A Review of Future Imperfect

Anna Stroud

There is one sentence in Babette Gallard’s novel, Future Imperfect (LightEye 2023), which continues to haunt me: ‘If someone had shown me this future before, would I have changed?’ A writer and environmental activist, Gallard wrote Future Imperfect to explore what life might be like in 2050 when her daughter reaches her age. Part dystopian fiction, part travelogue, it tells the story of a few ordinary women who find themselves on the margins of an ever shrinking world. 

It’s the year 2050 and the earth’s resources are near depletion. Rising temperatures and sea levels have forced people to flee their homes, nations have shut their borders against climate refugees, and the social order is divided into four classes: Entrepreneurs, Directors, Credit-worthy and Universal Income Level. Entrepreneurs control industry while Directors control the people through advanced technology that connects neural pathways to intelligent devices. ‘Britain for the British’ and ‘France for the French’ have become commonplace refrains, and it’s against this backdrop of xenophobia that we meet Helen and Isha, a British couple in their late fifties, their daughter Jana, and their eleven-month-old granddaughter Ayo. 

When the River Rhone floods their home in the town of Arles in France, Helen and Isha try to return to England. However, their passage across the English Channel is blocked when Isha, who has Ugandan-Asian ancestry, learns that her British citizenship has been revoked. Faced with an impossible choice, Helen and Isha decide to walk along the Via Francigena, an ancient pilgrimage route, to Switzerland where they will meet up with Jana and Ayo.

It’s not often that a dystopian novel makes you wish to travel but, as I set off under the scorching sun with Isha and Helen, I yearned to see the landscape Gallard depicts in vivid detail. (The author has travelled 1,600 km along the same route on horseback so she knows what she’s talking about.)

What makes the narrative so compelling is that Helen and Isha, two educated, professional women, would not be perceived as ‘vulnerable’ today. The novel thus challenges readers to imagine themselves in a future space where old social norms have washed away. (This reviewer will be sixty-one in 2050.) 

Would I, now that I have seen one possible future, change the way I live in the present? Because in the novel, as in the real world, we glimpse echoes of the future. In their pilgrimage along the Via Francigena, for example, Helen and Isha meet people from across the world who have experienced the effects of climate change long before it began affecting Europe; people such as Fatimah and Asim who fled the heat of Sudan and whose son, Kafeel, ‘is from all the countries we’ve passed through since his birth’. While seeking shelter in a farmhouse, Helen finds the diaries of a woman named Mathilde who, decades ago, witnessed the destruction of indigenous forests. They meet survivalists who’ve adapted to climate change by inhabiting underground wartime tunnels, and resistance fighters who live off the grid and survive through innovative farming methods. They meet a Nigerian woman whose stories inspire others to imagine a new way of life. And their daughter, Jana, captures all these tales in the virtual reality realm where her gift for storytelling has the power to change the world.

It’s in these quiet, intimate stories of courage and creativity, of resistance and reimagining, where one finds hope for a new beginning. By imagining the future, imperfect as it may be, Gallard proposes alternative ways of living in harmony with nature and helping it heal. 

Anna Stroud

is a

Guest Contributor for Panorama.

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