David has been gone over 5 years now, and on this first day of 2021 I can’t help thinking what he would have made of the time since his passing. We’ve had the omnishambles of Brexit, the rise of a functionally illiterate far-Right president in the United States, the founding of a space force, a global pandemic, not to mention the first commercially funded manned space flight, the re-emergence of long-frozen life forms as the permafrost thaws (some of whom weren’t that dead as it turns out), and fantastic advances in computing, molecular engineering and cybertechnology.
Personally, I think he’d have loved it. He was always forward-looking, seeing trends in culture, science and technology, and realising before anyone what the implications of those trends might be. He wasn’t a scientist, or even particularly technically-minded, but he had a knack for understanding how new ideas would fit into the world, and how they would change it. More, he had a firm grasp of human nature, both the good and the bad, and knew how people would exploit new technologies. Like me, he tended to look on the bleaker side when prognosticating, and like me he was sadly very rarely proven wrong.
When a New Year arrived, David and I would often have one of those long, involved telephone calls I so miss. Him steaming in the bath, me pacing in circles around my library. We’d talk about what we saw coming for the year ahead. I tended to focus on science and technology, he tended to focus on people, but together we usually managed to come up with a pretty accurate view of the immediate future. Since he passed, it sometimes feels to me like the future no longer exists in anything but the most abstract of senses.
Looking back over the last year, I think David would have struggled with the isolation, at least to start with. He was very much a people person – you only had to see the hundreds of people who turned up for his funeral to realise that – and enforced social distancing would have been a serious blow. He’d have adapted quickly enough though, and the idea of communication through video calls would have tickled that part of him that grew up watching 70’s and 80’s TV sci-fi. His extra-ordinary drive to write would have, I think, seen him blossom creatively in lockdown. At the very least we’d have a new novel and some short stories to enjoy. The news would have been a gift to him; the headlines grist to the mill of endless invention that was his creativity.
It seems strange to talk about a future in which David plays no active role. In ending his life the way he did, he chose to forever became part of the past, one that grows more distant every day. And yet his ideas and his unique way of looking at the world go on, in his friends, loved ones and readers. In my own writing, when I run up against a block or a particularly stubborn scene, I often challenge myself to look at it the way David would. I do this in my life too, though not as often as I should. It’s especially useful when there’s something I’m afraid of doing, or something I’m not sure of. What would David do? More often than not he’d jump in with both feet and laugh like a maniac while doing so.
One thing he and I occasionally butted heads over was the dating of his Yellow Dawn future history. He wanted to have specific years when his stories took place, whereas I didn’t think it was a good idea. Even the best stories get a little weird when the present catches up with them – just look at Blade Runner. Still, I can’t help smiling at the irony of the way the world has changed over the last year, when looked at through the lens of his fiction. True, we don’t have dead cities filled with zombies, nor do we have a two-tiered system of society, with the rich and technologically advanced secure in orbital habitats while the rest of us scrabble for survival on the ground, but we might as well have. Lockdown turned even the busiest of our cities into eerily empty mausoleums, and the vast gap between the super-rich and the rest of us is so vast they could well be living in orbit.
Perhaps, even now, the wheels are in motion among the wealthy and the mad, to create the beginnings of a Yellow Dawn.