Craig White's Literature Courses

Terms / Themes

Future Narratives


(for Literature of the Future)

Narratives or stories describe or model individual or national origins, struggles, and goals. For literature of the future, three stories or models of time dominate, but not exclusively—they are identifiable, but they may combine, resemble, or turn into each other.

Creation / Apocalypse


Epistemology: how do we know?
revealed truth, tradition
empiricism: observation, experimentation, & theory
 in science from classical to modern times
postmodern quantum physics, relativity;
sense of more worlds / minds than our own
Nature of time;
human, divine, or natural mission
beginning>middle>end (discrete time-events)
union with God > fall or loss > redemption / reunion / restoration
cyclical, spiral, interconnected
possibly progressive;
entropy or increasing complexity, diversity
branching tree, forking paths,
mazes, parallel worlds,
other minds or cultures
time scale
human-scale time-scale: 6000-10,000 years?
(since Creation)
cosmic / geologic time scale: earth 4.5 billion yrs, cosmos 12-20 billion,
modern humans 200,000 yrs, civilization app. 10,000 yrs
mixed signals: some parts of cosmos seem younger than they should be; time may not be uniform; psychological time versus empirical time
human significance / prominence
God as parent to human children in God's image > family values; Jesus as hero ("saver / savior") of romance
human form diminishes against larger space-time background; human ancestors may appear non-human
identities may appear in an infinite number of time-paths; reality as bewildering options, alternatives, or choices; definite good and bad are "relativized" by infinite possibilities
human relations
Adam & Eve as original nuclear family,
cooperative oasis in cruel, competitive world
Darwinian biology & Social Darwinism: survival of fittest, dog-eat-dog, sharks (some evolutionary models emphasize cooperation over competition or shifting balance)
multicultural, multigender society; different cultures telling different stories with conflicting time-scales? (e.g. USA & China)
validity issues
Apocalypse never exactly happens but unfalsifiable;
 every generation "the last generation"
+ pressure of decline
unanimous acceptance among practicing scientists, but widespread popular disbelief / difficulty; yet science always changes
quantum physics as elite, cutting-edge theory only beginnning to enter common language
Literary appeals or detractions brief, direct, linear narrative; human characters; heroes as good guys or "chosen or special children" of God, villains as Satanic bad guys, damned for eternity possibility of progress; stories of survival and dominance conform to romance narrative, but non-human characters, vast time scales, and complicated ecological relationships may dilute narrative appeal playfulness, giddiness of many times and lives, compromised by lack of absolute primacy or validity of any single time or identity; disorientation & lack of stability


Overall narrative descriptions: 

one appeal of Apocalyptic narrative is that it's one story for all of Creation.

Evolutionary narrative: many stories going on at once

Alternative narrative: ditto


Genesis-Revelation, creation-apocalypse narrative:

World / order of human unity with divine is created, lost > restored, redeemed

Garden of Eden, tree of life > fall, exile, human history > Christ's return > Heaven with tree of life (unity, immortality restored)

Parable of the Sower: patriarchal family, community garden in Robledos > journey north through tests, trials [romance narrative] > Acorn community, w/ trees from original garden & journey

American history: Founding as divine-human union (Pilgrims as religious freedom & commitment; Founders as "godly men") > party politics, Native American dispossession, African American slavery, increasing materialism, secularism, modernization >


Evolutionary narrative: (open-ended narrative, no essential beginning, middle, or end)

world / order progressively emerges > changes to which humans (etc.) adapt > earlier order is not necessarily restored, but past always transitions into future (genetic recombination)

potential for heroic progress, but just as much potential for regress; especially in longer visions of time or broader visions of planetary wealth and suffering, no definite direction to natural or human history

progress and regress may happen at once or as part of exchange

science fiction rises contemporaneously with theory of evolution

Apocalyptic concerns humans, evolution concerns nature?

Parable of the Sower:

American history:


Where do two narratives merge, overlap?

cycles of evolution may resemble creation-apocalypse

(class discussion: apocalypse as event > series of apocalypses)


Both apocalypse and evolution feature character-divisions of winners and losers, predators and prey, saints and sinners.


Despite historical failure of millennium, Revelation may be right but the will of God continually eludes human comprehension.

Apocalyptic narrative of radical change may be a human-scale comprehension of the long-term evolutionary narrative in cosmic or geologic time.


> alternative futures

conceivable that apocalypse and evolution are alternative perceptions of same reality

alternative future may contain both apocalypse and evolution and then some, but distancing effect makes all the choices seem to matter less?

Final image: future as book not yet opened