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How will Covid-19 change fiction?

Discussion in 'Writing Discussions' started by Ban, Apr 2, 2020.

  1. Ban

    Ban Sir Laserface Article Team

    In this edition of: "Let's all be wrong," I would like everyone to pitch in on the trends and changes the ongoing worldwide pandemic could potentially cause in the world of fiction. Obviously none of us know the future, not unless someone knows a friendly, divine being willing to make me an oracle (pm me), so just let your mind wander and let's all be proven wrong in the near future.

    My answer would be that covid-19 will lead to a quiet but noticable surge in more contemplative fiction. With more people being awakened to how quickly what they take for granted can crumble or fall, as well as being forced to live more time alone with themselves and their own thoughts, I can imagine stories focusing on more 'heady' characters could grow in popularity. Of course it's also possible that the exact opposite would happen as a form of escapism.

    Big brawns smash big brain, raaah!!
  2. Prince of Spires

    Prince of Spires Inkling

    I'm a bit cynical of all the "Everything will be different after this" headlines. Sounds a lot like how everything would be different after 2008 and then things returned to normal, the next big thing (or rather, small thing, like who won some local sports competition) came along and people forgot about it all and everything ended up the same as it always was...

    Having said that, I can imagine a rise in thrillers depicting a world disrupting event as a major plot-point. Either as a starting point or as the goal. After all, there already are plenty of conspiracy theories floating around about who created the virus and why and who was lying about it. It's not much of a stretch to turn that into a story. And there's already a blue-print of how it spreads and what the consequences and reactions are.
    Xitra_Blud and Yora like this.
  3. Insolent Lad

    Insolent Lad Maester

    We could look at how other 'big' events have changed things, the world wars, the Spanish Flu. The Black Death for that matter and its many aftermaths. I don't think we'll have a 'lost generation' as a century ago (which probably had more to do with cultural changes that would have come anyway). People will think about the epidemic for a while, some will incorporate ideas from it into their work, and things will go on, for the most part. That is, if it follows the course now expected. All sorts of wild cards might be turned over in the next few months and change everything.

    On a tangent, my mainstreamish adventure novel coming out in June (and written well before the CV showed up) touches on the Spanish Flu pandemic, being set in 1919 and 1920. I suspect some will think I was attempting to cash in (hey, I might make three or four dollars off it) on the current crisis!
  4. Riva

    Riva Minstrel

    More zombie-related stuff, just to take a breath of fresh air :rolleyes:

    No but really, this is the closest thing we got to a zombie aoutbreak. We might see a new spike in popularity of the genre, which was very in vougue a couple of years ago (see all the movies and survival games).
    Provided that people aren't just fed up with that :p
  5. Yora

    Yora Maester

    I don't see a zombie comeback. We're still at the tail end of the last zombie hype. And more importantly, zombies aren't really about disease. Zombies are about riots. Most zombie-fiction isn't even about zombies, but about normal humans in a depopulated wild west with no social order. That zombies are often explained as some kind of infection is only coincidental. Zombies themselves don't really reflect any of the aspects of living with disease.

    If anything, I would expect some movies and books about masses of people being worried about something they can not see, and frustrated about not being able to do anything or having any expectations what the future looks like.
    It's not exactly "thrilling entertainment", though. Wouldn't be surprised if not much comes out of it at all.

    That makes sense. Something like nuclear or chemical weapons destroying the ozone layer, forcing people to not go outside during the day. Or a nuclear weapon or solar flare destroying the communications grid.

    Commercial infrastructure is the thing that is potentially under threat for long lasting impacts. People might see a need for more redundancy and stockpiling of supplies, with a greater distrust in just-in-time economy. This can shake up industries, but the impact on the population will mostly be in how it affects wages and product prices. With global economies more or less going from one recession to the next for much of the 21st centuries, that probably will not feel meaningfully different.
    I doubt that there will be meaningful impacts on public life. Huge sport events and concerts, as well as bars and restaurants will quickly resume to their previous form. People will assume it's a once in a century event and only in rare cases of mental illness will people feel large crowds as health risks.
    Last edited: Apr 2, 2020
    Ban likes this.
  6. oenanthe

    oenanthe Minstrel

    god I am so tired of zombies.

