Art imitates life imitates art while most of us just try to figure out what's going on

From Skin Wars - Life imitating art imitating life.
Oscar Wilde, famously quoted as saying 'life imitates art far more than art imitates life', must be spinning in his grave about now. Certainly, one hundred and thirty years ago his statement was probably true. In fact, it was probably true twenty years ago. Now, however, life has once again taken the reins and is moving and changing at a pace too fast for even the most trendy hipsters to keep up with.

  • Social landscapes are constantly changing. Now sex and gender mean different things and it's becoming more commonly accepted that there are dozens of the latter.
  • Technology that seemed decades or even centuries away now looks plausible in the next few years.
  • Fake news is so common, even from previously trusted sources, that the real trick is finding true news.
  • The political landscape pushes the boundaries of even the most on-trend Tom Clancy or Bill Patterson novel (in fact, the latter has even joined forces with a previous president for a recent novel).
  • ...and the kids... the kids are increasingly hard to understand by anyone not directly of their generation, which is now about a ten-year span. They've taken to changing and redefining the language to such a degree that some words no longer have the same meaning 10 years after they were coined. And let's not even talk about fashion, relationships, or work-place expectations.

Yes, trends come and go before they can even be noticed by anyone over 30, modern art has a narrow window of relevance (if it ever had any!), science and technology are moving at a pace almost unimaginable by the average person, and fiction writing, well, anything not purely fantasy is essentially historical fiction by the time it's published — easily dated by whatever social or technological references enter into the story. As authors, even science fiction authors, we're essentially left playing catch-up.

As an example, just last November I finished the first draft of a near future YA mundane science fiction novel (mundane meaning plausible, without any fancy magical technology). Set twenty years in the future, it featured autodrive cars guided by a city-wide computer network, pervasive voice-activated computer assistants, household 3D printers, implanted computers, mind-controlled cosmetic appendages, and paperless workstations in schools, to name a few. Socially, the transgendered were accepted in the same manner as anyone else, society had settled on two new pronouns one for non-binary people and one for human-like machines, artificial wombs had just become commonplace, and some children were now gestated entirely ex utero. Politically, unease between China and the US was still brewing and both had moon bases, although the US was playing catchup. I'd just added a corporate Mars colony to the backstory.

I hope it's obvious that I was attempting to incorporate and extrapolate the latest modern technology into a fully functional state by the time of my story. At the time of writing, all of the ideas seemed plausible within the twenty-year timeline leading to the story although I felt some might be stretching the boundaries of plausibility more than others.

Fast forward to 2019 and, given the new developments I've learned about in the last two months, including amazing developments in artificial intelligence, the promise of personal flying cars within a year or two at most, China's moon landing, and others (and that's not even considering that we're due for a paradigm shift in computational processing and storage soon) and I already have to redo much of the world-building and plot points from the story, as some key items are already out of date.

While I very much enjoy the ride when it comes to watching all the new technological developments, there's little question they can wreck havoc on contemporary fiction stories. And I haven't even touched on the challenge of crime fiction!

Oscar Wilde, while you also lived in chaotic times, they were nothing like the twenty-teens. Art no longer holds a candle to life when it comes to innovation, creativity, and change. However, be that as it may, personally, I can't wait to see what's next.

Edwin H Rydberg is a science fiction writer and futurist. He can be found at his website Alternate Futures, or at various events hosted by Promoting Yorkshire Authors.


Susan Price said…
I'd relax, Edgar. Science is always promising us stuff tomorrow that never turns up. I am still waiting for the jet-pack I can shrug on and fly off anywhere I choose. I was promised that 'soon' forty years ago.
Bill Kirton said…
Yes, it's bewildering, Edwin. I recommend setting novels in the 1840s - fascinating times, when all you have to do is control your enthusiasm for all the positive things you know will be in the future.
Umberto Tosi said…
As I contemplate the myriad changes since the day I was born in 1937, I look at today's state of affairs and think of that famous French aphorism: “Plus ça change, plus c'est la même chose." Knowledge expands, science explodes and technology advances - even attitudes and certainly our life styles transform almost daily, but the same old problems arise from ignorance, atavistic hatreds, greed, loathing and power lust that Shakespeare noted four hundred years ago, and the Greeks before him. I don't mean to be cynical, for that only adds to the problems, but it's about time for a that big paradigm shift we keep pushing and praying for. "Be the change you want in the world," as Gandhi said. I'm trying. I'm trying, we keep saying. Well? Writing about possible futures - utopian and dystopic, contributes to the best of all possible worlds, we writers have to believe.

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