Your Life: Now with More Sci-Fi

As it says on the front page, whilst Debs and I write the majority of the content on this blog ourselves, we’re also delighted to post contributions from others.  The periodic fifth Sunday in the month frequently causes consternation as we try and figure out what we’re going to be putting in that slot.  This time around, that fifth Sunday has coincided with our third birthday (time flies…), and we wanted something extra special.  This month we kicked off with a prompt we came up with in honour of James Pailly.  James runs the Planet Pailly blog, which is completely awesome, and well worth your time (once you’ve finished up here of course).  James has been a great friend to this blog, and he has very kindly written this article for us. I feel very privileged that we get to post it here.

–    David

They say we’re all the heroes of our own stories.  I always wanted my story to be a Sci-Fi action adventure with lots of aliens and cyborgs, some cool spaceships, and maybe a light sprinkling of time travel.  As a compromise with reality, I thought I’d pursue a career in television.  My dream was to end up working on the set of Star Trek or Doctor Who or some other science fiction TV series like that.

But upon graduating from college with a bachelor’s degree in TV/Film production, I soon learned the truth about the entertainment business.  It’s just… it’s the worst.  There was no way I was going to Hollywood.  There was no way I’d end up working on the kind of cool Sci-Fi shows that I’d watched as a kid.  So I took the best job I could get: editing the news for a local TV station.  And I was lucky to get that job when I did, because the 2008 financial crisis was right around the corner.

People have pretty strong opinions about those of us who work in the news media.  Some of those opinions are probably justified, but let me tell you this: if you think watching the news is depressing, try working in a newsroom.  Every day, you’ll be exposed to the absolute worst that humanity has to offer.  Murders, rapists, dishonest politicians?  Sleazy businesspeople ripping off their customers?  Huge mega corporations laying off their employees?  It’s all just another day at the office.  You either find a way to compartmentalize this stuff or you have a nervous breakdown in the middle of your work shift (yes, I’ve seen it happen).

Was I the hero of my own story?  I didn’t feel much like a hero.  I felt pretty sure that I was in the wrong story, that I belonged in some other story world entirely.  But as I already mentioned, the 2008 financial crisis was coming, and once the crisis hit, finding another job was no longer an option.  Not for a kid like me, fresh out of college, with such an embarrassingly short résumé.

So there I was, trapped in a depressing and demoralizing job due to economic circumstances that were beyond my control.  I was frustrated.  A lot of people were frustrated.  One day I was sitting with a reporter who, for the purposes of this blog post, I’m going to refer to as Susan.  Susan and I were commiserating over the stresses of our jobs.  The hot story that night was a missing person’s case, except it wasn’t really a missing person’s case.

The police weren’t saying anything yet, and neither were the family, but Susan was a seasoned journalist.  She’d covered stories like this before, and she knew that this so-called missing person’s case was really a homicide investigation.  The police just hadn’t found the body yet.

“It’s like I’m from the future, and I already know everything that’s going to happen,” Susan told me.  “But I can’t say anything about it on air because that would make me look unprofessional.”  Of course I don’t remember Susan’s exact words.  I’m paraphrasing, and I’m leaving out a lot of expletives.  Anyway, the next morning we found out Susan’s prediction was 100% right.

If I’m supposed to be the hero of my own story, then I’d say Susan fits the character archetype of the herald.  She was the catalyst for change, the person who made me suddenly see things from a new perspective, the one who finally set my real adventure into motion.  I just had to use a little imagination, a little creativity, to transform all my professional experiences (and all my professional struggles) into science fiction.  In my head, journalists became time travelers.  Camera people could be cyborgs, and the stories we covered for the news–they were the great conflicts and calamities of a vast, sprawling intergalactic civilization.

The Tomorrow News Network: Bringing you tomorrow's news today.

I have to confess I do have an ulterior motive for telling you all this.  As of this writing, the first book in the Tomorrow News Network series is nearing completion.  In a matter of days, I expect to be handing my manuscript over to my editor, and shortly after that, dear reader, I will have a book to sell you!

In the meantime, if you click this link here, you can learn a little more about the Tomorrow News Network and see how they covered the beginning of the universe.

But the more important reason I wanted to share my story with you is to set up a writing prompt.  Life doesn’t always go the way we planned.  Life is full of setbacks and frustrations.  So I want you to pick something really frustrating in your life–some frustration that you’re dealing with right now–and try reimagining the situation in a science fiction setting.  What would change?  What would stay the same?  And how would you, as the hero of the story, handle the situation differently?

Or if you’re not into Sci-Fi, do it as a western, or a romantic comedy, or a film noir detective story.  Use whatever your preferred genre of fiction happens to be.

Oh, and one last thing: no matter where you are in life, no matter what you may be dealing with right now, never forget that you really are the hero of your own story.

© James Pailly, 2019 (Main text and embedded graphic)

Last night I dreamt I went to Barsoom again

I lay down in my hotel room, far from home and low in spirit.  In place of the usual Gideon’s, to my surprise, was a copy of “A Princess of Mars” – a first edition, no less.  I flipped through the pages in a desultory fashion, at once recalling the the adventures of John Carter and Dejah Thoris and puzzling over the mystery of this volume’s presence in my room.

My eyes started to drift shut, and I placed the book back where I had found it in the bedside drawer.  I found my accustomed sleeping position – and immediately fell asleep.

I woke, almost at once it seemed, but with a groggy-start, as if from a deep sleep. I sat up, shook my head and looked around, trying to find the light switch.  As I continued the rise from the depths of sleep, I realised that it was already light, about as light as on Spring day.

I looked around.  This was most certainly not my bed, not my hotel room.  The ground I was sitting on was cold, and covered with greenish-lichen.  I got to my feet: the lichen crunched underfoot as a turned around, looking at the terrain.  The depression of ground spread out for tens of kilometres in every direction; off in the distance, I could see hills, low and red.

I jumped.  It was not as graceful as I had hoped, but John Carter’s first attempts had warned me of what to expect. Leapt and bounded to the top of rise, covering tens of metres with every stride.  From my vantage, I looked around and saw two clouds of dust closing on each other.  I wished I had binoculars, but had little doubt that two tribes of the fearsome, fearless green warriors of Mars were closing on each other ready for battle and conquest.

Dare I go closer?  No.  I was sure to be seen and captured, if I did not stop a radium bullet fired with malice or by mistake.  I continued to look around, warily returning to view the distant fight from time to time.  I saw a flotilla of airships, perhaps from the fair double city of Helium itself, crest the hills.  Gracefully they floated across the arid desert-bowl.  I stood between the ships and the Green Martians and did not know where to look.

I gazed too long at the airships and, when I turned again, I saw that a part of Green Martians had broken free of the battle and were racing towards me.  I turned and ran, taking long jumping strides.  I was just able to keep my lead, but I was no Fighting Virginian and quickly became winded.  I landed a little too heavily on a rock that shifted underneath me.  It threw me off my stride and I tumbled headlong, striking my head on a rock.

Blackness.

I woke in the middle of falling out of bed, and landed on the floor of my hotel room with a bump, that would have been embarrassing if there had been anyone there to see it.  I landed on my shoulder, but not too heavily.  I sat up and saw the glowing red figures of my travel alarm o’clock.  Surely I could only have been asleep for minute, two at the most.

I got back into bed, and wondered why my ankle hurt, why the bed felt gritty.

© David Jesson, 2018