Welcome to Far Futures

For nearly 80 years, nuclear weapons have stood as the highest order expression of a security paradigm rooted in the idea that humans are incapable of cooperation at scale and therefore must rely instead on coercion. These weapons have caused irreparable harm and threaten to produce much more of it. But the world’s 13,000 nuclear weapons are doing something else as well, something called out far less often than their more conspicuous dangers. They are bearing their full weight down on our imaginations, making it enormously difficult to picture a future without them.

They have help, in this regard, from our current forms of storytelling. Dystopian narratives are enduringly popular, and nuclear weapons are dystopia’s darlings; there are few more memorable or expeditious ways to trigger an apocalypse, in film or on the page, than through a detonation, a mushroom cloud, and the onset of nuclear winter. These dark stories remind us vividly of the colossal power of nuclear weapons but tell us nothing about how to get past them. To imagine past them.

For that, we need a very different kind of storytelling. We need stories about a future in which we’ve already done the hard work of ridding the planet of nuclear weapons so that we can see what that world looks like, so we can feel around its contours. We need stories that explore some of the wider impacts that a durable nuclear weapons prohibition might have on society, the deep and shallow shifts that we achieve or that seem achievable because we have removed nuclear weapons from the human story.

If it’s true that we can only get to a better future by first imagining it, then we must start imagining. Far Futures is a step in that direction.

The stories, poetry, music, and art you’ll explore in this collection were created in response to the same provocative “protopian” prompt: It’s 2095, roughly 50 years after the last nuclear weapon is disarmed. Show us that 2095. Like intrepid explorers, our contributors headed off into the vast world of plausible possibility. In Malka Older’s story, the elimination of nuclear weapons has inspired new but not uncontroversial protocols for retiring technologies that can do mass harm, even if they can also do some good. In Annalee Newitz’s story, tiny sensors called “motes” monitor the world for nuclear materials and, as it happens, a whole lot more. Madeline Ashby and Andrew Liptak both show us how an end to nuclear weapons can mean new beginnings for our relationship with outer space. Peter Waring’s story subverts the well-worn narrative that we can only get to a transformed future by passing through something awful, offering instead a positive inciting incident that inspires a revolutionary shift in our consciousness.

Both Sheree Renée Thomas and Vincent Ialenti set their stories in White Sands, New Mexico, where the first atomic bomb was detonated in 1945. In both stories, the land itself, and the species within it, experience a kind of regeneration. In Vincent’s, that regeneration is driven by human technology and the imperative to preserve or bring back what we’ve destroyed. In Sheree’s, the Earth, free from the weight of our weapons, starts healing itself. (Earth operates on deeper time, she reminds us, and seems to have been waiting for us to choose a different path.) Meanwhile, Tochi Onyebuchi and slam poet PAGES Matam remind us that racism is a weapon more powerful and enduring than any bomb. Their works reflect a mix of hope, anger, and memory, stirred by a knowing that uprooting one massive injustice does not magically uproot others. Paul D. Miller’s music stirs something similar, as we hear both the voice of Robert Oppenheimer and a beautiful violin performance by Tim Fain mix together, blending the sounds of hope and history.

While all of these works stand uniquely on their own, many of them hold features and themes in common. Across the stories we see the emergence of new forms of collaboration and collective action. We see new organizations and decision-making bodies, all designed with a different kind of planetary stewardship in mind. We see the immense resources currently tied up in nuclear weapons redeployed for better purposes. We see a blossoming of multidisciplinary thinking and acting, and a new kind of movement building where there is real power behind public demand. We see a remembering of our responsibility to other species and to future generations. More than anything, we see humanity commit to doing a hard thing and then follow it through. But in so many of these stories, we also see a kind of enduring grief churned up by humanity finally letting go of an existential threat of our own making. There is grief for what we’ve done, and who we lost, and what we’ve wasted, and what we could have done differently. Our choices have left a mark.

We owe enormous thanks to the contributors who agreed to be part of this Far Futures experiment—and a special thanks to artist João Queiroz for bringing these stories and characters to life through his brilliant illustrations. Alone and together, our Far Futures contributors have begun the work of lifting the heavy weight of nuclear weapons off our imaginations, in order to glimpse what is possible. It is up to us, all of us, to continue what they started.

From the whole Horizon 2045 team, welcome to Far Futures.

Jenny Johnston
Series editor