Past, Present and Future: histfic v scifi

I’ve had six novels published, some contemporary, some historical, and now I’m going mad and publishing a SciFi novel set a couple of centuries in the future. In theory, it should be more of a challenge to write about a time that we know nothing about and situations that may never happen, with people who might have entirely different outlooks that we have now. In reality, it’s easy. It’s fiction, pure and simple.

Historical fiction is far more difficult because it involves events that did happen. That means you have to get them right, and the characters need to have a mindset appropriate to their era, quite often totally alien to our own, with all our instincts itching to correct their outdated beliefs, prejudices and hygiene. We want historical women to marry for love, succeed in business, challenge any restriction on their freedom and have an obstinate belief that blood-letting doesn’t really help the sick. But if we are any good at making historical fiction authentic, we resist all these urges, and allow ourselves to get fully inside minds obsessed with horrors ranging from the immediate reality of Hell to the overwhelming need for social respectability.

Fiction set in the future is so much easier, because you can simply make it up. And the most interesting thing about what writers imagine when they look into the future, is that it frequently has nothing to do with the future at all. Instead, it reflects the fears or hopes of the present. On TV in the 1950s there was a wave of science fiction reflecting the paranoia of the Cold War. The original Star Trek reflected a 1960s optimism with visions of nations and races working together, even with a shocking interracial kiss. We were getting into our touchy-feely era in The Next Generation, which put a counsellor on board. Blake’s 7 began with 1970s notions of revolution and resistance to oppressive authorities, before realising that we were sailing into the 1980s and the self-serving philosophy of Greed is Good. The X Files reflected a post-Cold War age of uncertainty with faith and reason in perpetual conflict. So much futuristic science fiction deals with our contemporary worries about artificial intelligence taking over.

So if I write a story set more than 200 years in the future, I am almost certainly writing from the perspective of the here and now, and the present day certainly offers plenty of material to work with. I could claim some prescience. When I wrote the first draft of Inside Out, foreseeing a time when mega-corporations would be in charge of everything including Space, I probably thought I was being quite fanciful. It was the 1990s. Only superpower nations like the USA or the USSR could afford to take on the challenge back then. Nowadays, NASA tags along behind Elon Musk, Jeff Bezos and Richard Branson. What else in the present world I might be referencing, I leave it to the reader to determine, but as a writer, I can say that imagining the future is a lot easier than getting the past right.

published on Kindle May 12th.
pre-order now.

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