The dark art of prophecy

The nature of science fiction is all about how a change in scientific knowledge or technology can alter human society. To play the ‘what if?’ game with a vengeance. It is a literary tree with many branches. From the ‘hard’, based on an extrapolation of historical understanding, real life human psychology and proposed technologies, to space opera and sword and sorcery fantasies. It’s a prophesy game, which is the key dark art of the genre.

Most of the early prophets, like H G Wells in “War of the Worlds” and “The shape of things to come” had elements which have been since come to pass; substitute lasers for ‘heat rays’, mass airborne bombardment, poison gas. Wells saw all these things in humanities future. Jules Vern’s “Voyage to the moon” and “20,000 leagues under the sea” foresaw moonshots and submarine warfare, but not in quite the way he surmised. Arthur C Clarke is credited with predicting communication satellites, and in one short story the widespread availability of pornography via satellite TV. In Clarke’s version, his protagonist was going to use the technology to subvert Western society. Forget the title or what collection it’s in. Either “The Nine Billion names of God” or “Tales of Ten Worlds” I think. Used to have copies, but they either got read to death, or lost in one of many house moves.

Today I finished a dark, ironic, even cautionary little story about the misuse of satellite technology. What starts out as the ultimate weapon against individual terrorists gets hijacked by a couple of bored slacker programmers, who inadvertently create devastation by tinkering with what they think is a ‘simulator’ package. The premise and outcome are fairly straightforward, the mechanics of the story not so much.

At six thousand, six hundred and sixty six words I find myself, for my own perverse reasons, liking both length and content. What gives the story punch is the proposed technology is one of those ‘on the horizon’ things. Just on the cusp of possibility. To be honest, I’ll be surprised if something very similar hasn’t already crossed some defence analysts desk as a serious weapon systems proposal.

Without giving too much away, I drew heavily on my knowledge of computer networking and security, wide area networks, orbital mechanics and ablation in order to tie various elements into a plausible, dramatic whole intended to both amuse and stimulate. For some it might prove a bit too geeky, for others overly simplistic, but that’s the fine line walked when you’re trying to mix in complex story elements with the cynicism of experience. What can a character do when their carefully defended world is going to hell, and everything that happens seems to make matters worse? Simply because they’ve been pushed into making a beta level system fully operational.

When I have another few of these stories completed, at present I’ve half a dozen as ‘works in progress’, I’ll put them into a little eBook collection and give it a punt into the great nowhere. See what happens. In the meantime it’s back to working on ‘Darkness’ and ‘A falling of Angels’.