Dystopia Is Real: These Science Fiction Writers Wrote Product Placement Stories For Microsoft

“We’re running out of time,” the hero of our story wails, “the villain will be here any minute!”

It’s a gripping, page-turning battle against world domination, and the good guys are totally losing. “But wait,” our hero notices, just in the knick of time. “I’ve just received an Outlook notification! Looks like everything’s going to be A-OK.”

“Thank God for Microsoft,” his pretty assistant chimes in.

It’s the kind of scene we’ve come to know well, at least in the context of blockbuster movies and popular shows. Tom Cruise pauses mid-Zombie apocalypse to down a Sprite. Jane the virgin does her pre-high school reunion shopping at Target — how else is she supposed to avoid utter humiliation? The latter is a self-aware, cheeky take on product placement, while the former is just a distracting, face palm-worthy pause in the action.

Embedding brands within plots has become a fact of storytelling for some moviemakers (2014 alone saw a big surge in product placement spending). But it’s a considerably less common practice in the book world — albeit not unheard of. As publisher Melville House points out in a blog post, big five publisher Houghton Mifflin Harcourt has partnered with Weber grills, and writer William Boyd has penned an homage to Land Rovers. Its a trend that was parodied as early as 1915, when L. M. Montgomery wrote a funny scene speaking out about product placement. In it, protagonist Anne chides her friend for writing a blatantly promotional piece: “I think it would be perfectly disgraceful to write a story to advertise a baking powder,” she says.

Apparently a bevy of respected science fiction writers — including well-known futurist Elizabeth Bear — wouldn’t agree with Ms. Green Gables. A handful of authors who make a living crafting honest predictions —> Read More