The sensation, if you allow yourself experience it, is that of pressing your face up against the glass right at the rushing tip of the present as it plows headlong into the future. There is no wind, only a thrum of momentum from somewhere deeply hidden; yet the sense of speed is nauseating, teetering on the edge of elation and dismay. Morale flicks back and forth, threatening to fall definitively to one side or the other, as each blurred impression of what the world is becoming blips onto the horizon, looms suddenly, and plunges behind us into the immediate past. With no time to understand.
Is it any wonder that we only climb into the nose of the present to face this overwhelming aspect on rare occasions?
I mean, I like a roller coaster, but not every minute of every day.
Of course, the biggest difference between a roller coaster and the future is that one runs on tracks, and the other does not. That’s what makes the terrors of a roller coaster enjoyable, and the terrors of the future a source of dread. Corkscrewing while pulling 3G’s can be an exhilarating sensation with a padded steel bar locked over one’s torso. Hurtling through the radically mutating implications of shattered financial systems, looming ash clouds, gouting oil leaks, combusting religious extremists, mushrooming mega-urban sprawl, radicalized weather systems, and your choice of today’s lesser headlines, all without the benefit of a lap belt, let alone an air bag, is something more akin to being caught in the head, your pants around your ankles, when the airbus goes into a tailspin: pinned to the wall by incomprehensible forces, half naked and helpless, with shit flying everywhere.
Still, I like the future. Though it seems intent on killing me and everyone I love, I’m a big fan. What I like about the future is that I have no fucking idea what it is going to do next. I am astounded all but daily by how the future manages to take both the past and present by the tail and twist them until they howl and spring off in directions no one ever imagined they had gone or could go.
Because the future is so very present right now, it is the kind of thing one might want to write about, if one were a writer.
Hello. My name is Charlie Huston, and I am a writer.
The future, you say?
Hmm, how would one write about such a thing?
To be clear, when I think or write about writing about the future, I’m not thinking or writing about writing science fiction. Not right now, anyway. I’m thinking and writing about writing about that perilously thin membrane stretched between
Oddly, writing about the extreme verge of the present is quite hard. Trying to capture the sense of a moment while it is happening is a slippery business. And there is a great danger that what one writes will feel dated a year after it is written, about the time it is likely to be finding its way into the hands of people willing to pay money for the pleasure (if lucky) of reading it.
I’m not good at it.
I gave it a whack in a book called Sleepless, but ended up pushing that story ahead a few years, setting it in a definitive future. One close at hand, yes, but not a real NOW.
Now I’m trying again.
Along with the future, I also like a good wall I can bang my head against.
It’s a very healthy process, this writing thing.
Which explains why I am trying to write about the present in a story told primarily through the eyes of a man who will seek to destroy it. Or risk destroying it. Or save it.
If I knew for certain what he would do, I wouldn’t have much reason to write the book.
I’m writing about people who are right there at that membrane, people with resources that allow them to do more than simply stand there and feel the rush of the future, people who are equipped to reach beyond the membrane, to swing their hammers and their picks and hew the future.
As do all makers of the future-past.
As I am a writer of genre fiction, some of the tools my characters use to hack out the path of the future are guns.
Guns to shape the future. A very popular strategy. One people have been employing both en masse and singularly for hundreds of years now. Before that, swords and spears and the like were very popular future-shaping tools. So I hear.
My characters also use the Internet to shape the future.
And cell phones.
And vegetable seeds.
The future is going to be a stranger place than we imagine, so it helps to think strangely about how it might come to get here.
We’re going to need a lot of vegetable seeds to make the future. Or that’s what I think, anyway.
What do an emotionally static assassin who was raised in a Skinner box, and a clinically traumatized systems analyst who specializes in disaster robotics have in common?
They’re the heroes (term used loosely) of my next book.
The future is telling me what it’s really about right now.
Charlie Huston is the author of the bestsellers The Mystic Arts of Erasing All Signs of Death and The Shotgun Rule, as well as the Henry Thompson trilogy, the Joe Pitt casebooks, and several titles for Marvel Comics. He lives with his family in Los Angeles. Learn more at www.pulpnoir.com.
Charlie Huston’s novel Skinner will be published by Mulholland Books in 2012.