Some kind of truism: any Now sets the stage for a Later. If we look closely, through a willing frame of reference, we can “predict” possible futures.
With Margaret Atwood at the top of my list of authors, Emily St. John Mandel an accidental torch-bearer for the new crop, and Charlotte McGonaghy a 2020 addition, Literature (yes, capitalized) has adopted the role of that kind of magnifying glass; probably unwittingly adopted. Agents and editors and, ultimately, “traditional” publishers have recognized that fiction about predictable futures sells books. Probably begun with an eye toward what sells, it seems FUTURISTIC FICTION has become popular enough that there’s a cartoon-type email circulating: a sign in the window of a bookshop that reads “Find Science Fiction under History in this store.”
Though a-political, those authors’ profundity sneaks up on the innocent lover of a good story. Well-written, sure, but primarily a tale to take myopic apathy by the shoulders and give it a good hard shake. I consider myself a fledgling novelist writing with comparable (I presume) impetus. Namely, hope that with a hard look at Now we can anticipate a way to intercept predictions for Later. Our Now, unchecked, should make us weep for the prospect of subsequent generations. To persist in the pattern of behaviors that shape our Now is to risk life on this planet. That’s the hard truth.
To have a future at all, much less one on Earth, requires humanity to accept responsibility for—not dominion over—the life of everything. Fish and birds; vegetation from trees to flowers, and medicinal foliage; invertebrate animals from spiders to lobsters; vertebrates from a tiny monkey to the largest elephant, and oh yes, humans as part of the species, mammals. People who nurture isolationist egocentric cocoons all but guarantee a future cocooned alone on a shrinking planet, but the problem is the guarantee extends beyond those people, to everyone, because the cost is to the life of Earth.
Climate change has crossed the “tipping point” statisticians have mapped out for us. We’ve caused more drastic and lasting hazard in a century than eons on this planet have come close to. No other species disregards survival when faced with behavioral choices—and a brain capable of choosing exists where no one knew, even undersea fish. Survival is the most basic of instincts, but with a brain that can foresee effects of the choices, the very concept of survival must extend beyond the individual and beyond Now.
All fiction, variously, begins with a what if premise. Futuristic fiction’s version asks what lies ahead if we persist on our present path.
We humans, in large enough numbers that I can generalize, blindly exploit our intelligence and creativity. We treat those gifts like wrapping paper, means to an end, having opened a package that glimmers as blinding bait: beyond lies a future of our own making. To make it for short-term gains—convenience, speed, even the health of one at the sacrifice of much—is to forfeit the very foundation under our feet. Literally under our feet. We’ve succumbed to the myths that the planet is our “birthright” and inventions beg their own birth, rather than acknowledging both—Earth and what we invent—are entrusted to our safe keeping for a future.
What libraries and booksellers once categorized as Science Fiction, drawing readers considered geeks or hippies, now earns pride of place. Everyone can delve into an author’s view of what our world will look like if our current way of life persists in the delusion of its own inevitability. Futuristic fiction has the potential of steering us off this destructive path… but only potential. Its readership has to get out of the comfortable armchair to make the kind of change that offers an alternative to extinction of all species, including our own. I see the literary category as a call to action for “developed” nations to revive survival instincts deadened by having enough food and water and, yes, convenience. This is what the haves/have-nots divisions across the planet boil down to: to survive, nor not. More accurately, for everyone to have a chance to survive at all.
That’s why I write futuristic fiction. My pollyannish naivete still bores deep for our ability to care about one another enough to see beyond the end of our own noses. We can share (the opposite of greedy accumulation of anything) and empathize (the opposite of degradation and humiliation), so we must. The future itself depends on our reaching our core humanity.