‘Zero Sum Game’, a story for In Your Face.
In Your Face is an upcoming anthology from FableCroft publishing. It is one with a definite mandate. Currently it is looking to raise a few dollars from a low-target Pozible campaign, which you can have a look at if you like. The goal of the anthology is summed up thus:
These stories will be provocative and/or confronting but with a firm purpose – they are pieces that will perhaps make readers uncomfortable because they are a bit too hard-hitting or close to the bone, but which interrogate these themes and ideas, and make a point about the world we live in.
When Tehani Wessely talked to me about writing something ‘provocative’ for an anthology called In Your Face, I doubted that I could do it. My oeuvre such as it is consists mostly of stories about malfunctioning robots, mistaken aliens, and overly religious teddy bears; I’m not really ‘known’ for anything, but I’m doubly-not-known for ‘provocative’. Having said that, a couple of my more recent pieces have been a bit more serious, so I followed up my doubts with a brainstorm. Provocative can mean a lot of things. Things can be confronting due to explicit violence and/or sex, by being aggressively transgressive, or by challenging fundamental beliefs — perhaps ones so fundamental we take them as basic aspects of life, rather than beliefs at all. Perhaps I am a prude, but I decided to tackle the last of these.
Climate change is on my mind a lot. The climate is changing faster than governments are acting, and there is enough lag in a system the size of the Earth that even if massive reductions in carbon pollution were made literally tomorrow things would still get worse before they got better. This is hardly a new insight, but whenever I think about the future it is something I cannot ignore.
I have occasionally tried to develop a story by banging two ideas together. Trying to make two things fit into the same narrative can throw off sparks that liven the story up, and tends to help with creation of subplot and conflict. So I started looking for ways of using climate to confront.
Now, if you look at the numbers on climate change, they are pretty confronting themselves. But maybe we don’t feel what those numbers really mean for us and the people we love.
It seems to me that there could come a time when the world is essentially in one continuous state of emergency, when all resources will have to be directed to fixing the biosphere and when dramatic measures — geoengineering — will be the only things that can act quickly enough.
So what does this mean? Maybe it means unity governments (death of democracy?) and continual states of emergency, with the associated heightened police powers. It means resources being allocated by fiat according to the big picture, at the expense of the small picture.
So, in a world like that, where many an inequity can be supported by an appeal to the all-encompassing disaster that we are battling, where does that leave the helpless, the useless, and the people who are trying to care for them?
So eventually, going very roundabout, I conceived the idea of trying to explore the impact of climate change in that social sense. What new world might it create, and what constraints would that world would have to live within, and what very fundamental values might have to be set aside for us to survive as a civilisation — or at least as a civilisation not unlike the one we enjoy today. So it would be a climate change story which does not directly talk about rising sea levels or heatwaves or superstorms or any of that stuff.
But a story needs people and events to manifest the idea. That’s always been a problem for me. Then I recalled a bit of writing advice I read once. I think it was James Blish. When you have an interesting idea or world but you need to find the human story, ask yourself: Who gets hurt by this change?
And so I began to piece together a plot. It will be in the book; I hope you like it.
PS: From a mechanical point of view, the ideas for this story were brainstormed using an AlphaSmart Neo, while the story itself was written on a 10.1″ netbook using and old DOS word processor running under DOSBox. It was converted to a modern file format and imported into LibreOffice for editing, formatting and submission. This blog post was written on the AlphaSmart while I relaxed in a hammock, then uploaded and edited in the blog’s editor.