Cassandra again

The trouble with writing plausible fiction is that people jump to the odd conclusion that every book is a wish-fulfilment Mary Sue.  I suppose there ARE writers whose every character is either themselves or cardboard caricature cutout of ‘people they don’t like’. It’s got a bit tedious in the trad published novels where one is not supposed know the villain/s (a whodunit for example) and you can tell by the character’s sex, skin color or simply cartoonish implausible behavior, who the villain is, and that the writer doesn’t actually know or understand any such person.

The corollary that goes with this is the assumption that this is the sf-future you want.  It’s your desire to see the villains (who all wear MAGA hats and drag innocent declared intersectional victims behind their pick-up trucks every second day) come to a terrible and deeply deserved end at the hand the poly-chromatic, pansexual army of kick-ass heroines, who knock these 6’8’’ gorillas butt over tea-kettle with a single kick, from their delicate pointy toed high-heel boots.

There’s a market for this, just as there is a market for the inverse.  But it is not necessarily the only market, nor is it that sure that that was what the author intends. Look, I spend a fair amount of time being Cassandra. The reason that no-one believes that until it happens, is no-one (me included) WANTS to believe that.  Of course, we seldom get the future we want or even think we’re going to get. Ask the young women photographed doing their medical Doctor training with the men in the 1960s… In Kabul. I for one would have loved them to have had the future they thought likely and possible.

But I must admit my sf writing comes from foreseeing the future I don’t want, but see as possible. Like George Orwell I think writing about it might make people think twice. Like George Orwell has (the destruction of history and doublethink as example) I fear that people may take that as instruction manual.  Often I will write about how who could combat this – but it doesn’t stop me realizing that the possibility of the world I describe – without those figures striving against it, could come to be.

Real history is a fairly good guide to what societies do when faced with these things. Look at the Great Depression, or Zimbabwe as two bits of history which we should be looking at and learning from. Look at the fact that the more extreme any social force is, and harder they push the historical ‘norm’ the harder and longer the backlash is. That backlash can end up taking a possible future (a prosperous and friendly country (apparently Afghanistan had the best discos in the entire Middle East), with a booming tourism industry and turning it into Bamiyan… with nothing but starvation and women treated like chattels. We won’t even talk about homosexuality or the various ‘genders’ in that society. It’s very hard to see a way back from this. It won’t be quick or easy.

Why I mentioned the Great Depression and Zimbabwe, is well, sort of sadly obvious. Do I want to live in either? Hyper-inflation caused by rampant government-money-printing or a situation where jobs are desperately scarce (and hyperinflation means government’s attempts at social welfare make it worse, because they print money to pay for it). Uh. No thanks. I’m old enough to be late-born child (my dad was 50, and mum about 6 years younger when I was born) to have Depression era parents. It left deep marks and shaped the way they lived and the way they thought, and especially the way they used money and resources to the day they died – and the way they reared their kids.

Culture (and not just the stuff in cheese and yogurt) tends to shape itself around those who are easily led by it and malleable: the young, particularly. Not all of them of course, but the young tend to be more insecure and more in need of peer approval – males and females, but I would say females possibly even more. They tend to be better at socialization, and thus also more influenced by it, and a desire to stay inside it.  There are ALWAYS exceptions, and this is a very good thing, IMO.  That tends to stay as some influence for the rest of their lives (although some of us realize we were wrong and swing the opposite way).  History once again show that it’s times of plenty and relative comfort that produce exploratory and flamboyant experiments into alternatives here. Given that we’ve been living in a time of (at least in the First world) generally unprecedented wealth and comfort, and that the youth have heavily been influenced by academia (I read a survey that rated… college professors as the most trusted people, by the under-thirties) and may more of the youth have gone to college than ever before. The liberal arts –always the bastion of the outré (and I believe, in small doses there is value in that) particularly have flourished.

You can see reflection of this in the current situation, in current fashions, in culture popular with the youth. Once there were far more youth than older generations… that’s not true in many countries any more, and in many social groups. That too has an effect on what a national culture can be…

Anyway, it is quite plausible (not desirable to me anyway) that that’s going to change. In my country and I believe in the US and I’m sure across much of the world, the economic effect of Corona virus have hit those with the least depth to their resources hardest. And yes, that’s likely to be minorities (whether you talk of Rohingya in Burma, or Yazidi in Iraq or Somalis in the US) or – to put it in another light, the youth. Building assets and savings takes time (and maturity helps – some young ‘uns have it). Something crazy like 50% of Australian youth are having trouble paying the rent (and that’s in a country with generous social welfare payments). Many businesses and industries have taken a hard knock in this – none harder than the entertainment and tourism ‘service’ industries.  Guess where the urban youth (those often most obsessed with culture and fitting in to their peers) work?

