Science Fiction & Fantasy

REENTRY by Peter Cawdron

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Nonfiction

Five Freaky Futures Your Kids Might Face

Everyone knows the old chestnut about how the children are our future. The good news is, it’s true! The bad news? It’s true.

We’re living in precarious times on a number of fronts—geological, biological, technological—and our actions now will profoundly change the literal and metaphorical landscape for the next generation. Unfortunately for everyone’s children, after a little investigation, we’re pretty sure that the future is the last place anybody wants to be.

Sadly, thanks to time dilation, only future-facing time travel is possible (we tried going the other direction—no dice), so since there’s no chance of changing the past, all we can do now is prepare the children of today for the bizarro, nightmarish situations of tomorrow.

Check out the following five freaky futures we think your kids might have to endure, and then sit them down for a very, very long talk. (And, while you’re at it, maybe you should reconsider Junior’s violin lessons in favor of an instrument that makes a sturdier weapon. Think trombone!)

1. When Animals Attack

We humans like to flatter ourselves that we’re the pinnacle of the evolutionary process. To that, the octopus says: Do each of your appendages have autonomous nervous systems?

Biological research over the last two decades has discovered unbelievable traits about our friends in the animal kingdom that prove one of two things: either we’ve missed something, or there’s some evolutionary sleight of hand going on that no one could have foreseen.

For instance, it’s been determined that ravens can fashion tools in order to perform complex mechanical operations, e.g. hooking a bird-scale bucket out of a well. Amazonian fire ants form rafts with their interlocked bodies to carry their queen to safety in case of flooding. And, in addition to the remarkable nervous system(s) boasted by your average octopus, their circulatory system allows them to be out of water for as long as thirty minutes at a stretch.

Upshot? Unless we start holding How to Make an Interlocking Human Raft workshops soon, it’s not hard to imagine that humanity’s days at the top are numbered and that your kids may someday be embroiled in the creepiest war of all: ravens, ants, and octopi vying for mastery of the Earth.

Picture it: the painful, Hitchcockian battlefield studded with the skeletons of any crow flying low enough for fire ants to get their mandibles on, the human corpses rotting under piles of ink-covered ants where an octopus has bested them, the desiccated corpses of octopi pummeled to death by murders of bucket-carrying crows.

So if your kids are going to be soldiers in this fight, we suggest the following precautions: a good pair of safety goggles, tucking the cuffs of their pants inside their boots, and getting hold of one or two durable, long-range flamethrowers. Beyond that, we can only wish them well.

(Editor’s tip: start a family tradition right now of being super-chummy with cephalopods; they’re our picks for the win, and it can’t hurt to be on friendly terms.)

2. Waterworld

Thanks to some questionable environmental practices over the last century or so, the polar ice caps are melting at an alarming rate. And that rapid melt can mean only two things: that penguin-watching is turning into a game of Whack-a-Mole, and that water levels the world over will continue to rise (and rise, and rise).

So in a few hundred years or so, your great-great-grandkids could either be waging war for the last bits of high ground on Kilimanjaro, or they’ll be making their homes on a whole new frontier—the surface of the ocean.

If that’s the case, the technology underlying today’s offshore drilling platforms would most likely be called into widespread civilian service in order to provide a flexible infrastructure that would literally link communities together, not to mention give IKEA a corporate imperative for waterproof furniture that you cannot even believe. (Tell the kids to treasure Allen wrenches!)

This shifting demand in resources will also make desalinization plants the new oil refineries, and the world’s new power alliances would be determined by the wealthy and plant-rich water oligarchs latching their personal floats to the most prosperous artificial-island nations.

Imagine it: your kids would greet the day by walking out the door of their low-riding houseboat and onto a municipal floating walkway where they’ve applied for a citizen berth. Then it’s off in their personal Seadoo to Kevin Costner Memorial Plaza, where Junior-junior-junior-junior the Fourth puts in eight hours at his job as a civil hydraulics analyst while dreamily staring out his office window at the open sea. The extremely open sea.

Suggestion? Swim lessons. Now.

3. Humanity 2.0

In the last fifty years, computers and the internet have made such dramatic changes to the way we live that it’s impossible for many of us to do without them; they’re the nexus of business communications, a global marketplace, a one-click intelligence agency, a social forum. Basically, we live our lives on the internet.

And a few hundred years from now, your kids might be taking that literally.

With startling advances in robotics demonstrated every year, artificial intelligence is developing as fast as component technology becomes available. And as soon as neuroscience catches up, and human memories and brain chemistry can be replicated in fiberoptics, there will be no stopping kids of the future from transferring their consciousnesses into bitchin’ celebrity lookalikes with hydraulic balance and a two-hundred-year warranty.

