I think I’ve learned that we need, individually, to find those areas in our lives where we do possess agency, and attempt to use it appropriately. And it seems to me that’s evidenced most attractively in maintaining an operative sense of humor.
I’ve long assumed that historical fiction is fundamentally speculative. We revise factual history as we learn more about the past, and we alter our sense of how the past was in accordance. Our sense of what the Victorians were about bears little resemblance to our parents’ sense of that. If the Victorians were able to see what we think of them now, they’d consider us mad. Given that, the creation of an imagined past is like the creative of an imagined future, but even more demanding. The most demanding form of science fiction, it seems to me, is alternate history, of which I’d offer Kingsley Amis’s The Alteration as a singularly successful example.
I have a nagging suspicion that evolution (a wholly random process, though too few of us understand that) has left most of us unable to grasp the idea of an actual apocalypse being possibly of several century’s duration. The jackpot began one or two hundred years ago, it seems to me. I myself can dimly recall a world before utterly ubiquitous injection-molded plastics. Toys were of metal, wood, rubber. Styrene was as exotic as Goretex, briefly. I’m yet to discover any record of a culture whose imagined apocalypse was a matter of centuries. I doubt anyone has ever stood out on a street corner wearing a sandwich board reading “THE WORLD IS COMING TO AN END IN A FEW HUNDRED YEARS”. Even before we became as aware as some of us now are of climate change, and of the fact that our species has inadvertently caused it, we seemed to be losing our sense of a capital-F Future. Few phrases were as common throughout the 20th Century as “the 21st Century”, yet how often do we see “the 22nd Century”? Effectively, never.
Pick up a copy of Agency and complement with Nick Harkaway on algorithmic futures, Cory Doctorow on dystopia as a state of mind, and look to the liminal.
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