Futuristic Fiction


From the Silent Girl preview video.

Welcome to 2009.

An assumption underlying my Silent Girl story, “The Snow People: 30-46 AGM,” is that the Arctic ice will melt and oceans will rise high enough to seriously endanger people living in low-lying areas of the earth. I started writing the story after I read projections that the ice could be gone as early as 2040 and that sea levels could rise as much as 13 feet. The story is set in the future, but not too far ahead, maybe 70 years from now. It opens with the Snow People’s creation myth:

To the child in my womb I say: the blood passing between your heart and mine comes from the very first Snow People, two lovers who defied an ancient taboo and ate the liver of a polar bear. It should have killed them. Instead, it turned their skin and hair as white as the great bear’s fur and their eyes the colour of a glacial lake. The lovers had seven children, all with the same white skin and hair, all but one with the same startling eyes. For thousands of years, the lovers’ white-skinned, white-haired descendants worshipped The Land and survived on what it bestowed until even the winter ice began to thin and fewer of the fish they caught and fewer of the animals they hunted passed their way. One year the ice refused to return, and water swallowed The Land. The Snows loaded up their boats and began the Great Migration south. After many seasons, they landed on an island populated by people the Snows called Rainbows in a republic called New Columbia. The Rainbows took their boats away and the Snows could no longer hunt and fish. They could no longer worship The Land.

I don’t consider my story science fiction, because its use of hard science is minimal. It’s more of a futuristic fantasy, but I didn’t realize how important the scientific projections I based it on were to me until NPR reported on a new study that predicts a sea level rise at closer to six feet than 13. And a CNN report about a NASA study says it won’t be more than three feet by the end of this century.

This is good news for those of us living on islands, but I can’t tell you how much it deflated me. I had intended to develop my story of Selanna, her son Akintunde, and Chloe, the messiah of Akintunde’s dreams, into a novel. Granted, it’s fiction, and you should be able do whatever you want in that genre, but it took the prophetic winds out of my sails. So, I decided to embark on a different novel. The change in sea level projection wasn’t the only reason. Until I wrote “The Snow People,” I didn’t realize how much of a bias against science fiction/fantasy writing exists in some circles and I’m just not ready at this point to buck that tide.

“The Snow People” is my editor’s favourite story in the collection and I heard from one reader that she also liked it best. But others have told me it’s not their “thing” because it’s set in an unfamiliar time and place. Two members of my writing group were relieved I decided to abandon my idea of turning it into a novel, because they just can’t “get into” fantasy and science fiction. And a former professor told me that some literature professors she taught with refused to read even Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale and Oryx and Crake because they don’t read futuristic literature on principle. They consider it beneath them — akin, I suppose, to bodice rippers and paperback westerns.

I’m glad I don’t have such principles. I would have missed out on Atwood’s brilliant work, not to mention Frank Herbert’s Dune series and Ursula Le Guin’s probing stories. In my unschooled opinion, if the primary value of literature is that it deepens our understanding of the human condition today, futuristic literature can allow us to reflect on how the human condition might evolve in a hypothetical tomorrow that begins right now in our minds.

What say you?


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