“I saw a public librarian today reshelving Margaret Atwood’s Handmaid’s Tale. She moved it from Science Fiction to Current Events.” This quip—of unknown origin—has been all over Twitter lately. Is it a joke? An urban legend? A scrap of reportage? Who can tell?
But right now, at the time of Rick Santorum’s musings on how to restrain women and Rush Limbaugh’s anti-birth-control rant and slutfest, The Handmaid’s Tale tweet is resonating. How does it feel to be so prescient, people ask? Do I have the second sight? A crystal ball? The ability to read the stars? How soon will The Handmaid’s Tale change from novel to recipe?
The future is like the afterlife: no one can actually go there and return. So I can’t predict the future; it just looks like that sometimes. I don’t stargaze: I read the newspapers. And the magazines. And the blogs. They don’t tell me the future, either, but from them I can gather bits and pieces that might be fitted together into something fictional, but plausible.
I’ve just published a long/short story, I’m Starved for You, on a site called Byliner.com—in itself a sign of the times, because this is the first story I’ve published as an original in e-form. Is this a straw in the wind? Let’s hope so. The magazine publication of short fiction—which flourished from the thirties through the sixties—has been drying up for a long time. Now the Internet, by providing destinations where such pieces are welcome, is opening up the market for short stories again.
I’m Starved for You is set in a near future that may be even closer to us than the one envisioned in The Handmaid’s Tale. Its world is an expansion of present-day mega-prisons, rationalized to provide full employment by having prisoners and civilians take turns in the cells. To duplicate its setting, the town of Consilience and its central prison, Positron, all you’d need is some walls and a lot of surveillance: all the equipment needed is already with us.
There’s one feature of any future that a writer has to take into account: the role of our digital technologies. These determine who knows what about whom, and they also determine who wants to control what, and how. All around us, the cyber wars are being waged—between governments and rebels, between security systems and hackers—so in Consilience you can have a phone, but you can’t dial the outside world. We are probably the most spied-upon generation in history, and the future world of Consilience is no exception.
And now the thing you really want to know: what do they read in Consilience? Because, above all else, any self-respecting controlled society wants to control your mind.
Well, there’s good news and bad news. The bad news is that, for obvious reasons, the citizens of Consilience don’t have access to the Internet.
The good news is that you do. Or you wouldn’t be reading this.
Crossposted from the Kindle Daily Post