Not Even Close: The Predictions of Ron Goulart's 'Hawkshaw'
Science Fiction is all about predicting the future. Sometimes its authors are eerily right - see Arthur C. Clarke's track record of predicting everything from geostationary communications satellites to the freaking Internet. But more often, they are very, very wrong. This is the first of what I hope will be a regular feature celebrating some of the worst predictions the genre has ever produced.
Ron Goulart's 1972 novel Hawkshaw might only be 156 pages long, but it contains multitudes. Set in the far-off time of 2002, it's as much a comedy as it is science-fiction, mixing up a post-apocalyptic setting with jokes about the media, toupees, and Nixon. The main plot follows Noah Kraft, a "21st century newsman," as he tries to track down a werewolf that is terrorizing the "Connecticut Colony" in what was once the tony community of Westport. Despite its dearth of pages, the book finds time for tangents that involve everything from mouthy androids to senior citizen cannibals. The only thing missing is a codicil delineating which mind-altering substances Goulart ingested at specific moments while writing the book.
And yes, most of these predictions should be taken with a grain of salt - or some other powder, natch - since the whole plot is ostensibly about being 'funny.' But any book that features the phrase "Science Fiction or Prophesy?" in large, yellow type on its back cover deserves what it gets.
What It Got Right
This is going to be a short paragraph. Hawkshaw misses just about every prediction it makes. Even the few successful moments, like when Goulart imagines electric automobiles sharing the road with ones that run on fuel, are instantly undercut by things like referring to the vehicles as "landcars." There is also some talk of "PixPhones" that seemingly operate like the FaceTime app, but they are also the size of "dinner plates" (Sad Trombone) and run on landlines (Price Is Right Brass Section of Disappointment). In Goulart's defense, he totally nailed that annoying 'Putting a Capital Letter Inside Another, Already Capitalized Word' branding trend that makes me furious for both aesthetic and grammatical reasons.
What It Got Wrong
Hoo-boy, how long do you have? Let's start with the geopolitical and work our way down to the personal. First up, in Hawkshaw's 2002, the United States broke apart sometime in the mid-80s. What's more, the Chinese invaded Los Angeles soon after and the rest of the US has splintered into different states, from the aforementioned Connecticut Colony to the "San Francisco Enclave." Speaking as an Oakland resident: I wish.
Goulart's sense of premonition is just as impaired when it comes to the everyday life of 2002. His characters visit a grocery store filled with imitation and soy products, including "Kelp-Derived Consomme," "Soymeat Rancho," and the admittedly hilarious smokeable "Soygars." Sure, it wasn't until 2010 that meat-filled meat finally made it to the mainstream, but isn't the Double Down exactly the sort of thing that a trippy SF novelist would have dreamed up?
Speaking of which, here are the varietals of wine Goulart did posit, listed in order from 'That Totally Exists' to "Wait - Does He Know Lil Wayne?": Napa Valley Sweet Carbonated Pineapple Wine, Mendocino Chocolate Wine, San Pablo Bay Cough Syrup Burgundy.
The only people not chowing down on soy are those silver-fox cannibals, who prepare secret feasts using the recipes of a celebrity chef named Enrick Tuniclyffe. (That name is as unlikely as you think. No results on Google!) Tuniclyffe films his wildly popular show in "covert studios" and makes his entrance swinging into frame on a rope while wearing a pot on his head. Not exactly the "Lamb Curry Song," huh?
There are lots of other missteps, from a casino catering to the preteen set that features Old Maid to the fact that androids use terms like 'jive' with disturbing frequency. But the best-worst prediction in Hawkshaw is one that could conceivably come true someday. While fleeing from the conservative Robin Hood Society, which is lead by, I swear, a character named "George Washington II," our hero Nate Kraft comes upon a community theater. The current production is "An Evening With Norman Mailer," a Hal Holbrook-like recreation of the feisty New Journalist himself. Naturally, Kraft interrupts a rehearsal in which the actor portraying Mailer is practicing his fisticuffs. We can dream.
Anyone out there ever read Hawkshaw? Got any books to suggest for the next Not Even Close? Let me know in the comments!
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