When I picked this site back up again last month, I mentioned that I spent a lot of time between October and late February writing fiction. I’ve always read fiction more often than anything else, and from the time I started writing online in 2007, I always figured I would ultimately write novels. But as it turns out, no one just hires you on spec to write novels — not ever, really, and certainly not on the strength of your baseball and sandwich blogging — and spending 40-55 hours a week staring at text on a computer screen did not make me eager to do more of it in my spare time.
I reject, to some extent, the notion of genre — a Colson Whitehead speech I recently read and loved noted, “there’s only two kinds of books, shit you like and shit you don’t like” — but the book I was working on in the fall would be categorized as sci-fi or speculative fiction. It was to take place in New York City in 2029 and open with an attack the protagonist (falsely) assumed to be a nuclear bomb. It sucked.
I scrapped it before the coronavirus hit New York City. The instance of this pandemic only validated that decision, because the 2029 in which the events of the book were taking place was one in which those now ongoing never did, and the difference would’ve been impossible to rectify. I didn’t set out to write with any themes in mind, but the themes I believe were emerging in the story included: The extent to which we take our comfort and security for granted, and the notion that social media and online interaction are inadequate substitutes for actual human contact.
Ha! Those themes, obviously, no longer require a book-length examination or even a sentence-length one. Right now, people all over the world are acutely aware of all the comforts we were taking for granted, and no one thinks FaceTime is as good as face-time.
Part of the appeal of speculative fiction, to me, is the way in which it reflects the hopes and fears of the real world in which it was written. Nineteen Eighty-Four is not a novel about 1984 so much as it is a novel about 1949. Slaughterhouse Five is nominally about World War II and time-travel and aliens, but at its core it’s a book about trauma and wartime horrors, and I cannot imagine it would have resonated in the same way if it were not released at the exact time U.S. involvement in Vietnam hit its peak.
That’s all a very long introduction to a couple of points: 1) I still intend to write some dope science fiction, but I’m finding it impossible to even try right now because we are in the midst of a real-life scenario straight out of science fiction, and I cannot wrap my head around the way things are going to be and the way we’re going to be when this is over.
2) Tomorrow, I’m going to post a short story here. It still technically registers as “speculative fiction” because it takes place a month from now, but it is a very different type of story than anything I ever imagined I’d write. I’ll very much appreciate if you read it. If you enjoy it, I’ll very much appreciate if you tell me so. If you don’t, though, go easy. I feel weird and uncomfortable putting out a piece of fiction in which nothing blows up.