I don’t often enjoy meta fiction. Sometimes it’s because I don’t have all of the outside connections, so it goes over my head. That’s the risk with inside (or, in this case, outside) jokes. A good piece of meta fiction should be strengthened by outside knowledge, but it should still be an amusing tale for anyone who doesn’t know what’s going on.
I feel like Does Earth have a Future? by Andrew E. Love, Jr. in Daily Science Fiction managed to do this quite well.
On the surface, it’s a story about whether a genre of fiction will last during changing times, except that genre happens to be “Earth Fiction” — everything written about Earth. This is amusing and easy for people to understand. Oh! How funny to imagine that our entire existence is the fiction of another planet. Even without any overarching meta-themes, it gives that weird, slippery feel that gets the reader questioning reality. So, we’re starting out well.
Understanding the Author Perspective
YA is dead. Vampire novels are dead. NA never lived.
I’m honestly not sure how much this happens among readers, but I am guessing not quite as much as it happens with writers. Almost any given day, I can find someone shouting on twitter that such-and-such a genre is “dead.”
Now what does dead actually mean? Because it seems an awful lot of these dead-genres have come back as successful zombies. Usually this is talked about in terms of readership and the ability to sell a story. Valid. It’s difficult to sell last season’s styles, and genres tend to have their own calendar when it comes to seasons.
But genres don’t really die. They go dormant. Eventually, society cycles back to them.
What’s the Voynich Manuscript?
The ending paragraph lands well, whether or not you know what the Voynich manuscript is. The story is complete just thinking that there is one being writing about their normal life as opposed to this weird Earth-verse. But the story is just meta enough for a reader who doesn’t even know what the Voynich Manuscript is to assume it is probably something in Real Earth History.
Me? I actually had to go look it up. Which brings me to another reason why this story is good: it’s rare for me to be interested enough to look something up outside of the story.
It turns out it’s a mysterious manuscript written in the fifteenth or sixteenth century, named after the Polish book collector who “discovered” it. There are many theories about what it could be, but it has never been translated (or deciphered).
Bringing a fictional story about the real world being fiction around to a mysterious manuscript that we just can’t read is pretty brilliant.
But this story isn’t just cleverly told. It also hits at the right time. Currently, so many people are afraid for the future of Earth. Or at least of humanity on Earth. Even before the Covid-19 issues, it’s been clear that humanity is in the middle of a crisis, wondering if there will be a future and what that future will look like. I think this story hits particularly well when we all want to ask: Has Earth Genre Been Cancelled?
The story begins with:
The shared background for fiction called “Earth” is exhausted. All the good ideas and far too many of the bad ones have used up all the originality that the concept once had, and I see no hope for anyone to write a new story on “Earth” that is both good and genuinely original. If authors and readers face up to this, we can take literature into new and more productive areas; if not, we’re doomed to tedious rehashings of scandals, wars, and ever-more-ghastly crimes.Andrew E. Love, Jr. Does Earth Have a Future?
Taken out of the story, this sums up the state of the world. We’ve done so many wonderful and awful things over and over again. If we don’t evolve — try new things — then, there might not be a future for Earth.