I spent eight stimulating years in Lebanon (as well as some pretty nasty days and some downright terrifying minutes). So as a veteran, I viewed the brief takeover of half of Beirut by Hizbollah just over a week ago with some involvement. (Trust me, this is about speculative fiction). The situation in Lebanon is extremely fraught: an explosive mixture of pride, bluster, greed and hatred, stirred up by a wide range of internal and external troublemakers. The entire country stands on the edge of the abyss and it wouldn’t take much for it to topple over the edge. The trouble is, it may well grab at our ankles as it does.
Anyway, shortly after Hizbollah flexed its muscles I was lying awake in bed early in the morning (I seem to suffer from caffeine intolerance these days) when the outline for a novel came to me in a rush. It would be set in the very imminent future and start in Lebanon. I would assemble the usual suspects: a proud warlord or two, a few conscience-free arms dealers, several political adventurers with an insatiable desire to meddle and all the usual assortment of insecurities, proud egos and bitter grievances. I would add to this unremarkable mixture as catalyst, a Christian with an end times fascination, a sense of personal destiny and the happy confidence that, if things started to go really nasty, God would press the eject button and the church would be raptured immediately. Aided by stupidity and abetted by apathy the result would be a perfectly credible and unstoppable escalation of events which would draw in Syria, Israel and Iran and ultimately the USA and Russia. The final outcome would be a series of nuclear exchanges which would obliterate cities and reshape history. (You will have gathered this is not Prince Caspian.) There would be no rapture, no end of days: the signs had been misread. As a counterbalance to the deaths of millions I would include a hero and heroine who would somehow survive. The end would include a vision of hope: the kingdom of God continues!
Now I should say that I don’t think I will write this tale. (Although interestingly enough I have hinted at something similar as the back-story to my Lamb among the Stars trilogy.) It is too dark, I doubt it would be publishable and I would make a lot of enemies.
But let me throw the gauntlet down. We may not like this sort of plot, but isn’t this ‘speculative fiction?’ Wouldn’t writing such a book be perfectly legitimate? Isn’t our medium perfectly suited for warning messages? Shouldn’t someone be writing this sort of thing? Or do want to be comforted too much? I am reminded of the situation that Jeremiah found himself in. The political scene was darkening, judgment was looming, yet the people preferred to ignore all the clear signs and put their trust in the vain confidence that disaster would be averted. Jeremiah was scathing about the false prophets of his day: “‘Peace, peace,’ they say, when there is no peace.” (Jeremiah 6:14). Without saying that disaster is inevitable, we need to be careful that we do not offer empty hope.