I have a confession. I’ve been cheating on you. I’ve been writing a novel set five hundred years into the future. I slink past this blog now and then, woefully noting how out of date it is becoming, then guiltily plunge into 2612.
But after several weeks of this double life, I have decided to come clean with you, and here is why:
Writing the future is actually not all that different from writing the past.
When I started writing historical fiction, I would wonder to myself why it wasn’t branded “genre” fiction like mysteries, romances, sci-fi and fantasy. Because the fact is, even if the world it takes place in correlates to reality in some rough way (sorry historians, I can only give you “rough”) it is really a fantasy land. I may know what people wore, what people ate, how people travelled, even how they talked, in 1880, but the fact is I have absolutely no idea what any of that actually felt like, let alone meant, to someone in 1880. It’s simply gone, like the water of the river you stepped in yesterday.
So while I can use research to create a thick, rich, colorful setting for my characters, and while I can speculate on their internal landscapes, I can’t really do anything but make it all up in the end.
Likewise futuristic science fiction. Of course, right? But I have found that 500 years into the future is actually not long enough to just make it up wholesale. I don’t feel quite as obligated to get it “right” for my future story as I do for my past stories, but I am still doing a lot of research. I am trying to take what I have heard credible people say* about the next hundred years–politically, scientifically, environmentally, culturally–and extend those predictions for another couple centuries. In some ways, that future could be quite similar to our present. But in some ways it could be quite different. For me the balance is just a little bit on the speculative side of realism, whereas in historical fiction it is just a bit on the realistic side of speculation.
Either way, and perhaps it’s just as true of contemporary realism–which I haven’t tried yet–fiction is sort of fiction is fiction.
So hello again. And please recycle.
* I have been angsting ever since E.O. Wilson told Bill Moyers that in 100 years, half of all species currently alive on Earth would be extinct. That happens in my new book, and then some, since the story is yet 400 more years along.