Special Section

First Drafts of the Future

What is science fiction? The question is trickier than it appears. For all the clichés, the sweeping futuristic sagas, it remains (like all literature) an exploration of inner, as opposed to outer, space. The best, or most resonant, science fiction imagines individuals in extreme situations, or at least in different timelines, different worlds.

At its heart, science fiction begins with a question, or a set of questions: Who are we and how do we live? In such a context, it is humanity that is most important. That’s why, when the first film in the Star Wars franchise was released, in 1977, many viewers were struck by the jerry-rigged nature of the technology, which seemed so recognizable and well-worn. When it didn’t work as it was supposed to (or, for that matter, work at all), it only became more human and familiar, reminding us that, whatever else it might be, the future—like the present—would necessarily be improvised.

In this issue, Alta looks at science fiction: its appeal, its legacy. As a genre, it is often misread, misunderstood, considered through the lens of its imagined futures rather than the present on which it inevitably reflects. This is not to say it can’t be visionary; it is a form defined by possibilities. But as for what those possibilities are and where they lead us, they have everything to do with where we’ve been.

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    SPECIAL SECTION

    First Drafts of the Future

    Alta considers the appeal and legacy of a misunderstood form defined by possibilities.

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    THE BIG PICTURE

    Looking Backward from the Future

    Relevant to the real world as much as to the worlds it imagines, science fiction has always offered more than is expected.

    TIMELINE

    The Best of West Coast Science Fiction

    Across the decades, these groundbreaking works of West Coast science fiction have shown us where we are and where we might be headed, from speculative postwar histories to cyberspace, the near future, and beyond.

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    SHORT STORY

    A Short Story by Philip K. Dick

    Originally published in 1954, this story about a strained relationship and a mysterious cuckoo clock explores themes that helped make Dick such a seminal voice in the science-fiction genre.

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    SHORT STORY

    A Short Story by Jonathan Lethem

    This short story from Jonathan Lethem about ecological, technical, and social collapse explores the always-already-present future, a future that isn’t—until it is.

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    SHORT STORY

    The Turnaround

    In this story by Charlie Jane Anders, an augmented-reality time traveler learns that the only way to imagine a better future is to build one.

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    UTOPIAS

    It’s Not the End of the World

    Anti-apocalypse science fiction envisions a future that is sometimes a utopia and always a reminder that hope isn’t a fairy tale.

    FORECASTS

    10 Advancements Sci-Fi Predicted

    While the ultimate aim of science fiction is not to predict the future, here are 10 technological advancements that science fiction got right.

    FANTASTIC NOTIONS

    Three Questions with Brian Evenson

    The author discusses his influences, his work, and the new stories that will emerge from this historic moment in time.

    FANTASTIC NOTIONS

    Three Questions with Lawrence Wright

    The acclaimed writer considers the 1918 flu, recommends sci-fi authors, and discusses his novel The End of October.

    FANTASTIC NOTIONS

    Three Questions with Edan Lepucki

    The California author discusses her recent work, favorite sci-fi books, and where the pandemic will take fiction.

    FANTASTIC NOTIONS

    Three Questions with Katie M. Flynn

    The Companions author discusses her new novel, favorite science-fiction titles, and what it’s like to write during a pandemic.

    Arrival
    SCREENSHOTS

    The Evolution of SciFi On-Screen

    Since its genesis, science-fiction film and television has had to evolve in order for the future to catch up to the present.

    Yallzee’s body features pieces by more than 150 artists. “I love all my tattoo work, from the biggest ones to the smallest,” he says. “It’s my journey.” He appears in All of Me Is Illustrated.
    PETER ROESSLER
    BODY WORKS

    Ray Bradbury in Permanent Ink

    All of Me Is Illustrated is an homage to the (sometimes literally) colorful characters in Ray Bradbury’s short fiction and to tattoo aficionados who’ve turned their bodies into visual stories.

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