Sunday, 7 February 2016

The Time Machine (and other "futures" short stories)

“Eureka” shouted the scientist as he completed work on the new super-intelligent computer which controlled an attractive looking robot. A little more work and we can all live like Greek gods, waited on by robots.

In the next lab another scientist was building a time machine and decided he couldn’t wait and used his invention to visit this idyllic Grecian future.

He landed in a wonderful garden where rather bloated but otherwise god-like figures feasted. He discovered they were called Eloi and marvelled at the success of his fellow inventor’s computer. "Surely this must be a living Paradise" he thought.

However at night a robot called a Morlock “harvested” several of the “gods” and rendered them down to make oil to provide electricity to drive the computers. Humans had become no more than a crop to ensure that the ever more powerful computers could be fuelled.

Before he could fly the time machine back to warn his friend of the evil of the all-powerful computer a Morlock had smashed his time transport to pieces and he was trapped in a now inevitable future.
(Apologies to H. G Wells.)

One of the things I like about FutureLearn courses is that they are a way of getting you think "outside the box." The course Environmental Humanities: Remaking Nature includes playing a "Global futures" game which involved being dealt three picture cards and then telling a story with a particular futures theme linking any two of them. If you typed the story in (some people used a video) there was a limit of 1200 characters - which adds to the challenge.

In the above "Global Futures" short story the pictures I got included a statue reminding me of Michael Angelo's David, and a computer and I set out to find a story that brought them together to save (or destroy) civilization as we know it. A story linking a dreamed of future Utopia and rampant technology seemed a possible way forward.
I have added - as comments below - several of the other stories I wrote playing the "Global Futures" game.


  1. Bertrand Russell said that God did not exist. He pointed out that if anyone claimed that something existed the onus was on the person who made the claim to prove it. If the person making the claim cannot prove it, it is unreasonable to ask someone else to prove that your invisible thing does not exist.

    As an example Russell suggested that if he claimed that there was a teapot in orbit round the sun (something very very very unlikely) it would be very silly of him to claim it must exist because you couldn’t proved it didn’t.

    God was furious at Russell’s disbelief and to prove he existed he altered the orbit of the imaginary teapot so that it poured its contents over the Earth, drowning all humanity, apart from Noah and his family who had built an arc to flee from the rising tea levels.

    (The starting pictures were a teapot and a philosopher and the aim was to link the two to the destruction of civilization as we know it.)

  2. Can you keep a secret? Good – but you must never tell the drug enforcement agency.

    Every year the farmers around here grow more and more opium poppies, and the police come along, cut them all down and throw them in the river. Not a gram of opium is harvested and when the police ask why they keep on growing them they reply “because they look so pretty.”

    Perhaps you have also noticed that every year the fish farm just down stream gets ever bigger. At the same time the queue of people visiting Joe’s “Happy Fish” café gets longer, with people coming for miles to sample the fish – and there is always much cheerful chatter round the restaurant tables.

    Did you know that café is so called because all the fish in the fish farm enjoy life so much living in the river that they have a perpetual smile on their faces.

    Need I say more.

    (The pictures were of a poppy and some fish and the target was to invent a plausible new technology that transforms the relationship between two species, improving the well-being of each. I decided that I would never explicitly mention the technology - a way of making opium more widely available - but leave that step to the readers imagination)

  3. In Oklahoma they say “The corn is as high as an elephant’s eye” but no-one has seen a mastodon (a North American elephant) for over 10,000 years as they were killed off by the Clovis hunters. (The story that the Clovis people killed them off because they were invading the corn fields is now known to be a myth.)

    But can we bring the species back from the dead? One Oklahoma scientist thinks so. It will take a long time, but by selectively breeding Asian elephants, and inserting some mastodon genes extracted from fossil bones, it should be possible to get something like the original species roaming on the North American plains again.

    This will bring much needed tourist money into the area, as by the time the breeding program is complete there will be no more income from the corn fields which will have become deserts due to global warming.

    (The pictures were of an elephant and a head of corn. the task was to save an endangered animal that is threatened by local inhabitants, and revitalize the local economy. Create a new system for sustaining the animal and the local economy.)

  4. The storyteller spoke to the children: -

    “Treebeard scratched his head. As the oldest Ent in Faghorn forest he was worried. How could he stop men cutting down the trees in the forest and using the wood to build villages – and even cities. They were not just killing trees – their actions were causing the climate to deteriorate. Treebeard knew men were clever so he recruited a leading human scientist to help find a solution.

    “They worked together for many years, taking genes from different trees and even designing new genes, They also got insects to help.

    “That was a thousand years ago, and now the whole world is covered with trees, just like the one we are sitting in. Each year your tree grow bigger and the carpenter woodworms make another room. The electricity for the light is generated by the silicon leaves in the upper branches and a variety of fresh fruit can be picked through the window. The "little room" over there take your waste nutrients straight to the roots.

    Even better we no longer need villages or cities and all the house trees are sucking carbon dioxide from the air. As a result the climate has returned to its natural state."

    (The pictures were a tree and a small village and the story was to bring together urban and rural schemes to save (or destroy) civilization as we know it.)