A long, long time ago, time itself began. Just exactly how and when is
hotly debated. If you are like most, you believe that time began at
something-or-other-billion BC. And although I tend to lean towards a much
younger date, it matters little, as such vast tracts of time are
incomprehensible to conventional thought. Over those years, many calendar
systems rose and died. Then, one day, a man of the church decided that the
noblest thing was to center all of time around the birth of Christ the
savior. And so this fellow, being ever so much nearer to the event than we,
and having the advantage of the firmly established Roman calendar,
calculated when Christ was born, and made that year one. All years before
that were numbered in descending order and all years hence in ascending. BC
and AD, both Latin phrases (rather than, as is popularly held "Before
Christ" and "After Death") came into being. Our Holy friend was, however,
off by about four years. He hadn't taken leap year into account when doing
his calculations, and so the year we are now entering is probably more like
"The Year of our Lord 2004" rather than 2000.
I would like to take this moment to lay to rest another popular
misconception about the year 2000. It is not the beginning of the new
millenium. Allow me to explain in simple arithmetical terms: if the year 1
was the beginning of the first millenium AD, then the year 1000 would have
been the thousandth year, and therefore the last year of that millenium.
The new millenium would have begun at 1001 and ended at 2000, or the two
thousandth year. The next millenium begins promptly at 12:00 am January
first, 2001. Be there.
As we entered this century that we are now about to exit, a poet mourned
for humanity. On that new years eve he wrote a poem of sadness as he
watched a bird wing its way across a dreary December sky. His bitter mood
was due to the fact that he believed that our world was cyclic in nature.
His theory held that we experience cycles of 2000 years of prosperity and
peace followed by 2000 years of chaos and back again. He believed that we
were experiencing in this last century the decay into the chaos that the
next two millennia would bring, and so he wrote what I paraphrase now: "And
so, what fowl creature slumps towards Bethlehem to be born." Looking at the
last 2000 years, I'm not sure I can agree with him that it was a time of
peace and prosperity, but as a middle class American, I have little to
The year 2000 may very well be a milestone for humanity, or it may just be
another arbitrary date, marking nothing, meaning nothing. Whatever else it
is, it does mark a milestone for Science Fiction. For the last fifty years,
2000 AD has stood as the date by which all writings of future times were
judged. It was a long way away, and so everything that was to happen before
2000 was in the near future, and everything after that date was in the
distant future. Partially this was because no one could seriously
comprehend being in the new set of numbers. Nevertheless, it came, and
looking back on these writings, they seem pretty ridiculous now. Still, who
of us didn't allow thoughts of flying cars and bases on the moon and Mars
slip through our mind when we thought of the year 2000? Be honest.
According to the second most popular Science Fiction series ever, Star
Trek, we should be suffering the horrors of the holocaust brought about by
world war three now. Some Science Fiction writers, such as George Lucas,
wisely avoided the problems that come with dating futuristic works. While
most writers write for their day, not believing in their predictions, but
not seriously expecting their work to endure fifty years or so, others were
just pretentious enough to do so.
This lack of foresight has lead to other problems as well. I have watched
within the last three years as the wave of Y2K paranoia has sprouted,
flourished and grown. I sometimes wish I could have gone back fifty years
and written a sci-fi story about the Y2K bug, because the situation is any
science fiction writer's dream. A nation of people integrate their industry
with computer systems just before the clock rolls over, and an unforeseen
glitch sends them crashing into chaos. Of course this is not going to
happen. The problem was caught early enough to deflect any serious mishaps.
Nevertheless, it will be interesting to see what havoc the paranoia itself
reeks. Millions of people scared out of their wits, hoarding supplies and
cowering in their homes waiting for the apocalypse to come. From a purely
fictitious standpoint, it's a delightful scenario. In reality it is
somewhat macabre, and not just a little silly. How revealing of human
This said, I believe that the most profound things about the turning of the
times will be the unsaid. What the year 2000 reveals, what the lips of God
speak, could be the greatest, and most sublime surprise yet.
Otherwise, it could be just another boring year.