The Future Is the Past: Regressive Science Fiction

It’s logical to think that societal progress will line up neatly with the progression of time, to believe that life will get better as we move towards the future. At least, it’s something to hope for: that, just as most lives are better now than they were a hundred years ago, so too will the lives of our descendants (literal or metaphorical) be equally better than our own. But there’s also a pressing fear that things could go the other way—that, instead of a better tomorrow, humanity might have to deal with a vision of the future that looks suspiciously like its own past.

Evoking the past in stories of the future can make for an unsettling read, and it’s a device that certain writers have found useful to tap into a collective anxiety over the collapse of progress.

Russell Hoban’s Riddley Walker is set in a devastated future England ...