“It’s hard,” Harry Turtledove declared in 2001, in his Introduction to The Best Alternate History Stories of the 20th Century, “to write about the effects of technology before there’s much in the way of technology to write about.” Two decades on, futurism remains as hard an endeavor as ever, and it’s precisely this problem of envisioning what comes next that animates the body of stories in 21 Futures: Tales from the Timechain, a new anthology of science fiction out next month.
These aren’t, mind you, your grandfather’s tales of tomorrow. Konsensus Network, the publishers behind the project, have been pitching it as a kind of urtext, decidedly proto-, the “first-ever” as far as specifically bitcoin-oriented story collections go. And with twenty-one authors offering up twenty-one different takes on a future distinguished by the flourishing of decentralized digital currencies, editors Philip Charter and Niko Laamanen appear to have achieved just that.
It should be noted from the start that their mission is only obliquely evangelical, an editorial decision for which serious readers will be thankful. In the case of 21 Futures, the very real potential for the proliferation of brain-rotting agitprop has been wholly avoided. What we have instead is the product of a principled approach to artistic selection: a crop of stories both enjoyably immersive and intellectually stimulating, each of them wrangling in its way with the tantalizing question of “What if?” After all, as Charter points out in his own Introduction, “to unite interest in bitcoin, we must be better at telling its stories.”
Which isn’t exactly to say, “Listen up, maxis!” Because, although some of the stories (indeed, some of the very best) in this collection establish only a glancing relationship to bitcoin, the truth of the matter may just be that a policy of artful attraction, rather than one of artless promotion, will prove to be the most effective path to widespread bitcoin adoption.
That path—the one proceeding toward some of the sunnier prospects granted by the authors of this collection—is liable to be hammered out on the anvil of our mass media. And so the publication of 21 Futures, not to mention any of the countless books that are bound to set down their roots in the shadow it casts, really ought not to be missed. It marks the first serious effort by a concentration of artists to delineate a vision of financial freedom. Not since the poet Ezra Pound’s severely misguided attempt to assimilate banking data to The Cantos have the worlds of money and literature collided so intentionally—and for once, so effectively.
Everyone can see that bitcoin and its adherents remain the subject of much public ridicule. What 21 Futures promises to do for bitcoin is not merely to envision its ascendancy—a future, say, in which the name “Satoshi Nakamoto” rings out as reverently as it did enigmatically—but also to be one of the vehicles making headway toward that future. As a broad array of arresting and thought-provoking stories that any reader (sci-fan fan or not) is bound to enjoy, 21 Futures is a tangible, self-justifying step toward the much wider, increasingly influential worlds of TV, film, and games. From courtroom procedural and android memoir to international caper and AI cosmology; traversing a diverse range of voices, some of them experimental, others comfortably folded into the mainstream, all of them refusing the haze of equivocation; as a literary enterprise, in short, that stands for something of meaning in this world, without needing to make a bludgeon of that meaning, in addition to being a gathering of sci-fi shorts, 21 Futures is also simply the best kind of manifesto.
And to say that a handful of pieces punch well above their weight does little to convey the general excellence exhibited by a majority of the stories. Yet whether it’s Decent Money’s story-in-fragments, “Hello World,” or SF’s more conventional (but no less thrilling) “Behemoth,” some of the collection’s strongest contributions really do prove to be worthy of the established greats with whom they are clearly in conversation. From Robert Louis Stevenson through Philip K. Dick to the present, this is, of course, a conversation that cannot help but to be spurred on by others yet to come. And if for no other reason than to know what it’s really like right now, down here at ground zero—before the first best-selling bitcoin novel hits shelves, before the first bitcoin blockbuster opens at your local theater—you will want to read this book.
This is a guest post by Eric Bies. Opinions expressed are entirely their own and do not necessarily reflect those of BTC Inc or Bitcoin Magazine.