Nature Future Conditional

The story behind the story: Fifteen minutes

This week, Futures is delighted to welcome back Alex Shvartsman with his latest story, Fifteen minutes. Regular readers will know that Alex needs little introduction, he’s written a number of stories for us as well as producing and editing many books in his own right. You can find out more about his activities by visiting his website or by following him on Twitter. Here he reveals more about the his latest sinister tale — as ever, it pays to read the story first.

Writing Fifteen minutes

I’d apologize for the terrible pun which closed the story you’ve just read, but really, I feel no remorse at all. Puns are awesome, and any sufficiently good pun must also be a terrible pun.

That line was my starting point for the story and its original title. I figured it would develop into something funny, but instead the idea grew into a bleak, dystopian world where an artificial intelligence overlord parcels out food and basic necessities to allow humanity to survive.

The story is inspired by Harlan Ellison’s I Have No Mouth and I Must Scream — a brilliant and dark tale by one of science fiction’s grand masters. In the story, the computer AM tortures the few remaining humans. But I’ve always wondered how and why the computer would develop such strong hatred for the species that created it. (Ellison’s narrator Ted does provide his own thoughts on the matter but, as with any good story, leaves room for us to consider other possibilities.)

In my story, the AI is clearly less evil than Ellison’s AM — but is it still a monstrous dictator making humans jump through hoops to study them as my unreliable narrator suggests, or is it a benevolent intelligence that is forced to make difficult choices? Perhaps the resources are scarce and the calorie quotas are the best it can do to keep the human population alive. And encouraging creative endeavours could be an attempt to help maintain their sanity and bridge them a smidgen of joy.

The ‘fifteen minutes of fame’ quote is by Andy Warhol and, as my narrator points out, he said that around the same time Ellison’s story was published. I stumbled upon this fact when I was writing the story, so it wasn’t by design. Sometimes history is serendipitous that way.

More Futures stories by Alex Shvartsman

Ravages of time | The tell-tale ear | The epistolary history | Coffee in end times | The rumination on what isn’tA one-sided argument | Grains of wheat | Staff meeting, as seen by the spam filter | A perfect medium for unrequited love | Catalogue of Items in the Chess Exhibition at the Humanities Museum, Pre-Enlightenment Wing


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