get jobs, they decide to join a dance marathon. The problem is that these marathons are death marches that can go on for weeks. The only breaks that the contestants get are 10 minute time-outs after an hour and fifty minutes of dancing. The couple that lasts the longest gets $1,000, and all the contestants are fed.

Throughout the contest, new gimmicks are added to liven up the marathon. Like at the end of the night, there’s a speed walk and the couple that comes in last is eliminated. Another twist that is added to the marathon is two contestants get married, and are saved from elimination. Other times, celebrities show up at the marathon for cameos.

Published in the mid-1930s, They Shoot Horses was written as a metaphor of the plight of people during the Great Depression. However, today it can be seen as a frightfully accurate precursor to reality TV shows.

In reality shows, people voluntarily do things that are physically and mentally grueling and/or humiliating, all for money and their 15 minutes of fame. Reality shows are also known for using gimmicks to make the show more exciting. Finally, celebrities of varying degrees of fame are known to pop up on all types of reality shows, from Big Brother to MasterChef.

The question is, is a grueling dance marathon any more dehumanizing than making someone eat something like horse rectum or blended rats, like some contestants on Fear Factor had to do?

9. Infinite Jest by David Foster Wallace

Infinite Jest is a long and unwieldy book; the story is nearly a thousand pages and there are over 100 pages of footnotes. It’s believed that the book takes place around 2009, in an alternate timeline where the years aren’t numbered. Instead, they are sponsored by companies. For example, there is the Year of the Whopper and the Year of the Depends Adult Undergarment.

Due to the scope of the book, the plot is impossible to summarize in a few sentences, but it’s mostly set at a tennis academy and a halfway house for addicts. Both are in Boston, which is part of the Organization of North American Nations, or O.N.A.N. In this reality, the United States forced Canada and Mexico to join America as one big super state.

There are several groups of characters in the book and some of those people are looking for a lost film called “Entertainment.” The film is supposedly so entertaining that if someone starts to watch it, they can’t stop. They will do nothing else but watch the film. This includes stopping eating and drinking, and eventually, they will die while watching it.

In many ways, Wallace’s novel predicted contemporary life fairly accurately. Most notably, he predicted the way people would consume media and their obsession with entertainment. In the book, people watch teleputers, which are combinations of televisions, phones, and computers. People can get movies and TV shows off the InterLace to watch whenever they want, and then they listen to their teleputers with white ear plugs.

Of course, all of those inventions are now commonplace, albeit not exactly the way that Wallace envisioned it. Teleputers sound a lot like smart phones, Wallace just didn’t predict that they would be mobile and fit in the palm of your hand, while the InterLace is a lot like Netflix. However, Wallace thought that a system like the Interlace would be the death of TV advertising. Finally, the earplugs are, of course, Apple’s earbuds.

Wallace also wrote about video phones, which had been predicted by many other writers before him, but Wallace had an interesting insight. In Infinite Jest, videophones were just a fad because people don’t like seeing themselves on the screen. In real life, there are many reasons people don’t use video chat as frequently as texting. One reason is that people don’t like seeing pictures of themselves.

Finally, Wallace predicted the rise of Donald Trump. In his book, the President is the loudest and brashest right wing sensationalist of the mid-1990s – Rush Limbaugh.

8. Childhood’s End by Arthur C. Clarke

Childhood’s End, by famed sci-fi writer Arthur C. Clarke, is about an invasion of Earth by a group of aliens called the Overlords. The Overlords aren’t violent, but they hide themselves from human eyes. Through a spokesperson at the United Nations, they say that they will reveal themselves to humankind in 50 years. 

During those 50 years, the Overlords improve life on Earth in many ways – ignorance, poverty, hunger, and disease are all things of the past. Of course, the Overlords also help advance human technology. One of those technologies was a type of virtual reality that is like a movie, but it is so realistic that you can’t tell the difference between the movie and real life. “The program,” as Clarke called it, would appeal to all the senses and would allow the person to be someone completely different from themselves, or even a plant. Why someone would want to be a plant is beyond us, but that isn’t the only head scratching prediction Clarke made.

He also predicted that in the early 2000s, people might watch TV for three hours a day. The only way someone would be able to watch all the programming would be to never sleep, as opposed to it being impossible.

So while Clarke didn’t foresee cable TV or YouTube, he did correctly predict video games and virtual reality. This is pretty impressive considering that when the book was published in 1953, televisions in homes were just becoming common.

7. The Plot Against America by Phillip Roth

In Phillip Roth’s 2004 book, The Plot Against America, a well-known celebrity gets into politics and starts to spew conspiracy theories about minorities. Finding his niche, the celebrity, with no political experience, panders to racists and anti-Semites. Surprisingly, he wins the nomination of the Republican Party and then goes on to win the presidency. As president, he aligns himself with a notorious and brutal world leader and this creates global tension and conflict. He also begins to persecute the minorities that he villainized in his campaign.

The Plot Against America takes place in an alternate timeline and it starts in 1940. The celebrity who is running for president is Charles Lindbergh, who uses a platform rife with anti-Semitism to become president. After he’s elected, the world leader that Lindbergh associates himself with is Adolf Hitler.

