The History of The Near Future

And they said it could never happen. Well, actually, it mostly didn't...

"Yeah well, you heard wrong, see…"

Until this current period of geek cred, everyone who has ever made a contribution to science-fiction seems to have assumed that interest in the genre will not last long enough to outlive any future dates the writers/film-makers might have invented. The smarter folks are non-committal; things take place vaguely ‘in the near future’, or in such-and-such a century, or even – in the case of ‘mad’ Max Headroom – ’15 minutes into the future’.

The others were all bold enough to stick a date on…1940 – Global war breaks out – and apologises for its late arrival, as it couldn’t find a thing to wear. (Things to Come – 1936)1967 – Captain Braxton’s 29th century Federation time ship Aeon crash-lands on Earth. His attempt of the disarming phrase ‘Well, double dumbass on you’ meets with little more success than Kirk’s in The Voyage Home. (Star Trek: Voyager, USTV, ep: ‘Future’s End’)

1970 – Everytown, the warlord-dominated post-apocalypse culture is visited by ‘Wings Over The World’ ambassador John Cabal (Raymond Massey). Cabal’s subsequent imprisonment prompts an air-attack with ‘The Gas Of Peace’! (Things to Come – 1936)

1975 – Biological warfare between the rednecks and the ruskies turns the Earth’s population into porphyric vampires – apart from chinly Charlton Heston and the odd waif and stray. Luckily there’s at least one girl left to prove Chuck isn’t gay or knocking one out to pre-apocalypse Playboy in his lonely hide-out. (The Omega Man, 1971)

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1980 – The governmental bacterium ‘Captain Trips’ wipes out all but a resistant hardcore of the Earth’s population, who will subsequently divide into good and evil factions to fight over what’s left. King arguably wrote the nearest ‘near-future’ scenario ever – when I first read the brand-new book, one of the months depicted was the actual date at the time! He tends to bring the apocalypse forward another ten years once in a blue moon, for reprints. (The Stand, novel, Stephen King, 1980, first edition)

1980 – Battlestar Galactica finds Earth and instantly sacks the expensive special-effects department, since all plots are suddenly ‘modern day’, and any effects can be re-used from the previous series. (Galactica 1980, USTV, errr 1980)

1980 – Covert world protection agency SHADO capture their first ‘live’ alien, who is full of transplanted human organs, leading SHADO scientists to believe that the waves of UFO landings and abductions are explained by a dying alien race who are sterile and can only continue to exist by replacing their own worn-out parts. Oh, and everything everywhere is made of brushed aluminium and all the girls are making tea for the boys. (UFO, UKTV, 1969)1984 – Oceania forever! A dystopian authoritarian state has risen up to rule its half-starved populace with an iron fist and a handful of rats. Ugh. (Nineteen Eighty-Four, novel, George Orwell, 1948)1986 – Max Rockatansky subverts the alarming petrol crisis by siphoning off the gas-tanks of ditched trucks in post-apocalypse Australia. The first time US viewers ever heard Mel Gibson’s American accent – dubbed for the US release. Within 18 months he had one of his own. (Mad Max 2 [USA: The Road Warrior], 1982)

1988 – Manhattan is turned into a maximum security prison because of a 400% increase in crime in the USA. And not one idiot thinks to stick a camera in there and turn it into a hit reality show. (Escape From New York, 1981).

1995 – Start of the Eugenics Wars on Earth, where the fruits of a genetic engineering project set themselves up as a new ‘master race’, headed by Khan Noonien Singh. Eventually these pumped-up lab specimens end up stranded in deep space. Their leader, Khan Noonien Singh, wiles away the years re-reading Moby Dick and the complete works of Shakespeare. Khaaaaaaan! (Star Trek, USTV, ep: ‘Space Seed’, 1968).1995 –The Proteus is launched on its rescue mission to operate on a blood-clot from inside a defector’s body (Fantastic Voyage, 1966).

1997 – Snake Plissken is sent in to prison-island Manhattan to free the oily prez from the casting remnants of Shaft and Who Killed Bambi. He’s not playing with himself, he’s going in. Oo-err…(Escape From New York, 1981)

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1999 – Professor Vincent Price teaches a bunch of students about peace in post-apocalypse America by encouraging them to shoot each other. Turns out we’re all robots by then anyway. (Night Gallery, USTV, 1971, ep: ‘Class of ’99’).1999 – John Spartan is sentenced to cryogenic prison for life as an ice-lolly. Since he’s innocent of the charges, that’s a bit fucked-up. Martin Anderson, you are fined four credits for a violation of the verbal morality code. (Demolition Man, 1993)

1999 – The moon is blasted out of Earth’s orbit by a nuclear reaction of all the toxic waste that has been dumped there over the years. Barbara Bain misses the event as this would have involved her turning her head round, something she never did once in the entire two years of the Gerry Anderson series (Space:1999, UK/US TV, 1976).

1999 – Well, I guess this was going to be a hot year for this list. Disgraced copper turned virtual-sex peddler Ralph Fiennes finally finds himself in an environment where pronouncing ‘Ralph’ as ‘Raiph’ at least has some kind of sci-fi justification, and ends up inadvertently trailing a murderer on new year’s eve (Strange Days, 1995)1999 – Space probe Voyager VI is launched, and will eventually return to Earth (as ‘V’ger’) with such a bloated upgrade as to make anything from Microsoft pale in comparison. (Star Trek: The Motion Picture, 1979)2000 – An Earthquake of 9.6 magnitude splits Los Angeles off of the mainland United States. Shortly after, a small town called ‘Otisburg’ is established on the newly defined California coast. (Escape From L.A., 1997)

2000 – David Carradine gets about a million points on his licence – and several pedestrians on the windscreen – by participating in the no-rules, knock-em-down car derby known as the Death Race. (Death Race 2000, 1975)

2001 – An ape’s bone turns into a war satellite and suddenly it’s like the petrol crisis and Watergate never happened, and NASA is fully equipped to send a couple of anodyne astronauts heading to Jupiter in the company of their frozen buddies and a blue-screening computer. And the girls are still making tea for the boys (2001: A Space Odyssey, 1968).

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