As we close in on the election — an election liable to be the defining moment for this nation for, oh, the next 100 years or so — I thought it might be instructive to get a perspective on where we might be headed.

About a year and a half ago, I interviewed a few science fiction writers to get their take on what I perceived as a rightward drift in the genre. The responses were interesting and instructive. It seemed to me then that if we’re trying to determine where the country is liable to be in 20 years, perhaps we should consult with people who are generally thinking about the future.

I conversed with four: Retired Army Lt. Col. Tom Kratman, who is a best-selling author of near-future military thrillers and a military SF series which is, by his own admission, a thinly disguised near-future thriller; Sarah A. Hoyt, respected author in more genres than I’m able to accurately count and winner of the prestigious Prometheus Award for Best Libertarian Fiction for her space opera Darkship Thieves (the sequel Darkship Renegades is due out Dec. 4); LarryThe Combat AccountantCorreia, the multiple New York Times bestselling author of the Monster Hunter International series and The Grimnoir Chronicles; and Kate Paulk, whose debut novel Impaler was well-received and whose urban fantasy ConVerse books (ConVent and ConSensual) are some of the genuinely geekiest — and funniest — books I’ve ever read.

I asked the panel one simple question: given conditions as they exist today, where do you think we are headed in 20 years, and what will the world look like? (Ok — two questions.) Kratman was less than optimistic:

I anticipate the European Monetary Union will break up. The German-controlled euro may become the new deutsche mark, or Germany may go back to the mark. The name really won’t matter. The European Union won’t go away — Europe is littered with transnational organizations that don’t ever go away — but will be irrelevant. Most countries will go back to their traditional monetary unit: franc, lire, drachma, punt, etc. A fair number will stick with the new mark so long as Germany remains in charge of it. I expect resurgent fascism in Italy, Spain, and France at a minimum, as socialism does what it does best — fail disastrously.

Paulk likewise sees trouble:

The U.S. is still the world leader, but what it leads is much reduced from even 20 years before. The implosion of the Chinese economy took a great deal of pressure off the U.S. economy, but the massive entitlements of the boomer generation leave almost nothing for anything else. The form of the U.S. government remains unchanged, but the real leaders are a handful of bureaucrats who administer a soft fascist regime. Those who espouse the correct opinions can still do well, but accidents and odd coincidences befall those who dare to express the wrong view. Since the wrong view can change overnight, studying political correctness is essential.

Hoyt sees things as bleak, but she is hopeful:

I think the next twenty years are an inflection point for human civilization.

By the history of our race, we should be heading into a time of more and more limited liberties, a time that looks like a cross between 1984 and Brave New World. Then that civilization would fall, and slowly the light of liberty would appear again. And there would be the bloody mess to reconstruct.

But I think technology changes things. The movement towards mass everything and the belittling of the individual moved fast in the 20th century because it was what the century’s technology encouraged. For the last 100 years we’ve been on this path where the schools create serfs and the state extends to points unheard of, and … well, it’s the whole miserable history of the 21st century.

So, are we still on that course?

Well, it’s still the safe way to bet, but I don’t think so.