Christopher L. Bennett
There are a number of widespread misunderstandings about fiction set in a future where things have changed for the better. A major one is that in a better society there is no room for conflict. Well, that is simply wrong: if a future is better it doesn’t mean it’s perfect. Nevertheless, a lot of people immediately replace ‘better future’ with ‘Utopia’ and subsequently ‘Utopia’ with ‘boring perfect place’. This is simplified black-and-white thinking, which quite often is one-directional, as well: there are thousands of ‘plausible’ ways in which the future goes down the drain, but the moment one writer tries to depict a better future, that extra light is immediately blinding and all-encompassing.
Or maybe a better future could mean one where the grayscale is just a bit more light?
Similarly, when we talk about immortality—or longevity, or extreme longevity—then the default assumption very often is that this must be a very bad thing indeed: see, for example, Four Arguments Against Immortality (on io9). And even when a more optimistic person tries to highlight the positive sides of longevity (Four Arguments For Immortality), the comments are mostly against it. Again, a lot of the thinking here is a reduction to the black-and-white sides of a topic, not the more realistic approach of a grayscale.
Again, maybe the positive effects of longevity may outweigh the negative ones?
The danger of seeing only the positive sides of a new development is underestimating the dangers—a good point that, unfortunately, is made ad nauseam and often the only point made. The danger of seeing only the negative parts of a new development is overlooking the huge potential benefits in the near and farther future. Obviously, both aspects need to be investigated: but I strongly suspect that a huge majority of the SF community is blinkered by looking at the negative aspects of future developments only.
Therefore, should airflight pioneers like the Wright brothers have stopped their efforts because flying was too dangerous? Should medicine pioneers like Louis Pasteur have stopped their efforts because curing too many people will lead to overpopulation? So should we stop research towards longevity (which basically every medical advancement is doing), as well, because it will increase overpopulation (keep in mind that in most countries that experience higher life expectancy, like Japan, Germany, France, Italy and Holland—to name but a few—the fertility rates are decreasing, as well)?
Now, let’s go to a future that has pushed back death, where a lot of things have changed for the better, and where there is still plenty of room for conflict . . . and murder.
A lot of people think homicide investigation is easy these days, now that you can just interview the victims.
Generally, they’re right, at least in the industrialised world, and increasingly elsewhere as death prevention gets more affordable. The majority of homicides anymore are crimes of passion or stupidity, committed by people who didn’t stop to think about emergency cerebral oxygen supplies and secondary circulation pumps. Typically you just have to wait until the victim wakes up and ask who killed them.
(I know you’re wondering, why not call it attempted homicide, then? Some people do. I don’t. I’ve died myself, and let me tell you, reversible or not, there’s nothing impermanent about it.) Continue reading