What do you do if your future is already in the past?

I’ve been rereading my first novel, Forbidden Sanctuary, as it makes its way through the ebookification process.  You’ll like it!  Check out the first chapter!

Forbidden Sanctuary is straight-ahead first-encounter science fiction with a religious twist.  I wrote the novel in the 1980s, but for reasons that are somewhat opaque to me now, I set the action 30 years in the future–around 2003, if I follow the novel’s implicit chronology correctly.  This offers the same challenges I faced with Replica, which is implicitly set in 2024, except that I don’t have the extra 12 years of futureness to play with.  All the action in the novel takes place in the near past, as far as a present-day reader is concerned.  And, of course, I got some things wrong.

Do my failed attempts at futurology matter?  The novel is an artifact, created at a certain time and in a certain place.  You don’t expect science-fiction predictions to be entirely accurate.  Readers understand this.  Why bother tweaking the thing?

Well, for one thing, I’m not completely sure that readers do understand this.  The original publication date is right there on the ebook’s copyright page, but that’s all there is to let people know that this ebook isn’t new–it’s not like you’re buying a paperback with yellowed pages in a musty used bookstore.  I was talking to a really smart guy who had just read the ebook of Senator, and it soon became clear that he thought I had written the book recently, presumably to coincide with the 2012 election.  Er, no.

Anyway, as with Replica, the two major features of modern life that I missed were cell phones and the Internet.  I did have some people with “personal phones” that they flipped open, but I was somewhat inconsistent with them.  For example, I also had FBI agents communicating with each other via something called “telecoms,” which I guess were like super-modern walkie-talkies.  There were also some minor references that no longer work in the world as it actually was in 2003: references to the Soviet Union, for example, and to the never-ending conflict in Northern Ireland.  So I did some tweaking.

The thing that I got right, I think, is the role of the Catholic Church in the 21st century.  I didn’t imagine the sex abuse scandal, of course, but I did imagine a church fighting a rearguard action against modernity–churches closing, vocations plummeting, but still with many people who believed deeply, fervently, in its truths.

Also, the aliens are great!

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