The pandemic, combined with the political uncertainty of our time, has left many authors feeling unable to write. In an online group, an author who writes YA contemporary/near-future sci-fi novels said that looking at his keyboard made him feel like a deer staring into the headlights of an oncoming car.
This subject also came up at our last writing group meeting via Google Chat. A good friend who is an integral part of my writing posse is suffering from this crippling inertia.
The block these authors are experiencing is caused by the extreme uncertainty of our times and the constant barrage of bad and often conflicting news. No one knows what the near future holds, so writing something that will be affected either by the next election or how the pandemic progresses is a difficult proposition.
For some people, writing anything right now is impossible.
To write contemporary or near-future sci-fi, one must be able to predict a multiplicity of futures and decide which is most likely to occur. This is an iffy thing even in less turbulent times.
Chuck Wendig managed to nail how our society might react to a true global pandemic with The Wanderers, A Novel. Just as in the novel, we have deniers and blame-casters who categorically refuse to accept scientific evidence. We are blessed with fools aplenty.
Isaac Asimov in The Naked Sun, George Orwell in Nineteen Eighty-Four: A Novel, Ray Bradbury in Fahrenheit 451—these were the forward-thinkers of their time. These authors were able to extrapolate a possible future from reading about current events in the newspapers and watching the evening news on TV or radio.
These novels don’t describe a perfect example of how things are, but they contain glimpses of our modern life. In The Naked Sun, we find people who communicate almost exclusively via an internet of sorts and rarely meet in person.
In Nineteen Eighty-Four: A Novel, we see the effects of mass surveillance and the brutal regimentation of all aspects of behavior within a society. Dangerous thoughts are illegal, and the Thoughtpol (thought police) spy on everyone to detect and eliminate those whose independent thinking questions the powers-that-be.
In Fahrenheit 451, we are asked to consider a society in which books have been ruthlessly condensed to accommodate short attention spans. Minority groups protest the controversial, outdated content they believe exists in literature. However, comic books and pornography remains, as these feed the mainstream population’s desire for mindless entertainment. At the outset of the story, it is illegal to own a book.
These are novels that raise questions and ask us to take a hard look at ourselves.
These authors were conscious of how people react to given events, how the herd mentality takes over, and how mobs function. They also paid attention to the cutting edge science and theories of the day.
We denizens of the 21st century spend a lot of time on the internet, communicating via social media. Our phones and computers are under constant surveillance by our governments as part of the war on terrorism, and Google Earth knows where we are and what we are doing.
And finally, in many homes, reading takes a distant second place to television when it comes to family entertainment.
This raises the question, does our society shape sci-fi, or does sci-fi shape us? We tease about our cell phones and e-book readers being Star Trek devices. But all jokes aside, cell phones and electronic books and notebooks are integral parts of our culture that were described by Gene Roddenberry as part of his 1966 sci-fi televisions series.
So, while the early speculative fiction authors weren’t seers or clairvoyants, they took the information that was available to them and wrote stories that intuited a multitude of possible future timelines fairly accurately, some aspects of which closely resemble our 21st-century society.
This time of uncertainty will pass. We may never go back to standing next to strangers in a line at the grocery store, but we will create a new normal. We will find security in whatever form that new normal takes once we get used to the routine.
Pandemics are horrible, but they do eventually pass, and we will recover as a society.
This sense of powerlessness will pass.
You who write contemporary and near-future fiction and who are momentarily unable to put pen to paper will regain your creative muse, and words will flow. You will once again write insightful stories, delving deeply into what it means to be human. You will show us what a beautiful, interconnected world we live in, and how fragile each link in the web of life is.
The words will come, and you will write them.
Credits and Attributions
Eye on Flat Panel Monitor, Image by © Royalty-Free/Corbis
Dog Using Laptop Computer CC0 1.0 Universal (CC0 1.0)