Gentle Decline 1/30: Future & Fiction
Hello. This issue is mostly going to be a fiction piece, setting out what I think life will be like in 2060. It's deliberately somewhat reminiscent of the 50s and 60s future pieces in which ordinary people gave very serious consideration to the mechanisms of high-speed trains and the interactions in spaceports, instead of ignoring or swearing at them as per the behaviour of normal humans.
Before I get to that, I'd like to point you to a piece by Eric Holthaus, one of my favourite weather people, which is an extract from his upcoming book: Why 2020 to 2050 Will Be ‘the Most Transformative Decades in Human History’ - it's very much in line with my own thinking.
[ Gentle Decline is an occasional newsletter about anthrogenic disaster, and how to cope with it. Drew doesn't get paid to write it, but you can throw a coin to your doom-monger at https://ko-fi.com/drewshiel ]
Otherwise, onward. Meet Miranda.
Miranda ties her shoelaces, taps her watch on the doorjamb, and heads out from work. It's been a shorter day than usual, but the summer heat has made it exhausting to be indoors, and all the more so in proximity to the ovens. The late afternoon air is still hot and dry - for Ireland - and she stops at the tap to refill her water bottle before she retrieves her bike. The handprint-sensor on the cycle station is not quite working; it takes her a few tries to make it unlock. She resolves to send a message to the company that provides it, and forgets the resolution within seconds, as she has done every working evening for weeks.
The main road into the village is busier than usual, but it's almost all bike and foot traffic at this time - it's too early for the commuter rush hour, and all the delivery trucks have been and gone. Because the courier depot is on this side of the village, there's the odd van coming and going too. She settles into the swing of the bike, and is coming through the village in moments. A spur-of-the-moment decision makes her jump off at the square and lock the bike into a stand there, because it's an evening for coffee. Iced coffee, specifically. The coffee shop on the square has been there since before she was born; it's been through three pandemics, five recessions - plus the Reset - and three hurricanes, one of which more or less demolished the building next to it. As far as she's been able to see from old pictures in the entryway, it hasn't changed since the 20s. She notes as she's going in that the IR indicator in the square is slowing pulsing green; no actual warning, but some new cases of something in the area.
She knows the barista well enough to just say, "The usual, please" as she passes over her cup, and get it. Her account will be debited, assuming the machine doesn't charge her three times this time. Coffee's gone down a bit, she notes from the price on the display; if it's still like that tomorrow, she might stock up for home. Her uncle sometimes compares it to oil prices thirty and forty years ago, but they're mostly an abstraction for Miranda, who has never bought petroleum or diesel, and canisters of gas only a few times, for glasswork. Outside, she drops the cup into its holder on the handlebars, and heads on homeward.
The house windows are open, and the meter is at full, which at this time could be from the solar panels, but mostly indicates that someone's been home for long enough to charge up the batteries. In the winter, the teenagers in the neighbourhood earn pocket money by charging them up with their own bikes. Miranda racks hers in its usual slot, and heads in. She hears music from the kitchen as she takes off her shoes; one of the house founders was Scandinavian, and the tradition of no-shoes-indoors persisted. Her Uncle Sean - actually her uncle, unlike Martin or Mirza - is responsible for the music, something late nineteenth century and full of growly male voices. He waves in acknowledgement as she passes through. Her pigeonhole has a couple of things in it; online deliveries, a package of soap from her sponsored family in Bognor Regis, and some legal paperwork about the bakery co-op.
She drops those on her bed, and waves on her systems. Apart from the stuff in the house - herb beds, an experimental hydroponics tank, and an algae converter she's been trying to get right - she has monitors all over the garden for soil temperature, moisture levels, and hours of sunlight. Mirza has the horticultural know-how, and she has the tech. Between the two of them, they keep the house in salads, fruit, and a slowly increasing number of vegetables. There's something not right with today's numbers, though, and after a few minutes she decides that one of the big mirrors on the back of the house is mis-aligned. She's glad she spotted that before getting changed, and she heads out to see if she can fix it. She's also going to have to work out some way of getting this data on her watch, but the app interaction limitations are deeply awkward.
Rose and Chahna are in the sun room; Rose is asleep in one of the shady corners, as she often is now. Miranda checks to see her pillows are in place, and reassures herself that her aunt is still breathing. Chahna is is doing something with clay and ink, which could be schoolwork or could be something else entirely; Miranda doesn't mind as long as the child isn't shrieking. She passes on through and into the garden.
