Coming of age in a science fiction universe
I am a member of Generation X, and therefore I have watched the world transform into a science fiction universe. Three television channels became four and then were suddenly legion. Information became something to filter out, rather than seek out. My jetpack and flying car arrived by teleport the moment the clock ticked over to the millennium. I regularly holiday on the moon, and I am looking forward to the imminent admission of our species to the United Interplanetary Federation of All Round Good Eggs. Yes, the future is surely here, more or less.
When I was growing up, in the 1970s and 80s, I was pretty much convinced that there was not going to be a future. Sitting in my local library (now there’s a utopian idea if ever there was), I subjected myself to a diet of really quite frightening young adult novels about living in nuclear wastelands. I knew for a fact that the world was going to end very soon, and certainly long before I had to worry about such mundane things as mortgages and pension schemes. In retrospect, this has not necessarily worked out to my advantage.
As a result, I have been drawn again and again to stories about people who survive the end of the world and then have to learn what to do next. Rugal, the hero of my Star Trek: Deep Space 9 novel The Never-Ending Sacrifice, lives through, as a young man, the aftermath of the end of two worlds: the impact of the brutal occupation of Bajor, and, later, the near-eradication of the Cardassian species. Traumatised by both experiences, he has to find new ways of connecting to other people; new ways of being and living in the world that he has inherited. Many of my ST: DS9 novels address the question of what a species – in this case, the Cardassians – must do to come to terms with the self-inflicted wounds that have nearly brought about their annihilation.
In my two Weird Space novels, The Baba Yaga and Star of the Sea, I have similarly tried to explore how authentic connections can be made in non-ideal worlds. For some of my characters, particularly those who have enjoyed the benefits of the technologised worlds in which they live, the realisation comes late that the world is unjust in certain ways, or hostile to others, and they set about making amends. Delia Walker, the protagonist of The Baba Yaga, perhaps gives up the most, abandoning a powerful job and a privileged life in order to follow a hunch that she might be able to bring about peace. Eileen O’Connor, a scientist studying the Weird, and Maxine Lee, a civil servant propping up a dystopian government, both make decisions about which masters they wish to serve. For others, however, such as the Vetch boy, Failt, and the runaway slaves on Stella Maris, the universe has always hostile, and their hope is simply for escape to a place of safety and anonymity. All of these characters are facing extinction from the invading Weird, and have to find ways to connect with each other in order to survive this threat.
Humankind cannot bear very much reality. This is why I at least seek out novels, both literary and speculative, not simply for escape or consolation (although we all need both every so often), but to provide me with the emotional resources not simply to despair, and to keep on imagining possible future worlds. As it happens, the bomb did not drop in the 1980s (although I suppose there’s still time). Part of coming of age in the science fictional universe in which I have found myself has been working out what kind of brave new world this is, consider the extent to which I am happy to inhabit it, and think about how it might be better.
Thank you to @katwhen for this topic, amongst everything else I have to thank you for.
Weird Space: The Star Of The Sea by Una McCormack is available now from Abbadon Books.