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  • Writer's pictureNJ Holden

Adventure in Futility

Updated: Feb 27, 2021

I'm reading a lot of old stories by H.P Lovecraft and C.A. Smith recently. I love the imagination of those earlier authors. I think it's something severely lacking in modern fiction. Anyway, one of the stories caught my attention: "Adventure of Futurity" by C.A. Smith (although at first, I read it as "Adventure in Futility", which arguably would also make an awesome story). It'a story of a man from the early twentieth century that got a chance to visit Earth at 15,000AD. And it's interesting since while some of the things are deeply rooted in the sensitivities of the era when it was written, some predictions are strangely accurate.

I decided to write a little analysis - with quotes from the original work and my comments. It's meant to be a humorous piece and it's not intended to offend anybody. And I invite everyone to read the original piece and share their thoughts.

An Adventure in Futurity

“Perhaps the thing which arrested me more than all else was the impossibility of assigning him to any known ethnic stock(...) Elkins baffled me: his extreme pallor, his fine hair and clear-cut lineaments were, in a general sense, indicative of Caucasian origin; yet I could not find the distinguishing features of any American, European or Asiatic branch of the white race.” - When I think about people whose ethnicity I can’t determine, I imagine some sort of mixed-race person, most likely brown, with dark hair and eyes. Funny though, we spent the last hundred thousand years spreading and diversifying, and now we’re trying to reverse that. Btw, did you know that the gene mutation responsible for white skin color is only 8,000 years old? That means that when the first city in Jericho was built, there were no white people on Earth.

“I will not deny that the truth occurred to me more than once; but how was I to know that the truth was a thing so utterly improbable?” - I started reading this story thinking the title was “An Adventure in Futility” and I thought myself very clever for figuring this “secret” out!

“Also, there remained a widespread popular belief, accepted even now by many of our scientists, that the people of the twentieth century could determine at will the sex of their offspring; and that the secret of this determination was lost in the ensuing barbarism” - dude, you’re in the wrong part of the century; move forward fifty years and you’ll be set.

“The period known as the Amazonian wars, which were the most sanguinary and merciless wars in history, put an end to the matriarchy by wiping out all but a few hundred thousand of the human race(...) renewed culture, in which the male predominates both numerically and intellectually.” - men regained power, all is good now.

“Will you go with me, Hugh?” - he’s in love with you, Hugh. Look, it’s future, there’s a shortage of women and, as we’re about to find out, the culture of the future is largely based on ancient Greece.

“but the language, being the root-stock of our own tongue, is fairly well-known to our scholars. I took pains to master it as far as possible; though I have since found that some of our pronunciations and definitions are erroneous; also, that the vocabulary is much ampler than we had supposed.” - he speaks better early twentieth-century English than I do and I’m just a hundred years from CAS :(

“a pair of sandals, vaguely resembling those of the ancients, though they were not made of leather but of some stiff, indestructible cloth.” - plastic. The guy predicted plastic shoes. I only wonder if they were decorated with fake crystals.

“the metal disk was lowered at the end of a long cord for my use in surmounting the cliff” - the guy predicted anti-gravitational device, but couldn’t predict programming?

“Djarma is built on the ruins of the city of New York, but is hundreds of miles inland, since there have been extensive geologic changes during the past 13,000 years. You will find that the climate is different too, for it is now sub-tropical. Weather conditions are pretty much under human control, and we have even reduced by artificial means the permanent areas of ice and snow at the poles.” - he knew about global warming?! :O

“a barracoon of Venusian slaves, who do all the agricultural labor.” - Uh-uh, that did not age well…

“(the slaves’) brown-black bodies” - Goddamit, CAS.

“We are becoming effete and effeminate” - what’s wrong with that?

“However, we find that natural food-stuffs are preferable to the synthetic kind” - he knew soylent was BS even before soylent became an ill-conceived product.

“I made rapid progress in the language, which bore about the same relation to English that English bears to Latin.” - um, sorry, but no. English and Latin are just two millennia apart, here we’re talking about 13k in the future. The relation would be more like modern English and Proto-Indo-European language.

“deep and noisomely luxuriant jungles of Venus” - you know you’re reading ancient text when someone mentions jungles of Venus!

“By means of radio and television, both of which were now employed in vastly simplified and improved forms, Kronous and his cousins were in hourly touch with the whole world of their time” - CAS predicted the internet :O

“that radium might be of some use in combatting the plague? (...)work was being immediately begun in local laboratories for the preparation of radium on a large scale and its utilization in the most effective form.” - how about extracting a bit of this plague and treating it with radium in the controlled environment of the laboratory to see if it even works? For all we know, it can make the plague spread faster. Or do nothing. Test your ideas first, dammit!

“ In less than an hour, several chemists were ready to visit the area of destruction with portable machines in which radium was disintegrated and used as a fine spray.” - I have a bad feeling about this…

“The women whom I saw were seldom beautiful or attractive according to 20th Century standards; in fact, there was something almost lifeless and mechanical about them, almost sexless.” - you know it’s hellscape if the women are not attractive.

“romantic love, or even strong passion, were unknown things in this latter-day world” - Suuuuuureeeee (though okay, I admit, it’s easier to pretend that romantic love doesn’t exist that explain to an early twentieth-century man that he lives in a polyamorous relationship with Altus and Oron)

“I am, or was, the owner of these slaves (...) I made the mistake of thinking the slaves were thoroughly cowed from punishments that I inflicted not long ago.” - I have to say, I don’t really mind seeing this guy roasted alive and eaten.

“nocturnal televiser” - noctovisor?

“But to counterbalance this, a number of new and baffling plagues had been loosed by the savages (...) In the western part of Akameria great clouds of a vicious and deadly Martian insect had appeared — an insect which multiplied with the most damnable rapidity.

In other sections gases had been freed in the air that were harmless to both Venusians and Martians but deleterious to human beings. Vegetable moulds from Venus, which fed like malignant parasites on all terrene plant-forms, had also been introduced in a hundred places; and no one knew what else the morrow would reveal in the way of extra-planetary pests and dangers.” - all that happened in the last few hours.

“The bacteria of a score of awful Martian and Venusian diseases, to which the outsiders had developed more or less immunity, were decimating the human population, and those who survived were unable to cope with their conquerors. Similar diseases were appearing in Akameria; and all the other plagues were spreading with malign celerity.” - and that happened since the day before. And we thought Covid is bad.

“I protested that I had no desire to leave him;” - Oww, I know <3

“a new and more lethal plague than any which hitherto appeared.” - Okay, I think he should have stayed in the future. If he was to bring any of this shit back to the early twentieth century, we’d all be screwed.

“Hugh, the hour of our parting will soon arrive.” - Look, I know it was a different time and language like that was innocent; I'm still getting enormous gay vibes from this.

“I had conceived a real affection.” - I KNOW.

“Far to the south, we could see a saffron cloud that had covered the horizon — the micro-organic plague that was smothering the whole of Akameria.” - it’s still the same day, this shit must have been moving with the speed of sound.

To sum up: Some of the CAS predictions were weirdly accurate. Others did not age well (although given what’s going on with the rise of white supremacy in USA, maybe he was onto something).

Also, it’s my headcanon that Hugh and Kronous were a couple, but CAS early twentieth-century sensitivity prevented him from stating it outright. AND NO ONE CAN CONVINCE ME OTHERWISE.

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