The United States of America has always had a high opinion of itself: Pinnacle of Democracy; Land of the Free, Home of the Brave; Torch of Liberty; Melting Pot… yada yada yada. But in the last few years, and especially thanks to our recent elections, the nation’s shine has begun to show a deep, dark tarnish… one that, it’s now clear to most of the country, will require quite a bit of scrubbing to clean.
When I published Worldfarm One, years ago, it seemed to most of my readers (primarily Americans) as inconceivable that we could ever be living in a world where the United States of America and its citizens could be seen by the rest of the world as in decline, morally corrupt, undesired, the very “wretched refuse” that America used to invite to its shores to be uplifted. And as unlikely as readers thought that was, the concept of a United Nations organization that was considered efficient, in charge and acting to improve the entire world seemed downright insane.
But today, many Americans see their country in a very different light. The reality of the nepotist, cronyist, incompetent Trump administration, with its active disdain for the lower and middle class, women, the disadvantaged, the different, the environment, the economy and job markets, immigrants, and everything accomplished by Barack Obama (apparently just because he wasn’t born white), along with the complicity of the rest of Republicans in government, leave many Americans seeing a distinct decline in the spirit, effectiveness and prosperity of the United States. As well, many world leaders and their peoples no longer look to the United States for spiritual, moral or even practical leadership in world-impacting matters.
In this light, it is perhaps easier to imagine a United States that is considered by others to be the black sheep of nations, a nation of ignorant, intolerant and corrupt leaders, and the equally ignorant, intolerant and corrupt citizens who voted them in. And if we don’t pull ourselves out of the powerslide we seem to be creating for ourselves, we could be seen as an entire nation of idiots, slackers, anarchists, better off ignored and avoided.
Worldfarm One described such an America, a country that the rest of the world looked down upon as an anarchic bully finally brought down by the weight of its own waste, and which many of its citizens wanted to escape rather than endure. The main character, Keith Maryland, was a man who knew he had no future in the United States, and so he falsified his past enough to escape the U.S. and take a job at a United Nations-run megafarm in Brazil (just as a friend of his similarly escaped to a farm in Africa). Unfortunately, the stigma of being an immigrant from los Estados followed him, leading to discrimination and harassment simply because of his home country.
Yes, Keith’s journey was intended to recall the struggles that many immigrants to America’s shores have had to endure: The declining living situation in their homeland; the denigration and discrimination, the distrust and persecution directed at him, through no fault of their own; and their honest efforts to overcome them, survive and eventually prosper.
Predictably, the complaints I heard from some readers reflected the sense of pride American citizens have for their home, often accompanied by a complete and intentional blindness for that country’s faults. You might expect this from a fan of, say, Duck Dynasty… but not from someone who reads science fiction and has a more open mind to the possibilities of the future and the realities of the world around them.
(On the other hand, I’m also aware of the… let’s say “closed mindset” of some SF readers who don’t seem to enjoy tropes or premises outside of their expected parameters. If they were expecting one kind of story, and this one let them down, their reactions aren’t surprising.)
But I also have to admit that a big part of the fault is my own: I wasn’t a good enough writer to make clear the reality of life in my future United States. It wasn’t supposed to be a significant part of the story, but maybe for understanding’s sake, it needs more detail about the American decline and American life.
Until I get around to revising the content of that book, therefore, I hope my readers will stop and take another look around at their reality… and realize there may be more variations on America’s future than they may have considered.