Speculative Fiction and the “Real” World

A little while back I reviewed The Spaceship Next Door and while I enjoyed it there was something about it that bothered me. It kept picking at my writer brain until I finally figured it out. It’s a small thing and nothing at all to change my earlier recommendation (TLDR – go read it), but it’s still something worth pondering.

Spaceship . . . was released at the end of 2015. It’s safe to say it was written sometime in the year or two before that. At the very least, we’re not talking about a book that sat in a trunk for decades before it saw the light of day. By all indications, it takes place in the time in which it was written, which is to say pretty much right now. There are smart phones, ubiquitous wi-fi, and other trappings of second decade of the 21st Century. And we’re clearly talking about 21st Century America, as the book is set in Massachusetts (albeit in a fictional town).

The book also has a considerable military presence, as one might imagine for a story where a spaceship suddenly lands in the countryside and then sits around for a bit. There’s more than one soldier who is a minor character and other characters interact with even more Army folks.

This is where something started bugging me. If we’re dealing with military matters in a world that’s otherwise our own – why is there almost no mention of Iraq or Afghanistan?

I’m not saying that any book set in modern America has to comment on our never-ending military adventures (full disclosure – Moore Hollow doesn’t). Nor do I expect a domestically set sci-fi tale to dive deeply into the matter. Still, it’s a little weird that, aside from one brief mention late in the book, they never come up. There’s at least one scene where one of the soldiers (maybe the general – I can’t remember) is talking about what a good posting this is. A quick “beats dodging IEDs in Baghdad” or something similar would have worked.

This is the risk that comes from writing fiction set in the “real” world, but I can’t put my finger on why this particular aspect of it irked me. It didn’t bother me that the president (who shows up near the end) isn’t Obama (or any other actual US president), so why does the military thing? I can’t say. Maybe, for this kind of thing, this is my flying snowman moment, even if it’s not so serious as to destroy my suspension of disbelief.

There’s probably no wrong way or right way for a writer to handle a situation like this. But at the very least, writers should be aware of the issue and give it some consideration – is there something in your not-quite-real world that’s going to make people cock their heads and bit and wonder, “huh?” We want our stories to be immersive, not confusing, after all.

Or maybe I’m just a moron.



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