The world under COVID-19 is surreal. Empty streets. Clear skies. Empty shelves in the stores. It sounds a bit like science fiction. So what does a science fiction writer think about all of this?
“In some ways, science fiction got it right, and science fiction helped us expect what the situation will feel like,” says David D. Levine, an award-winning science fiction author originally from Milwaukee.
“At the same time, science fiction is fiction, so you can’t use it as something to model behavior.”
As a genre, Levine says that science fiction is very good at predicting the little interpersonal and pedestrian details of life under apocalypse. Like the historical fiction of James Cameron’s Titanic, or the skillful editing of reality TV shows like The Amazing Race, science fiction gets its drama from the way people interact with one another in a stressful situation. The apocalyptic scenario, outer space or a mysterious zombie plague, only provide a backdrop.
That’s why science fiction is so popular during easy economic times — from the Twilight Zone in the 1950s, Star Trek in the 1980s, up to all of the big sci-fi movie reboots in recent years before the coronavirus.
“People who have comfortable lives are going to seek out difficult and dangerous situations, whereas people in difficult and dangerous situations tend to seek out something different in their reading,” says Levine.
That’s not to say that science fiction is dead on account of this pandemic — maybe just pandemic fiction.
“Unfortunately, I have a lot of friends who have pandemic novels in development or about to be published, and they’re really worried the novel will tank,” says Levine.
Levine’s forte is more space-related and steampunk science fiction, which he expects to do better than Mad Max or Walking Dead-style fiction. He thinks publishers will also gravitate to publish historical dramas and romance novels in a few years, set during the coronavirus pandemic of 2020.
During this pandemic, WUWM's Bubbler Talk is focusing on the coronavirus and its impact on the Milwaukee area. If you have a question, submit it below.