Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Alternative History

I actually have a theory about why alternative history is so popular. The future is not easy to imagine. Technological change means it is likely to be very different, and lack of meaningful political and economic change means it is likely to be very dark, at least in the near term.

James Lovelock, a scientist who is responsible for the Gaia theory, which is not New Age spirituality, but the argument that Earth is a complex, interdependent system, says we will have a billion people on the planet at the end of this century.

That is a very large die off of human beings. We will also have the consequences of global warming: rising sea levels, massive storms and wide-spread drought. That seems almost certain now. We are past of the point of stopping global warming. We need to be looking at geoengineering, though it gives me the creeps.

So why alternative history? Because it is less difficult than writing about the future and in many cases less painful. At the same time, it continues a basic argument of science fiction: history is contingent, change will happen.

I have been writing some alternative history and a fair amount of time travel in the past few years, because I want to think about change. It may be easier to think about change, if one is not dealing with flood of change we are likely to experience in the near future.


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