I think it's obvious that there is a causal link between conspiracy theories and science fiction. For example, many of today's conspiracy theories come from the X-Files series, with contamination from the Doctor (Dr. Who) and something from other films, such as Visitors (where the reptilians come from). But that's not the point of my post today. The point is, instead, how to insert references to pop culture into a science fiction book.
It's a problem I faced when I wrote ANNO XIII. And which I have to face again now that I'm writing its sequel, ANNO XIX. The particular problem with these two books is that in addition to being a science fiction story, they are also (by choice) funny books, in the sense that they are "geek porn". But once we've established that it's geek porn, how do we bring inane things from pop culture into a serious plot?
The problem can be summed up like this: while reality does what it wants, science fiction must be realistic.
If we go into detail, in ANNI XIII I used some expedients. For example, I wanted there to be a zombie apocalypse. From this moment on, since it is such clear nonsense, I had to find a way to make it realistic.
The first thing I did was look to see if similar phenomena exist in nature. The answer is that yes, there are several fungi that turn ants into zombies, and some marine animals that enter crabs and do the same thing to them. They take over the nervous system, eat them from the inside out, etc.
I have to say that the call to nature works wonderfully well. When I wanted to make lesbian warriors, I immediately realized that I couldn't draw the same big, bouffant-haired girls from any movie where there are lesbian warriors. Apart from the fact that backcombing one's hair does not make a woman a lesbian, but if we take Xena the warrior as an example, well, in that period she would have had no chance: any male dedicated to war would have been stronger than her.
Clearly, relying on biology allowed me to overcome all these obstacles, and produce everything I needed, as a consequence of a patho-scientific explanation that could pass a first test. Another example, if I want to send a deadly virus somewhere, I can use the usual, old method of the virus escaping from the laboratory (which then becomes a Covid conspiracy theory, but is present in Hollywood), or I can go to nature and choose something.
There are viruses and bacteria that survive millions of years buried in ice. Take a place where there are rocks, like the top of a volcano, let it erupt, let the ice melt and poof, an ancient virus arrives and makes a mess.
Let's be honest: when things happen to people (mutations, societies so different that they seem alien, etc.), resorting to nature as Deus ex Machina is simple and fun.
In this sense, since I put lots of geek porn in the book to make it fun, including a hero who moves and fights like they do in videogames (incredible jumps, crazy aim, superhuman runs, unlikely weapons), nature was the perfect deus ex machina.
I decided, to keep the book on the same fun track, to write ANNO XIX in the same way. Being a novel that people might read before YEAR XIII I had to add some flashbacks, and show a little bit of the current lives of the main protagonists.
But the second problem is that in this version I will insert more conspiracy theories and more geeky memes. First of all there is the Omegaverse (because manga culture is now part of geekdom), then there is Nibiru and UFOs, and even the Matrix has now entered geek culture equally, and so on. There are many new entries.
Here nature doesn't come much to help. It helps a little, to be honest, but not that much. I can put something on it, but not everything. Even in this case, I can make a change. Instead of using the events in the book as a consequence of nature, I can use them as a cause of nature. In this way I can build a space of “explanation” that allows science fiction to be credible.
But it's not just a question of space. It's a question of weakening the defenses that the mind has against unrealistic narratives. What I mean? I mean that when you read a story, or watch something science fiction, there are defenses in your mind that say “oh well, they're exaggerating here”. Think Sharknado. In theory, nothing stops a really strong hurricane from hurling thousands of sharks into a small town.
The problem comes from the fact that things probably wouldn't go that way, and the consequences are also a bit exaggerated. And at that point our mind's defenses say “ok, this is trash”.
We therefore need a narrative that can overcome these filters. This is possible when two things happen:
- the first is that the mystery is revealed little by little
- the second is that the story is already present in the social ether
I know you don't know the concept of social ether. This is a concept I invented when I created the Rapeseed Hoax in the diesel engine.
The social ether is that invisible substance where concepts are dissolved which then become conspiracy theories, or hoaxes. If the social ether is already convinced that it is governed by occult forces, it matters little whether they are those of Qanon or the Elders of Zion, or the cleaning women of Monte Paschi di Siena. If the theory is rational, it will pass the filter simply because it has already passed it long before today.
Glu UFOs conspiring with governments, the existence of other intelligent species on the planet, and all, are already part of the "social ether", and as such it is possible to write without necessarily activating that mental immune system that stops some stories.
I'll give you an example of how the social ether works. When they arrested Craxi, no one was surprised. It was said that "everyone knew it", or that "everyone said it". If we dig for a moment, we doubt that everyone knew the things written in the Mani Pulite prosecution documents. But it doesn't matter whether everyone really knew them or whether everyone really said it:
the social ether is a place that produces a familiarity with a given concept. If tomorrow the videos of Laura Boldrini surfaced in a private club, while she was having fun with some black men, everyone would say "but everyone knew it", and "everyone said it". In reality, no one says it and no one really knows, but the social ether is composed of a prior familiarity with certain patterns. Nothing would change if it were Bolrdini or Schlein or Boschi, because the concept with which the social ether is familiar is "white woman" -> "loves people of color" -> "size matters". Thanks to pornography, and many other political factors.
When I created the story of rapeseed being good for diesel engines, it went over very well because in the social ether there was already familiarity with the concept that excise duties were theft, and that the distributors' monopoly on sales of diesel fuels was some kind of conspiracy: “THEY make you buy diesel, but THEY don't want you to know that you could use rapeseed oil.”
the social ether is the para-physical place in which every society deposits the most underground familiarities, towards cognitive structures that are not yet known as news. When the news appears, if the cognitive structure applies, then “everyone knew it” and “everyone said it”.
These cognitive structures can come out as conspiracy theories, or as news. For example, the American social ether already contained the structure that US leftist elites did dirty things to children, for dark purposes.
This first emerged as the Pizzagate scandal, but when Epstein was arrested and people started to notice that there was actually something like this, the Pizzagate believers said “we told you so”. But there was nothing in common between Pizzagate and the Epstein story, except the structure: "the elites of the US left did dirty things to minors, for dark purposes (to increase Epstein's power, essentially) ”.
What happens if you take existing structures in the social ether and make a science fiction book about them? Well, obviously these are things that easily pass the filters of the rational mind: they are things that "everyone knew" and that "everyone said".
You haven't said anything new, they'll tell you, so we're not shocked.
Certain. And this is why the science fiction book appears credible.
Let's be clear, there's a lot in there. In the social ether there are vampires, beings who feed on your life, there are reptilians (beings who live among us without being human), witches (women who produce terrible effects on the surrounding reality), etc. etc.
So yes, it is generally possible to insert conspiracy theories into your science fiction book, simply by taking care to fish them out of the social ether, and present them either as an effect or as a cause of the nature we know. Or that we don't know yet.