Sunday, November 06, 2005

Reflections on "For Us, the Living"

I'm sure everyone has a story the wrote when they were really young that they latest admitted schtunck! I actually finished a story in 1987, when I was 30, which I still have sitting in a folder. After I finished it, I just stashed it away, because I knew it wasn't that good. I was more interested in pursuing my career in journalism at the time, anyway.

I didn't look at the story for 16 years, and then ran across it after moving in 2003. It was set at the turn of the century, and boy did I call the history wrong! I had the Berlin Wall falling ten years too late, and the Christian Coalition taking over the country too early (I had Pat Robertson winning the 1992 presidential election).

BUT... reading the story now, I realize that if I had kept after it, rewrote it and few times, and maybe got some feedback, it might have been usable. The problem wasn't with the story, it was with me - I wasn't interested enough in writing fiction then.

By 2002, when I started writing s-f again, I had achieved a number of personal and professional goals which had been unfulfilled earlier. I was ready to try something new.

I also think 16 more years as a writer also really helped. I remember when I tried writing in the 1980s how labored it seemed to me - the actual writing process. Now, the writing seems easy - my problem is coming with clever, biting and original ideas. Which is a problem everyone faces.

The story I wrote up in 1987 still has an idea I'd love to explore - western society collapses in anarchy and violence as people go crazy because of their inability to handle the pace of technological change in their everyday lives.

Just as in "For Us, the Living", you can see the seeds of Heinlein's later works, when I found the manuscript of this story, I could see the roots of what I wrote later. The story is mostly a monologue, by the last man who makes it into a cave in Central Texas before they close the entrance. Above insanity and destruction spreads. The newcomer explains to another man that, essentially, he saw it all coming, and was ready to make a fast break when the collapse happened.

By the time I found the story and reread it, I had sent off "A Rocket for the Republic" - which, of course, is a monologue. The other story isn't quite a monologue - the other fellow gets a few words in - but you know what I mean.

I also found the handwritten beginning of another story - equally optimistic - that starts out pretty much like "A Canticle for Liebowitz", except that civilization didn't collapse due to war or disaster, but instead because people's collective intelligence ultimately lagged so far behind their technology that no one understood how stuff worked, and then - after free trade agreements bring in foreign made electronic goods that are especially shabbily made and prone to failure - people stop believing that the stuff works and it DOES stop working because of their collective disbelief. Somehow the laws of physics are changed because of the dead weight of doubt and ignorance.

The story would have a young monk who finds an old textbook by a Mr. Wizard type fellow, and the text is so clear and easy to understand that the monk "gets it" and some of the old technology starts working again for him.

I never even finished a first draft of that story.

Even back then, I would write potential story titles down. My wife was the one who actually found the box with these old papers while we were unpacking after a move, and she went through them.

She found an old brown crumbling sheet of paper where I had written down story titles, and pointed out one was "Circe in Vitro".

Pretty funny, I finally came up with a story to match that title last year. It was published by Astounding Tales, and was one of my Honorable Mentions in "The Year's Best Science Fiction, 22nd annual collection".

Lou Antonelli
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