Review: Flash Forward
How would we grieve if we could order custom android replicas that will take the place of our deceased loved ones? What should the justice system of a moon colony look like? If we built a machine that always tells truth apart from lies, could we really handle the truth?
In her podcast Flash Forward, Rose Eveleth has explored questions like these since Barack Obama was still president of the United States. The premise is that by thinking about futures—dystopian or romantic, ridiculous or sublime—we become better equipped to shape the world we may one day live in.
A typical Flash Forward episode combines storytelling, interviews, and analysis to stimulate the imagination residing in the “spicy meatball between your ears”. Now, Eveleth has translated the same concept into book form.
The book explores 12 different futures through full-color comics created by 14 contributors, followed by short essays written by Eveleth. The comics take up much of the 271 pages, making this a very quick read.
Each comic about a possible (or impossible) future is accompanied by a short essay that explores the topic further. (Credit: Rose Eveleth (text) / Ziyed Y. Ayoub (art). Fair use.)
It’s a book about the future, but it’s firmly grounded in the social and political discussions of the present. For example:
In “Welcome to Tomorrowville”, artist Ben Passmore and Eveleth wonder how the biased algorithms of a “smart” city might reinforce historical patterns of racism and marginalization.
In “Never Lay Me Down to Sleep”, Matt Lubchansky portrays a world in which we can fully conquer sleep with pills, and the inevitable exploitation of workers that follows.
In “Unreel”, Chris Jones and Zach Weinersmith tell the story of a man who controls the world through deepfakes—initially with honest motives.
As with an anthology, the art, stories, and topics chosen will surely resonate differently with each reader. Some stories felt a little too stuck in the present to give me much to mull over (the animal rights story stands out to me here); others were a bit predictable (sleep is indeed important). It’s hard to explore questions of morality without getting preachy, and the book does not always succeed at it.
But whether in book or podcast form, Flash Forward is an engaging approach to thinking about the future, and I recommend it. It also helped me discover the work of artists I would otherwise not have known about. I’d love to see another volume, featuring new artists and new futures to chew on.