Of course, the parallels in Roth’s book to real life should be obvious to anyone who wasn’t living under a rock in 2016. But if you were in a coma or something, let us fill you in. Celebrity real estate mogul Donald Trump ran for the Republican ticket with no political experience. His platform included racist conspiracy theories and he spouted offensive rhetoric about minorities. He found popularity among white nationalists and people who were anti-immigration and then shamelessly pandered to them. Amazingly, he not only won the Republican nomination, but he went on to win the presidency.

So far, as president, Trump has alienated several of America’s allies, but talks glowinglyabout Russian President Vladimir Putin, whose government has a horrendous record of human rights violations, which includes state-sponsored human trafficking.

The final similarity between President Trump and President Lindbergh is that after Trump became President, he started to persecute those he villainized in his campaign, specifically Muslims and undocumented immigrants.

6. Neuromancer by William Gibson

William Gibson’s 1984 novel, Neuromancer, not only gave birth to the cyberpunk genre, but it also predicted cyberspace and the internet.

The book follows Case, a former computer hacker and drug addict. Before the book starts, Case was fired from his job and his central nervous system was poisoned, so he couldn’t “jack in” to cyberspace, which is called “the matrix.” Millions of people can jack into the matrix, which is a 3D virtual world that appeals to all the senses. One day, Case meets a mysterious employer who says he will help Case get back into the matrix, but in exchange, Case has to complete an incredibly difficult hack.

In 1984, there was an internet, but only a handful of universities used it. Gibson foresaw that it would eventually connect millions of computers. Of course, the internet isn’t as immersive as the matrix Gibson predicted (yet) but he did predict the rise of technological addiction and people’s need to be online.

5. Player Piano by Kurt Vonnegut

Kurt Vonnegut’s debut novel, Player Piano, was published in 1952, and it takes place in the near future, 10 years after the Third World War. Since people were needed to fight the war, factories were designed to be more autonomous. Also, the stock market is controlled by a computer that tells the factories how many products the world needs. Unfortunately, this automation leads to massive unemployment. Only managers and engineers, who have doctorates, are employed and everyone else can either join the Reconstruction and Reclamation Corps, where they do meaningless work like fill potholes, or they can join the army. However, being in the army has kind of lost its meaning as well, because there is nothing to fight for. Essentially, Player Piano is about how automation could make life purposeless for many people.

Of course, we are a long way from the world of Player Piano, but Vonnegut did correctly predict the rise of automation in society, and that it would cause people to lose their jobs. Many people have blamed these job losses on China, or immigrants, but that isn’t exactly the case. Since 2000, America has lost 5 million manufacturing jobs, but American manufacturing output has increased during that time; meaning the jobs are being lost to computers and robots, not to other countries or people.

We’re seeing automation take over jobs more and more every day. Just a few examples include with self-checkout lanes at the grocery store or McDonald’s automated menus. In the future, more jobs are expected to be lost to automation. Drones are already being tested for deliveries by companies like Amazon. Notably, by 2020, self-driving cars are expected to be the norm and this will eliminate all driving jobs. It is expected to get so bad that, over the next 20 years in a country like Canada, four out of 10 jobs will be lost to automation.

So what do you want to do? Join the army or the Reconstruction and Reclamation Corps?

4. Earth by David Brin

David Brin is best known for writing the book The Postman, which was made into one of Kevin Costner’s worst movies (and that is saying something). In 1989, Brin published the novel Earth, which takes place in the year 2038. While the novel does have a plot, the book is more or less Brin’s predictions about the future. If you’re curious what the plot is, it’s that an artificial black hole has fallen into the Earth’s core. Scientists have a year to fix it, or the Earth may be destroyed.

The book has a large cast of characters and through these characters, Brin explores what life might be like in the future. Currently, there is a website that keeps track of his predictions, and there are 14 predictions confirmed to have come true and another eight that are likely.

Some of the predictions that Brin did get right are global warming, rising sea levels, and the breaking of the levees on the Mississippi River. Another natural disaster that is postulated in the book that came true was the Fukushima Nuclear Disaster.

In 1990, people knew about the internet, but Brin accurately predicted the World Wide Web that was invented by Tim Berners-Lee a year after the book was published. On the “net,” as Brin calls it, there are pages full of hyperlinks. Brin also thought that the net would be used by major news outlets and citizen reporters, along with everyday people who wanted to express themselves. Finally, he also foresaw spam and Trojan horse viruses.

At the time of this list, Brin still has about 21 years to be proven right on the rest of his predictions. So far, only one prediction from his book has been disproven. In Earth, the characters haven’t discovered any Earth-like planets and they didn’t think they would be found any time soon. In reality, we have found several Earth-like planets that are in habitable zones around their star. The first was Kepler-186f; its discovery was announced by NASA in 2014.

3. The World Set Free by H.G. Wells

In The World Set Free, H.G. Wells predicted atomic bombs, even going as far to use the term “atomic bomb” in his book. His bombs are uranium-based and they are about the size of an orange. The explosion is caused by the splitting of atoms and after the explosion, there is corrosive radiation left over. What is so impressive about this is that Wells wrote the book in 1913, 32 years before the first nuclear bomb was tested.

The World Set Free also has an interesting role in the technology it predicted – it helped inspire its invention.