    I'm worried about the ecosystem of books, honestly. I am hoping that indie bookstores will come out stronger than ever as people turn away from the zon. but I think it might create an even bigger market for ebooks because of the desire for instant gratification is probably more powerful than the extra steps needed to support a local business.
    Taniwha likes this.
  7. MauEvig

    MauEvig Scribe

    Well as I mentioned in another thread, it did inspire a more science fiction type idea involving a post apocalyptic scenario where 90% of the world's population was wiped out by a virus, and the other 10% are trying to find ways to survive. I imagine the scenario being similar to the game fall out, except there wouldn't be as many damaged buildings or radiation to worry about.

    Yeah I can definitely see a spike in popularity of zombie apocalyptic stories or post apocalyptic stories in general.

    But considering it'll spike more of an interest in Science fiction, I wonder how it could potentially inspire other genres like Fantasy?
  8. skip.knox

    skip.knox toujours gai, archie Moderator

    Whatever will be the change in tone, we don't see it coming. That's been the case in previous changes. And the change will be perfectly obvious in hindsight.

    For myself, I don't feel any sea change taking place, but it's early days. Maybe after living in a society where personal interactions are different from what I've known all my life, where 20% unemployment is the norm, where economic dislocation becomes chronic, maybe check back with me after a few years of that.
  9. A. E. Lowan

    A. E. Lowan Forum Mom Leadership

    I know that the Black Plague had a dramatic impact on the arts. The Decameron (basically a story about rich people fleeing the plague and telling each other stories) was written as a direct result, and the artwork from the period is positively chilling. Death becomes a major character and theme in much artwork. These changes would reverberate through subsequent plagues through the centuries.

    Note I said subsequent. This is, of course, not our first plague, nor will it be our last. I say take what inspiration from it as you will and carry on. This, too, shall pass.
  10. I imagine it could give a whole lot more of post apocalyptic, virus induced stories a bit more realism. :) By that, I mean, the 24/7 news cycle and podcasts has allowed former of the individual human stories to be told. Just reading several first hand accounts from people who have had the virus or whose entire family has, they vary greatly. Which, if it were in a story, I would find far more interesting than the "everyone who gets it dies" variety.

    And I think it's even odds that at least one future story will begin with the line,

    The madness began with the toilet paper. . .
  11. skip.knox

    skip.knox toujours gai, archie Moderator

    A.E Lowan mentions the danse macabre. That's an interesting topic that might have relevance to the initial question. It's absolutely true that we get literature that addresses the plague--not the Decameron only but also Canterbury Tales. The change is even more dramatic in the visual arts, with some truly horrifying representations.

    But the timing is significant. Chaucer is late 1300s. The Decameron is closer, written in the 1350s. The visual arts come later, with the early ones being at the beginning of the 1400s. Though medieval art had its dark side even before the plague, there's an outright fad in the early 1400s.

    The first outbreak of the medieval Black Death is 1347. It ran across Europe for the next five years, but in any one town or village it lasted only for several months. So, historians have asked, why do we not get the danse macabre until fifty or so years later? The usual reply is, because there wasn't just one plague. It returned in 1362, the so-called Children's Plague, and thereafter every generation saw an outbreak, though never as a Europe-wide pandemic.

    So it wasn't just the one event. It was an accumulation of death, despair, dislocation. Many towns in Europe did not reach their pre-plague populations until the 1500s. That's a century and a half of consequences.

    It's too soon to say what we are seeing now. I'm uncomfortably aware that we seem to be getting new, deadly viruses far more often in the past decade or two than we did in the previous century or two, but that's a conclusion that begs for statistics. If it's just Covid-19, then there will be tragedy and loss, then a period of (slow) recovery. If it's more than that, then ... well, it will be more than that in the consequences as well. Then perhaps we'll see that reflected in literature.
    A. E. Lowan likes this.
  12. Ban

    Ban Sir Laserface Article Team

    I feel we are a bit too focused on the virus itself. Certainly it's devastating, but what is truly unique is how people all over the planet are self-isolating, being quarantined and how public life has largely ceased. That is to me the uniqueness of our modern times. The pandemic can happen time and again, but (I hope) the sheer novelty of isolation to this extent is something in a league of its own. Half a year ago people would think you'd gone mad if you told them exactly, word for word, what is being reported daily. People self-isolating en masse.. for the safety of others not themselves no less? Worldwide travel being floored in the age of globalisation? People begging their governments to limit their freedom in the age of no one having trust in their governments? Practically all mass events worldwide cancelled? I feel as if we're underestimating how alien things are. The human mind is quite the flexible thing at the very least.

