In the future we stood apart

Illustration by Matthew Page and Cyril Babeev

It was between the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries when western societies developed the idea of historicity, of seeing their present as fundamentally different and separate in time and space from the past. Industrialisation led to vast transformations in the social, economic and even physical landscapes of western society. With mechanisation came the idea which would dominate global culture for the following centuries: the notion that all societies followed a linear line of progression propelled forward by technology. As the Victorians marvelled at their steam engines and great warships, they saw before them a world of infinite possibilities. To them, utopia no longer entailed a mystical past, but was to be found in the yet-to-be-realised future. Articulations of this shift gave rise to the genre of science fiction (SF). And with mechanised arms in hand and a utopian dream in mind, they set off to inflict their ‘civilisation’ upon the ‘less advanced.’ And while the world has since overthrown the military shackles of colonialism, the imperialist faith in progress and civilisation has not only stuck, but become dominant in almost all societies. Perhaps even more so than in two centuries ago, science is equated with ‘truth’, ‘fact’ and ‘universalism’ in the popular psyche. As a genre which posits the ‘science’ as a prefix to ‘fiction’, SF appropriates the implications of ‘science’ to claim a factual quality which other types of fiction could not.

A recent example of wildly popular SF, Blade Runner 2049, was released to widespread critical acclaim. As a much-anticipated sequel to the 1982 original, the film explored a dystopian future where replicants, human-like robots with full consciousness, are exploited as a much-reviled sla