With apologies to Robert Browning, my version of his famous lines reflects the mashup up ideas rolling around in my head today. For those unfamiliar, and annoyed at having to resort to Google, the original is” Grow old along with me! The best is yet to be, the last of life, for which the first was made.”
Part of what follows, which is coming right off the top of my head, so please don’t expect total coherence, is inspired by a reread of an old blog post by James Wallace Harris: Aging and Reading Science Fiction. There isn’t much in it I agree with, but it’s one of those little essays that make you think more deeply than blog posts generally do. The other part–outliers–is also mentioned in his post, which is coincidental since it’s a topic I’ve been giving some thought to lately.
Given that I’ve been more or less an outlier in almost every area of my life, as far back as I can remember, I continue to find myself on the fringes both as a very senior citizen and as someone on the autistic spectrum. I’ve fielded my share of criticism for being too negative, too critical, too stubborn, too, too, too. But that’s what you get when you insist on seeing the forest as well as the trees, and applying logic to problems, large and small, that invariably provoke instant emotional responses (mostly negative) to any sensible approach.
Our lives are full of tests, which we tend to avoid as much as possible. So we’re constantly surprised when our failure to meet and deal with them results in our being slapped in the face with extremely unpleasant consequences. Global climate change is one. The current political chaos in the US is another. Those are biggies, which we have some justification in avoiding as too large and complex for our little minds to tackle. Then there are the small ones, or those that seem small until we find ourselves facing them. Like aging and death. Yes, that’s a biggie, but we have considerable free will in how we confront them.
My confrontation is as a writer, specifically a science fiction writer. Being close to the end of my life has changed my perspective in many ways. For one thing, I no longer expect that any major human problems will be solved before I shut my eyes permanently. And few, if any, of the wonderful technological dreams will be coming true. When the decades pile up enough so that you can look back and see a fairly good-sized chunk of history, and can add that to what you know of the history that took place long before you were ever on the planet, there’s little room for illusions.
One result is that when I write about current events and how they will affect the near and distant future, the only solutions I can offer are about surviving a future still being shaped by past and present errors that we choose to ignore. It doesn’t necessarily mean that all is going to end in gloom and doom. That may very well happen, but there will be survivors of the various forms of ecological collapse, just as there are always survivors of war. What bothers me is that there don’t seem to be many depictions of that process that don’t also show the survivors as having been reduced to something close to an animal state. It’s a world in which human society had been reduced to a primitive state of constant localized warfare where life is quite precarious.
Is there a way out of this gloomy view of the future, even granting that our grandchildren and their grandchildren are going to live in a more difficult world? The best example I’ve come across is Star’s Reach, by John Michael Greer. I’ve mentioned the book before, but now, having reread it several times, and viewing it from the perspective of current political chaos, it seems the perfect template (not to be taken literally as a template) for considering the future. Greer’s future is post-collapse, post-wars. His world is both stranger than most of us would imagine, and very familiar if you’ve learned anything about the natural world that we live in. It’s a world in which a small portion of humanity has survived disaster and learned to live more sanely and even joyously.
The test is coming. The time when it could have been avoided is long past. We had the chance to avoid it, and allowed businessmen and politicians, and our own willful blindness, to bring it about. Now is the time for science fiction writers to consider how we will deal with it.