Invisible Trajectories
Sci-Fi Inland Empire, illustration 1 - bombed out cars on an empty freeway

“We walked down to the freeway—the 118—and turned west. We would take the 118 to the 23 and the 23 to the 101. The 101 would take us up the coast toward Oregon. We became part of broad river of people walking west on the freeway. Only a few straggled east against the current—east towards the mountains and the desert. Where were the westward walkers going? To something, or just away from here?

We saw a few trucks—most of them run at night—swarms of bikes or electric cycles, and two cars. All these had plenty of room to speed along the outer lanes past us. We’re safer if we keep to the left lanes away from the on and off ramps. It’s against the law in California to walk on the freeways, but the law is archaic. Everyone who walks, walks on the freeways sooner or later. Freeways provide the most direct routes between cities and parts of cities. Dad walked or bicycled on them. Some prostitutes and peddlers of food, water, and other necessities live along the freeways in sheds or shacks or in the open air. Beggars, thieves, and murderers, too.

But I’ve never walked on a freeway before today. I found the experience both fascinating and frightening. In some ways, the scene reminded me of an old film I saw once of a street in the mid-twentieth century China—walkers, bicyclers, people carrying, pulling, pushing loads of all kinds. But the freeway crowd is a heterogeneous mass—black and white, Asian and Latin, whole families on the move.”
--Octavia E. Butler, Parable of the Sower

“Next, the stalled cars had their windows opaqued with a cheap commercial compound used for etching glass, and slogans were painted on their doors. Some were long: THIS VEHICLE IS A DANGER TO LIFE AND LIMB. Many were short: IT STINKS! But the commonest of all was the universally known catchphrase: STOP YOU’RE KILLING ME.”
--John Brunner, The Sheep Look Up

Most of the drivers however had the sense to stay put, fuming behind their blank windshields as they calculated the cost of repairs and repainting. Practically all of them were armed, but not one of them was stupid enough to pull a gun. It had been tried during a Trainite demonstration in San Francisco last month. A girl had been shot dead. Others, anonymous in whole head masks and drab mock—homespun clothing, had dragged the killer from his car and used the same violent acid they applied to glass to write MURDERER on his flesh.

In any case, there was little future in rolling down the window to curse the demonstrators. Throats didn’t last long in the raw air.”
--John Brunner, The Sheep Look Up

“People tend to get dramatic when they talk about the future. When I was young, there were optimists who foresaw personal spacecraft and immortality in the twenty-first century…while pessimists looked at the same trends and foretold collapse into worldwide famine and war.

Both forecasts are still being made, Alex, with the deadlines always pushed back one decade, then another and another. Meanwhile, people muddle through. Some things get better, some a lot worse. Strangely enough, ‘the future’ never does seem to arrive.”
--David Brin, Earth

“As the middle class becomes increasingly distressed economically, and oil supplies become more expensive and possibly irregular, using a car will become more and more a luxury. If car use becomes something only for the elite, it is apt to excite the resentment of those whose driving opportunities have been foreclosed by economic misfortune. That resentment might become extreme. Cars might be vandalized. Drivers might be subject to physical abuse.”
--James Howard Kunstler, The Long Emergency: Surviving the Converging Catastrophes of the Twenty-First Century

“Through Vaughan I discovered the true significance of the automobile crash, the meaning of the whiplash injuries and roll-over, the ecstasies of head-on collisions. Together we visited the Road Research Laboratory twenty miles to the west of London, and we watched the calibrated vehicles crashing into the concrete target blocks. Later, in his apartment, Vaughan screened slow-motion films of test collisions that he had photographed with his sine-camera. Sitting in the darkness on the floor cushions, we watched the silent impacts flicker on the wall above our heads. The repeated sequences of crashing cars first calmed and then aroused me. Cruising alone on the motorway under the yellow glare of the sodium lights, I thought of myself at the controls of these impacting vehicles.”
--J.G. Ballard, Crash

“Threats to our civilization from declining rainfall and food shortages are only those that may result from a continuation of current trends. If we were to experience an abrupt climate shift, it is possible that a near-eternal, dreary winter would descend on the cities of Europe and eastern North America, killing crops and freezing ports, roads, and human bodies as well. Or perhaps extreme heat, brought on by a vast exhalation of CO2 or methane, will destroy the productivity of oceans and land alike. Given the scale of the change confronting us, I think that there is abundant evidence to support Lovelock’s idea that climate change may well, by destroying our cities, bring about the end of our civilization.”
--Tim Flannery, The Weather Makers: How Man is Changing the Climate and What It Means For Life On Earth

