Cold Sleep, Cold Future

Everything About Fiction You Never Wanted to Know.
Jump to navigation Jump to search

Whenever a Human Popsicle shows up in a story, there's a 50/50 chance you'll get this as well.

To put it simply, its a Fish Out of Water story without the hilarity ensuing. For a better explanation, when a cryonics patient wakes up, most everyone in the future tends to be dour, pessimistic, cynical, or any resulting combination thereof. The Good Old Ways have been forgotten. Even the group's designated humorous guy tends to either be a Deadpan Snarker or a No Celebrities Were Harmed Homage to somebody like George Carlin or Bill Hicks. The formerly frozen character may or may not fit in (mostly the latter happens).

Depending on the tone of the story, the former popsicle might convince his new associates to lighten up a bit, or he might be dragged down by his bleak situation.

The reason for this universal (or at least planetary) viewing of the glass as half-empty varies. Either something very bad happened to the world, or the story is a satire on society's becoming more cynical. Compare Crapsack World (this may be a futuristic version), or in extreme cases, World Half Empty. See also Good Is Old-Fashioned. Rip Van Winkle is the slightly shorter sister version of this trope.

Examples of Cold Sleep, Cold Future include:

Anime and Manga

  • Blue Gender. The humans are fighting an almost hopeless war against the Blue.

Comic Books

  • In Transmetropolitan, cryonically preserved humans are known as "Revivals" and have become their own caste of unwanted social misfits, revived more out of a begrudged sense of duty than any real desire to have yesterday's people cluttering up today's world. Revivals almost inevitably become depressed, insane and suicidal as a result of the social neglect they face from a future that doesn't care for them, as well as a frankly schizophrenic future (think all the vices of the internet, writ large by hipsters and vomited out into the street).
    • This takes minutes: we follow one Revival who collapses from sensory overload as soon as she walks out onto the street. She gets better, though.
  • Normally Captain America (comics), frozen anywhere from twenty to fifty years thanks to the Sliding Time Scale, is pretty well adjusted to the modern world. Now and again - mostly when he was newly introduced - he does angst about values shifting and morality becoming looser. Notably in "Avengers: Earth's Mightiest Heroes" he was shocked by the world he's woken up in (and by what was on the TV) and ashamed that he wasn't there to fight for it.
    • Ultimate Captain America (comics), a different character then the classic, also went through the refreezing. He associates better with his few surviving friends and is very stuck in the past. When he learns Hank Pym beat up his wife -years- ago, he storms off and kicks Hank's sixty-foot tall (naked!) rear end. Crowning Moment of Awesome?


  • Demolition Man has this almost backwards, John reintroduces violence to the anger-neutered future so it can defend itself from a de-frosted sociopath.
    • Which got this way in just thirty years. Some of the main characters are older than this by a significant amount, and they don't see anything strange about it. In fact, we have characters referring to John Spartan as a "primitive" and a "neanderthal" for his less-than-PC attitudes, despite the fact that they were around then too.
      • Truth in Television, there are people who talk that way now about those with outdated values that were once common within their lifetimes.
      • And of course, John Spartan's methods were considered overly violent and neanderthalic even in the time period he was from. That's what got him frozen himself. At least, when he's on the job. When it comes to personal hygiene and interpersonal relationships, not so much.
  • Blast from the Past has a similar reversal, where the 50's valued Adam reintroduces honesty, chivalry, and (surprisingly) tolerance, albeit on a smaller scale than others on this list.
  • Idiocracy, Mike Judge's homage (and update) of Woody Allen's similar but far less pessimistic Sleeper, may be the ultimate example of the Crapsack World subtrope. The hero actually spends most of the movie having to make everyone realize they're living in a Crapsack World.
  • Averted by Aliens, where Ripley awakens over 50 years into a future that isn't much different from the past she'd left behind, though there are still repercussions for her personal life....
  • In the first version of Gene Roddenberry's Genesis II (1973), Dylan Hunt wakes up from a 160 year nap to discover that while he was in suspended animation there had been a nuclear war and that mutants fought with humans for survival in a post-apocalyptic world.


