Editors Letter

[image, unknown] New Internationalist Issue 269


The Future


It’s not often that an editor of this magazine gets the chance to say to contributors: ‘Give your imagination a free rein! This is fiction!’

It’s an even rarer joy to get their stories landing on your desk a month or so later and finding they are as fun, thoughtful, anarchic and unpredictable as you had hoped. Some even manage to be all these things at once.

The idea was to get a handful of imaginative, international writers to project themselves to the year 2025 and write a story on a particular theme from there.

We made a point of commissioning novelists, poets and essayists capable of ‘big’ thoughts – rather than ‘big thinkers’ who might be persuaded to turn their hand to fiction.

Some of the contributors are more widely known than others. Both Eduardo Galeano and Nawal El Saadawi, for example, are friends of the magazine who have written for us before. Others are, I hope, on their way to getting the recognition they deserve.

For some of the writers it was their first foray into futuristic writing – and they took to it like ducks to water. The styles and approaches of the writers varied widely. Indian feminist and cartoonist Manjula Padmanabhan went completely wild, satirical and outrageous. Jamal Mahjoub chose a quieter, poetic, metaphysical approach. Kirkpatrick Sale combined a confessional style with echoes of the Old Testament. While Evelyn Conlan plumped for more gritty, first-person social realism.

Getting hold of published fiction writers in the first place was itself a bit like entering a time warp. A commissioning process that usually takes about a week to 10 days took about a month. Communication between publishers, agents and their authors appeared at times to be by carrier pigeon. By the time some of them got back to me the future was, in a manner of speaking, ‘commissioned’.

Working on this issue has been a strange and slightly contradictory experience for me. Planning for the future is really not my forté: living more impulsively in the present is my preference. I tend to see people who meticulously plan everything ahead as setting themselves up for failure – or worse still, boredom. But thinking imaginatively and creatively about the future seems a different kettle of fish. And finding ways of sorting out the problems we may pass on to future generations is going to require more imagination than prosaic planning skills.

Judging by the contributors to this magazine – both writers and illustrators – imagination is a natural resource that still seems to be in good supply. And it is wholly appropriate that an issue on the future should have turned out to be one of the least predictable to produce.

Vanessa Baird
for the New Internationalist Co-operative

©Copyright: New Internationalist 1995

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