- Foreword: Writing Rochester's Futures
- "Interesting Times"
- "Culinary Capital, 2034"
- "Night Bells"
- "Hollow Lives"
- "The Naked Girl"
- "Time Enough for Love"
- "Day of the Bicentennial"
- "One City at a Time"
- "Want Not"
- "The Costs of Survival"
- "Getting Wet"
- "Top 10 Headlines, Rochester, NY, 2034"
- "North Star Pipeline"
- "The 2034 Lilac Festival"
- "Scotch and Sizzlenuts on the Resolute Bay"
- "Fads (or Why Jerry Loathes the Aliens)" [FULL TEXT, AVAILABLE ONLINE ONLY]
The future is now. So goes the old cliché.
Lord help us if that’s true.
As I write this, Rochester and the rest of America is in the midst of one of the most mean-spirited and divisive political campaigns ever, banks are in collapse, gasoline prices are soaring, retirement income is flying out the window, and a vice presidential candidate’s chief asset is apparently the ability to shoot a moose from a helicopter.
In Rochester, drugs and violence are still problems, especially in the crescent area, the Lake Ontario ferry is a lost cause, city schools are struggling, Eastman Kodak is no longer Rochester’s chief employer, and Midtown Plaza is facing the wrecking ball. Thank God you can still get an Abbott’s ice cream cone, see a good movie at the Little, and order up a white hot.
Still, if things are going to look good in time for our Bicentennial in 2034, we all need to get to work.
But where will we find inspiration? I suggest it should come, at least in part, from the artists in our midst, and primarily the writers. That’s the idea behind 2034: Writing Rochester’s Futures. In it, 18 writers, ranging from an award-winning science-fiction author to a high school poet, contribute tales set in the Rochester of the bicentennial year.
Some offer serious predictions of the way life may be; others tweak our hopes with humor.
Kicking off the collection is the estimable Nancy Kress, who holds all the major science fiction honors, including four Nebulas, a Hugo, and a John W. Campbell Memorial Award, and a Sturgeon.
Kress foresees a community, perhaps correctly, in which genetics research thrives at the University of Rochester Medical Center. (She sees us as number three in the nation 25 years down the road; behind only Boston and the I-270 corridor in Maryland.)
Since the UR is already Rochester’s top employer and its medical research labs are buzzing, it’s a safe bet the UR will be a major player in Rochester’s future. But, interestingly, Kress also sees Kodak back in the game, thanks to a company division devoted to virtual reality, which may be a major part of our lifestyle by 2034. Now, wouldn’t that be cool?
For fun, there’s Ben Chapman’s story of a food competition, a 2034 variation of the Iron Chef, with a notable Rochester cook taking on the best of Manhattan. The judging is more refined and specific than in 2009, thanks to pleasure meters that accurately measure the delight of each savored morsel. However, are you ready to believe that the home of the garbage plate will one day battle for culinary supremacy of the nation?
If you define fun more perversely, check out Lindsay Ely’s “Day of the Bicentennial.” What a thrill! Susan B. Anthony and Frederick Douglass return for the celebration. Oh, but wait. Now they’re zombies. U-o-o-o-w-e, gross! (Horror fans will love the fact that the zombie Douglass goes by “Freddy”.) There’s a certain sick appropriateness to a zombie tale in the collection, since one of Rochester’s chief attractions as long been a cemetery (Mount Hope).
The student contributions include “2034,” a well-done but very gloomy poem from Brighton junior Rory Gillett. It’s kind of sad to think that one of the most cynical pieces in the collection is from the book’s youngest contributor. Perhaps, we all have to grow into hope. I trust his generation will, because they’ll be the ones who’ll fashion 2034. (Admittedly, it’s our generation’s job to provide them with the tools they’ll need, and to leave them a future worth salvaging. So far, we’re not doing so good.)