In 1932, English scientists had successfully split an atom through artificial means and the experiment didn’t show any evidence that splitting an atom would cause a huge release of energy. Later that year, Hungarian physicist Leo Szilard read The World Set Free and thought that Wells was correct. Splitting an atom would probably release a lot of energy; the question was how to split the atom. A year later, he had a eureka moment. Szilard said, “It suddenly occurred to me that if we could find an element which is split by neutrons and which would emit two neutrons when it absorbed one neutron, such an element, if assembled in sufficiently large mass, could sustain a nuclear chain reaction.”

Szilard patented the idea in 1933, but he was disturbed by The World Set Free. He didn’t want the patent to become public because it might fall into the wrong hands. Something else that worried him was the rise of Nazism. So in 1939, he drafted the letter that was sent by Albert Einstein to Franklin Roosevelt, saying that Germany was stockpiling uranium. This letter, in turn, gave birth to the Manhattan Project. Szilard and some British scientists worked with the Americans, and this eventually led to the first nuclear bombs. Two of those bombs were dropped on Japan in August 1945 at the tail end of World War II.

Wells died in 1946, after having seen the weapon that he warned against used on civilians in a war.

2. Brave New World by Aldous Huxley

Yeah, you knew this one was coming.

Published in 1935, Brave New World takes place in the year 632 A.F., which is actually 2540 A.D. (A.F. stands for After Ford, as in the industrialist Henry Ford). In the future, babies are born in labs, meaning the family unit is dead. When they are children, they are told in whispers while they sleep to buy things and to love consumer products. When they are older, the state demands that they be sexually promiscuous, and women wear their birth control on their belts. No one has any real worries about life because mood enhancing drugs are widely available and its usage is encouraged.

Of course, contemporary society isn’t quite to the point of Brave New World, but in all fairness to its author, Aldous Huxley, we still have over 520 years to go. However, he did accurately depict several aspects of contemporary culture, including our consumerist-heavy society. He also predicted antidepressants and their prevalence in modern society.

What’s interesting about Brave New World‘s relationship to contemporary society, is that in 1985, writer and media critic Neil Postman published the non-fiction book Amusing Ourselves to Death. In the book, Postman accurately predicts the rise of a candidate like Donald Trump and the prevalence of fake news in society. In the introduction of the book, Postman explains that he got the idea in 1984, when he was participating in a panel on parallels between George Orwell’s 1984 and real life in 1984.

What Postman realized is that modern life is becoming more like Brave New World than 1984Postman wrote:

“What Orwell feared were those who would ban books. What Huxley feared was that there would be no reason to ban a book, for there would be no one who wanted to read one. Orwell feared those who would deprive us of information. Huxley feared those who would give us so much that we would be reduced to passivity and egoism. Orwell feared that the truth would be concealed from us. Huxley feared the truth would be drowned in a sea of irrelevance. Orwell feared we would become a captive culture. Huxley feared we would become a trivial culture.”

Essentially, what Postman says Huxley was warning us against is the dangers of being oppressed by our own amusement; meaning we use endless streams of entertainment to distract ourselves and fail to engage with real life.

1. Stand on Zanzibar by John Brunner

Stand on Zanzibar is probably the least well known book on the list, but it is the most accurate prediction of what life would be like in the future. 

The book, which was written in 1968, follows a large cast of characters, but many chapters are backstory and information about the world of 2010. According to the website The Millions, there are at least 17 amazingly accurate predictions that Brunner makes about 2010 in Stand on Zanzibar.

In the book, a major problem in society is that individuals are committing random acts of violence, often at schools. Terrorists also threaten American interests and attack American buildings. Between 1960 and 2010, Brunner predicted that prices would increase six fold because of inflation; it actually increased sevenfold. America’s biggest rival is China, and not the Soviet Union. It’s also a different dynamic because instead of warfare or a weapons race, the competition is seen in economics, trade, and technology. 

As for the rest of the world, the countries of Europe have formed into one union. Britain is part of it, but they tend to side with the United States, while the other European countries are critical of American actions. Africa is behind the rest of the world, while Israel’s existence is still a source of tension in the Middle East.

When it comes to the lives of everyday people, marriage still happens but young people prefer to have short-term relationships instead of committing to someone long-term. Society is also much more liberal. Homosexuality and bisexuality is accepted. Black people are in a better position in society, but racial tension is still prevalent.

When it comes to technology, Brin predicted that cars would run on electric fuel cells. Honda and General Motors are the two biggest manufacturers. And even though General Motors is a Detroit based company, Detroit is a rundown ghost town, but they have a unique techno music scene, which really did emerge in the 1990s.

TV channels are played all over the world thanks to satellites and the TV system allows people to watch shows on their own schedule. Inflight entertainment on planes is in the back of the seats and they feature videos and news. Also, in the book the characters can phone each other on video screens, but instead of a picture of themselves, they use avatars, which can look like the caller or someone completely different. There are also laser printers, which print documents.

Pharmaceuticals are used to help sexual performance, and they are advertised. Due to a societal and political backlash, tobacco has been marginalized and marijuana has become decriminalized. Finally, the President of the United States is President Obomi, which is an amazing fluke or actual evidence that Brunner somehow saw or experienced 2010.

In all, Stand on Zanzibar is a pretty remarkable vision of the future. Unfortunately, the author, John Brunner, did not get to see many of his predictions come true – he died in 1995 at the age of 60.


