The Taking of IOSA 2083
I'll Never Find Another You
Inconstant Nature
Imaginary Enemies
Pink Ice in the Jovian Rings
All the Things We Gave You
Consequences of a Clockwork Theology
Love In A Time of Bio-Mal
The Unfortunate Necessity of Regular Upgrades
Exchanges in No Man's Land
The Uploaded
A Forgiveness of Wolves

End of the World

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Love in a Time of Bio-Mal

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This was one of two stories I wrote set in the same universe, a world rebuilding after being ruined by the widespread availability of table-top gene synthesizers (something like a 3d-printer for biological artifacts). I tried to write dozens of stories set in this universe, and even a series of novels, but only two short-stories came out in the end. The other one won the James White Award in 2011, which now seems a lifetime ago. Now I think a lot of the ideas that were in play in these stories have become dated.

Re-reading this, I still quite like this story. I'm a bit wary of some of the punctuation choices. It's unusual for me in having a male lead: I normally prefer to write female characters, something that used to bother me, because "why do I keep doing that?" One reason was always that there's still too few active female characters in fiction, although that is sharply changing now. But I now know another reason is because it gives me greater authorial distance from the character. Unlike many people I've never come at fiction as being a place to enact my own fantasises. All my life, whether I was reading or watching fiction, I never imagined I had a place in it. I never imagined I was Captain Kirk, or ever could be anything like that. I was an overweight, working-class white-boy with glasses and a cough whose manifest destiny was to spend my life stacking shelves in Safeway (a fate which I have managed to avoid, I guess. I no longer consider myself to be working-class, which sometimes gets me into argument with my siblings who are more committed to this identity, but I feel once you've been to university, you've been changed, you've seen a wider field of possibilities and it's dishonest to claim this identity any more). One of my motivations for giving money to people on the street is that I always expected to wind up there myself one day. Thus directly injecting myself into fiction, as many no-doubt do, would be too jarring, too unbelievable for me to sustain. I need a distancing device, and gender works a well as anything.

All that said, this story is cyberpunk, and the reason I always loved cyberpunk, is that it was a future where I felt a person like me could belong. One of the reasons I never got on well with superhero fiction was that I couldn't relate to it's endless cavalcade of millionaire playboys, with the odd God or genetic superman thrown in, or if we're playing the feminist card, here's one who's different: she's an Amazon PRINCESS!! While most commentators in SF see the 'punk' in 'cyberpunk' as being about middle-class counter-culture utopias (punk rock), I always saw it as meaning 'trash', as meaning the people on the streets that society has no time or place for. For me cyberpunk was one of the few genres that recognized the underclass and allowed us to be heroes, instead of Morlocks or Orcs. William Gibson himself acknowledged this when he commented that his protagonists come out of the book with two hundred dollars and a new girlfriend, and they're happy as pigs in shit. That's a working-class worldview for you, a worldview without ambitions of moving up the hierarchy, a worldview where some money in your pocket, and someone to spend it with, is as good as it gets.

But my lead in this story isn't working-class, he's a fallen aristocrat. He's not a skilled hacker or street-samurai. Arguably then, this isn't cyberpunk, but something else. Still, as one of my few male characters, I'm quite pleased with him. These days I'm very over-sensitive to how men are portrayed in fiction. Even if the portrayal is intended to be positive, we're almost always violent and self-centered, and we're always about power and destruction, and very rarely are we makers or builders, and when we are it always goes wrong (I'm looking at you, Ms Shelly). In this story Phillipe is not violent, he is self-centered, but only to the extent that most people are. He's deeply flawed, and he does bad things, but he's not a bad person, and the things he does are the failings of a flawed individual, not some perceived taint associated with his gender. Another man might have chosen differently, and with a different roll of the die, and things could have come out better for Philippe.

One thing I won't do again, though. I won't try to write a character who has English as their second language. I didn't go to some people's posh schools. I tried to teach myself French for years and never got anywhere. You can't try to do such things if you're someone like me, if you do, the rich-kids who learned five languages in kindergarten will mock you and beat up on your for trying and failing. Most of the commentary that I see among SF-writer types, which claims to be about 'social issues', looks more to me like it's about writerly fratricide, using ideology to beat up on your peers in the hope of elevating yourself over them. Likely that's unfair, and I'm judging too many people by the standards of requires_hate, but once you've seen the trick pulled off so well, it's tough not to think that everyone's doing it.

I think the core idea of this story came from a 'readers circle' I used to attend. We read Margaret Atwood's fantastic "The Handmaid's Tale" (a book I'd always been afraid to read, because I expected it to be unbearably harrowing. In my youth I read "Wuthering Heights", and spent about a week feeling suicidal, and this has given me a sensible fear of grim-dark fiction. The Handmaid's Tale is nothing like that, and if you've not read it, you should). At the discussion session of the book I said that one thing I found a little unbelievable, was the statement by the protagonist that she felt her husband liked the new regime in which her financial independence was taken away, and she became dependant on him. Clearly this was paranoia on her part, because no sane person would want a partner bound to them by dependency, they would want their partner to chose to be with them, not to have the choice forced upon them. Turned out I was wrong about that, because every person in the room, men and women both, turned around and said that actually, they would very much like to have complete control of their partner, so as the person could never leave. They openly said they would like the security of holding another human being (preferably a pretty one of the appropriate sex) in bondage. I sat there staring at them with my mouth open, and never went to another reading group afterwards. Thus in this story Phillipe makes this same mistake, gets what he wants, and discovers he's devalued the one thing he cared about.