Tuesday, October 18, 2005

Speculative Fiction

While I'm only published in erotica so far, I am a huge fan of science fiction and fantasy.

Some of my favorite books are Dune, Left Hand of Darkness, the Vorkosigan saga, Frankenstein, Altered Carbon (Richard Morgan's new Takeshi Kovacs novel Woken Furies is out. Yay!), Fahrenheit 451, Dracula (forgive me, Judgja) and Ubik.

Many people dismiss science fiction as genre garbage, but science fiction reflects our society in its darkest light. Caves of Steel is about racism. War of the Worlds is about imperialism. The genre dares question who we are and where we're going. To me, that has a lot more merit than beautiful words strung across the page.

I spend a lot of time commuting, so I work on writing exercises that don't involve typing. Speculative fiction - encompassing science fiction and fantasy - lends itself to "what if" games, because the entire genre answers "what if?"

Taking an idea from current news, and some of my knowledge of the past, I spent my rainy commute yesterday wondering what will happen if bird flu becomes a pandemic like it did back in 1918. Thinking back to how slow travel was in 1918, it's amazing how that virus spread around the world. With our current rate of travel and open borders, it's possible that within a week, most major cities would have a Patient Zero moving among their population.

Okay. That's the set-up.

There are a million ways to run with this idea. The Action/Adventure Scientist as Savior story, the survivalist/ rebuilding society story, evolving utopia, evolving distopia, rise of tyrants, escape from earth, evolution of humans, rise of a new sentient earth species (my favorite being the Giant Squid theory) , Ways to Serve Man type alien invasion....

But I like near-future stories. So what I was thinking is how we might quick-adapt to the threat. My first thought is that it will be refelcted in fashion. Clothes? Absolutely. How about everyone wearing gloves, for a start? We know that viruses are spread mostly by hand. But how would that change things? Showing a naked palm could become a sign of ultimate trust, or aggression. (And it would most certainly become a fetish.)

Take it further. As we go to biometric scans to protect ourselves from identity theft, that would clash with the use of gloves. Stripping off a glove to spend money or prove identity could become a very private matter. Imagine stepping into a secluded booth to pay for your groceries. Filthy lucre, anyone?

What if we decided that covering our noses and mouths was a better way to protect against infection? Would we veil ourselves? If we draped our entire bodies for protection, what would that do to gender identifiers? Would gender become irrelevant, or would people dare spread out along the spectrum of the Kinsey scale to where they were comfortable? How frustrated would a cross-dresser be? How would dating work? How would manners change? What would become taboo, and what would be erotic?

Could it be that in their misogyny, men who insist on heavily veiling their women have saved those women from infection - but left themselves open to it? What would happen to a patriarchal society if a large percent of the men died off in a short span of time? (In reality, they'd go home, infect their wives and children, and drag the whole family into the grave too, but put that aside for now.)

Space proxemics, interpersonal relations, everything could be affected by our fear of death from that virus. Or - we could blithely go along with our same lives while people dropped dead around us. Those who died could be blamed for some sort of moral or genetic weakness, and the survivors could claim that their bio-cleanliness was next to godliness.

So take it, run with it, push it to the edge of the absurd, and then push it beyond. Speculate. Then write a damn fine story and let me read it.

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