Sunday, July 17, 2011

Fairy Tale Future

As mentioned in a previous post, I'm currently working on a young adult fantasy novel. It's set in a post-apocalyptic Earth (or maybe not Earth), and that's all I'm going to say about its plot for now. I've got a chapter and a half drafted (but no title!). We'll see if something comes to me.

Anyway, working on this book has got me thinking about futuristic narratives and their relationship (or lack thereof) to reality.

Take Blade Runner, for instance. It's celebrated as one of the great science fiction films of all time--and I don't dispute that. Its visuals remain stunning (especially on a widescreen TV and Blu-Ray, both of which I recently purchased), its conception of a future Earth is arresting, and (once Ridley Scott got the control he needed to strip out the voice-over narration and other distracting elements from its theatrical release) its plot is deeply moving and disturbing.

But measured against the real, it's way off base.

Think about it. The film, which came out in 1982, is set in 2019, or eight years from now. Earth is for all intents and purposes uninhabitable. Non-human animals are extinct. And superhuman android slaves labor in off-world colonies. Huh?

Unless we have some major changes in the next eight years, Blade Runner's vision of 2019 is pretty much laughable.

Or let's consider the Terminator movies (which also look really cool on Blu-Ray). The narrative is set in 2029, after a super-smart computer called SkyNet has initiated global thermonuclear war to annihilate the human species. Cyborg assassins called Terminators travel back in time (that's right) to eliminate the humans who will, in the future, fight back against and ultimately triumph over the machines.

Double huh?

Time travel is impossible (Einstein proved that). The smartest computer we've got can barely beat a human being on "Jeopardy." And though nuclear war does remain a looming threat, what will happen in its aftermath, if it happens, is that humans will have to struggle against themselves, not a bunch of machines, for survival.

I'm not being dense here. Obviously, futuristic narratives aren't meant to offer "real" pictures of the future; they're meant to facilitate reflection on the present. And we do indeed have reason to be fearful about our present technologies, our present violent tendencies, our present destructive ways. The only point I'm making is that stories about the future, even those that gesture the most strenuously toward believability, are bound to be just that--stories. Fictions, in fact. Or, to use a somewhat more loaded term, fairy tales.

This is why, perhaps, I prefer futuristic narratives that make no pretense of accuracy. Narratives such as those of 12 Monkeys or Star Wars. The former an obvious social allegory, the latter based largely on The Wizard of Oz (which was itself, by the way, a futuristic narrative when it came out in 1939, as well as a social allegory).

So when you're reading my book (assuming it comes out some time in the future), don't be surprised if I get everything wrong. As the androids and cyborgs will gladly tell you, that's the nature of the game.

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