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Wind Raker and foresight (and hindsight)

A bunch of people have commented on foresight in Wind Raker and how it works in the world of the Order of the Air. Here are my thoughts.

One of our greatest weaknesses is believing that the future will be just like the present. We plan for a future that's static. We assume that a great career choice when you enter college will be a great career choice in twenty years. We assume that interest rates will remain steady, or at least rise in a predictable fashion. We think about our lives in ten years, or fifteen, or thirty, as though the world in which we live has changed very little. Maybe pop music changes, or hairstyles, but when we imagine ourselves sixty we essentially imagine sixty year olds today. Which of course is not true. This will not be the decade in which nothing happens, any more than any decade is. The world constantly changes.

With the benefit of hindsight rather than foresight, the reader knows what's coming in the Order of the Air. The reader knows that war is on the horizon. It's 1935. When Jimmy says he's going to start college at 18 in the fall of 1942, you know he won't. You know that whatever his fate is, whether he's drafted or joins up, whether he goes to Europe or the Pacific, whether he lives or dies, he's not blithely starting college. Whatever he's doing in 1944, it won't be going to football games and cheering for his team with a co-ed girlfriend. You know the world is about to change.

The characters don't. They only know the same things that we know about the present. Only the crazy or the astute imagine what will actually happen in five or ten years. And nobody can imagine the postwar world. No one can even conceive of a world in which the great colonial empires don't exist. No one can imagine the devastation of Europe or the prosperity of America, the technological advances or the Cold War. Everyone is planning for a world in which the 1950s look like the 1930s and the 1970s look like the 1920s.

Except the crazy and the astute. The only thing is, it's hard to tell which is which. That's why there are parallel scenes with Pelley and George. Both of them absolutely believe that things are about to change. Both of them are right. (And both of them actually said these things in real life.) So let's look at the scene with George and Lewis a little closer. George has an encyclopedic mastery of world military history. He is extraordinarily informed and well read in addition to practical experience. He believes that offensive and defensive technologies develop in response to one another, and therefore move in predictable cycles. He sees what's happening with new technologies and hypothesizes that a shift in the balance is about to occur. This is an informed and professional opinion formed at the cutting edge. It's also what he feels in his bones, believing as he does that he has seen many such shifts over the millennia. For him, this coming change is as obvious as looking at the changing colors of autumn leaves and concluding that winter is coming. And because he believes this, because he knows this, he can prepare for it.

When he explains it to Lewis, Lewis can see it. It gives shape to Lewis' vague foresight. In the scene with Lewis and Stasi looking out over Pearl Harbor, Lewis is trying to give shape to his own foresight, to learn to understand his own language as he said in Steel Blues. He sees shadows of wings on the water. Yes, those are the shadows of planes making torpedo runs, but also shadow=negative=zero. Zero. What he sees are attack waves of Zeroes. But what can he do about it? Outside of a small group of people who trust him, who would believe him if he told them?

And that's always the way, isn't it? People believe -- people want to believe -- that the future will be just like the present or maybe a little better in some specific way. No one wants to believe that upheaval is possible. Mitch certainly doesn't. Alma doesn't. They'd like the economy to keep improving in a modest way and for business to keep getting better again. They'd like aeronautical technology to keep improving. But big change? Especially a big change like a world war? They don't want to believe. And it may be that like many others they refuse to believe until it's tragically late. They don't want to think Pelley is right. They want to believe he's a nut, because if he's telling the truth horrible things are about to happen.

So that's one of the things we really want to explore in the Order of the Air -- what does it mean to live in such times?



( 2 comments — Leave a comment )
Mar. 17th, 2015 06:49 pm (UTC)
I hadn't thought of it as though they didn't (want to) believe *any* big upheavals would come, but more that they just can't believe anyone would allow another world war, or even want one.
Mar. 24th, 2015 01:25 pm (UTC)
I think the kind of big upheavals that will happen are in many ways unimaginable. Or at least only people with very specialized knowledge can imagine them. I mean, what George is talking about with tactics -- for seventy years defensive technology has been getting better and better until it's reached the point, the apogee with the Maginot Line, that it seems utterly impenetrable. The idea that the kind of fast moving warfare of Blitzkrieg could ever again be a reality flies in the face of everything most people think they know. But George has not only enormous perspective but cutting edge knowledge of technology.

And I think most people have a natural resistance to imagining big change. I mean, if I said, "I believe in twenty years the boundaries of the United States will be quite different," most people's gut instinct is to say that's impossible.
( 2 comments — Leave a comment )