Welcome, readers, to a new article series on The Story arc, from yours truly, DK! Here at Prescience, we ask the fundamental question: Why does the Sci-Fi future look the same?
You see it everywhere. The same sleek iPhone brutalism, the same “80s” neon, that blocky gradient font that looks like an arcade game logo, the holograms. The future feels like scrolling Tumblr in 2013. I’m sick of it, and I’m going to take a stand against it. Here at Prescience, my idea is to make a bi-weekly series, delivered as a blog post and a newsletter. I’ll critically examine a modern and an older work of Science Fiction, and hopefully pick apart what makes their vision of the future so compelling. And I’ll throw in a paragraph about a song that feels futuristic or sci-fi, since music is all too ignored when talking about SF. A tall order? Sure. We’ll see if the rocket blows up on the launchpad, or if I reach the stars. Or drift in orbit, forever, like the Vanguard 1 Satellite, launched in 1958 by the Naval Research Laboratory.
So here’s a little, short, taster post. An amuse-bouche. A bit of zakuski.
When I was young and starting to get into Sci-Fi, really get into it, what hooked me in was the Ghost In The Shell: Stand Alone Complex anime series. The vision of the future presented in that series was like nothing I’d seen in Star Wars or the Marvel Cinematic Universe. What gripped me was the fact that much of the future in Stand Alone Complex was hidden – secret crimes, secret police, even secret people, hidden in the mazes of cyberspace. While most of the show went over my head, I rewatched it recently, and discovered that 11 year old me was really on track. The show is dense with all kinds of allusions – French New Wave cinema, Japanese history, and all kinds of philosophy. But I think what grips me more now is the look of this show. The vision of the future brought about by Stand Alone Complex looks very similar to our world now – while there are towering skyscrapers, much of the action also takes place in suburbs and rural townships. Tech is omnipresent, but invisible, like our world now – looking around, everything has been folded into phones, like how cyberbrains in Stand Alone Complex interface with all of society. It’s really cool! One would even say…prescient.
Most importantly, it’s from The Green Era. That blessed, post-The Matrix period where seemingly everything was green. It’s honestly a great look. I might be a bit of a weirdo in this regard, I’ve always loved the aesthetic. The Green was originally used to signify which scenes were in The Matrix vs in the real world, but a lot of SF, especially cyberpunk, just started using it as The Look. and you know what? It still looks good. Maybe its nostalgia for the early digital look. But I really like it. I have more thoughts on Stand Alone Complex, but they must wait until a later edition of this series – after I finish Season 2. Until then I’ll just say that the episode that is an extended homage to Jean Luc Godard’s Breathless is still the best.
Now, I got to thinking about Stand Alone Complex also because the new Destiny expansion has a trailer. Now, I have some thoughts about Destiny. For my money, Destiny 1, after House of Wolves, is easily one of the best videogames of all time for me. I spent too much time in it to say otherwise. But I fell off the series after that, and never really got into Destiny 2. I played for a season, but the pandemic burned me out. But I’m excited for this expansion! It looks like it’s going to do some cool stuff.
My problem is just…the look man. You remember that paragraph at the start of this? About everything looking the same? Man, I’ve seen this neon cyberpunk cityscape too many times. I’ve seen these 80s action movie homages too many times. The Rambo headband is rad, but I’m overexposed on Rambo headbands. Can we at least do Commando face paint? Commando is the better 80s action movie anyway.
I’ve heard this music too many times. Vaguely “Cyberpunk”, but taking more inspiration from internet art movements such as Vaporwave, years after Cyberpunk peaked and faded, this is just the way things look now. Older generations got clean Helvetica and Modernism, or the maximalism of the Y2K look. We get the old Miller Lite logo, a bunch of 80s gradients, and these cuboid buildings that all look like Steve Jobs was made the Duke of Arrakis. Part of my goal with this project is to categorize and dig into this look, how everything, from Tesla to NFT’s to videogames, has started arriving at this look. Because make no mistake, this is the current look of the future. Brutalist geometries and maximalist colors. Filters galore. I mean, political propaganda looks like this now:
There’s nothing wrong with this look, but to me, Ghost In The Shell is just more interesting. It may be old, but it feels new – it is prescient about the future, eclectic, and the music is a mash of all kinds of stuff because, with the power of computers, one could mix literally everything – sampling was no longer limited, and you could grab them online. Maybe I’m overexposed, and I’d feel the same about Stand Alone Complex were I living in 2003. But I doubt it. Now, Lightfall is another situation where I have more thoughts, but I will have to talk about it again when I can actually play it. Until then, ciao.
So that’s a taster of how Prescience will go! I’ll be digging into the visual aesthetics and the plot of various older SF, as well as critically discussing new SF, and comparing the two. Of course, I’ll write more, these are simply shorter pieces to give you an idea of what it’s all about and because I had more but had no idea how to elegantly integrate it. And since this is 100% my bullshit, I’ll probably be talking a lot about photography and all my other nerd hobbies because I can. Next time, I’ll likely be talking about the book Solaris and For All Mankind. But who knows! You’ll just have to stick around.
Anyway, he’s a song for this entry. I found it on bandcamp and I’m just a big fan. Afrobeat right now is so cool, I hope it gets bigger in the West.
Also, I’ll likely be setting up a substack or similar mailing list for this in the coming days, so keep an eye out for that on my Twitter.