We live in a society, maaaaan, and we probably will in the future. Exploring these futuristic cultures and locations is one of scifi’s main attractions, so it’s important to think about how society would evolve with the passing of time. Hopefully, we can do better than a world that’s just modern day with weirder fashion. And we can definitely do better than saying global warming will be solved by an army of self-help gurus, which sounds too weird to feature in a high budget streaming service, but here we are.


Generously transcribed by Linda Ndubuisi. Volunteer to transcribe a podcast.

Chris: You’re listening to the Mythcreants podcast, with your hosts: Oren Ashkenazi, Wes Matlock and Chris Winkle.

[Intro Music]

Chris: You’re listening to the Mythcreants Saddle of Solace commentary. I’m Chris and with me is…

Oren: Oren

Chris: and…

Wes: Wes

Chris: All you had to do was keep a straight face; couldn’t do it?

Oren: Maybe if you’d given me some warning instead of just immediately upending a cup of holistic depression on us.

Wes: Yeah, no heads up on that.

Chris: So, I know this looks like episode 411 but it’s actually episode 3000. An episode from the future in which we have renamed the podcast, obviously. But it’s surprisingly like the podcast our listeners know today, except that it’s broadcasting from a spaceship. And sometimes we have a computer on as a guest host, but otherwise it’s the same.

Oren: It’s more chrome for some reason. A lot of chrome and earth tones. A lot of earth tones.

Chris: So, this time we’re talking about futuristic societies and whether they involve cups of depression, apparently.

Oren: I’ve seen Picard when he was in the early seasons; he was not a happy man.

Wes: No. I think, isn’t that just kind of a thing? If they’re talking about the future, they’re like, “Oh, the future, everything’s better because of technology.” And they’re like, “Actually, no twist.” It’s horrible.

Oren: Or even if there’s no twist, it’ll be like, “Everything’s better because of technology.” And then the characters will be like, “Ah…I reminisce for the old days.” And I’m back here living in the old days being like, “No, no, you don’t.”

Chris: It does feel like most, both utopias and dystopias, are future societies. Not that you can’t do that with the past or other world fantasy, but that’s what people tend to think about. I think one of the biggest things is how different should society be? I do feel like in a lot of cases, there’s just a lack of imagination happening. Battlestar Galactica, I think, is the biggest culprit because they even have a Secretary of Education that is in line to inherit the presidency, which is like a very specific government setup. And it’s just… how did the US get to another planet? I don’t…

Oren: I don’t know, they did it in Star Trek too. So somehow it happened, I guess. Do you not believe in the theory of parallel legal evolution?

Chris: Convergent governments?

Wes: Is that just the storyteller wanting to try to keep some things familiar? It’s like, “Oh, well, if I have to create a new system of government that adds to the cognitive burden, and I want them to be burdened by my aliens or my tech?”

Oren: It’s very clear that the people who made Battlestar Galactica, what they desperately wanted to make was a show about a World War II Pacific aircraft carrier with the Secretary of State on board having to be made the president because everyone else is dead and the characters taking off in Hellcat fighters. But they didn’t have that. They had the rights to Battlestar Galactica. And so they did the closest they could.

Wes: Okay, okay.

Chris: I guess if they wanted a quick explanation for why a character could have one role and then suddenly find herself president, even though she’s actually the Secretary of Education, using a similar government role to the US would make people understand that at the same time, it’s not really a difficult concept.

Wes: No, yeah.

Oren: Yeah, I’d say the strongest thing they get out of it is that they get to play on the existing, I would say, disrespect for teachers because that’s a thing that Roslyn has to deal with early. People are like, “She’s a school teacher.” And it’s like, well, A – “No, she’s not”; B – “The heck.” And that is a thing that exists in the real world, unfortunately, where people don’t tend to respect teachers, and think that school teaching is basically daycare. And so as a result, there’s a certain visceral like, “Okay, I see what they’re saying there when they say that thing.” And that would be a little trickier to get if we said that she was the grand whiz-ba of the Department of Edu-Learning. Well, obviously, we wouldn’t make it that silly. If we named it something more fictional, there would be a slightly bigger degree of separation between the viewers and the drama that is happening.

