The rapid pace of current events is making it more difficult to be a writer, not just in science fiction but in other genres. For decades the Soviet Union was a staple enemy for spy thrillers. Now it’s gone, replaced by a new bad guy, the Islamic Terrorist. Yet these bearded fanatics hiding in caves and blowing themselves up are just not as menacing as a monolithic dictatorship with the power to nuke the planet. The Russian Federation is a force to be reckoned with, but its relationship to the West is now a lot fuzzier.
Another factor that renders stories obsolete is technology. William Gibson’s novels, at least the last ones I read a few years back, aren’t science fiction anymore. At best, they’re techno-thrillers, possibly even mainstream. Cyberpunk has become reality; maybe that’s why steampunk is now so big. In the latter case, we intentionally rewrite history, so we don’t need to worry about obsolescence.
I experienced a similar dilemma in writing Centrifugal Force. Originally one of the principal characters was the pilot of an Air Force spyplanes. As time passed, I realized that human pilots were on the way out, so I removed her story thread. Now that drones are in vogue, I’ve begun a new novella about drone pilots. I can’t dawdle, though, in case something changes.
Lately I’ve been wondering if the USA itself is going to be the novelist’s newest monkey wrench. After the collapse of the Soviet Union and the breakup of countries such as Yugoslavia, it was fashionable for a time to write about a disunited America. When world affairs settled down, that theme went away. Though with our massive debt, the economy teetering on the brink (what recovery? I don’t see it) and a possible new war in Syria, the USA could meet its end for real. The more we hear mainstream media pundits opining about American power and dominance being glorious and eternal, the more likely we’ll face an ignominious bankruptcy. The United States might even break up into separate countries. Not that this would be a bad thing; my contrarian view of this issue was one of my inspirations for Centrifugal Force. If and when it happens, though, it’ll cause a lot of novels in progress to be hastily rewritten to reflect the new “facts on the ground.”