A recent question from a friend about the time period of Perceval prompted me to review my thinking again. Why set Perceval in the future? It’s inconvenient for research, for example, and I don’t own a crystal ball. It can be difficult. Why make writing harder than it already is?
In the first draft of Perceval, the story existed in a non-specific time and I made no effort to anchor it in a time period. It could have been occurring at any time — yesterday, today, tomorrow. I didn’t want to risk readers mistaking the story in any way for science fiction or dystopian science fiction. However, I wanted to create a different world in which America had lost its democracy through the democratic political process, i.e. the population had voted in a government that proceeded to dismantle the representative democracy in favor of security (my thinking pre-9/11). Or at least that’s what the politicians would say. The forces behind the dismantling would be actually paranoia, greed and the lust for power and control. All the usual suspects.
As a reference, I was thinking initially of the Soviet Union’s communist and totalitarian system as my template, revised to fit American culture and society. I wanted to explore how an American would respond to oppression, an American who had also knowledge and some experience of a democratic and free America. I think human beings have an innate desire for freedom, and even those who want power over others may, sometimes, experience their position of power as freedom, just as some people regard wealth as freedom. I also wanted to explore what would happen with the arts in America, specifically music in all its forms.
How would an American musician or writer or artist survive? How would he respond to the society? How would the oppressors respond to him? I wanted Evan Quinn to react to oppression and the forces behind it as an American musician and artist. Then I wanted him to leave America and have to start over in a democratic and free foreign culture and society, much like the Russian emigrants I’d met over the years who had left the known to be free in the unknown. One Russian emigrant told me that when he arrived in America, he’d felt like he’d lost all his experience, and that really stuck with me. The Russian also had had the rude realization that American society was not much like what he’d observed from afar. How would an American react in such a situation?
Early readers of the novel complained that they didn’t know when the story took place, so I decided to take the plunge and set the story in the future. This challenged me to create a future world, not just a future America, and gave me the opportunity to explore my ideas of an oppressive America, and trends in politics, culture, and economics that I hadn’t considered earlier. I also established some rules for myself:
- The future is not a character in this story.
- This story is not science fiction or focused on futuristic technology.
- There will be no extraterrestrials.
- This is Evan’s story. He is the “no tech” or human focus.
But when in the future? I wanted it to be a recognizable world, one in which a reader could easily see himself and feel comfortable. The movie, Star Trek: First Contact, influenced my thinking. In the movie, the USS Enterprise and her crew, residents of the 24th century, chase the Borg back to the 21st century and the days immediately prior to earth’s “first contact” with aliens. This moment in time is after the Third World War which had devastated much of the planet. But what had caused the Third World War? This question led me to the year in which the action in my novel would occur, 2048, immediately prior to the Third World War mentioned in Star Trek: First Contact.
Choosing the future as the time period for the Perceval novels challenged my imagination and created possibilities for the world I wanted for Evan Quinn that would not have existed if I’d set the novels in the past or present. And, it turned out that researching the future was possible….