The garden looks like a scrapyard, according to Sean. To Miranda's eye, though, it's a finely tuned food producing machine, with precisely-placed beds, baskets, planters, wall-grids, and all manner of other space-optimising tricks - albeit they're made from salvaged timber and metal, with the wheels and arms that move mirrors and shades and baskets coming from almost anything mechanical. A glance shows her that most things are in order, although the rue plants she got from an elderly neighbour aren't settling in yet. Mirza says they're poison, but the neighbour has been eating and cooking with them for decades. She turns to look up at the main mirrors, and sighs. One of them is not just off, it's skewed almost to the horizontal by a large tabby cat snoozing in it. She retrieves a hose-gun from the rack, checks the settings, and drives the cat out with a few well-placed darts of water. It takes only a few minutes to re-align the mirror; she lines it up with the marks she made the last time this happened.
Satisfied with the fix, at least until she has to fit permanent cat deterrents of some kind, she heads back to get changed. Several people are coming over for dinner, aside from those normally resident in the house; Mirza's ex-wife Amlika, Sean's friends Josephine and Pierre, and Miranda's own girlfriend, Kath, who spends about half her time in the house anyway. She's emerging from her room as Martin passes by, the old engineer's prosthetics whirring gently. "Ah, Mir," he says, "We've a couchsurfer tonight, could you get down some spare blankets? He's newly in Ireland, and I'm willing to bet he's not used to it being cooler here yet."
"Sure," she says, and goes to do so. Martin lost his lower legs in emergency work in London's docklands, and while he's perfectly mobile on artificial feet - shaped like hooves, since it amuses him - the idea of climbing the ladder to the attic gives him difficulty.
Dinner is a success. Sean has turned garden produce, some meat from the butchers' co-op, and a few bought ingredients into the kind of meal that people write poetry about, according to the Bangladeshi couchsurfer, Rubel. It turns out that he and Amlika knew some people who knew some people - or possibly some places, Miranda isn't entirely sure - in common, and the conversation slips back and forth between English and Bengali. Josephine is working on salvage projects in Dublin's docklands, and has brought a few components and waterlogged computers for Miranda. She'll dry them out and at least get parts from them. Pierre is working on the first cutting of the no-longer-new native forestry projects in South Kildare, and is full of the joys of extracting timber from a permanent woodland. Kath has been learning Bengali, so follows some of that conversation, and spends some of the time grilling Sean for arcane details of cookery. Sean in turn recounts stories from his childhood, some of which Kath and Miranda regard as doubtful, and Chahna regards as impossible fiction. And Pierre's son Adam, an engineer in the UN Peacekeeping Forces, is stationed in Florida, and has sent a few packets of heirloom seeds for Mirza, which provokes a long and much too political digression.
Later, Miranda and Kath wash up with help from Rubel, who is determined to be useful. He's had a few nights in hostels, and doesn't much want to do any more, so the word of mouth network of couchsurfing is preferable by far. He'd like to stay in Ireland, but isn't eligible for Guaranteed Employment or UBI yet, so odd jobs - nixers, Sean calls them - and scutwork on farms has been all he's been able to get so far. It's a story Miranda is familiar with, and she doesn't think it'll be the last time she hears it either. Rubel is bright and cheerful, although Miranda reckons that's something of a front. He doesn't mention family, and she doesn't ask.
Kath settles in to reading her stream updates; she uses agent tech to filter her incoming items carefully, and barring emergencies, doesn't read anything in the news that isn't a week old and still deemed current or more than five thousand words. Miranda, who hasn't quite moved on from Sean's teaching on how to read media, does read current news, but tonight she's catching up on tubecasts; a number of her favourite shows are back online after the Atlantic storm season hiatus.
Morning arrives, with light filtering around Miranda's solar panels much too early for comfort. The bedroom gets uncomfortably warm as soon as the sun is out, so she adjusts the airflow to cool it. There's only so much retrofitting that can be done on a late-twentieth-century house, though, and they both vacate the room before seven. Rose is up and awake and making tea in the cool second kitchen, and they spend a pleasant hour there over breakfast before Miranda has to head out. She has the middle shift in the bakery again today, but the next three days off.
The inclination to turn around and point out all the bits and pieces of mid-twenty-first-century culture I'm showing there is pretty massive right now, but I'm going to refrain in the interests of getting this out the door. And also not showing off. Job applications have been eating my brain lately, so apologies for the long gap between issues.
This issue brought to you by two chickens in the garden, Tumblr aesthetics, an excellent raspberry crop, and an Elder Cat who is turning himself into a dedicated lapcat at 15 years of age. The next issue might be about personal tech, as I've been intending for months now, or it might need to be a look at the world as it is in 2020, which is really quite shockingly weird.
If you feel that Gentle Decline would be useful to someone else in your life, please forward it on and/or show them the subscription link at https://tinyletter.com/gentledecline - and there's also an intermittently updated Twitter feed at @gentledecline. I'd love to have more people reading this and being, in some sense, better prepared for what's slowly coming.
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