Original Fiction  by Christopher L. Bennett

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ONLY SUPERHUMAN Hub Universe: Other:                                                      
Aggravated Vehicular GenocideThe Hub of the MatterNo Dominion 
Among the Wild Cybers of CybeleHome is Where the Hub Is 
The Weight of Silence Make Hub, Not War  
NEW: The Caress of a Butterfly's Wing  Now available!


Only SuperhumanONLY SUPERHUMAN

In the future, genetically engineered superhumans, inspired by classic Earth comic book heroes, fight to keep the peace in the wild and wooly space habitats of the Asteroid Belt

2107 AD: Generations ago, Earth and the cislunar colonies banned genetic and cybernetic modifications. But out in the Asteroid Belt, anything goes. Dozens of flourishing space habitats are spawning exotic new societies and strange new varieties of humans. It’s a volatile situation that threatens the peace and stability of the entire solar system.

Emerald Blair is a Troubleshooter. Inspired by the classic superhero comics of the twentieth century, she’s joined with other mods to try to police the unruly Asteroid Belt. But her loyalties are tested when she finds herself torn between rival factions of superhumans with very different agendas. Emerald wants to put her special abilities to good use and atone for her scandalous past, but what do you do when you can’t tell the heroes from the villains?

Only Superhuman is a rollicking hard-sf adventure set in a complex and fascinating future.

"Only Superhuman is a heady comic-book fix for the discerning SF reader, filled with a sense of wonder and a sense of seriousness." -- Kevin J. Anderson

"Knowing Chris Bennett's writing as I do, I expected Only Superhuman to have an imaginative plot and a compelling super-heroine in Emry Blair.  What I hadn't expected was for the backstory to make so much sense.  Usually science is the first casualty of super-hero stories, tossed aside with the breezy rationalization:  'Hey, it's comics!'  Only Superhuman is, to my knowledge, the first hard science super-hero story.  And the story is the better for it." -- Mike W. Barr, author of Camelot 3000

"Many writers have written about superheroes, but nobody does it like Christopher L. Bennett."  -- Stanley Schmidt, editor of Analog

Library Journal's SF/Fantasy Debut of the Month for October 2012! "[T]he author... has created a world of believable supermen and women set against a complex world of rival factions not unlike those of Renaissance city-states.... Bennett brings believability to the larger-than-life world of superheroes in a story that should appeal to sf and comics fans alike." -- Jackie Cassada

Cover art by Raymond Swanland

Available in multiple formats:

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Mass-market Paperback:
Out of print. Check used-book dealers.
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Audiobook:
Directed and narrated by Nanette Savard
Starring Alyssa Wilmoth as Emerald, Colleen
Delany as Psyche, Thomas Keegan as Zephyr,
 and Elliot Dash as Thorne

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Only Superhuman is my attempt at a big, flashy, pulpy, sexy, larger-than-life action blockbuster in prose form. In many ways, it's an atypical tale for me.  It’s more action-oriented than most of my published work (except for my two Marvel Comics-based novels), it doesn’t feature aliens (though there are AIs and multiple varieties of transhuman), and it’s got more sexual content and language than my Star Trek fiction.  But the fact is, I’ve been working on this concept for literally more than half my life, and it’s very close to my heart. As a bullied child, I was always drawn to the idea of superheroes, people with great power who used it only to help and protect. Thus, when I realized that bionics, genetic engineering, and other such technologies would someday allow real "superpowers," I wanted to create a vision of a world where real superheroes could plausibly exist.

