Time travel is one of the most persistent and fun tropes in science fiction. The list of time travel books, TV shows and movies is staggering, from HG Wells to Doctor Who to, most recently, the mind-bendingly bizarre movie Tenet. Into this crowded but seemingly inexhaustible field comes The Future is Yours by Dan Frey. As with much science fiction, though, the time travel element is not the point here, or at least not wholly the point, as Frey takes on Silicon Valley, the venture capital industry, social media and the tech giants.
The Future is Yours is based on an old science fiction premise: that while physical objects cannot be sent back in time due to quantum entanglement, information can. This premise has been used in books like Gregory Benford’s 1980s award-winner Timescape, and by William Gibson in Peripheral (2014) and its sequel Agency. But unlike those books, Frey takes a new angle.
In The Future is Yours entrepreneur Ben Boyce and his genius partner Adhvan (Adhi) Chaudry discover technology that allows them to search the internet a year into the future, and decide they want to monetise the idea. Their company will be called simply The Future. They want to create a desktop timescope that will allow anyone to peek into information from one year in the future. To set up a company and go into production they need money. They go after that money from venture capital and soon they find themselves swimming in the dark waters of unbridled capitalism, which starts to twist their egalitarian ideals and drive a wedge between them.
EMAIL – APRIL 5, 2021
From Paolo Ventrini
To: Ben Boyce, Adhvan Chaudry
… Early on, I like to ask: what is a startup? To me, it’s not about size or tech or the Valley. A startup is a capitalist science experiment. We are testing the viability of a new business model. So defining the model is crucial and it is worth considering all the variables here.
Does this have to be consumer-facing at all? Couldn’t this essentially work as the basis for a hedge fund? We’ll be infallible for next-level returns. It’s the ultimate investment algorithm, and at a moment when investors are desperate for certainty, we can actually deliver it. Whatever social good you conceive can be better accomplished simply by making a ton of money and donating it to worthy causes.
The overarching narrative is provided by evidence that Ben is giving before a Senate Committee a month before his world-changing product is going to launch. While at first the predictive capacity of the technology is seen to be infallible, as the hearing progresses the reader discovers that this premise seems to be falling apart behind the scenes. Over the course of the narrative Frey deals with corporate malfeasance, the male-dominated culture of Silicon Valley, the pursuit of profit over ethics, the use of lawsuits as weapons of hostile takeover and the degree to which all of this is underpinned by personal relationships.
So that in the end, The Future is Yours is more like a science fiction version of The Social Network with Ben as Zuckerberg and Adhi as Saverin. Only not quite. The relationship between the two is a little more complicated and involves a third party, Ben’s wife Leila, who is also Adhi’s best friend and secret (and later not so secret) crush. It is the personal relationship and conflict that drives this story as much as the technological, ethical and legal challenges that keep coming at them. Along the way, through Adhi’s blog, Frey also gets to reference and geek out about some of the touchstones of science fiction – Star Trek, Blade Runner, Doctor Who, Frankenstein, Dracula and even A Christmas Carol – to ram home some analogies in the plot. And to riff on the nature of science fiction itself:
‘You look at the history of science fiction, it basically came along when religion fell out of favour with the intelligentsia,’ [Chaudry] explains. ‘But it’s concerned with the same things. Sci-fi is not primarily about science – it’s about our purpose in the cosmos. The big questions. All the stuff that used to be the purview of religion …’
The Future is Yours is made up of a collection of emails, text messages, articles and transcripts. Given the subject matter, it probably best reflects the way many of us, but particularly those more involved in tech-related industries would choose to communicate and share information. And while it is often difficult in this superficial style of narrative to really get a feel for the characters, Frey manages to bring both Ben and Adhi to life. However, the reader’s patience will depend on their willingness to accept this technique. Sylvain Nuevel used this approach to mainly good effect in his Themis Files trilogy, although it did become a little forced by the third volume. The Future is Yours is a standalone and so there is less chance of it outstaying its welcome. While
The Future is Yours asks a very simple question: if you could know the future, and know that it cannot be changed, would you want to? Dan Frey bakes this ethical conundrum into a page-turning takedown of the tech industry in general and Silicon Valley in particular. And while he has to resort, as all time-travel tales ultimately do, to a little sleight of hand that asks readers to seriously suspend disbelief, he does, for the most part, make it work.
Postscript: Director Matt Reeves (Planet of the Apes, The Batman) is developing a TV series for HBO based on The Future is Yours, simply called The Future.
This review first appeared in Newtown Review of Books.