Weird Scenes Inside the Gold Mind #086: Speculative Reality

“If I could dig down deep in my heart / Feelings would flood on the page / Would it satisfy ya, would it slide on by ya / Would ya think the boy’s insane? He’s insane / I said I know it’s only rock ‘n roll but I like it” – It’s Only Rock ’n’ Roll, written by Keith Richards and Mick Jagger, 1974.

Back in the hallowed days of nascent hippiedom, our popular culture evolved as young people began to develop a more political worldview. For better and for worse, these sentiments touched upon all aspects of the arts, and the world of science fiction was just sitting there in the center of the target. A lot of great stuff came out of that, material that continues impacting upon society to this day.

People began deploying the term “speculative fiction” to differentiate the contemporary stuff from the traditional space opera, although that epithet was used in similar vein by Robert Heinlein back in 1947. Be that as it may, the concepts associated with speculative fiction go back to the roots of storytelling and was well-deployed by writers such as Euripides and Shakespeare. Out of this movement came many of the 1960s generation of S-F A-listers: Judith Merril, Harlan Ellison, Michael Moorcock, Ursula K. LeGuin, Norman Spinrad, and many, many others.

Of course, such labels never truly work. Using music as my reference point, can you cleanly define the differences between the various forms of American roots music — blues, country, folk, bluegrass, jazz, rock and roll? Really? Then where does Ray Charles fall into that mix? Similarly, there are many labels on the foreheads of the sundry strands of science fiction: fantasy, horror, apocalyptic, post-apocalyptic, horror, blah blah blah. I know. It’s only rock and roll to me.

These days, the term “speculative fiction” has become a warning. Here’s what we know for certain about COVID-19:

1) As of April 29th, it has affected over three and one-quarter million people worldwide — that we know about. If we actually tested people in the United States, that number would be much higher.

2) As of April 29th, COVID-19 has killed over one-quarter million people worldwide in just the past three months. Let’s take a more Chauvinistic look at that number: over 60,000 Americans have died from COVID-19, and the number grows with each passing hour. By comparison, 58,365 Americans died during the entire Vietnam War, but that took us fourteen years, two months and one week.

3) We have a very good idea of how easily this virus spreads. We don’t know everything there is to know about it, but we know enough to say that it spreads quite readily, that all of us are susceptible, and that many of those who have it don’t know they do and thus continue to pass it along to friends, enemies, and health-care workers.

4) We’re working on cures, vaccines (the anti-vaxxers’ moment of truth), and preventive measures, but history has been quite clear all this takes time. Advances can be made quite quickly in some cases, but solutions take time.

5) There is a rapidly-increasing group of fools — the Modern Moron Class — who say we should roll back or even ignore anti-COVID precautions. Some of these people are, quite understandably, stir-crazy. The rest of these people are called “Republicans.”

In an effort to make money for themselves and their supporters, many of those in power have adopted the mindless cliché that “the cure is worse than the disease.” OK. Fine. Tell me what’s worse than death. Because, right now, the one thing that most certainly is worse than death is mindless, rampant, uncontrolled capitalism. Republicans have front seats at the free market space opera.

Are you willing to risk death for yourself and/or your family to buy some toilet paper, a can of Lysol and some Twinkies? If so, please consider using that Lysol in the manner recently suggested by our president.

This is not speculative fiction. Predicting these types of disaster is no longer necessary. These naysayers, these Luddites, these flat-Earthers, these religious goons are, at best, engaging in speculative reality.

As Donald Rumsfeld said, “… as we know, there are known knowns; there are things we know we know. We also know there are known unknowns; that is to say we know there are some things we do not know.”

As Groucho Marx said “You bet your life.”