What if? What next? What the fuck? The age itself is changing art and writing and even thinking right before our eyes. Are we in a dystopia? Is a utopia coming? What if it’s new prefix? How can we tell fact from fiction? Propaganda from narrative? Pipe dream from possibility? An interesting essay.
To experience 2020 in real time has been like watching a bad flip-book in which each page comes from a different narrative. We’ve had an election narrative, a wildfire narrative, a pandemic narrative, an uprising narrative, a coup narrative. We’ve been winning. We’ve been losing. We’ve had no idea.
Each day peeled a layer from the previous one, revealed it as a lie, a provisional hypothesis that had to be discarded in favor of a different model, one that better fit the evidence. Now, we want desperately to be at the end— the final unmasking that reveals the ultimate answer. We want good to be rewarded, evil to be punished, and the struggle to be over.
But speculative fiction is a genre of narrative with rules, and those rules make it hard to understand where we’ve been and where we’re headed. Speculative fiction wants to organize around a central question; it wants to exclude the sticky, tricky anomalies in its threads; and it wants to move toward closure. These features make narrative a great way to obscure unpleasant facts, to turn life into a bedtime story where things used to be bad, but got better, and now we don’t have to worry about them anymore. But life isn’t speculative fiction.
We may not want to hear it, but our job is to just keep worrying.