Why I Made This Future

The Man Whose Science Fiction Keeps Turning Into Our Shitty Cyberpunk Reality

A Q+A with the novelist Tim Maughan, whose disturbing future predictions have had an unfortunate habit of coming true

Brian Merchant
OneZero
Published in
24 min readJul 24, 2020

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The container ship Hyundai Fortune on fire with dark pillows of smoke.
Hyundai Fortune incurring severe damage from a fire. Photo: Wikimedia Commons

Why I Made This Future is a recurring feature that invites speculative fiction authors, futurists, screenwriters, and so on to discuss how and why they built their fictional future worlds.

There is nothing boring about Tim Maughan’s works of speculative fiction, which concern, for example, the total destruction of the internet as we know it, the insidious possibilities of monetized augmented realities, and the full collapse of global supply networks. He writes such dramatic devastations, he says, to better examine the digital injustices that are perpetrated on ordinary people every day, and which can look rather boring on paper: data profiling and automated trade networks and surveillance capitalism and other drab inflections of our shitty cyberpunk present.

Maughan’s three books, the short story collection Paintwork, the novel Infinite Detail, and the newly released collection, Ghost Hardware, all take place in the same near-future world — the TMCU, as I like to call it. Therein, hyper-accelerated digital capitalism has thrust us all into a world that is perpetually and wholly online, and accessed via spex, augmented reality glasses that are as common as cellphones. Then, the internet is destroyed. It’s 15 minutes into the future, with the rug pulled out from under it. Maughan uses the conceit to investigate the consequences of having so much of our lives hosted, controlled, and in thrall to for-profit digital platforms and systems.

The Guardian called Infinite Detail the best science fiction book of 2019 for a reason — it gets under the skin of the future to expose the ugly guts of the present. Maughan is, above all, a critic — he writes to expose the disturbing trajectories of the technologies, prejudices, and corporate impulses today. I’ve worked with Tim for years, editing his fiction, barging into his audiobook recordings, and lamenting the future on various corporate social media platforms. So, as prediction after prediction of his has glitched into being…

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Brian Merchant
OneZero

Senior editor, OneZero, books, futures, fiction. Author of The One Device: The Secret History of the iPhone, founder of Terraform @ Motherboard @ VICE.