2022 according to science fiction, in novels and films

For the last couple of years, I did a roundup of science fiction set in the year to come – 2020 and 2021. This year I have not looked into TV shows or games, but can present you with three novels and six films, all made in 2002 or before, all set more or less in 2022. I’m going through them in reverse chronological order, frankly because that way we save the best until last. (Most of them are not very good, but I also confess that I watched several of the films when sick with COVID, so my concentration may not have been intense.) How similar to fiction will the reality of 2022 turn out to be?

Novel 1

The Secret, Eva Hoffmann (2002)

Second paragraph of third chapter:

Palm Beach Airport was a two-dimensional, oversharp image against the baby-blue sky. The cab crawled through wall-to-wall traffic, endless cars shimmering metallically in the soupy heat, the air in the taxi feeling as if it were made of cold metal itself. From this close up, the white Hispanic haciendas, the strip of what passed for downtown, the blockbuster hotels rising straight up against the sea, looked like that old Pop Art stuff, flatter than anything I’d remembered from Plato’s Caves. Maybe it was the air which thinned everything down.

What’s it about? Eighteen-year-old protagonist, born in 2004, discovers that she is her mother’s clone, and spends the rest of the book working through her resentment against her family and others.

Is 2022 really going to be like that? Not unless cloning technology had got a lot further in 2004 than we realised.

Is it any good? Moody young women are often quite a good read, and this isn’t awful. You can get it here. 6/10.

Film 1:

देहम / Deham (The Body) (2001)

What’s it about? A young man in Mumbai accepts an offer from an evil company to harvest his body organs in return for making his wife and family rich. His wife is very upset about this and then (spoiler) the company makes a mistake and takes away her deadbeat brother to be chopped up instead of her husband.

Is 2022 really going to be like that? Commercial organ harvesting is a genuine ethical issue, and lurid accounts of people losing parts of their bodies against their will abound. Still difficult to imagine that this could be legitimised – and, crucially, if it were, the harvesters would make damn sure they had the right person.

Is it any good? Frankly, no. Based on a play, it’s very stagey, and the only good bit is Kitu Gidwani as Jaya. Panned by Indian critics, though it won a prize in Sweden. 4/10. The whole thing is on Youtube, so you can judge for yourself. (NB not to be confused with a different 2001 film also called The Body.)

Novel 2:

Black Oxen, by Elizabeth Knox (2001)

Second paragraph of third chapter:

Carlin was out in front, setting an example I think, examining every foot of ground with a kind of comic intensity. I saw him straighten to unkink his back. He put a hand up to shade his eyes. Then he grew still.

What’s it about? Our protagonist, another moody young woman, has started therapy, in the year 2022, to process the peculiarities of her childhood and young adulthood; she seems to have moved between parallel worlds, her father has a strange relationship with reality, and her late husband was a notorious torturer in a fictional South American country where ancient magics are sill practiced.

Is 2022 really going to be like that? Therapy will certainly exist in 2022. Most of the books is set before that, and the specifics of magic as part of a structure of governance have probably not been realised anywhere. (But what do we know?)

Is it any good? I found it frankly difficult to follow, but I see from elsewhere online that it has its diehard fans. You can get it here. 6/10.

Film 2:

No Escape / Escape from Absolom / Absolom 2022 (1994)

What’s it about? Our protagonist, played by Ray Liotta, is sentenced to life in an isolated but large penal colony, where hundreds of convicts, all men and almost all white, fight it out for dominance. Based on the 1987 novel The Penal Colony, by Richard Herley, which is set on an island off Cornwall.

Is 2022 really going to be like that? Penal policies everywhere oscillate between repressive and redemptive. But it seems improbable that next year, or any time soon, large swathes of fertile land would be handed over to convicts for them to do whatever they want.

Is it any good? It looks brilliant – the north Australian setting is utilised to the max. But the plot is plure cliche and the cast not exactly diverse (no woman is seen at any point through the film), and my sensitive soul found the violence icky. 5/10.

Film 3:

Time Runner (1993)

What’s it about? Mark Hamill, unsuccessfully attempting to fight off an alien invasion of Earth in 2022, somehow gets sent thirty years back in time to try and prevent it all from happening. He tangles with a corrupt politician who is destined to become the collaborationist president of the world, and ends up assisting at his own birth.