The Future in Print –

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Literary Misunderstandings – WIF Bookshelf

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Widely Misunderstood

Pieces of Writing

Literary critics have invented a host of phrases and concepts to separate artists from their art. By far the best known is “death of the author,” which comes from a 1967 essay by Roland Barthes. Essentially, the notion is to imagine that the author cannot be asked for their intent, or how their own life experiences shaped their writing, so the theorist’s interpretation is at least as valid as the author’s intention–provided said interpretation is reasonably derived from the text.  

While that’s a worthwhile literary exercise, there can be a problem that comes from many people knowing pieces of writing through cultural osmosis instead of actually reading the text. Indeed, sometimes there are aspects of the text that simply aren’t as haunting as the passages in stories that become touchstones. So interpretations of stories can be demonstrably incorrect. As is the case with…

10. The Hunchback of Notre Dame

When the 1995 Disney adaption of this movie came out, many critics and audience members were united in decrying the supposed borderline desecration of the original story. They pointed to the 1939 or 1920 versions of the story as proper adaptations, which properly portrayed the unsavory nature of Quasimodo, the tragic fate of the gypsy Esmeralda, clergyman Claude Frollo, and so on… and all in the shadow of one of the most celebrated buildings in French history.

It was a criticism completely undermined by how Victor Hugo wrote the original 1831 version of the story. As Lindsay Ellis explains in her highly recommended video essay, in the original novel, Quasimodo is a mere bit part and certainly not a sympathetic figure. There’s no tragic romance with the gypsy Esmeralda, who it turns out was actually a Caucasian abandoned as a child. In brief, Hugo didn’t write his novel as a tragedy, so much as a tribute to the cathedral itself, which at the time of writing was less a French institution than a wreck that had been vandalized numerous times over the centuries and neglected.

That Hugo’s sympathies were with the building over the people who lived in and around it is much less surprising to anyone who knows that the original title was “Notre-Dame de Paris” and that he did not approve of the English title change. Perhaps that theme would resonate with misanthropic architecture students, but it certainly wouldn’t have been the crowd-pleaser many subsequent adaptations have been

9. The Legend of Sleepy Hollow

Washington Irving’s 1820 story, set in a Dutch community in 1790s New York (loosely based on real events), as we all know is about a schoolteacher named Ichabod Crane, who gets chased by a headless horseman across a bridge. When the horseman can’t catch him, he throws a pumpkin at Crane. Those who read an abridged version in class might remember that it was heavily implied that Brom Bones was pretending to be the Headless Hessian Horseman to scare off Crane so that he could marry Katrina Van Tassel without any competition from superstitious schoolteachers. Considering Ichabod disappears and Bones gets what he wants through pretty underhanded and aggressive means, it seems like this slice of Americana should be a pretty dark, spooky tale where the villain wins in the end, be he ghost or local tough guy in disguise.

Readers have that impression because many of them lost track of how odious a person Irving wrote Ichabod Crane to be. Like many schoolteachers of the time, Crane is described as having romantic interest purely for financial reasons (Irving explicitly describes him as looking at her father’s fortune with “green eyes”). He’s also explicitly a mooch and a glutton, only getting away with it because he knows a lot of local ghost lore. The story also ends with a postscript noting there was talk in Sleepy Hollow that Crane was seen again later, having moved to another community and becoming a judge. However, the locals rejected that because his supposed disappearance made for a better story. If anything, Irving went overboard in assuring audiences not to worry about ol’ Ichabod.

8. Jabberwocky

Lewis Caroll’s titular monster, which was first introduced to readers in Alice Through the Looking Glass, has been portrayed as a serious beast in such adaptations as the 1985 movie. Even those who know better than to portray such serious versions of the monsters from the poem assume that “slivey toves” and “more raths” from the opening verse mean “unidentifiable beasts,” such as in the version done for The Muppet Show.

Jabberwocky’s origin was in 1855, in a magazine called Misch-Masch, which had a circulation of Lewis Carroll’s immediate family. It was not only meant as a parody of folk poems, but he actually handily explained what all the words meant, so those terms aren’t so much nonsense as coded. For example, “slivy toves” are actually cheese-eating badgers. “Mome Raths” are turtles. Bryllyg is said to be the early afternoon, as it refers to the time of broiling dinner. All things considered, the opening verse is much closer to a slightly offbeat version of Wind in the Willowsthan it is a surreal menagerie of cryptids.

7. Harrison Bergeron

In Kurt Vonnegut’s 1961 short story, equality is perverted so that every exceptional person is limited to be no better than the worst performing person, either by restraints that weigh them down or by zapping them if they think too much. This idea has been embraced by right wing publications like National Review. Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia cited it in a ruling requiring tournament golfers to walk between shots.

What they don’t seem to notice is the portrayal of the eponymous character. As critics have more recently pointed out, Bergeron is a ridiculously overpowered human being who not only stands 7-feet tall at age 14, he is also literally capable of flying as he dances (once he removes his restraints that weigh hundreds of pounds). More revealingly, he proclaims himself “emperor,” which probably isn’t something Vonnegut would have a “heroic” character do.

He also makes this declaration and displays his powers on live television, which of course means that the Handicapper General Diana Moon Glampers would have no trouble hunting him down and shooting him, as she does seemingly effortlessly in the story. Clearly, Bergeron is a parody of the Howard Roark and John Gault-type supermen that are so perfect and so, so underappreciated in Ayn Rand’s novels. Considering Vonnegut’s left-wing views throughout his writing career, it’s objectivism that’s in his sights at least as much as socialism.

