Futures this week sees the welcome return to its pages of Jacey Bedford with her post-apocalyptic story Mort’s laws. Jacey previously graced the pages of Futures with her story The loneliness of the long-distance panda, which also appears in the Futures 2 e-book. In the intervening time, Jacey has published her first novel, Empire of Dust, and has been readying the sequel, which is due in August. You can catch up with her activities at her website and if you’re attending Eastercon you’ll be able to catch her there in person. In the midst all this activity, Jacey has very kindly agreed to explain what inspired her to write Mort’s laws. As ever, this next bit contains spoilers, so read the story before going any further.
Writing Mort’s laws
In my head there’s a metaphorical bucket where disconnected ideas get dumped. Sometimes they jiggle around together and eventually some of them will rub up against each other and strike sparks. Gradually a story starts to emerge. Four separate ideas combined in the writing of Mort’s laws.
For many years I’ve skulked on various usenet groups for writers and every so often some troll asks the off-topic question: how do atheists know what’s right and what’s wrong if they don’t have the Bible to guide them? Yeah, I know, ridiculous, right? But ridiculous or not the idea went into the bucket. How many of us could actually quote the ten commandments from memory? If I try really hard I might get five or six. Let’s see … mumble mumble kill … mumble mumble bear false witness … errr … Of course, the one I’m not going to forget in a hurry is the one about coveting my neighbour’s ass. Yes, very relevant to everyday living.
Swimming around in the bucket already was the Marxist idea that religion is less about spirituality and more about social control. Maybe Marx had a point. Put up with all that life throws at you now because you’ll be rewarded in Heaven after you’re dead seems to be a common theme. The Sermon on the Mount is pretty much all about the rewards coming in the next life as long as you don’t make too much of a fuss about the lack of rewards in this one. It’s not just Christianity, of course, there are similarly themed passages in many holy writings from the Qur’an and the Bhagavad Gita to the Book of Mormon.
The late lamented Dave Brady from the a cappella folk group Swan Arcade used to say: “I’m not into God, but He wrote some good songs.” I can empathize with that. I’ve never participated in religion of any kind, but my age and my northern British upbringing make me culturally Christian even though I’ve been a declared atheist since the age of twelve. After seven years of hymns in morning assembly at school, I can still sing my way through Songs of Praise. I celebrate my version of Christmas, which is all about family, food, gifts, a honking great decorated tree, Dr Who on TV, and the turning of the year. And yes, I know all the words to the common carols by heart.
I heard (or maybe read somewhere) about two soldiers in Wellington’s army arguing over the possession of a Bible, valuable not for its printed content, but because there were lots of pages fine enough to make good toilet paper. I figured after 40 years of fighting that paper for anything might be in short supply.
As a writer I’ve always been morbidly fascinated by post-apocalyptic scenarios, so in my story if I strip away whatever underpins our society and mix up all of the above ideas with a good old ‘what if?’ and an irreverent dollop of belief, not in religion, but in society and our basic humanity, here’s what I end up with …
What if a long war of attrition (against invading aliens) has almost destroyed the human race and the feral survivors are too young to remember what life was like before. How do they go about rebuilding? Maybe, just maybe, there’s one grizzled old atheistic veteran who still carries the imperfect remnants of his cultural Christianity. Ten basic rules to live by make a good starting point.