I'm back to the present, from vacationing in other eras. (Of course "time travel" is a common denominator of many good vacations: What is a camping trip except time spent in the Paleolithic? And a reminder, by contrast, of the vast benefits of our inheritance.)
I just spent a few days at a "guest ranch," the Flying U, in the Cariboo Country of British Columbia. It's a marvelous place in a marvelous place; I had a great time and I thank them. Horses are the thing; it's ranch country, high plateau 4000 above sea level, gentle hills, birch/aspen forest and extensive, rolling meadows perfect for a canter or gallop.
The Flying U follows the wisdom of Commander Walker in Swallows and Amazons (see The Arthur Ransome Site) who, away on duty in Asia, and when asked if his children might use the sailboat attached to their holiday house, cabled back to his wife:
"Better drowned than duffers. If not duffers, won't drown"The Flying U permits unsupervised riding, which means that if you like, they put you on a horse at the start of the day and turn you loose on 40 thousand acres. It's a trip: wandering/bouncing horseback in what amounts to a vast park, and learning a new level of contact i.e. with a horse. It's also pretty neat to spend time focusing intensely on an archaic means of transportation --- horses --- and trying to imagine what life was like when the horse was advanced technology.
At the other end of time: I also had the opportunity to read The Stone Canal by Ken MacLeod. It's "science fiction," which means it is largely ignored by serious intellectuals. That is a pity. The Stone Canal in particular is worth reading, though the story line is a little confusing at times. But the power of its vision of future social forms drew me in. It takes place on New Mars (don't ask me where that is) only several centuries from now, which means in shouting distance of the great-grandchildren of the children I saw playing so innocently at The Flying U, so it has a certain immediacy and poignancy. The themes are traditional: power and love. Only the actors are new: humans, of course, but more importantly their progeny of artificial intelligence, from clones virtually indistinguishable from us to dust-collecting robots the size of a bumble-bee (designed to keep a house clean.) Privacy is a big issue; the various entities constantly try to "ping" and "hack" each other's "minds."
Interestingly, the physical layout of their cities would seem quite normal to us: an essentially hierarchical world following Central Place Theory with pedestrians and vehicles amidst buildings and streets.
"A three-kilometre strip of street, the canal bank on one side, buildings on the other, their height a bar chart of property values in a long swoop from the center's tall towers to the low shacks and shanties at the edge of town where the red sand blows in off the desert and family farm fusion plants glow in the dark. On the same trajectory the commerce spills increasingly out from behind the walls and windows, onto the pavement stalls and hawkers' trays. All along this street there's a brisk jostle of people and machines, some working, some relaxing as the light leaves the sky."(MacLeod doesn't mention where they locate the parking on New Mars.)
But The Stone Canal illustrates the idea that, when it comes to the organization of cities:
The future may be more ordinary
than we can possibly imagine.