This week, Futures is pleased to welcome Timothy J. Gawne with his story Infringement. By day, Timothy is a neuroscientist at the University of Alabama at Birmingham, but outside of the university, he is also author of the Old Guy cybertank novels. Here, he reveals what inspired his latest tale — as ever, it pays to read the story first.
The idea for writing Infringement came up, as so many of my writing ideas do, when I was corresponding with my genius editor brother Jonathan. He throws ideas at me, and usually I go “that’s stupid” or “not my style” but often when I sleep on them I realize that it can work if I just do X …
Somehow the idea of a galactic copyright police came up, and I thought, what if Earth itself was infringing and had to be destroyed? Once I had that basic idea down, the story wrote itself.
It might seem harsh to rub out an entire world with billions of (alleged?) sentient beings to protect someone’s intellectual property, but don’t we do similar things now when we deny vital medicines to countless poor people to avoid hurting the profits of the people who count? Why should a galactic/universal civilization be any better?
The idea of an advanced civilization that can build entire planets to order is hardly new — think Douglas Adams’ Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy — but why would we imagine that these planets would all be custom? Look at how many of the manufactured items we have that are mass-produced. Perhaps Earth would be considered a classic design, far more interesting than those boring planets where everything is a sunny beach littered with diamonds. And even as people reading the same book or watching the same movie can take pleasure from sharing their experiences, surely owners of Earth might feel the same?
Science fiction can be written at several technological levels, ranging from grounded-in-current-physics (such as The Martian, by Andy Weir) to a level where the technology is so fantastically advanced that it becomes taken for granted in a way that becomes comical (The Hitchhiker’s Guide, but also Dimension of Miracles by Robert Sheckley, or even the old 1960s TV series Lost in Space). Here I obviously chose the latter.
Most people who own Honda Civic automobiles are happy with them the way they are, but there are always some who want to tinker. It’s a lot easier than building an entirely new car from scratch and, in addition, people can compare notes to see who can get the most out of a stock design. Perhaps the same thing would happen with Earth? Hmm, a story about a customized Earth competition, and all these hopped-up Earths come together to see who can take the grand prize of coolest Earth. I know, someone from the reference standard Earth will be there as well, to give perspective to all the ways that Earth could have gone, if deliberately evolved by intelligences with different styles and tastes. Let me call my brother …