I conceived of Emerald Blair in the summer of 1988, and made my first try at a spec novel about her, called simply Troubleshooter, in 1993.  I spent the rest of the ’90s rewriting and revising it, as well as coming up with ideas for multiple sequels and even a comic-book series, fleshing out the universe with new characters, worldbuilding, and backstory.  But around 2000, I realized that the book had some fundamental flaws.  My worldbuilding had been too conservative, my approach lacked a distinctive hook to stand out from the growing trend of transhuman adventure fiction, and most importantly, the story wasn't personal enough for Emerald and didn't give her any real growth.  The backstory I'd devised for her was much more interesting than the actual novel.  So I abandoned Troubleshooter, rethought everything from the ground up, and crafted a new outline that distilled the best elements from all those sequel and spinoff ideas as well as the best of my new thinking.  Initially, in pursuit of plausibility, I’d downplayed the superhero aspects of the concept, but now, to make it stand out, I decided to play up those superhero tropes, to justify and explore them as plausibly as I could while still embracing the fun and grandiose charm of superhero comics.  As it happens, superhero novels have since become a trend themselves, but it seems the hard-SF approach I've taken is still pretty unusual.

What I tried to do throughout the book was to take superhero tropes and ask, "Is there a way this could plausibly happen, a reason it could be justified?" In some cases, the answer was no. Hardly any of my superheroes or villains have secret identities. Nobody flies under their own power or runs faster than a speeding bullet. Nobody wears a cape, and even the flashiest costumes are practical body armor providing more coverage than a lot of what comics heroes -- and especially heroines -- tend to wear. And there are a lot of limits on just what the novel's superheroes can realistically hope to achieve -- which, indeed, is one of the major questions addressed in the book. But it was interesting and sometimes surprising to discover just how many comics tropes I could justify. At times it was a difficult balance, and sometimes I was tempted to split it off into a separate universe where I could loosen the rules a bit and be more fanciful. But reconciling the dream of superheroes with my most rigorous hard-SF universe was important to me. Plus there are some concepts and worldbuilding touched on here that I hope to develop further in works set in other places and times in my main universe.

I started Only Superhuman in 2003, but then my Star Trek writing career began in earnest, so I didn’t finish the first draft until ’05.  After a fair amount of rewriting and refining, I began shopping it to agents in ’07, and though I had no success, one agent offered constructive criticisms that let me tighten and improve it considerably.  Eventually I decided that maybe it was too idiosyncratic a project to serve as my introduction to agents.  I submitted it for consideration by Marco Palmieri, then my Star Trek editor at Pocket, and began work on a different spec novel for my agent hunt.  But then the 2008 economic crisis hit, Marco got laid off from Pocket before I got his answer, and I got stalled on my other spec novel.  But then, at the 2010 New York Comic-Con, I learned that my fellow Trek novelist Greg Cox was acquiring books for Tor, and he said he’d be willing to take a look at what I had.  I sent him Only Superhuman, and the rest is history.  After all the obstacles and delays I faced before, it was a delightful surprise how smoothly it went from submission to acceptance.  (Shortly thereafter, as it happened, Marco Palmieri began working at Tor, and has been an assistant editor on this novel, so I got to work with him on it after all.  Nice how that worked out.)

This is the culmination of more than half a lifetime’s work, the fulfillment of one of my primary goals in life.  What’s more, I finally get to share Emerald Blair, a character who’s been close to my heart for most of my adult life, with the rest of the world.  And hopefully it's just the beginning...

Notes:
Novel annotations (major spoilers!)
Character Profiles (mild spoilers)
Historical Timeline
Measuring the Green Blaze's powers (mild spoilers)

Character Art: Novel cover; Emerald Blair; Psyche Thorne
Audiobook discussion; My visit to GraphicAudio  
Essay on Tor/Forge blog
Interview on My Bookish Ways
Interview on The Qwillery
Podcast interview on The Chronic Rift
Podcast interview on GraphicAudio's All in Your Mind
Essay on Upcoming4.me blog


Stories set in the same universe as Only Superhuman:

"The Caress of a Butterfly's Wing"
A tale of love and transhumanism in a remote and dangerous star system. There has been a division in humanity due to a horrendous accident, followed by an even more divisive war. The chasm between those two halves seem unbridgeable. Suddenly, due to unforeseen circumstance, the chance to reconnect becomes a real possibility.

This story has been online in Buzzy Mag since November 13, 2014. Click the title to read it there.


