The Library of Possible Futures

Samantha Culp in The Atlantic:

The pandemic, which has seemed stranger than science fiction in so many ways, has occasioned much debate about the role of speculative fiction in imagining the future: The possibilities of such stories have felt, to some, like answers amid uncertainty, even as others have questioned the limits of dystopian visions. But perhaps an equally relevant literature to revisit is speculative nonfiction: the constantly evolving genre we might call “pop futurism.”

What are the telltale signs of a “pop futurist” book? It sketches out possible tomorrows, highlights emergent trends to watch, and promises ways for even nonspecialists to apply these insights to their own life and work. It’s likely to sport an arresting cover, a style dating back to the work that arguably pioneered this genre and still casts a long shadow. Future Shock—the book by Alvin Toffler that helped popularize “futurism” as a concept in mainstream culture and business, and which recently marked its 50th anniversary—was printed in multiple colorways so that it would jar the eye as a neon rainbow beaming off bookstore shelves. Other titles have kinetic lettering that judders off the page, as if traveling at high speed. The writing’s tone usually sits somewhere between start-up pitch and self-help mantra, with the oracular confidence of the returned time traveler.

More here.