J. Nostradamus Schulman? (Part I of II)
(Part II continues here tomorrow.)
If you look at my official bio I list “unemployed prophet” as one of my professions.
I wrote my own bio and obviously my tongue is firmly in my cheek there. I’ve written science-fiction set in the future and to create the thought experiments our profession’s literature requires we need to engage in futurism so detailed that, often enough, it’s actually of concern to security analysts, and of use to think tanks like the Rand Corporation. One of the famous stories of our profession is how Astounding Science Fiction editor, John W. Campbell, was paid a visit by FBI agents in 1944 because the short story “Deadline” by Cleve Cartmill was perilously close to outing atomic-bomb research being conducted by the ultra-secret Manhattan Project. And, of course, in 1945, Arthur C. Clarke described the deployment of geosynchronous orbital communication satellites in such detail, years before Echo and Telstar, that if he had but published on a patent application, rather than in the magazine Wireless World, he might have ended up richer than Bill Gates.
To the best of my knowledge, I’m the only high-profile published-and-produced science-fiction writer who admits that he has supernatural psychic powers including precognition, mediumship with the dead, OBE/astral travel, and the Big One — direct communication with God.
Writing science-fiction using the literary techniques of speculation and extrapolation puts me firmly in the tradition of nineteenth and twentieth century authors like H.G. Wells, Robert A. Heinlein, Isaac Asimov, and the aforementioned Arthur C. Clarke.
Claiming I have foreseen the future puts me in the literary tradition of the sixteenth century author, Michel de Nostredame, better known today as Nostradamus, whose 1555 book The Prophecies has been a bestseller in the subsequent four-and-a-half centuries. Al Gore, eat your heart out!
Crossing back and forth as I do between rationalist authors whose projections of the future claim no supernatural basis, and those who do, I thought it was time I took a look at my prophetic writings and separate the technical from the psychic.
Alongside Night, 1979
This relates to the 1979 edition. I did some updates in the 1999 trade-paperback re-issue — and that’s the text used in the current 30th anniversary PDF edition — so I’m only discussing the 1979 original.
In Alongside Night I portrayed a “near future” in which the U.S. dollar has been inflated to the point of near-worthlessness. As a consequence, economic and political chaos have followed. Foreigners have bought up much of the real assets in the United States. The United States has dropped out of NATO and the remainder of the NATO allies have combined with the European Common Market to form the European Common Market Treaty Organization — EUCOMTO — which has issued a gold-backed currency called the Eurofranc. Possession of gold bullion has once again been prohibited in the United States, as it was from May 1, 1933 to December 31, 1974. The real-estate market has collapsed and abandoned buildings are being lived in by squatters. Street crime is rampant. An organization called Citizens for a Free Society is staging mass rallies in favor of a return to hard money and free markets. Radicals are being secretly arrested without charges or warrants and sent to hidden federal prisons. And the underground Revolutionary Agorist Cadre is using the inability of the United States government to pay its troops with money that anyone will accept to recruit them to protect its own hidden merchant trade routes and marketplaces. At the time of my story the Soviet Union still exists. The technological advances I portray in the book are very modest. I portrayed videophones, video-intercoms, video-capable notebook computers and the use of electronic documents and identification, computer banking, digital movies and music stored on small discs, plus the use of lasers and masers for communications that can’t be intercepted … but nobody carries cell phones or iPods.
None of this required any supernatural precognitive powers. All of it — no matter how much it resembles current situations and news stories — is based on nothing more than looking at existing historical cases of what happens when nations hyper-inflate their paper money. I didn’t do anything that a political think tank couldn’t do. The only difference is that, as a fiction writer, I took the history and theoretical projections and applied them to the country I was then living in.
And that’s what makes Alongside Night so scary — that it didn’t take any supernatural powers to write it.
