I was some single-digit age, watching a movie with my mother. What age, exactly, or what movie, I really can’t say. It might even have been a tv show, or a complete stranger, or Colonel Mustard in the library with a candlestick. But someone, somewhere, commented: “This movie won’t ever be a classic. With so many pop culture references, it’ll just get dated.”
Dated. That’s a heinous word for some people. A feller getting on in years looks back at his high school prom photos and finds that the violet tuxedo at the height of fashion once upon a time is dated now (here’s looking at you, Walter Bishop). A woman makes reference to a band that her kids have never heard of dates herself (and that one’s for mom). These incidents of dating and datedness might include the occasional faux pas or flashback, but the central idea’s kind of fascinating: You can tell when something was made, watched, worn, or born by its discrete characteristics.
I think that’s kind of awesome.
Reading books and documents for my history work, I think all the time about “dating” the past–about all the political, social, and pop cultural references contemporaries would have taken for granted but that I’d completely miss if I somehow managed to travel back in time. Reading books and stories for this podunk science fiction blog, I think too how one might “date” the future.
In his novel of the 22nd-century, Tag, author Simon Royle does just that. He transports readers one-hundred-plus years into the future and plonks us down in a world with its own culture, politics, and set of societal givens. When our hero Jonah James Oliver (JJ for short) pulls out his Devstick to punch in his PUI, a 21st-century reader’s as lost as Mark Twain would be surfing the web (although I have a suspicion that Samuel Clemens would have been one badass blogger).
Simon Royle doesn’t burden the reader with excessive exposition–no time traveler, after all, would have an omniscient narrator explaining ever piece of brave new tech. At the same time, we’re not inundated with acronyms to the point of incomprehensibility. Instead, we’re along for the ride, learning through dialogue and plot action what the 22nd-century looks like from the perspective of its denizens rather than third-person exegesis.
Using that element of the unfamiliar to draw the reader into a future world without locking her out is a delicate narrative balance to strike. Science fiction literati call it “world-building,” and Simon Royle is a world-builder par excellence.
Zenon, Girl of the 21st-Century, might not be familiar with the United Nation Personal Unique Identification (PUI) Law of 2073, or the similar “Tag Law” of 2110, but (cetus lapedus!)* she’d have to be a hermit or a history major not to recognize privacy and technology as central themes or conflicts of her own particular slice in time.
*This reference is an example of me dating myself to the 1990s Disney Channel, btdubs.
Royle’s novel Tag is a SF thriller with global conspiracies, shadowy government surveillance units, and all sorts of personal and political drama. But it works because the world-building is so strong: Tag’s technology is fresh enough to be 100-years-new and familiar enough to have roots in today’s.
Tag is available as an ebook on Amazon for $2.99