It is said George Orwell picked 1984 simply by reversing the last digits of the year he wrote his book, 1948.

The idea was to make it seem random, not an obvious red-letter year like, say, 2000, and especially to make it threateningly close to the present. People could smile at Buck Rogers in the 25th century, but 1984 . . . why, that was right around the corner. Less than 40 years away. A person reading the book might still be alive then.

Suddenly 1984 is less than four months away, and we are still alive, dear reader, and what now?

In his lifetime, Orwell was appreciated (eventually) as a fearlessly honest man, a leftist who scorned the easy potshots at his natural foes and instead attacked communism--most famously in "Animal Farm"--and the corrupt dead end of party politics itself in "1984."

Quite soon after his death, his predictions began to come eerily true, some of them, and he was called a prophet. But perhaps even more than that, Orwell's legacy to those of us who have survived this far is the concept of the future as nightmare. Already, 1984 is turning into the present, into the mundane reality of calendar and diary orders, and the new symbol of our future is 2000. We await it with a certain apprehension . . .