Communion Of Dreams

Phase change.
February 25, 2011, 1:26 pm
Filed under: Emergency, Failure, Isaac Asimov, Politics, Predictions, Science Fiction, Society

There’s a sign in the desert that lies to the west
Where you can’t tell the night from the sunrise
And not all the king’s horses and all the king’s men
Have prevented the fall of the unwise*

Almost prophetic, isn’t it?

The homepage for Communion of Dreams has the following description:

The world I have envisioned in this book is recognizable, in the same way that the 1950’s are recognizable, but with a comparable amount of unpredictable change as between that era and the present. Most authors will avoid writing about the near-term future, because it is easy for a work to become dated. I’m not that smart.

Unpredictable change. Rapid change. Protests in Egypt started just a month ago. Protests in Libya started just a week ago. Then there’s Tunisia, Morocco, Yemen, Iran, Iraq, Jordan, Saudi Arabia. Even China has started to get nervous about controlling discussion of events around the Mediterranean.

If we had Asimov’s psychohistory, perhaps we would have been able to foresee this shift. But even then, I have my doubts. It is one thing to say “people want freedom” and another to not be surprised by what is happening. You can call the internet, Twitter, and mobile phones transformational technologies all you want, but that doesn’t mean you understand *how* the changes they augment will actually play out.

History is full of odd twists and small turns which topple rulers and determine the outcome of wars. Yes, certain forces can come together to create the right environment – to supersaturate the solution, as it were – but then almost any kind of catalyst can precipitate a radical change, and which kind of catalyst makes a difference. I think this is what we are seeing with the sweeping turmoil in the Middle East and Mediterranean – a phase change, as it were, from one reality to another.

This isn’t the first such phase change I have seen. The collapse of the Soviet Union was another. I grew up thinking that it was an implacable enemy, a monolith which would last forever if it didn’t kill us all first. When I traveled behind the Iron Curtain in 1974 I would never have been able to predict that 15 years later the whole thing would just tumble into dust. But then again, no one else did, either.

And that’s the thing. As I work now on the prequel to Communion of Dreams, set just a year in the future (but not our future – a related one near at hand) it is easy to envision other kinds of radical change which would come to create the world of my novel . . . and perhaps our own.

(2/26/11) An addendum: for a further, and much more insightful – not to mention more informed – discussion of the changes in the Middle East, read this article.

Jim Downey

*Alan Parsons, Turn of a Friendly Card.

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