However, no matter what they do, robotics will hit a wall when we realize no one will ever be able to replicate Rutger Hauer’s winsome, chilling stare. At that point, someone—probably your kid (your kid seems pretty clever)—will point out that humanity is essentially a single social network. After that, as fast as the server farms are ready, the upload frenzy will begin.

Now, while it’s true that our future progeny run the risk of becoming accidentally erased or deemed a bug in beta, the upside of a permanent, online world consciousness is that your descendants can look forward to relative immortality in a world with a scope as big as their collective imaginations. It also offers us a unique opportunity to look beyond physical borders, to foster intellectual debate, and…to make a full-immersion raid on the Arygos server tonight, dude! (Don’t worry, your kids will win, and those jerks will have it coming.)

4. Red Dawn

Since we’ve pretty much botched our shot at Earth, your descendants will likely find themselves looking to the sky for a solution to their habitation issues.

Unfortunately, they’re going to find that choices are limited. Venus is a gasball, space stations are cramped, and the Moon, well, it just doesn’t have any atmosphere (rimshot!). So that leaves Mars, our nearest neighbor, as the most likely candidate for Earth 2.

Sure, it’s a red desert now, but there are some delightfully suspicious delta marks in the terrain—a strong sign that, on its dusty surface, water once flowed. And, being the polite houseguests that we are, humanity is sure to take that as an intergalactic invitation to just move right on in.

An international planet-side space station would be the first step to colonization. From there, it’s a matter of developing an atmosphere that would support life, and then sticking more rivers and trees on it than on a fourth-grade nature diorama. Mars has enough atmospheric density to cling to whatever we introduce (oxygen, carbon dioxide, and other elemental herbs and spices), and as soon as it’s safe to go outside, your descendants can begin the development of an ecosystem, and start planning how to handle birthdays on a planet with a 686-day year.

The downside? Terraforming Mars will be the work of many, many generations, so if your family line is going to make it to Terra Nova, you should probably get started planning sooner rather than later. We suggest either making spaceproof gardens the family business or getting your oldest enrolled in Beginner Astrophysics as her after-school activity. And if she objects, explain that it’s for the best; Mars gravity is only one-sixth as strong as ours, and her soccer skills would be pretty useless up there, anyway.

5. This Future Brought to You By

You’ve been telling your kids for years that it’s what’s on the inside that counts, and that the popular thing isn’t always the right one.

However, our most seductive and enduring image of the future has always been more about its aesthetics than about its mechanics, a sentiment that marketers have always been happy to exploit. We may be no closer to Star Trek’s vision of world peace and prosperity, but at least we have infomercials in our elevators, right?

The rise of corporate culture means that the way we spend our dollars today is casting the vote for the megacorporation that will determine the style monopolies of the future. It’s not hard to imagine that your kids will live a life in which Apple Conglomerate has turned the single-button concept into a universal design aesthetic, Calvin Klein provides a de rigueur close-cut jumpsuit that’s the height of corporate fashion, and next year’s flying Beetle has a trademark glass dome on top.

Now, if you’re cringing at the idea of your great-great grandchildren becoming walking billboards for questionable brands, we sympathize: this isn’t the world you want for them. And, actually, this future is avoidable, if we all just stop falling for advertising pressure, cut down on our shopping, and work towards a culture of sustainable, minimal consumerism that benefits small, independent businesses.

Right.

Face it: this is the future. And the best thing to do is sit back, relax, and start getting used that to Coca-Cola-brand single-button touchscreen, because rest assured, someday while you’re napping, your precocious grandkids are going to install one in your car.

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It’s always daunting to think of your children facing the future without you there to protect them, especially if your kid is still at the age where he’s sticking crayons up his nose on a regular basis. So in the interests of furthering humanity, we encourage you to start preparing now. Discuss these possible futures with your children, and explain, where appropriate, that nature is invaluable, that space exploration is a noble endeavor, and that jumpsuits, while hip and fashionable, can be tricky to navigate in small bathrooms.

Then take them on a family outing to the nearest aquarium, so that your children can start kissing up to the cephalopod leaders of tomorrow, today.

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Genevieve Valentine

Genevieve Valentine by Ellen Wright

Genevieve Valentine is the author of the novels Mechanique, The Girls at the Kingfisher Club, Persona, and Icon. She has also written the comics Catwoman for DC and Xena: Warrior Princess for Dynamite. Her nonfiction and criticism has appeared at NPR.org, The Atlantic, LA Review of Books, and the AV Club. Her love of bad movies is evergreen; you can read about it at genevievevalentine.com.