Posted on August 28, 2013 in Archive

The future of fiction


This Guardian article is written from the perspective of a ‘time traveling author’ who returns from 2043 with a dire report on the state of culture. This fun look explores what the future of fiction could really look like. He returns with a list of problems plaguing literature in 2043; the first of which is “the popular multimedia retro-hybrid ‘title.’”

In the future, all books and reading material will be described simply as titles.

They will exist on a plethora of platforms, including digital books, phone texts, film adaptations and fan-rewritten fan fiction, and the most successful of these titles will be synergised across all platforms.

This will be achieved by the merging of publishing houses, broadcasters, casting agents, and film studios into a global consortium that monopolises the cultural industry.

The result of this union will be a limited number (no more than 10) of successful titles each year.

Nothing else will be profitable, because the rest of the market will be flooded with cheap, free, or pirated works.

Those works will almost exclusively be self-published fan fiction.

All of these works will be based on existing books, a trend that is apparently “symptomatic of the widespread devaluation of cultural content that the slow process of the digital revolution unleashed in the West.”

The author believes that no new works will be created in the future; instead franchises will outlive their authors and interbreed.

Titles that are popular today will not only still be prevalent in the future, they will be highly revered.

Prequels and series based on these texts will be constantly generated and original authors will no longer be attached to their texts, because they will set up franchises that permit and encourage fan fiction.

Thousands of fans will compete to write the most creative adaptation of popular texts like Twilight – a system that will be further promoted by the mainstream media who will create reality TV series based on this fetish.

A common trend will be to amalgamate two popular series and create curious hybrids, for example, an erotic version of Harry Potter, titled Shades of Hermione.

And while this radical fan fiction probably isn’t all that unrealistic, it’s highly unlikely that it will be the only form of literature produced in the future.

Sure, there has recently been a rise in fan fiction, but that doesn’t mean that original content isn’t being created, or won’t be created in the future.

A commonly touted benefit of the digital revolution is that its open text nature is empowering to readers because it gives them the opportunity to become authors too.

Unfortunately, this isn’t as exciting in the future.

Everything will be reworked so many times that the original texts will be the ones that seem obscure.

In 2043 the old will become new again, and again, and absolutely no new culture will be produced after 2018.

And this will partly be because after decades of getting content, or culture, for free, people wouldn’t be able to imagine paying for new characters or new stories.

Likewise, the mainstream media won’t want to invest in something that has no proven track record, as it would be too risky.

This is where the prediction goes awry. Why would people be perfectly happy to self-publish lots of fan fiction and make no money, but not be happy to self-publish a new story and make no money?

It makes no sense. The idea that as soon as there is no money in creativity, people will stop being creative is absolute rubbish. Large media companies are becoming more conservative with their output, but individuals don’t behave like multinationals!

One of the criticisms aimed at the digital revolution is that it removes the middleman, therefore destroying jobs for people like publishers and bookstore owners.

In the future, it is anticipated that all middlemen will be removed and that the flow between reader and content will be almost instantaneous.

This will occur when computers begin writing algorithms that produce novels and readers are unable to tell the difference between computer-generated texts and those written by authors.

Additionally, plug-ins will allow books to be written in the style of a specific author.

As a result of these algorithms, as well as issues like piracy and demonitisation, Western culture will grind to a halt.

In the future, the digital revolution will be even more dependent on bygone cultural products than it is now.

Culture will not evolve or transform, it will simply morph into increasingly bizarre forms of itself.

And no one will question it; even the elderly will be satisfied with the situation because they will be regarded with awe for living through times of heroes like Edward Cullen and Ronald Weasley.

Or will they?

Of course, the article isn’t a documentary piece about the future of culture – its predictions aren’t supposed to be taken seriously. What’s troubling about it is that so many people in the publishing industry seriously think we’re heading towards a situation like this.

For decades, different people have predicted the demise of culture, namely literature, as we know it. And for decades, humanity has continued to produce fresh, exciting, and innovative stories.

Just like there are still people in today’s society producing new works, experimenting with different forms, and exploring their own creativity, so will there be people in the future who will create new content!