I find questions about the future to be interesting, since they really are asking “what do we think is happening NOW, that will continue, that will be remembered?” We remember Issac Asimov, yet forget Octavia Butler. (Though that, I hope, is changing again.) I don’t know what the future will remember.
I have hopes, though.
I hope that in twenty years the new writers will take it for granted that Anna and Elsa are a founding archetype of speculative fiction. I hope that in ten years the new writers will not question the fundamental truth that their worlds will be at least as diverse as The 100, The Hunger Games, or the Marvel cinematic universe. I hope that the writers starting out right now will have, in thirty years, retold world history in modern, inventive, culturally relevant blends of fact and passion, just like Hamilton.
I look at the stories we tell our children. I hope those stories are strong enough to build a future that is better than the present.
At first, I didn’t know how to answer this question. In my mind, fantastika is everywhere in the mainstream. From Harry Potter to The Hunger Games. From Game of Thrones to Lord of the Rings. From Star Trek to Star Wars to The Martian. Then I realized I couldn’t see the forest for the trees. I had to step back from my chosen profession and look at the world.
I think fantastika storytelling is going to grow to include much more world myths, legends, and retellings. We have focused too long on European myths and legends. We, as a whole, are hungry for new stories and new mythologies from places like China, Africa, India, and the Middle East. Many of us seek out different points of view. There is no greater new point of view than to experience another culture’s mythological foundations.
I also believe the consumable forms of fantastika will continue to evolve. While the standard forms (books, movies, audiobooks, TVs, long form, episodic, short form, poetry, etc…) will remain, we will see a lot more interactive storytelling and group storytelling. We already have some of that in our MMOs and videogames. We also have it in new mediums like Storium and interactive novels like Books By Choice. We’re even seeing it in our businesses and our classrooms in the form of Live Action Role-Playing training.
The biggest challenge to fantastika is keeping ahead of modern technology and invention. Storytelling invents the future by inspiring the present. We need to continue to reach beyond what we have to what could be.
Historically, speculative fiction has always been enjoyed by the mainstream reader; it’s the mutually-agreed upon labels which fluctuate. Every age decides for itself what it calls stories of fantasy and imagined science, but those stories are always there. This is especially true of what we’re now calling “speculative fiction”, “speculative literature”, “fantastika”, and so on: the work between what we consider to be solidly literature and solidly genre fiction. As we look backwards, we can and do redefine what fits into one genre or another, though the authors might have disagreed. (Think of Mary Shelly’s Frankenstein, which certainly wasn’t written to be “science fiction”, or how Margaret Atwood avoids that genre label today.) Readers wouldn’t have used those terms before, but they’d absolutely have recognized the tales.
But that’s all semantics and marketing. The real question is still an important one: How do we see “story” developing in the 21st century?
For me, I see fiction progressing to better match the real world. Diversity, inclusion, representation – these words can be used to describe the process of adjusting our expectations for fiction. Having a “more diverse cast of characters” simply means creating worlds that mirror the one we already live in so all readers have an opportunity to find themselves in a work of art. It means bringing the percentage of white characters in a story closer to the actual percentage of white people living in the world, instead of imagining only some version of America, Medieval Europe, or space (for example) which is somehow magically devoid of people of color.
It means bringing women and queer people and transfolk into your story as leads; it means including differently abled characters, people living with mental illness, or physical or developmental delays, without taking away their ability to be nuanced, capable people. It means – most of all – allowing any of these characters to be the heroes in your tale, because each of these types of people are heroes in our everyday life, not just straight, white, male protagonists. They’re our soldiers and teachers and firefighters and astronauts and genius inventors and artists already, so isn’t it time to see them that way in our fiction, too?
Fantastika has reached its enchanted robo-tentacles into every mode of storytelling. It is ubiquitous in movies, television, and prose of all lengths. In modern sequential art, it’s harder to find something that isn’t fantasy of some kind. The fingerprints of genre in mainstream music are sparser, but music videos frequently draw on science fiction, fantasy, and horror to tell a story visually against music that may not itself have an obvious genre element (hat tip to Lucy A. Snyder for that observation). As the 21st century progresses, we’ll definitely see a continued, welcomed diversification in the types of characters and stories we see through the lens of fantastika.
The twentieth century saw video games emerge from the womb of research institutes, and the first consumer game was a piece of science fiction. While the story in Spacewar! was thin, video games like the Portal series showcase the way this medium can tell stories in an entirely new way. More than any other narrative form in the past, video game storytelling can be a collaboration between the storyteller and the audience, in which leaves the audience to infer much of the story for themselves. In Portal 2, entire layers of the story are told through graffiti left by Doug Rattmann, which the player has to both find (on my first playthrough, I missed most of it) and piece together.