Is 2022 really going to be like that? Actually most of the film is set in 1992, apart from the very beginning and occasional flashforwards. As of now, we don’t (yet) have a President of Earth; as for the alien invasion, we will have to wait and see.

Is it any good? Frankly, no. The best bit is Brion James (who I confess I only knew as Kowalski in Blade Runner) as the sinister politician Neila – see what that spells backwards? Subtle, eh? Hamill, whose character is 30, was of course already 41. There are some half-decent action scenes but the plot makes little sense even on its own terms. 4/10. As of present writing you can watch it all here:

Film 4:

Alien Intruder (also 1993)

What’s it about? More convicts in the futre, but this time a small group pulled together to salvage a lost space ship (whose original crew were in fact killed by one of them). But as they travel, they each get to pass the time with an individually designed erotic fantasy starring Tracy Scroggins (previously of Dynasty, later of Babylon 5Is 2022 really going to be like that? No. We have no deep salvage space missions staffed by prisoners. Though Tracy Scroggins surely still features in the erotic fantasies of some people of my sort of age.

Is it any good? Yet again, not really. The effects are poor, the characters almost interchangeable and the plot once again barely coherent even in its own terms. 4/10. I can’t give you the full thing this time, but here is a trailer where even the narrator sounds bored.

Film 5:

The Dark Side of the Moon (1990)

What’s it about? A maintenance ship ends up on the dark side of the Moon, where it encounters an abandoned NASA space shuttle, the legacy of the Bermuda Triangle, and the Devil himself.

Is 2022 really going to be like that? We don’t as far as I know have any nuclear-armed satellites, let alone maintenance ships for them where the computer is in the shape of an attractive woman (Camilla More). So, probably not.

Is it any good? I actually can’t remember. This was the first of the films that I watched when down with COVID, and my brain was too fogged to really make sense of it, which is probably not the film-makers’ fault. I vaguely recall that Joe Tunkel seemed to be quite good. Not giving it a mark as it wouldn’t be fair. Here’s the trailer.

Novel 3:

Staring at the Sun, by Julian Barnes (1986)

Second paragraph of third section:

Jean had often wondered what it would be like to grow old. When she had been in her fifties, and still feeling in her thirties, she heard a talk on the radio by a gerontologist. ‘Put cotton wool in your ears,’ he had said, ‘and pebbles in your shoes. Pull on rubber gloves. Smear Vaseline over your glasses, and there you have it: instant ageing.’

What’s it about? In fact only the third (and shortest) section of three is set in 2022, and even that is a bit ambiguous in that the year is never identified, though 2022 seems a reasonable best fit given what we are told earlier in the book. The first section deals with the childhood of the protagonist in the 1940s; the second with her unsuccessful marriage to the village policeman; and the third flashes back to her life in between from the perspective of celebrating her hundredth birthday.

Is 2022 really going to be like that? I do hope that 100-year-old ladies will still be able to have joyrides in aeroplanes next year, if they want to. And Barnes’ supercomputer with all the answers is not far off Google, though it requires a lot more human maintenance than the search algorithms that we have come to know and love in real life.

Is it any good? Unambiguously, yes. I don’t think it is as deep and meaningful as Julian Barnes fans evidently do, but it’s an interesting reflection on what the life of an Englishwoman born in 1942 might look like. 7/10. You can get it here.

Film 6:

Soylent Green (1973)

I watched this last year, for the first time.

What’s it about? It’s a story of New York in the year 2022, where overpopulation and climate change are making the city into an awful place to live. Our protagonist is tasked with investigating the murder of a wealthy industrialist, and discovers much worse things about his society – with a rather similar theme to that of Deham, discussed above.

Is 2022 really going to be like that? The future claustrophobic and overcrowded New York is realised in great and convincing detail. Thirty-eight years on, New York may not have grown to 40 million, but it’s still a city whose infrastructure cannot cope with a pandemic. And climate change turns out to be a real problem in real life. However people are not being euthanised and turned into food, at least not in New York, as far as we know.

Is it any good? I told you I was saving the best to the end. This is a true classic. The euthanasia scene, and Charlton Heston’s final scramble through the Soylent factory to discover its awful secret, are also very well done. And the scenes of police brutally clearing up a riot hit very close to home. 8/10. Here’s a trailer:

So, wishing you a less apocalyptic 2022 than we saw in fiction. And a less apocalyptic 2022 than 2021, let alone 2020.

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