The future is inevitable, yet what that future holds for humans, animals, the environment and technology is very much in the hands of those currently occupying planet Earth. With news of climate change and ecological degradation, with news of endangered species and overpopulation, with news of pollution and superfund sites, no wonder many people look at the future — even just a generation or two away — with despondency and melancholy.
Nat Geo, the TV channel that likes to ask big questions, is thinking about the future with their new six-part documentary series called Year Million. The series continues Monday, May 22 at 9 p.m.
Year Million asks a simple, yet profound, question: What will the world look like in one million years?
To help answer that question, Nat Geo has gathered a group of experts to wax poetic about the future. Narrated by Laurence Fishburne, Year Million includes segments with Ray Kurzweil, Peter Dimandis, Michio Kaku, Brian Greene, Brian Michael Bendis, Matt Mira and David Byrne. These guests offer opinions on the future of technology, ideas and innovation.
Recently, Hollywood Soapbox exchanged emails with one of the experts on the show. Charles Soule (Wolverine, She-Hulk, Superman/Wonder Woman) is a comic book writer who has some interesting theories about what the world will look like in Year Million. Questions and answers have been slightly edited for style.
How did you get attached to this project?
I’ve been writing comics for Marvel and DC for a number of years now — all the big icons, from Wolverine and the X-Men to Superman and Batman, as well as Star Wars and a number of my own stories, titles like Letter 44 and Curse Words. All of that work, especially the superhero and sci-fi stories, involves looking at mankind’s future through a pop culture lens. So, when the Year Million producers were looking for some voices to balance out the perhaps more technical side that some of the scientists and big thinkers provided on the show’s topics, I suppose I fit the bill. I’m honored to be included, though — I love thinking and talking about this stuff.
In a nutshell, what do you think humanity might look like in a million years?
Well, that’s the show, right? I think it’s impossible to accurately speculate, because human evolution has been accelerating at an almost exponential pace (and I’m not talking about just physical evolution, but technologically-assisted evolution as well.) Where we might be in 500, 100 years — that we could think about on a somewhat realistic level, but a million becomes more fantastic. I think we’ll be unrecognizable physically, but hopefully not spiritually and mentally.
For your contributions, did you rely on science? Science fiction? An in-between area?
I’m not going to say that I’m as expert in any of these subjects as any of the folks who spend their lives becoming authoritative on them, but I do spend a lot of time thinking about the future. It’s part of the job. Yes, my version is more sci-fi focused, but that doesn’t mean it’s not somewhat based in reality, or based on speculation about where our tech might go in the near and far future. I try to do my homework. For example, that Letter 44 project, which is about a manned mission to the asteroid belt to contact alien visitors to our solar system, was written in consultation with NASA engineers, astronomers, etc. I think real science should always serve as the backdrop to the science fiction, whenever possible.
Why do you think we humans love asking these big questions?
Because we’re part of it, through the legacy we’re passing down to future generations. The land we’ll never see — the great unknown, which always makes things more fascinating.
Being a comic book writer, what superhero (or superheroes) do you think has the best chance of surviving for another million years?
In-story, probably someone like Superman. There are plenty of immortals in superhero comics, though. You also often see things like Captain America of The Future, where you get to speculate about what America might be in the year 3000, and what sort of legacy version of Cap might exist.
Depicting a Year Million version of heroes is actually a more common trope in superhero comics than you might think.
Now, out of story … like thinking about which hero might still exist as a pop culture icon to humanity after a million years? Man, who knows? We haven’t had culture as a species for a million years, although some narratives still do seem to persist for a very long time (flood stories, Gilgamesh, etc.). That’s on the order of thousands of years, though. After a million, I bet Spider-Man would look very, very different.
When thinking about the future, do you get excited? Frightened? Intrigued?
Intrigued, then excited, then frightened, then back to intrigued and optimistic. There are so many ways it could all go — but I’m glad I’ll get to see my little piece of it.
By John Soltes / Publisher / John@HollywoodSoapbox.com
Year Million continues on Nat Geo on Mondays at 9 p.m. Click here for more information.