Saturday, December 31, 2011

Fiction is now either Science Fiction or Historical Fiction. The present doesn't last long enough.

I just finished reading "The Wind up Bird Chronicle," and the plot of it requires that the main character be unreachable by phone when he is outside of his house. How different a world that was, where going out into the world to meet other people actually isolated you in some ways. This dated the novel entirely. It became a novel about sometime last century instead of just a novel.

Consider writing a story about someone who gets lost on a road trip or a walk. This is an archetypical setup, but how difficult it would be to do that today, to set that up in a way that rules out all the obvious ways of getting directions in an entirely uninteresting way from our smart phones? I can imagine it now: "My battery was too low to get signal, and between my two companions, one doesn't have a nationwide data plan, and the other is with a second tier carrier with poor 3g coverage, so miraculously, we have to talk to another person, and thus move the plot forward in an interesting way." Even after all those awkward contortions, that setup probably has a half-life of 5 years.

All of us spend a lot of our lives on our computers, but what we do on them can't be written about in a way that is both poetic and accurate. We just don't have enough words for it. Every humble tool in a leatherworker's arsenal has its own name (the awl for instance.) These things have been around for long enough for that to happen, and to gain the gravity that makes them candidates for metaphor. The pen is still mightier than the sword, even though we no longer use either. The keyboard may be mightier than the cruise missile, but I can't imagine saying that with any dramatic weight.

The basic ways we do common things are not only different, but changing from year to year. Henceforth a novel will have to choose a time period in which to take place, and choosing "now" will make it historical fiction by the time it is published.