A Tale of Two Futures

What will the future look like, and what can you do to change it?

A Tale of Two Futures is a sci-fi young adult novella that tells the story of an average day in life in two very different futures, one where things have gone terribly wrong, and the other where things have gone amazingly right.

The future will either be beautiful beyond imagination; or dismayingly horrifying, much worse than sci-fi dystopias have prepared us for.

The difference between the two futures lies in the choices we make.

What people are saying

In a perfect snowing stormy afternoon, I read at once, the genial stratospheric story 'A Tale of Two Futures' by Federico Pistono, who seems to inspire the reader, to choose between two social worlds. The audacious science fiction story transcends you, into a futuristic high tech world, and touches the sun, with beautiful immortal violin and piano notes.
—Maria Altschuler

Introduction

The more you know about science, the harder it becomes to write good science fiction. Anyone can take an idea, maybe inspired by some Hollywood sci-fi blockbuster, grab a laptop, start typing, and make stuff up along the way. If you understand a little bit about science, technology, and most of all society, you’ll realise that there aren’t many credible science fiction stories around (with some notable exceptions).

We have a very bad record of predicting the future. Almost anything written before the 1970s offers no suggestion of the possibility of the emergence of the Internet, or anything that resembles it – which is one of the most remarkable events in history, and certainly the most relevant of the last 40 years. There are countless stories, set at least a century from now, that still have people driving cars and working 9-5. There may be noiseless flying cars, using some miraculous technology currently unimaginable, but you can be sure that humans are still driving them.

Typically, science fiction stories are not about the future. In reality, they are stories about the present, plus some fancy new gadgets. Yet, fundamentally speaking, three things remain unchanged: the human condition that has dominated most cultures so far (competition, jealousy, and the search for power), labour for income, and the infinite growth paradigm.
I understand that it’s easier to have familiar elements in the story to facilitate the connection between the characters and the reader. One needs to identify with the people and the stories to feel empathy, to be captured, to be drawn into the universe of the book. That’s alright if you write historical novels, or if you want to indulge your readers with fantasy stories. But if you write science fiction, I think this approach is a cop out.

If we want to show how humanity may evolve, if we want to inspire our fellow humans to create a better version of society, we must transcend our present condition. And while many might think that this implies cognitive enhancements, cyborgs, or even mind-uploading and the transcendence of the body altogether; I think those are neither necessary, nor sufficient conditions (and perhaps not even desirable) in order to achieve real transcendence.
It’s our intention, our purpose, that drives us. It’s our purpose that makes us proactively do things, rather than be driven by inertia. And depending on the purpose we have, depending on the goals we set for ourselves, results may vary substantially.

In a linear and mostly predictable world, the worst that can happen is usually not that bad, and one has the time to remediate. But in an exponentially changing and chaotic environment, a few misaligned steps at the beginning might result in a horrifying, terrible future; and the errors we make will be exponentially more difficult to fix.
And so it is my goal to present you with (what I think are) two plausible futures, given where we are now and what we know today. They are parallel stories, set in a pre-singularity world, a few decades from now.

Beware that these two stories do not follow the usual Campbellian monomyth of the hero’s journey, described by Joseph Campbell in The Hero with a Thousand Faces as follows: “A hero ventures forth from the world of common day into a region of supernatural wonder: fabulous forces are there encountered and a decisive victory is won: the hero comes back from this mysterious adventure with the power to bestow boons on his fellow man”. Almost every story – from Star Wars to Harry Potter, from The Matrix to The Lord of The Rings – follows this basic pattern. If that is what you’re expecting from this book, then you should stop reading now, or else you’re in for a disappointment.

I decided not to follow the monomyth structure. There is no call to adventure, no trial and quest, no unexpected turn of events, no ascension, no apotheosis, and no atonement. An acute reader might ask themselves why in the galaxy have I decided to commit a novelist’ suicide, and diverge from the typical narrative structure that works so well, and generally sells accordingly. The answer is simple: the raison d’être of this book is to show a realistic, average day in a life, in two diverging futures, without false pretences or literary stretches (well, not too many).

My aim is to attempt to show credible scenarios with which anyone can identify, however foreign or far-fetched they might look at first. Please note that I don’t think the real future will be like the ones I’m describing. I would be mad to believe that I could foresee exactly how things will unfold. I am merely presenting you with a perspective, something to think about, which might influence your decisions; and this in turn will become part of the system of feedbacks loop that truly governs everything that happens.

I can’t tell you what do to, or even how. But I can show you something you might not have thought about before. My feeling is that both the dystopias and the utopias usually presented in popular culture are really quite underwhelming, no more than a pallid shadow of what could actually happen. In other words, I believe the future will either be beautiful beyond imagination; or dismayingly horrifying, much worse than sci-fi dystopias have prepared us for.

The choice is up to us all.

Most people think that the world is too big, too immense for any individual to have an impact, because anything we do is merely a drop in the ocean. But what is an ocean, if not a multitude of drops?

The book is available for Kindle, iBooks, PDF, and ePub. As always, it's published under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike license and all files are DRM-free.