The future I still dream

When I was in fourth grade, way back in 1987, My family and I took a trip to Florida. While there, we visited Kennedy Space Center.

We always stopped and checked out sites of historical significance while traveling, and I was absolutely thrilled to finally be visiting this one, which I’d read so much about.

I was really into space. Most likely this was sparked by my interest in sci-fi movies and TV shows, but still, I found the reality of space travel fascinating. I imagined I’d at least live to see man colonize the moon, if not Mars. I imagined flying cars would be commonplace. I figured we’d have household robots by now. I assumed we’d be speaking to each other over videophones, which actually turned out to be true.

Guns still fire bullets, rather than laser beams. People still drive regular old asphalt-bound cars, only now they’re poorly constructed. People are still dying of all the things they were dying of when I was a kid, just a little bit later, thus prolonging their pain and inflating their hospital bills.

A lot of people imagined a lot of things, but most predicted technological advancements that’ve come to fruition and perhaps even exceeded expectations have originated from the field of communications.

Specifically, as you might have guessed, I’m referring to that double-edged sword know as the Internet–the only true paradigm shift I’ve witnessed in my lifetime.

I call it a double-edged sword not because I think there’s anything inherently wrong with it–on the contrary, I think it’s great. It’s an amazing repository of real-time information, and it’s an archive of…everything ever, pretty much.

It’s changed how we work, how we buy, how we socialize, and how we spend our free time.

No, nothing’s wrong with the internet. It’s amazing. It’s a tool, though, like anything else. One man might use a hammer to build a house. Another might use one to bash in a skull. The hammer itself can be credited for neither.

Of course we weren’t going to have flying cars by now. Of course we weren’t going to be embarking on deep space voyages in luxurious starships with artificial gravity systems by the year 2000.

It seems, though, to some extent, that when we passed that mythologized benchmark year, we gave up on the future.

Science fiction had to be edgy and esoteric, or horrific and depressing in order to be taken seriously by the general public.

Even Star Trek, with its hopeful, forward-thinking tone, fell out of favor after enjoying its most successful decade to date. By the time Nemesis, the final Next Generation movie was inflicted upon us, the gas light was on.

Jack McDevitt, Steven Baxter and the like were penning great science fiction novels, and the short story mags like Asimov’s, Analog and F&SF continued to be a thing, but science fiction as a whole had taken on, in my opinion, a much weirder and more dreary tone.

Where was the adventure? Where was the wonder? Where was the beauty? Where was the fun? Where was the hope? I couldn’t detect much of a presence of any of the aforementioned qualities in the vast majority of new stuff. Just a lot of cryptic negativity. In my estimation, at least. Please understand, I’m not dissing anyone’s creative works–it’s just the the “style” of the time wasn’t for me. I turned to the classics, the ones written by the dreamers, for my fix. There are so many that I knew I’d never read them all, so I didn’t care that new books weren’t satiating my sci-fi hunger. I stopped looking for them. I feel the same way about rock music–no matter how many times you’ve sifted the sands of the past, you can always find another diamond. I quit caring about new rock in about 1996. I was a weird kid anyway, though, because I always preferred media created before my time. I read 20k Leagues Under the Sea the year that pic was taken, and I loved its oldness. I loved old things. Cars, architecture, art, anything. I was heavily into collecting coins around that time as well. Used to get 1800’s pennies and nickels from old people who’d caught wind of my interest and had some stashed away in their junk drawers. I even preferred old people! I liked hanging out with them and hearing their stories, and basking in their praise of how well-mannered and polite I was. That was my nature and they appreciated that. They didn’t like loud, obnoxious people and neither did I. I was an old man in the fourth grade, taking it for granted that one day I’d grow up to be an astronaut.

When I decided to start writing again after about fifteen years of putting forth zero effort, I didn’t want to write science fiction. I wrote a thriller and another one that’s difficult to categorize.

I’m writing it now, though. I can’t help myself, because the sci-fi landscape is even less to my liking than it was 20 years ago. With Effugium, I set out to write a book that the kid in the Space Center pic above would thrill to. something that would make him feel like he did when he read Ender’s Game or Songs of Distant Earth. I took that concept even further with Exsilium and its companion novella, Anshar.

I embrace the tropes the sci-fi intelligentsia insist are played out; I mix and match them, modernize them and have fun with them. They are there for us to play with, and don’t let anyone tell you any different.

Fellow writers, whatever it is you’re doing, be sure that you’re doing it because it’s what you want to do. If it’s something you don’t want to do, make sure you’re getting paid for it. If you’re not making any money at it, and you don’t like it, and you’re only doing it because what you really want to write isn’t considered cool or acceptable by snobs, shift gears. Let your voice be heard instead of trying to tell the world what you think they want to hear based on what you’ve been told by these tone-deaf, color-blind stiflers of imagination.

Plenty of people love books and other media that I find boring or annoying, and that’s okay. We’re all different. I’ve never liked anime, for example. Or Manga or anything resembling it. People say “Okay, but you’ve got to watch/read–” No, I’ve tried. I inherently dislike the aesthetics. They annoy me. It’s just not my thing, but I respect it art form because I understand that different things resonate differently with different people. Someone’s dislike of certain things doesn’t invalidate those things, it simply means they’ll eschew it in favor of that which speaks to them, personally.

instead of complaining about a lack of things post-1989 capturing my interest, I’ve chosen to make my own things.

I’ve always done that, though. I recently came across a map for a fictional fantasy world that I

made when I was probably 8 or 9.

I did stuff like that all the time. I set up outdoor bases for GI Joe and Cobra and had them doing reconnaissance on each other. I loved military stuff, and living next to Fort Sill, where my dad worked, I got to watch a lot of stuff get blown up by tanks during artillery drills. Imagine how badass that was for a kid to see!

My toy play had lengthy story arcs that would go on for months. I made my own board games, complete with stacks of cards to draw from when you landed on certain spaces. I just did stuff like that. Constantly.

I used to draw a lot of cars.

And keyboards, apparently

I actually had a keyboard, and I would make rap beats with the tape recorder going, and another tape player loaded with a tape of voice samples from movies, and be doing the drum stuff with the keyboard. This was in like, ’89 or so. Later on as an adult I made a lot of hip hop beats to sell online, and it was a fun thing to tinker with for awhile.

I’ve just always got to be creating. I have all this stuff that I need to get out, and the only place big enough to store it is in the universe I’ve created for Effugium. It exists, to me. It’s real, in my mind. It feels vast and limitless.

Did you grow up fantasizing about interplanetary exploration and a Jetsons-like quality of life on Earth, truly believing, in a beautifully naive way, that such things were just on the horizon? My 9-year-old imagination is a deep well, and I’ve drawn the majority of Effugium and its sequels from it. I try, as best I can, to infuse those works with all of the enthusiasm and awe of the kid in the pic.

Am I succeeding? He thinks so. He’s really dug all three, so far.

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