6. The Satanic Verses

When it was published in 1988, author Salman Rushdie struck free publicity gold when his book was interpreted as blasphemous and banned in India while the Ayatollah demanded his head. He surely didn’t celebrate this, as he had to go into hiding from very real threats. Several translators of the book were attacked—one fatally. Considering that the book is a formidable 600 pages long, it’s not so surprising that many people didn’t read the entire story and were content to go off a vague sense of what the novel was about, or a heavily abridged version.

The Satanic Verses tells the intertwined stories of two Southeast Asian Muslims, one born wealthy and the other poor. The pair both survive a plane crash, and the rich one becomes cursed (one way is he smells bad) while the other becomes angelic. Still, the rich one survives the novel while the other commits suicide while wanted for murder (he is unambiguously responsible for several deaths). The offending portions of the book are a secondary narrative of a few dozen pages about the rise of the prophet Mahound, written in an approximation of Koranic verse.

The “Satanic Verses” of the title are an allusion to a claim by the prophet that, for some contradictory statements he made, it must have been Satan pretending to be Allah. In a manner that paralleled a scene that offended many in The Last Temptation of Christ, Rushdie styled his parody of the prophet as a very elaborate dream sequence to give him plausible deniability that he was portraying an in-universe, fictional version. The version many Muslims were given, however, only showed the dream sequence without the larger context, and so inevitably it misled many on the intent of the book.

5. Valley of the Dolls

These days, this 1966 novel is better known for selling forty million copies than it is for its contents. Its story of three women who try to enter show business but run into such pitfalls as creative compromise, sexual exploitation, and drug addiction(the “dolls” of the title are upper/downer pills) was so salacious for its time that it couldn’t help but become one of, literally, the bestselling books of all-time. No wonder it got a couple film adaptations: a much derided smash hit in 1968, and a TV movie in 1981.

An aspect of the literary juggernaut that, for decades, was held up as the impetus for its success was the titillation of guessing which characters were modeled on which specific real people. For example, was the character that had a pill addiction Judy Garland? Was the over-the-hill singer who stands in the protagonist’s way based on Ethel Merman? According to Jacqueline Susann, the answer to all these guesses was “no” and that all of the characters were invented to fit a theme instead of to reveal the truth behind a real entertainer’s persona. She eventually said of the misconception, “Let them think that, it sells more of my books.”

4. Dracula

Bram Stoker’s 1897 classic isn’t just one of the two most influential horror novels of the 19th century (alongside Frankenstein). For many outside Central or Eastern Europe, it was the popularity of Dracula that led them to learn of 15th century Romanian ruler Vladislav III, better known as Vlad the Impaler. Deposed early in life, Vlad fought against both the Ottoman Empire and fellow Romanians and eventually died in battle, but not before leaving behind battlefields laden with impaled prisoners of war as an attempt to demoralize his enemies. Such a person seems tailor-made to inspire a monster in human shape.

Which completely misunderstands Stoker’s real writing process. It’s not so much that he didn’t carefully study Vlad Tepisch’s life for inspiration for his iconic character, as there’s no evidence that he even knew the bygone monarch had existed. In 1890 (the year he began working on it) he noted that he read a book on Westphalia and came across the word Dracula, but he misinterpreted it as being the local word for “evil.” While Vlad is from approximately the same area of Europe as Dracula, Vlad was certainly not much associated with Transylvania, which would have been a key connection to invoking the memory of the historical figure. In short, Stoker seemed to have more lucked into the historical echoes than anything else.

3. The Great Gatsby

Nearly 80 years after its initial disappointing release in 1925, F. Scott’s Fitzgerald’s Jazz Age triumph sells roughly 500,000 copies a year. It’s resonated with readers enough to make its way to the silver screen in 1926, 1949, 1976, and 2013. Each release was greeted with a critical thrashing and to very mixed results at the box office.

But that’s not to say readers, who generally regard themselves as more astute than movie fans, don’t mistake Fitzgerald’s intention with Gatsby. As explained by Sarah Churchwell in The Guardian, most people misinterpret Gatsby as being a suave charmer. There are a few telling descriptions that undermine this: His pink suits (tacky even in the Roaring ’20s) and his bewilderment in the face of the high society that narrator Nick Carraway takes for granted. That’s why he overcompensates for his parties, doing such things as hire entire orchestras. Gatsby is a dreamer, pining for the fantasy version from his youth of his neighbor Daisy Buchanan, not a man with his feet on the ground in the present. Not that this dissonance is anything new: Fitzgerald wrote back in the day that, “Of all the reviews, even the most enthusiastic, not one has the slightest idea what the book was about.”

2. Don Quixote

It’s been just over 400 years since Miguel de Cervantes’s masterpiece was first published in English. Since then, the image of a nobleman putting a washing basin on his head, taking a nag for a noble steed and his trusty assistant Sancho Panza on a number of delusional, pointless quests in an attempt to restore chivalry to the land has only become more poignant. Don Quixote is both absurd and loveable, and many readers have mixed feelings about the ending where he regains his sanity enough to dictate in his will that his niece be disinherited if she marries a man who reads books of chivalry.