It also might just be… honestly, the more that I think about it, the more that I wonder if it might be breaking theme because man, again, the inside of Galactica, and the ships in general are designed to look so much like real naval ships, in the uniforms and in their consoles and in their sidearms, and everything. I kind of wonder if it, maybe, would have felt kind of weird if the governmental positions had fictional names.

Chris: Well, you could still use a similar government system that was still not just so obviously taken from what the US has…

Oren: That’s true.

Chris: …while keeping the relatively high realism and feeling like it could be an earth government. I mean, I think one of the problems is that people don’t like other cultures, especially when you have a big budget project where the producer could just nix anything creative, and they want to make sure the characters are relatable. It’s like we want characters to be stylish by today’s standards. Whereas when we actually look at the styles that were popular in other times, a lot of times are pretty goofy looking to us. Like Lando from Babylon 5, which I guess the rumor is that was a joke that both people thought the other person was serious, but it was not.

Oren: Oh, Londo.

Chris: Londo, yeah, sorry, Londo.

Oren: I thought we were talking about Lando from Star Wars. Like, “Is he not stylish?”

Chris: Oh no, he’s very stylish.

Oren: It’s like, “He’s Billy Dee Williams, can he be not stylish?”

Chris: Probably not.

Oren: Yeah, that’s the fan theory – it’s that that was supposedly… the Centauri hairstyle was supposed to be a joke that people ended up taking seriously. I don’t know if that’s true, but that’s the internet rumor.

Chris: And of course, then we have to make the characters all follow the same lifestyles, right? Like, it’s too much to include queer people in our optimistic future unless some studio executive thinks that it’s acceptable for the current day audience. I think with novels, it gets easier because individual novelists are more able to push boundaries, get more creative, and they’re expected to, I think, in many ways.

Oren: Yeah, well, a novelist can at least be perhaps slightly ahead of the curve, whereas TV shows tend to be slightly behind it. And of course, it varies on where you are, right? But nowadays, Star Trek finally has openly queer characters; after decades, it finally has them. And the number of openly queer characters that Star Trek has would still seem pretty conservative if you were just in an average neighborhood in Seattle, and the level of acceptance of queer characters would seem maybe a little behind the times in some ways. We have a couple of gay characters. We do have one trans character, which is unfortunately uncommon even today; whereas in real life, there are many, many different kinds of queer people, and they don’t really exist on Star Trek at all yet.

Whereas in a novel, you can push it a little further and you can have more like the culture books, which are not perfect, certainly, but at least in the culture where everyone’s super high tech and they have magic medical technology, you can change sexual and gender expression basically however you want. And it still comes at it from the default of assuming that you begin as a cis straight person and then you change into something else. And there’s a character who’s like, “I’m too manly to do that.” And it’s like, “Okay, so this isn’t great.”

Wes: No, not good.

Oren: But it’s more forward thinking than Star Trek was at that time, right?

Chris: I also sometimes think about Firefly, where we have this premise that China was really culturally influential, and the characters swear in Chinese, they sometimes make Chinese food. But we have surprisingly few Chinese characters. Like, “Where are all the Chinese people?”

Oren: Do we have any? I think there is one Asian background posse guy.

Wes: I think that’s all.

Chris: So it’s just like, “Okay, well, you wanted to create the idea that culture change, but all we ended up with was a bunch of white people swearing in Chinese,” and that’s kind of a problem.

Oren: Or at least a bunch of Americans swear in Chinese, right? I mean, the show has a fair number of black characters, which I don’t want to discount. That’s still a good thing and still unfortunately uncommon in some areas. But it is just very glaring when they say that this world is largely influenced by China, but not by anyone Chinese. Like, “Where are they?”

Chris: The one story I’ve seen where it feels like things have changed too much for the amount of time that’s supposed to have passed is in the show The 100 – It’s supposed to be only a 100 years later. And I would just have to… when I was watching it, every time they would say the amount of time I would just plug my ears and be like, “la la la… I can’t hear you.”

Oren: It’s like, “Turn that up by a factor of 10.” Right?

Chris: Right. It feels like it’s closer to a thousand years. And I liked the world building in that show – people have their own holidays and their own religion – but the people on the ground have evolved their own language, and that does not happen in a hundred years.

Oren: But they all also still speak standard media accent English.

Chris: Which is hilarious.

Oren: For some reason.

Chris: But if you all speak English, why did you create another language? How does that work? The other thing is that people have biologically evolved to have varying levels of radiation resistance – and that’s another one, there’s no way that could possibly happen in a hundred years; it’s too short. But most cases, stories tend to err in the other direction.

