I have been writing Clawback stories for about eight weeks, which is just a little longer than the period I’ve been in super-privileged lockdown here in Toronto.
For those of you who aren’t sure what I’m talking about, the Clawback is the period after the events of my novella “Freezing Rain, a Chance of Falling” and before the events of my 2019 book Gamechanger. It’s the stretch of time between when climate change and the societal trends we’re seeing now dip to their lowest, most violent and depressing point…and it’s where humanity claws its way back from the brink and builds a sustainable, though never Utopian, society.
They’re grim stories, these things I’m writing, and I’m looking forward to moving on to something more fun.
Little surprise then that one of the most dour scenes in Gamechanger is its Clawback opening, set well before things start to get better. Decades before the action of the novel takes place, it shows a trio of orphans whose principal problem is plague. Well, plague and tornadoes. Plague, tornadoes, and a fanatical devotion to capitalism? (Okay, I’ll stop.)
That opening is very much a worst case scenario scene. It shows people choosing to sacrifice the sick to the healthy, shows millions of refugees crammed cheek by jowl in camps guarded by autonomous gun platforms, all hoping desperately to get vaxxed (as they say) and relocated before the next bug hits.
The idea that disease outbreaks would be part of the twenty-first century disaster bundle was so obvious to me that it didn’t feel that much like SF extrapolation. It was informed by books I’ve been reading for just about ever—books by scientists, like Laurie Garrett’s The Coming Plague and books by historians like Justinian’s Flea: The First Great Plague and the end of the Roman Empire By William Rosen and even novels by SF authors, like Connie Willis’s Doomsday Book. I read a lot about pandemics. I came of age during the early bloody emergence of AIDS. Of course it seemed like real-world stuff rather than far-future blueskying.
Of course it’s infinitely more pleasant to be reading about old, long-over outbreaks—or even to be writing about upcoming imaginary ones—than to watch one unfold in real time just down the block from your actual house.
The season of plagues in the Clawback does end. Not neatly, not miraculously, not even just by running its course. It ends after the world pulls together to establish a global minimum standard of public health. When the various factions and governments running our international commit to an unprecedented level of cooperation and coordination.
Am I saying that because I got the outbreak of deadly disease right in my near-future SF book, I’m also right about the better world around the corner? I would love for the Bounceback to come, for it to be miraculous, inevitable, and easy. But some of the good things in that future? Aren’t impossible. Look at us playing with variations on Universal Basic Income as the economy goes into paroxysms.
Some countries are cooperating. Some good things are happening. And if you live in a place where your votes matter and/or your spending habits influence the corporations that decide so much policy these days, keep an eye open for chances to jump in: to donate to causes, to amplify voices. To write to elected representatives, to shame corporate profiteers.
A better future isn’t never a gimme, not for anyone. But working toward it, asking for it, trying to build bridges instead of burning them—you can have a part in that. You know it, and you probably already know how.
We don’t have to give in to tornados, germs and multi-national serfdom. Right now, you’re on lockdown, and you’re not dead yet. Perhaps one of the most powerful things you may have left is your voice. If you’ve got the energy and the time, reach out and speak up. Shout the future, and thereby summon it into being.