Flash fiction, science fiction, and the shape of things to come

I’m pleased to see that one of my flash fiction tweets for the CBC “Tweets from 2112” contest made the adjudicators’ all-stars list in the Environment category.

I don’t have anywhere near the time I’d like to devote to writing fiction and poetry, so I’m not above hyping either flash fiction generally (see Jeff Noon for an exemplar of the form) or this particular honourable mention, especially since the event was run by Canadian SF luminary Robert J. Sawyer, with adjudicators from SF Canada.

“Tweets from 2112” was organized as a contest, but took shape as an absorbing (=distracting) literary experiment in collective speculative fiction. I submitted several flash fiction tweets to it, but the one chosen for the all-stars list is the one I’m happiest with as a self-contained narrative…and as a flash back from the kind of future I can’t help imagining as most plausible.

Here are the others I wrote, reports from possible futures all contingent on the particular present (as Frederic Jameson theorizes what SF does).

These other submissions are maybe more satirical than science-fictional; as the contest developed, I couldn’t resist leveraging the contest tag, once it was trending, to do some consciousness-raising too, in this case about the urgent issue of #FIPA, the secretive, $64 billion, 31-year trade deal between Canada and China, which stands to get Royal Assent anytime now without so much as a single minute of debate in Parliament – despite the repeated questions of opposition MPs and several citizen petitions, the biggest of which now has over 70,000 signatures. FIPA is basically a trade treaty that commits Canada to exporting more climate change in the coming decades. As David Suzuki explains it:

Why would anyone want to sell out our interests, democratic processes and future like this? And why would we put up with it? On the first question, Gus Van Harten, an international investment law professor at Osgoode Hall Law School [and an outspoken critic of FIPA], told Desmog Blog we must consider the possibility that government and industry know that changes in attitudes about fossil fuel extraction “may lead to new regulations on the oil patch, in that, climate can’t just be wished away forever, and that governments might take steps to regulate the oil patch in ways that investors wouldn’t like.” He continues, “If you bring in a lot of Chinese investments, and you sign the Canada investment deal, you kind of get the Chinese investors to do your dirty work for you.”
In other words, as the world recognizes the already extreme and increasing consequences of global warming and shifts from wastefully burning fossil fuels to conservation and renewable energy, tar sands bitumen may soon become uneconomical. The goal is to dig it up, sell it and burn it as quickly as possible while there’s still money to be made. It’s cynical and suicidal, but it’s the kind of thinking that is increasingly common among those who see the economy as the highest priority — over human health and the air, water, soil and biodiverse ecosystems that keep us alive.

FIPA thus points to a compromised, colonized future for Canada’s energy industry, a dire, costly future for the nation’s democracy and resource sovereignty, and a further diminishment of Canada’s standing in the international community. It is not the Canada I would leave to the next generation, whose survival, never mind prosperity, deals like FIPA squander and endanger.

Which is why I find it hard to imagine a world in 2112 that isn’t fundamentally post-apocalyptic, finally laid waste by corporate greed that now seems bent on its own ultimate collapse, on the cannibalizing of its own institutions, before we can collectively imagine a different future, another world. These are dangerous, precipitous days, on the cusp or arguably even already past the tipping point of globalized climate catastrophe. In this context, science fiction has important consciousness-raising work to do, in ringing the alarm now sounded far and wide by the genre’s present preoccupations with (zombie) apocalypse and post-apocalypse.

Which brings me to a short hypothesis about science fiction’s projecting power. Setting aside, for the moment, the critical consensus (following Jameson) that science fiction is best understood as a literature of commentary on the present, not the future, what nevertheless can we see of the genre’s power to project if not predict the shape of things to come?

Take “cyberpunk” for example. As the most popular science fiction of thirty years ago, this subgenre might reasonably be said to have projected an accurate image of today’s globalized, corporate-ruled, digitally networked, and simulacrum-haunted world.

Now take “post-apocalypse” for another example: it’s arguably, at present, the most popular subgenre of science fiction today. What might post-apocalypse, the most popular science fiction of today, project about our world thirty years from now?

We need to heed these reports from our possible futures, lest we find ourselves doomed to produce them.

Work Cited
Suzuki, David. “China deal and budget sacrifice democracy to short-term goals.” David Suzuki Foundation 25 Oct. 2012.

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