Prophetic Fiction

Archival (1997, edited 2017)

I am no student of English lit, but when a writer like William Gibson’s prophecies are revealed every day in my newspaper on a daily basis, my jaw drops open and coffee showers into my cornflakes.

Forget the vagueness and ambiguities of Nostradamus, Gibson is explicit. Through the realm of fiction, he is able to plumb the effects and ethics of technological inevitabilities. Maybe it’s the absence of ethics that strangely brings them into the forefront of the reader’s mind.

Steve Beard from Arena describes Gibson’s latest offering of speculative fiction, Idoru, as “like a depth charge, it goes down easy and explodes at a pre-set level… primed to expose the pressure points of postmodern American culture.”

Gibson is the man who wrote about virtual reality before the technology had been invented. He foresaw the Internet and continues to see how it will shape and develop, remaining one step ahead in his books. In Idoru, set in the organic, polluted, Giger-inspired architecture of Tokyo, he foresaw the birth of a new music industry—one that is all marketing and no performer.

The ‘idoru’ of the title (Japanese for ‘idol’) is pop singer Rei Toei. She has legions of adoring fans, a magic voice, and she is beautiful. She has captivated another Japanese singer, a male, who plans on marrying her. Only thing is, she’s not human.

Rei Toei is a bit of an indictment on the superficiality of the music industry. A star created by a powerful corporate profiteer, Famous Aspect, seeking to manufacture a cultural product.

Rei Toei is the company’s child—a kind of holographic digital being. And perhaps a star that is not human may possess more depth and sexual mystery than people do. Theoretically, the premise deserves exploring through fiction. I have discovered, however, that this premise is now being explored in reality. Her name is not Rei Toei, it is Kyoko Date, and she was created by Holi Pro—a Japanese multimedia conglomerate who have happily dispatched her to an adoring and immense teenage audience market.

Hot coffee issues from my mouth in a fine spray, medicating everything in its trajectory.

The Spice Girls may be a blasé example of greed, superficiality and exploitation, but at least they’re human. Maybe what we need are lobby groups who will ‘out’ people who purport to be, but are not homo sapient. Pray may we see billboards with close-up faces and simple defamatory text like DIANA: DANCER. DIVA. DOT MATRIX.

It is interesting that Gibson confesses to being computer illiterate, even a Luddite—not that there’s anything wrong with that. It isn’t from the depths of his immersion in computer and VR technology that his revelations unfurl. It is, rather, from a detached overview, looking down, high on the heady fumes wafting up from the cooking circuitry below him, that he is able to make his prognostications.

Maybe they’re not prognostications at all, but his ability to recognise patterns and inevitabilities. He doesn’t know the specifics of certain hardware and software capabilities, although he fools his readers well, he sees the general direction of these technologies as an aggregate are taking.

What makes Gibson’s work so powerful is that he mixes futuristic images, scenarios, and technologies with those of the past and the present, unlike those sci-fi writers who boggle us with new this and new that and really detract from their own power by overwhelming us.

Let’s say hypothetically that we wanted to make a story about humans living in a post-human world. Why not have our characters use the arcane CB radio as a communication device instead of cellular phones. Sometimes a sense of disturbance, or of being disaffected, my favourite emotions of all, can be achieved much more effectively not be being totally foreign but by being uncannily familiar. Our aim then would not be to make the strange seem familiar but to make the familiar feel strange. In the future, we may not have holographic banking but even if we do we may still call such machines ATMs.

Aldus Huxley hit the mark with Brave New World. Maybe his prophecy was self-fulfilling. Perhaps it is possible that the alternative visions of Orwell’s 1984 and Huxley’s dystopian world and the discourse that permeated through the decades that have ensued after their publication has left tracings on ur collective unconscious. What if anything else could “alternative facts” be than newspeak?

In order not to reproduce a society resembling Orwell’s concentration camp, there is a counterbalancing embrace of everything trivial (movie stars, gossip, consumerism) as a comfort and a distraction.

If so, we couldn’t have duplicated better. Movies are now feelies with gold class seats and Dolby surround sound that shakes and three dimensions are now de rigueur for the blockbusters. Soma is available on prescription under the name Prozac or any one of another selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors and the covers of their product information brochures usually reveal lifestyle stock imagery of cooking, walking on the beach, basking in sunlight.

Huxley’s cage of exotic inhabitants who lead a very different lifestyle could be our refugee camps filled with those so blemished by trauma that they best locked from view let they interrupt our purchases.

His children were not born but decanted, much like the extra-uteral babies that will soon be on their way, not to mention the IVF generation and designer genes. The subsequent relegation of intellectual and social status via physical markers—from Alpha to Epsilon—is not just the class stratified society we live in and have always lived in, but a Huxley nod in the direction of cloning or ‘gated estates’ for the gene pools.

One hundred years ago people probably didn’t believe such progress was possible because they couldn’t comprehend it. They would think we were freaks.

We are freaks. It’s exciting.