Nature Future Conditional

The story behind the story: The most important thing

As the US election looms, Futures this week sees Marissa Lingen wonder about what kind of event really makes a mark on a given year in her story The most important thing. Marissa is no stranger to Futures, having introduced us to Maxwell’s Demon and time-travel problems, among other things (a full list of her Futures stories can be found at the foot of this post). You can catch up with Marissa on her website or by following her on Twitter. Here she looks how the US election catalysed her latest tale — as ever it pays to read the story first.

Writing The most important thing

It will be news to precisely zero people reading this blog that the United States is having a presidential election this year. If you have access to the Internet, you can’t avoid election coverage — I hesitate to call most of it ‘news’ — even if you’ve already made up your mind whom to vote for, even if you live somewhere else and would really prefer not to think about another country’s politics all the time.

In the middle of the N-ring circus that was the US electoral primary, some of my dearest friends had babies. And as I was smiling through the Internet at the pictures they were sending, I thought, if you asked my mom and dad what the most important thing that happened in 1978 was, they would say me. Absolutely they would say me. They wouldn’t hesitate for a moment. And because I’m a science-fiction writer, I started thinking about all the other things that can be someone’s biggest moment — one person’s happy diversion or silly entertainment or mildly sad post to scroll past on their social media is the centre of another person’s life.

That’s how this story grew. Everyone’s world has a centre, but they’re not the same from person to person.

More Futures stories by Marissa Lingen

AlloySearch stringsQuality controlEntanglementUnsolved logistical problems in time travel: spring semesterThe stuff we don’t doMaxwell’s Demon went down to GeorgiaBoundary watersThe many media hypothesis


  1. clive tooth

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    clive tooth said:

    I usually read the “Futures” story in Nature. I am almost always disappointed and wonder why I continue to read them. Occasionally, perhaps once a year, there is a story that it was worth reading. Usually the weekly story makes one very mildly interesting point. This story “The Most Important Thing” was a fairly typical disappointing story – although it did not seem (to me) to make any mildly interesting point whatsoever. I have no idea why Nature devoted a page to it. Having read it and re-read it I came to the conclusion that it must have something to do with 2,048 being two to the power eleven and there being twelve answers. Having read the author’s “story behind the story” I no longer think this. I hope this comment conforms to the Nature Community Guidelines.