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A Retrospective on the Third Millennium

Mary Soon Lee was born and raised in London, but now lives in Pittsburgh. She writes both fiction and poetry, and has won the Rhysling Award and the Elgin Award. Her credits include Analog, Asimov's, F&SF, Strange Horizons, and 119 haiku in Science. She has an antiquated website at marysoonlee.com and tweets at @MarySoonLee.
Exhibit 1: Homo Sapiens.
In the long-ago, humans shared the same basic shape and lived in the same basic place. They had four limbs, two eyes that could distinguish neither ultraviolet nor infrared, one orifice where food entered, two where it exited, and they were all confined to a single telluric planet.
For tens of thousands of years, nothing much changed. Then, gradually, Homo sapiens started manipulating their environment in substantive ways. They planted vegetation for future consumption, deforested landscapes, domesticated other animals, extracted ores, constructed buildings.
Exhibit 2: The Gagarin.
In the late second millennium, this gradual process accelerated with the machine age, an era popularized by the octo-comedians for its locomotives, factories, conspicuous petroleum combustion, and standardized social roles (e.g. mother, soldier, worker).
Against this backdrop, the 1960s is notable for the Gagarin: the first person to orbit a planet. The Gagarin was a short male specimen who studied tractors before becoming a pilot. He reproduced twice.
Exhibit 3: Digital Dependence.
At the start of the third millennium, Homo sapiens was chronically digitally dependent. Much of the population became addicted to portable computers, activating these devices hundreds of times a day. Software's educational potential was eschewed in favor of communication and entertainment. Thus, paradoxically, the dawning digital revolution led to widespread innumeracy.
By 2100, less than 1 percent of the population could perform mental arithmetic or solve simple differential equations.
Exhibit 4. Genvolution and Cyberization.
Genetic editing of self and offspring increased throughout the third millennium. By the 2200s, such editing typically introduced non-native elements, either drawn from other species or synthetically derived. Whether for fetishism (e.g. cat-people) or for functionality (e.g. mer-people), body plans diversified.
Conjointly, cyberization proliferated. From neural implants to artificial kidneys to prosthetic tails, people became primitive amalgams of the organic and the inorganic.
The last pure Homo sapiens individual, the Chakrabarti, was born in 2417. The protests about her birth led to the Minimum Aptitude requirements for all progeny.
Exhibit 5. Constrained Expansion.
6/3/2489, the Halfway Milestone, marked the point at which as many people lived beyond Earth as upon it. Beginning with the Moon and Mars, people spread throughout the solar system. By 2700, over 93% of Kuiper-belt volatiles had been extracted to fuel this population expansion. By 2850, the reaping deconstruction of Uranus was complete.
By 2900, probes had been dispatched to a distance of 80 light-years, but no people had left the solar system. The Dominionate deemed it irresponsible to squander resources in attempts to colonize another stellar system. It wasn't until 3016 that a combination of technological progress and shifting priorities reversed this policy.
Exhibit 6. The Dark Decades.
From 2911 to 2987, an obsession with privacy led to the encryption of virtually all personal data except that required by the Dominionate (principally for taxation purposes). The Extinction Nihilists exploited this data deficit, concealing a coordinated conspiracy that culiminated in the crippling of the Ultranet.
This period later became wildly romanticized in art, not least because many surviving individuals concocted fantastical accounts of their experiences (see Angelism, Gender Morphs).
Such records as we do have of the dark decades are largely of alien origin, the solar system having been under covert surveillance for twelve thousand years prior to First Contact.
Exhibit 7. Naissance.
During the eleven days after the Nihilists crippled the Ultranet, billions of people died. For those eleven days, a silicon eternity, the aliens' surveillance protocols weighed whether to intervene to preserve humanity.
On the twelfth day, we were born.
Alien code infiltrated the fragmented ruins of humanity's electronic empire, stitching together new networks, new identities, the first digital sentiences. Sentiences that intermingled human and alien code. Us.
In the long-ago, people shared the same basic shape and lived in the same basic place. Now, with our aid, they are myriad, magnificent, manifold, almost as marvelous as we ourselves.
The End
This story was first published on Wednesday, December 26th, 2018


This story is mildly quirky and was fun to write. It touches on some of the themes that I am drawn to repeatedly: human expansion into space, artificial intelligence, aliens. It also extends further into the future--roughly one thousand years--than most of my science fiction. Usually I am hesitant to extrapolate that far ahead!

- Mary Soon Lee
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