When It Changed

Contemporary Speculative Fiction, by which I mean both Urban/Contemporary Fantasy and Present/Near Future Science Fiction, tends to fall into two distinct classes, which I’ll call Covert Counterfactual and Overt Counterfactual. 

In Covert Counterfactual worlds, the speculative/fantastic elements are not public knowledge.  The Harry Potter novels, for example, or the Harry Dresden novels.  Magic, or Vampires, or Werewolves, or Faeries, or what have you are real, but the average human being doesn’t believe in such things–in fact, ordinary people are quite sure that such things don’t exist.  Often this involves some sort of organization dedicated to keeping the true nature of reality hidden, such as in the Men In Black films.

Overt Counterfactual is less common, but includes such things as the Sookie Stackhouse novels and the series True Blood, the Kate Daniels novels, the films Alien Nation and Cast A Deadly Spell. In Overt Counterfactual worlds, the ordinary human beings are aware of the existence of other sorts of persons, and the metahumans live openly among them.

There are advantages in terms of storytelling in both types of fiction, and I enjoy them both.  However, as I have been working on The Book Of Lost Doors novels, it has occurred to me that series tend to stick to one side of the fence or the other.  Off the top of my head, I can’t think of any series of books that started as Covert that made the shift to Overt during the course of the series.  Often the threat of exposure is present, and frequently individual ordinary humans find out about the fantastic world during the stories, but I can’t think of any that deal with the process of the hidden world becoming common knowledge.

The television shows Heroes and Fringe both dealt with revelatory events as part of the overall story arcs, but both, interestingly enough, also used time travel to undo the changes and put the world back to where it was before it changed.

In The Worms Of Heaven I find myself wrestling with the issue of revelation, and the story may end up going into certain areas that are not going to be easily covered up–in fact, may not be able to cover up at all.  I really don’t want to try to force the story into a particular channel just so that the illusion can be maintained, but on the other hand, I’m not sure that a series of books that changes from Covert to Overt in the middle is really going to work.  I’m beginning to suspect that there are reasons writers tend to favor one or the other, I’m not quite sure how to handle the actual transition.  (And picking up with the next book being ten years in the future and after the transition would totally be cheating.)

Thoughts?  I’d like to get some feedback on this.

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About MishaBurnett

I am the author of "Catskinner's Book", a science fiction novel available on Amazon Kindle. http://www.amazon.com/dp/B008MPNBNS
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17 Responses to When It Changed

  1. paws4puzzles says:

    Interesting – I also can’t think of a series that does that, but it would be interesting, right. If for example Charlaine Harris went back and explained in detail how the vampires first “came out”. Very interested to see how you handle it in Worms – and would guess there would be a ton of bad reaction if folks discovered all the various strange creatures that are supposed to live among us in your world.

    • MishaBurnett says:

      Well, if things go the way I am thinking right now, people will start by having to deal with a particular disaster, and so the Outsiders will be seen as a threat from the onset.

  2. Something I thought of when you mentioned Overt Counterfactual is the super hero worlds of comic books. That seems to be a big part of that realm because a hero tends to need some type of public reputation. Annoying thing is that I’m sure I read a book series long ago that started as covert and the secret world got revealed in a later book. I just can’t remember what the series was.

  3. Experiment. You may end up blowing the covert only to find most people disbelieve, making room for conspiracy buffs to waltz all over that stuff with their muddy boots. Give it a shot. You don’t know if you are stumbling down a storytelling dead-end or a new avenue. What’s the worst that can happen? You electronically crumple the digital pages that don’t work. Experiment.

  4. Well … and this is a movie example, so I’m not sure if it counts in the context of your question … but the Marvel cinematic universe sort of dealt with covert –> overt, didn’t they? In Iron Man, totally normal world. Then he comes out as a superhero … but that’s just normal human tech, so still fairly covert. Then Thor happened, and the Avengers. So in Iron Man 3, the whole “aliens exist” lid was blown wide open, and the film actually did try to deal with that, to a limited degree. It was mostly in the form of Tony having panic attacks, but still … definitely covert –> overt! And they also sort of deal with that aspect of things in the Marvel Agents of Shield TV show — it’s about human spies going around and dealing with the aftermath of the Avengers alien invasion, plus dealing with new superheroes cropping up, aliens sneaking into our world, etc. Could be worth taking a look at if that sounds like it might be useful 🙂

    • MishaBurnett says:

      Again, the superhero world is a good analogy. In particular, I like the way the Marvel films weave in the “man on the street” opinions (most of whom are Stan Lee, I’ve noticed.)

  5. Sue says:

    As with the Sookie stories would need an event to occur that would bring the metapeople out into the open At one time the vamps in Harris’ books were not in the open but that was in the past.before true blood was invented. And even though they are out now, they’re a discriminated group.

  6. I don’t believe it’s a book series, but the Underworld movies show Covert Counterfactual groups becoming Overt Counterfactual. Granted, they still wish they were Covert Counterfactual and are not accepted, but persecuted.

  7. Myas says:

    It may begin as covert but bleed out and now everyone knows or is getting to know, like it or not it’s part of society. Still, some won’t accept it. On a one-to-one scale, isn’t it the same basic principle as the possessed house, the non-believing family, the unaware victimized children, the confounded adults, the believing family, the clairvoyant investigators, the media, the novel, the movie? Covert – Overt evolution.

    Sure it’d work!

  8. KokkieH says:

    One example I can think of that went from covert to overt is The X-men (the films, not the comics). There we have the revelation that mutants exist and a big part of the story is how the normal humans react to it. Some are fearful to the point of trying to exterminate the mutants, some wish to help them, some accept them. I think it can be interesting to make the transition and use it to explore the theme of how humans react to the unknown. Of course, I don’t know what your plan is with your character and story arcs, so that might not be possible, but I think it would be interesting to read a series that makes that shift.

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