Oren: Yeah, The 100 does a pretty good job of creating a fictional culture, timelines aside. Admittedly, I used to have stronger opinions on this than I do, just because I used to feel more confident in trying to talk about what future societies would look like. And then I learned more about how societies work, and I’m like, “Oh, this is too complicated. I have no idea.” And I also learned that in a lot of places where the writer does try to make a society that is markedly different from the one that we have now, often it comes off as annoying or contrived, and at that point, I’m like, “I mean, maybe it’s better to be safe and just call it the Secretary of Education” because then at least, you aren’t season one TNG, with a world where no one grieves.

Chris: Oren, would you like to tell us how Moonhaven hurt you?

Oren: That show has upset me a lot. So Moonhaven, if you haven’t seen it, is on AMC+, I think, one of a million streaming services that no one asked for.

Chris: The service that you sign up for just to watch interview with a Vampire.

Oren: Yeah. So, the show just has a couple of things going for it immediately wrong. The premise is that we created a moon colony where they would try to figure out a solution to climate change, and to do that we terraformed the moon. And I’m like, “Okay, have you tried using that technology on Earth? Maybe explore that idea a little bit.” So then we go to Moonhaven, and there are certain things about the culture that are objectively just really weird and don’t really make sense. Like, they have almost no violence, but also they’re extremely jaded to violence, and when violence happens, it doesn’t bother them at all to the point where they just seem weird and unreal. And they have a bizarre, like, “We’re going to take children away from their birth parents and make other people raise them,” which is just such the whitest thing. White people think that having your children taken away and raised by someone else is a fun novel experiment.

Chris: Just to go into the “How weird this system is”; at first they framed it like they’re doing communal child rearing, but then it turns out they’re not doing communal child rearing. They’ve just decided that they’re going to take children away from their biological parents and give them to other parents instead. It’s a little unclear whether the children sometime while they’re growing up rotate families at all, but that’s just a really bad idea, right? Because children need some continuity, so you wouldn’t want to just move them from one household to another. And of course, when we get a lot of very strange societies that are like dystopian and futuristic, there’s often an explanation. It’s like, “Well, this really bad thing happened, so we did this.” And it’s usually very unrealistic because that’s just not how we react when bad events happen. In this case, their explanation is supposed to be that these moon people at one point broke into these feuding family factions, and so they did this to break up the family loyalty. But it doesn’t make any sense because now we’re assuming there would be no loyalty between parents and children if they’re not genetically related.

Oren: And yet at the same time, the show thinks that there’s a mystical, magical connection between blood relatives because when one of the moon cops finds out that his blood mom is dying – this woman who he’s apparently never interacted with before – he goes to see her and they share this like, “Oh, I know you and we know who each other is” moment. And it’s like, “This woman is a complete stranger to you.” It’s like, “Nah, but she gave birth to him, so they have a mystical connection.” And it’s like, “How can you get both of those things so wrong in the same show?”

Chris: Yeah, it’s strange because this is supposed to be utopian society, although it’s kind of questionable how much authorial endorsement there really is for it. But there is to some level, right? So having a system where we take children away from their bio parents, but at the same time we’re also making biological relation look super important is just kind of, “ugh”.

Oren: It’s just, it feels like two mistakes wouldn’t be made at the same time, and yet here we are. And the reason why that show just upset me is I hate being talked down to – it sets me off. And I know nobody likes being talked down to – “I’m very special” – but it upsets me a lot. And the show is basically nothing but talking down to you because the premise is that to solve climate change, sure, maybe some new technologies would be helpful, but really what you need is a bunch of self-help gurus to come and teach you to live differently on an individual level. And at this point, it’s like, I don’t know if that view ends up being validated or not by the end because I stopped watching at four episodes, but even entertaining that view was just too upsetting for me; I just couldn’t do it.

