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Cold Sleep, Cold Future

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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, it's a Fish out of Temporal Water story but not Played for Laughs. For a better explanation, when a cryonics patient wakes up, the future is a Dystopia where most everyone 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 Dystopia, or in extreme cases, Crapsack World. See also Good Is Old-Fashioned. Rip Van Winkle is the slightly shorter sister version of this trope.


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    Anime and Manga 
  • Blue Gender. The humans are fighting an almost hopeless war against the Blue.
  • Rebuild of Evangelion has Shinji nearly destroy the world, just to save Rei by the end of 2.22. Shinji is then lost inside Unit-01, and is retrieved 14 years later... to a seriously changed world. Not only does everyone hate him for what he did, but when he tries to change the world back by the end of the movie, he only makes things somehow even worse. Also, by the time Shinji re-appears, the planet is starting to turn into a giant monstrosity, complete with an anatomically correct eye centered at the epicenter of Near-Third Impact and a huge ravine with anatomically correct TEETH! Nothing whatsoever is what it used to be.

    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, frozen anywhere from twenty to fifty years thanks to Comic-Book Time, 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, a different character than the classic, also went through the refreezing. He associates better with his few surviving friends and is very stuck in the past. When he learned that Hank Pym assaulting his miniaturized wife with bug spray and mind-controlled ants was merely the latest attack in a years-long abusive relationship, he storms off, smacks Hank around until he goes giant, and then and only then kicks Hank's sixty-foot tall (naked!) rear end.

    Films — Live-Action 
  • 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 in the first place.
  • 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 eponymous planet, called Minerva, where nearly every aspect of living is strictly controlled by the government.
  • In Cyril M. 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.
      • Though they originally ask him if "his conscience didn't revolt" at the thought of his plan to trick the Marching Morons into a one-way space voyage and in the end, his principal henchman spoiler:commits suicide, leaving a note that stated he "couldn't live with my conscience."
  • In Stanisław 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 Cantos: when Martin Silenus comes out of cryo he has so much brain damage that the only words he can speak or write are the Seven Dirty Words. Also his entire family is dead and their accounts have been dissolved. He is good for nothing but digging trenches, so that's where they put him.
  • 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 where crime is so prevalent that people hire bodyguards just to leave the house, and overpopulation is so bad that the government encourages homosexuality, and this is close enough that some of their relatives are still alive. After their second campaign centuries have passed, homosexuality is mandatory, people are grown in tubes, and they're considered barbaric atavisms. And following the third Man has become a Hive Mind of clones, allowing them to communicate with their enemies and realize that they had no reason to fight after all. Fortunately Man has established some "old style" colonies that the characters can live in.
  • 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.
  • Vorkosigan Saga: Multiple different aspects of this are seen in 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. Meanwhile, the planet is effectively ruled by the corporations that own the cryo-storage facilities because they can vote on behalf of the frozen people in their care, who outnumber the living.
  • 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.
  • Stephen Baxter:
    • Yuri, the protagonist of Proxima is put into stasis as a child, at a time of environmental catastrophe. He wakes up in a world which resents people of his parents' generation, blaming them and, by extension, him, for worsening global warming by their disastrous attempts to solve it. He's treated badly, and ends up being press-ganged into a half-baked colonisation effort on a barely habitable exoplanet. Even the woman he ends up having a child with can barely stand him, through no fault of his own, and abandons him at the first opportunity.
    • In Manifold: Space, the Portal Network works at the speed of light; traveling to Alpha Centauri takes 4 objective years there and 4 years back, even though the subjective time is instant. Except for the very first time that Madeleine Meacher went through the portal and exploited the Compound-Interest Time Travel Gambit, the Earth gets progressively worse. The second journey isn't too bad, though the resource wars are getting more intense. The third time, a new ice age is upon the world and global industrial and civilization has collapsed, including the technological base. Later, Earth is all but abandoned saved for a few feudal kingdoms as humans from the Asteroid Belt work to restore the planet from Earth orbit. In her final journey, Mankind has been pushed back to one last bastion at Mercury, fleeing from an alien invasion.
  • In the Revelation Space Series, inhabitants of Yellowstone (the hub of human civilization) sometimes put themselves into cryo-vaults to await the future for a variety of reasons (compound interest, boredom, etc). At some point, the Melding Plague - a nano-technological virus - arrives at Yellowstone, destroying or corrupting most advanced technology that made the nigh-Utopia possible. The gleaming self-evolving spires of Chasm City went corrupt, entombing hapless inhabitants in their walls, and the ring of space stations orbiting the planet was largely destroyed. Now all but a tiny minority of the ultra-rich (and ultra lucky) live in the highest sections of Chasm City, while the rest of the population live in squalor in the decaying remains below. It gets better eventually, but then the Inhibitors show up.
    • The prequel novel Chasm City starts off with a chilling message to all Sleeper Starship travelers entering the Yellowstone system after the Melding Plague destroyed most of their civilization; because there is no Subspace Ansible technology, travelers were setting out for what they thought was the shining center of civilization only to arrive >10 years later at a dilapidated and deadly world.
  • The astronaut protagonist of Cylinder van Troffa returns right in the middle of The Split - humanity has already divided into earthlings and lunarians. He visits both and is appalled by both.
  • Sholan Alliance: Thanks to an alien stasis cube, Rezac and Zashou get treated to a mix of this trope and a 1500 year version of Rip Van Winkle.
  • The Lost Fleet: Captain John Geary spends a hundred years drifting through space in an Escape Pod, in cryosleep, after his ship is shot out from under him in the opening engagement of a war between The Alliance and The Syndicate Worlds. When he's revived, he finds the war is still raging, a bloody and seemingly endless stalemate in which half-trained sailors in jerry-built ships are thrown at each other in wasteful head-on charges, and the ever-worsening toll in blood and treasure is causing unrest in the civilian population and even the military. Oh, and just to set the tin lid on it all, the Syndics have successfully lured the majority of the Alliance fleet into an ambush and Geary is now technically the most senior officer in what's left of it. Luckily, Geary turns out to be a really good fleet commander, and by the end of the first arc his future and his nation's are both looking rather warmer.
  • Bridesicle, a short story by Will McIntosh. A woman killed in a car accident has her body preserved in suspended animation, only to be woken up in a 'dating centre' because her only help of getting revived is if a man wealthy enough to afford the expensive operation chooses her from among tens of thousands of preserved women as his wife. The kind of people who would seek a Human Popsicle wife are, needless to say, either pathetic or creepy.

