Top 5 Things I Want to See in Future Fiction

Everyone has their own preference for the kind of entertainment they like best, whether it’s watching giant robots slug it out in anime, falling in love with the male lead in a romantic comedy, enjoying some Shakespearean revival, or losing yourself in a world of flashing lights and dubstep. We know what we like and what we’d probably enjoy seeing in the future.

That being said, here are the top 5 things that I’d love see in the future in fiction, whether they’re in a book, TV show, movie, or video game.

5. Genuine Cyberpunk

I’m sure some of my readers will get sick of me harping on about cyberpunk, but to be fair, that’s only because reading Neuromancer had such an impact on me years ago. Still, there is something about the increasing integration of human beings and technology that fascinates the hell out of me. And it’s not as unusual as you’d think. How many of us don’t think of our smartphone as an extension of our brains?

However, most science fiction will find ways of keeping us separate from our technology. We’ll have cooler cars and faster download times, but our visions of the future don’t seem to allow for full-body medical sensor networks or a kind of electronic telepathy achieved through brain implants. Yet many engineers will tell you we’re already moving in that direction, so it baffles me that we’re not telling more of those stories.

Good Example(s) to Consider: Ghost in the Shell (movie and TV show sequels)

4. A More Serious Look at Religion

Historically, religion was a common theme throughout literature and plays, but in mainstream media, it’s more of an afterthought. When it does get mentioned, the use of religion tends to fall into one of three areas:

a) Faith is portrayed as a cheap excuse for vile behavior by fanatics, corrupt clergy, and fringe lunatics

b) A protagonist touches on a struggle with faith or a religious background, but it’s usually forgotten in favor of the story’s actual conflict

c) Religion is explored in inspirational literature, which often follows the inevitable plot of a non-believing protagonist coming to accept Jesus Christ as his personal savior and becoming a Biblical literalist out of nowhere

Unfortunately, we know a lot about the anti-science creed of many devout people thanks to popular media. As a science-friendly Christian, I’d like to see more sympathetic views of religion in fiction, whether it’s someone whose faith informs their morality as a detective or who takes time to help out at a soup kitchen when the bullets aren’t flying. It’d be nice if people of faith weren’t automatically treated as backward-thinking and hostile just because we haven’t let go of our sense of mythology.

Good Example(s) to Consider: “Arrow of Time” (Numb3rs episode), “Two Cathedrals” (The West Wing episode)

3. Mythology Meets the Modern Day

Ask most people and they’ll tell you all the cliches about vampires, werewolves, and leprechauns. And to be fair, a lot of what we know about these mythological creatures has been watered down from the original legends. We’ve had famous creatures redesigned for popular consumption, but I think there’s a whole mountain of myths that we haven’t tapped yet.

I guess what I’m aiming at is to see more mythology explored in modern-day fiction, much like urban fantasy usually does. We know about the sexy Anne Rice vampires, but what about the bloated corpses of Romanian folklore? Or how about the headless horseman known as the dullahan? Or the Sidhe? Or the Cat Sìth? Any research into their folklore will yield a thousand new ideas for storytelling, especially if we want to see how these monsters and mischievous spirits can adapt to life in the big city.

Good Example(s) to Consider: The phouka and fairies in War for the Oaks, the Guides in Gunnerkrigg Court, Celty from Durarara!!

2. A Genuine Latino Protagonist

You’d think that, being in Southern California, Hollywood would have no shortage of quality Latino and Latina actors, yet the majority of leading roles are mostly given over to ethnically white actors. I don’t necessarily judge a film or TV show by the race of the lead role, but I do judge them by the portrayal of certain Latin stereotypes, whether it’s gang bangers, drug smugglers, farm laborers, or the occasional sassy Latina secretary.

Much like how the inclusion of African- and Asian-Americans in lead roles meant seeing African- and Asian-Americans as mainstream, the same standard should apply to people of Latino descent. Unfortunately, most Latino protagonists only show up in stories about Mexico or early 19th-century California. It’d be nice to see someone look at Latino culture and make an effort to create a well-rounded lead character based on that instead of reinforcing more stereotypes. After all, we’ve proven it’s possible to reinvent a stock British character like Dr. Watson using Asian actress Lucy Liu in Elementary.

