Thursday, April 19, 2007

Why I am Now Writing Fiction - 3

On Monday, at long last, I received my author's copies of my new novel, The Aremac Project.

On Monday, I also received news that a disturbed student at Virginia Tech University had shot and killed more than 30 fellow students.

I immediately felt a visceral connection between those two events, a connection I need to write about, if only to help me cope. Perhaps my thoughts and feelings will prove helpful to other writers.

The first connection is obvious. The Aremac Project is about a terrorist plot, killing people and destroying property seemingly at random around the city of Chicago. But that's not all it's about. It's not even the main theme—which is technology's role in crime, both its propagation and prevention.

Fiction Can Show Us The Way, or Ways

I've been a science fiction fan for as long as I could read. I always believed that a better world was possible—better than a world where bright young children were abused by adults. One of my favorite books was Dr. Seuss's, And To Think That I Saw It On Mulberry Street, where a young boy conjures up imaginings far more wonderful than the simple horse and wagon he saw on Mulberry Street. That boy was me. Those imaginings—of a wonderfully better world—were mine. And, sadly, the adult who squelched those imaginings was mine, too.

A second favorite book of mine (one whose title I cannot remember—and for which would give a reward to some reader who can) told the story of an awful, messy town where one day, a pied-piper-like character arrives and initiates a clean-up campaign. This Mr. Clean, with a few tiny interventions, causes a revolutionary change in the people of the town. When he leaves, they have cleaned up everything and created, yes, a wonderfully better town.

Half a century ago, when I began writing about technology, I was convinced that technology carried the promise of a utopian future. I was further convinced that the only reason that wasn't happening was inferior technology, so I set about becoming a Mr. Clean who wrote about how to do technology (software, in my case) correctly.

Any Technology Can Be Misused

Alas, after many successful years helping make better technology, I began to realize that any technology could be misused—and that better technology in the wrong hands could lead to better mass murder. And most fiction today treats mass murder as an exciting plot element, something for the authorities or amateurs to solve—but not to prevent except by mass murder of some other parties.

I believe that the role of science fiction or techno-fiction is to offer possibilities of other ways of being—other kinds of technology, yes, but more in the way of how we can invent and use technology to help us build a better society—not just hardware and software, but "social technology" that engineers new ways for people to interact.

One problem that social technology will have to address is learning how to prevent atrocities without locking down everyone until the entire country becomes a vast prison (though prisons have their own atrocities). And how to provide the meta-technology to minimize misuse. The protagonists of The Aremac Project are trying to do just that, but are learning how difficult a job it is.

Things Don't Have to Be This Way

I will to continue to explore such possibilities in further novels. I believe I will have to make them interesting and exciting novels in their own right so that people will come away thinking, as I did years ago, "Things don't have to be this way. We can think our way to a better society."

Preaching that message doesn't seem to work. That's the next reason I've decided to write fiction.