A Matter of Time

Fantasies of the Future

An interesting way to 'change time' is to write a novel as a document from the future. This type of literature is commonplace now, but started as a variation on the utopian novel, usually set in some unknown location. What happens if you portray a known location in an unknown time: the future?

Sébastien Mercier was one of the first writers to think of this, in 1771. His novel L'An deux mille quatre cent quarante: Rêve s'il en fût jamais (The Year 2440, A Dream If There Ever Was One) starts in 1771, with a discussion between two friends about the injustices in contemporary Paris. One of the friends falls asleep, and awakes in the Paris of the year 2440. The novel is his testimony, from the future. It was immensely popular - and banned, because of course it made a point about the present. In Mercier's Paris of 2440, justice reigned, and work was the source of happiness.

Another extremely successful and influential 'document from the future' was Looking Backward by Edward Bellamy, published in 1888. The novel, again, is about a man of the present , falling asleep and awaking in the future: Boston in the year 2000. War, poverty, and malice do not exist anymore. It is said that only Uncle Tom's Cabin and Ben-Hur sold more copies in its day than Looking Backward, which is now hardly ever read. But many of the later 'classics' of the genre were inspired by Bellamy's work.