Saturday, November 05, 2011

Great Ill-timed Expectations. (Non-astro)

I often wonder how authors feel about their books, short stories and screenplays when time gives the lie, or more accurately, misjudgement to the timing of their storylines.

It's an odd experience to read science fiction, speculative fiction or stories set in a dystopian future, written many years ago, to find that the author's time-frame for his tale is now in the past. Nothing remotely close has happened, life has gone on, albeit with changes, discoveries, new technology and new traumas.

We tend to expect that, because during the lifetime of each generation, so many discoveries and technological changes occur, and we seemingly progress with breath-taking swiftness, that "the big picture" will change equally swiftly. After all, it's within my own lifetime that air travel became a possibility for ordinary people, that man first flew into space, walked upon the Moon. It'd seem reasonable enough to suppose that "the big picture" would speed along at the same perceived rate. That doesn't happen though, or at least it hasn't happened yet. The world at large isn't broadly different from the way it was in 1960, apart from the music, the fashions, gimmicks, cost of a beer, computers, blogs, the 3Gs, 4Gs, iPods, Facebook, Twitter, etc. Yes, I know things have changed, but then again much hasn't - not in the ways depicted by some novels.

Authors are storytellers of course, not prophets, astrologers or psychics. They do not attempt to predict events. However, the fact that they chose to set their stories in a specific time frame must indicate that, at the time of writing, they considered the chosen time frame to be realistic and reasonably believable.

George Orwell's 1984, and Arthur C. Clarke's 2001 A Space Odyssey are two of the best known examples. In the 1980s Alan Moore's V for Vendetta depicted a near-future UK after a nuclear war, which left much of the world destroyed.

A lesser known novel, Down to a Sunless Sea by David Graham is yet another example. I read it and was fascinated by the story many years ago when it was originally published (late 1970s/early 80s). I lent it to a friend at work, who lent it to another, it was then lost for ever. I was surprised, when I again flicked through a recently obtained copy of that novel, to note the date the author had specified for the story's action to take place: 1985. The world had exploded into nuclear war, eventually leading to a pole shift. How odd that seems now, more than 30 years later. Sure enough there have been wars and terrorism, but nothing matching the author's vision of a USA rapidly crumbling, hunger and violence everywhere, citizens trying desperately to escape from America. (Ahem).......erm.....Never mind!

Douglas Adams said:
Time is an illusion. Lunchtime doubly so.
He got that right!


James Higham said...

It's an odd experience to read science fiction, speculative fiction or stories set in a dystopian future, written many years ago, to find that the author's time-frame for his tale is now in the past.

Exactly what my trilogy does - Pt1 1996-2006, Pt2 2006-2010, Pt3 2010-end of the world.

Time has just left the 2nd book and moved to about Ch4 of the last book. Not a nice end to the world BTW.

Twilight said...

James Higham ~~ Really? Sounds interesting. Is it available to buy/read? I don't see any ad. or link on your blog.

I wrote ( a first attempt at fiction - not my natureal genre) a longish short story on a similar theme - though I carefully set it way, way into the future and only mentioned end of the old world, and how it ended. It felt better to me that way.

Wisewebwoman said...

I find it oddly comforting that most of these Into The Future fictions did not get realized. Partly yes, the more subtle areas of mind control, etc.
We can still be surprised and I like that.

Twilight said...

Wisewebwoman ~~ Yes. Maybe that's partly the reason why some authors set their stories so near to the present - gambling that those types of events will NOT happen - so then, people will feel relieved and happy.