Writing The Burn Zone is turning out to be an interesting learning experience for me. In the revivors series the city it took place in felt overpopulated, and while The Burn Zone takes place in a different ‘world’ I’m expanding on that trend for this book largely because I think the world will actually be overpopulated by the time my near (but not too near) future comes to pass. The two settings are actually quite different, but I’m keeping a few other trends as well (communications related largely) because I believe they too one day exist. The topic of overpopulation is somewhat controversial (though I don’t completely get why) but that’s not why I picked it as my backdrop. I picked it because like the communications explosion it’s what’s happening now and will continue to happen.
Communications I am familiar with, but the nuts and bolts of extreme overpopulation I’m not as familiar with…or at least I wasn’t. I understood it as a broad concept, knew (some of) its dangers and generally saw it as an unfortunate reckoning we are going to one day face. The topic always makes me think about a training class I once took about communications, where the topic was bandwidth. The instructor was talking about increased demands on existing bandwidth and, given the speed at which demand increases, at what point are you ‘in trouble’? He used the example of a pond (representing your existing bandwidth) and demand as water lilies that reproduced at a certain rate. Converting the graph data into ‘internet lilies’ for my non-mathematical brain aside, the bottom line was ‘you have to start thinking about this stuff sooner than you think’. The pond still looks relatively clear when the problem has begun to get out of control.
Of course there are always options – with data, you ‘increase bandwidth’ by increasing pipe size, better managing traffic flow, etc. The same could be said for our planet. The ‘carrying capacity’ of our planet is finite, and will require rejiggering if we want to start pushing its boundaries. It doesn’t seem like a problem right now, at least not here, but the lily allegory showed that at the surface of the pond can seem pretty open not too long before the next reproduction cycle covers it completely. The Burn Zone isn’t so much about ‘how do you deal with that’ as it is a story that takes place in a world that has already dealt with it as best they could.
Research-wise, fortunately, many very smart people have thought about (and debated) pretty much every aspect of this topic you could think of and so detailed information is widely available. Food and water supply problems get the most ink because, you know, the whole needing to eat and drink thing, but they’re really just two of a long list of potential issues. Suffice it to say that constructing a viable dystopia around these concepts is (for better or worse) quite easy. It actually feels a bit weird having so much fun writing it.
Still, I find some of the most interesting fuel for writing this kind of fiction comes from the gray area in the middle of debates like these. One side says ‘The Earth will not support these numbers’ and the other side says ‘Yes, it will’. I’m of the opinion that ‘I guess we’ll find out’, and, given that humans are pretty resilient and crafty, I think I fall on the border of the ‘Yes, it will’ camp – but the question becomes ‘What will that world be like?’. That is where the story lies.