How Science Fiction Imagined the 2020s

What ‘Blade Runner,’ cyberpunk, and Octavia Butler had to say about the age we’re entering now

Tim Maughan
OneZero
Published in
11 min readJan 17, 2020

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Photo: Ning Li/Getty Images

WWhen you imagine the future, what’s the first date that comes into your mind? 2050? 2070? The year that pops into your head is almost certainly related to how old you are — some point within our lifetimes yet distant enough to be mysterious, still just outside our grasp. For those of us growing up in the 1980s and ’90s — and for a large number of science fiction writers working in those decades — the 2020s felt like that future. A decade we would presumably live to see but also seemed sufficiently far away that it could be a world full of new technologies, social movements, or political changes. A dystopia or a utopia; a world both alien and familiar.

That future is, of course, now. Last year famously marked the moment when the setting of Ridley Scott’s sci-fi movie masterpiece Blade Runner (1982) slid from the future into the past — it was set in November 2019 — spawning dozens of hot takes and essays not unlike this one. But Blade Runner is really just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to science fiction movies and novels that depicted the then-near future of the 2020s. Seeing as how we are now unhappily ensconced in said 2020s, we have a chance to use hindsight to evaluate them. What did…

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Tim Maughan
OneZero
Writer for

Writer. Debut novel INFINITE DETAIL out now on FSG. Bylines at BBC, Motherboard, New Scientist. http://timmaughanbooks.com