Travel Documents 67: Four Futures

Four Futures

Peter Frase 


Genre: near-future, non-fiction, futurism, social theory

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The Dust Cover Copy

Peter Frase argues that increasing automation and a growing scarcity of resources, thanks to climate change, will bring it all tumbling down. In Four Futures, Frase imagines how this post-capitalist world might look, deploying the tools of both social science and speculative fiction to explore what communism, rentism, socialism and exterminism might actually entail.

Could the current rise of real-life robocops usher in a world that resembles Ender’s Game? And sure, communism will bring an end to material scarcities and inequalities of wealth—but there’s no guarantee that social hierarchies, governed by an economy of “likes,” wouldn’t rise to take their place. A whirlwind tour through science fiction, social theory and the new technologies already shaping our lives, Four Futures is a balance sheet of the socialisms we may reach if a resurgent Left is successful, and the barbarisms we may be consigned to if those movements fail.

The Deets

The Scene

Premise building

Wow, it’s been a while since I did a nonfiction book! But this one was definitely worth doing. Positing–as he describes it– two socialisms and two barbarisms. Two heavens and two hells. Frase delves into the possibilities of four ways the future might play out. He classifies them as:


Communism: a world of abundance and equality

Socialism: a world of scarcity and equality

Rentism: a world of abundance and inequality

Exterminism: a world of scarcity and inequality

Using refreshing examples from pop culture right beside carefully researched study on economics, history and upcoming technologies, Frase lays out how we could end up in each world, and its various functions and priorities. Heads up, this is not  a get-out-the-guillotines rail against capitalist society, at all. It’s simply an observation that all societies change, and that the current model depends on a system of inputs that aren’t going to be out there forever. Technology is also changing the types of work there are to do with human hands. Society will change. That’s a given. This book discusses what it can change into.


The Lingo

Writing Style and Pacing

I’ll say this up front: I listened to the audiobook, and man the reader is dry. It nearly turned me off what is a really engaging and interesting book. Cogently put and up front about everything, Futures doesn’t try to stay scientifically objective: it engages with the fact that we want one of the good futures. The question is how to get them. And it lays out solid suggestions on that, as well as delving into lots of pop literature and movies on the subject. This had a leavening effect on what could have been a really stolid work. The author even made Disney world jokes. I was a little thrown by the fact that the book decided to start with the good futures and end with the worst outcome of all, but the approach works, leaving us with a balanced and cautious optimism tempered by warnings for what to watch out for going forward.  I found it approachable and often fun, if a little prone to be ponderous. But I guess a little pomposity is impossible to avoid in a work like this.

The Moves


What I like best about this book is its stress on the importance that tech isn’t going to decide our future: people will. In the mindsets we cultivate within our societies, the choices we make as individuals and nations, and the stories we tell, we’re shaping the future every day. It also reminded me, as a writer, to keep working hard to tell hopeful stories. Because, as this book says ‘we can all imagine the end of the world, but few of us can imagine the end of capitalism’.

Overall Rating

A clean, conscise and refreshing exploration of futures, with a pragmatically optimistic outlook. Well worth the read.