Saturday, 21 March 2020

Wishing you all an uneventful apocalypse

At some point over the last couple of weeks I’ve stopped merely writing science fiction stories and started living in one. The Lord Chamberlain has shut the bawdy houses and we’re all meant to keep at least six feet apart, like magnets of the same polarity, if we want to avoid ending up six feet under.

Here in the UK, like many nations, there has been a swift ratcheting up of preventative measures.  At the start of last week my 16-year old was revising for exams; he’s now had a muted celebration for the end of the academic year.  My 14-year old left school on Tuesday lunchtime for the orthodontist, fully expecting to show off a mouthful of teeth devoid of braces the next day.  She never went back, and nobody knows when she will.

We’re told to hope for 20,000 deaths but fear at least ten times that.  My mind keeps flipping back to the fact that the infection rate is somewhere around 0.005%; in my area of Torbay last time I looked deaths and infections can still be counted on two hands.  But is that because of the measures we’re taking, or evidence that those measures are disproportionate?  I can’t help thinking that there appears to be some political one-upmanship internationally, no leader wishing to be seen to advocate anything more lax than the nation next door.  Even if that mitigation is belt, braces and then some.

Seasonal flu takes an average of around 17,000 a year in England.  That’s an average, of course; last year’s toll was more like 1700, so mere reversion to the mean suggests 20,000 this year could be expected anyway.  And those figures quoted above include some who would have died anyway.  You can’t die twice.  If Coronavirus is twice as scary as seasonal flu, then do twice as much as you did to ward off that (what’s that I hear? nothing, you say? never heard it mentioned in the news?).  Quarantine the sickly and isolate the vulnerable, sure, but can’t life go on for the rest of us?  No?  Really?  I can’t help thinking that we’re acting like an immortal species that has discovered the possibility of death for the first time...

But rules are rules, and we’re watching more tellybox than usual.  On the subject of which, I was slightly shaken by the claim made in Kevin McCloud’s Rough Guide to the Future (doesn’t pre-Covid 19 TV seem so... quaint) that we’re heading for 10 billion people on the planet within my lifetime.  That, to me, is scarier than the coronavirus.  The more rationally callous part of my brain can’t help thinking that the best thing for the human race in the long term is a bloody good prune.  Indeed, HM the Q has urged us to come together for the common good, which I interpret as meaning wiping out the last of the generation that remembers the war.  I may have misunderstood.  I’d rather it were by lowering the birth rate rather than upping departures, but China’s bio-weapon development overspill (sorry, sorry... I meant Mother Nature) may have other, more efficient and effective ideas.

As for the future, who knows?  The optimist in me says the so-called Spanish Flu was followed by the Jazz Age and the Roaring Twenties rather than a new Dark Age.  The pessimist says than mankind may no longer be the planet’s apex predator.  Whichever it is, I wish you well over the coming weeks and months.

Sunday, 1 March 2020

The Parmesan of misery

A rant.  I'm sorry.

Those very nice folks at Third Flatiron are currently throwing their digital doors open to submissions to their next anthology.  They've taken a story of mine before and have been utterly professional in their dealings.  So what could I possibly have to complain about?

Well, the pitch for Gotta Wear Eclipse Glasses is positive sci-fi, "The future we all want... climate mitigation and adaptation, new opportunities to boldly go where none have gone before".

And that's where I have a problem.  I keep a spreadsheet to record and manage my stories, alongside and in parallel with my account on The Submissions Grinder.  Old school, but it works for me.  Scanning some of my sold stories, they can be pitched roughly as follows:
  • a grumpy magician sends an annoying artist into a parallel dimension to scream into the void for eternity
  • an android inadvertently causes its own destruction, thus finally understanding the meaning of irony
  • a pensioner causes offence by mistaking a well-wisher for an app
  • a paranoid rejects society, causing the death of Alan Alda
  • a gullible drone on Ernst Stavro Bloefeld's floating island is conned out of an inheritance
  • unbeknownst to each other, a couple have themselves replaced by androids to escape their failing marriage
  • an inventor pitches a water additive, only to find out that the water company has been using something far more pernicious for the last fifty years
  • an idiot second husband turns tries to hide his idiocy, turning over evidence of how his beloved came to be available in the first place
Do I need to go on?  There's nothing positive in any of these.  There's death.  There's a couple of fates worse than death.  There's being left feeling foolish and bereft, a couple of times being left foolish and bereft without realising, which seems somehow worse - and makes a nice story arc harder, to boot.

Why do I do it to myself?

I think the simple answer is I don't know any other way.  If I wrote a story where everyone ended up grinning, there’d have to be some sinister catch.  I’m not sure I want to write, read or watch something that tells me everything is happy without some sort of unintended consequence lurking under the floorboards.  Sci-fi isn't made for happy endings, in the same way that chocolate sauce isn't made for meatballs and linguini.  Give me the Parmesan of misery any time.  At least it goes.