On March 13, 2018, Tor.com’s novella program will publish my time travel story Gods, Monsters, and the Lucky Peach. It’s a big novella, just 300 words shy of 40,000 words, which is about half the size of your average novel.
So why not make it a novel?
That’s what everyone said when I told them the first draft was 50,000 words! But it’s not quite that simple. To make it a novel, the story would have to be a lot bigger. This is a tight novella-sized concept.
But it’s going to be an actual book?
Yes! An actual physical book with gorgeous cover art (which should be revealed sometime in the fall). Which means I get to include a dedication, acknowledgements, and all that real book stuff.
What’s it about?
A fluvial geomorphologist, a gay veterinarian, and a research assistant walk into a bar…
No, wait. Here’s the elevator pitch:
In 2267, Earth has just begun to recover from a mass extinction event, but the invention of time travel by secretive think tank TERN has blocked the flow of funding for long-term ecological restoration projects. Minh, an elderly fluvial geomorphologist, has spent her entire life working to restore ecosystems, and she’s enraged at having her life’s work disrupted by the illusion of quick-fix solutions to the world’s problems. When Minh gets the opportunity take a team to 2000 BC to conduct a past-state assessment of the Tigris and Euphrates rivers, she jumps at the chance to uncover TERN’s secrets.
Why did you decide to write about this?
I’ve worked in professional services firms for most of my life, and I’ve learned that takes an incredible amount of effort to get humans to work together.
In this novella, the world economy is designed around the idea that the only thing of value is a person’s time. The basic economic unit is the billable hour. Natural resources have no value because everything, including food, can be fabricated at the atomic level. Labor is done by robots. If you don’t like the standard of life where you’re living, everyone has the basic human right to take their projected billable hours elsewhere – basically vote with their feet.
I call this the Transparent Economy, where all transactions are measured and tracked. This is the same economic system I use in my Clarkesworld novelette “We Who Live in the Heart,” which is set on a distant planet 600 years in the future. I’m currently working on another story set in Toronto in the near future, which deals with the origin of this system.
This is a utopia, right?
Definitely not. The Transparent Economy has some definite drawbacks. One is a lack of privacy. Another is the simple fact that the world has humans in it. Even if we had a utopia, we’d find ways to make drama.
But nobody has to work, right?
Hah! Computers, robots, and databases will never be able to do everything. Plus, many people like to work. I think a major contributing factor to happiness is knowing your time is well spent and valued by others.
How does the time travel fit into all this?
Time travel is a big complication. It was invented about ten years before the story begins.
Are there paradoxes?
No! I don’t care for time travel paradoxes. I think there’s tons of drama to be had from the simple fact of time travel being possible.
So how does your time travel work?
Every writer designs their time travel physics to suit the kinds of stories they like to tell. Mine is specifically set up to be essentially useless – it can’t be used to change anything. You can go to the past, do whatever you like, and come home, but you can’t stay there. And once you’ve returned home, you can’t revisit the same past timeline you visited before. Each trip is to a fresh timeline. There’s no way to build on anything you do in the past.
I wanted to explore how time travel with no consequences can be a big problem and people can still get themselves in HUGE trouble with it even when, on a basic level, it’s only good for tourism.
And historical research.
Oh yes, lots of historical research! And ecological research too. And a lot of other things — but it’s especially good for getting yourself into trouble.