- Dr. Timothy X. Merritt
Alternative Futures: Inversion
Appendix F to Alternative Futures highlights what is perhaps the greatest strength of science fiction for use as a tool for futures and foresight study. Unbound by the limitations of the "normal" world, authors are free to create anything they can imagine. The role of humanity is turned upside-down, and people no longer dominate the planet. Superior beings are manifest, and the role of the induvial is to try to understand.
In this archetype, the role of mankind is turned upside down, as it is outpaced or subjugated by a superior civilization, agent, or organism. Human beings no longer dominate the planet. Often, they are instead dominated by creatures of higher physical prowess, of which they become prey. Alien species invading the planet or the entire galaxy is an example, either monstrous or anthropomorphic in appearance. However, this superior entity could also manifest itself in more subtle manners, such as an ostensible creator or supervisor with whom mankind ought not interfere. (Fergnani & Song, 2020, p. 11)
The role of mankind is turned upside down: 5 examples out of 7 novels examined = 71%
Descriptions Summarized: The Inversion archetype highlights what is perhaps the greatest strength of science fiction for use as a tool for futures and foresight study. Unbound by the limitations of the "normal" world, authors are free to create anything they can imagine. It is the ability to portray images of what would otherwise be considered unimaginable futures that fills the void that is leftover from traditional modes of thought. Political, military, and corporate leaders may all struggle with being locked into specific modes of thought. The Inversion archetype exists to smash through those barriers. However, with creative freedom comes ideas that are often very strange; cybernetic daemons, man-made black holes, consciousness emerging from the internet, and time just stopping for no apparent reason are all found within this archetype.
Human beings no longer dominate the planet: 7 examples out of 7 novels examined = 100%
Descriptions Summarized: Humanity is accustomed to being the apex species on earth. All of the books examined consider a world where this fact is no longer true. The idea upends one of the rock-solid aspects of the human condition and allows for a free-fall of ideas filled with incredible twists and unexpected surprises.
Dominated by creatures of higher physical prowess: 4 examples out of 7 novels = 57%
Descriptions Summarized: Aliens from space, aliens from beneath the sea, and alien life forms emerging from the internet are all examples of creatures that may knock humanity off of our position of dominance and subjugate us all to the will of another species. It is an idea designed to jar us out of preconceived notions of human existence.
Superior entity could also manifest itself in more subtle manners, such as an ostensible creator or supervisor: 5 examples out of 7 novels examined = 71%
Descriptions Summarized: In addition to alien life forms, there are also other, more subtle means by which humanity can be subjugated. This is a realm of mysterious consciousness and great unseen forces that tap into deeper levels of truth. There may be an environmental backlash caused by humanity's abuse of the ecosystem, reaping the consequences of meddling with the genetic code, or building machines capable of self-awareness.
Role of Individual is to understand: 6 examples out of 7 novels examined = 86%
Descriptions Summarized: The authors of science fiction in the Inversion archetype tend to spend prodigious amounts of time following their characters as they attempt to understand the nature of the mysterious or alien forces they are encountering. In this sense, the role of the protagonist is more akin to that of a student struggling with a growing awareness that things are not as they appear, rather than as a protagonist who is heroically driven to solve a problem. The Inversion archetype challenges us to consider the frightening possibilities that there is more to human existence than we realize.
Creswell, J. W., & Creswell, J. W. (2013). Qualitative inquiry and research design: choosing among five approaches. Los Angeles: SAGE Publications, c2013.
Fergnani, A. & Song, Z. (2020). The six scenario archetypes framework: A systematic investigation of science fiction films set in the future. Futures, (124, 102645) ISSN 0016-3287, https://doi.org/10.1016/j.futures.2020.102645
Merritt, T. (2022). Imagining the future: The rapid classification of fiction archetypes. ResearchGate, (PDF) Imagining the Future: The rapid classification of fiction archetypes (researchgate.net)
Rovai, A., Baker, J. & Ponton, M. (2014) Social science research design and statistics: A practitioner’s guide to research methods and IBM SPSS analysis (2nd ed.). Chesapeake: Watertree Press, LLC.