As recounted in the New York Times, the title character actually comes across as much less sympathetic when you really look at the text. While Quixote means well, Cervantes does not skimp on the details of the pain he causes. Not just to his assistant Sancho Panza (who gets beat up because Quixote doesn’t pay a hotel bill), but even mules that can’t drink from their water trough because Quixote insists the water is holy. It’s an aspect of the story that is understandably omitted from adaptations such as Man of La Mancha, which contributed to those interpretations being dismissed as “kitsch.”

1. Slaughterhouse Five

Well, when an author writes as many famous satirical, morally complex, and whimsical stories as Kurt Vonnegut did, it’s not surprising that he’d have multiple works end up on lists like this. So it is with his 1969 anti-war classic (that he self-deprecatingly called his “famous Dresden novel”) about a WWII veteran named Billy Pilgrim, whose subjective experience of his life jumps back and forward through time. Within the intro of the book, Vonnegut quotes an associate who asked authors writing anti-war books why they didn’t instead write an “anti-glacier book.” Meaning, of course, that the human tendency towards war is as implacable as glaciers.

A similar sentiment is expressed by the alien race called the Tralfamadorians, who consider their own atrocities and eventual destruction of the universe as utterly inevitable, because they can see the entirety of all the time they live, all at once. Hence many have viewed it as a pro-fatalism book as they wonder whether the events of the book are real or not.

The text makes explicit that the aliens don’t exist. Within the book, the aliens Billy Pilgrim meets, and the environment they place him in (specifically a zoo), are described as something he read in a novel by hack sci-fi author Kilgore Trout. Further, Pilgrim does not express anything to anyone else about the aliens until after a plane crash that leaves him unconscious (i.e., likely with brain damage and trauma). As Michael Carson of Wrath-BearingTree.com points out, when Pilgrim first discusses the lessons he supposedly learned about the inevitability of war and the atrocities that come from it, it’s with a war hawk named Rumfoord, who Vonnegut mocks. Pilgrim merely echoes Rumfoord and then says he learned all of what Rumfoord told him on Tralfamadore.

On the other hand, Vonnegut also makes it explicit that the Tralfamadorians believe they will eventually destroy the universe. Vonnegut’s message isn’t that war and atrocities are inevitable, but that to follow this fatalist philosophy (that could come from absurd aliens that are the result of head trauma) makes its adherents into puppets, and leads to disaster for everyone.


Literary Misunderstandings –

WIF Bookshelf

America Dismantled Devastated Destroyed – WIF Fiction

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 Sci-Fi Writers (Not Gwen)

On How America

Will be

Ripped Apart

In American history, there are many incidents that could have drastically changed, or even destroyed, America. Altered versions of these “What If” events are a popular genre of science fiction called “alternate history.” To help visualize their Alt-Histories, authors often supply maps of the ALT-USA… and that’s precisely what we’re going to take a look at today. Warning, though: Below Be Spoilers.

10. The Man in the High Castle

The Man in the High Castle is a TV show based on Philip K. Dick’s novel of the same name. In this universe, history diverged from our own when Franklin D. Roosevelt was assassinated by Giuseppe Zangarast in 1933. This was based a real event, but in our history Zangarast missed FDR and killed Chicago Mayor Anton Cermak instead. In Dick’s history Roosevelt was killed, and without him America struggled under the Great Depression and became extremely isolationist. This allowed the Axis powers of World War II (Nazi Germany and Imperialist Japan) to become victorious in Europe and in the Pacific.

By 1945, the Axis powers have invaded North America from both the Pacific and the Atlantic. A Nazi atomic bomb in Washington DC forces America’s surrender, and the occupation creates the division of the United States between Germany and Japan; much like how, during our timeline, Germany was divided into the East and West. The events in The Man in the High Castle TV show take place in the 1960s, and maps show that Germany and Japan had split America between them with a small neutral zone separating the two.

9. Revolution

Revolution was an American post-apocalyptic NBC TV show that takes place in 2027. In this universe, a mysterious 2012 event called “The Blackout” caused all electricity to permanently cease to function. The show, produced by JJ Abrams, followed the survivors as they deal with the consequences of a world without electrical power.

After the Blackout, America descends into chaos and fragments as technology reverts back to pre-electricity, steam-powered tech. Most of the action in the TV show takes place in the Monroe Republic, which is made up of Northeast America. The character Monroe was able to seize power after setting up a tyrannical military dictatorship that takes away the guns of its people. The West Coast is dominated by the California Commonwealth, and Texas exists as a separate republic… which is pretty much par for the course. The Southwest is abandoned to the desert, and a reemergence of a nomadic lifestyle takes over in the Midwest Plains Nation.

8. Southern Victory

Celebrated science fiction author Harry Turtledove created an alternate universe called Southern Victory. In 1997 he released the first of 11 alternate history books, How Few Remain. In this universe, history diverges during the American Civil War (which you probably guessed based on the title) on September 10, 1862. In real life on this day, a Confederate messenger lost Top Secret Order 191, which outlined the South’s invasion. With these secret plans, the North was able to check the invasion and slog on to eventual victory. In Turtledove’s universe the secret plans weren’t lost. This allows the South to successfully launch a surprise invasion and defeat the Union Army of the Potomac, and eventually the South captures Philadelphia. Capturing such a large city enables the United Kingdom and France to ally with the Confederate States of America, forcing an end to the war with the South declaring independence from the United States on November 4, 1862.

