At some point every critic has to turn the criticism around and point it back at themselves, if only for the sake of fairness. So here we go.
For a long time now, I've been guilty of a sin that I would be only too happy to charge others with committing: creating stories where All Creation Hangs In The Balance, again and again.
Why is this even a problem? one might ask. A story can be about anydamnthing we want, so why not this? Well, it's a problem when that becomes the table stakes, as it were, for whether or not a story is interesting. If it's only interesting when everything we know of is endangered, then maybe that's not a sign of true imagination at work.
I'm saying this as someone smack in the middle of yet another story where something along those lines unfolds. I'm not happy about it, because that's the corner I tend to paint myself into with any story that has a remotely fantastic flavor to it.
When you get down to it, every story of consequence is about someone's world coming to an end. And to the one in question, that might as well be the end of the world for everyone else, too, if they have no way to see more widely. Perhaps the story ends with them realizing their viewing equipment was inadequate, rather than the world ending per se. They only thought everything was ending; all that was ending was the use of their blinkers.
But it's easy to raise the stakes until they hit End Of The World. And the more you do it, the harder it is to find story stakes that aren't apocalyptic. Maybe right now, in These Troubled Times, it's only the natural thing to find perspective through and solace in stories where the stakes are that high. Anything less than that feels like a frippery. But if it comes at the cost of producing an inferior story, it isn't a wise impulse to follow.
One of the critiques I encountered of the TV show 24 — apart from it being reactionary jingoistic Tom Clancy trash — was this: If you threaten to blow up the entire Eastern Seaboard once, that has impact. If you threaten to do it again and again and again, it stops becoming a palpable menace and starts becoming merely silly. It becomes The TV Show That Cried Wolf. This issue, I fear, does not confine itself to a TV series; it might well infect an entire genre, or a whole generation of writing. Or, certainly, a single author's sustained output.
I'm still going to finish what I have for the current book and stick with the plan I originally devised for it, apocalypse 'n all, because it's not a bad plan apart from that. But I need to find more room for things that are not about the end of the world as we know it.
New York City
Other Lives Of The Mind