From Debs – I’m a science duffer, and while I enjoy reading science fiction and SciFi (with space opera being a particular favourite at the moment) my story is a bit like me…
“I thought this was a creative writing class – why is the reading list wholly science-based?”
Melissa’s hand had been up for quite a while before the tutor got round to her. She spotted his eyes roll and the unmistakably brusque tone in his response.
“If you’d read the syllabus notes in advance, you’d have noticed the first piece of writing is going to be science fiction, and the one thing that will ensure you alienate your readers is if you get the science wrong. That list also includes successful authors, who’ll showcase how to do it well.”
“But the module is entitled Research. Oh… I see.” Melissa started to argue, before tailing off in a shamefaced manner.
The class broke up in a buzz of excitement, for all but Melissa were geeks or nerds, appearing to be well in their element with this one. Melissa, with aspirations of writing literary fiction, felt like the proverbial fish. The rest of the day passed in a blur of self-pity and disappointment, so Melissa felt positively entitled when she picked up that bottle of wine despite it being a school night. Pouring her first glass as she threw together a pasta dish, she multi-tasked as was her wont by checking her email. To her surprise, there was one from the creative writing tutor.
“I wanted to re-assure you it’s pure bad luck you’re the only non-science person in the class as the first module on this course has always been a piece of science fiction. I know you won’t feel it now, but you’ve actually got the best chance of high marks. What you need to do is to demonstrate you know how to use research in your writing. Honestly, most of the others will think they know enough and wing it, whereas my marking will be based on what each of you make of the same research materials. And yes, that fact is also in the syllabus notes.”
Melissa put her wine glass down in a hurry to read the syllabus notes properly, before logging into the campus library. Swearing under her breath, she saw he was right on both counts. And no-one else had booked the items on the reading list, despite there being multiple copies of each. Putting the wine bottle away, she resolved to drive the next day rather than having to lug the pile of reading material home on the bus.
Home again, she started with fiction, and was surprised to find one of the offerings absolutely engrossing. Yes, it was science, but the story had great characters and a good plotline. Melissa began to see a glimmer of belief. She might be able to produce something which showcased her own preferred style, but in a science fiction setting.
Her joy ended all too quickly when she came crashing down to earth after reading the non-fiction. There was so much which went over her head, it was all such dense learning and she felt utterly overwhelmed.
Taking herself out for a walk to get away from the wine bottle, she pondered how on earth she was going to choose what area of science to incorporate into her work… when she remembered. The first work of fiction she’d read had been unremarkable, but she was sure it was in there. Rushing home to re-read it, Melissa gave a little “yes!” before stopping to make tea for fuelling a long session of copious note making. She was right, she had spotted a McGuffin – one she thought she might just be able to use.
Checking the author hadn’t written anything more on the subject, Melissa threw herself into outlining her tale. Her story would be a prequel, ending where the McGuffin is uncovered in the original book… but with entirely different characters, a plotline, and maybe even a timeline of its own. Of course, she had to ensure that her story would lead seamlessly into the already published work, for the link between her world and that of the published work would need to be believable.
On the reading list, Melissa found was a fascinating book on worldbuilding, quickly becoming buried in creating the world her characters would inhabit. Religion, culture, clothing, politics, geography, geology, gender identity, hobbies, transport, education – nothing escaped her. As she researched each subject, she found ideas for building the direction her plot would take.
As she developed her plot, she kept returning to the original ethos – her storyline mustn’t jar with that of the published work, it mustn’t be a copy, but it must have a believable link. Whenever Melissa faced a conflict in what direction to take her story, she returned to this important requirement.
Slowly but steadily, Melissa saw how it would work. Producing a detailed plot and full character profiles, she wrote the beginning and the ending. Now she just had to make sure she had enough understanding of the science for the middle. It would be a struggle, but she was fortunate in having an entire class filled with geeks and nerds at hand, most of whom had appeared terribly keen to display their cleverness to her.
Melissa smiled. This could work.
© Debra Carey, 2021
From David – I’d probably be one of the nerds and geeks in Melissa’s class who would try to wing it, if I’m honest, although Debs will tell you that I’m also likely to go digging after a detail to ensure verisimilitude – I hate unintended anachronsims! Creatively, I’m in a funny place at the moment, so I hope you’ll indulge me in the fact that I’ve written two shorter pieces rather than one longer one. I think they both meet the brief. I’ve put the slightly more dystopian one first, and the absurdist one second…
The alarm goes off. Just once I’d like to be able to say that with enthusiasm. I spit onto a fresh test, spike a finger with another and head to the bathroom. They say that it doesn’t really matter when you do it, but I figure it’s best to get it out of the way early. It’s not like it’s a treat to hold on for. Once or twice, when I was younger, I tried to get out the door without doing the tests. They’re supposed to be voluntary, after all, but the increasingly serious warnings as I delayed spooked me too much, and I caved in.
I’ve timed my ablutions to perfection, thanks to experience. I’ve no idea what the results are, but I touch the tests to my watch and it tells me what my meals for the day will be, what supplements to take, what exercise to do.
