Alternative History Lesson

1984This question used to bug me: What happens when reality catches up to the year your futuristic sci-fi tome takes place and all your fancy prognostications are wrong? Given the amount of novels, films and related ephemera that have been set in the future, surely hundreds have had timelines that timed out. The biggies, of course, are Orwell’s 1984 and Clarke and/or Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey. You could even throw in Clarke’s more “recent” book (and it’s adaptation of the same title) 2010: The Year We Make Contact (that, oddly, came out in 1984, which must be significant somehow, if only to A Clockwork Orange scribe Anthony Burgess whose post-Orwellian book, 1985, was then approaching its sell-by date). Then there’s Roland Emmerich’s 2012 in which John Cusack plays a struggling sci-fi writer whose failed opus essentially becomes the bible for a new world order, you know, after the world in an Old Testament-style flood, courtesy of global warming. Besides being megalomaniacal wish fulfillment for sci-fi writers everywhere, it’s title is so last year.

Anyway, I was delving deep into Amazon’s Kindle store when I found this handsome, bundled Kindle edition of Orwell’s Animal Farm and 1984 (with an intro by Christopher Hitchens no less) under the genus sci-fi and the species “Alternative History.”

Ah, gotcha. So, for science fiction whose titular time has come with  futures  rendered as fallow as yesterday’s horoscope, there’s hope yet. They can be repositioned as classics in the ever-burgeoning “Alternative History” subgenre and find renewed relevance – not predicting what will be, but what might have been. Well played Amazon, well played.

Of course, 1984 is a perennial and has never been considered passé but 2012 and its ilk just got a second lease on shelf-life. Any titles you think belong in this club?