“Waiting for this breath to return, Maitland listened to the traffic moving above his head. The sound of engines drummed ceaselessly through the tunnel of the overpass. On the far side of the island the feeder road was busy now, and Maitland waived his raincoat at the passing cars. However, the drivers were concentrating on the overhead route indicators and the major junction with the motorway.”
--J.G. Ballard, Concrete Island

“‘Indications seem to be that the track has once again been left behind, causing two cars to occupy the same space at the same time,’ Xavier says in his rapid on-the-job patter. ‘We suspect lane changing is perhaps the culprit. My, look at the traffic ahead.’”
--Kim Stanly Robinson, The Gold Coast

“ ‘Independent lo-comotion,’ Xavier sings as Abe turns the key and revs the engine, 1056 horsepower, atavistic Formula One adrenaline rush here as he steers off the magnetic track into the narrow gap between fast-track cars and the center divider, roaring along in vibratory petrol power, let the poor saps breathe a bit of the carbon monoxide ambrosia, nostalgia whiff of last century’s power smog as they zoom by almost taking off door handles, sideview mirrors, sure why not clip a few to give them a story to tell about this ten-millionth traffic jam of their OC condo lives?”
--Kim Stanley Robinson, The Gold Coast

“The U.S. economy of the decades to come will center on farming, not on high-tech, or ‘information,’ or ‘services,’ or space travel or tourism or finance. All other activities will be secondary to food production, which will require much more human labor. Places that are unsuited for local farming will obviously suffer…
To put it simply, Americans have been eating oil and natural gas for the past century at an ever-accelerating pace. Without the massive ‘inputs’ of cheap gasoline and diesel fuel for machines, irrigation, and trucking, or petroleum-based herbicides and pesticides, or fertilizers made out of natural gas, Americans will be completely compelled to radically reorganize the way food is produced or starve.”
--James Howard Kunstler, The Long Emergency: Surviving the Converging Catastrophes of the Twenty-First Century

“In modern literate societies whose writing does discuss subjects besides kings and planets, that doesn’t necessarily mean that we draw on prior experience committed to writing. We, too, tend to forget things. For a year or two after the gas shortages of the 1973 Gulf oil crisis, we Americans shied away from gas-guzzling cars, but then forgot that experience and are now embracing SUVs, despite volumes of print spilled over the 1973 events. When the city of Tucson went through a severe drought in the 1950s, its alarmed citizens swore that they would manage their water better, bur soon returned to their water-guzzling ways of building golf courses and watering their gardens.”
--Jared Diamond, Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed

“I gazed down at this immense motion sculpture, whose traffic deck seemed almost higher than the balcony rail against which I leaned. I began to orientate myself again round it reassuring bulk, its familiar perspectives of speed purpose, and direction. The houses of our friends, the wine store where I bought our liquor, the small art-cinema where Catherine and I saw American avant-garde films and German sex-instruction movies, together realigned themselves around the palisades of the motorway. I realized that the human inhabitants of this technological landscape no longer provided its sharpest pointers, its keys to the borderzones of identity.”
--J.G. Ballard, Crash

“Biking down the Newport Freeway the wind cut through him, and with clear road ahead he shifted into high gear and started pumping hard. Ramona drafted him and after a while took the lead and they zipped down the gentle slope of the coastal basin pumping so hard that they passed the cars in the next lane, and all for the fun of gong fast. On the narrow streets of Costa Mesa and Newport Beach they had to slow and negotiate traffic, following it out to the end of Balboa Peninsula. Here apartment blocks jumbled high on both sides of the street. Nothing could be done to reduce the population along such a fine beach, and besides the ocean-mad residents seemed to enjoy the crowd.”
--Kim Stanley Robinson, Pacific Edge

“Pure water cost nearly as much as your monthly rent. At the same time, for pocket change you could buy discs containing a thousand reference books or a hundred hours of music. Petrol was rationed on a need-only basis and bicycles choked the world’s cities. Yet resorts within one days zep flight were in reach to even humble wage earners.”
--David Brin, Earth

Sci-Fi Inland Empire illustration 2 - detail of empty freeways

VIEW THE STORY