Should science fiction authors pay more attention to world economics? Could they use the GFC as the basis of a novel or two? Award winning science fiction author Sean McMullen has joined us today for a guest post about science fiction and economics…
Should science fiction authors write about the economy?
By Sean McMullen
Science fiction authors have a patchy history with predicting the future. We missed the rise of the personal computer until it was right on top of us, while predicting a Mars landing during the 1980s. More nuclear wars were fought in SF than real wars, we also tried to tell people that personal air commuting was well within our grasp. We did get computer worms and viruses right, and even a version of the web, but as a rule science fiction is driven by the need for a cool story rather than by what is likely to happen.
Now, at the start of the new millennium’s second decade, we live in a science fiction world. If you can imagine it, someone can do it as a computer game and do it now, because we are no longer tied down by real-world technology, biology or physics. So far so good, but remember what I said about science fiction’s track record with the near future?
The problem is that most things that really impact our lives and future are not very interesting. Toxic assets? Ninja loans? Derivatives? They are dead boring to kids as themes, yet they seriously affect their lifestyle options. Now. How about writing a story about the invention of banks? Boring, yet the invention of banks financed the Renaissance, not to mention an awful lot of exploration. Heard about the Louisiana Bubble of 1720? Boring, yet it trashed the French economy so badly that some say it led to the French Revolution a few decades later. Heard about the Global Financial Crisis of 2008? They were all economic events, but they certainly made life exciting.
How hard is economic SF? Take credit. Western nations have supported their people’s lifestyles on credit for a couple of decades past, but the national annual interest bill is now up around the total ability to pay. We are already seeing the first entire countries maxed out on their credit, and this sort of thing is going to dominate our future. So, it’s happening already, yet who is writing economic SF?
What about something more exciting? Returning to petrol, there is actually plenty left, it is just getting more expensive to extract it from the really deep reserves. So, we can keep burning it, and pay with credit. So what if the world gets a bit warmer because of the extra CO2 in the atmosphere? We just get longer summers. Actually CO2 dissolves in seawater, making it more acidic, dissolving the shells of everything from clams to corals and also making life hard for the plankton. Kill off the plankton, and you kill off the organisms that supply about half of our oxygen.
Now that is really exciting, and it all happens because of economics. Our transport depends on oil, which still is relatively cheap, and transport infrastructure (like roads, parking lots, petrol stations, and however many hundreds of million petrol fuelled cars) is expensive to change. If we don’t want to pay, it will stay the same until it gets a bit hard to breathe – THEN the problem will secure our undivided attention and people will be very interested in spending money.
So, economics is determining our future right now, and it is not a pretty sight, but we are heading into the future with our eyes firmly closed and our iPods turned up loud. Should we write about it? Yes. Can we write about it without making it boring? Yes.
George’s bit at the end
Food for thought! Sounds like a niche desperately waiting for an author to fill it. Has anyone out there come across any SF with an economic focus? If so, leave a comment.
My thanks to Sean McMullen for taking the time to write a guest post for Literary Clutter. To find out more about Sean and his writing, check out his website.
And tune in next time for some exercise.
Catch ya later, George
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