Historical books about the future

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Just going on a tour of the science fiction library at Imperial College. Coincidently, I’m getting rather interested in acquiring original copies of old books that consider the future. Sci-fi obviously, but there are also a good number of non-fiction works around. For example, I’ve just ordered a copy of Looking Backwards 2000-1887 by Edward Bellamy for the crazy low price of £12.95. A notable idea contained within this book is the concept of “Universal Credit” – a card that would allow future citizens to carry a card rather than cash, which allowed for purchases of various goods and services.

Past views of the future

I’m researching a few ideas for one of my new books and just came across an old book called Looking Backward: 2000-1887. The book was written in 1888 about someone that falls asleep in 1887 and wakes up in the year 2000 to a socialist utopia. Here’s a bit of it.

“It was the sincere belief of even the best of men at that epoch that the only stable elements in human nature, on which a social system could be safely founded, were its worst propensities. They had been taught and believed that greed and self-seeking were all that held mankind together, and that all human associations would fall to pieces if anything were done to blunt the edge of these motives or curb their operation. In a word, they believed — even those who longed to believe otherwise — the exact reverse of what to us seems self-evident; they believed, that is, that the antisocial qualities of men, and not their social qualities, were what furnished the cohesive force of society … It seems absurd to expect anyone to believe that convictions like these were ever seriously entertained by men …”

What’s quite interesting about this, and other books like it, is they seem to go to one of two extremes – utopia or dystopia. Why is that do you think?