Friday, August 08, 2008

Search for tomorrow

When I was seven years old, one of my most prized possessions was a book called The World of Tomorrow written by Kenneth K. Goldstein and published by McGraw-Hill. (Miraculously, I still own that book today, and it's still one of my most prized possessions.) As the title indicates, this was a book about the future, lavishly illustrated with gorgeous full-color photographs of life in the year 2069.

You wouldn't believe how many hours I spent staring at those photos when I was seven. Well, actually, maybe you would. It was so authoritative: these were detailed photographs, not merely drawings created by some artist, so any reasonable person could only assume this was how the future was actually going to be. I tried to put myself into the world of those pictures to better understand how the future would feel to live in at ground level. What would it be like to walk down that street? What view would you see from that park? What sounds would you hear from the traffic of those automated cars zipping by on their grooved tracks? How would it feel to ride in one? Were those rosette-like buildings carousels or restaurants? Would it be strange to sleep in an underwater hotel?

Because of all those hours staring and contemplating, these images are still the indelible default setting for "the future" in my imagination. This is still the future cityscape I envision when reading a science fiction novel. It's the utopian future Earth of Star Trek; the three-dimensional version of what Curt Swan drew in old issues of Adventure Comics with the Legion of Super-Heroes.

It turns out the photos in The World of Tomorrow actually came from the Futurama II exhibit presented by General Motors at the 1964 New York World's Fair, the very building I wrote about in my previous post. (The original Futurama was presented by GM at the 1939 World's Fair.) Neither the corporate connection nor the association with the World's Fair were highlighted in any way by Goldstein or singled out in the acknowledgements. The book was published several years after the fair closed, in which time a lot had changed in America...and the surprisingly progressive, socially conscious, and environmentally enlightened text wasn't a commercial sop to the automaker. As a result, I went a decades not ever guessing the connection until I came across the familiar pictures by accident a couple of years ago while researching something else.

And now, because we live in the future -- where this home computer terminal I'm using at the moment is connected to a worldwide communications network -- I can share with you something I never dreamed existed: actual motion picture footage of that other future I kept trying to visit throughout my childhood.

Note: the above scans were found at, which offers a thorough guide to Futurama II among other attractions.


  1. I've been enjoying the last couple of posts springing from the 1964 World's Fair. I remember the Fair and having that same sense of wonder about the future that you described today. Good stuff.

  2. The odd thing for me was having no contemporary knowledge of the Fair, but growing up with its remnants -- the photos in that book; structures such as the Unisphere, the Circarama, the observatory towers, and the Port Authority heliport (i.e. "Titans Tower") which are all city landmarks to this day; the attractions designed by Walt Disney and company for the Fair that subsequently found a home at the original Disneyland, where I saw them as a wee sprog obsessed with Tomorrowland but oblivious to its New York heritage; and more sweepingly, the aesthetic influence of Futurama II in comic book art (surely Curt Swan must have seen the Fair, right?) and the favorite tv show of my childhood, Thunderbirds. So while I missed the Fair itself, in a very real sense I've always been surrounded by it.

  3. Wow - so different from my experience. I was a kid in New York, we went to the fair, I am sure I was surrounded by adverts and articles on it, and I can remember several artifacts from it that lasted a while - a plastic dinosaur from Sinclair Oil (formed in a machine while I watched and delivered still warm to my little hands) and a Kodak "Fair Edition" camera that I later used to take pictures at my sister's wedding.

    But I left NYC when I was 21 and came west, leaving the Unisphere and all that behind. Thirty years later, it seems a distant memory, with no living remnants in my consciousness. I have only paid one half-day visit to Disneyland ever; Tomorrowland was closed and although I had seen "It's a Small World" in Queens, I didn't in California.

    But yeah, in one place our influences overlap: Curt Swan. I want to live in his future.

  4. AAAAAAAAAAHHHHHH!!!!! I remember that book!!!!!

    Yes, I agree: very strange to grow up surrounded by all these relics of futurity -- makes me feel just like I'm a character in a William Gibson or Bruce Stirling novel. Which I guess is kind of the point.

    My mind is BLOWN by the deja vu of seeing that video. Astonishing familiarity: the kid's supposed to be me, right?


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