Writing about the future is writing in the shadows of monuments that haven’t yet risen. They’re the building blocks of the tenebrous virtual world you’re constructing, and when you’re writing near-future-fiction you’re more acutely aware of how these monuments shift and transform and rise and fall. You do your best to pin them down with imagination and words, but sooner or later you’ll live long enough to emerge from the shadows and see just how wrong you were.
When I started writing the Shadow Decade series with Cold Reboot in 2015 I thought I was being cynical. The world I drifted through was a dark one, full of misery and corruption and decay, but it seemed stable. Like a strong path that had such a sense of gravity to it that we couldn’t break away from it if we tried.
Then 2016 happened.
The conception I had of the future – a Clinton presidency that extended the milquetoast neoconservativism of the Obama administration, increasing corporate power, the inevitable economic disruption caused by the 3D printing revolution and inadequate government response to a shifting climate – seemed plausible. I figured that after eight more years of Democratic disappointment engagement would fall off and the country would elect a Rubio or a Cruz in 2024. That’s the future I wrote – perfectly cyberpunk, mildly dystopian, and gravely plausible.
I tell myself that nobody could have predicted President Trump. Not me. Not Clinton. Not Trump himself, the look on his face after his win was proof enough of that. But it doesn’t matter, I was stuck with one book set in a universe that no longer had a probability greater than zero, and I was midway through the second. I tell myself that there was no way I could have known that I should have been writing apocalyptic fiction.
Those things are true. They are also irrelevant. We’re in the situation we’re in, and my books are in the situation they’re in.
So I took another year with Network Protocol, changed a few things, details, and tried to envision what a few years of Trump might do to the world. Chasing shadows again, looking for patterns, trying to extrapolate. It’s something I’m good at by virtue of being human – we’re designed to make sense of disparate data. Sometimes we get a bit overzealous looking for connections, but I think that I was able to mold Network Protocol into something that made a little sense.
It’s a personal story, after all, about Erica. Not the world.
I got some parts right. But other things, developments in the last year alone… I’d written about the conflict between climate refugees and natives to their host countries, but couldn’t foresee the rapid return of ultra-nationalistic fascism. I knew the environment was going to shit, but didn’t predict that the true point-of-no-return was going to be 2028.
Things got worse faster. I never realized that I was an optimist.
So now I’m here, on October 31st, 2018, ready to start writing Open Proxy on November 1st for National Novel Writing Month, and I can see the shadows cast by future events. I don’t know what they mean, and can only really guess based on the shapes they make falling over the artifacts of the present. I’m set to refine and revisit a future ten years hence, and I can only pray that I’m getting it all wrong again.