Pedantry aside, it’s now five years into the twenty-first century; we are living in science fictional days, the bright cold days of omnipotent totalitarianismm and the shiny white cleanliness of Pan Am flights to the moon. But instead of dealing with cold fusion cars, let alone jetpacks and space babies, the world is digging the dead out of the mud of Aceh. The tsunami that occured was an order of magnitude more deadly than Krakatoa. It will be one of the deadliest natural disasters in recorded history; depending on how many people die in from the diseases and privation that follow disasters outside the developed world, it may be the worst ever to happen outside China. The shiny technolopoli of our imaginations never resembled this. War and horror and even unsought, random catastrophe — and the aftermath — can be compelling, but there’s very little story in a natural disaster that strikes a part of the world mired in grinding poverty that nobody much cares about any way. There are sales in the tale of surviving the apocalypse; how many books will be published about the efforts of the Red Cross and Doctors without Borders and the U.S. Marines to make sure that sugar packets and clean water can get to communities of starving Indonesians so they don’t die of cholera. Appropriate technology, like providing an electricity source or cheap water pump to a rural South Asian community, is still of vast importance in leapfrogging Asian tigers. At a science fiction convention in Texas a few months ago, people asked whether there was room for cyberpunk in a world after 9/11. Their answers were insightful, but even a writer who has spent some time thinking about the problem of poor, drowning communities missed one possible answer. Bruce Sterling participated via self-parodic letter, but didn’t give an answer that surely has occured to him: for most of history, for most of the world, war, pestilence, and famine were simply the natural order of things. For people who don’t read People, let alone appear in it, the future looks a lot like the past.