Good Example(s) to Consider: Matt Santos (played by Jimmy Smits) in The West Wing

1. More Female Lead Characters

I’ve touched on this matter in another editorial I did on gender writing, but the point remains the same: I find certain female protagonists more interesting than some the cliche male ones we keep getting. When I’m watching The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, I get more interested in the struggles that Lisbeth Salander faces instead of identifying with the aging journalist Mikael. I’d rather follow Chell from Portal than John-117 from Halo (a blasphemy in the gaming world, I know). Even in Shakespeare’s The Merchant of Venice, it’s the women who get more interesting and active storylines, while the men sit around and whine.

Of course, there’s always that double standard about female protagonists. We allow male leads to range from dashing and handsome to overweight and quirky, but any female lead has to be good-looking and fit. We demand a sex symbol more than a human being in that regard. If we’re going to make any progress, then we need to look beyond the superficial and get down to why this protagonist is interesting and why we should be following her story in the first place.

In other words, what we demand from every protagonist ever.

Good Example(s) to Consider: Kim Ross in Dresden Codak, Annie and Kat in Gunnerkrigg Court

I don’t consider these attributes set in stone. The thing about finding something new to enjoy in a story is that it’s always unexpected. There’s no guarantee that I really would like, say, a live-action cyberpunk film with a religious subplot and a Latina vampire hunter (though, come on, how awesome would that be?). But seeing Hollywood and network TV and big game developers take a chance on these storylines would certainly draw my attention, if not my enthusiasm.

If my readers have their own ideas about characters or stories they’d like to see more of, feel free to talk about it in the comments below. Your participation is, as ever, most appreciated.

Humanism and Writing for the Opposite Gender

Speaking philosophically, I guess I would have to label myself as “Catholic existentialist humanist.” Essentially, though I have a foundation in Christian faith, my worldview is based on a perspective of ultimate free will and the flourishing of human existence in this world as we know it.

In laymen’s terms? This, right now, as far as we know, is all we got, so we’d better make the most of it.

Now if someone were to ask me if I’m a feminist, I’d hesitate. Not because I disagree with feminism (far from it!), but because the notion of gender is a very tricky one to discuss. Especially when you consider the fact that I’m a straight cisgendered male (the only thing missing from that privileged description is “white,” which I’m not, being of Mexican and Irish descent). Nonetheless, there is an issue about gender that I am willing to discuss and that’s how to write for the opposite gender.

Now if I were an academic, I’m sure I could give you a long dissertation on sexual politics and heteronormativity, but I’m a writer who learned more by years of trial-and-error than from any workshop or classroom. Rather than get into theory, all I can offer is my personal experience on gender writing.

I write more about women than I do about men. Why? Because men just aren’t that interesting—at least, not when I write them.

A survey of the majority of my male protagonists are virtually the same grim, quiet, dark-haired badasses and geeks, who are just carefully shaded and aged versions of myself. It’s the women who get better treatment in my stories. They’re allowed to flourish and take on new forms: office managers, scientists, manipulators, soldiers, spies, thieves, princesses, engineers, and the occasional lousy roommate. They get personality. They get to have adventures. They’re allowed to have heartbreak, betrayal, corruption, and the hope of redemption. All my male characters ever get is a grim satisfaction at a job well done and then they kick back somewhere.

The women in my stories actually build something of merit, whether it’s keeping a boutique in business or putting an end to an international crime ring. My men are just tools to carry a story forward and then it’s back to the sofa once they’re done. That may sound odd, but it’s true. I’ve noticed that, when I finish a story with a happy ending for the male protagonists, the end is something like, “Well, that’s done. Who’s up for another beer?” For my female characters, it’s more about “That was hard, but we did it. We’ve ensured that [Insert Plot Point Here] was a success. Good job, everyone.”

What does that say about me? What does that say about society? To be honest, I haven’t a clue. I suppose one could argue I’ve got some internal hangup that prevents me from writing a male character more effectively or that I have some unconscious identification with femininity. I do know that it is possible to write for the opposite gender once you let gender out of your white-knuckled grip and start thinking of your characters as human beings. Let them live and your story shall thrive. Make it less about “The Strong Female Character” and more about “Jane, who’s trying to be an ordinary high school teacher while also saving the world every day in secret.” Make it less about “The Male Lead” and more about “Bob, who has to relearn human empathy after an auto accident leaves him requiring extensive cybernetic implants.”

In other words, make it less about the physical or mental attributes and more about what they’re up against. You know a character (or any person, for that matter) by what they fight. Once you forget about their archetypes and gender roles, this dramatic situation is all they’ve got, so they’ll have to make the most of it if you want a genuine story to emerge.