Blog no. 343
the use of a style or aesthetic considered futuristic in an earlier era
So, recently, I bought a minidisc recorder. It’s a Sony model from the early 2000s, used, with some cosmetic wear—but it works. It didn’t come with and discs, though, so I had to buy a pack from Japan. (Did you know Sony still makes new minidiscs, because I didn’t). Because it would take close to a month (three weeks at least) for that shipment to get here, I scoured the local used goods marked for anything minidisc related and found that someone in the city was selling a partially working model with a disc. I talked him down to $20, and then I had two recorders (they are players too) and a single, used disc. Mostly, I wanted the disc so that I could confirm that the first player I bought worked (it does) but having the backup player, even for parts, at such a low price was worth not getting lunch one day. (Also, if I can get it to work (which would be neat) I’d have two players with slightly different abilities and styles that I could go between depending on what I want or need). The problem is that it didn’t stop there.
While searching ebay for more stuff (it quickly becomes an obsession) I stumbled across a minidisc case with some new-old-stock discs for a good price. It was in England, so the shipping was high, but even with that, the cost was what I would pay. I put down a low bid, assuming that (like nearly every other bid I’d placed so far) someone would jump in at the last second and take it. For some reason, that didn’t happen, and now that’s somewhere over the Atlantic, likely being smashed to bits by a postal worker. Why am I telling you about this? First of all, because it’s cool, and I like it, but also to explain the concept of retro futurism. I always thought that minidiscs were cool. My friend back in high school had one, and I remember coveting it secretly knowing that I couldn’t afford it and outwardly questioning why he’d get one. Sure, there wasn’t a ton of music available for it, but making your own recordings is easy enough. (I would love to get an old prerecorded mindisc some day, but the selection is weak and people want way too much for anything I’d want.
Anyway, my friend had a player and I coveted it. I also knew (through other friends) that MP3 players were just around the corner. While the minidisc devices were super cool (and still are) with mechanical clicks, whirs, and ca-chunks, mp3 players were slick, small, and had the potential to hold vast amounts of music. (I still have my first 1gig Samsung mp3 player). I’m happy with the eventual decision, but to me, minidiscs have always been the future that never was. The small, protected, portable, physical media that promised to revolutionize everything that used CDs. In the stories that I would make up back then (and inevitably never write) the future characters transported important information across space on a minidisc. The protagonist would insert the disc into the machine at the last moment and stop the countdown, or they would steal precious information and hide the disc in a secret place.
Retro futurism is writing the story now (with all the technological advancements we’ve made since then, and still using that anachronistic technology. Cyberpunk, steampunk, dieselpunk, or any kind of punk, is all retro futurism. It’s something that I enjoy and it’s a big part of my science fiction novella series. The first one, The Thinking Machine, is meant to be cyberpunk. While The Neon Heart is less so (it’s been pointed out to me that it’s military scifi, but I still claim that it’s an adventure story) it’s in the same world, so it can be assumed it has cyberpunk connections. The next one, Broadcast Wasteland (working title) is even more steeped in old technology. The basis for the story were events that took place in the early 80s, so it’s going to be all over the place with the retro tech. And, yes, the main character is going to have a minidisc player.
The question remains, why did I buy one? Because I wanted it. I’ve told myself (and others) that it’s a prop I can use for selling books, but, really, that’s me scrambling for an excuse. I just wanted it. I have been looking on and off for years and one came up that I liked, and I got it for a price I was willing to pay. I’m calling it a birthday present to myself. A couple of years ago, I bought an old boombox for myself, and now I have two minidisc players. They still need a really good cleaning, and I have to take the time to record some music on them, but that sound like a fun afternoon to me. I’ll put on the very music I intend to record. I’ll have to wait until this day job chaos slows down and I get the invasion novel back on track, but then, I’ll have an old device that does something my phone also does, but less good. Retro Futurism.