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The Future

The Reality - John Lewell staggers on to 2050
'You got it all wrong'

The trouble with the year 2050 was that novelist Sam North and his old friend, the former journalist and literary critic John Lewell, were 99 and 105 respectively. They were sipping viagra-flavored cappuccino in a London branch of Moonbucks, the trendy offshoot of the quasi-military Starbucks empire which owned Boeing and the remnants of Microsoft -- two other businesses that had once flourished in America's great north-west.

"Do you remember writing that essay about the year 2050 for the Economist competition at the turn of the millennium?" asked John, with a mischievous glint in his eye.
"Nothing happened that you said would happen, did it?"
"Not true," said Sam. "In fact, I'll show you, because there's a copy of it on my desk in Vancouver -- and I could easily jump over there right now to get it, then you'd see I was right about a lot of things."
"So how exactly ARE the nuclear-powered hip replacements working these days?" queried John. He was a bit envious of Sam's bionic hip replacements because they enabled his friend to move around the world at a frenetic pace, even on one occasion crossing the Arctic Circle which had frozen solid after the 2025 over-correction to Global Warming.
"Just fine," said Sam. "What's more, I've almost finished paying for them."

Sam's autobiography, "Hopping Mad," had just edged Chelsea Clinton-Kennedy's biography of her father out of the Number One bestseller spot, one of many successes that helped Sam afford the operation.
"I was right about Chelsea marrying a Kennedy," said Sam, after some thought.
"Yes, yes, but that was probably the only correct prediction in the entire essay," John pointed out. "All that stuff about English-speaking Americans being driven into an enclave was a bit wide of the mark, wasn't it?"
"OK, OK, so they all left the planet, and you were right about gigatechnology enabling people to manufacture spaceships thousands of miles long by capturing asteroids and extracting steel to make the structure in space. But America certainly is Spanish, isn't it?"

John admitted that it was. Not that he'd been there recently. He'd been too busy helping his tenth wife design their second child, with all the endless arguments such a procedure entailed. Janine wanted a fashion model like herself while John kept picking gene combos to ensure a literary genius. Eventually they agreed on a sort of female Dostoievsky with great legs and the usual built-in resilience to common diseases and bad grammar.

"Anyway, doesn't time fly?" said Sam. "Seems like only yesterday we were nodding to the Queen Mother at Ascot."
"Yes, it must be a couple of months," said John. "But I hope I look as fit as she does when I'm 150. Of course, she could have been secretly cloned, you know."
John knew as well as anyone that cloning had been outlawed for twenty years, ever since the Bavarians had rescued Hitler's DNA from his toothbrush and then succeeded in cloning an entire platoon of Hitlers that scared the living bejesus out of the people who ran the First World Federation.
"I predict they'll bring back cloning," said Sam. "Blair's in favor of it."
"Leo's in favor of a lot of silly things, just like his Dad was," observed John. "But just because he's President of the Federation doesn't mean he'll ever get it through the Senate. Personally I don't think anyone cares."

Sam was bound, at least, to agree on that last point. After all, the eighty-five percent of the population left behind after the Great Exodus to an unspecified Elsewhere in the galaxy -- some two or three billion souls -- spent all their time wired into the Net, enjoying hyperrealistic touchy-feely sex simulations with virtual partners of their choice. It was hard to resist a guaranteed orgasm at a dollar a pop, and even harder when the Federation paid as much as a dollar-fifty during times of social unrest.

"Don't move," hissed Sam, suddenly, looking over John's shoulder to the street outside the window. "I don't like the look of that police-bot that just landed. It's staring at us through one of its telephoto lenses."
"Probably wants your autograph," suggested John. "They sell that sort of thing on the black market to buy meat. Round here the police-bots have eaten all the stray cats. If you ask me, flesh-eating robots were the worst invention of the Year 2000."
"You flatter me," said Sam. "But I think it's you he's looking at."
John knew exactly what the police-bot was doing: sorting through its memory bank to see if he had paid this year's $25,000 TV license fee, which of course he hadn't. Funding the BBC was one issue successive national and federal governments had dodged consistently for the past seventy years. Several million people now languished in jail for not having a license, even though nobody watched BBC TV anymore.
"Good job I brought a disguise with me," said John, putting on a Groucho Marx nose/glasses/moustache. The police-bot hesitated, then flexed its undercarriage and flew off to bother someone else.

The decline of television had coincided with a mass movement to boycott products that were marketed too aggressively. "Marketing overload" had begun at the end of the last century with "Star Wars" and "Pokemon" and other phenomena, resulting in people tuning out, and, within months of each launch, refusing to buy the billions of products thrust at them by greedy corporations. The result had been a decline in consumerism, a capitalist crash, wrecked economies, millions out of work, desperate poverty, rampant disease, and, of course, the great pandemics of 2013.

"I was right about the pandemics," said Sam, getting back to the argument.
"But you said 2009. That's four years out," objected John. "Four twenty-first century years are equal to forty eighteenth century years, so that's like saying the Battle of Waterloo took place in 1975."
"Details," said Sam.
John sighed. There was no way to say it, but Sam's vision of the future had actually triggered many of the events his friend had described, mainly because Sam had gone on to win the Economist prize and subsequently become one of the most influential futurists of his generation. People read his predictions, took them on board, and set about turning them into reality. The Great Wall of Mexico, built by the U.S. Government to prevent excessive immigration, was but one example.
"You never predicted that we'd still be here, fifty years later, despite the pandemics, the Exodus, the rats," said John.
"I never said a word about rats."
"Don't move," hissed John, suddenly, looking over Sam's shoulder. "It's a big brown one, over there near the rubbish basket. Honestly, how could you have forgotten the rats!"

© John Lewell August 2050

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