Today may not be the future these works envisioned, but maybe it’s still to come?
Science fiction has never really strived to be prophetic. Mostly the genre has used speculation to draw attention to social issues of the day; a funhouse mirror held up to mankind.
And when it has tried to gaze into a crystal ball, sci-fi’s track record is more than a bit lacking—to be polite.
Especially in regards to the future of sexuality.
Now that we are actually living in 2015—and with 2016 right around the corner—it’s fun to look at some notable books and films that tried to envision what sex would be like in the future. In other words, right this very minute.
A lot of things turned out to be flat out wrong. But what’s even more intriguing—and even more than a bit chilling—is what they actually may have gotten right.
If not this year but very, very soon.
Stand on Zanzibar by John Brunner
John Brunner’s (1934–1995) novel Stand on Zanzibar (1968) is—at the risk of hyperbole—a phenomenal work: literary, complex, insightful, playful, and, despite having been written almost 50 years ago, this Hugo-winning novel reads as it if could very well have been written today.
Media oversaturation, runaway genetic screening, and monolithic corporations replacing government, the book depicts the world of 2010 as one that is both an exaggeration of the 60s and 70s, as well as alarmingly similar to what we’re experiencing now.
One thing that Brunner speculates on is the normalization of polyamory: consensual sexual relationships involving more than two people—to put it in overly simplistic terms.
While the 2010 of Stand On Zanzibar sees polyamory (as well as casual sex, homosexuality, and bisexuality, and more!) as such a common element of human society that it’s all but invisible, in our current 2015 it is only exercised by a small minority.
But that is changing—and very fast.
Not only are many scientists noticing a growing acceptance of polyamory, but they are suggesting that polyamory may be a remarkably healthy sexual option for many.
Studies have even shown that polyamorous groupings even tend to restrict the spread of sexually transmitted conditions (STCs), as opposed to people who cheat while in a monogamous relationship.
So while Stand On Zanzibar was not quite a perfect vision of the near future, Brunner may not have been that far off. Just give us a few more years.
Soylent Green directed by Richard Fleischer
While the New York of Richard Fleischer’s 1973 film Soylent Green is a few years away—it takes place in 2022—we might call this vision of a nightmarishly overpopulated world a complete miss.
Following Detective Frank Thorn (Charlton Heston) as he investigates the assassination of a high-ranking employee of the Soylent corporation, the audience is shown a world where human life has all but zero value.
In fact, and this should not come as a surprise to anyone, really, it is eventually revealed that the popular titular food alternative is … let’s let the famous line speak for itself: “Soylent Green is made out of people!”
While we are, thankfully, a little ways from cannibalism, another unique feature of this near future is how women are turned into “furniture:” literally property that comes with renting a high-end apartment.
Tragically, Soylent Green may not actually deserve a prophetic miss on this one. It is a global shame that even now there are an estimated 21 to 29 million human beings being held in slavery—and that 22% of them are victims of sex trafficking.
The 6th Day directed by Roger Spottiswoode
This sneer-and-kill Arnold Schwarzenegger vehicle from 2000 is, firstly, set in 2015, and mostly, a play to many people’s ethical concerns about cloning.
Cloning is actually more common that you might think. In fact, we’ve managed to do it to quite a few animals—just not ourselves.
But while The 6th Day didn’t get human cloning right, there are plenty of incredible biological innovations that are right around the corner.
One of the soon-to-be everyday biological innovations is the idea of organic 3D printing coupled with a touch of genetic engineering. What this means to the future of sex is pretty mind blowing: for the first time organs, of any kind, will be able to be grown from a material that likely won’t be rejected because they’ll be made from the receiver’s own tissue.
Genitals may soon be a matter of choice and not genetics, as well as opening the door to altering them completely for any number of reasons: increased nerve endings, taste buds everywhere, and muscular control.The sky—and the erotic imagination—will be the limit.
I Will Fear No Evil by Robert Heinlein
Though many see this novel by the science-fiction grand master as one of his less-grand works, I Will Fear No Evil (1970) is still a fascinating read—especially as it delves into gender, sexuality, and the possibility of transferring one mind into another.
Taking place in 2015, elderly Billionaire Johann Sebastian Bach Smith, to preserve his life, has his brain placed in another person’s body. Two unexpected things happen: one, his mind ends up intermingling with that of the donor, and two, the body belonged to his female secretary.
This sets the stage of a very Heinleinian, though always entertaining, exploration of societal roles, biology, eroticism, and the differences —and similarities—between the sexes.
True, we can’t just plop one brain into another person’s body. But we are making some serious headway in making a direct link from one mind to another.
Just last year Spanish scientists managed to send the thoughts “hola” and “ciao” from the mind of a volunteer in India to three others in France—via email, no less.
Even though the result is pretty simple, the implications are staggering. The better we will get at understanding the brain—and the mind—the sooner we will be able to not just transmit thoughts, but maybe even move human consciousness from one person to another.
And what does this have to do with sex? Pretty much everything, actually: as eroticism is a mind thing, despite what our bodies try to tell us, this means that we might be able to timeshare vacations in the body of our dreams—especially our sexual ones.
Who knows? Maybe we’ll also be able to not just exchange but merge ourselves with someone else: sex taken to the ultimate level.
Strange Days By Kathryn Bigelow
For our last failed speculation, we take a similar neuroelectrical trip to just 15 years ago. Academy Award winner Kathryn Bigelow’s science-fiction film Strange Days—though shot in 1995—visits the feverish chaos of Los Angeles at the turn of the 21st century.
Our burnt-out anti-hero, Lenny Nero (Ralph Fiennes), scrounges a living selling SQUID (Superconducting Quantum Interference Device) technology. Want to experience what it’s like to make love as a woman, jump off a roof, fall in love … you name it? Just use one of these illegal headsets and there you go.
While the plot is driven by a pair of ridiculously psychotic cops, the star of the film is the tech itself.
Sadly, 2000 came and went with no SQUID in sight. But, if you read just a few paragraphs back, there’s a very good reason to think that we may be doing pretty much everything the SQUID could, and did, do in Strange Days. And very soon.
After all, once you get information digitally out of a human being’s mind, there’s no reason why you couldn’t record it. We are already doing something like that with mice and rats. Humans, more than likely, won’t be far behind.
Sex, again, is where it’s going to be at. In a mirror to Strange Days, it’s not hard to imagine sexual experiences being sold to anyone who wants them. It could also leave behind so many sexual hangups that still plague humanity. It’s pretty hard to be prejudiced when you literally can see the world through someone else’s eyes—or mind.
Science fiction—books and movies—didn’t really get their future, our present, very right.
But for every miss, every embarrassing omission, there are more than a few that actually did manage to stare into their future … or one that just hasn’t happened to arrive just yet.