Will McIntosh’s debut novel, Soft Apocalypse, was a finalist for both a Locus award and the John W. Campbell Memorial Award. His second novel, Hitchers, was published in 2012 by Night Shade Books. He is a frequent contributor to Asimov’s, where his story “Bridesicle” won the 2010 Reader’s Award, as well as the 2010 Hugo Award for Best Short Story. His third novel, Love Minus Eighty (based on “Bridesicle”) is published by Orbit books in June, 2013. Will recently moved to Williamsburg, Virginia with his wife Alison and twins Hannah and Miles. He left his position as a psychology professor in Southeast Georgia to write full time, and still teaches as an adjunct, at the College of William and Mary. Will is represented by Seth Fishman at The Gernert Company.
Leaps in Time and Too-Much-Techno Phobia: Why the ending to Love Minus Eighty looks nothing like the ending to “Bridesicle”
I struggled with the ending to my novel, Love Minus Eighty. That’s not uncommon for me–I rewrote the ending to Soft Apocalypse four times–but with Love Minus Eighty, save for the ending, the writing went pretty smoothly.
When I wrote the first draft, the ending was very similar to “Bridesicle,” the short story the novel is based on. It took place six hundred years further in the future, just as in the short story, and involved the future-tech idea of downloading someone else’s consciousness into your brain, in effect sharing space with others in your head so they can live on. I never considered ending it any other way. I thought the ending had worked well in the short story, so why change it?
It turned out it didn’t work. The big problem was the jump forward in time, but the consciousness hitching technology was problematic as well.
Everyone who read the first draft found the leap forward in time jarring. The problem was that in the short story, Mira, the protagonist, is waked periodically over a course of decades, so although the final leap forward in time is larger than the others, the reader is prepared for jumps through time. Love Minus Eighty takes place over one continuous two-year time period, so when the narrative suddenly jumped ahead six hundred years, readers were thrown out of the story.
The other layer of the problem was the consciousness hitching technology. When I first started thinking about how I might turn “Bridesicle” into a novel, I realized I didn’t want to include the consciousness hitching technology in the main body of the story (I’ll explain why in a moment). The way I planned to get around this was to have the consciousness-hitching technology be something that was developed during those intervening six hundred years, between the bulk of the story and the incredibly jarring far-future ending. Once it became clear that leap forward in time didn’t work, the consciousness-hitching technology had to go as well. That meant I needed an entirely new ending. Without giving too much away, I’ll say I went with an ending that didn’t directly involve futuristic technology.
So, why did I feel I had to do away with the consciousness-hitching technology when I wrote the novel? I saw two problems with it. The first was, if most everyone could download their minds into loved ones as they grew old, no one would be particularly afraid of death. That’s not a problem in a brief short story, but if you remove everyone’s fear of death in a novel, if you introduce the possibility of immortality, you risk bleeding away a lot of tension.
One way to get around this problem was to depict consciousness-hitching as extremely expensive, so only the wealthy could afford it. That would have dovetailed nicely with the other issues of wealth and class that played such a big part in the novel. The real problem I had with consciousness hitching was that I wanted to write a novel about people who were as familiar to readers as possible. I wanted to explore how characters readers would hopefully relate to dealt with this unpleasant future. I felt that having even just wealthy characters walking around with other people in their heads would create too much distance between the story and today’s world.
My sense is that the further you go into the future with a novel, and the less familiar the world is to the reader, the harder it is to get readers to relate to characters. If a story takes place ten years in the future, the protagonist could be you, or a friend or loved one. If the story takes place ten thousand years in the future, the characters’ day-to-day experience of life are so foreign that it’s hard to relate to them. I’m not suggesting there aren’t gifted writers out there who pull it off, but I think it’s much, much harder to keep your characters from leaving the reader cold if the novel is set in the far future. Because I was writing about love and dating, attempting to write about very personal, very emotional aspects of my characters’ lives, I felt like I had to make them seem as much like people today as possible. On that front, being able to download your consciousness into someone else felt like a deal-breaker to me.
Thanks to Will McIntosh for this guest post! Will’s newest novel Love Minus Eighty is out today and highly recommended! Check back later this week for a giveaway and another guest post by Orbit art director Kirk Benshoff, who created the novel’s wonderful cover.