That is where I think we’re going to see the most growth, and some of the most interesting growth, in fantastika. One of the major forms of modern sci-fi and fantasy storytelling didn’t even exist for the first half of the 20th century; where prose has had centuries for authors to experiment with the possibilities of the form, video games have only been around as a consumer medium for 55 years. I have print books in my collection that have been on this planet twice as long as the entire medium of video games. I think the 21st century will see video games attaining a level of respectability and acceptance as a form of storytelling, and we’ll see writers taking advantage of the unique properties of this new form to tell stories we haven’t been able to tell so far because of the limitations in other story modalities.
The sci-fi geek in me also hopes that the 21st century sees the development of another narrative form that is as unimaginable to us today as video games would have been in 1916.
Have you ever looked at a list of the highest grossing movies of all time? Take a second and Google search “All Time Highest Grossing Movies Worldwide.” Apart from maybe Titanic I think you could make an argument that almost every single film in the Top 100 is fantastika. We rule the mainstream and we have for a while now.
I think that one of the more exciting ways that fantastika is moving in is that we are exploring more and more niches. Writers always tell aspiring authors, “Write what you want to read” and I see a world where it is becoming increasingly easier to do just that. Thanks to social media and crowdfunding it’s not just easier to write it, it’s easier to produce it, publish it, market it, and sell it to the intended target market. It could be my personal bias from working for an indie publisher but I see a world where you can find a story that fits any itch you might need to scratch.
For example: after watching Pacific Rim I decided that the world needed more giant monster fiction. I half-jokingly made a post on Facebook asking if any of my author friends might be interested in contributing to a Pacific Rim/Godzilla inspired anthology. A couple buddies of mine were in the early stages of combining their collective experience in publishing to form their very own independent publishing company. They liked the idea and before long we were recruiting authors, commissioning art, and assembling a Kickstarter campaign. With the help of an amazing community we exceeded our funding goal and published Kaiju Rising: Age of Monsters.
Kaiju Rising: Age of Monsters was our first Kickstarter project but it wasn’t our last. I’ve backed a number of Kickstarter projects that might not have seen the light of day before the age of crowdfunding – not because they weren’t good enough but because they were considered too niche to be marketable. I understand the risk aversion but I’m always pleased to see the naysayers proved wrong. I’m enthusiastic about a future filled with these sorts of projects.
Here at the start of 2016, sci-fi culture rules. Fantastika has either slipped past the narrow-minded gatekeepers of the genre tower or stormed past the narrow-minded guardians of the mainstream fortress or however you want to see it. Every year whatever barriers are left between them blur and thin a bit more.
I don’t pretend to be a prognosticator — I am at least slightly computer-literate, but my own sfnal concerns are geared more toward the surreal possibilities the far future offers than any attempt to extrapolate the near future from the latest high-tech gadgets. That said, the most obvious story medium trend, to me, flows from the new ways viewers consume television and the increasing dominance of the “complete season as novel” mode of storytelling. Liberated to build its tales chapter-by-chapter, Game of Thrones has conquered the world; a show as odd as Sense8 actually got green-lighted, and renewed, unthinkable a decade ago; Twin Peaks, a show absolutely fit for that popular-at-this-moment label, “the Weird,” is emerging from the woods 26 years after baffled Nielsen families sent it packing. Honestly, sometimes it seems like almost every major new show coming out is either for geeks or about geeks, and most definitely made by geeks. This is probably a consequence of the “water-cooler conversation” in the corners of the Internet where I hang out, and yet, how great it is that we have so much to talk about.
The other trend that comes to mind resonates from the micro part of the spectrum rather than the macro, and that has to do with developments in self-publishing and crowdfunding platforms and the opportunities they create for small press publishers. As I myself am a small press publisher, this is a topic near and dear to my heart.
When it comes to the self-publishing boom, I started out a skeptic, and in many ways I still am. But now I am an informed skeptic, and what I’ve learned is that the shift in the publishing paradigm has made quirky projects like the ones I take on markedly easier to complete and disseminate. Five years ago it would have been impossible for me, using my own financial resources, to bring out an huge book like Clockwork Phoenix 5 (the latest offbeat anthology from my Mythic Delirium Books imprint, scheduled for a April 5 release, and available for pre-order just about everywhere). I definitely couldn’t have stretched our imprint’s boundaries last year to bring out Bone Swans, C.S.E. Cooney’s debut short story collection, but boy am I glad I had the freedom to try that experiment. I’m so proud of that book.
Evidence is all around me that other folks who run micropresses are emboldened to charge forward with their own experiments. I hope this particular trend explodes.