This week’s short story is a good, complex one. It’s also almost
certainly a novella, too. I’ve got 3,200 words and I’m not anywhere near
the halfway point.
Three inspirations have come to a confluence:
At the end of a prior blog post,
I haphazardly stumbled into a line of self-questioning. Given that
I’ve rewritten the future history I established in Voyage Embarkation and Insomnium,
what does that mean for Kal Anders, Voyage Embarkation’s protagonist? What would have happened to a Kal who
grew up in the Hegemony instead of the Pan-Atlantic Union? I noted
in a subsequent post
that this was an extremely productive line of interrogation, but
that I wasn’t ready to share any more details at that point in time.
Alex and I watched a documentary called The Booksellers, which is about
rare book collectors.
This past week, I noticed a strange smell coming from my kitchen
cupboards. Upon further interrogation, I discovered that a can of
black beans had become so badly infested with botulism that it had
ruptured, its contents spewing forth and dripping down onto the
counter. Alex and I spent about an hour cleaning that up.
What do any of these things have in common, you ask? Good question. The
answer starts with the details of Kal’s life in my new universe and ends
with the setup to this week’s story.
The Kal Anders who grew up in Hegemony Chicago would not have been
exposed to enough nanogenic radiation to require him to be moved to a
parallel world, as in the events of Voyage Embarkation. Instead,
growing up in the intellectually stifling Hegemony, Kal dreams of
escaping to the Equum. At age twenty, he finally succeeds in moving to
Equum Philadelphia, where it takes him just a year to figure out that
the Equum is equally stifling, just in different ways. By twenty-two
he’s able to extract himself back to the Midwest.
He spends about a decade taking odd jobs programming things for various
individuals and institutions, and generally just traveling around the
Midwest, meeting people, and trying to stay out of the way of the
authorities, which the money from his programming gigs lets him do.
In his early thirties, he starts to hear about rumors of a group called
the Reconstructionists who have been piecing together Earth’s literary
history (which the Hegemony and Equum have both destroyed) by
cross-compiling the same works from parallel universes. They’ve also
reached the point where they have multiple strongholds and are capable
of defending themselves against the Hegemony military.
Kal joins up.
At the very start of his training, he is approached by a rare book
collector named Krya. Rather than trying to reconstruct Earth’s true
literature, Krya goes out of her way to find books that diverge
significantly from Earth’s—an Aristotle whose Metaphysics declared the
gods dead and ended in a rambling, nihilistic screed, a Hieronmyous
Bosch who painted angels, saints, and the glorious kingdom of heaven, a
Philip K Dick who wrote economically successful realism.
Krya enlists Kal to help her get her hands on the ultimate prize:
dialogues written by a demented Plato.
I refuse to spoil how the botulism is related. I’ll save that one for
when the story can be read. I think it will be fun.
And so, as I mentioned, I will not rewrite Voyage, but it seems that
there are stories surrounding his endeavors in this time stream. I
cannot give up on Kal Anders. No matter what universe he finds himself
in, whether a teenager or an adult, somehow he always ends up back in
This week’s story is titled “The Demented.” Perhaps it will be part of a
collection. Perhaps it will stand alone. I’ll need to have written many
more shorts in order to figure out how I want to put it into the world.