Some thoughts on pandemics and their impact on writers
Watching this Covid19 epidemic unfold – as a Science Fiction writer, and someone who therefore deals with imagining TEOWAKI is hard, especially as I have family members I love very much who will, inevitably, be in the front line. Me, I’ve lived life to full and while I’m anything but ready to give up on doing more crazy things, I’ve had a fair go. I am of course hoping it turns out much better than my best scenarios, a minor blip, and that both effective treatment and a possible vaccine are developed fast and death tolls are as low as possible.
Not thinking about it, ‘Keep calm and carry on’ is rather like not thinking of pink elephants, now that I have said you shouldn’t think of them.
At this stage much of the essential medical data is still not really available to predict anything, let alone panic. . We don’t actually have reliable figures on infection rates, how many people are severely affected, and mortality rates. The little we do know says this is not THE LAST CENTURION. Many people do survive, some barely are aware of being ill. We know (as with flu) that the older you are and more underlying conditions you have the worse one’s chances. People, even with these issues, do survive at least some percentage of the time. The problem is not the disease as much the acute cases, and the lack of facilities to treat short-term high volumes. We do know in an era of globalization and fast global travel, that the chances are it will spread, and the effects (even if spread is somewhat slowed or contained) will be to all involved in that globalized world.
None-the-less the economic and social effects even of that, are going to be profound. At best, short term, and possibly for generations. Travel, the dreams of tighter and more global integration, of open borders, and the end of the Nation State just got slapped in the face with a hard dose of reality. Large face-to-face meetings and crowded stores and workplaces will certainly take a temporary if not long term existential change. All those Cons the mean girls of SF and SJW spent so much politicking effort to control… may go on hiatus, if not die. We have some alternatives that humans subjected to the various historical plagues do not. Internet shopping and social media get-together are going to grow. As with anything, there are winners and losers, and those who are worse affected. Government will of course take a bad situation and somehow make it worse.
We’re likely however to hit a recession, at least short term (I know compared to being dead, not a problem). Some countries will be much worse affected (health and economy) but in a globalized world (remember we were told this both good and inevitable) everyone will be affected – even if there is a cure tomorrow.
There are going to be labor and supply problems. Some of this could be overall (certainly NOT for people and families who lose loved ones) good for wages, and job availability (we know this from the Black Death, and the Spanish ‘Flu) and shift balances of power, and probably move jobs back to various nations.
History also shows that some industries are counter-cyclical. In depressions/recessions the sales of beer (cheap alcohol) go up, as does the sale of vegetable seed, and camping gear… and, historically (although not in the last downturn) books. These are all cheap, improve the quality of life for people having a hard time when there isn’t a lot to spare.
I think this time around books have a reasonable chance of doing better – it is entertainment you don’t need company for, and can make up for company. And – particularly Indy, it can be very cheap for a few hours of escapism… which has really valuable effect on people doing it tough.
It really helps.
It is rather nice to think that we write the sort of books that give that relief – and the writer and the reader can both win. I suspect uplifting entertaining non-real-world fantasy will be a boon to readers. I expect trad industry will respond as usual with gouging and books they think people ought to read. I’m hoping the rest of us have the sense not to go that way, and to keep it cheap and entertaining. It’s a grim situation, but taking someone ‘away’ from that, into an absorbing book-world even for a few hours, has helped me cope with grim things, and I am sure I am not alone in this.