John Kass: The future is now: A sci-fi geezer's lament

The post-apocalyptic sci-fi stories I liked best as a boy weren't space operas on distant planets, involving warlike aliens who (weirdly enough) spoke guttural English, as if they were KGB officers in some action movie.

The sci-fi I loved took place right here, on Earth, our Earth, the Earth of the future after the fall. These were sagas of "forbidden zones" around ruined cities, and mutants, and things the survivors had forgotten about the America we live in today.

Some characters were barbaric humanoids living underground. They served machines and ate human flesh. There was no reasoning with them.

One story featured a large mutant hunting cat about the size of a mountain lion. She could telepathically communicate warnings to the boy who searched for lost knowledge in the ruined cities where the "beast things" roamed.

In other lurid sagas of future lost civilizations, there is often an archetype:

A geezer.

And not just any geezer, mind you, but a special geezer with knowledge of the old ones, the forgotten.

This geezer was terribly old, ready for the burial ground, perhaps as old as in his mid-50s.

He'd sit by the fire and entertain the tribes with stories of the forgotten people, who ruled before the death rays fell from the sky.

And what would he tell them of those days before the death came?

Of magical things like creamed corn in a can.

And candy bars. Electric power. Airplanes, cars, salt shakers and vaccines and so on.

If I were writing his lines, I'd have the geezer mention something that has been already assigned to the ash heap of the future by the tribes of the present:


"Privacy?" asked the people in animal skins around the fire. "Can you eat it? Can you get drunk on it? Could they use it to eat as much 'creamed corn in the can' as they wanted, whatever that is?"

The geezer sighed. He tried to explain "privacy" and its twin, "freedom," but these subjects were as terrifying and unsettling as they once had been to the forgotten.

"Privacy?" said one. "Are not a man's thoughts his own?"

Now they are, said the geezer, but not in the old days. There came a time when everyone's thoughts were known, said the geezer.

The people grumbled. One war chief barked at the moon. The geezer looked around nervously, and saw the people fingering their spears.

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