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.