This image released by Hulu shows Elisabeth Moss as Offred in a scene from, “The Handmaid’s Tale,” premiering Wednesday on Hulu with three episodes. The remaining seven hours will be released each Wednesday thereafter. (George Kraychyk/Hulu via AP)

COLUMN: The future isn’t what we thought it would be

Dire dystopian predictions haven’t come true, but the warnings are still needed

Predictions from a few decades ago painted a rosy picture of an exciting life all of us would someday enjoy.

It was to be a world with nuclear-powered self-driving cars, homes with computerized appliances, robot butlers, three-dimensional television, short work weeks and cheap, convenient space travel, allowing us to zip across the galaxy.

Those dreams have long been forgotten.

While we have innovative appliances and while self-driving cars are being developed, today’s world isn’t nearly as wondrous as what was once imagined.

Much of yesterday’s science fiction turned out to be nothing more than fiction. And many stories from the pulp magazines of the golden age of science fiction are forgotten.

But some visions of tomorrow are still studied.

These are not dreams of a glorious tomorrow. Rather, they are dystopian nightmares.

Aldous Huxley’s 1932 novel, Brave New World, tells the story of a future society, defined by conformity.

George Orwell’s 1949 masterpiece, Nineteen Eighty-Four, is about a totalitarian government, demanding conformity and controlling the information they receive. Dissenters are tortured.

Ray Bradbury describes a world of book burning and surveillance in his 1951 novel, Fahrenheit 451.

And Margaret Atwood’s 1985 novel, The Handmaid’s Tale, presents a chilling vision of the worst elements of the Religious Right and the anti-abortion movement in a totalitarian theocracy.

One could add We, a 1921 novel by Russian author Yevgeny Zamyatin, and It Can’t Happen Here, a 1935 novel by American writer Sinclair Lewis.

Some believe the bleak stories are not just predictions of worlds to come. They show elements of our reality, here and now.

What sets these dystopian novels apart from so many other tales of tomorrow is how little they rely on science to tell their stories.

Brave New World has the most science-related elements, including genetic engineering, artificial wombs and drugs to keep citizens happy. But the story is about the society more than the scientific advancements.

Nineteen Eighty-Four has elaborate monitoring in place, but that is the only futuristic element in the novel.

Fahrenheit 451 has surveillance technology, interactive television and some robotics, but the story isn’t about the technology. It’s about a society where books are burned.

Atwood had no science fiction elements in The Handmaid’s Tale. None.

I first read Atwood’s novel shortly after it was published and at the time, I thought it was an absurd, unbelievable story.

Today, it doesn’t seem at all far-fetched.

The Religious Right in the United States is a much more powerful force today than it was in the mid-1980s and its blend of religion and politics is no longer seen as a fringe movement.

Other dystopian novels no longer seem like impossible scenarios.

The all-encompassing surveillance described in Nineteen Eighty-Four is much more believable today than in the late 1940s when the book was written.

Book banning, described in Brave New World and Fahrenheit 451, remains a threat as there are challenges to many books each year.

We don’t live in any of these dystopian nightmares as they are presented, and I don’t see any of them coming true in the foreseeable future. Not completely.

The future isn’t what we had imagined. Still, the warnings from these novels should be heeded.

But now, after contemplating the bleak futures in these novels, I need a break.

Does anyone have a light science fiction story to recommend? I’d like a pleasant tale of a happy family with a robot butler, watching three-dimensional television while they travel to a distant planet for a vacation.

John Arendt is the editor of the Summerland Review.

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Treacherous road leads to North Shuswap front-end collision

Chase RCMP say icy, steep, narrow road likely to blame for accident

Suspected drunk driving in Shuswap leads to discovery of rifle

Driver claims weapon for protection against cougars and bears

Thieves on gasoline-themed mission target North Shuswap

Chase RCMP ask residents to help prevent crimes of opportunity

The price of child poverty: Women parenting alone forced to live harsh reality

Latest figures available show 1,630 children in Columbia Shuswap Regional District living in poverty

Salmon Arm family has unique tie to original Stanley Cup

Shuswap residents will have opportunity to view iconic trophy on March 7.

Police dog located accused murderer in dumpster near West Kelowna crime scene

Tejwant Danjou’s application to have his impromptu guilty plea removed was accepted by the court

Two law enforcement trucks ‘deliberately’ set on fire in northern B.C., RCMP say

Police say they have video evidence of a person in the area of the truck fires

Trans Canada east of Revelstoke to be closed overnight

The highway will reopen at 10 a.m. Feb. 29

Leap Year means we get an extra day in February, so how are you spending it?

People online have a number of suggestions and plans on how they will be spending Saturday

Greta sticker that drew outrage in Alberta not child pornography: RCMP

X-Site Energy Services has denied having anything to do with the stickers

Bald eagle hit by train in northern B.C. has a chance of survival

The raptor has been taken to OWL in the Lower Mainland for recovery

Salmon Arm history in pictures

Skiing is good up Rifle Range Road

Okanagan Indian Band voices support for Wet’suwet’en Nation

Band stands with hereditary chiefs’ fight against Coastal GasLink pipeline in letter to PM

Most Read