Like Only Superhuman, this is a story I've been working on in various forms for a very long time, sticking with it despite setbacks because I loved the setting, characters, and driving emotions of the story so much. I'm particularly proud of the worldbuilding I did for this tale, and its plot came from a deeply personal place, arising from my experience with loneliness and my feelings about the preciousness of human contact. But as with anything so personal, I was too close to it to see its flaws. I first wrote it in 1998, and the rejection letters I got were promising, with a couple of editors calling it poignant and well-told, but with a plot that didn't quite work for them. The rejections shaped the various revisions that followed, not always for the better. I fleshed out the protagonist's culture one way, which made it too dark and unbelievable, so I took it a different way, making it more spiritual. But then I realized the heroine didn't really grow or change, a problem with several of my earlier works. So I gave her a fuller personal journey in flashbacks, further enhancing the worldbuilding too. But adding the extra material had swelled the original 8,000-word novelette to 13,000 words, and I soon used up all the markets open to stories that long.

Then, somewhere along the line, I decided for reasons I don't quite remember that the star system I'd set the story in, Diadem, didn't suit my needs, or didn't actually work the way I'd depicted it, or something. At some point I learned the assumptions I'd made about the behavior of asteroids in a binary system was wrong too, but I think that came later. In any case, I chose to shelve the story until I could find a better setting, hoping that some new markets might open up in the interim. Unable to find a real binary star system that would suit my needs, I debated whether to find a way to make the premise work in a single-star system or to set the story further into the future and far enough out in the galaxy that I could invent an imaginary star system that met my desired parameters. In 2008, I did a draft that went with the latter approach, but it was still too long -- and perhaps I'd changed enough in the ensuing years that I didn't identify as much with the protagonist's motivations anymore, giving me second thoughts about the story's ending. So I never got around to submitting it.

But in 2013, I learned about an anthology that was accepting submissions for cyborg/transhuman-themed stories, and I figured that "Butterfly's Wing" could work, if I could trim it below 10,000 words and play up the human-modification angle more fully. This led me to abandon the flashbacks and make the protagonist's learning curve more integral to the present story, a definite improvement. But I realized that the old ending had a problem I'd never really noticed before, an unintended implication I wasn't comfortable with. Fortunately, the new conceptual elements I'd added for the anthology opened the door for a new twist to the ending, one that resolved the problem. The cyborg anthology still didn't take it, but on my very next submission, to the online Buzzy Mag, the story finally, finally sold! After sixteen rejections, one unanswered submission, and one magazine going under before responding to my submission, I finally sold "The Caress of a Butterfly's Wing" on my 19th try.

Although once I got the copyedits and notes from Buzzy's fiction editor Laura Anne Gilman, I realized that the story I'd sold them was a mess. I'd revised it rather hastily to meet the anthology's deadline, and in trying to trim it down and combine elements from multiple drafts, I'd ended up with a rather sloppy patchwork that lost some important exposition and didn't integrate or sell the new ideas as well as it should have. I'm frankly amazed they bought it in that condition. But Laura's notes helped me clarify and tighten the story quite a bit -- and after that final revision, it was ready at long, long last.

Of all my unsold stories, this is probably the one that meant the most to me, so I'm very happy that it's finally getting published. I'm also glad that I get to expand my main universe a little more. This story is set further into the future than any of my other published (or unpublished!) stories in this universe; in fact, I'm not entirely certain when it takes place, but I've tentatively placed it in the late 25th century.

Spoiler discussion and notes


 
"Aggravated
Vehicular
Genocide"
The colony ramship Arachne accidentally destroys a space habitat of the nomadic Chirrn while its crew is suspended in hibernation.  Even if the colonists can persuade the Chirrn that the disaster was an accident, will they still be held culpable for negligent mass murder?  And can they get a fair trial despite the Chirrn's mistrust of planet-dwellers?

Click the title to read the entire story on this site.  A slightly different form of this story appeared in the November 1998 Analog.

