November is always the most difficult month for me, creatively, and 2020 has been double November with a side of sad salad. I am researching a few new story ideas and keeping up with my various cheery Twitter projects, like the weather reports, but that aside it has been a month of much teaching and little story.
But one of the great things about writing is its life cycle. Even as you’re wrangling new ideas or struggling with rewrites, work you did months earlier comes back from the past to joybomb you. And so I’m delighted to announce that Sheila Williams at Asimov’s Science Fiction has bought my novelette “The Hazmat Sisters.”
Like my Clarkesworld novelette “The Immolation of Kev Magee,” Hazmat takes place during the Clawback, the period after my Setback novella that kicked off this universe for me. It falls well before the events of my Bounceback novels Gamechanger and Dealbreaker.
The Clawback is a tough period and this is a tough story, about family and safety and pandemics and war and being a good neighbor, and fighting with your sisters for a shot at the shower. But it’s also about cute girls with pluck, determination and pet robots, because that’s fun!
I’m so happy the story has found a home at Asimovs. It’s my first sale to Sheila and I am chuffed!
I have been writing Clawback stories for about eight weeks, which is just a little longer than the period I’ve been in super-privileged lockdown here in Toronto.
For those of you who aren’t sure what I’m talking about, the Clawback is the period after the events of my novella “Freezing Rain, a Chance of Falling” and before the events of my 2019 book Gamechanger. It’s the stretch of time between when climate change and the societal trends we’re seeing now dip to their lowest, most violent and depressing point…and it’s where humanity claws its way back from the brink and builds a sustainable, though never Utopian, society.
They’re grim stories, these things I’m writing, and I’m looking forward to moving on to something more fun.
Little surprise then that one of the most dour scenes in Gamechanger is its Clawback opening, set well before things start to get better. Decades before the action of the novel takes place, it shows a trio of orphans whose principal problem is plague. Well, plague and tornadoes. Plague, tornadoes, and a fanatical devotion to capitalism? (Okay, I’ll stop.)
That opening is very much a worst case scenario scene. It shows people choosing to sacrifice the sick to the healthy, shows millions of refugees crammed cheek by jowl in camps guarded by autonomous gun platforms, all hoping desperately to get vaxxed (as they say) and relocated before the next bug hits.
The idea that disease outbreaks would be part of the twenty-first century disaster bundle was so obvious to me that it didn’t feel that much like SF extrapolation. It was informed by books I’ve been reading for just about ever—books by scientists, like Laurie Garrett’s The Coming Plague and books by historians like Justinian’s Flea: The First Great Plague and the end of the Roman Empire By William Rosen and even novels by SF authors, like Connie Willis’s Doomsday Book. I read a lot about pandemics. I came of age during the early bloody emergence of AIDS. Of course it seemed like real-world stuff rather than far-future blueskying.
Of course it’s infinitely more pleasant to be reading about old, long-over outbreaks—or even to be writing about upcoming imaginary ones—than to watch one unfold in real time just down the block from your actual house.
The season of plagues in the Clawback does end. Not neatly, not miraculously, not even just by running its course. It ends after the world pulls together to establish a global minimum standard of public health. When the various factions and governments running our international commit to an unprecedented level of cooperation and coordination.
Am I saying that because I got the outbreak of deadly disease right in my near-future SF book, I’m also right about the better world around the corner? I would love for the Bounceback to come, for it to be miraculous, inevitable, and easy. But some of the good things in that future? Aren’t impossible. Look at us playing with variations on Universal Basic Income as the economy goes into paroxysms.
Some countries are cooperating. Some good things are happening. And if you live in a place where your votes matter and/or your spending habits influence the corporations that decide so much policy these days, keep an eye open for chances to jump in: to donate to causes, to amplify voices. To write to elected representatives, to shame corporate profiteers.
A better future isn’t never a gimme, not for anyone. But working toward it, asking for it, trying to build bridges instead of burning them—you can have a part in that. You know it, and you probably already know how.
We don’t have to give in to tornados, germs and multi-national serfdom. Right now, you’re on lockdown, and you’re not dead yet. Perhaps one of the most powerful things you may have left is your voice. If you’ve got the energy and the time, reach out and speak up. Shout the future, and thereby summon it into being.
I won’t go on and on–I bragged when I initially learned the novella had been chosen, but I will point out that Best SF also contains novellas and stories by the likes of Kelly Robson, Madeline Ashby, Yoon Ha Lee, Sofia Samatar, Daryl Gregory, John Chu, Ken Liu, Elizabeth Bear and so many other awesome writers. It’s going to make for great summer reading–I’m on the edge of my seat, waiting on a contributor’s copy so I can dig in!
Stunning, right? It captures exactly what I want for this fictional future—a world still recognizably the one we’re living in now, and yet changed, mostly (though not all) for the better.
(The Gamechanger outcome is actually what I want for our actual future, as far as that goes.)
Cover reveals often happen when a book becomes available for pre-order, and mine is! Powells and iTunes don’t have pages yet, but for those of you who dollar-vote at any of the following retailers, here are links. .
I spent 2018 beating up more manuscripts than ever before, and so as a result I have one publication to boast—my first novella, “Freezing Rain, a Chance of Falling,” which came out in the July/August issue of The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction. The story can be read by SFWA members by checking the links here. If you’re reading for the Hugo, and you want an electronic copy, drop me a note on Twitter, where I’m @lxbeckett or at the same name on Gmail.
“Freezing Rain, A Chance of Falling” is the story of Drow Whiting, who gets into horrific trouble when his social media accounts go into a nosedive, and who therefore makes some Very Bad Decisions. He also appears in my upcoming September novel, Gamechanger, which will be out in less than a year from Tor Books.
I am thrilled, so thrilled, to finally announce my first sale to C.C. Finlay at the Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction. “Freezing Rain, a Chance of Falling” is a novella set in what I sometimes like to call my Nice Things universe. It’s also a prequel, of sorts, to a Nice Things novel currently titled Goldilocks Conditions. (I’ll tell you a little more about that in the not too distant future.)
I have dreamed of selling a story to F&SF for as long as I can remember, which is a damned long time… the more so, because this particular novella had a long journey to the finish line. Charlie requested first an expansion and then an extended rewrite before we both agreed it was the best story it could possibly be. It is now slated to appear in the upcoming July/August issue of the magazine.
“Freezing Rain, a Chance of Falling” is about a talented young music journalist, Drow Whiting, who gambles all his social capital on what turns out to be a gloriously ill-judged expose. Idealistic, ambitious, and more naive than he cares to admit, Drow is ruined when he covers a diva musician’s plagiarism scam, and her reaction blows up into a full-bore online shame cascade. Soon Drow is a pariah, ready to do anything to recover his reputation, not to mention his career and his rock-bottom credit score. But desperation is like blood in the water, and Drow finds himself in bed with an elderly performance artist, an ancient GenX crone who’s offering to sponsor his investigation into a story everyone says he should leave alone, a first-person look into Toronto’s recreational chemotherapy dens.