I know Lapham’s Quarterly is not exactly new. And I know everyone and their mother has been telling me to read it for a long, long time now. But here’s the thing. I always saw that thing on the magazine stand and it just looked so pretentious I felt unable, just unable to pick it up, let alone read it.
And now how stupid I feel for that. I finally picked up a few back issues, including this amazing issue The Future, and Holy. Shit. Friends, you are all right and I am terrible. It’s like Lewis Lapham made this magazine thing for me personally. It’s full of old great writing and weird marginalia and historical figures and especially, especially, some of the most amazing essays I’ve ever read. I read an essay about long term compound interest trusts, of all things, which blew my mind. Yes you read that correctly. Did you know that Jarndyce v. Jarndyce is based on a real lawsuit that went on for 62 years in Great Britain and tied up the courts for so long that Parliament actually passed a law against the kind of trust that engendered the suit? Or that Benjamin Franklin set up a trust that made millions by the time it had matured? There’s also a biography of Nostradamus which is just about us and our instinct for making patterns out of randomness. And finally, there is this marvelous, amazing essay on the future and science fiction, from one of my very favorite writers, John Crowley. He writes, wonderfully, about how science fiction always fails when it tries to predict the future, and that the way we write sci fi always says more about our present than it does about any kind of future. So I wonder what it says about us now that:
Today most serious science fiction–that is, the stories that put the genre to the most interesting and thoughtful uses–rarely presents itself as the bearer of news from the future, or seeks to acquire power from the act of prediction…New work labeled SF is more likely to be set in an alternative present, a world wholly unlike this one and not having evolved from our past at all…
And you can read it here!