A Voyage of Prediction.

Last time, I mentioned articles from the International edition of Der Spiegel as the prompt for me to set out a description of the Earth of 2309 that my Iskanders left to take up their development contracts on N-3. That flight went astray – stranding them on the alternate earth called Gaia. The articles  were by Wolfram Eilenburger and by Parag Khanna, both academics with positions in US universities – you can probably find the articles by searching their names.

I had previously avoided describing the Iskanders’ Earth because I never fancied myself as a futurist and the great majority of SF authors who do picture a future Earth clearly have more imagination than understanding. But I have been reading quite a lot of predictions lately – mostly about America’s status at the end of the present Depression as well as a great deal of speculation about the form of the future multilateral world order. So I felt I might take a stab at picturing the future.

I think I was on the right track when I made my Iskanders a multicultural mix – but perhaps it was also a tribute to Canada. I also believe having the Iskander voyage a civilian project in a chartered commercial transport based at Baikoneur instead of a government mission run from Houston is in line with the probabilities for 2309. I envisaged a corporate project that hired the best from all the world – somewhat more grand but otherwise similar to the oil exploration crew I joined in Libya 46 years ago. In fact I have no culturally recognizable Americans mentioned in the stories, although Dirk Scopes, Richard Norris, and Jon Mich’l could be Anglo-Saxons from any of the A-S homelands and diaspora. I do have others who could easily be from the States, that has always been home to the bright and ambitious from everywhere in the world.

In contrast I have several Germans, including Liz Gursche and Kurt Stockmuller; A few Arabs, Hannan Badry and Ahmed Villars (the latter likely French Tunisian); a number of Asians, Wang Ke xian, Dr Chan, and Huang; East Europeans, Yvan Korchik and M’Tov (never been fixed but perhaps Russian Jew?); and at least one named African, Helen Svambini. The Matahs are Anglo Indian/Greek of course ( I worked with a Pakistani in Libya whose daughter combined these heritages and I thought Gisel should share it ); and people like Professor James Hutton were historical figures I felt like including. (He’s the 18th century British Father of Geology – and I made him the head of the Iskander Geology department.)

This non-American milieu was established even before the huge political over-reach and fiascos of the Bush years, the paybacks for which are only now appearing in the mainstream consciousness. The American Century has clearly reached its ‘best by’ date and portraying any future SF  story in an Americo-centric way will clearly seem quaint in the mid-term. Of course the States will bounce back to become a leader among equals when it pays down its massive indebtedness, but as Eilenburger suggests – not until the people embrace the solid social fabric that a social-democratic capitalism will impart.

I don’t mention any off-world religion except the eastern Buddhist-Taoist meditation and philosophy Gisel embraces. It seems to me that in the future the concordance between modern scientific views and those two ancient religions should see them gain ground against the logically marginalized Abrahamic faiths, but I’m prepared to admit that the bias is mine. I do accept that a deep philosophical belief of some kind is an almost necessary grounding for most people – even if only during those periodic dark nights of the ‘soul’.

Women play an essential part in the Iskander expedition, but that doesn’t prevent latent paternalistic chauvinism from annoying our self-confident and capable Gisel. She is a natural free-thinker and rebel, who benefits from my own observation that the operator of a remote project has much more scope for doing things his or her own way than the poor saps in a cubicles just down the room from some pointy-haired manager. (I chose to be an exploration surveyor and foreman precisely because I could generally drive projects in my own fashion by judicial massaging of the developing body of information I sent back to the city.)

But to get back to the chauvinism, I felt I should have Gisel’s problems with her own male colleagues somewhat less infuriating than those she finds among the Gaians. The other female disadvantages are reflected in her relationships and affairs – how does a woman form a stable relationship with a man who may be her intellectual and cultural inferior? Not for nothing did women cultivate the “dumb blonde” image in the world I grew up in. One clever and beautiful young friend observes that it is hard for the male ego to accept the second spot for more than a year, and often much less.

Young Gisel is attracted to the more exotic Gaians; knights, spies, military heroes, and princes, but eventually she realizes she needs a stolid stable kind of fellow whose own personality is strong enough to recognize his present inferiority but with enough ego to believe he is capable of matching her successes in the future. The very unexciting Yohan Felger, of course. They are buddies and partners in enterprise as much as lovers. She has fewer romantic attachments with her Iskander colleagues, and it’s not only because of an intention to avoid workplace entanglements. She does become entangled with Marc Cronon (and I’m still working on a plausible start to that relationship), who is definitely an unexciting fellow. One reviewer pointed out that the passionate Gisel would surely opt for more exciting lovers (and I do have Lord Ricart in that role) but I guess I’m too male to understand women who fall for the most wildly unsuitable partners.

Does that exhaust my picture of Earth 2309? Not sure – I may have a stab at painting some broad strokes of the differences between our world and the future one, and of course, I should provide a capsule history of Gaia before I leave the futurist posts.

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