The Rainbow Cadenza, 1983
The Rainbow Cadenza takes place approximately two centuries in the future from when I wrote it. I created a “future history” (a concept John W. Campbell applied to a cycle of stories Robert A. Heinlein was writing for Astounding Science Fiction in the late 1930’s and early 1940’s) then started writing the events of my story having established a history of prior events. In the story, as I begin it, due to cheap drugs that allow males to select for male children, planet Earth has a population of males that outnumber the female population by seven males for every female. Affordable space flight has made it possible for millions of people to live off the earth — mostly in immense space habitats based on the theoretical designs of physicist Gerard K. O’Neill in his 1978 book The High Frontier — but the bulk of the human race still lives on earth. The United States in my future has combined with Mexico, Canada, and Cuba into a North American Concord, but by the time my story begins the earth has a one-world government. Because of the relative scarcity of women, rape was a major social problem in the future history I’d created. To “solve” the problem the government drafts young women for a three-year term of service in government-run brothels — but it’s not prostitution because, like universal health care — it’s a free government service available to all men on a rationed basis. Men who are exclusively gay and don’t partake of that universal service have become politically powerful — and have allied with women who are veterans of the service — plus the most politically powerful social group, Lesbians — to form a major element of the governing class. Gay marriage is not only legal, it’s encouraged — it takes men off the roster needing to be “serviced.”
Christianity — being intolerant of this social institution — has either fled off earth to the space colonies or has gone underground. Both female draft evaders and male rapists share the common fate of having their “immunity” to the rape laws stripped away, and they live in ghettos where during the night they are “Touchables” subject to legal rape by hunters known as “Marnies.”
To implement the technology of distinguishing legal citizens from Touchables, everyone has been implanted with body-heat-powered RFID chips that can be scanned from miles away. Other technological advances portrayed in the novel are satellite TV with DVRs and videophones, household robots, flying cars and flying belts (the latter used by Marnies who fly in packs like motorcycle gangs), printed books being replaced by digital books, and of course the aforementioned space flight and space colonies.
The future history and social institutions I portrayed in The Rainbow Cadenza weren’t even intended as necessary extrapolations from current trends, though I was well aware that the availability of a cheap gender-selection birth-control pill — if men could control its use — would be used to create more male babies in patriarchal cultures that don’t value females. But this was, for me, just working backwards to create a logical reason why a future society would draft women into public brothels instead of drafting young men into armies. I was trying to highlight the evil of utilitarian ends-justify-the-means thinking trampling individual rights by taking the emotional issue of national defense out of the equation. All the other social projections I made were simply logical extrapolations of the history I’d created to be able to tell that story.
Nothing supernaturally precognitive there, even when China started having villages with many more males than females for many of the same reasons I’d used to build my future history. And half my technological predictions were so mild that they’ve come to pass in less than three decades, much less twenty.
All the Kings Horses, 1983
This was intended to be my third novel but it was sold first as a treatment to Vista Films, a production company that had made movies including Time After Time, The Wind and the Lion, Demon Seed, and Motel Hell.
This was in 1983, just two years after the biggest television and tabloid event ever — the royal marriage of Charles, Prince of Wales, to Lady Diana Spencer. At a time when all the supermarket tabloids were still writing fairy tale stories about their perfect marriage and the birth of their first son, I wrote and sold to a movie company a story about the future separation and divorce of the Prince and Princess of Wales.
I’m told that the reason you never got to see it was that when the project got submitted to the studios, the Royal family found out about it and used leverage to bury it. No studio picked up the rights. No New York publisher would touch the manuscript. By the time the rights had reverted back to me, my projections had already become fact. This may well be the first time I was black-listed. I know of black-lists I got put on further forward in my career.
Was this some sort of supernatural crystal-ball-looking on my part?
Hardly. I simply thought it would be a funny way to make fun of the tabloid media to write a story in which the British Royal Family had to put up with the divorce of the Prince and Princess of Wales — and custody of the future heir to the British throne — played out in a Los Angeles courtroom.
Part II continues here tomorrow!