    I'm also with Yora on the topic of zombies, because besides the presence of a virus there is nothing similar to the ways in which we react to covid19 and how people in zombie fiction react to their viruses.
    Night Gardener likes this.
  13. Taniwha

    Taniwha Scribe

    TBH I have wondered if there could be issues with the publishing of anything apocalyptic in nature. Gawd I sound like a conspiracist! But, even at this point in time censorship is happening through many forms of media and I wonder where that will lead. No gov wants citizens - who have alot of time on their hands - to be reading / contemplating 'independence, overthrowing, removing themselves from the commercial system etc etc '
  14. Yora

    Yora Maester

    The Black Death is really on a completely different scale, literally by orders of magnitude.

    A recent worst case projection if everything goes wrong and infection rates are very high, estimated that up to 0.6% of the US population could die. For the Black Death, many areas in Europe lost 30 to 60% of their population. 50 to 100 times higher. In reality, the Black Death probably was 200 to 300 times more deadlier than what we are dealing with now.
    Since younger people tend to be generally quite resilient to the disease, impacts on the labor force will quite limited and recover fairly quickly. During the Black Death it hit everyone and the available labor force would often be cut down to one half or one third of what it used to be.

    The Spanish Flu killed about 3% of the world population. That would still be 5 times higher than the worst case projections we have now, and probably more like 10 to 20 times higher than what we'll actually get. And that disease hit young people particularly hard. Yet we hear very little of how that impacted society and history in the big picture. Though admittedly it follows right at the tail end of World War 1, which casts a much bigger shadow and makes it hard to tell what social developments can be attributed to either event. I feel like the Spanish Flu has returned to public consciousness only in the last 15-20 years or so. Before that few people seem to have ever heard of it.

    And now for something that sounds weird whichever way I can think of putting it:
    I think generally speaking, writers are not the kind of people who are finding their lives particularly upended these days. And writers are the people who make the stories not just for books but also movies, TV, and videogames. For many there might be personal stories of losing family or a friend, and the quarantine conditions in many hospitals likely will make these losses feel different and more unsettling than at other times. But when you compare different groups of people by how much isolation emotionally gets to them, I think writers will overall be among those who will be coping with it best.
    Which is why I think the overall impact on narrative media over the coming decade or so will be comparatively limited. Maybe there will be some commericial cash grabs sensing an opportunity for a quick buck, but I don't expect much of a literary discourse among creative artists about working through their emotional burdens. Nothing like what we had after the World Wars or the Black Death, or even the Vietnam or Iraq Wars.
  15. MauEvig

    MauEvig Scribe

    If the spanish flu was worse by comparison, do you think maybe all the quarantine efforts might be overdoing it? I can understand social distancing, and everyone should be washing their hands anyway and avoiding going into places when they're sick.
    Telling us we can't go to the store or go out and about at all seems like it's going overboard.
  16. Ban

    Ban Sir Laserface Article Team

    I'd say the experts in pretty much every country in the world know it better than us non-experts on the internet. In any event, can we please not venture in this direction? It will derail the thread.
  17. Yora

    Yora Maester

    Personally, I think right now epidemiologists are collecting tons of data that never were available to them with our modern statistical methods that at some point in the perhaps not too distant future will be absolutely critical. This might not be the Mega-Death-Flu, but Mega-Death-Flu will come eventually. And what medical research and public disaster response agencies are learning now will absolutely invaluable. It is really painful now, but it will be extremely important one day. Which might even be in just 10 years or 20 years.

    When judging how bad things are now and whether the measures were justified, it is very important to remember that all the deaths we have now are the people that could not be saved even with all the measures in place. What we don't see are all the people who are fine but would have died without these measures.

    And as some doctor said it very eloquently a while back: "When you look at what measures seem appropriate now, those are the measures you needed to have put in place two weeks ago."
    Diseases like these spread through the population exponentially. In an extreme hypothetical case, one person infects 2 people on the first day, then these 3 people infect 6 more on the second day. On the third day there are 9 infected who infect 18 more, and on the fourth day these 18 infect 36 more. At first the spread goes very slow, but even if the speed of infection remains the same, the number of cases seems to grow faster and faster and faster. Two weeks ago nobody was really talking about the number of dead because there really were not that many yet. But then the number seemed to grow very rapidly, and they will continue to grow at the same exponential rate. And we're also dealing with a disease that takes a relatively long time from infection to the point where a person either recovers or dies. The death we have today are from the infections that were two weeks ago.
    Today we look back two weeks and see that the number of people who actually died didn't look that bad. And not to give cause to panic, but two weeks from now we will look at the numbers from today and they won't look that bad in comparison. Two weeks from now, the measures we have in place right now will feel much more appropriate and needed than they seem today.

