Something Just Happened
These two acts of destruction, which played out on either side of the millennial turning point with such vastly different momentum in each case, appear to have combined into a single pair that greatly transformed our mentality . . .Asking how novelists should respond to this - as they must, or else fall silent or become irrelevant - Murakami observes that his kind of fiction, the kind once called (amongst other things) magical realism, the kind which doesn't always faithfully follow the tramlines of known reality, is now no longer an -ism. It isn't off to the side. It's part of the main event.
Let’s call the world we actually have now Reality A and the world that we might have had if 9/11 had never happened Reality B. Then we can’t help but notice that the world of Reality B appears to be realer and more rational than the world of Reality A. To put it in different terms, we are living a world that has an even lower level of reality than the unreal world. What can we possibly call this if not “chaos”?
What kind of meaning can fiction have in an age like this? What kind of purpose can it serve? In an age when reality is insufficiently real, how much reality can a fictional story possess?
As a science-fiction writer, I find Murakami's ideas incredibly interesting. And hopeful. Or rather, potentially hopeful. For something similar should have happened to science fiction, shouldn't it? After all, catastrophes and sudden shifts in perception are part of its stock in trade. But instead of confronting Reality A, the genre has, in the first decade of the 21st century, too often turned to its own comforting version of Reality B: retreating into pleasant little pulpish daydreams in which starships still effortlessly span a galaxy where a guy can turn a profit, or where technology is as controllable as clockwork and the actions of individuals can still make a mark on history. Meanwhile, they grumble, 'mainstream' writers are grabbing ideas from the genre and doing terrible things to them without acknowledging the source. As if permission could be somehow given, or withheld.
I prefer the point of view of William Gibson, who has pointed out that the only way to tackle the place we're in now is to use the science-fiction toolkit - the tropes, images and metaphor developed from the crude flint hammers of pulp by decades of cooperative effort and argument. If other writers are using the science-fiction toolkit to evolve new kinds of stories in the present's different air, that's exactly what we should be doing, too. Forget the past. Especially the pasts of all those great glorious science-fiction futures, lost when it all changed. Look again at the future. Embrace change. Let go. If only. If only.