The Future Will Not Be Scrutinized
I wrote this on Facebook a few minutes ago:
Can I coin the term PrePocalypse? I’m much more interested in understanding how things went wrong than I am with what happens as a society decays. That’s probably my biggest beef with Dystopian fiction; it presupposes we all know how these things go wrong, and gives us the Coles Notes version of the breakdown just so they can tell their post-apocalyptic morality tale. I don’t really care about that. I like heterotopian tales better, and if we have to discuss the fall of civilization, I’d like for us to actually look at the fall, rather than the aftermath, which has been done to death anyway and teaches us very little, in any case.
I was referring mostly to the deluge of dystopian fic that has followed in the wake of The Hunger Games trilogy (which IS pretty good Dystopian Fic, in my books). I should clarify something: I DO think dystopian fiction can be very thought provoking. I just feel like we’ve all been to the rodeo a few too many times, and even when the ideas at the centre of the novel are clever and intriguing, it feels like we haven’t learned anything about them.
My first taste of Dystopian fiction was X-Men: Days of Future Past, by Chris Claremont and John Byrne. It informed and set the bar for dystopian fiction futures for me, and very little that has come since then has added to or surpassed it, in my eyes. It did everything that was required of it, and posited a number of interesting questions that never really got answered as well as I would have hoped. In the 80s, Chris wrote a few minor followups to that story, and they were nice, and I collected and enjoyed them all. Claremont’s taste for science fiction suited me fine. Scott Lobdell after him wasn’t a total $#!^show either, but only in certain instances. And don’t even get me started on The Age of Apocalypse. Marvel in the 90s still has a lot of apologizing to do. They took some of the coolest ideas the 80s giftwrapped for them and burned it all to the ground. Best thing to come out of the whole mess: Blink, and subsequently, The Exiles.
But the thing is, it’s not that AoA was a terrible idea, or even that it was executed badly; it’s that it really didn’t give us anything we needed to take home with us. DoFP was amazeballs, and it didn’t have to be a summer crossover event to become so. AoA blew out all of the stops and dominated the entire X-Books line for months on end, and in the end, they wrapped it up and it all blew away like so much confetti after the parade. Status Quo was more or less returned, with none the wiser, really.
And we didn’t really get much in the way of Dystopian fic for another decade or so. Neal Stephenson, William Gibson, Warren Ellis… these guys tried to give us futures we could really get lost in. Futures with teeth and fur. Futures with meaning.
Then the publishing industry caught on and tried to cash in on the trend of writers and readers looking toward the future and praying for leniency, and the whole thing just $#!^ the bed.
Fast-forward to late 2015, when I started batting around the idea for The Constant Sea of Night, a novel that kind of wants to try to present the future before the fall of man, assuming it comes to that. It’s not Cyberpunk. It’s not Slipstream. And it’s not Dystopian. At least, not the way we think of it. It has a large number of things in it that should look and sound familiar, like time travel and ecological disaster and corporatism and medical malfeasance and arcologies and even some pseudo-zombie apocalypse. It has drugs and sex and murder and violence. It has swear words. It has transsexuals and gays and bisexuals and lesbians and all that stuff I’ve been noodling with for a little while now. It has a lot of characters, some of which I’m still trying to flesh out so I can write them. It’s a huge project.
And it’s kicking my ass.
I’ve been trying to get this novel together for over a year now, and it just won’t bloody start. I’ve started several parts. I’ve tried jumping to the interesting bits. I’ve tried plotting. I’ve tried NOT plotting. What I’ve written has been really cool, and lots of fun. But it’s like I haven’t found the characters’ voices yet. They just won’t talk without me working their heads like puppets. Most frustrating book I’ve ever attempted. And I can’t let myself walk away from it. It’s like Mount Everest; I can put off the climb until later, but the hill ain’t going nowhere, and meanwhile, every other hill mocks me. I have several books in various stages of completion, but tCSoN won’t let me work on any of them anymore. Either I write this one or I quit and come back when I’m a new writer. I did that in my early twenties, and lost a decade of career development that I can never get back. I’m in my mid-forties now. I can’t afford to quit again.
This is the paragraph where I outline what I’m going to do to change my ailing fortunes. Problem is, I’ve got nothing. I’m hoping today will be the day I solve the riddle and write a new page. We’ll just have to see what comes of it.
So with that bright message, I’m going to go pour the coffee and get back to work.
Much Love. Best Wishes.