    To put it very simple: We need to cover up the well before the child falls in. Our instinct is to base our responses that we do today on the situation we see today. But with a spreading disease, that would mean that everything we do to deal with it would come much too late to still make a difference.

    There is a real chance that governments are currently overreacting and less restrictive and expensive measures would have been more appropriate. But right now, we do not know. It will takes years for specialists to analyze the data that is recorded now to figure out what responses were correct and wise, and which ones were pointless or counter-productive. Since we do not have this knowledge yet, I see it as completely justified to set the measures potentially too high now than risking setting them too low. But with the lessons that are being learned now, we will be much more able to respond to future outbreaks in a better way.
    And there will be more outbreaks. Not just one, but probably one every 10 to 20 years. And some of them will consist of diseases that will be much more dangerous and lethal than what we have today. The Spanish Flu was just 100 years ago. When something of that lethality appears the next time, we will all be incredibly thankful for the knowledge that we are gaining today.
    Karen Cioffi likes this.
  18. Devor

    Devor Fiery Keeper of the Hat Moderator

    It's a little awkward comparing pandemics, but if we are, it's worth noting that both the Black Death and the Spanish Flu are estimated to have the same death toll of about 50 million each. The Spanish Flu killed about 675,000 people in the US, while Covid-19's death toll projections range as high as 2.2 million without social distancing. Our ability to treat these things is much greater now, but so is the size of the population that will be infected. The toll on human life will still be extensive. The statistical models clearly show that as little as a one day difference in when a region implements social distancing can result in a 40% difference in the number of cases.

    I'm sure we'll see more pandemics in fiction. But I think the more interesting stories will come from the lengths we've gone to create stay-at-home orders and how we might focus on similar methods in other situations. In LOTR the Two Towers everyone was brought out of their homes to Helm's Deep, but I think if that story were done in a post-Covid world, we'd see more about how people resist and fight one another over the order, how people may have had to be dragged out of their homes and marched to Helm's Deep at spear point, how those who didn't go sat around and laughed for a few days before the orcs came and killed them. I've never heard of a single story which explored some of those situations, and now that we've been through it, it's something we can start to bring to life.


    "They say it's ten thousand orcs, but it's not going to be worse than the bandit raids a decade ago..."
    Last edited: Apr 2, 2020
    Night Gardener and Ban like this.
  19. The Dark One

    The Dark One Auror

    I wrote in my blog weeks ago about how the current virus might affect humanity - the way we relate to each other going forward. I don't think there'll be a lasting impact unless this virus is just the first of a bunch of superbugs that keep rolling around year on year.

    But as far as literature right now is concerned, the immediate issue I see stems from the disconnect between health and economics.

    The whole world is trying its best to pursue the health goal (now), in full knowledge that it will disrupt the economic goal. Employed, home owning people like me can wait out the crisis in pretty good shape, but there are any number of people who are way less fortunate, and especially the young, if they're not doing it already, will start calling for a change of focus.

    The change of focus will be to recover the economy whatever it takes.

    I have certainly heard plenty of young people already talking along these lines but they're keeping their heads down for the moment as to call for the resurrection of the economy looks like a call to ignore the vulnerable.

    How long can it last?

    There's the conflict likely to characterise fiction in the next little while.
    Taniwha likes this.
  20. Yora

    Yora Maester

    In that regard we will see huge regional differences. Here in Germany we have a very strong welfare system that provides high job security and provides quite well for the unemployed, and we also have an economy strong enough to cover the costs for it for quite a long time. Small business owners are probably really sweating, but the hope of the government saving you from going bankrupt by store rents and continued wage payments should be quite high.

    In contrast to that, I can see how things would look much more apocalyptic for people in the US were employes can be dropped over night with no reason, and I assume unemployment benefits are very flimsy.

    And then you have everything inbetween.

    And of course places like India, were millions of already extremely poor people aren't even registered by the welfare system. Those will have completely different sets of problems.
    Taniwha likes this.

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