First Drafts of the Future

What is science fiction? The question is trickier than it appears. For all the clichés, the sweeping futuristic sagas, it remains (like all literature) an exploration of inner, as opposed to outer, space. The best, or most resonant, science fiction imagines individuals in extreme situations, or at least in different timelines, different worlds.

At its heart, science fiction begins with a question, or a set of questions: Who are we and how do we live? In such a context, it is humanity that is most important. That’s why, when the first film in the Star Wars franchise was released, in 1977, many viewers were struck by the jerry-rigged nature of the technology, which seemed so recognizable and well-worn. When it didn’t work as it was supposed to (or, for that matter, work at all), it only became more human and familiar, reminding us that, whatever else it might be, the future—like the present—would necessarily be improvised.

In this issue, Alta looks at science fiction: its appeal, its legacy. As a genre, it is often misread, misunderstood, considered through the lens of its imagined futures rather than the present on which it inevitably reflects. This is not to say it can’t be visionary; it is a form defined by possibilities. But as for what those possibilities are and where they lead us, they have everything to do with where we’ve been.

First Drafts of the Future

Alta considers the appeal and legacy of a misunderstood form defined by possibilities.

Looking Backward from the Future

Relevant to the real world as much as to the worlds it imagines, science fiction has always offered more than is expected.

West Coast Science Fiction
Across the decades, these groundbreaking works of West Coast science fiction have shown us where we are and where we might be headed, f…
Beyond the Door: A Story by Philip K. Dick
Originally published in 1954, this story about a strained relationship and a mysterious cuckoo clock explores themes that helped make D…
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I Am Trying to Describe Things I Don’t Understand
This short story from Jonathan Lethem about ecological, technical, and social collapse explores the always-already-present future, a fu…
astronauts and spaceships explore the unknown in this chesley bonestell image
New Fiction: The Turnaround

In this story by Charlie Jane Anders, a time traveler learns that the way to imagine a better future is to build one.

Against Apocalypse

Anti-apocalypse science fiction envisions a future that is sometimes a utopia and always a reminder that hope isn’t a fairy tale.

10 Tech Advancements Sci-Fi Correctly Predicted
While the ultimate aim of science fiction is not to predict the future, here are 10 technological advancements that science fiction got…
Three Questions with Brian Evenson

The author discusses his influences, his work, and the new stories that will emerge from this historic moment in time.

Three Questions with Lawrence Wright

The acclaimed writer considers the 1918 flu, recommends sci-fi authors, and discusses his novel The End of October.

Three Questions with Edan Lepucki

The California author discusses her recent work, favorite sci-fi books, and where the pandemic will take fiction.

Three Questions with Katie M. Flynn

The Companions author discusses her new novel, favorite science-fiction titles, and what it’s like to write during a pandemic.

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Arrival
The Evolution of SciFi On-Screen

Since its genesis, science-fiction film and television has had to evolve in order for the future to catch up to the present.

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Yallzee’s body features pieces by more than 150 artists. “I love all my tattoo work, from the biggest ones to the smallest,” he says. “It’s my journey.” He appears in All of Me Is Illustrated.
Ray Bradbury in Permanent Ink
All of Me Is Illustrated is an homage to the (sometimes literally) colorful characters in Ray Bradbury’s short fiction and to tattoo af…