THE HARDEST WORD —  By Bryan Murphy


To write science fiction, even the dystopian kind, is to express optimism, for inherent in all science fiction is the claim that there will actually be a future.

The future in whose existence we can have most confidence is of course the near future, which has been shaped mostly by us old-timers. Because it is likely in many ways to be a dark future, today’s young people deserve an apology from us. So here comes one: “Sorry!” On behalf of my whole generation.

From my generation of Brits, it has to be even more heartfelt, because we had things so much easier than most people elsewhere, and therefore have more to answer for. We were born after the Second World War had ended; we had the National Health Service but no National Service; our politicians declined to send us to kill and die in Vietnam; we were nurtured on free school milk, given grants to study and found jobs if we wanted them. Naturally, we wanted more, though for everyone, not just ourselves. Indeed, we got more, but mostly for ourselves.

The end of those days of plenty was foreshadowed when a Minister of Education stopped milk being offered to the nation’s children and thereby earned herself the nickname “The Milk Snatcher” to rhyme with her surname: Thatcher, a word no longer connected with roofing so much as with a longing to return to feudal levels of inequality, a phenomenon that tends to favor the older generation, at least while pensions still exist.

To my eyes, today’s young people are showing amazing creativity, coupled with a superior resistance to bullshit, so maybe we can claim their education as our one success. Will that creativity and perspicacity be enough to guarantee them a future? Frankly, I doubt it. Our problem as a species, in my view, is that our technological evolution has far outpaced our social evolution. Nihilists who see the continued existence of human life as an optional irrelevance, from the left-behind “Neo-Cons” of yesterday to today’s “Islamic State”, are more than happy to use the former to forestall the latter, and their successors will have an even better chance of finishing the job.

So, probably, no future for anyone. That means that today’s science fiction is sheer fantasy. Dammit, I never set out to write Fantasy. To paraphrase Oliver Hardy: “This is a fine mess we’ve got you into”. Joking apart, to the youngsters, once again, sorry.


You can find ancient British author Bryan Murphy’s dark futures and other writings here: as well as at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, iTunes and other major booksellers.

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7 thoughts on “THE HARDEST WORD —  By Bryan Murphy

  1. Clayton Bye Post author

    Interesting essay, Bryan. We have definitely left the working world a tougher place for our children. However, with their technological savvy and more of a sense of frugality than we have, they may be well up to the task.

  2. Kenneth Weene

    If we stop assuming that a capitalist system is the best way to move forward and find other ways to distribute the necessities of life while finding new ways to reward those who are most creative in adding to the quality of life and to the efficiency of food and other material production, the world would be a far better one. The biggest problem is the emphasis not on real scarcity but on the ideologically driven competition for control over that which could be in great abundance. Of course, by the time we humans accept this new paradigm it may be too late to save our natural world, the destruction and despoiling of which would be the ultimate sin of mankind.

  3. trish

    It sure is a different world, and probably harder on our kids in some ways. In others it’s easier. They can take college classes in the comfort of their bedrooms, wearing their pajamas if they want, and they can do it at midnight, or whenever the urge takes them. They don’t have to learn how to cook — just stick a ready meal into the microwave. And how about their phones? You can do just about anything on a smart phone from anywhere. I like to think positive and if that’s what we can do now, just imagine what our children’s children will accomplish. With the continuous giant leaps in technology I believe they will find a way to work through all the ills of the world and come out smiling.

  4. James L. Secor

    Well, Bryan, yes and no. Many who rebelled, not just against the war, in the 60-70’s basically turned traitor and accepted the going thing. A few of us didn’t. Those who dress as we did then, now they are in their 60’s and 70’s, have missed the ideological boat. I don’t know about the youth of today, especially here in the Capital of the Capitalist Mentality–different from Capitalism, without which we’d not be where we are or have what we have, including technology to write with that surpasses typewriters–where it seems they are all caught up in the consumer craze and the glitz of fame (someone else’s). . . and games, most of which are violent/military.
    The worst are those between them and us, Bryan: those who are founding these isolated communities believing pretty much in the end of the world in an attempt to survive. Like Communism, all must work. Well, there go the artists! Work being utilitarian. Did we give them that? I see dark days ahead if we don’t change, the same caveat Nostradamus noted in the introduction to his predictions, but not so much due to us humans, though what we do with and in response to the “hell” that is awaiting us is what counts.
    You can’t separate “us” so far from the socio-cultural medium that proliferated around us. But. . .did we give the inbetweens this mentality that might doom us? Although I think there are Armageddonists galore who will play/make self-fulfilling prophecy; but haven’t we (some of us) given others a way out by questioning and being creative, or at least going beyond the box’s walls? I’d say, look at technology, but technology has stalled: there is nothing new, just tweaks to what’s already in place. . .aside from the killing machinery the military makes out of everything.
    Can we not look at the dark futures we write as warnings? And, of course, we don’t all write dark: my dark is absurd.
    Isn’t the problem, if we consider this a problem (duh!), those of “us” who went into politics? Them’all made money and then became bought and paid for. It doesn’t take many. Hell, Bryan!–we as a civilization NEVER learn from history. And all this hooplah about spirituality: Thomas Merton and Zen Masters maintain that when this occurs, the buzzards are flying around up there waiting, waiting, waiting. They can smell death. How did the two major religions on the world’s stage become so perverted? Is Pope Francis really the end of Catholicism/Christianity, as Nostradamus and, before him, the Irish monk Malachy predicted? But Nostradamus predicted to well past the present dark days. Are we, then, not responsible for the end of the world as we know it but only the darkness ahead?
    You know, of course, what is said of the do-gooder: run the other way! Hmm. . .maybe many of us were do-gooders? Or is it that the do-gooders were the “only” ones listened to? To everyone’s detriment.

  5. John B. Rosenman

    Well, gosh, Bryan, I’m a science fiction writer, so does that mean I’m writing “sheer fantasy”? It could be, though I doubt it. Actually, I doubt it both ways because there are troubling signs depending on how I look at it. On the one hand, it’s hard to believe we’ve survived so long with thermonuclear bombs, especially since we’ve added ideological terrorists and (increasingly) global warning into the mix. On the other grubby hand, our species is a stubborn one that tends to survive, even if millions and billions are exterminated. As for my science fiction, it is hardly meant to be predictive. There is a difference between “hard” SF and “soft” SF, and mine is often quite soft indeed, concerned with all types of imaginable futures.

    I disagree with you when you apologize on behalf of your whole generation. It seems a bit unfair to tar everybody with the same brush. All Jews are like this, all blacks are like that. No exceptions whatsoever. I hope you don’t mean that. There are certainly some productive and sane individuals in our midst who are struggling to do the right thing and leave this world better as a result of their efforts. However, in GENERAL we appear to have dropped the ball, though some societies and segments of the world’s population are more culpable than others.

    A stimulating and thought-provoking post! You don’t have to apologize for writing it. 😉

  6. Bryan Murphy

    My thanks to you all for those well-considered comments. After a weekend of massacres in Paris and the uncovering of mass graves in Sinjar, it is even harder to feel optimistic. Maybe we should just enjoy to the max whatever time we have left, both as individuals and as a species.


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