The Future as Location (What does it look like?)

We live in the future of the past.  Houses look much the same as they did 50 or 60 years ago, with some exceptions.  Infrastructure looks much the same.  Airplanes, cars and trains look much the same.  In order to break free of the present world, it would be necessary to write far, far future stories.  Evan Quinn didn’t fit into a far, far future story.  When he appeared to me in my mind the first time, he was onstage at the Musikverein in Vienna, a building that has stood for over a hundred years, and yet, I knew that his world was not the same as mine now or Vienna’s a hundred years ago. 

The action in a story occurs in a specific time and place.  The physical location in Perceval is Vienna, Austria, for most of the story, with a short visit to Amsterdam, Netherlands.  Evan’s psychological location is America for much of the book, gradually shifting to his new home in Vienna.  The temporal location is the summer of 2048.  While time itself has no actual appearance, it is reflected in the physical world through speech, action, clothing, transportation, communication devices, music, and architecture, among other things.  One of the decisions I had to make involved how prominent the future would be in the story.  Would the future be a character, too, like in far, far future stories?

The movie Blade Runner came to mind.  In that movie, the future Los Angeles has a specific appearance, culture, and technology that is as important to the story as the human or replicant characters.  When details of the physical setting become foreground rather than background, that’s when it becomes a character.  Futuristic stories often emphasize advances in technology, space travel, transportation, communication and everyday appliances.  What was more important to me in Perceval: the future setting or the characters?

The reason I chose the future as the temporal setting was for the freedom to create a different geopolitical landscape.  People would be the focus of the story, not technology.  So, I decided on a near-future setting to have more of a connection to the present rather than no connection at all.  I wanted Evan’s world to reflect the present but to have changed geopolitically.  George Orwell’s 1984, P.D. James’ The Children of Men, Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451 are all concerned with character and some kind of politics or beliefs over technology, space travel, futuristic architecture, etc.  This is where Perceval is.  And yet….

When a story is set in the future, readers have certain expectations.  The future needs to be established in some way whether subtle or blatant.  Sometimes, the circumstances of the story are so radically different that the reader accepts it as being in the future.  Otherwise, props are needed to reflect a future time.  I wanted the props in Perceval to be limited to certain things — telephone communication, computers, and cars — and I wanted two ideas to prevail: 1) the future is not a shiny, new place, and 2) people will have a choice or many choices in props.

For example, in 2048, landlines are still prevalent for telephones.  Videophones are in every home, accompanied by fax and recording capabilities.  Cell phones come in a variety of styles from handheld to a nodule attached behind and directly into the ear or sewn into the lapel of one’s coat.  But, European governments (and America, too) have passed laws to regulate the capabilities of cell phones, i.e. by law, cell phones can no longer record video, audio or take photos.  They can be connected to the internet or not, with plans from complete access to only basic access for maps, directories, time, weather and texting/e-mail.  In other words, the iPhone will exist but so will basic phone service only cell phones.  People will have a choice. 

“The more things change, the more they stay the same.”  This saying became my guiding principle.  I wanted to confirm the time setting with futuristic props and the radically different geopolitical situation, but focus Perceval and the subsequent novels in the series on people, their beliefs, emotions, dreams, and actions.   I decided that people would react strongly against certain things, too, which would emphasize choices, and create the potential for interesting backlashes.  For example, the backlash against money and economic systems to determine value.   For Evan’s future world, I wanted to see changes and progress in people and how they think more than in things….


2 responses to “The Future as Location (What does it look like?)

  1. hmmmm … I got going on the idea of “choice” which tends to be a pet peeve of mine. It is, however, detailed enough that I really want to devote more time to it. I’ll get back to you, or put it on my blog.

    Let us contemplate the cornucopia of Choice often hides the fact that the choices presented are really pretty meaningless.

    • Choice isn’t a pet peeve of mine, but something that is important. As for meaningless choices, I’ve been there, too, especially in my family growing up. I was told I had choices but the reality was that I didn’t. It wasn’t until I fought my father to go to college that I began to truly have choices in my life.

      My pet peeve is that when something new comes on the scene, let’s take the iPad as an example, suddenly the paper legal pad is obsolete and disappears. Each has its quite relevant uses as well as its weaknesses (I assume the iPad has weaknesses, I don’t own one) but they each serve a purpose. Paper pads should still be available and used. Cell phones come along and suddenly landlines are no longer relevant. The thing is, landlines are secure while cell phones are not. Wireless electronics are not secure. So, in Evan’s world, he can still have a landline and cell phones are available but they haven’t made landlines obsolete.

      This is where I’m coming from re: choice.

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