Add to this the fact that the college system has become utterly bloated, very expensive, and… when times are tough for employment, those liberal arts degrees are… expensive and not helping. Besides, people suddenly realized they CAN do it online… which makes possibly for less influence than a physical peer group.

The ‘who-is-who’ of financial status is going to change. Safe jobs –government or quasi-government have become very well paid – and the people in them thus have lots of influence – and yes, they take a lot of liberal arts graduates, are likely to see their security remain (so the jobs are desirable) but inflation and the fact that the country/world is doing badly… will most likely see these becoming again as in the depression, lower-middle class at best. Pensions are going to get hammered. Expect old people to lose too, and be very bitter.

Culture is going to change. It’s likely that the newly poor, newly desperate will eagerly look to socialism (government will print money and give us free stuff. The best. The latest designer labels.) I can’t say I like the idea (given the grim history of totalitarianism – which comes out of left and right extremes). It’s intolerant in the extreme, and only good for the core just like them – whether you’re talking Savonarola or Guevara (who hated homosexuals and liked killing blacks).  Given that a lot of people – some from experience – don’t want to go there, a mess in the making, aside from the mess it would make anyway. But austerity (already visible in things like credit card repayments), and a narrowing of the herd to exclude those that don’t fit (groups, towns (‘out-of-work men keep walking, we can’t feed our own’ from the Great Depression) to nations (which will become more homogenous). It’s not something, as an outlier, and parent of outliers, this Cassandra thinks attractive.

But… I understand the possibilities. And I understand what that may imply for my writing, (much of today’s Trad published sf will look like 1950’s views of the future in 1980. readable but… obviously ‘out’ of synch with the way reality has moved), my income and future.

Do you?

Image by moritz320 from Pixabay

24 comments

  1. My crystal ball has gone dark. Ask again in mid November.

    Well, as to writing? I’ve got a never published story that I keep meaning to finish, but every time I get back to it I have to shift the dates up another couple of decades. A healthy space industry, with multiple space stations, Lunar and Martian colonies, asteroid mining . . .

    But that’s just numbers.

    Writing very near future? Hmm, suddenly you have to take this insanity and project into the complete unknown. How will everyday behavior change? Just like smoking disappeared from movies, will face masks and hand sanitizers at every doorway need to be in the background? Will facial recognition programs become unreliable? And how about beards?

    What will happen when the next pandemic comes along? Another shut down, or will people refuse the nonsense? And what if the next one is really bad?

    Heck if I know.

    1. I’m in the very early stages of a project started at the very end of 2018, which is set in the very near future, and makes assumptions about US politics.

      I’m feeling a combination of vindication, and being glad that my plot is really about personal goals, because if it was about showing off the political madness, I would either have to compete, or worry about not being transgressive enough.

      1. Yeah, this whole year is “You couldn’t get away with putting this in a book.” Followed by “How can I use this to explain something in my fictional future, and will I be even close to getting it right?”

        1. There some events in history (like the Battle of Leipzig) where I point out to students “This has to be history. No editor would ever let an author, even Tom Clancy, get away with something like this.”

          1. I recall Clancy once replied to a criticism of his works as being unbelievably farfetched with, “How about this: A b-movie actor goes into politics, becomes a Governor, eventually President, and {ends, wins} the Cold War. I couldn’t get away with THAT!”

  2. I rarely write near-future SF as it is. The way things are now? No way. The situation is too fluid and the prospects are too depressing.

    1. Yeah, my project is AU, and definitely is not a timeline with Covid19 or a disease panic. I had a difficult enough time trying to decide in early 2019 what I would do about the 2020 election in the backstory. I wound up realizing that I needed to make the US political history AU going back to the 1992 election.

  3. My interest is not modern futures and things such as, “what will society look like if [grabs something from hat] VR becomes the main way for students to attend class and people in white-collar industries work?” I want to know “how do good people deal with X?” Granted, this is my personal definition of good, so people who believe good = inclusive, LGBTQAWhatever, Communist are not going to agree and probably won’t buy my books. Or they might, out of morbid curiosity, the same way I read Marx, Lenin, Hitler, and others.

  4. My nonhumans think humans are horrifying and want nothing to do with them. So there. (And you really, REALLY don’t want to threaten mesc in some way they take as serious. They stop squabbling among themselves and become a single unified pack literally at the speed of thought.)

    As to the future…. here in flyover country, there’s a sort of cheer we hadn’t seen in decades. The tide is turning, in time that we won’t all drown after all.

    1. Exactly what I noticed getting out of Denver. The “what to look for in a new place” list is taking shape alongside the “what to do to sell the house” list.

  5. The liberal arts –always the bastion of the outré (and I believe, in small doses there is value in that) particularly have flourished.

    Hilarity seen on twitter at some point.

