I’m currently finishing my dystopian novel, tentatively titled, Boy Privilege. When that now-magic word “dystopian” comes up in conversation, everyone says that’s their new favorite genre, and wants to know all about it. Which is good news for me. Some people assume that I’m following trends, and that I’m writing hoping for a hit. But his is my first novel, and has been in the works for the last ten years.
I’ve never written something of this scope before. It seems easier now that it’s built itself layer on layer, but it’s been an incredible amount of work, all 200,000 words of it. I’d hoped, this summer, to finish it, but I got married, took over a literary magazine, and tried to keep up with all my friends, and my hobbies. My just-started sci-fi podcast has been on hiatus, and I’ve not written a new short fiction in months. My schedule is still much the same as it has been: writing an hour on my commute to and from San Jose, and 3-4 hours on Saturday and Sunday if I’m lucky. And what has this all come to? Here’s the synopsis:
The story follows Jonas Mills, the middle-class son of a historian and a school teacher, who’s attending the University of Washington in Seattle, his hometown, for an English degree he’s uninterested in. The future America he lives in has been ravaged by a ten-year depression, brought about by resource exhaustion and global warming. At the novel, Jonas is part of a tiny remaining middle-class, and has sensible, abstract solutions to the world’s problems. But after a radical militaristic new president is elected, and his father is killed by n an unknown motorist, his world breaks down. Outraged by the election, a number of far-left groups carry out an attempted coup and revolutionary takeover. Jonas experiences this as a bombing and shooting on campus, in which he and his girlfriend are almost killed, and he witness numerous police and others shot to death. Quickly, this uprising is put down, and the national security mechanisms of the US goes into overdrive, and Jonas goes along with it. He joins the US military, and within the year, is tracking the remnants of those who’d carried out the attacks in the Cascade Mountains. A year after that, the rebellion deepens, and he’s sent to Missoula, Montana, to put down a state-wide uprising, in a vicious battle that levels the city, and costs him many of his new compatriots. In the end, America is just as radically changed as after the first Civil War, and Jonas is brought into the national spotlight for his role in attempting to mitigate the disaster, but this does nothing to console the loses of his friends and family.
When I tell people this plot, they usually say: “you should publish this before it comes true.” Which is a valid point, as one of my goals is to actually imagine what the next civil war might look like. Others point out the similarities of the character to myself, and the obvious current political parallels. Again, as someone with limited talents, all obviously true. But I have bigger worries:
The main one is genre. It is a dystopian novel, but it also falls into speculative fiction, and science fiction. It’s my projection of a possible future, but it also has robots, and advanced AI and VR, and new drugs, and all sorts of horrific weaponry we haven’t invented yet. Which leads into the issue of the book being a hybrid of the latter genres, and a war novel. The entire second half of the book follows Jonas’ transformation into a soldier and then into combat. It may be that the first half of the book should be cut, or that I never should have written the second half. As I’m not a soldier, I’ve put these scene together through massive research, and imagination, but it certainly cannot be enough. I’ll need expert advice before its finished, and I’ve yet to find it. There is also the larger problem of ethos here, in that non-fiction is much more popular than in the past, and soldiers (for good reason) are distrustful of outsiders pretending to know what the military, or combat itself is like. As innumerable combat veterans and memoirist will attest: “You can only know what combat is like by experiencing it,” My only consolation is that I’m not writing about current. or past wars, but a future one, and many none-soldiers have done so without trouble, or public opprobrium. We’ll see if I’m so lucky.
My second worry is about the character of the genre itself. Dystopias are popular now because we have deep-seated problems that we cannot find solutions too. Or the solutions we have never get implemented due to incompetence, greed, or ignorance. My book won’t change any of that, and I find myself trapped in its requirements. The recent novel Infinite Detail by Tim Maughan is an example of something somewhat similar to my goal, but he’s (as the genre requires) very didactic in his condemnation of our tech overlords. Another route, is like Chang-Rae Lee’s On Such a Full Sea, where the satire is very present, but doesn’t end with any easy course of solutions, or an inevitable outcome. How to strike that balance between teaching and maintaining a piece of art? I don’t know yet, I’m writing it to find out.
I’ll start posting portions of it
soon, so you can get an idea of what I’m working with.