    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.I.s. 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' note  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:
    • In "The Neutral Zone", 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.
      • The tie-in novel Debtor's Planet reveals that the financier did finally find a niche in Federation society: his mindset and skills make him the perfect choice as an ambassador to the Ferengi. In a later novel, Mere Mortals, he's Federation Secretary of Commerce. In the end, his future appears not to have been so cold after all.
    • In "Relics", Scotty was found in stasis after his ship crashed 75 years ago. Scotty is initially amazed about all the advancements in technology, and tries to show that his engineering expertise is still useful in the 24th century. But eventually, he gets depressed that many engineering issues he was proud to have handled during the 23rd century have been long resolved, and he feels he has no place in the 24th century. Geordi, however, helps Scotty see that there's always a place for engineers like him.
  • Star Trek: Voyager: In "Timeless", Voyager was destroyed when the ship's experimental slipstream drive malfunctioned mid-flight, sending the ship crash-landing on an ice planet, killing everybody aboard. Fifteen years later, the two sole survivors, Harry and Chakotay, who were aboard the Delta Flyer, have tracked down Voyager. When they re-activate the Doctor, who was deactivated hours before the accident, he's shocked to find the ship has been destroyed, and that the two survivors, especially Harry, have deep-seated Survivor Guilt, convincing him to work with them to prevent the accident from happening.
  • In the Metal Hurlant Chronicles episode "Cold Hard Facts" someone is thawed out in the 24th century by the Hurlant. Unfortunately he has no memory of who he was, and all he does is draw, which the government considers "useless" and they execute him to harvest his organs. The final scene implies he was Walt Disney.
  • Altered Carbon. Everyone who gets resleeved suffers from this, and it's not helped by the fact that you wake up in a completely different body. Even the protagonist Takeshi Kovacs who is used to being resleeved and has specific training to cope with it seriously contemplates real death or just going back into cold sleep.

  • 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.
  • Arjen Lucassen's album "Lost in the New Real" is about a "Mr. L" who is revived centuries after being frozen and can't adjust to the new world. The final song ends with him deciding that he is just a machine and asking to be turned off.
  • Space is Dark by Bill Roper is about the crew of a sleeper ship who arrived at another planet after a thousand year trip, only to find that Faster-Than-Light Travel had been discovered shortly after they left and the planet had been colonized for several centuries. They're forced to retire due to their status as anachronisms from another time, the song ends as the narrator and his wife (the last two alive) prepare to commit suicide.

    Tabletop Games 

    Video Games 
  • Half-Life 2. While not necessarily involving cold sleep (more a form of time travel) it still fits most of this trope. Earth has been the victim of an Alien Invasion directly caused by you in Half-Life; urban locations are only sanctuaries from feral alien attacks, and those who live in the numbered cities are routinely beaten by the Civil Protection or rounded up and turned into stalkers and otherwise experimented on by The Combine, "our benefactors".
  • Chell in Portal 2 spends anywhere from 20 to 300 years in an artificial coma to wake to ... the same crapsack world she was in before. Only now the enrichment centre is slowly falling apart, and seeing as Portal shares the same universe as Half-Life, the outside world may still be controlled by an alien empire known as the Combine, which owns a fair chunk of the Multiverse.
  • 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.
  • Fallout 4 has this as the main story's premise. Though whether or not the protagonist is public about his/her former life is up to the player.
    • Downplayed with Nick Valentine. He's a synth through and through, but his neural patterns were based off a real pre-war cop, meaning he has the memories to match. So when the Institute trashed him, he woke up in a pile of debris two hundred years after his supposed death to a nightmarish, irradiated version of Boston - an experience topped only by the Tomato in the Mirror revelation that followed shortly after.
  • Climatologist Mei was a member of Overwatch who was trying to learn the real reason why the Earth's ecosystem was falling apart. A storm in Antartica forced her into cryosleep as a last resort and she was revived years later. Overwatch was dismantled, the Earth's climate grew even worse, and all of the established eco-Watchposts were long defunct, leaving much of her co-workers' research lost.

  • 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 
  • Avatar: The Last Airbender: Aang was warned of the impending doom, but he didn't think it would get so bad. 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, but Aang plans to change that when he defeats the Fire Lord.
    • 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 children have lived in a war their whole life, and are more used to hunting and working than goofing off like kids are expected to in Aang's time. Nonetheless, a taste of light-hearted fun was something Katara needed in a bad situation like the War.
  • 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.
  • Gargoyles puts the eponymous 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.