Review: The Third Millennium: A History of the World: AD 2000 – 3000, Brian Stableford and David Langford, 1985.
There are few things so uninteresting, except to a small group of academics, as a serious work of futurology published almost 40 years ago.
These works of futurism are approached with varying mixtures of fear, optimism, and cold-eyed assessment of probability on the part of the authors. Since the book ends with a 1905 quote from Anatole France appreciating H. G. Wells for not approaching the future with anxiety and thinking its morality will be ours, I’m going to assume the authors aimed for cold-eyed assessment.
In a sense, the future depicted here is sort of a stock future for our time. Greenhouse warming (the more honest name for what we call now “climate change” and still far from an observed certainty), the depletion of fossil fuels, an ever-increasing population pressures, eventually lead to an Age of Austerity, something like a world government, a massive die-off, and the elimination of nationalism. In fact, I wouldn’t be surprised if there is, in a dusty corner of a WEF archive, a copy of this book.
It doesn’t do any good to note its errors in estimating the rates of certain trends. The Soviet Union, of course, didn’t even last a decade after this book was published much less centuries. The connecting of the world, particularly after the advent of smartphones, took a lot less time than depicted here. The demography of almost every nation outside of sub-Saharan Africa points to a future population decline, not increase. Fossil fuels, as many have noted, still have not reached the point of Peak Oil. (Though, despite what some say, that will happen. Even if you postulate that oil is completely abiogenic – which doesn’t seem likely – it’s doubtful more oil could be created and placed in economic deposits to keep up with current demand.)
It doesn’t do any good because virtually all works of futurism founder this way. At best, they make the reader ponder some of the social, environmental, and technological trends that will shape the future.
The broad outlines are:
- The Period of Crisis 2000 to 2180
- The Period of Recovery 2180 to 2400
- The Period of Transformation 2400 to 2650
- Creation of the New World 2650 to 3000
The new world of 3000 has several biological variations of humanity and colonization of space outside our Solar System.
To be sure, the book has some points of interest even when stripped of its predictions. Langford puts his physics training to work describing how fusion became a practical power source. Stableford, as a trained sociologist, looks at some plausible social adaptations to this future’s radical technology including several insights as to how the internet would change things – earlier than he anticipated.
The book has some amusing asides on historical personages and social movements. Interestingly, several popular science fictional technologies don’t go much of anywhere in this future, cryogenic suspension and cloning in particular.
But there is one more type of person that would be interested in this book: readers of Stableford’s Tales of the Biotech Revolution series which has extended to more than 60 works and almost three decades. This book is the loose foundation for that series.
And it’s that series which I will take up examining very shortly.
“There are few things so uninteresting, except to a small group of academics, as a serious work of futurology published almost 40 years ago.” Not sure about this. I find this sort of thing (not that I’ve read much of it) fascinating–“science fact,” as it were, or science fiction without the fictional aspects such as individual characters, etc.
Yeah, after I wrote that, I realized there are a fair number of books, especially art books, that look back with varying degrees of nostalgia to past predictions of the future.
And, in my reading about World War I, there are a couple of famous works of prediction written before the war that are frequently alluded to.
Perhaps I was just in a snarky mood.
Not to worry! In any case, I’ve always loved retrofuturism, as it were. I enjoy reading SF stories written in the twenties and set in the seventies.
Well, I will be covering a fair amount of Stableford stories set in the 2020s but written in the 1990s.
Given my reviews, I obviously don’t mind what other people consider “dated” sf.