  • Edmund Cooper's The Tenth Planet has a starship captain wake up after 5,000 years to find himself on the last spit of human civilization: a colony on the titular planet, called Minerva, where nearly every aspect of living is strictly controlled by the government.
  • In Cyril Kornbluth's story The Marching Morons, the protagonist wakes up to find that the average intelligence of humanity has dropped to moron level (a cumulative effect of smarter people tending to have smaller families). The few smart people are run ragged keeping the world from collapsing completely. (The above-referenced movie Idiocracy was a later use of the same concept.)
    • But smarter doesn't necessarily mean better. Using the protagonist's knowledge of some guy named Hitler the smart minority tricks the stupid majority (millions and millions of them) into genocide. Then they kill the guy who helped them. He was a bigot and all but still.
  • In Stanislaw Lem's Return From the Stars, astronauts who have completed a century-long interstellar exploration mission return to an Earth where violence and risk-taking is so foreign to the population that the returning astronauts are regarded as nothing more than dangerous beasts.
  • In Larry Niven's A World Out Of Time, the protagonist is revived into an authoritarian world. He's expected to earn his new lease on life by piloting a sublight interstellar mission. If he fails to qualify, they'll erase his brain pattern from the body (of a condemned criminal, executed by brainwipe) he's using and try again with the next Human Popsicle.
  • Inverted in Dan Simmons' Hyperion: when Martin Silenus comes out of cryo he has so much brain damage that the only words he can speak or write are curses, and not many of them. Also his entire family is dead and he's been saddled with all of their debts. He's unhappy.
    • Made even worse by the fact that Silenus was an award-winning poet before going into cryo, so his best (actually, his only) means of clearing those debts is effectively eliminated.
  • H. G. Wells' The Sleeper Awakes shows Cold Sleep producing a Cold Future, as the protagonist awakens to a dystopian world ruled by the trustees of his own now-vast fortune.
  • In Joe Haldeman's The Forever War, it's time dilation that causes the veterans of the first campaign of the interstellar war to arrive in a Crapsack World. These jumps in time occur every time they go on a mission, but only the first time is described in detail.
  • Philip Francis Nowlan's novella Armageddon 2419 A.D., which was the basis for Buck Rogers. Anthony Rogers is exposed to radioactive gas in a coal mine and remains in suspended animation for 492 years. When he wakes up he discovers that America has been invaded and conquered by the Han.
  • The title character of Dani and Eytan Kollin's The Unincorporated Man wakes up in a future where people can buy shares in each other - and even people who aspire to become majority owners of themselves someday don't understand why he refuses to sell.
  • Multiple different aspects of this are seen in the Vorkosigan Saga novel, Cryoburn. Yani was dying of old age before he was frozen, but could only afford to pay to be frozen for a hundred years or until a cure for old age was found, whichever came first, so a century later he was thawed out, and dumped on the street: old and broke. Others are more fortunate: being revived when a cure was found for what was killing them, and still having money. They tend to isolate themselves in enclaves of people from their own time, so they can live among people who get the same jokes, and with whom they have other things in common.
  • In Mikhail Akhmanov's Arrivals From the Dark series, this is pretty much the history of the Faata. Their original civilization (as glimpsed by their Half-Human Hybrid offspring in his Genetic Memory) was not very different from human. However, an unknown cataclysm known as an Eclypse results in total collapse of their civilization. When they finally manage to rebuild, they send spaceships (possibly Generation Ships) on sublight journeys to other stars on exploratory missions. However, the ship-bound Faata return decades (or centuries) later to find that the planet-bound Faata suffered the Second Eclipse and have been reduced to savages that barely survive. Disgusted, they resolve to remake the Faata society in such a way as to ensure the unending prosperity of their race and prevent the Third Eclipse. They use genetic engineering to create a caste-based society with the smartest at the top, gifted with longevity and perfect health. The other castes (mostly made up of their savage brethren) would be considered non-sentient servants and remade to serve specific tasks. These would include soldiers, pilots, workers, etc. Most females were turned into breeders who are kept in a perpetually-vegetative state, "producing" new Faata as needed. A later discovery of a mind-reading biological computer would restrict the higher caste to only those with Psychic Powers. All alien races were to be conquered and adapted to serve the Faata.
    • After the four devastating wars with humanity (they attacked first, by the way), the Faata expended so many resources (in terms of materiel and personnel), that their culture was thrown in disarray and collapsed. In essence, their expansionist ways result in the exact outcome they desperately wanted to avoid. On the other hand, humanity ended up with new colonies and a vastly higher technology level than before the first encounter with the Faata.
  • Happens to the protagonist of Frederik Pohl's novel The World at the End of Time. After the failed attempt to find what's happening on the planet Nebo, he and his wife are put on suspended animation to be thawed out 400 years later in a very different -and far more hostile- world than that they knew.

