STOP PRESS: Liz Williams and other Fictions authors will be speaking at our online event HEALTH AND CARE RE-IMAGINED on June 30 from 4-5pm. See end of article for details.
Williams has written three stories for the Fictions series, and the latest, Stealthcare, was published last week.
Infectious is a story about “disease tourism” and a societal health surveillance system. The protagonist is looking for distractions and thrills by holidaying in exotic environments, with the intention of catching a communicable disease, partly as a demonstration of social status.
Speaking from her cottage just outside Glastonbury the author explains:
“It’s not that much of a stretch from women in the 1600s painting their faces with white lead paint – which even then was known to be harmful – or binding the feet of children to make them smaller.
“A lot of contemporary fashion is quite uncomfortable and then there are trends like getting a suntan. People know it’s bad for you, but it shows you can afford to travel to somewhere sunny and have the leisure time to lie in the sun.
“So from there it’s just a short step to thinking, in a world where diseases are rapidly being eradicated, contracting a disease makes you stand out from the crowd. It could be a kind of fashion statement and a demonstration you have the money to travel”.
Despite her futuristic imaginings, Williams and her partner Trevor live a low tech life. The couple rely on a landline as the walls of their cottage are too thick for a mobile signal.
She doesn’t own a Fitbit or Apple Watch as the idea of a wristband that records an individual’s data and stores it centrally fills her with alarm (it’s also an idea used in her latest story).
“I don’t really like tech. It’s great when it works - I love Zoom for example - but when tech goes wrong, it’s the worst.”
She first heard about the Fictions series when friend and fellow sci-fi author Keith Brooke, the series editor, contacted her and asked her to contribute.
“I’ve done science fiction about health before and I’ve been writing about health insurance for ex-pats for some time. So I’ve amassed a lot of knowledge about health insurance across the world which has given me a different take on the future of healthcare”.
Her second story, When I Visit the Palace, came about through her interest in Charles Bonnet Syndrome or visual release hallucinations.
As individuals with the condition gradually lose their sight their mind somehow supplies the missing information to the optic nerve, resulting in vivid hallucinations.
“I read about it and when I mentioned it on Facebook several people said they had elderly relatives with it. I wanted to weave the idea into the future of care and how the UK’s demographic is ageing over time.
“When I was growing up in the 1970s everyone was worried about population explosion, and they still are – rightly in my opinion. But now population is decreasing in many parts of the world and fertility is decreasing too.
“In this country – and others with national healthcare systems that have helped increase life expectancy – the big question has become: who is going to look after the growing number of older people?”
For Williams the logical conclusion is that it will be immigrants in search of a better life, leaving their more populous homelands.
“The upshot is, anyone who is racist is going to have to buck their ideas up if they want to have decent healthcare in their old age. Hence the lady in my story who is happy with Poles but doesn’t like receiving personal care from anyone who is black.”
The third and final Fictions story by Williams is Stealthcare in which she draws on her knowledge of the health insurance industry.
The narrative focuses on an insurance investigator who has to look into a claim that is not quite what it seems.
“Insurance companies have to do this all the time in the real world. But the twist here is the story is set in a future where making false claims is very difficult as so much of everyone’s data is monitored and recorded.
“If you’re trying to make a false claim, how do you go about it when ‘they’ know all about you? I had quite a lot of fun with this story.”
Events unfold on the Princess Charlotte, a cruise ship filled with elderly passengers.
“Again this is drawn from reality as some older people find it cheaper to go on a permanent cruise, with healthcare, rather than go into an old people’s home.
“It’s science fictionalised as our technology is not quite that advanced. So it’s not here just yet – but as with many of the ideas explored in the Fictions series, it could be coming down the track.”
You can hear from Liz Williams and fellow authors at our online event Health and Care Re-Imagined where they will be discussing the implications for health and social care of issues raised in our Fictions series.
The event, on June 30 from 4-5pm, will be a chance to reflect on the power of stories, and on the real-world issues and concerns addressed in the series. Find out more and register here
Fictions is a series of stories aimed at inspiring debate and new thinking among practitioners and policy-makers. Find out more about the project and the authors, and read other stories in the collection here.