    Complaints about historical knowledge within the US are not rare, and are supported by a variety of theories.

    This particular thread was ‘we need more academic study of the humanities’. Complaining about overemphasis on numbers in education, on too much focus on STEM degrees.

    Not realizing that the only reason people still bother as much with STEM degrees, is that the rigor has not been screwed up as badly as in other disciplines.

    A degree takes time, money, and in some cases effort beyond making sure to attend all the parties. Degrees have an opportunity cost. The only reasons to get a degree are for convincing a prospective employer that one has overcome a challenge, or to learn theory, skills, and application better than one could do through self study.

    There are still scholars who have made their humanities degree into a credential worth respecting, but you have to pay attention to their work, and know something about their field.

    1. This particular thread was ‘we need more academic study of the humanities’. Complaining about overemphasis on numbers in education, on too much focus on STEM degrees.

      I remember having a discussion like that in college with an art history major. She was lamenting the ignorance of the “techies” as we were called then (the term STEM hadn’t yet come into use) about her particular field. She then went into a rant about the fact that there was a microwave in the dining room, because the gamma rays that it used to warm up food were going to give us all cancer.

      I will listen to an argument that STEM folks ought to be more grounded in the humanities…but not from these types of people.

      1. At least she got it right that microwaves use a form of EM radiation, and had heard somewhere about gamma being likely to cause cancer. Some of these humanities folks seem to be as ignorant about their own field.

        1. This is why I avoid saying “nuke” for microwaving. Yes, nukes do EMP, but that’s NOT what most think of. I will use “zap.” And, if the company is right, “irradiate” — but the company MUST be right (i.e. clueful) for that.

          1. After having witnessed one too many metal-in-the-microwave = flame incidents, “nuke it till it glows” has a slightly different meaning. 😛

  6. This past weekend I released a story in a ‘verse that I’m hoping is not our future. When I wrote the first story in it, back in 2013, it looked way too plausible that the 2060’s would see humanity turning its backs on space, but have cool VR tech on Earth. I had started hoping Toni’s world had branched away when SpaceX started having serious success with the Crew Dragon — but with the current mess, it’s becoming far too plausible that we throw all that away, except instead of cool VR gaming tech, it’s all crushing despair and grinding poverty. Which is definitely not a world I want either.

  7. Writing near-future SF, especially long-runners, has the nasty tendency of-

    1-Coming true in a way that you don’t like/didn’t expect.
    2-Not coming true in a way that invalidates your original story idea.
    3-Something happening so far out of left field that trying to write around the events that happened recently requires you to do some major revisions (this is a problem that Charles Stross had-he had to pretty much junk two books of The Laundry Files and there will probably never be a third book in the Halting State/Rule 34 trilogy because of BREXIT, Trump, government changes in the UK, etc, etc, etc made it impossible to continue telling the stories. The death of both of his parents in very close order and his increasing Martian Brain Fungus infection didn’t help any, either.)

      1. Him losing the show on near-future fiction happened around the time of Apocalypse Codex, and a lot of Bad Things happened to him around then.

        I’ve reached the point of thinking that he hasn’t published any other Laundry stories pat “The Delirium Brief.” Something took over Charles’ body at some point and it’s spewing out apocalyptic Marxist content, not Cosmic Horror.

        (When I realized that there was that scene in “Saturn’s Children,” just to establish that Humans Were Bastards And They Shouldn’t Be Brought Back, Mmm Kay?, it should have been a warning.)

  8. I think there will be some subtle markers for a lot of people who went through the Little Depression, same as the big one. These people will *always* have an emergency pack of TP, high up on a closet shelf, “just in case”. Their children won’t understand, or the lecture when they USE the emergency stash without permission. These people will also be rabid about having a 3-4 month’s worth of expenses in savings that is never touched, just like the TP, “just in case”. They will be willing to put up with a lot of inconveniences to NOT live in an apartment or crowded city, even if it is very cheap.

    I’m hoping some of the temporary fixes stay permanent. One of my regular medical checkup appointments has been changed to a virtual one. I’m still seeing my doctor, I just don’t have to drive to a specific office where we breathe germs on each other. Having that option for an appointment that doesn’t require labwork or actual physical poking is really, really nice. And should I ever get back to work in a place that requires me to show up, I won’t have to take a day off to see that doctor. I can just find a conference room or go to my car. I *like* having options like that.

  9. I’m a rebel, myself. In my books I imagine the BEST outcome of a bad situation and have characters freely choosing to do the right thing. And by freely I mean nothing could stop them being Hitler if they decided to. But they don’t, just because.

    Just to be different, you know? ~:D

  10. I’m working on a cheerful little tale about a necromancer in which one hero is fairly certain that he’s going to die for their victory. . . .

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