Choosing between near and distant futures

Note: Next week I’ll talk about choosing between future fiction that is inwardly oriented vs. outwardly oriented.

One of the issues that bedevils me when I start writing a new story (and there are many) is determining the right timeline. Stories set in the past are easier than those in the future because, whatever point in time the story resides in, the setting is understood and accepted. One need merely to figure out where on that timeline one wants to tether the story in question and then ensure the settings and other elements are credible according to the historic record. But the future…well. There is no line. One must select a point in the ether and color outside the lines because there are no lines, and this is really fun, but creating a credible story in any future is tricky business. Continue reading

Winter highway in Texas County


The county bladed the road once, but it’s 17 degrees, and now the snow and salt and mineral used to treat the blacktop has packed down. Treacherous. You drive this lonely highway in Texas County with your eyes open, your ears open, your right foot playing the gas pedal like a heart string. You’re going to end up in the ditch. You drive at 45 and marvel at how ugly the old houses are, beaten down under the broody sky, but you’ll never admit to this mean observation because a puff of smoke above the poorest place is a sign of life, and life is precious. Winter in Texas County will teach you this if nothing else. You already appreciate the denizens of that shack ahead, put up in front of an old crumbling foundation of the grander home that came before, and still sheltering in the arms of bare oak trees that once embraced the old homestead.

IMG_2601You imagine that the descendants of that place might find you when the black ice takes you for a spin. You know that if anyone could save your sorry hide it would be these dwellers in desolated houses so adept at coping with winter with nothing but tar paper and shingles hung on warped wood frames that they would smell your stupid accident before the snow settled into the skid marks. You admire their fortitude until you remember that their storestrength has been carved by fate not foresight. Only their children ask why the road can’t be cleared like the interstate that passes by miles off to the west. The idea of it itches like a dream or the memory of a Hallmark movie they saw once, but the elders don’t have words for such frivolous chirping. They would frown and say the government isn’t going to take more of their money–those goddamn paid thieves, never a one worked a day in their lives, socialists and libtards. And they will not have it.

blowsnowIf they find you a curious fool, be glad, for that means they cannot hate you like they hate the road crew who are agents of the government, who are good-for-nothing idiots taking this country down and who they do not need because they know how to endure anything. They would dare you to deny it when they save your miserable life, but that would require words on their part and having to listen to you prattle on about how dangerous the roads are, and they will not have it. You’d like to ask them, not how they endure winter because winter is still a season that passes, but you would like to ask them how they endure nothing. Nothing at all. You’re not sure you have the words for this, and besides it would be impolite so you decide to say nothing but thank you when the time comes. All this you know when it is 17 degrees, and you are driving a snow-covered highway in Texas County.

A writing dilemma: focus on what lies ahead or what is coming from behind?

When I finally decided to stop trying to write literature and embraced the trifecta genres of science fiction, fantasy and horror, I realized something very important about myself. I’m a bit of an alarmist. It’s not something I’m proud of and I have spent inordinate amounts of energy trying to cover this up in polite company, but there it is. I’m nervous, high strung, a worrier. Not in a loud way, but in a quiet, constant yellow-alert sort of way.

Maybe others who have felt this way in the past have had more justification for saying this than I, but I think we are living in times that make this condition worse. It feels as though we have just gotten down from the trees, and run half-way across the savannah while more-or-less successfully avoiding lions. Now, on the horizon, a huge mother-ship of biological and environmental threats, political disintegration, and technological threats is hovering. Is it just me?  Continue reading

Flakey with a nice crust: The Fireman by Joe Hill

joehillHarper Willowes, a nicey nice nurse who fantasizes that Julie Andrews should play her onscreen, is the protagonist of this story of terror and struggle in New England. A strange new plague threatens the entire country in The Fireman by Joe Hill, and people are spontaneously combusting as a result of infection by a spore commonly called Dragonscale. There’s tremendous destruction and fear, and people immediately separate into four non-mutually exclusive groups: those infected, those not infected, the decent and the assholes.

I was a bit leery of Nurse Willowes in the beginning. She’s too good and too silly, what with her “spit spot” and love of musicals and Disney films. But she recovered credibility when, after being pushed to the wall, she nearly takes her husband’s face off with a broken bottle. After being rescued by a mysterious fireman whose path she’s crossed before, as well as a couple of kids in Halloween masks, Harper escapes her murderous husband to join a bunch of infected people hiding in an old church camp near the New Hampshire coast. Harper, by the way, is infected and pregnant–two facts that turn her husband into a raving madman bent on killing her and every other infected person he finds. Continue reading