Building ‘Popinjay’, Part 01: Self-Exceptionalism

(C) 2017 by Larry Michael Garmon Swain
All Rights Reserved
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Because Popinjay takes place two-hundred years from the present, building the world of my main character, Jaden Davjak, has been a tasking, fun, and adventuresome undertaking. My previous fourteen novels required some world building, but not on the scale of Popinjay. Those novels took place in the present and required little novelty.

Popinjay requires I extrapolate from the present to create the setting, the people, the culture, the educational system, the political system, the transportation system et al of the 23rd Century.

To begin the process, I juxtaposed the first quarter of the 19th Century with the first quarter of this century. What wonders have we wrought in two-hundred years! Will 2117 be as removed from 2017 as we are from 1817?

I revisited all the dystopia/totalitarian novels and movies I have seen, read, and taught for the past few decades. I examined the science fiction/specualtive fiction writers of the 19th and early 20th Centuries and compared their foreword eyes with the reality. Some were completely off. Some would be classified as fantasy today. However, a handful came frightfully close to “predicting” the world in which we find ourselves now.

So, what is the difference between the fanciful flights of fancy and the tales that seemed to hold up a futuristic mirror darkly to show us an advanced but frightening synopsis of ourselves and our society?

I read articles by various futurists on what life might be like in fifty, one-hundred, two-hundred years. They all don’t agree.

I discovered tech articles on the advancement in AI technology, on what the Internet will be like, if we’ll still have television, cell phones, streaming entertainment, self-driving cars, be on the Moon or even on Mars.

Then, I just let my imagination loose. What kind of world would I want to be living in fifty years from now? One-hundred? Two-hundred? What changes would I bring about to culture, social, political, intellectual, spiritual realms?

If I were a teenager in the year 2117, what would I want my world to be like?

Of course, what would I want as a teenager is entirely influenced by the society into which I was born, by which I was educated, and for which I will serve as an adult.

None of that really matters much without first acknowledging that my speculative fiction story is NOT a prediction or forecasting of the future. No true speculive fiction is attempting to do so. A speculative fiction story that is more about the advancements of technology than the state of Humanity is little more than a windy infomercial of wonders yet to be, if they are to be at all.

My speculative fiction tale is about what is happening now in our society, our culture, our educational system, our intellectual pursuits, and our spiritual/moral well being. What is happening now in our personal and societal lives will have more of an effect on our world two-hundred years from now than all the advancements in technology. Technology merely reflects and refines the personal and social—it doesn’t create it.

Why? In all the dystopia/apocalyptic/totalitarian tales I’ve read/seen in the past fifty years, one factor shines more brightly than all the blinking buttons and lustrous lights of technology—the indefatigable and undefeatable Human spirit. In each of these tales, that which tries to enslave Humanity is ultimately brought down by the simplest of foes—an innate and inalienable belief that we are to be creative, critical thinkers, self-reliant, and free in body, mind, and spirit.

Even though Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-four ends with Winston Smith being reduced to a brainwashed tool of the state, the real message is that Smith wasn’t the only one who questioned and then attempted to rebel against Big Brother. Freedom is never a solitary idea. If there is one Winston Smith, there stands to reason a second Winston Smith exists, and a third, and a fourth. Therefore, somewhere down the rocky road to freedom there will be a Winston Smith who is not crushed by the oppressiveness of conformity and social slavery.

Popinjay is NOT about gender. Gender is merely the smell of the steak that is sizzling in the background. Popinjay is about one person’s desire to shed the fetters of society, culture, and repressive government. Orwell’s tale used mind numbing routine, the fear of a powerful enemy, starvation, and disinformation to control its people. Vonnegut’s “Harrison Bergeron” was an extrapolation of the “everyone is equal” fallacy and that anyone who is better than you in sports, art, musical talent, intelligence, and even physical beauty is victimizing you–it’s just not fair that someone can do something better or look better than you, is it? So, let’s just make everyone “equal.” The same with Rod Serling’s The Twilight Zone’s “Eye of the Beholder.”

What do strong central governments fear the most: nonconformity, individualism, self reliance, intellectual critical thinking, and actualization of the self. All strong central governments are based on a collectivist philosophy in which an oligarchy decides what is best for the rest of us because we are mere children who must be taken of and “protected” from the big bad forces of self-realization and self-reliance. In these societies, imitation is not suicide; rather, being an “exception” is a death sentence. Remember the hue-and-cry about the anti-global mantra of “American Exceptionalism?” The rest of the world and a few misguided Americans declared that “American Exceptionalism” was an enemy of the Brave New World Order. We Americans are to be like everyone else, no exception.

My MC Jaden Davjek is a product of the society into which they were born, by which they were educated, and for which they will serve as an adult. Gender is never an issue for Jaden. Jaden conforms to the norm as the natural course of their society.

As in all good tales, though, something happens to awaken Jaden, an epiphany moment in which Jaden realizes that the society they loved and had longed to serve is based on alternative facts skewed just enough to create a happy, content, and enslaved populace who prefer security over freedom.

And with this knowledge, Jaden feels neither secure nor free.

LMG Swain

“Building Popinjay, Part 02: Language” will be published on Wednesday, 12 July 2017

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