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Fleen Book Corner: Keeping Up With The Future Joneses

About two and a half months ago, I noted that a new book was a-bornin’ and to be with us soon: one on possible futures, featuring a dozen comics creators (or creator teams), talking about what the World Of Tomorrow might be like. I’ve now had a chance to read Flash Forward: An Illustrated Guide To Possible (And Not So Possible) Tomorrows by Rose Eveleth¹ and a murderer’s row of comics talent, with editing by Matt Lubchansky and Sophie Goldstein; many thanks to Maya at Abrams Books who was kind enough to send me a hardback copy.

On first glance, Flash Forward looks a fair amount like Soonish by Weinersmith & Weinersmith, which is unsurprising as Zach Weinersmith is a contributor here (with old stomping buddy Chris Jones on art), talking about Fake News and the death of The Real. The key difference is that Zach & Kelly Weinersmith were looking at specific technologies and looking as what stands between us and them; Eveleth, et al, are looking more at societal trends, and extrapolating out what culture might look like if they continue to their logical conclusions.

Eveleth has provided a outline of the direction of travel, and left it to the comickers to determine what they want to talk about; different people would focus on different aspects, and Eveleth, Lubchansky, and Goldstein have done a great job of matching up the particular cartoonist with a topic they could really sink their teeth into.

Case in point: Ben Passmore, whose work explores the reality of being Black, looks at the future of smart homes integrated with smart cities (with damn few civic services, but everything available for hire, with a convenient monthly bill) and asks who gets to participate. The inability of facial recognition systems to distinguish nonwhite people necessarily poses the question: what happens when your car hire/grocery store/home/city decides that it doesn’t know who you are, so you don’t get a ride/banana/place to sleep/right to exist?

Other creator/topic pairings include:

  • Julia Gfrörer on algorithmic art and art for algorithms
  • John Jennings on the cost of pharmaceuticals leading to IP piracy in order to live
  • Sophia Foster-Dimino on animal rights, and the slope between the abolition of meat, the abolition of zoos, and the abolution of pet ownership²
  • Box Brown on the implications of absolute, measurable truth
  • Maki Naro on dealing with legal conflicts in space, which has no law
  • Kate Sheridan on uploaded consciousness and delaying the sting of death
  • Ziyed Y Ayoub and Blue Delliquanti on gender being as changeable as hairstyle
  • Amelia Onorato on living and working on/under the sea
  • Lubchansky on how eliminating the need to sleep would upend work and leisure
  • Goldstein on how entertainment personalities (already subject to parasocial relationships) could become entirely personalized to the individual audience member via data, personality modeling, and AI³

Eveleth provides an essay to accompany each vignette, providing context and reinforcing the central conceit of Flash Forward: none of this is written in stone; it’s a series of possible futures (some likely mutually incompatible), and identifying possibles is the first step to determining which are undesirable so that we can work now to avoid then. For all the grimness of some of the possibilities, the idea that we can shape the future — surely the radical difference between the modern era and all prior human history — remains somewhat hopeful.

Flash Forward: An Illustrated Guide To Possible (And Not So Possible) Tomorrows releases on Tuesday, 20 April. It’s a thought-provoking read that just happens do most of its provocation via comics. Some of your favorite creators are here, and likely you’ll find at least one or two that are new to you that you’ll want to keep an eye on.

Spam of the day:

When doctors at the University of Georgia also tested this fruit …They nearly fell out of their chairs after it fixed people’s failing vision in as little as 15-minutes.

Uh huh. Because eating a fruit reshapes corneas, removes cataracts, reattaches retinas, and repairs neurological damage. As somebody whose left eye recently decided to no longer have astigmatism, fuck all the way off with this bullshit.

¹ Host of the podcast of the same name.

² This one was a surprise to me — I didn’t know that there were folks who truly want to abolish family pets, but then I remembered PETA running an animal shelter with sky high kill rate within 24 hours of intake and exhibit an attitude that leads me to conclude they believe any animal is better off dead than in human care. Any PETA types that come for my dog had better be able to run.

³ No humans need apply, as they’ll never be fine-tunable to the precise desires of each and every consumer.

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