Experienced writer L.S. Gathmann’s “Want Not” is cynical as well, in its own bittersweet way, but it’s also a lyrically beautiful story, one of the most potent in the collection. Among other things, Gathmann foresees a hothouse world, the payoff for our slow and insubstantial response to global warming.
Along the way, you’ll also read stories of magnet-powered canal boats (the efforts to rekindle interest in the Erie Canal apparently never end), the still-continuing Lilac Festival, and so much more.
Good friend Nick DiChario – who suggested I write this introduction – offers an entertaining piece which covers a lot of ground because he offers “Top 10 Headlines, Rochester, N.Y., 2034,” and then goes on to briefly explain each one.
You’ll especially want to read how “Wegmans Introduces Bug Bar,” and how “Retail Stores Poised to Return Downtown.” And then there’s Nick’s report on the final retirement of Louise Slaughter from Congress at age 105!
Nick and I would often discuss sci-fi as a writing and reading option when we’d meet at Rochester’s beloved and essential Writers & Books, where he’d teach writing (hard work) and I’d show movies (a far more easy gig). I’d tell Nick how I liked sci-fi in my youth, and especially preferred the more poetic and less scientific of the writers, with Ray Bradbury, Richard Matheson, Kurt Vonnegut, and Roald Dahl among my favorites. (Yes, I realize it could be argued that Vonnegut and Dahl aren’t sci-fi writers at all, but both often employed speculative fantasy within their writing.
And, if pressed to name a favorite work of speculative fiction, I’d call it a toss-up from among Bradbury’s Martian Chronicles, Vonnegut’s Slaughterhouse Five, and Walter M. Miller Jr.’s A Canticle for Leibowitz. I also liked Robert Heinlein’s Stranger in a Strange Land, though I hated the same author’s militaristic and somewhat fascist Starship Trooper. (It’s incredible to think they were written by the same guy.)
However, I lost interest at some point, distracted most likely when I discovered the literature of Hemingway, the pleasures of good biographies, the plays of Tennessee Williams and Shakespeare, and, of course, the world of the movies. (At least films continued to pique my interest in speculative tales, whether they be Alien, Blade Runner, 2001, Close Encounters or Steven Spielberg’s under-appreciated later films, A.I. and Minority Report.
However, Nick has brought me ‘round, in part by sending me a copy of his unique and thought-provoking debut novel, A Small and Remarkable Life. Speculative fiction won’t dominate my library or my bedside table, but it will certainly once again be part of the mix.
The stories in this collection have reminded me how much we can learn about today by speculating on aspects of tomorrow, whether the writer takes a serious or comic tack. And how about when that speculation involves your own community and perhaps your own life, if you’re lucky to have another quarter-century in your biological clock?
Though my wife and I are both Pennsylvania natives, Rochester’s been our home longer than any other place – 38 years and counting. It’s where we raised three children and where one of them still lives and is bringing up two of our grandchildren.
There is much I love about Rochester and I hope those aspects continue to thrive in 2034. I would still want to see the world’s films and images preserved at the George Eastman House. I’d still want to enjoy Finger Lakes wine, locally brewed beer, and a good chicken wing. I hope I can still drive down the Thruway to cheer for the Buffalo Bills.
If we still go out in public to enjoy movies, I hope it’s at the Little. And I know I’d thoroughly enjoy the 33rd annual Rochester International Jazz Festival in June 2034.
Maybe by 2034 someone will realize that Toronto should foot the bill for a ferry, it’ll be up and running, and we’d be able to sail over there from Charlotte. (Although, by 2034 maybe we’d only have to step into a transporter room to get zapped all around the world. Who knows?)
The 18 writers of 2034: Writing Rochester’s Futures have clearly provoked my curiosity. If we’re all still around 25 years into the future, let’s be sure to gather at Two Vine or Max’s, my two favorite (and hopefully still thriving) downtown restaurants.
We’ll celebrate the writers who got the future right – and tease the ones who didn’t.
For now, let’s gratefully enjoy their thought-provoking efforts.