Science fiction is an incredibly diverse form of storytelling, filled with nearly endless propositions for the futures that may await us — and yet, for all its unique perspectives on our world and the vast cosmos it rests within, anthropocentrism is a trope that has never died. Seeing as the genre is only known to be authored by humans, it makes sense that such literature tends to revolve around us.
We tend to be the protagonists of our own stories, almost always emerging victorious against hostile extraterrestrials, rogue machines, or sinister empires. In our writing, human identity tends to be venerated or sanctified — a reflection of how highly we view ourselves in relation to our environment. However, I find that the most interesting works of science fiction are those that dare to challenge the mentalité of human exceptionalism.
17 years ago, C.M. Kösemen presented that kind of challenge in his magnum opus, All Tomorrows. Published online in 2006, this thought-provoking book tells the eons-long story of our plight at the hands of a hostile alien civilization known as the Qu and the shared history of mankind’s descendants. Utilizing a skillful combination of narrative prose and detailed drawings, Kösemen weaves together a bleak but ultimately optimistic future for humanity.
The story begins with the inception of the Star People, an artificial human subspecies genetically engineered to unify the warring planetary factions of Earth and Mars. Designed for deep space colonization, the Star People took to the heavens to spread the influence of humanity as far as their starships would take them. At first, the future seems bright for humanity, united by the fruits of their ingenuity and determined to propagate across the cosmos. Unfortunately for humankind, it would soon be met with a threat to its very existence.
During their colonization efforts, the Star People came into contact with the Qu, a malevolent alien race with a religious incentive to reshape the universe through genetic engineering. A war erupts between the two species, ending in humanity’s defeat. At the mercy of the Qu, humans were reshaped into a myriad of bizarre species, from worm-like organisms to sessile, brick-like creatures.
In a typical work of science fiction, conflict with extraterrestrials usually results in humans emerging victorious without any genuine consequences for our existence, reinforcing the exceptionalist belief in human grandeur. However, Kösemen has not written the Qu to be an archetypal alien foe. The Qu and their Kafkaesque modus operandi represent the very antithesis to human exceptionalism: the vulnerability of humankind to forces far beyond our power to control or defeat.
All Tomorrows is a book that does not shy away from the horror of the Qu’s actions, depicting in great detail how humans were warped into surreal forms through genetic modification. Ample detail is put into the descriptions of each posthuman organism and the tragedy of their modification by the Qu, complete with drawings of various species.
Over time, the Qu abandoned their human playthings, leaving them to change and evolve over millions of years. Some were doomed to disturbing fates – such as the Mantelopes, who spent their days mourning through song until they gradually lost their capacity for higher brain function over multiple generations. Others, however, would usher in a new age for the remnants of humankind.
Despite lamenting the fall of humanity at the hands of the Qu, Kösemen takes an interesting approach to the latter portion of the story. Rather than simply dismissing the posthuman species as being inhuman, he takes the time to build upon the horror of the Qu’s victims, ascribing human identity to them — therefore making the case that human identity is still preserved within our descendants despite the horrible transformations they had undergone.
From the colonial organisms known as the Modular People to the pterosaur-like Pterosapiens, the heirs of humanity slowly regained sapience, spreading out into space and forming a new human empire, uniting in their resurgence from the horrors of the Qu. The true beauty of All Tomorrows is found precisely in this message — the idea that our identity and the quality of being human are not destroyed by how an individual changes, but by who they are and what they represent. It tells the story of humanity not by deifying us, but by sharing a tale of resilience against truly insurmountable odds. Such is the essence of humanity; our true strength lies not in our ability to conquer, but in our ability to persevere and survive in the face of hardship.
Though the posthuman empire was steadfast and resilient, they would ultimately be defeated by the cybernetic posthuman species known as the Gravitals, who subjected the galaxy to further experimentation and genetic modification under their rule. Thankfully, the Gravitals were subsequently struck down by the Asteromorphs – the descendants of humans that ventured into deep space to escape Qu experimentation. With a unified empire formed once again, our descendants spread out into the galaxy, uniting with other sapient life forms to defeat the Qu once and for all.
What I appreciate about this point in the story is how the Gravitals are used to reinforce the aforementioned ideas surrounding human identity. The Gravitals may be a posthuman species and do share a common ancestry with the other descendants of Homo sapiens, but they had shed their humanity in favor of violent expansionism and the weaponization of biotechnology against others. Driven by a similar zealous chauvinism to that of the Qu, the Gravitals represent the dark future we may very well create if we define ourselves exclusively by the pursuit of victory, conquest, and power.
At the end of the book, the extraterrestrial said to be the author of the book holds a billion-year-old human skull. They explain that all human species disappeared an eon ago, though for unknown reasons. They argue that the story of mankind was always about the lives we lived — not the wars we fought or the ideologies we held — further solidifying the profound message of Kösemen’s book.
The essence of humanity — not the tragedy that struck it — is the main focus of All Tomorrows, which is why it is such a compelling piece of speculative fiction. Despite all that humanity had gone through, their essence still remained within the minds of the posthuman species scattered across the galaxy. Horrific as mankind’s fate may have been, there is arguably a degree of optimism in the idea that our humanity is imperishable, no matter what form we may take.