On the map you can see how America wasn’t able to afford buying Alaska from Russia, and the Second Mexican Empire (which at the time was still ruled by the Emperor of Mexico, Maximilian I) crumbles into poverty. In our universe, Maximilian ruled Mexico until he was killed in 1867. In Turtledove’s history the bankrupt Mexico allows the South to purchase the northwestern regions of Sonora and Chihuahua, giving them access to the Pacific. The series continues with North and South being mortal enemies who ally with other world powers to fight each other over the next hundred years.

7. Jericho

In the CBS TV show Jericho, a shadow government plans a coup via a nuclear attack on 23 major cities in America, using small bombs smuggled to their targets in cargo vans. After the bombs detonate, civilization breaks down and the American government is destroyed. The first season of the show dealt with a small town as it tried to keep its citizens alive during the aftermath of the nuclear attack.

The show pulled in low numbers and was canceled after one season. Jericho’s fans revolted and launched an online campaign for CBS to do a second season, sending nuts to CBS (it actually makes sense in the context of the show, if you haven’t seen it). Eventually, over 20 tons were mailed to the network. This online outcry was an “unprecedented display of passion in support of a prime-time television series.” CBS caved and made a second season, where it was revealed that civilization had returned but the coup planners had only succeeded in seizing Western America, while Texas became independent (that seems to be a theme in these kinds of alternate histories) and the Eastern USA stopped enough nuclear bombs that some form of federal government survived the WMD attack.

Even with the successful nuts viral campaign, CBS still canceled the show after the second season. However, the universe lived on in comics, which revealed that the East and West USA fragmented into smaller nations while some parts of America were occupied by UN forces.

6. The Handmaid’s Tale

Celebrated author Margaret Atwood first published her book The Handmaid’s Tale in 1985. A 1990 film adaptation of the same name was released, and in 2017 Hulu adapted it into a critically acclaimed series. In Atwood’s America, a polluted country is wracked by falling fertility rates, which cause huge civil unrest. A staged attack wipes out the President and most of the federal government. In the chaos, a Christian Fundamentalist movement calling itself the “Sons of Jacob” seize control. Some surviving elements of the government flee to the West, where America still exists, while east of the Rockies is ruled by a new government called “Gilead.”

The new Christian theocracy decrees Baptists are heretics and brutally suppresses its followers, causing much of the American South to be in continuous revolt. Gilead is able to keep the remnants of America and the world at bay by threatening to use nukes that are seized after coup’s success. A number of areas are radioactive, implying that there was nuclear sabotage or that Gilead demonstrated its nuclear might. Condemned criminals and opponents of the new regime (which are often one and the same) are sent to these areas as “clean up” teams, but due to their high mortality these men and women really face a death sentence.

5. Dies the Fire

Stephen Michael Stirling’s Emberverse series spans 14 novels, with the first book Dies the Fire being released in 2008. More installments are expected as the series chugs right along.

In the Emberverse universe a mysterious event called “The Change” alters the laws of physics, throwing the world into chaos. After the Change, modern technology stops functioning, throwing the world back into the Iron Age, with people arming themselves with swords and bow and arrows. Large population areas collapse when food runs out, and from the ashes of urban centers emerge large cannibal groups that create “Death Zones.” From more rural areas, city-states emerge. This is the universe that Dies the Fire sees for post-apocalyptic America.

4. A Canticle for Leibowitz

Walter M. Miller, Jr. first published A Canticle for Leibowitz in 1959. The award-winning book is considered a classic and has never been out of print. It’s a post-apocalyptic story that takes place 600 years after a horrible nuclear war, which sparked a movement to destroy all knowledge called the “Simplification.” During this movement, all books are destroyed except for some hidden away in a Catholic monastery, the Abbey of Saint Leibowitz, in the deserts of the American Southwest.

After all knowledge is wiped out during the Simplification, America reverts to tribal, feudal societies. Sometime in the 600 years after WWIII, the Catholic Church relocates from Rome, Italy, to New Rome, somewhere in the former United States. Surrounding New Rome are a number of Catholic papal states. Also emerging from the fragments of Western civilization are the Empires of Texarkana, Laredo, Denver. Back at the Abbey of Saint Leibowitz, the monastery keeps its vast collection of pre-war books and knowledge alive by painstakingly copying them by hand. From these books, civilization is reborn.

3. The Hunger Games

Suzanne Collins released the first book of her Hunger Games trilogy in 2008, and the novels were adapted into the blockbuster series starring Jennifer Lawrence as the story’s heroine, Katniss Everdeen. Over their cumulative worldwide releases, the four movies pulled in almost $3 billion dollars. So… we’re guessing you’ve probably seen at least one of them.

The Hunger Games takes place sometime in the future after a great war. Rising sea levels have swallowed up vast parts of North America, leaving a new nation called Panem to rise. This dystopian nation is divided into 12 districts that each specialize in specific goods or services.

