Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Envisioning a near future that works - examples?

Post-apocalyptic tales are still popular, with and without zombies. I read three such novels this year: Directive 51 and Daybreak Zero by John Barnes and Soft Apocalypse by Will McIntosh. I arrived in San Diego for Conjecture on September 9th, the day after the wide-spread blackout. That's all anyone talked about wherever I went: the wait staff, the bellmen, convention-goers from San Diego, everyone. And they all said the same thing: I finally met my neighbors. People pulled together, had block parties and helped each other out. The restaurant served sandwiches by candlelight. People at the bar, without the constant noise and distraction of the game on TV, had real conversations.

Two nights ago, I had a conversation with a friend about the other response to impending doom: folks stockpiling food - not just for a month or a year, but for many years. They envision an utter collapse, a semi-permanent loss of infrastructure. And they're buying guns. That's nothing new, but they may be gaining in numbers, although I'm hesitant to take a poll. I'm afraid of the results.

I'm reminded of the Twilight Zone episode "The Shelter". The family with the only bomb shelter on the block is assailed by previously friendly neighbors when the nuclear threat turns real and immediate.

Personally, I'd rather work on community solutions, not "us and them" or "every (hu)man for himself" ones. The folks in San Diego had the right idea. I'm not sure where the Occupy Wall Street movement will lead, but I see people identifying with each other across a multitude of demographics. Pulling together for a solution for us all. I hope they find one that can then be implemented. Corporate greed and political ambitions have made such a huge mess of things, it's hard to know where to start. I'm glad that doesn't stop them trying.

Then I had a conversation with someone last night about how hard it is for humans occupying this planet at this time to envision a different way to live. We only know what we know. He wants to help start the discussion about a better way. Ways we haven't considered. And where is he looking? To science fiction authors, of course.

But even for us, it's a challenge. As I told him, "How do you write alien thought? Or a truly alien alien?" It's very hard and few of us can pull it off. Extrapolating our present into a better future with a healthier planet, people who solve problems together and politics that work can be just as hard. When I thought about examples for him, I kept coming up with examples from current science fiction of how we make it worse, not better. I find it easier to write tragedy. Somehow, the happy endings just seem too implausible. Perhaps I'm not alone.

Identifying the problems and seeing where they're leading is easy. Finding the different path that no one is seeing is the challenge.

I invite my readers to help me come up with examples of plausible, near-future utopias from current works of science fiction - or at least ones plausible to an open mind. Post a comment with your favorites.

Now if only we knew how to open minds…


Clare Deming said...

I think that interesting fiction revolves around conflict - so there is always something terrible that has just happened or is about to happen. Maybe that's why many near future SF has at least some dystopian elements.

How about Allen Steele's Coyote books? The colonists have fled the dystopian society in that future and have started anew.

John White said...

Hello, I am not surprised that there are few offers for pure Utopian books, whereas there are thousands of dystopias. It is easy to think of something that can go wrong.
However, it also depends on the definition. Is a Utopia a society one in which everyone is happy all the time? This would make it difficult to maintain. One person murdering one other would break that definition. One person dying from natural causes but too young would also break the happiness part of the definition.
I wrote a book that is utopian in the sense that people are free, they have choice, no one starves or is homeless. It is a good society set in the middle of the next century. But with freedom unfortunately, comes the freedom to murder or some other no utopian behaviour. It cannot be helped. Totalitarian regimes can oppress people to the point where they cannot act at all but that is no fun.
I do not call the society I wrote about a Utopia, I call it an Itlldopia - even then it might not do for many. 'Biograph' by John White