Sometimes I wonder what it would be like to catch something – not fatal obviously – and to see my meals emerge from the slot in the wall, but I’ve always been sickeningly healthy and so, as usual, I wend my way down to the hustle and bustle of the refectory. All the adverts make them look glamourous and lively, try and get you to move to a new Residence on the basis of the great meals you’ll be served. There’s only so much you can do with yeast and myco-protein though, and every refectory I’ve ever been a member of serves the same series of drudge-fare. There are one or two choices on the menu that it’s worth getting excited for, but usually the biggest buzz about the menu is when they decide to change the order. I’ve heard stories of places that added something new to their menu, but I think they’re just urban legends. I’ve never met someone who’s seen a menu change, they’re only ever stories from a friend of a friend.
The refectory is still filling up at this time of the day. I collect my tray and look for somewhere to sit. Some people favour corner seats as there are fewer people around you, but I tend to avoid them as you get more people passing by. There are a few seats though that are optimal. My favourite has been taken, but my second favourite is free. Some would see this as an omen for the day.
There are rumours that refectories may have to bubble eating groups. Idly, I wonder how one would ensure that you ended up with an optimal seat, how you would ensure that you had a good mix of chat-friends. How long before the lack of change would stultify conversation. I wonder if they would allow changes to the bubbles over time? The self-elected table monitor is talking about an article they read of old villages, no more than 250 people, how the brain is wired to remember this many people and struggles with more. I wonder what it would be like to know that many people so well. I know more people than that – there must be at least a 1,000 people in the Residence alone, but how many of those do I know well?
I’m clearing my tray when the police-nurses file in and seal the room. Such stories play out on the news every day, but again, never to anyone you know. They call out a name. It is the self-elected table monitor from a table on the other side of the refectory. Something is jabbed in their arm and they are taken away, dangling between two police-nurses. The remaining police nurses escort us back to our rooms, a table at a time. Senior police-nurses sequester those closest to the person who has just been removed.
I miss the rest, but can imagine the process of testing and injecting, as our table is escorted out of the refectory and back to our rooms. I’m handed a test kit, and the door is locked behind me. It will open to the touch of the test – if all is well.
I’ll have a story to tell, maybe. I wait for the results.
“So what are you going to call it?” A useful phrase, in the right circumstances, although a less self-involved person would have noted the lack of enthusiasm and an overabundance of doubt.
“I had thought of ‘dig’ or ‘pog’, but I’m not really sure. I think I’ll hand that over to the PR people and see what they suggest.
“Probably wise…although I think they might have some bigger issues to deal with first, like the fact that you’re not licensed as a genetic engineer, not anymore, not after, you know…”
“Details, details. I couldn’t let all that expensive equipment sit around idle – “
“You could have sold it.”
“- and the point is, it worked! The Institute will be begging to give me back my license!”
“Maybe…” Still more doubt than enthusiasm, to be honest.
The creature before me was, basically, a dog. A very enthusiastic dog, with a long, licky tongue, and bottom that was shuffling back and forth as its tail whipped back and forth in a creditable attempt at a vertical take-off.
“I used a Labrador, to begin with, for obvious reasons, but the process would work with any dog type. I can imagine it being popular with police forces and the military if we make the splice with Alsatians and Dobermans and so on, and we could make quite a cute handbag version for the fashionistas.”
I really wasn’t sure cute was a go-er. One of the things that I notice about dogs is that they don’t have teeth, they have fangs. The creature before me had tusks, not like an elephant but more like –
“Similarly, I used a Gloucester Old Spot for the pig part, but again we could probably use other types if there are other characteristics we want to go for. I quite fancy trying to resurrect the Lincolnshire Curly Coat. I shied away from wild boar-”
Uncharacteristically restrained of you, I thought.
“-but that might be good for the military version, perhaps.”
Ah, there we go.
“I feel like I’m missing something. Does the world need a dog-pig or pig-dog or whatever this thing is?” Its hard to use the word monstrosity when the thing in question is looking at you pathetically, licking your hand and drooling over your shoes.
“Ah, but here’s the really good bit! It’s not just a dig or a pog or whatever we call it – it’s a living biorefinery! You can feed it on just about anything organic, and some stuff that isn’t. And then, you can tweak a few genes or the gut flora and it will produce whatever chemical you want. Medicines, turpentine, alcohol, petrol, spider silk…”
“Forgive me, but aside from questions of scale, I really can’t see aspirin extracted from a pog’s backside catching on. Further, can you imagine the havoc reeked by porco-canine produced illicit drugs? And whilst it might be great that pigs will eat anything, pigs eat EVERYTHING. I can’t see that being great round the home, frankly, not to mention all those mob hits and crazy farmers where they disposed of the body using porcine reclamation.”
The noise he made in response wasn’t quite rude, but was somewhere on the raspberry spectrum.
The creature looked up at me with pleading eyes.
© David Jesson, 2021