City of Rain is set in North America about 300 years in the future.
Readers will come across a number of things in City of Rain that couldn’t happen in the USA as it exists today. Military action against a US civilian population. Inter-agency co-operation of a kind that today would be utterly illegal. I am not American, but I haven’t misunderstood the laws of the land – I’ve simply assumed that in three centuries, fundamental things will have changed.
A lot can change in three centuries. Just think about what North America looked like 300 years ago! in 1713, it was a colonial battleground. Today, the USA and Canada are two of the most influential countries in the world, and certainly among the richest.
So my starting point in building that future world was to imagine how the geopolitical landscape would change and evolve.
I see in the USA a country on the edge of fracturing, with irreconcilable differences between the political, religious and economic extremes and with a democratic system that is fundamentally unworkable. In imagining how this could change, I took a fairly pessimistic view of how the next century might go.
Already, civil liberties and freedom are being crushed in the ‘war’ against terrorism; what if that gets worse and worse over the decades? Eventually, the constitution and Bill of Rights that the USA is rightly proud of would have to go, or at least be so weakened as to be unrecognisable. You would end up with the kind of ‘democracy’ we see now in what we so-patronisingly call the Developing World: rigged elections, totalitarian rulers backed by a military machine, covered with a veneer of faux-democracy. But such governments cannot last. For years or decades they may endure, but not for centuries. Eventually, people take back their freedom, or conquerors topple the state. Then the country can remake itself as something better and more free, though transition is never easy.
Already, the differences between the Christian Taliban of the USA and those who believe in religious freedom and tolerance are utterly irreconcilable. I see no way for that to end bloodlessly. Those who cite God as their justification for trampling women’s rights, murdering doctors who perform abortions, subjecting children to mental torture in the name of salvation – they won’t be swayed by rationality, morality or humanity, and can’t be helped by education in a culture that glorifies ignorance. In City of Rain I have deliberately (but, I hope, subtlely), portrayed a future society in which atheism is the norm. I did this simply by omitting any mention of religion. No one swears by invoking deity. No one mentions religion at all. In a couple of places ‘Hell’ is used as an oath but I see this as much the same evolution of language as the UK English oath ‘bloody’. ‘Bloody’ as a swear word has nothing to do with blood: it’s a slurring of ‘by Our Lady’…though most people who use it today are unlikely to know it. In the same way, ‘Hell’ as used in my novel carries no connotation of burning pits or sulphur – it’s just a word, the original meaning largely lost.
I envisaged a future history in which these two conflicts – freedom vs totalitarianism-in-the-name-of-security and religious fundamentalism vs rationality and science came to a head at approximately the same time. The USA as it exists today is broken. States leave the Union and create new alliances. There is no second Civil War, but it’s a close thing and the shape of the USA is forever changed. Internationally, she loses influence – internal conflict will do that. But economically, she remains powerful.
And slowly, over decades, a New USA emerges: smaller, still a free society, but with different freedoms and different fundamental values and laws. Destruction creates the opportunity to rebuild, and there were great leaders who, much like the Founding Fathers, managed to do it. Yet it’s still recognisable, I hope.
It doesn’t matter if this is an accurate vision of the future. It’s not meant to be and I certainly hope there’s reason to be more optimistic about the coming century that I have been in my world-building. What matters to the world I’ve created is internal consistency. It’s not entirely a distopian vision: rather, it’s a new world emerged from the ashes of the old – and it’s not so new by the time my story is set, so it’s beginning, once again, to turn dark.
The sequel to City of Rain – yes, there will be one – will look at some of these themes more closely.