A lot of the story takes place in District 12 (D12), which is thought to be in the coal-rich Appalachian region. D11 grows grain, and D10 raises livestock. Both are very large, given their tasks of feeding an entire nation. Close by is D9, which processes the food. D8 produces and treats textiles, while D7 specializes in forestry. D6 specializes in research and development, while D5 does genetic research. D4 is on or near the ocean, while D3 works with Information Technology and D2 specializes in weaponry and training peacekeepers. D1 produces luxury goods for the Capitol District and has a diamond mine – possibly the now-commercially closed Kelsey Lake Diamond Mine. The secret, rebellious District 13 is hidden away in bunkers thought to be in the Northeastern part of America.

2. Crimson Skies

Jordan Weisman and Dave McCoy created the Crimson Skies universe first for a board game released in 1998, and then a video game franchise produced by Microsoft Game Studios beginning in 2000.

History diverges from our universe when, in the 1930s, a series of deadly diseases devastate America and the country becomes increasingly isolationist to the point where the federal government devolves all power to the states, leading to the Balkanization of the United States into a series of small regional-states. With no federal government to pull the nation together interstate highways decay while at the same time aviation technology takes off. With a focus on air travel, roads and trains are abandoned in favor of the skies. With so many city-states there are many grievances, which quickly turn into open war. From the chaos of near constant warfare, large groups of air pirates raid commerce and other settlements.

1. The Walking Dead

The Walking Dead has been airing on AMC since October 31, 2010, and is based on a comic book series of the same name created by Robert Kirkman. Even with declining ratings over the last couple seasons, the show was renewed for a ninth season and Forbes’ Paul Tassi has talked about how the series should catch up to the comic books by season 9 or 10. After that, Kirkman hopes the show will diverge from its source material (which it has already started to do, given a few major cast and character shakeups).

In this alternate reality, America has been overrun by a zombie virus that reanimates the dead. The story starts off with the main character, Rick Grimes, waking up from a coma to find the world overtaken by the un-dead. He and a group of survivors first go to Atlanta, and then after meeting another group head to the nation’s capital, Washington DC – which is the general area around which the show now takes place. The main locations are the Alexandria Safe-Zone south of the capital, the Hilltop colony north of DC, and in the urban core of the city, Ezekiel’s Kingdom. They fight against Negan and the Saviors, who are based east of Washington DC at The Sanctuary. Everything outside of these areas is more or less abandoned, given over to the hordes of the walking dead.

Oh, so that’s where they got the title.


America Dismantled Devastated Destroyed –

WIF Fiction

Author Quirks and Habits – A Custom-Writing.Org Production

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Author Quirks and Habits

 A Custom-Writing.Org

Production

Please enjoy this article by my friend Jack Milgram


 Author Quirks and Habits

– A Custom-Writing.Org Production

From The Desk of Gwendolyn Hoff

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From The Desk of

Gwendolyn Hoff

…If you are reading this post and you are one of the hundreds who have also been reading THE RETURN TRIP, I want to personally thank you for the privilege of sharing my very 1st book…  originally written in 1986…

And truth be told, I had to do mucho updating to make the book currently relevant. As I edited and posted and posted and edited, it was an absolute GAS adding in graphics, music and others’ photography and art into each & every Episode.

If you would bother to take the time and click thru the Episode Catalog – from 1 to The End – what a transformation from 100,000 words into a picture-book-potpourri-experience.

When I envisioned posting one of my books in this fashion (original & my way), I thought it would be a convenient way for readers to take in approx. 400 words/day and be entertained along the way… 10 minutes/day and off you go with life. Finding & keeping a repeatable format from episode to episode was important to me… every day it has that consistent, comfortable comportment.

It is also important that I properly credit each artist or photographer if I use their works to enhance the theme of the day’s post. So, if you click the link to the painting or photo, it may take you to THEIR or another website.

Like many of my “original” creations, it probably will not catch on. I am either to far ahead of my time OR better off doing this 30 years ago … or whenever the Internet hit town.

So as THE RETURN TRIP is in the can, so-to-speak, I proceed undaunted by dubious success. The NULL Solution will begin tomorrow 9/20/2017, virtually where the last book ended, as the saga of the Space Family McKinney soldiers on.

I hope that Sampson, Celeste & Co. have the depth of character necessary to make you want to care ABOUT them, as well as what happens TO them. They have been a part of my life for 30+ years and I am writing a 3rd book in the series (Chariot of Chaos) as I am penning this love letter to all of you.

-Gwenny


From The Desk

of Gwendolyn Hoff


 

That’s a Wrap – THE RETURN TRIP Retrospective

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That’s a Wrap

– THE RETURN TRIP Retrospective

That's a Wrap-001

“That’s a Wrap!”

– After THE RETURN TRIP

…You can still read the entire story of the Space Family McKinney with the help of two tools:

  1. The Episode Catalog is compilation post of all 279 “episodes” of the 323 page book. The “episode” format is comprised of approx. 400 words/per, YouTube music enhancements + 3 or 4 of Gwen’s Graphics, pictures, original art or memes that help bring the page(s) to life for the reader.
  2. The Cast of Characters is a reference post that makes keeping track of the story an easier task; People, places & things in our Solar System and beyond.

Every Post features the Table of Contents, so you won’t get (TOO) lost.

The Episode Catalog is posted throughout as well…

THE RETURN TRIP

Make sure to check out the next book:

With all the same features as THE RETURN TRIP

I will be getting into that

more tomorrow – Gwenny


That’s a Wrap

– THE RETURN TRIP Retrospective