SciFi and Demographics (Science)

I have been reading Shadow of the Hegemon recently. (Another library book sale buy.) It has reminded me of a very important rule for writing science fiction that seems often overlooked. This relates back to the idea that fiction should be ‘true’ in many ways like human nature, personalities, how nations respond to things, the causes of war etc. Everything having to do with human nature can be known from a study of history, which leads to books in which people behave convincingly as do countries, armies, leaders etc.

Obviously, Orson Scott Card does not make the amateur mistake of breaking the actual first rule ‘Obey your own rules: make your universe self-consistent’. In Shadow of the Hegemon, however, he does break another rule. (For the Julian Delphiki lovers, this is no indictment of the characters in the story J ) The rule Card breaks is this: ‘If you base your story in the real world, it should be… well… believable. Shadow is sometime in the near-ish future… maybe 100-200 years I guess. Every major country today is still extant in the story, there are no new made up ones… etc. So, when predicting major kinds of conflict likely to be stirred up by Achilles (the villain) and deciding upon which countries will be powerful, the author should at least glance at demographic trends and take that into consideration. Otherwise, one ends up creating a book with a surreal feel where Russia ends up splitting world hegemony with China.

See, the birth rate now matters to the world stage 150 years from now. China and Russia at about 1.5 children/woman leave shrinking and aging populations which are only about 50 years away for China, and I believe already occurring for Russia. To add to the problem, China at least has a deficit of women due to sex-selective abortion and the one child policy.

To forecast into the future is always too simplistic. However, considering that not one nation that has tried to raise its birth rate has yet succeeded, and that virtually every major incident imaginable (Civil war, famine, plague, War war… etc) decreases population faster, it is not unreasonable to guess that every nation with a birth rate under 2.0 (2.1 or so is the ‘replacement rate’) is going to undergo either extinction (breaking up into smaller states, getting absorbed by a larger one, or something of the kind) or massive national instability as immigrants take a large percent of the population. This last effect is only mitigated in America where almost everyone is an immigrant population. (And America’s birth rate is one of the few ‘stable’ ones, right around 2.1)  But in Germany, the German identity is ethnic as well as geographic, the same with Russia, Italy, China… etc. I think it is more unreasonable to assume that China and Russia will have power and influence in 2150 like they do now, than to assume that they will either be non-existent as we know them or preoccupied.

Basically, with trends like this, it seems very strange to set the world up to be dominated by two people groups who basically refuse to repopulate themselves. So this comes back to the most important rule of fiction: your story must tell the truth. This takes different forms in different genres, but the key stays the same. Every major element must ring true with the real world to feel true in the story.

All that said, Shadow of the Hegemon has been fun. However, I have not thought that any of Card’s books set in that universe even begin to compare the first Ender’s Game. Also, for a thorough treatment of demographics and how they affect nations, look at ‘How Civilizations Die: And Why Islam is Dying Too’ by David P. Goldman and ‘America Alone: The End of the World as We Know It’ by Mark Steyn. They mostly deal with the demographics of the Islamic World and the Western World, but the ideas and trends apply elsewhere.

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