We've seen a lot of futuristic visions this past year, but sometimes even the coolest ones aren't exactly "best." I mean, the greenified New York City in I Am Legend looked great, but who would want to be the guy in that future? For our list of best futures, we've picked tomorrows that are sometimes perilous but always give us the "I want to be there" zoom. Our picks come from science fiction as well as in evolutionary biology and even city planning. Plus, there's some sex. Who doesn't want a sexy future?
Best Futures of 2007
The Yiddish Policemen's Union, by Michael Chabon
This alternate history novel isn't exactly about the future: it explores what our present-day lives would be like if an obscure 1940s Congressional bill to turn Alaska into a Jewish state had been passed into law. The book takes place in a world where Israel as we know it doesn't exist, and Jewish Alaska is about to be re-absorbed into the United States, sort of Hong Kong-into-China style. Chabon's given us a terrific thought experiment, beautifully realized. The Yiddish Policemen's Union uses fantasy to invite you to reexamine your assumptions about everything, which is what the very best science fiction always does.
The European Union's Emissions Reduction Plan
At the recent U.N. Climate Change Conference in Bali, the E.U. once again reiterated its plan to reduce toxic emissions throughout Europe 25 to 40 percent by 2020 and 50 percent or more by 2050.
Angel: After the Fall comic book created by Joss Whedon
This comic book from IGN, in the tradition of the much-loved comic Buffy Season Eight, takes off just where the Buffy TV spinoff Angel ended when it went off air. People who watched the show will recall that it ended with the world ending. Demons from everywhere invade Los Angeles, the sky goes dark, etc. Sure it sounds dark and craptastic, but we can't help but want to go to future Los Angeles as ruled by demon gangs and unknown crawlies — especially with Angel still fighting Big Bads, Wesley back as a ghost slave, and Gunner doing the vigilante thing even though he's become a vampire too. This is a damn fine apocalypse tale.
"The Singularity," an essay by Catherine Valente
Author of the Orphan trilogy, Catherine Valente's smart critique of dumb stories about the singularity is probably one of the best pieces of writing about science fiction that we saw all year.
The Execution Channel, by Ken MacLeod
Scottish scifi author and political junkie Ken MacLeod delivers yet another brainy tale about futuristic political factions warring for justice. Set in the very near future — unlike most of his work, which is generally several singularities removed from us — The Execution Channel depicts a dark future ripped apart by government authorities drunk on their "war on terror." What makes this future good is that MacLeod delivers a realistic picture of what genuine and hopeful political resistance would look like, even in the darkest dystopia. His heroes fight the system, and they do it realistically, with politics and persuasion rather than guns and ammo. Well, OK, they use guns and ammo too.
A Gay Pill for Fruitflies
Scientists now have a drug that makes fruitflies exhibit homosexual behavior within mere hours after taking it. Not only does this fuel our fantasies, but it forces us to imagine a future where sexual orientation could be switched around so easily that it became a matter of fashion rather than politics. Also, we like the idea that the pill makes you gay, rather than straight. If this drug worked in humans, it would become the gay man's rufie at frat parties. Just slip it in your pal's drink, and three hours later you've got a hookup!
Chicago's "Bike 2015" Plan
It may never come to fruition, but Chicago's book-length plan (published online) to convert the windy city into a "bike friendly" region by 2015 is one of the only documents that could inspire me to write the words "fascinating city planning." There are hundreds of examples of easy ways the city can reduce its reliance on cars, and the plan is rich with examples from other cities that have done the same. This is futurism at its finest, because it not only predicts a different world but offers pragmatic steps for achieving it.
Battlestar Galactica: Razor
Nobody wants to live in a universe where the Cylon have destroyed most of the humans, but everybody wants to be on a space ship with all the heroic, intriguing characters Battlestar Galactica regularly delivers. What made the TV movie Razor particularly great is that it delved more deeply into the backgrounds of some of the most intriguing members of the Pegasus crew, including the lesbotic and psychotic Admiral Cain. Plus we got to meet the tough-as-nails Kendra Shaw, who made even the Cylon-punching Starbuck look kind of wussy.
Author of Naked on the Internet, and editor of $pread, the only indie magazine I know that's by and for sex workers, Audacia Ray is a top-notch sexual futurist. She's using the Web to change the way people think about sex work (no, it's not all bad) and may help to create the kind of world we see in Firefly, where prostitutes are revered as royalty rather than thrown in jail.
Proof that Homo Sapiens is Still Rapidly Evolving
A new study came out late in the year that proved homo sapiens is not only still evolving, but at a rather rapid clip. In other words, there's still a chance we can evolve into greenhouse-gas-breathing creatures before it's too late. Or, more realistically, it means humans have to face the fact that we're still changing and trying to stop it goes against nature.