My novella, Of All Possible Worlds, has now gone back to Sheila Williams at Asimovs for a final decision. Will it or won’t it be the longest story I’ve ever I’ver sold–or told. I won’t know for some period of time, weeks or months, but it feels good to be done with it for now.
The story includes some history of science fiction elements, as well as, well, historical elements, taking place in the 90s in an alternate universe where JFK, Robert Kennedy, and MLK were never assassinated. The Dean Drive, a supposed reactionless space drive technology which was promoted in the pages of John W. Campbell’s Astounding / Analog magazine is one component; Wilhelm Riech’s Orgone Box makes an appearance, as does Galen Heironymous’s epynomous machine .
Getting the re-write finished as the 50th anniversary of the Kennedy assassination played out was an interesting experience. My parents and I both had our children as one world was ending and another, darker world dawned. A month after I was conceived, the Cuban Missile crisis turned the cold war from an abstraction into the omnipresent specter of doom which would walk beside me from early childhood to late adolesence. Yet, we came as close to annihilation as the species ever has, as I gestated in my mother’s womb, no bigger than a frog.
The apocalypse? You’re soaking in it!
My mom’s obstetrician, concerned about her stress, recommended drinking an extra glass of wine a day, to ease her nerves, but alcohol made her nauseous. So she smoked her low tar cigarettes and attempted to relax and go with the flow. The past is a foreign country. They do things differently there.
And so, a few years after the unpleasantness in Cuba, when those shots rang out, and Kennedy fell, my parents were hard at work, my mother confined in that female prison of sixties motherhood, marking time until she could go back to grad school and do something real with her life, my father making his career in Academia. I was grumpy but not a case of full blown colic, perhaps having inhaled too much apocalypse, cold war fumes or side stream cigarette smoke. My parents had another child, my brother John–and then, BOOM, they killed Bobby and Martin and there were race riots and war protests and that post WWII glow was really and truly gone for good.
Fast forward 30 years or so.
The cold war ended without WWIII, for no real reason anyone has ever been able to articulate. Bill Clinton presided over an era when the worst thing, the absolute worst thing, that was happening, the thing that his political opponents assured us was impeachment worthy, was lying about a eight minute blow job with an intern in a civil trial. Remember? Remember, when they asked us, WHAT WOULD WE TELL THE CHILDREN? As they, you know, told the children. Over and over and over again. A booming economy was a tide lifting all ships. Sure, it lifted the yachts with nine dollars out of ten, but even the leaky canoes were buoyed up by that trickling down final dollar.
For god’s sake, they were paying me 100 dollars an hour for playing with photoshop while intoning the words ‘brand experience’.
Then… I watched a partisan supreme court decision install the worst president in history, watched the towers fall, watched the US launch its first pre-emptive unilateral war based on cooked intelligence, with my kids toddling about my ankles. We turned off the TV news at that point, actually, I read about 911. I didn’t watch it more than once. And as a result, I never fully empathized with my PTSD addled countrymen. I read of two towers falling; the rest of the country watched hundreds upon hundreds of towers fall, over and over and over again, and they went mad, embracing anyone and anything they felt might keep them safe. In this case, preemptive war, torture, and tax cuts.
My parents and I both muddled through the madness.
Children are not had for rational reasons. They are always a kind of ridiculous hope, a hail mary pass, that somehow the world is going to be OK, and that life is worth living. That the good outweighs the bad, despite all evidence to the contrary.
Every child is a selfish act. Every child is a hopeful thing.
Like a submarine orbiting mars, powered by a violation of Newtonian physics. Like a blueprint that works as well as the machine built from it. Like a box made of wood and steel wool which can heal everything that ails you.
All these things, each as supremely unlikely as you are. What fantastic set of unlikely catastrophes had to happen to give you birth, eh?
To me, the most unlikely thing of course, is that I’m actually publishing my damn fiction in Asimov’s, after giving up for twenty years.
Here’s to the unlikely, the plot twist, the eye-popping coincidence, that saves us from the next headlong plunge into the abyss.
Here’s to dumb luck. We’re all going to need it, I suspect. I know I will.