As a science fiction author I hate being wrong. When I found out that time dilation in my story "The Old Equations" was incorrect, I spent hours working with astrophysicist Mike Brotherton to rewrite it and fix it. This aversion goes beyond basic mistakes on science, it goes toward predicting the future, as well. If there is one thing science fiction writers pride themselves on, it's extrapolating a future that may come to pass.
This past year I predicted a future, and I was dead wrong. The thing is, I'm incredibly happy I was wrong.
The story I screwed up was in Hugh Howey and John Joseph Adams' Apocalypse Triptych. When I was asked to take part in the anthologies I knew I wanted to write stories in the world I had first posited in "Biographical Fragments of the Life of Julian Prince," a world where an asteroid is going to impact North America and there is a lottery (the "expatriation lottery") to decide who gets to leave. The combination of certain death, bureaucracy, and people trying to live amidst it all was rife with possibility.
The thing is that the stories are set in the near future. The asteroid was easy. It may or may not happen. It's pure chance. However, in a near future America, I also had to predict how things would be different politically and culturally, and that was where I got it wrong.
"Wedding Day"—my story in The End is Nigh—centered around a heartbreaking concept: A lesbian couple wants to get married in Texas in the midst of the expatriation lottery. Of course they want to survive—and survival is a key part of their story—but they also want to face their future, whatever it may be, as a married couple. It is such a simple wish, one that many who love each other can understand.
The story takes place almost 15 years in the future, and thus I had to speculate about that very specific cultural element: Would marriage equality still be illegal in Texas? To make the story work, it had to be illegal. As I mentioned, I don't like being wrong, so I wasn't about to just assume that whether this would be true or not didn't matter.
I discussed the concept with a constitutional lawyer friend who lives in Texas. I talked it over with lawyer friends with experience in federal law. The consensus was the following: While it was unlikely that marriage equality would still be illegal in Texas in 2028, it was distinctly possible.
Knowing it was a realistic possibility I wrote the story, and it was published.
Last week, a lesbian couple was married in Fort Worth, Texas, in a hardship case. And with that one marriage my entire story falls apart. While the marriage was an exception, the progress in the past year and the fact that the marriage took place at all make it abundantly clear that marriage equality will be the law of the land at least a decade before my story predicts it to still be in effect.
Remember I said I hate being wrong? Not in this case. I am deliriously happy that my cultural speculative element didn't remain speculative for even 18 months. In fact, it is possible that someone reading my story today will find it dated, even quaint. Heck, they may laugh at my lack of foresight.
I screwed up. Love will prevail and marriage equality will be here years and years before I predicted.
That makes me a failed science fiction writer but a happy human being.
Jake Kerr is a multiple-award nominated author of speculative fiction. His debut fantasy novel set during World War 2, Tommy Black and the Staff of Light, is out now.