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News & Features » December 2017 » “The Descent of Man and Everyone Else” by John Streamas

“The Descent of Man and Everyone Else” by John Streamas

In October 2017 we published An Unkindness of Ghosts by Rivers Solomon, a rare literary science fiction set in a future universe so gorgeously described and perfectly self-contained—and yet so harrowing and cruel—that its only parallel universe is our own. Solomon’s novel has inspired this speculative fiction series. We’ve been through the past, and we haven’t really learned from it. The present? We’re too busy attempting to survive it. So we’re asking you to provide us a glimpse of what comes next. Illustrate the essential choices we must make in the present that will lead us to your brilliant utopian future. Or, if you cannot anticipate utopia, provide us instead with your cautionary tale. Show us where we will fall if we—when we—fail to alter our course. Fri-SciFi stories are published on Fridays because we expect we’ll need the weekend to contemplate your vision. 

This week, a man questions the existence of the future…

The Descent of Man and Everyone Else
by John Streamas
The near future, in a middle-class home

I was one of Descent.com’s earliest customers, and surely I was first to inquire into a gap. It was only three generations into the future, this gap. First on my monitor were my two sons and my daughter, all of them still unborn but looking, as young adults, healthy and smart and more attractive than I am. Then came my grandchildren, two boys by my younger son and three gender-fluid children by my daughter. My older son remained childless. 

Then came the gap. No one appeared on the monitor from any subsequent generations. There were only blue silhouettes, icons for unfilled persons. Did I have no great-grandchildren? Was my computer malfunctioning? Did Descent.com’s system break down?

Worse: Did this gap mean that there were no future generations beyond a second? I pressed the “forward” command, hoping that if there were a glitch in the third generation I might still see a fourth. But the monitor filled with a black background for the white heading CANNOT PROCESS. GO BACK ONE GENERATION

I pressed “back” and there they were again, those blue silhouettes. No names, no faces, no biographies. Back one more screen, I read the biographies of my grandchildren. My grandson Philip became a novelist whose books were banned in Arkansas schools. My step-grandchild became the first gender-fluid coach of a major-league hockey team. Back another screen, I read that my daughter Clarissa survived an early cancer and, in middle age, saved a friend from a suicide attempt. She died, on her seventy-fifth birthday, in a helicopter crash. I chose not to see how my sons died, or my grandchildren.

I pressed forward again to the blank screen, the silhouettes. Where were my great-grandchildren? Were there any great-grandchildren?

I called Descent.com. Someone answered—a human. He identified himself as James, and I introduced myself. He asked whether I wanted to subscribe at their grand opening rate. I said I had already subscribed and had a problem. Could I not log into the system, he wanted to know. I told him I had already logged in.

“Well, then,” he said, smartly, as if easing back into a recliner. “Do you want to learn more about your descendants?”

“No, I don’t.”

“Well, then,” as if moving uneasily forward in his recliner, “you have another problem. Maybe your great-great-great-granddaughter is a drug lord, and you’d like to prevent that. Or maybe your ungendered great-grandchild has a long illness, and you’d like to take measures today to prevent it. Is that it, Mr Yoshida?”

“No no no,” I said. “The problem is I have no great-grandchildren.”

“Well, I’m afraid I can’t help you there,” James said, easing back again. “Our company only deals in descent that happens, not anything that can’t or won’t happen.” 

“No. The screen for great-grandchildren is blank. It shows only silhouettes. No people. No descendants. Nothing. Are you telling me that it could have shown someone? Are you saying that none of my grandchildren had children? The world didn’t end, then, in three generations?”

James asked for my password and looked into my account. Surely, I thought, he would find that his company’s still-new technology left a few gaps that would be filled in. Surely he would tell me that I could check back in a week and my great-grandchildren would be there.

After a silence, James said, “There seems to be a gap, all right. A lost generation. We’re new here, and haven’t anticipated or prepared for all situations like this. Or any situations like this, really. Hmmm… I don’t see a fourth generation, either. Or a fifth.”

“Does my family line just die out after two generations?” I was flustered.

“Hmmm. . . Possibly. Maybe. Or there’s a chance they all left Earth on a mission to Mars. In which case they would be beyond the reach of our system to track.”  

“Or maybe the world ends, and there is no third generation.”

“Oh, I’m sure that’s not true, Mr Yoshida. If that were true, then why would we start this company, take your blood sample, and run it through the future? We just wouldn’t have the heart to do that. That would be cheap and unethical.” And he slid back into the recliner.

“Exactly,” I said. “That’s exactly why you’d do it. What would you have to lose?”

I hung up. I logged off. I walked my dog in a soft rain.

The future is not now. Not ever.

***

A Japanese immigrant and an associate professor of ethnic studies, JOHN STREAMAS teaches multicultural literatures at Washington State University. He has published scholarly work on wartime Japanese Americans, the Smithsonian’s traveling exhibit on American fences, and the films of Terrence Malick. A graduate of Syracuse’s creative writing program, he has published poems in New Letters, Spillway, and elsewhere, and had a play selected for performance in the University of Idaho’s short play festival. He believes that “genres” such as science fiction and fantasy liberate the imaginations of marginalized writers.

***

Do you have a story you’d like us to consider for online publication in the Fri-SciFi series? Here are the submission terms and guidelines.

—We are not offering payment, and are asking for first digital rights. The rights to the story revert to the author immediately upon publication.
—Your story should be set in a conceivable, not a fantastical, future. No dragons, please.
—With your byline, include the date or era OR galaxy or ship or planetary system in which your story takes place. Or both. But not neither.
—To be perfectly frank, we prefer dystopias. But feel free to surprise us.
—Your story should not exceed 750 words, and must be previously unpublished.
—Please include a short bio with your submission.
—Accepted submissions to Fri-SciFi are typically posted 1–3 months after the notification date, and will be edited for cohesion and to conform to our house style.
—E-mail your submission to info@akashicbooks.com. Please paste the story into the body of the email, and also attach it as a PDF file.

Posted: Dec 1, 2017

Category: Original Fiction, Fri-SciFi | Tags: , , , , , ,



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