I like to divide prophets and futurists (for they are similar professions) into two groups. The first is those who are simply mad and without conscious thoughts report what they perceive and interpret about worlds seen and unseen, usually with a hearty dash of paranoia or megalomania. The second are those who consciously perceive and project patterns that most of the rest of us cannot see. The former gaze into worlds within. The latter inspect the worlds without.
Most prophets are souls troubled by religious conviction or faulty body chemistry.
Most futurists are writers with a sharp eye, and a healthy dose of skepticism and often, because of what they can see and predict, an unsettling dose of fatalism.
The debate between the influences of the Muse and of madness will no doubt continue, as the veils between worlds are thinnest for those who see and feel the most. Now science is throwing back the veils and even the heavy drapery so that we can peer into the reasons Why and How of the What we have empirically always known. We no longer need angels and demons and spirits and dieties to give grounding to things we did not understand.
Like very young children who begin to grasp the concepts of Agency [something must be making that tree bend in the wind, what is the source of that noise in the closet...surely someone is doing it] and Object Permanence [peekaboo demonstrates that just because we don't see it doesn't mean it isn't still there]. Out of these concepts can sprout the invisible friends so common to the young and religions so common to us all.
Though many writers may cross and recross the boundaries between genius and lunacy and often live astradle the wavering fence, there predominates the ability to imagine, to foretell and to explain.
Fiction writers bring us perspective on our present, our past, and our future.
The most fascinating perspectives are about the future, that unknown territory, the maleable mass and energy, the equivocations of the mind and heart when actions taken can change a day, a relationship, a life, a world, an entire universe.
Spymaster novelist John le Carre is the best-selling author of Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy [see the Gary Oldman film for the best portrayal ever of Smiley], The Little Drummer Girl [Diane Keaton], Russia House [Sean Connery], and many more novels that became films. He wrote about intel and counter-intel, terrorism and counterterrorism all throughtout the Cold War between the Soviet Union and the United States [1945 -- 1989]. When the Berlin Wall went down from the inside out in 1989 he wrote The Secret Pilgrim, about the reverberations of that dramatic shift in world politics, military and economic policies, idealism and morality.
Le Carre's brilliant observational powers about the fates of the East and the West ring even truer now, 24 years later.
Looking backwards he observed -- "The only pauses in the history of human conflict had been pauses not for moderation but excess, pauses for the world to redivide itself, for the thugs and the victims to find each other, for greed and deprival to regroup."
With a prescient view fulfilled in the booms and busts of the last two decades and the worldwide financial recession of 2008, he wrote -- "One day, history may tell us who really won [the Cold War]. If a democratic Russia emerges -- why then, Russia will have been the winner. And if the West chokes on its own materialism, then the West may still turn out to have been the loser. History keeps her secrets longer than most of us. But she had one secret that I will reveal to you tonight in the greatest confidence. Sometimes there are no winners at all. And sometimes nobody needs to lose."
And relevant to current events in the Ukraine, le Carre said about Russia -- "On Russia: ...no, we can never trust the Bear. For one reason, the Bear doesn't trust himself. The Bear is threatened and the Bear is frightened and the Bear is falling apart. The Bear is disgusted with his past, sick of his present and scared stiff of his future. He often was. The Bear is broke, lazy, volatile, incompetent, slippery, dangerously proud, dangerously armed, sometimes brilliant, often ignorant. Without his claws he'd be just another chaotic member of the Third World. But he isn't without his claws, not by any means."
We typically find more home truths in fiction than in official reports, think tank white papers, policy statements, and State Department declarations.
The more we read good fiction -- from the ancients to tomorrow's Nobel for Literature novel -- the more understanding we can gain about the worlds within us and around us. Then when we put the book down it is open to us to act on the insights presented by these natural futurists.
If you're looking for answers to life's perplexing questions, big and small, you can find them in well-written fiction.