One of the comments from the editor that pops up fairly often on the Perceval’s Secret manuscript is “time.” She explained in our meeting that that comment refers to how I’ve established, or not, the future setting of 2048. Patricia, the editor, made an assumption that I think a lot of people make when they see the word “future” in relation to novels or movies, i.e. the future = science fiction futuristic-type landscape, architecture, transport, communications, etc. She suggested that I “have some fun with it,” it didn’t need to overtake the story, and yet, as it was she had been unconvinced that the story truly was in 2048, according to her view.
The first thing this told me was that I hadn’t been clear enough in describing the philosophy behind European life in 2048. I would need to make that much, much clearer. That philosophy had emerged out of the realization that computers and electronics had been hurting humanity as much as helping it, and so they had decided to dial back on what Evan calls “the gadgets.” The other important point in this philosophy that Evan repeatedly appreciates is that everyone has a choice. An individual can live a no-tech life, a low-tech life, or a high-tech life. But the choice remains, as do all the necessary products to live any life one chooses.
In support of this view is Nicholas Carr in his article “The Great Forgetting” in the November 2013 issue of The Atlantic (online the title is “All Can Be Lost: The Risk of Putting Our Knowledge in the Hands of Machines”). It always surprises me when I see my ideas pop up in the media, given serious treatment, or sometimes even taken further than I’d imagined. The article illustrates with examples the idea that as humans rely more and more on computers to do everything from flying airplanes to auditing our businesses, humans forget how to do these things themselves. Then, what happens if the computer fails? The electric power fails? A situation arises not programmed into the computer?
For the Perceval novels’ future, I wanted humanity to already have dealt with this issue. Choice is one approach. Another is to not teach with computers and calculators until middle school or high school. Another thing that my editor encouraged me to explore is Evan’s realization that music is ageless — the instruments remain pretty much the same, the notation, the presentation. Maybe distribution of recorded music changes, but not the music itself or the creation of the sounds. He makes a similar observation about guns — as a delivery system for bullets, they haven’t changed much in hundreds of years.
As I’ve been working on the manuscript, every time I’ve encountered a “time” comment, I’ve paused to assess what I want in that particular place. Something more futuristic like a robot? Or the opposite direction? Or no change? Another layer comes into play, i.e. Evan’s memories of America where he’d lived for the previous 35 years. With his memories, I must assess how far to go with the dystopian totalitarian society in contrast to his present life in Europe, and if it is “futuristic” in the sense my editor meant. I think the point I’m trying to make with this series of novels set in the near future is: humans can decide to go in a totally different direction from the usual science fiction expectations. P. D. James showed that also in Children of Men.
Any writer who sets a story in a time period other than the present must consider questions like these. Historical fiction and other stories set in the past have a different challenge for the writer than for those set in the future. For speculative fiction, there’s an expectation that’s been fed by our own technological progress and the way the future has been presented in movies. As I’ve been working on the revisions, I have indeed been having “fun with it.” But I’ve also been reinforcing the idea that Europeans have chosen a different approach to life in the future….