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What does 2021 have in store? Here are science fiction’s predictions

With 2020 thankfully behind us now, we’re finally off and running in 2021, a world where, to quote the “Itchy & Scratchy Land” episode of The Simpsons, “nothing can possibl’i’ go wrong.”

What can we expect from the next 12 months? While few could have predicted things like social distancing and the meteoric rise of Zoom, science fiction has given us a few predictions for what kind of world we can expect to encounter in 2021. Here are five of them.

Children of Men

Children of Men Official Trailer #1 - Julianne Moore, Clive Owen Movie (2006) HD

While the 2006 movie adaptation (minus the “The” in its title) is set in 2027, the 1992 P.D. James novel Children of Men cast its far-future setting just under a couple of decades forwards in 2021.

The novel is about an England in which mass infertility means that the population has been declining steadily for many years. The Omegas, the last generation born, are set to usher humanity into extinction. A small group of resistors stand firm against the general malaise.

Accurate or not? While some countries grapple with declining populations, the overall trajectory of the world’s population continues to creep up. The feeling of hopelessness from the young generation, though? That’s not too far from reality for many.

Johnny Mnemonic

Johnny Mnemonic - Official® Trailer [HD]

Based on a story by William Gibson, this 1995 Keanu Reeves sci-fi action movie portrays a dystopian 2021 in which corporations rule the world, everyone is obsessed with a virtual reality version of the internet, A.I. is big business, and the protagonist, Johnny Reeves, is a mnemonic courier who carries sensitive information in a device implanted in his brain.

Accurate or not? Corporations ruling the world? Keanu Reeves as our hero? A “future where those who control the information control the world”? What is this, a documentary? Even the idea of storing data in brains, which Roger Ebert found so risible in 1995 (why don’t you just send it down a modem, he wondered) seems somewhat more plausible in a world in which DNA storage is a thing.

Moon Zero Two

Moon Zero Two / Original Theatrical Trailer (1969)

In 2021 (although the trailer misidentifies the year as 2028), the Moon is mid-colonization, with an assortment of lunar settlements such as Farside 5 and Moon City. This 1969 British Hammer movie is described as a space western, which essentially means transposing a stereotypical and bare-bones story into a new setting in an attempt to freshen it up a bit.

There are microgravity saloon brawls, distinctly 1960s go-go dancers, and plenty of B-grade campiness. 2001: A Space Odyssey this isn’t. Nonetheless, it’s plenty of fun — and it formed the basis for an episode of the excellent Mystery Science Theater 3000.

Accurate or not? Well, there are no Moon Bars in Moon City with a currency called Moon Dollars. No one has yet landed on Mars as they have here, and permanent moon settlements are no closer than they appeared to be when Moon Zero Two was released, approximately three months after the Apollo 11 landing.

On the flip-side, space mining is a somewhat serious prospect today, and the idea that space settlements could become a commercial enterprise isn’t wholly unjustified in a world in which it’s the likes of Jeff Bezos, Elon Musk, and Richard Branson who are seemingly doing as much as national space agencies to drive space travel forward.

A Quiet Place

A Quiet Place (2018) - Official Trailer - Paramount Pictures

By dint of being released in 2018, this movie is the only entry on this list in which 2021 was a year that was just around the corner, rather than some far future setting. In A Quiet Place, 2020 saw the majority of Earth’s inhabitants wiped out by non-sighted alien creatures.

These creatures attack anything that makes a noise, using their hypersensitive hearing to detect virtually any sound. The movie is set in 2021, and follows the Abbott family — consisting of a husband, wife, and three children — as they try to survive in a deserted town.

Accurate or not? Well, the streets are a lot quieter than they were. And nobody’s disputing that 2020 was a pretty darn terrible year. So in the abstract let’s call it a 50/50 guess.

Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?

Blade Runner (1982) Official Trailer - Ridley Scott, Harrison Ford Movie

Blade Runner, the movie adaptation of this Philip K. Dick novel, was set in 2019. Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?, first published in 1968, originally chose 1992 as the date of the global war referred to as World War Terminus. This incident leads to the United Nations encouraging the creation of off-world colonies that will preserve humankind.

When 1992 didn’t turn out to be quite horrific enough (Billy Ray Cyrus’ Achy Breaky Heart was about the extent of it), the publishers pushed the date back to 2021. In this world, the sun has “ceased to shine,” Earth is covered in radioactive waste, and Rick Deckard, a bounty hunter with the San Francisco Police Department, is given the task of hunting down and “retiring” six androids which have traveled to Earth from Mars.

Accurate or not? There’s been no global war, fortunately — although not always for lack of trying. The hyper-realistic androids do foreshadow some of the more uncanny-valley robotics creations of today, however. Even if, as of right now, no one has had to be tasked with killing them off.

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Luke Dormehl
I'm a UK-based tech writer covering Cool Tech at Digital Trends. I've also written for Fast Company, Wired, the Guardian…
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