Chris: Right? The basic premise that the show is working off of is the idea that they set up some sort of utopia on the moon, and now they want that utopia to come and basically do cultural conquest to make the earth just like it. It’s so strange for a number of reasons; One is, if the earth has the political will enough to actually do this, then they don’t need the moon people. Right? Because they could just use that political will to solve their problems. And also the idea that we would specifically set up our problem solving on the moon is just a very… like, “Why would we do that?” Just like why would we terraform the moon instead of use terraforming technology to fix environmental problems on earth. So we just have a very absurd premise on the space. I do like that, again, the writers weren’t afraid to make moon culture different. And they do have some interesting things; there’s clearly… it feels very millennial-ish, lots of discussion of feelings where they’re not afraid to be vulnerable, and a lot of what they do is managing feelings – and that’s really important to them. And I think it’s supposed to be like, “This is how they stop violence.” It is very irritating that the whole framing here is that they can have a utopian society if everybody just manage their feelings and there’s no protection against bad actors. Like the idea that you could create a utopia that’s… by making every person perfect instead of dealing with the inevitable person. If one asshole can mess up the entire system, it’s not a good system.

Oren: Look, in real life, we know why climate change is happening – it’s a combination of our technology working a certain way, and incentives that reward people for exploiting the system to become hugely wealthy at everyone else’s expense; that’s why climate change is happening on a very abstract level. Moonhaven is like, “But what if it was actually the individual people are assholes?” And it’s like, “That’s not why climate change is happening. It’s really frustrating that you are trying to phrase climate change on an individual problem level. Like, we could just fix it if we were all nicer to each other.”

Wes: All I’m hearing from this is that… Moonhaven is the name of the show?

Chris: Yeah.

Wes: …is brought to you by big oil and conservatives who would rather build a horrible colony on the moon than raise taxes or cut emissions.

Oren: Honestly, it does feel that way. It’s like when they’re talking about “We’re going to send the mooners to earth to teach them how to live better.” It’s like, “Are the mooners going to dismantle exploitative capitalism? Are they going to make Enron give all of the money to green energy?” No, they’re not going to do any of those things. They’re just going to give little seminars where they tell you to self-actualize better – it’s horrible. Yeah, it just really upset me; I did not like it. And so that was why I stopped watching because at this point, it was like, “I’m not a critic anymore, I’m just mad.”

Chris: It’s funny because some people think that you’re mad at everything you criticize, but what happens when Oren is actually mad at a show? But in any case, in some ways, it reminded me a little bit of Demolition Man, where the purpose there is to make fun of the libs. So we create a society that’s supposed to be libs. The funniest thing about the Demolition Man future society is the fact that there’s no sex. They never touch each other. I’m just contrasting that with, for instance, The Stand, where everybody’s all god-abiding, and then when they go to the devil’s community, it’s all about sex, with this idea of the libs as not liking sex.

Oren: Look, the libs are simultaneously depraved and sexually obsessed, but also weak beta cucks who can’t get any, depending on what part of the conservosphere you happen to be in.

Chris: It’s like the idea that the libs can’t fight, but also are very threatening. But the thing about Moonhaven is, on one hand, it feels like some of the writers really like this moon utopia, but on the other hand, it feels like it’s semi-Demolition Man-ish, because we have a main character who’s from Earth who’s tough enough to deal with moon problems.

Oren: Yeah, I definitely feel like the direction it was going was supposed to be like, “Well, maybe we have some things to teach each other.” Right? I think that’s the version it was going, which could have been fine if we weren’t starting from such a terrible place. If it didn’t feel like the entire point of the moon colony was to deflect blame away from the people who are responsible for climate change, this wouldn’t be a problem – it’s horrible.

Wes: Yeah, but it’s still hitting on the theme that futuristic societies are using advanced tech to perpetuate class and societal differences – that seems to be a feature of it. And I guess it’s like, “To what extent is your tech controlling or limiting your characters or freeing them?” And there’s some balance there, right?

Oren: Well, that’s actually an interesting little contradiction that I found in cyberpunk stories that are told in the Shadowrun model. I don’t mean with the elves and the magic that is also in Shadowrun, but I’m specifically thinking of the type of cyberpunk where everyone’s got robot limbs and enhanced senses and wired reflexes. The sort of stuff that in the original Neuromancer that so much of cyberpunk draws from were actually very rare. It’s like cyberpunk has a lot of themes about “How technology is controlling you,” but also as part of the power fantasy a lot of these cyberpunk stories have people running around just doing amazing things they couldn’t possibly do, except that they have all this technology in them, and it’s a little weird. It’s also like a lot of these cyberpunk stories are trying the punk part, right? They’re trying to focus on the idea of these characters being poor and on the margins of society, but they also have machine guns for legs. I don’t know of the last time you tried to buy a machine gun, but they’re not cheap. That’s always struck me as weird. It’s like, “We’re very poor and downtrodden, but also check out my nuclear powered heart transplant.” I’m not saying I want that to go away. I like Shadowrunners with cyber legs running around and doing cool stuff – I also enjoy that – so I’m not saying you should stop. It’s just an interesting contradiction that I noticed.

