I’m ready to start my next fiction project, a novel, which I’ve been thinking about for a year. I’d like to address two main ideas. One is the bifurcation of American Society, into reactionary conservatives and experimental progressives, but I don’t want to write a political novel, and it’s not about Republicans and Democrats, and it’s not about rich and poor. It’s about different sets of attitudes toward self and world. One group, the Patriarchs (working name for that group) is dedicated to conservation of traditional values, social privilege, and exploitative capitalism, yet conservative as they are, they are inventively radical in the methods and rationales they use to suppress those who dissent.
The second group, the Farmers, rejects consumerism, embraces community self-sufficiency, and pursues arts and sciences rather than financial gain for its own sake. Most of them also happen to be farmers, but that’s not the important part. By rejecting rabid consumerism, the Farmers incidentally bring about the collapse of the Patriarchal economy in the U.S. The key to the Farmers’ success is education about self and world. They want only what they need, and have the knowledge, self-control, judgment, and intersubjectivity, to understand what supports their health and well-being in the long run.
In that sense, the novel will be utopian, because on this planet, in this era, the requisite education for a successful Farmers community is lacking, for a lot of reasons. Which brings about the second idea, a magic pill. It’s actually not a pill, but a plant and a recipe that produce a food product that at first seems to be a mild euphoriant, like marijuana, but turns out to have far greater (non-toxic) effects on consciousness, more like ayahuasca. It will have whatever magical powers I need to establish the Farmers.
The main conflict of the story will be, what happens when the Farmers discover how to live and prosper without the frenetic consumer society we are accustomed to now? The Patriarchal media, marketing, and retail industries all but collapse when their consumer base radically shrinks, so the Patriarchs act to suppress the magic food substance (called just Magic, right now). What does happen? I don’t know yet, but that’s the struggle and the exploration.
The problem is, I don’t want to write a sociological essay, not even in allegory. I want to write interesting characters that readers will care about. I think I have some of those in mind, but my worry is that development of the ideas will swamp development of the characters. My strategy is to focus intensely on the characters and keep the war of ideas in the background. The characters stumble into that war; they don’t charge into it waving flags. This all might be too much to attempt for a writer of my limited experience.
I considered setting the story in an artificial world, perhaps like Frank Herbert did with Dune, but I’m not much interested in sci-fi or fantasy. Yet I would be creating an artificial world, so why not set it on Planet X? I don’t know, I just don’t want to.
Alternatively, I could closely model the social movement to legalize marijuana, and forget about Magic. I think legalization of marijuana will have profound social and economic effects that won’t be apparent for a couple of generations. But that doesn’t interest me either, because it’s too slow, too ordinary, and anyway, marijuana doesn’t have the magic of Magic. Suppression of short-term memory and critical thinking won’t get you to self-knowledge and community prosperity.
Despite the formidable problems I see, I’m thinking I’ll try it, so I’ve been interviewing my main characters, asking them what they think, believe and want, getting them ready for an outing.