By GW Thomas
A good example of all this is the story "June 6, 2016" by George Allan England. The story appeared in Colliers on April 22, 1916, a little over a hundred years before the titular date. And as with titles of this sort, it is a prediction of what the world will be like in a century. Was it truly predictive or did it tell us more about what people were worried about in 1916? Things that concerned them included World War I grinding away in Europe, though the US wouldn't enter for another year. Women's suffrage was four years away in the US. Marconi's radio broadcasted about the maritime rescues of the Titanic in October 1912 and again with the Lusitania in May of 1915. Despite these obvious topical elements in the story, England also proposes some new ideas. How accurate is his guess? We'll see.
What is more interesting than the plot is certainly the gadgets and predictions England suggests. As with all early SF the characters point these innovations out with plenty of pokes at the silly people a hundred years ago. These include disposable clothes, dishes, and bedding. All clothing, blankets, and bedding are made of papersilk. "No stupid, unsanitary, costly laundry work now hampered the daily changing of linen. These papersilks, despite their elegance, were now so cheap that everybody threw them into the municipal incinerating tubes, after one wearing..." All the incinerated items are converted into a gas, which fuels the lighting and heating. The dishes, which also go into the tubes, remind me of our disposable society with its paper plates and cups and the wrappers on fast food. In Ellsworth's time, there is no kitchen at home, but large, public cafeterias suggesting a mild form of socialism that would not have been alarming before the Russian Revolution. (England works in two mentions of Fletcherizing, a popular health idea of the time, requiring the eater to chew 33 times for every bite, including liquids!) Perhaps this lack of a home kitchen lends itself to the use of disposable dishes.
So how close was George Allan England to predicting the world of today? What strikes me as most interesting is how the correct predictions don't feel correct. Even though the women have equal rights we still see the paradigm of male boss and female employee at daddy's business, though there is a female police officer and it is woman who offers the son a new job. The wife-to-be offers and pursues marriage, but at the end Ellsworth mediates this to "they asked each other." England isn't quite modern enough to leave it alone. He mentions that Ellsworth and Alice have passed the Eugenics Board requirements for having children, but doesn't tell us who will raise the children. Do they have daycare? Will Alice give up her career to do it? Eugenics was another turn-of-the-century idea that would have seen governments selectively breeding away crime, political dissidence, and the mentally and physically handicapped. Scary as it was, it did have supporters, including Edgar Rice Burroughs in his Venus novels!
In the end, this story is a quaint look at how a turn of the century writer might see the future. The entire plot and feel, despite the cool new gadgets, is still mentally and spiritually stuck in 1916. It feels Edwardian despite its attempts to be futuristic, just as watching old Star Trek episodes will make you laugh at the Space Hippies, an obvious late 1960s fad. If you truly want to read a story of the future that doesn't suffer from present day influences, I'd recommend Frederick Pohl's "Day Million." It, too, is a love story of the future, but doesn't feel like 1966. It feels like nothing you could have imagined. And as for England's version of June 6, 2016? I want a flying car, dammit!
GW Thomas has appeared in over 400 different books, magazines and ezines including The Writer, Writer's Digest, Black October Magazine and Contact. His website is gwthomas.org. He is editor of Dark Worlds magazine.