Live Action TV

  • Buck Rogers in the 25th Century is a prime example. The free-wheeling, chick-stealing, All-American Rogers is at odds with a future where humor and disco dancing are long-lost memories, and the world is run by A Is. Of course, a massive nuclear war will do that to a planet....
  • Somewhat similar: Doctor Who and his companions arrive on "The Ark in Space" where the future of humanity is cryogenically frozen. It's mentioned that emotionality is not encouraged in this future society, which doesn't stop the characters from emoting wildly merely because they're being absorbed by Wiirn.
  • Star Trek: The Next Generation has an episode (The Neutral Zone), in which three late 20th century humans are revived in the middle of a showdown with the Romulans. Two of the three adapt fairly quickly to a future that is better than their past but the third was a wealthy financier who reacts badly to the loss of his money, prestige and power.
  • Red Dwarf begins with Dave Lister discovering that he's been frozen for so long that he is probably the last human alive, and so far from Earth that it will take just as long to find out for sure. The modifications to this predicament necessary to make it an ensemble sitcom do not make it any more pleasant for him.


  • In Queen's song '39. A careful listener may discern that it is a song about time dilation and its effects on explorers ("The Volunteers") in a particular instance.

Video Games

  • In The Legend of Zelda Ocarina of Time, the hero Link is placed into an enchanted sleep for seven years, to allow him to safely reach adulthood and deal with the problem of Ganondorf. When he wakes, he finds that the country of Hyrule has been overrun by the Big Bad and his hordes of evil. The real King's been murdered, the Princess is missing, and he's got to make everything right again. Subverted somewhat in that once he does fix all the problems, he gets sent back in time so he can live out his childhood properly. Of course, then he ends up Groundhogging his way through Majora's Mask and reliving the end of the world over and over and over and over and over and...
  • Half Life 2. While not necessarily involving cold sleep (more a form of time travel) it still fits most of this trope.


  • One Dresden Codak strip has a time traveler going to see the wonders of the future. His head promptly explodes, unable to handle telepathic output of the future-people's brains.

Western Animation

  • Futurama: One instance, at least. Leela is very cynical about the Moon, which almost kills Fry's wide-eyed enthusiasm about visiting the place. She warms up by the end of the episode, though. By contrast, Bender retains his Deadpan Snarker attitude for the remainder of the series, but then, he's a Jerkass.
    • In fact, Bender was attempting to commit suicide when Fry met him, and it's only an electrical jolt to the head that changes his programming.
      • Various earlier drafts for the show and the pilot show a much more dystopian future. These various aspects were dropped as the series continued, and the world of Futurama has about the same amount of pros and cons as modern-day living, albeit with a lot more convenient technology and general weirdness.
        • The Dystopia may be just offscreen. Note comments like, "If you don't want to pay your taxes, you're free to spend a week with the Pain Monster!"
          • Okay, so we still have taxes, but that doesn't make it worse than the present. At least now there are options!
          • Also the Pain Monster is much better then getting Auditted by the IRS. At least it ends in a week.
        • Also consider "You Gotta Do What You Gotta Do" and Soylent Cola, although that varies from person to person.
  • Avatar: The Last Airbender: While Aang is frozen the Fire Nation wipes out his people (the Air Nomads) and conquers most of the world. Fire Nation culture changes to be brutal, nationalistic, prejudiced and joyless.
    • When he first comes out, Aang also experiences a bit of this problem with his friends Katara and Sokka. All Aang wants to do is play- but the Water Tribe cities have lived in a war their whole life, and are more used to hunting and working than goofing off like kids should.
  • Gargoyles puts the titular characters in the magical equivalent of Cold Sleep (i.e. a sleeping spell that can only be broken by raising Castle Wyvern above the clouds), and while Manhattan in 1994 isn't exactly a Crapsack World, Goliath quickly points out that it's just as savage as 994 Scotland.