Let’s say there were an eighth continent, which I will call Boodooshia. If there were a bunch of books about Boodooshia, almost all of which showed the majority of Boodooshians to be stupid and cruel, and in various ways exposing how awful things were in Boodooshia, I suspect there would be a reaction to the relentlessly negative portraits of these people… especially if none of the authors had been to Boodooshia and none of them agreed on exactly what Boodooshia was like, except for its horridness.
And yet, this is pretty much what we have with most of our collective effort to write about the future. The slope we slide down varies from author to author, but in almost all, the future is horrible. What’s more, the future is simple — often totalitarian governments presiding over vast territories where resources are scarce and populated by scared, even savage, people. Such is the world Suzanne Collins’ The Hunger Games, the first in a series which features such a future world and a to-the-death Survivor like reality TV show. It’s a big hit and rightly so, an entertaining read with memorable characters and good suspense and action. However, its vision of the future is a common one in fiction.
I could go on and on about it, and ponder how those unceasing visions of a dreadful futures and totalitarian governments seem to be tied to the inability to do well meaning things like crack down on traffic safety or insure poor children or stem back pollution, but I won’t go on and on about it.
However, another big hit this summer is also about the future, even though it’s set in the late 1970s: Rebecca Stead’s When You Reach Me (which I’ve got down as an early favorite to winning the Newbery medal next year). In many ways, When You Reach Me is the sort of “quiet book” they aren’t supposed to publish any more, but there is a perplexing puzzle at the center that involves the future. Practically nothing is said about it, and yet the events of the book and the fates of its characters are bound up with the future. To put it as simply as possible, there is a quieter determination that simple application of humanity to the way we live our lives will make all the difference. And for all the fun of The Hunger Games, I feel like that’s what needs to be said.
To return to my trope of Boodooshia, Rebecca Stead is willing to put a note in a bottle and cast it out toward the mysterious continent, and is watching the sea for a return message.