The world we inhabit


The world we inhabit is one in which weekly newsmagazines, printed on paper in columns of type, are considered primitive and profoundly obsolescent; in which an entire bookshelf of bound volumes can be stored in a gadget the size of a fingertip; in which a mechanical device that is only about four inches long and a fraction of an inch thick can record whatever we like, play it back to us through a tiny earpiece, and rest comfortably in a pocket when not in use; in which space flight has been invented but is rarely used by humans, who have lost interest in it after the initial decades of excitement; in which hand-held or easily portable computers are a commonplace item; in which literature can hardly be distinguished from film in the public mind; and in which some members of society long fruitlessly for a past era when all such developments were unknown and almost inconceivable. We do, in fact, live in such a world, but I mean something else. The above description, detail by detail, exactly characterizes the world of Isaac Asimov’s The End of Eternity, a science-fiction novel set mainly in the 482nd, 575th, and 2456th centuries. What is remarkable is that Asimov’s book first appeared in print in 1955. For those of you who were not around then (and I barely was—I was three at the time), let me assure you that none of the present-day realities mentioned in my first paragraph was even a mote in a scientist’s eye.

more from Wendy Lesser at Threepenny Review here.