Interview: The authors of Future Boston on building the Boston of tomorrow

Future Boston, 15 years later
By S.I. ROSENBAUM  |  January 21, 2011



We only have three years before the aliens land.

The lumpy, shapeless gray ones come first, touching down on Nantucket in 2014; then a rain of furry Phneri refugees, their bodies plummeting into the harbor. Of course, there will be more harbor by then: Boston is sinking, and fast. By 2100, Bostonians — human and alien alike — will be packed into a giant cube, surrounded by seawater: a sovereign nation of our own.

This was the future envisioned in Future Boston: The History of a City 1990-2100, an anthology by a group of local science-fiction writers published in 1994. If you're a nerd of a certain age and you grew up in Massachusetts, odds are you own a copy.

We are living in a different future now: electric cars whizz through the city streets. Kanye West communicates with us telepathically. Robots are vacuuming our floors, and our cats can type. We at the Phoenix began to think about Future Boston, about all the future Bostons — the ones that never came true, the ones that are yet to be invented. What is it about Boston that lends itself to science fiction? What do we learn about the city we live in by exploring the city it could become?

READ: "How to create a readable future," by several Future Boston authors

To answer these questions, we got the band back together. More than 15 years after the group first flooded our fair city and filled it with extraterrestrials, we sat down with five of the original nine FuBos contributors — David Alexander Smith, Steven Popkes, Alexander Jablokov, Jon Burrowes, and Sarah Smith — and asked them how they went about building the Boston of tomorrow.

So, why did you decide to map the future of Boston, rather than some other city?

Steven Popkes: Well, we have almost 500 years of history — actually, 400 years of white history and a couple thousand years of [Native American] history before that.

David Alexander Smith: Boston is large. And as Steve points out, Boston has lots of history, and the history is interesting: the history is cultural and political and topographic. So it was a good place to create a time series about.

SP: There's a sense in Boston, as opposed to a lot of cities, where when you walk down [the street in] Boston, you're not just walking across Boston in 2010, you're also walking across Boston in 1980, Boston in 1975, Boston in 1892. It's layered that way.

One of the things that interested me about this project is that you take Boston on, and you make it the center of the universe — which is very Bostonian.

DAS: We felt it would be. And then there's Sarah [Smith]'s great line: "On all sides, Boston is surrounded by the United States."

SP: Once we decided to do the aliens, we had a long set of discussions on how that was going to happen. And we decided, exactly, to make Boston the single port authority for the world. And that had interesting consequences.

DAS: Well, there have been examples, throughout history. Hong Kong, Goa, Nagasaki, Macau, Cape Town — several of these places that were agreed to be acceptable "foreigner-acculturation zones." And that was interesting too, because culture comes — creativity comes out of the clash of an indigenous and a foreign culture.

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