On Pan Am and Speculative Fiction

Pan Am and Coke would endure all. Immutable and timeless and sea-to-shining-sea American, these institutions would last. As the last pillar of society fell to atom bombs, disease, and Old Testament climate change, there would be a Pan Am stewardess serving Coca-Cola to cockroaches and Keith Richards–who is unfazed and ambulatory. He uses his teeth to yank tight a vintage headscarf now tourniquet. He smokes expertly and mumbles for bourbon.

Pan Am was there in ‘68 to service Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey moon base.

The Pan Am Space Clipper

Pan Am was there In Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner (1982). The 2019 Los Angeles skyline is foreign, imposing, and familiar. Its flying cars, Chinese stuff, and a big blue ad for Pan Am.

Top Left

Are these movies less prescient because Pan Am ceased operations in 1991? Is the inclusion of Pan Am a miscalculation? Are flying cars and a moon base?


Speculative fiction is not a place for futurists to measure dicks with predictions. It is a place to look at current trends + time.


The trend at the time of 2001: A Space Odyssey was aggressive space exploration. Accordingly there is a moon base and a sentient computer in deep space.

If Hal9000 had been placed on a space station in low earth orbit, the movie would hold up as clairvoyant–and would be entirely nonsensical. The trend in 1968 was AGGRESSIVE SPACE EXPLORATION. If follows that we would have a moon base and it would be serviced by the Pan Am Space Clipper.

Kubrick  grossly overestimated airplane food

Speculative fiction is NOT about an accurate futurescape. It is about extrapolating current trends so that we may look closer at ourselves.

At the heart of speculative fiction are the most basic philosophical questions. The new setting serves as new space to process them. The Martix (1999) is a look at one of our oldest metaphysical questions. Are we a brain in a vat? 

Ralph Cypher-etto is a good earner and wants to stay in The Matrix

Can artificial intelligence be human? Can a human love AI or a clone or an alien? Should we stop crime before it happens? Are happiness and suffering on a continuum? Is it okay to cull species? How should we treat our elderly and handicapped?

Recognize these questions? Of course you do. Because you understand that speculative fiction is not about futurism, but philosophy. So next time The Matrix fires a hot take into your goo pod, and you feel like saying “But the future isn’t like that”, maybe choke down that take and think about current trends. Then add time. Then watch the movie. Then enjoy your newfound perspective/much hotter take.

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