Edward LearEver wonder what people will think of your stories sixty-five years in the future? One of my personal burdens is wavy hair. Not that cute stuff that makes little ringlets on baby’s heads, or even grown-up curls that you can depend on every day. The curls on my head are totally dependent on the weather. That means what the stylist sees on hair cutting day isn’t necessarily what you’re going to get later in the week. When the weather changes, then you can see what’s really there.

This brings me to the idea of how changing conditions can alter how art and literature work. For example, if I wrote a story about domestic terrorism in US society sixty years ago, it would have been considered the worst sort of nihilist drivel. After all, the 1950s was a decade when the forces of good had just won the war and all was right with the world. But looking back on the same story now, people might think it was a brilliant extrapolation of events and a stern warning of how the best political intentions can go astray.

One of the best things about writing is that you’re free, like the hair stylist, to design something, to put together elements of politics and science and social trends and trim them into the shape of a story. Each narrative will end up giving a snapshot of a possible future—of a scary multiverse where possible futures branch from every decision on the world stage. The question is how the design can accommodate change.

Illustration by Edward Lear (1818-1888), from his 1894 edition of Nonsense Songs, Stories, Botany and Alphabets.