By David Michael Newstead.
This is a truth-is-stranger-than-fiction kind of post. For many years, I’ve brainstormed a lot of different writing projects. And I followed through with some of those concepts, while other ideas just never materialized. I bring it up now, because some of the stories were supposed to be so weird that they’d be impossible. They were basically intended as a vehicle for conveying an interesting thought experiment about the world and the people in it. I would make elaborate notes on my idea and I tried to write some drafts, occasionally mentioning it to friends as a “What If?” or “Isn’t this clever?” But not really believing that the world would be where we are now. Two specific examples come to mind and I think they’re pretty relevant. The only problem is, there isn’t any reason to pursue these ideas anymore since the real world has already made whatever point I was trying to make and is far weirder than I could ever be!
The first was called Pangaea. And it was about if the prehistoric super-continent of Pangaea reformed overnight in modern times, reducing the Atlantic Ocean to a small river and closing the geographic distance that separates humanity. All of a sudden, Europe would be directly next to North Africa, Brazil would border Nigeria, and Morocco would sit just off the coast of South Carolina. Then as people began to realize what happened, cultures would clash. Refugees would pour into more affluent countries. Walls would be erected, but eventually the old order would breakdown against the unrelenting tide of change. The world would become more interconnected and globalized and hopefully things would change for the better.
The second was entitled Bat Shit Nation. And the main character was a paranoid, conspiracy theory loving member of the Birther movement who was trying to write a science fiction novel in his spare time. The idea being, the story would shift between the main character’s actual day-to-day life and his post-apocalyptic novel about America’s future. In his book, Barack Obama had become an African-style president-for-life who established a tyrannical left-wing kleptocracy and signed peace treaties with terrorist groups and dictatorships, while arresting his critics. And in this fictional future, any and every nightmare scenario had been realized, requiring a committed band of freedom fighters to come together and save the day. Of course, one of the jokes was that these conspiracy theories were absurd fiction. The other joke was that the main character was basically supposed to be a Bizarro version of myself – doing, saying, and believing the exact opposite of me at any given point in the story.
In both cases, reality defies all expectations. For one, Pangaea doesn’t have to reconstitute itself for cultures to clash or migrants to cross borders. And it turns out, conspiracy theories are standard fare these days and the main character from my story would probably work at the White House now. Today, plenty of people might wonder where we go from here. And far down on that priority list, I think it’s also worth asking what writing fiction even means in a post-truth world.