Speculative Fiction and Creating Your Own Personal Romantic Dystopia with Crosstalk and Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind
Introducing new speculative sci-fi novel Crosstalk by Connie Willis
Luckily for us, sci-fi icon Connie Willis is back on the literary scene with Crosstalk, a speculative fiction novel that takes place in the near future, released today, October 4th. The highly decorated writer (seven Nebula Awards and 11 Hugo Awards!!!) and Grand Master of the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America put her brilliant mind to the plague of excessive information in the modern era, via cell phones, social media, and brain surgery. Playing off the theme of over-inclusiveness that has been on the rise since it became acceptable to post what you ate for breakfast online, sci-fi novel Crosstalk follows Briddey Flannigan, a young woman of the near future, and her battle with love, overexposed. A brand new outpatient procedure claims to increase empathy and connectedness with one’s romantic partner, and when her fiancé-to-be, Trent, suggests the procedure, Briddey jumps at the chance. Only 6 weeks after they started dating, this young “perfect” power couple sneaks off to the hospital to get the procedure. Soon after, however, she realizes that there’s more to relationships and human emotion than she ever thought before. As things tend to do, life after the procedure goes from bad to worse in some very unexpected ways.
Comparing Crosstalk to Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind
In a way, the 2004 speculative fiction film Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (written and directed by Michel Gondry) acts as a mirrored image of this new sci-fi novel Crosstalk. For those who haven’t experienced one of Jim Carrey’s best films, the plot is this: In the not too distant future, an outpatient procedure arises that allows one to completely erase all memories of a certain person from their minds, and generally this ends up being a romantic partner who left things on a bad note. Clementine, Joel’s (Jim Carrey) girlfriend erases him from her mind one night after a falling out, and out of spite he attempts to erase her as well. Unfortunately for him, he realizes while unconscious in the middle of the procedure that he doesn’t want to erase memories of Clementine in the same way that Briddey realizes that the charm of loving someone emerges from the thrill of regarding them as a separate, individual mind with mysteries of their own.
What point is Crosstalk trying to get across?
So what exactly are these two, unrelated speculative sci-fi romantic comedies trying to warn us about? How much love appears to suck? Well, experience has done that for me already, thank-you-very-much, so it must be something more. What I believe Willis and Michel Gondry hope to illustrate is that whether relationships are still being built, or are beginning to crumble, distance is necessary to remind one that stepping outside oneself is the key to communication, not surgically enhanced emotional telepathy or completely erasing someone from your life. Communication is as much defined by what you say as by what reminds inside your mind, and so in sci-fi novel Crosstalk Willis urges the reader through sci-fi and humor to realize that forcing superficial empathy is equally as detrimental to relationships as apathy. Nonconsensually eliminating someone from your mind but leaving you haunting theirs, as Clementine does to Joel in Eternal Sunshine has the same effect on a relationship as when Briddey is accidentally mentally paired with someone other than Trent during the procedure, leaving no room for reality and choice in her mind, which is being inundated by someone else’s thoughts.
Overwhelmed by the presence or disappearance of someone else from their mind, it becomes all too easy for the characters to lose track of themselves, and their own personality, an idea that is expressed very clearly in the plot of Crosstalk. When you open up your life and mind to everyone, what is left of your individuality when they’re done with it?
Why use speculative fiction to look at social phenomena?
The benefit of using science fiction as a medium for messages such as these is that it allows the reader to distance themselves from the story far enough to understand it objectively while still enjoying the plot and characters by relating to them as much as possible. Willis allows the reader to relate to the characters, which in turn relates us to every character by way of the new surgical implant that allows you to receive emotions and thoughts from others. In Eternal Sunshine, the characters struggle to connect when everything in the world makes it easier, and more painless, to disconnect. Both of these techniques result in the same conclusion: Nothing is as simple as it seems. Additionally, both sci-fi surgeries eventually teach the characters that falling in love with another person is accepting them as the sum of their parts; the bad, the good, and the unknown.