What future, which choice?
The thing I most enjoyed about 2089 was the idea of a slower, emptier future and the way it framed the choices made both by the author to formulate the plot and by us, now, as we proceed towards an infinite variety of possible outcomes for our society. Both these are of particular interest to me because I have just finished* working on a manuscript based on a similar time frame and also in an England with a reduced population. Whilst I was reading I kept wondering how Miles had made the choices that shaped his future and his book. The ubiquitous levels of surveillance play out in the setting of the story in a number of interesting ways. I wondered if this was the choice that lead to all the others. So I got in touch with him. His idea about the lack of being able to have secrets was a subtle twist on the notion of surveillance.
I asked Miles Hudson what his process was with regards to inventing a future.
The main theme I wanted to explore was how we would come to live if there was no possibility of having any secrets. So much so that it was so normal that people didn’t really even think about it any more.
To set this stage, there were a series of story development steps I had to go through:
First, I had to invent a suitable surveillance technology. Then I wanted it to be that it published your every move online, and have this in place for so many years that this was just normal.
So, getting a societal situation where people would choose to implement publishing the surveillance publicly online meant that I needed to generate such a severe security situation that this solution appealed to the population enough to implement it.
So I came up with a sort of global meltdown, and one consequence of it was a catastrophic population decline (99% of people died in a the 2030s) which left us with an abandoned world and the remaining people were very sour about the materialistic lifestyle that had led up to that terrible experience. Moving to a more local, pastoral existence was as much a resetting of society in reaction to what caused the apocalypse as it was of necessity because the infrastructure was destroyed.
Then I added on top of that invented future the natural future that we could expect if humans stop now: strong climate change and nature reclaiming much of the urban areas where we are currently holding it at bay, but the sun, moon, river flow and tides continue on as always (you may have noticed that the sun and moon are referenced a lot in the descriptions).
Yes, indeed the sun and the moon are referenced; there is, alongside an extreme surveillance technology, a return to pre-industrial life-styles. I liked the way Miles handled this juxtaposition, and in the main, the fact that more liberal values of today had been preserved. (Though if I have a criticism, I didn’t really understand why central character Vicky was so malleable – she seemed to have reverted to a feminine docility that threw me a bit.)
What about that vision was most interesting to you?
How should we build a society from scratch, given the chance of a blank canvas to do so? What is it really that makes people happy and makes us thrive? How can we turn those things in to a way to live?
I wondered if this answer is in part a reason for the character of Vicky, whether, without actually stating it, Miles had presumed a return of traditional roles for women in a society that must have anxiety about surviving numbers and therefore some of the gains made in gender equality over recent decades had been squashed or sacrificed.
One of the noticeable things in 2089 is the slow pace. It is a novel in which, though the scale of events has been dramatic, a gross and fundamental change to what we currently experience, this future is no grinding dystopia or gilded, high-tech utopia. People muddle along. There is one scene that in another book might be a car chase (the central character being pursued by what passes for the law) and the two parties literally rely on the tide to drift in concert along the river. The slowest chase scene ever, perhaps? I liked that aspect of the book, the idea that humans will probably mess things up, that though the changes may be huge, frightening, or dramatic, people’s lives will mostly plod along, both opportunistically and making do. This in part, also seemed to be one of the central themes of the book – who can you rely on to want change? The answer Miles gave to my final question, in the light of this, is no great surprise!
Do you feel optimistic or pessimistic about the human future?
Pessimistic. Except that I don’t consider that pessimism as a negative thing!
There are too many people for us to have any hope of trying to curtail our destruction of the natural world. There will be no consensus of action on any of the things that are killing the Earth. This will lead to a very different world, probably even before the real 2089. But I’m a physicist, so all of this is a purely mechanistic set of linked events following on from each other. I don’t have any judgement as to whether it’s ‘good’ or ‘bad’, it’s just the way it is.
2089 is A thought-provoking and interesting read, available at all the usual outlets.
*Further redrafts possible