Chris: I will say as far as I can tell, the best story so far for creating a future society is The Expanse, because The Expanse world is not for every story – it’s specifically high realism – and because it’s a hard sci-fi story that’s not in too far of the future, and it just takes place in our solar system. But the fact that it shows people growing apart and changing at a realistic rate, right? So it’s not like we go to various parts of the solar system and the culture is exactly the same as we know it today, but it’s also not weirdly wildly different. And the power dynamics of the different people in the solar system are very realistic.

Oren: I liked the various details of Belter culture; of things like, there’s a huge emphasis on being detail oriented because your life support systems might fail, and they have a lot of movements in their communication because they’re often communicating through space suits where you can’t necessarily see a shrug or your radio might go out, so you need to use like a more obvious hand gesture – I thought that was very neat – and the focus on different foods that you can more easily make in space was cool. I did find it a little off-putting that for some reason the Belters are the only people whose English has changed in several centuries. For some reason, apparently no one on Mars has any Hindi in their English even though a huge number of the original Martian settlers are supposed to have been Hindi speakers. So that was a little weird, right? And like you know, Earth still speaks in standard media accent English, but the Belters have this very distinct patois – as it’s known – and that was a little off-putting to me. I get that we’re trying to make the Belters higher novelty but I just… I feel like there was a better way. Also, while we’re on the topic of social stuff at The Expanse, I really, really wish they’d come up with a better way to portray basic – this is their version of universal basic income; that’s why it’s called basic. And in the books the idea is that you’re on basic, and then you basically just kind of die inside – is the premise.

Wes: Great.

Oren: Like, the people who are on basic are portrayed as doing nothing, and just kind of sitting around all day. And it’s like, “Okay that’s just kind of insulting and not realistic.”

Chris: If you ever want to know what basic income would be like, just think of all the retirees that you know. A lot of them are actually very busy, even busier than they were when they were still working because they fill up their time with other things.

Oren: And then in the show, they found a different way to be weird about basic, because in the show basic is terrible, and everyone on basic is like sick and can’t get medical care and is miserable. And it’s like, “Okay, so I guess this program is just not very well run – is I guess what is happening here.” But it definitely feels like the implication is supposed to be that state providing for you is bad for some reason. And I was like, “This is a weird political message for The Expanse; I don’t like it.”

Chris: So, random tips if you’re trying to name characters who are in the future?

Oren: You should name them things that are like qualities but are not qualities they have. So for example, your character could be named Solo if he is notable for being part of a duo because he has a partner named Chewbacca.

Chris: In any case, if you’re in a futuristic setting, you want a name that sounds modern but doesn’t sound like a name we have today. So, some ideas are you can associate current names with genders that they’re not normally associated with today. For instance, The 100, the main character’s name is Clark, and it’s a woman. You can turn last names into first names. You can use some names that are historical or out of fashion because there’s a lot of interesting names out there that a lot of people aren’t using, and names can come back into fashion. You can also shorten some of those historical names into nicknames. And then, oftentimes what works is just name people after other words that we use that aren’t often somebody’s name, like sparrow or maple – that kind of thing. You can imagine those becoming names and going to vogue. So, a few tips there.

Oren: If your story takes place roughly a few decades from now, it would not be unrealistic to encounter characters named after Game of Thrones. I’m not saying you should, I’m just saying you can.

Well, with that I think we are going to call this episode to a close.

Chris: If you enjoyed this episode please support us on Patreon – go to patreon.com/mythcreants.

Oren: Now I want to thank a few of our existing patrons. First we have Callie Macleod. Then there’s Kathy Ferguson, who is a professor of political theory in Star Trek. Next we have Eamon Jopper, he’s an urban fantasy writer and a connoisseur of Marvel. And finally we have Danita Rambo; she lives at therembogueeks.com.

We will talk to you next week.

[Outro Music]

P.S. Our bills are paid by our wonderful patrons. Could you chip in?

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