Wednesday, August 04, 2010

Forecasting futures

A couple days ago I finished PB's The Windup Girl and now I am reading IM's River of Gods. Also, not long ago I read JV's Veniss Underground, all of which feature dystopic cities with a preponderance of genetically-altered and/or AIs, plus an oppressive corporate presence that overrules government. Their worlds are generally anarchic, violent, with fantastic wealth juxtaposed with fantastic poverty. In other words, these future cities look a lot like some contemporary global cities, particularly in the developing world. It's not coincidental that two of them are recognizably in south Asia: Veniss could be anywhere. The protagonists -- I'm not far enough in River of Gods to know who the protagonists are -- are flawed and frequently just plain weird, though also quite recognizable (like the calorie man in Windup Girl and the girl who gets dismembered in Veniss Underground.) All of these books feature ecological disaster of some sort or another, as well as plagues etc. Computer technology does not play much role in Windup Girl but is a central player in the other two.

I'm trying to find my way, but it seems that my futuristic setting is less urban and less degraded than those in these books. I suppose my premise is that famines, plagues, ecological disaster, post-oil would affect some places differently than others. In my WIP,  Bratislava and Budapest are largely deserted, with some recent re-population as a result of epidemic, flood/cold, and the winding down of carbon-based globalism. But a smaller city not so far away has not been affected in the same way -- out of the zone of flooding, semi-self-sufficient with respect to food and resources, self-quarantined geographically (by closing bridges, preventing in-migration of infected people). One notion I had was that globalism and its attendant large scale governmental structures (national and post-nationalism) are artifacts of the possibilities of production and transportation with cheap oil. The EU could implode any day now as the result of austerity, debt, etc. So let's say it starts with Greece, Portugal, moves toward the center. The place of Brussels is taken by Ankara in the south maybe, maybe by Moscow. The next step is the dissolution of nation-states along ethnic and geographical fault lines, and their replacement with regions, cities, enclaves, fiefdoms and republics. This could be both the product and the producer of the decline of global commerce and production. Why make something that nobody can buy, when the price of bringing it to market rises? The Free City of Nitra puts tariffs on imported goods that can be made locally, travel (and trade) are complicated and made more expensive, and so on. In my world, the wilderness -- damaged in the Carbon Age -- has now regenerated itself, not in exactly the same manner, but in a manner that makes it more wild than before, increasingly impassible, increasingly able to impose isolation and separation on those living within and without. The urge for trade and expansion, though, returns, when one entity wants something available somewhere else -- like amber or salt or bananas or procciutto.

So my city is smaller, practices conservation to a great degree, slow food, etc. There are post-modern technologies side by side with Medieval technologies (nano computers run on body heat, carts pulled by horses, windmills ...) And there's magic or special talents. But I don't want it either to regress to a complete pre-modern fantasy world (though castles are good, and still present), or to a post-apocalyptic utopia or barbarism. In some ways, then, I plan for this world to be something like what the world is today (just like these more dystopic future cities) but different too. A place for the King of Pigs.

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