In this week’s Futures, we welcome back S R Algernon with his story The palimpsest planet. S R Algernon is no stranger to Futures — he’s written a number of pieces for us, including a paean to tardigrades, a look at heaven and hell, and a revelation of the pitfalls on a human ark. In fact, one of his stories, Asymmetrical warfare, was nominated for a Hugo in 2016. Here he reveals the inspiration behind his latest tale — as ever it pays to read the story first.
Writing The palimpsest planet
The palimpsest planet had two inspirations.
First, I wanted to explore the lives of extremophiles within a human-centric society. I believe that it is too early to say that intelligent life requires water or organic chemistry, and the idea of living chemistry at higher or lower energies than the human range intrigues me. If there are intelligent life forms out there with vastly different niches from ours, I imagine that we and they could use our different abilities to help one another in collaborative ventures. This would challenge us physically, organizationally and morally.
Second, I wanted to explore some of the characters in my earlier story End times, which appeared in Stupefying Stories (August, 2014). I envisioned the Space Exploration and Emergency Corps (SEEK) as a largely well-meaning but flawed bureaucracy staffed with a mix of idealists, opportunists, career politicians and functionaries. It is a manifestly Earth-centred organization with the power to save — or confound — the efforts of frontier worlds. Readers, incidentally, have pointed out that SEEK’s name does not match its acronym. That is intentional. SEEK does not quite cohere; its lofty goals do not quite match practical reality. This creates ethical and logistical blind spots that SEEK’s employees have to fill or paper over. Raccoon (8666) appeared in End times as a supporting character. Palimpsest planet gave her, as a non-human character, a chance to provide a different perspective on SEEK.
End times is currently out of print but will be included in Walls and Wonders, a short-story collection that is slated for publication by ReAnimus Press in early 2018. Walls and Wonders also includes another SEEK story (Sculptors) along with reprints of some stories that have previously appeared in Nature Futures.