From Modern Mythcraft to Magical Surrealism

The New Year in Speculative Fiction: The 2009 of Our Past Imaginations

The year 1984 came and went, and the Thought Police didn’t take over (mostly). We rocketed past 2001, and humanity didn’t discover that mystical monolith on the moon. The year 2009 was never the red-letter year that 1984 and 2001 were for our collective literary imaginations, but there are a few events in speculative fiction, movies, and television that were said to have taken place this year. Fantasy takes a look at a few of these and at how close–or far off–they are from the 2009 we’re living in today.


Star Trek: Tomorrow is the Future

First Manned Probe to Saturn

Universe: Star Trek Universe

The Source: Star Trek: The Original Series – “Tomorrow is Yesterday,” (1967) and The Star Trek Chronology: The History of the Future by Michael Okuda and Denise Okuda.

The Story: Way back in Star Trek: The Original Series, the Enterprise crew was accidentally thrown back in time to the year 1969. They ended up having to bring Air Force Captain John Christopher aboard, then discovered that his son would pilot the first successful Earth-Saturn space-probe mission in the year 2009. Kirk and the crew of the Enterprise had to find a way to restore the timeline so that Christopher’s important role in history would be restored.

On the Mark? Captain Kirk and Mister Spock must have contaminated the timeline after all, because it doesn’t look like Mr. Christopher (or any of us) will be getting to Saturn any time soon–although NASA’s (unmanned) MESSENGER probe will be making its final fly-by of Mercury in September.


Go Tell the Spartans

Last Arab-Israeli War Leads to World Peace

Universe: Jerry Pournelle’s CoDominium Future History

The Source: Go Tell the Spartans (1991) – later republished as part of the compendium volume, The Prince

The Story: In this future (now alternate) history, after the Third Cold War the U.S. and the U.S.S.R. combined to form the CoDominium, an unstable alliance that would completely dominate the globe. By 2008, ships had left the solar system using the newly invented Aldersen Drive, and the CoDominium was poised to dominate the stars as well as the Earth. In 2009, Northern Israel annexed Syria, and the final Arab-Israeli war broke out. As a result, the CoDominium banned all national wars, as well as any military research by all other countries, ushering in an era of peace on Earth–forcefully imposed by the world’s sole superpower.

On the Mark? It doesn’t look like Putin and Obama will be sitting down to sign the CoDominium treaty any time soon–with or without preconditions. But the real-life escalating conflict between Israel and Palestine makes this one more uncomfortably close-to-home than any other story on the list. Let’s hope Pournelle wasn’t playing prophet on this one. World peace, imposed or otherwise, is still looking pretty far away.


The Master Takes Over the World

Universe: The Whoniverse

The Source: Doctor Who“Last of the Time Lords” (2007)

The Story: The Master took on the identity of Harold Saxon, rose to the office of Prime Minister, killed one-tenth of the population, and took over the world. 2009 was the year The Master ruled the world, until the Doctor and Martha Jones managed to save the day, and restore a kinder, gentler version of the timeline.

On the Mark? Gordon Brown has not been replaced by The Master, so far as we can tell. Also, giant floating aircraft carriers don’t seem to be hovering over the London skyline.


The Postman

Postman Delivers Mail, Be it Rain or Sleet or Apocalypse

The Source: The Postman by David Brin (1985)

The Story: In a post-apocalyptic 2009, Gordon Krantz stumbled upon the skeleton of a long-dead postman, his uniform, and a truckload of undelivered mail. Somewhat reluctantly, Krantz ended up passing himself off as a postman for the Restored United States, delivering hope as well as mail to the survivors he encountered along his travels.

On the Mark? We seem to have avoided a full-scale nuclear apocalypse so far, and the U.S. Postal Service continues to deliver the mail as reliably as ever, six days of the week.


Cloverfield

Alien Monster Tears Up Manhattan

Source: Cloverfield (2008)

The Story: In 2009, a giant monster knocked the head off the Statue of Liberty and proceeded to wreak havoc in Manhattan–destroying buildings, eating people, and forcing the city to be evacuated. Five New Yorkers wandered somewhat haplessly through the city, trying to save themselves and each other, and managed to catch it all on home video.

On the Mark? Let’s hope not. New York City seems to be having enough trouble balancing the budget, much less coping with a giant monster attack. Of course, this movie was more about the past than the future, seeking to capture some of the shock and confusion that New Yorkers felt on September 11, 2001.


Checking in on the 2009 of a few other well-known science fiction universes, in Isaac Asimov’s retroactively merged Robots-Empire-Foundation universe, by the early 21st century robots were already in widespread use (though still banned on earth). In 2009, Susan Calvin was just beginning her adventures in robopsychology, but none of Asimov’s robot stories seem to have specifically taken place in 2009.

In the Terminator universe, at various points Judgment Day has been identified as taking place in 1997, 2004, and–most recently–2011, but 2009 seems to have been spared the apocalypse in the iterations of the timeline we’ve seen so far.

In C.J. Cherryh’s Alliance-Union universe (featured in Downbelow Station and Cyteen), by the earlier 21st century, humanity had already established a profitable Sol Station, as well as several manufacturies and power installations, and scientists were quietly awaiting the findings from the first unmanned interstellar probe. In 2009, advances in propulsion were made that (presumably) would allow for the first manned interstellar missions and the establishment of space stations throughout the stars.

As you can see, 2009 was not the most historic of times in the literature of speculation, with The Postman the only major work to be pegged to this particular year. Perhaps writers of the 20th century, when looking to set events in the early part of the following century, simply had too many more enticing years to choose from: the millennial awe of the year 2000, the rhythmic ring of 2001, the palindromic seductiveness of 2002, and, of course, the year 2020 with its endless possibilities for puns relating to perfect optical functioning.

As one would expect from a genre based on speculation, the stories of 2009 we’ve discussed here tend toward the extraordinary: tales of the apocalypse and wide-scale destruction, or of humanity reaching across the gaps between the planets and the stars. In the 2009 that we’re living now, we seem to be steering clear of those two extremes, but there’s a touch of reality in both of them. In the 2009 we’re living, we’ll see the world continue to cope with one of the worst economic crises we’ve faced in decades. We’ll see more violent conflict and even genocide. We’ll see the longest solar eclipse of the 21st century. We’ll see the death of analog television and the continued–unmanned–exploration of the solar system. And of course we will see the inauguration of the first Black President in a country that–only a handful of generations in the past–was dominated by the institution of slavery.

But the vast majority of 2009 still lies ahead of us, leaving much unknown, and leaving quite a bit to our imaginations.

Ben Francisco lives in Brooklyn. His fiction has been published in the anthology Dreaming Again, edited by Jack Dann, and is forthcoming in Realms of Fantasy. Visit Ben at his blog, Bread and Magic, at benfrancisco.net.

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