Listening to: Nora Jones. Summertime.
I’m banging away on a story (working title: “Artemis”) about a female superhero in the near future. Women’s stories aren’t new for me, but what’s unchartered territory is The Future. Near future, so we’re not talking about spaceships and robots. Still, I have to create a world that is familiar but different, so that the story is one that could happen — maybe not today but within our lifetimes.
That’s a critical element of Batman. Not science fiction but futurism. Gotham City could be our city, if government corruption, unemployment and the criminal class continue to grow. Everything that plagues Gotham is nestled in our own hometowns. Tiny seeds. That’s part of what makes the stories so compelling — they’re not impossible. There’s no magic, nothing supernatural, no ghosts or faeries. Everything in Batman is grounded in what is.
So how do the writers create a world that is both strange and familiar?
Some of the answers are pretty simple. And I found them while reading Greg Rucka’s Queen and Country novel, Last Run. Heroine Tara Chace is in the Special Operations Section of the British Secret Intelligence Agency. It sounds like a real group, but it’s not. And the missions she takes on involve countries, like Iran and Uzbekistan, that we currently read about in the news. So everything dances in the real, the familiar — but it’s not.
One of my characters, of course, is a policeman. And I’ve been making a list of all the research I need to do on the Seattle Police Department, to get the details right. But Rucka inspired me to think a little differently. He reminded me that I’m writing about a familiar Seattle but not an actual one. I don’t have to confine myself to the facts of the city.
The last story I wrote was set in contemporary Los Angeles, and I spent a lot of time researching the details of the city, making sure my locations were right and I wasn’t citing buildings that exist in my memory but, in actuality, are no longer standing. Getting Los Angeles right was critical to the story and to making the characters seem believable. But in a futuristic world, believability isn’t built on authenticity. It doesn’t come out of recreating but out of creating. Grabbing familiar bits and expanding them slightly with imagination. Taking the lines and nudging them out.
It’s kind of freeing, looking for opportunities to invent. Not just story, but the city in which I live. To speculate as to how institutions would evolve if we became a metropolis in distress. And to imagine a place, like Gotham, where villains veer into the grotesque and heroes emerge as super.
Got a favorite story set in the near future? Please pass on your recommendations.