“Resistance and change often begin in our art—the art of word.” -Ursula Le Guin
So your world has collapsed and every day is a new uncertainty. So you’re isolated. So disease seems to lurk around every corner. So your leaders don’t seem trustworthy (or functional, for that matter). So your Gods don’t seem present. So you’re feeling dystopian. And this all feels unchangeable.
So? Pick up a pen.
(Or, you know, open a Google Doc.)
And please, I’m begging you: write. Write fiction. Write fantasy, write sci-fi. Compose yourself a world—one in a distant past, a near future, an altered now. Even a realm that exists apart from time altogether. A world of magic, technology—both, neither! A world that is a refraction of your own.
It’s been done before but it’s never been the same—funnily enough, it’s never been original, either (but that’s a different discussion). In the darkest corners of history, authors have sought to understand and overcome their circumstances by way of the written word. For example, the years preceding Frankenstein’s conception saw massive outbreaks of cholera as well as skies choked with volcanic ash. (Blakemore) To Mary Shelley, the world may very well have felt like it was ending. And her magnum opus, which she wrote while in seclusion with a dramatic group of creative friends, is a reflection of her context and feelings. An exploration of what might happen if humanity were to walk a path untold.
Like our authorial ancestors, I urge you to use your writing to overstand the catastrophe that is being alive during your point in human history—to better conceive of your place within and unique outlook on the events of your time. But here’s my caveat, my bit of advice for you, dear reader: don’t catastrophize it. That has been tired out. That is how we got here, to this point of collapse. I believe that stories of plain doom and gloom are precisely the opposite of what people need to read right now, no matter how fun they are. Why? Because human thought is powerful. Human art even moreso. Oftentimes, what we create becomes our reality. Whether or not the author intends it, fiction often becomes prophecy.
Consider the Mira Grant Newsflesh series, for instance—contact tracing, individual blogs being more trustworthy than mainstream media, for-profit medical tyranny, tech as security, travel restrictions, misinformation, and a world in lockdown because of a virus—sound familiar? Of course it does, she made it so.
Now, this is NOT me saying that Mira Grant is solely responsible for the Coronavirus Pandemic. Can you imagine? And I am certainly not condemning her works (or any of those listed below), either—it is their immense craft that has made them so poignant, so powerful. But isn’t there something to be said about the fact that most of the science fiction and fantasy content that exists is majorly pessimistic?
Recently, a 60 foot robot took its “first steps” in Japan. (Last Podcast on the Left) What if that robot were to read Robot Dreams by Isaac Asimov, Ancillary Justice, by Ann Leckie, Robopocalypse by Daniel H. Wilson? If it were to watch Terminator? It would see the atrocities we expect of its kind: the fear we hold for the unknown, the demented fetish we have for the inhuman—what would it do? What is a 60 foot robot to make of mass disillusionment?
So, it’s 2020. The world is collapsing as it always does. I say we strike a path apart from the pessimism of the past. I am urging you to do more than create this magical/futuristic world: I urge you to manifest positivity within it. And therefore, it will be within your own. Of course, I am not the first to advocate for such a movement.
For instance, Octavia Butler’s brand of science fiction rejected robots and lasers in favor of visualizations of social injustice and commentary on how to overcome its ills. She is quoted as saying: “When your rage is choking you, it is best to say nothing.” I interpret this sentiment to be in line with what I’m urging you to do.
Another example: in 2014, Ursula Le Guin, the author of the Earthsea series, called on “writers of the imagination” to compose works that “see through our fear-stricken society… to other ways of being... [to] imagine real grounds for hope.” (Le Guin)
The world composed in your art does not have to come at such a high cost to us all (even hypothetically). The world composed in your art does not have to lack triumph or hope in order to be compelling. It does not have to end in flames. Show your readers (and yourself) hopeful alternatives to a “collapsing” world by way of your creativity. Positivity may very well come to pass.