Wednesday, June 13, 2018

Auguries/Telling the Future

People have been interested in telling the future since the beginning of human societies. In fact, astronomy was one science that led to people being able to tell the future - to predict the movements of the stars! But there a lot of less scientific ways to predict the future. In Japan, you can go to a shrine and pay money to shake a box, out of which a stick will fall with a message on it. When you report that message to the shrine attendants, they will give you a piece of paper with your fortune. Many different cultures have ways of casting omens. There are also many fictional scenarios that involve predictions of the future. The first one that occurred to me was the way that people cast omens in Ann Leckie's trilogy.

You can read entrails. Cliff mentioned that Roger Zelazny wrote a story where a dude that had been disemboweled to have his entrails read started critiquing the reading as he died. (Yikes!)

In fiction, the author is in control of the fortunetelling. You can decide whether the fortunetelling will literally be true in your story, and whether what is foretold in Book 1 will come true in Book 2, etc.

Prophecies are a mainstay of the fantasy genre.

Fortunetelling traditions exist all over the world.

What are the signs of being an oracle? They vary from culture to culture, but often a fortuneteller will have specific identifiers.

Priests can sometimes foretell. So can TV psychics.

Roma people are often portrayed (stereotypically) as fortune-tellers. There's also a "new-agey" form of fortune-telling that involves muddled cultural appropriation from various sources.

Often an oracle is a person who lives/works out of a particular place, like the Oracle of Delphi.

Sometimes people will tell the future by interpreting the behavior of birds. This was one of the methods used in Hild by Nicola Griffith. You can read bones. In Philip K. Dick's The Man in the High Castle, people use the i-Ching because everyone believes in its influence. People also read tea leaves, or look into crystal balls.

Science Fiction is sometimes perceived as being predictive, but often what happens is that it becomes inspirational, and thereby brings about aspects of the future that it imagines.

One of the basic ideas of fortunetelling is this: We can be informed by chaos and chance.

A key question to ask for your fictional story is, "Does the augury come true?" You can also ask, "Do the characters think the augury is true?"

Che asked, "Could a computer be a fortuneteller? What if there were something called OmenApp?"

One major science-fictional work which involved prediction of the future was Asimov's Foundation series. It had data-based augury. The author was then able to play with which aspects of the prediction came true and which did not.

Astrology and numerology involve ways to predict the future.

I speculated that you could "read" the fallen hair from a baby's first haircut and try to tell the child's future on that basis.

Going to an oracle often brings trouble. What if Oedipus had not gone to the oracle at all? What if someone asked, "Why are you going to the oracle? You don't need that kind of trouble in your life!"

In the Percy Jackson books, every book has a critical prophecy that must be interpreted but can't be truly understood until the end. Mistborn involves the question of what happens if the prophecy doesn't come true. What if the chosen one doesn't do the job and a friend has to do it?

In Dune, the Bene Gesserit "seed" a prophecy which isn't exactly a prophecy, but a cultural idea that will help them have the influence to put someone into power far later down the line, historically.

I mentioned Steven Universe. The Sapphires have the power to tell the future. I was particularly intrigued by the flawed Sapphire who had the ability to "foretell" things that had already happened. It seems like it would be a useless skill, but in fact she has been able to do some very helpful things and defeat my expectations. (I always love having my expectations defeated in this way.)

There's an instance of fortunetelling in Babylon 5 that viewers can watch play out over the course of the series.

Context is really the key to figuring out the meaning of prophecies, and as authors, we have a lot of ability to control that context.

Che would like to see someone avoid their fate.

Jim Davis once set up a situation where a version of Garfield was given Pandora's box and chose not to open it.

We talked about Chekov's "gun rule," which says that if you put a gun on the mantelpiece at the start of the story, that gun will be shot before the end of the story. This isn't always the case, but the attention we place on certain objects or events in a story is usually important in some way. Typically it's a good idea not to put irrelevant things in a story, which is why we tend to think the things we encounter will have relevance.

Our interpretation of prophecies relies a lot on our ability to sift through the context of our lies and find places where it is relevant.

We agreed that there is very likely to be some form of fortunetelling or augury in a world, so it's worth thinking through how people think about it, and how people do it.

In Krull, a cyclops gives up his eye to see the future, but only ends up knowing the moment of his own death.

Chuck Wendig's character Miriam Black can predict other people's deaths by touching them.

I highly recommend the story "Six Months, Three Days" by Charlie Jane Anders, which involves two seers falling in love.

Thank you to everyone who attended the hangout! It was a fun topic to explore. Dive into Worldbuilding will meet next week on Tuesday, June 19th and will feature Nebula Award-winning author Rebecca Roanhorse. I hope you'll join us!



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