Thoughts On My Trump-Era Novels

I had someone ask me to what extent Trump et al is going to have an impact on my creative life, specifically my novels. It’s a question with no particularly easy answer, but let me try to tackle it.

First and foremost, I can’t truly know because I don’t know what will happen in the next four years. There are some things you can guess — we will have a hard right government which feels no shame about its various bigotries, and is headed up by an incompetent and corrupt political naif, so I see some very probable scenarios emerging from that — but at the end of the day the future is still unwritten, and because it is I don’t know how it will have an effect on the nation and me. I don’t know what impact it will make, if any, on my writing, or how it sells once it’s out in the world. So, to a very great extent I simply can’t say with any certainty.

The other thing to consider is that I don’t generally intentionally put contemporary political themes in my science fiction, particularly the fiction that’s meant to represent a time hundreds or even thousands of years in the future. My go-to explanation of this is that having future characters model contemporary political tussles is like us today having passionate arguments about the Alien and Sedition Acts specifically, and our world divided up into brawls between Jeffersonians and Adamsians. As a fiction writer, I don’t generally create my universes to exactly mirror events or controversies that happen in the real world, so the political tensions and arguments don’t track one for one with what’s going on here. Also, bluntly, I have outlets for my real world thoughts on any particular political or social event I want to write about (hello!), so I don’t feel the need to larder my fiction with those thoughts.

With that said, it would be obtuse of me to suggest that as a thinking human living through historical events, I don’t soak up the world around me, and that how I think of it doesn’t come out of my fingertips and down onto the page. I am certain the Bush years affected the first four books of the Old Man’s War series and also The Android’s Dream; I’m likewise certain Obama’s America had an impact on Fuzzy Nation, Redshirts, Lock In and the later two books in the OMW series. I’m pretty sure the interminable election season of 2016 made its mark on The Collapsing Empire.

But it’s not always that direct. To make the point that the times make a mark on one’s career in ways one doesn’t anticipate — or that track directly to the day-to-day events in the real world, let me offer you an example. In 2008, I was meant to write a five-book YA series for Tor Books; we had discussed it, I plotted it out, everyone was enthusiastic and all that was left was contract negotiations… and then the mortgage crisis threatened to take down the entire global economy, we entered a recession and publishing was smacked pretty hard in a way that had a direct impact on that proposed series. You might notice there is a not a five-book YA series from me on the shelves. You might also notice there is a three-year gap between the release of Zoe’s Tale and the release of Fuzzy Nation, with no novels from me during that period. These are related events, stemming back, improbably, to the mortgage crisis.

If the mortgage crisis hadn’t happened — or even if the major economic collapse it precipitated had been delayed by just a month — my career would have been very different. If I had written that YA series, I almost certainly would not have written Fuzzy Nation, or Redshirts or, probably, Lock In (I probably would have written more OMW books, although if they would have been like The Human Division or The End of All Things is up in the air).

Would that alternate career have been better or worse? It’s hard to say (although I do suspect it would mean that at this point I would not have a Best Novel Hugo, so there’s that). What is easy to say is that I couldn’t have predicted how other people’s mortgages — and the governmental policies which had an impact on them — would make a difference to which novels I published, and when.

During the Trump administration, assuming he makes it through four years, I’m supposed to write four novels: the follow-ups to Lock In and The Collapsing Empire, and also two other novels. The times will find their way into those books whether I plot them to correspond directly to real world events or not (spoiler: I don’t plan to). How they will is at this point a mystery to me, as a) per above, I don’t know with any certainty where life is taking me or the nation, b) I haven’t written the books yet. We will see.

All I can say is that barring personal issues that impact my ability to write, or the collapse of the world as we know it, new novels will come out in the next four years. They’re already contracted for, for one thing. For another thing, I still like writing, and I still like making up universes for characters to romp about in (and expanding the universes I already built, in the case of sequels). I like my job. This new administration is not likely to stop me from doing it. And if it does, it’s because we all have bigger problems than whether I write a novel on time or not.