 "His story's challenging of conventional SF wisdom makes Bennett the most notable of this batch of new writers" -- Mark R. Kelly, Locus, January 1999


The idea for this story was staring me in the face for years.  In an unsold novel manuscript, I had a character on an interstellar ramjet thinking about its ionizing/defensive lasers, and just as a throwaway line I had her hope that no alien starships would cross its path.  I re-read that line dozens of times before I realized there was a story in it.  But presumably the designers would address that risk, right?  They'd scan for engine emissions or something.

That's where the Chirrn came in.  They were another idea I'd had for years, with no specific story in mind to put them in.  I didn't want the kind of SF universe where everyone gets spaceflight at the same time.  I wanted a species that had been in space for millennia -- but to explain why they'd never visited Earth, I decided to use a concept I'd read about, the idea that inhabitants of interplanetary O'Neill habitats might travel to the stars by just sticking on engines and taking their worlds with them.  I'd added a prejudice against planet-dwelling in general to make sure they'd want nothing to do with us.  Once I came up with the idea for AVG, I realized the Chirrn were the perfect species to use -- not only did it heighten the catastrophe by making it a space habitat rather than a ship that was destroyed, but their prejudice intensified the conflict.  Their mode of space exploration also raised the question, why bother with something as difficult as ramjet travel?

(Of course, it's clear from the story that despite their unwillingness to interact with planet-dwellers, they've extensively studied us from afar.  Not so paradoxical -- prejudiced cultures are often fascinated by the study of those they need to believe they're superior to.  Though I'm being a bit harsh on the Chirrn; a lot of it is just natural curiosity.)

Personally, in retrospect, I find my debut effort to be a bit dry, talky, and light on characterization.  But I suppose that's okay for a courtroom drama; and it went over well with the readers.  I got a few angry letters about the outcome, but nobody had anything negative to say about the storytelling.  I also wish I'd developed the Chirrn's culture better, made them more alien; and some of my scientific assumptions were a bit naive.  The revised version available on this site corrects the science and fixes some wandering viewpoints (i.e. switching between two characters' inner thoughts in the same scene), but leaves the bulk of the story intact.  (The dates have been adjusted to reflect a maximum velocity of 0.951c, instead of the 0.99c postulated in the original.)  I've been working to expand the story into a novel which develops the characters and the Chirrn's culture in far more depth.

Oh, and for the record, "Chirrn" is only a rough approximation of their name for themselves.  A sequence of a sneeze, a growl and a gulp would come about equally close. 

Notes: The Chirrn 

Notes: Ramships and Related Technologies


"Among the Wild Cybers
of Cybele"
On the planet Cybele, the self-replicating robot probes sent by humans to survey the planet have evolved into independent "animals," and are out-competing the native forms.  But crusading biologist Safira Kimenye is determined to defend their right to exist by whatever means necessary.

Click the title to read the entire story on this site.  This story originally appeared in the December 2000 Analog.

"The standout story in this issue... a cleverly-portrayed riff on machines-as-organisms...." -- Michael Rawdon

"...brilliantly realized.... worth the read for the strong conceptual realization." -- Jay Lake, Tangent Online (Okay, he also says it "might have tread more lightly" and "bogs down in its own balance-of-nature agenda," but I'll take what I can get.)

"...a slightly unwieldy title..." -- Mark Watson, BestSFNet Reviews
 

This idea was inspired by a Roger Zelazny story about robot cars roaming the countryside like herds of bison.  His robots were sapient and had gone wild under the influence of a computer virus.  But I was intrigued by the concept of robots acting like animals, their behavior shaped not by programming or self-aware thought but by pure Darwinian pressures.  So I tried to think up a situation in which such a circumstance could logically arise.  That situation came with plenty of tough ethical dilemmas built into it.

This is often the way I work.  Some people might think that sticking to strict science can limit creativity, narrow your range of ideas.  But I find just the opposite to be true.  Having the framework of science and logic to build upon helps me generate ideas.  It lets me extrapolate, to figure out the consequences of such-and-such a premise, and arrive at ideas I never would've found otherwise.  AVG and AWCC both started with the technical questions.

