Back in mid-2008 I mentioned that what I thought was a futuristic-circa-2023 technology for the next novel was too damn close. Slightly more recently, in Living through interesting times, I mentioned that it was becoming near-as-dammit impossible to write near-future SF; I was sore because Bernie Madoff had stolen the plot of my next novel.
Well, I picked myself up, dusted myself down, re-framed the novel in question, and I'm currently about 80% of the way through writing it when it all happened again. First of all, Lothian and Borders Police actually established a recognizable-as-the-embryonic-form version of the unit that one of my protagonists, circa 2023, manages. (Only I got the staffing level and departmental mission statement slightly off-whack ...) Next, there's just been another revolution in Kyrgyzstan (a country which, for reasons I'm not going to discuss here, plays a significant role in "Rule 34").
But the worst thing? I've been sandbagged by an unanticipated event.
Authors don't work in a vacuum; they work in a social context, and what they write reflects their fears and hopes about humanity — in SF, we use the future as a projection screen for stuff we imagine in the social context of the present.
I started writing "Rule 34" (again) in 2009. Hopes and fears about the future: well, I knew that if it went smoothly, it'd be published in summer 2011. This is still on track. It was glaringly obvious that we were living through the dog days of the Labour government, and that unless Gordon Brown pulled a rabbit out of his hat, we were going to be roughly twelve months into a Conservative government by then. And Gordon Brown didn't seem to me to be big on hats, or rabbits. Ergo, I was going to be serving up a near-future SF novel for an audience who had just lived through 1-2 years of Tory rule, with a setting (circa 2023) that would correspond to 13 more years of unfolding British politics.
On the basis of the preceding three or four decades of British political history ("Rule 34" is set in the UK, OK?) it seemed logical that this hypothetical conservative government would be in its own dog days by 2023. And they'd have started out from a platform of, oh, call it post-Majorism, with guys like Iain Duncan Smith rattling their think-tank cage doors from the sideline. In other words, a sharp lurch to the right.
What sandbagged me was the fact that for the first time in a British general election, more people voted for minority parties than for any of the major players; a coalition or a (weak) minority government was inevitable. Then the libertarian arm of the Conservative party went and formed an alliance with the Liberal Democrats in an utterly unprecedented realignment, and according to the latest polls a majority of the population look set to vote "yes" to electoral reform in a year or so. (Link missing because I can't find the URL I read last night ...)
So it's back to the trenches on "Rule 34", because I have to do a complete re-appraisal of the world-building scenario underlying it in order to figure out whether it's still plausible; and if not, I have a lot of patching to do. This futurology gig is hard — I swear I'm going back to tentacle monsters and starships after I finish this book!