Layers of past, present and future


Walking home from a meeting, I happened to look up at this scene. It captures, for me, what I find fascinating about London and many other cities. The juxtaposition of the past, present and future in a way that somehow works is one of the great mysteries of urban living. There are attempts at integrating the past and present. For example, near where this photo was taken, there was a new building going up. They had gutted the building, leaving only the facade. The rest of the building was completely new. Scenes like this; however, are unplanned. The buildings in this book are not even directly next to each other. I happen to look up and see this particular harmony of seemingly incompatible architectural styles.

In some ways, it is a bit like science fiction. While science fiction is, on the surface, about the future, there is no way to escape the fact the book or film is a product of a specific time and place. As such, science fiction is always dealing with contemporary issues. What was the Golden Age of science fiction novels but an extended dialog with 20th Century technology like the atomic bomb and the social dislocation these technologies, in part, created.

At the same time, science fiction is also in dialogue with the past: the past works of art, memories of the creator and audience. Think of how many films owe debts to classic films like Metropolis, Blade Runner, Matrix and Road Warrior. The future in Hunger Games is, visually, the past of these films, filtered through present styles.

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