Given that the auxons would ideally need a lot of time for this evolution to occur, I realized that the ideal planet to set it on would be Gamma Leporis V, the destination that AVG's colonists never reached.  The unexpected delay in colonization fit the premise perfectly, and it let me tie the stories together indirectly.  I love continuity.  Most of the stories I write are set in a common universe, which I've been developing for most of my life (though it's gone through many, many changes over the years -- nothing's locked down until it's published, and AVG was even revised when I republished it here).

My first draft was written in epistolary form, as a transcript of recorded journal entries and comm traffic.  I wanted to pay homage to the likes of Jane Goodall and Dian Fossey, by telling it in the form of a naturalist's research diary.  Analog's editor Stanley Schmidt loved the concept but didn't like the execution.  I can't blame him -- it was very forced and ill-paced.  I also didn't have a resolution for the moral dilemma, and just had the story break off at a point of crisis, a "so what do we do now?" kind of thing.  But Stan hinted that he'd like to see a revised version of the piece.  Unwisely, I sent the first version off to two more magazines before finally taking Stan's suggestions seriously and hitting on a solution for the story's problems.  For the first time, I actually hoped to get a rejection, so I could totally redo the story.  And of course I did.  The moral: take your editors' advice seriously. 

Notes: The Planet Cybele 


"The Weight
of Silence"
When an accident in space leaves two lovers blind, deaf, and lost, will they be able to overcome their barriers to communication in time to survive?

This story appeared in the Spring 2010 issue of Alternative Coordinates magazine, and is currently out of print.

There's not much of a story behind how I conceived of this idea.  It just struck me as an intriguing puzzle: if someone were stranded in space, blind and deaf with no external assistance, how would they survive?  I thought it would be a good opportunity to do a "problem story" in the vein of vintage hard SF, the kind in which the characters are faced with a scientific crisis and have to reason out a solution based on their scientific knowledge (Asimov's "Marooned off Vesta" being a classic example).  But I wanted to make it more modern and character-driven in approach.  Often in SF, there's a tendency to choose between hard science and strong characterization, to focus on one to the detriment of the other, but I've always felt the best approach was to embrace both.

Ultimately, it's just as well I chose to focus on character, since the science proved more recalcitrant than I'd hoped.  The problem was, this deviously difficult challenge I'd posed myself and my characters was maybe a little too difficult.  I employed a certain SF concept of my own, a fresh approach (I hope) to the idea of exotic matter, as a means of getting the characters into their mess, but the question was, could the same concept provide a way out?  And if not, what other alternatives were there?  My struggle to think up a solution ended up as part of the story.

This is the first story I ever wrote in the first person.  I generally avoid first person because I find it implausible.  I always wonder, how does the narrator have the skill to tell this story?  How do they get the opportunity to write and publish it?  How do they remember it in such detail, right down to the verbatim dialogue?  "The Weight of Silence" was my attempt to take a more realistic approach to a first-person narrative, to tackle these problems rather than glossing them over.  And so the challenge of telling the story becomes one of the problems the narrator has to solve.

Spoiler discussion and notes



Stories set in the Hub Universe:


"The Hub
of
the Matter"
Analog March 2010The Hub is the most important place in the galaxy, the single point that makes all interstellar travel possible.  But can an unimportant man from an unimportant planet called Earth solve its mysteries where all others have failed? ...Well, probably not.  But that won't stop him from trying -- or others from trying to prevent it.

This story appeared in the March 2010 Analog.



Once, I formulated a theory about science fiction sitcoms.  This was before Futurama, before I saw Red Dwarf.  All the SF sitcoms around, from the best (Buck Henry's Quark) to the worst (UPN's Homeboys in Outer Space), seemed to fail, and my belief was that it was because they were all farces and spoofs, set in worlds that were merely mocking SF tropes rather than having any integrity of their own.  It seemed to me that for a series to win an audience, its world and characters had to be believable enough for them to invest in.  Something that was pure spoof could be entertaining as a movie, but as an ongoing series there needs to be more.  Red Dwarf and Futurama supported this belief; while both shows had a lot of spoof in them, they managed to build interesting universes of their own, and to go beyond simply making fun of science fiction to telling stories that actually were science fiction, that worked as interesting and entertaining speculative tales in their own right while being told in a funny way.

