Fear Itself

With the upcoming Rapture, I thought today would be a good day to talk about something I’ve been thinking about for the past few weeks. As you all know, the face that symbolized “evil” to many Americans, Osama bin Laden, was shot in the head and killed. Like many Americans, I felt relief and a sense that justice had been done. And as someone who appreciates symbolism, the importance of this event, no matter how irrelevant overall it may be, is not lost on me.

The reason I’m bringing up this semi-old news is because the queries have started coming in. The ones about “life after Osama,” fictionalized accounts of the men who killed him, and the rise of a “new face of evil.” The hope, of course, is that the writers started these books before he was killed. Otherwise, that’s some pretty quick turnaround. Through all of these new queries, there are the ones I’ve been getting. Since I’m pretty vocal about my love of science fiction, I get a lot of queries for it. But some of them – the dystopian science fiction, specifically – suddenly don’t feel as relevant. It’s as if Osama’s death made them less threatening, the plots less enticing.

When science fiction is done well, it reveals more about the current realities of our society than any non-fiction work ever could. World Wars I and II, the space race, global imperialism, Roswell, and, yes, terrorism have all influenced science fiction. Yet it wasn’t until we entered our “post-9/11” world that we experienced a strong resurgence of dystopian novels.

But these are not Orwell’s dystopian novels anymore. And it’s not hard to see why. After 9/11, Big Brother didn’t feel so fictional, let alone like science fiction. The U.S. government took advantage of the fact that full-blown foreign terrorist attacks just don’t happen here. They exploited that panic to instill the likes of The Patriot Act and Homeland Security; they could monitor our online searches, and made racial profiling become acceptable. The stuff of science fiction – exotic new villains, conspiratorial leaders, widespread paranoia, and constant surveillance – was becoming our reality. So what was left to write about?

Enter the new dystopian. Now that Big Brother was practically a reality, our science fiction novels shifted into complete and utter destruction. The threats had to be bigger because old-fashioned government control was too close to home. To up the ante we invented other ways in which our world could be destroyed: mass floods, plague, humans taken over by a vampiric disease. The more elaborate the better because if those other sci-fi novels could become our reality, we needed to make sure the new sci-fi stayed fictional. The world as we knew it had to go, and it had to go in a big way. We were beyond paranoia. The only way to save our country, and the best way to save science fiction, was to rebuild our worldview and start over.

Teens especially have taken to dystopian fiction, which is interesting when you think of the fact that by the time they were old enough to read, 9/11 already happened. As far as their memory is concerned, we’ve always lived like this. They only know war and fear and distrust of government.The Hunger Games, the most popular to come out of the trend, has them literally battling each other. War was not something that happened “over there” anymore.

So where does Osama bin Laden come in? Well, his death by itself is fairly inconsequential. But in the same way that his actions allowed us to change the way we live virtually overnight, his death will allow us to slowly return to the world we knew. That gunshot erased the face that was given to the name, and soon, with time, it will reverse the Patriot Act, eliminate a need for Homeland Security, and allow us to, finally, stop being afraid. At least this is my hope.

When I get queries now about a government (or metaphor for government) that has gotten too much power because of one singular event, I think to myself, will this be enough anymore? It already sounds dated to me because I can foresee that in the two years it will take for that book get published, the world could look significantly different than it does today.

I’m not really sure where dystopian will go from here. I am ignoring the fact that the market is so saturated with it that it’s likely going to die out soon anyway. That’s because sci-fi never really goes out of style. This particular sub-genre will. At least for now. We brought it back when we needed it, and hopefully we won’t again for a very long time.

Where do you see science fiction going? Do you think the more supernaturally inclined disaster scenarios will continue? Or do you think the old standby of fear (whether of outside forces or of our own government’s power) will keep the genre as strong as it has in the past?

Hope you all enjoy your last day on earth! And if you’re reading this after the Rapture, sorry you got Left Behind!

Genre Pressure

Since we’re all friends here, I feel comfortable admitting the following to you all…

I’m just not crazy about Battlestar Galactica. There, I said it.

Oh, and you know what author I just cannot, for the life of me, get into? Gary Shteyngart.

I know. Those two things have absolutely nothing to do with each other. Not on the surface anyway.

Now, don’t get me wrong. I recognize Gary and Battlestar for their objective superiority in their given genres and even would go so far as to say I like them. I’m afraid that’s just not enough for me though. You see, I’m supposed to love them.

This is what I call Genre Pressure. As a fan of well-written science fiction, and as a fan of literary fiction, I should be ALL ABOUT these things. I even love all Brooklyn Jonathans. In fact, I continually pick up stories about self-obsessed writerly types in NYC even though it’s so incredibly lazy and cliche… I eat ’em up though! So why don’t I love Gary?

Genre Pressure works in mysterious ways. It’s the literary equivalent of “he’s just not that into you.” Only, it’s much harder to admit to yourself. No one wants to betray their favorite genre, especially when everyone you completely respect tell you all the time that “OMG You would totally love this!” So usually, I lie.

But nope, not today. I’m coming clean. Well, at least about these two specific examples.

What about you? Who else among us have secretly betrayed their genre of choice for the sake of fitting in?