Anyone up for a little futuristic dystopia? You know, the kind that makes you take a good hard look at our society and worry just a little about where we might be going.
Yeah, me too.
Stephen Oram specialises in writing near-futuristic dystopian fiction that reflects our society and makes the reader think. He kindly agreed to come along to my blog and answer some questions about his writing. Take a look:
‘Fluence’ is set in a future where your influence on social media determines status and success. All the best dystopian fiction has a solid dose of reality to it, so that the reader can imagine how our world can turn into the fictional one. How likely do you think it is that we might end up with a Fluence-if corporate greed and power increases unchecked?
I think it’s certainly possible. As traditional social hierarchies continue to be deconstructed it’s more difficult to spot the leaders. Social media, in combination with education and inherited pedigree, is the easiest way to assess your influence. There are fewer but increasingly powerful corporations and the concept of a job for life has disappeared. It’s completely plausible that all jobs will be with a handful of corporations and they’ll want to assess you once a year and then move you around within their empire however they choose. In this world your social media rating becomes crucial to your status, your job and where you live. All things considered, I think for some people we’re already quite close to Fluence.
A lot of writing is research, and as a writer I find myself googling the strangest things. What is the oddest thing you’ve ever had to research for a project?
I think the most bizarre research was on Quantum Physics for my first novel Quantum Confessions. It’s such a weird concept – the idea that nothing is decided until it’s observed. The logical conclusion is either an exponentially growing number of universes or someone is the ultimate observer and somehow outside the laws of physics. On a more light-hearted note, I researched women’s shoes for Amber – the female protagonist in Fluence – and amusingly Google is still pumping related adverts at me.
I think much of the attraction of dystopian fiction is down to the ethical and moral questions it can pose about how we live our lives and the potential consequences. What do you think it is about the genre that is so attractive?
I agree with you – good dystopian fiction does push and prod ethical and moral questions and really good dystopian fiction has strong complex characters that bring the dystopia to life. Personally, I find it cathartic; to be able to live, albeit fictionally, in a dark future is a safe way to experience the potential consequences of our less desirable trajectories. And of course, you can always say I told you so if it comes true.
The concepts behind your novels raise so many questions about how people would function in such societies, that I can’t help wondering how much you plan ahead. Do you drop your characters in there and see what they do, or do you plan everything out ahead of time?
I plan the dystopia carefully so it’s 3 dimensional and with the same nuances as a real world. I’m not a great fan of the simplistic black and white dystopias, I much prefer the messy ones because they’re more credible. That’s why I set my fiction in the near-future and in familiar places so it’s easier for the reader to catch the nuances. When it comes to characters, I get a good sense of who they are and then live with them for a while before I start writing. I plan the broad arc of their journey and then see what happens; I spend lots of time walking around wondering how they’ll react and what they’ll do next. The biggest shock I ever had was when a character I really liked committed suicide.
This may sound like an odd question, but I’ve had so many different answers to it that I like asking it, and based on the type of questions you have on your site and your work, I’m curious to know your answer.
If you had the option to upload your consciousness into a fully functioning android instead of dying when you reach the end of your life, would you do it? Why, or why not?
It’s a good question that touches on plenty of moral and spiritual issues. I’ve spent time considering transhumanism which has inevitably led me to think about living for ever. It’s hard to imagine and part of me thinks it might be incredibly depressing. Then there’s the spiritual element – if there is a perfect afterlife and living for ever meant you missed out, it’d be a bit of an own goal. Also, we know the world is over-populated and can’t sustain as much life as there is already, well not the way we seem to want to live it, so I’d want to know how much energy I would consume and whether I was depriving a ‘proper human’ of life. On balance though, I think I would opt to be uploaded, so long as I could terminate me whenever I wanted!