So I began thinking about what I'd like to see in an SF sitcom: namely a show whose premise was as solid, credible, and well-developed as any dramatic SF universe, but whose focus was on humorous characters and situations within that universe.  After all, there's nothing intrinsically absurd about a sheriff in a small town, an Army hospital in the Korean War, a taxi company in New York, or a radio psychologist in Seattle.  Most sitcoms depict naturalistic situations and derive their humor from characters and events.  Why couldn't an SF sitcom do the same?  Especially since there's plenty of potential for humor in a plausibly created SF universe.  Just imagine the cultural clashes and misunderstandings between species, or the ways that technology could go wrong.

Naturally, an SF sitcom would be under budgetary constraints, so I'd have to keep those in mind.  Perhaps the best approach would be to emulate sitcoms like Taxi and Wings -- or dramas like Deep Space Nine and Babylon 5 -- by using a transportation nexus as the setting, a place that many different people pass through, allowing a wide range of stories while staying on a few standing sets.  What if it's the transportation nexus, the only means of FTL travel known to exist?  How would it operate?  What would be the ramifications?  Once I had the idea of the Hub, it spawned all sorts of rich possibilities.

The sets for a sitcom couldn't be too elaborate, so why not make it the cheapest, most run-down, least technologically advanced section of this great interstellar nexus?  After all, if Earth were new to the interstellar community, it might not rate classier facilities.  And humor often comes from failure and frustration.  (The short-lived The John Larroquette Show, set at a decrepit bus station, was an influence on me here.)

But you need hope, too.  Your hero needs a goal, an aspiration.  If humanity's so lowly in interstellar society, maybe he wants to prove humanity's worth.  A nice, optimistic, humanist message.  But it needs a comedic twist, so maybe the hero's a lovable loser, a guy with lots of hope but questionable qualifications.  And what better foil for him than a cynical leading lady who's been around the block a few times?  Along with a helpful alien who represents the brighter, more idealized side of galactic life -- and its comical downside.

Now, not long after I came up with the Hub universe, I decided I really didn't have any interest in moving to Hollywood and pursuing a TV career.  So I figured I'd do The Hub as a series of short stories and maybe eventually sell the TV rights.  But it was a long time before I came up with enough story premises to feel confident about its prospects as a series.  Once I did, I went ahead and wrote "The Hub of the Matter."  And rewrote, and rewrote.  Comedy requires precision.  For a while, I was too nervous to submit it.  But I finally did, and it sold on the first try.  Which was heartening.  Once it sold, I began work on a second story.

What I really like about the Hub universe is that it has a single, distinctive core concept that everything else grows out of.  It's got a clear identity -- good branding -- but it has so many possibilities.  It's a universe I'm hoping to spend a lot of time in.

Spoiler discussion and notes



"Home is
Where the Hub Is
"
Analog Dec 2010David's quest to solve the mysteries of the Hub continues to get him, Nashira, and Rynyan in trouble -- though it's the kind of trouble not all of them have a problem with.  What happens when a moral compromise becomes too comfortable?

This story appeared in the December 2010 Analog.

With the basics of the Hub universe established, I wanted to delve into how the Hub affected the societies that made use of it.  What does it do to a world's culture, economics, etc. when its commerce with the rest of the galaxy relies on a single access point?  And what happens if that access point is in an inconvenient place?

I also needed to come up with a way to justify having Nashira make an interesting discovery so soon after the last one, when the first story had established how unlikely such discoveries were.  The key was for the "discovery" to be an arranged event.  But one that didn't have the expected consequences.

I can't say much more without spoilers, so the discussion will continue here:

Spoiler discussion and notes


"Make Hub, Not War"Analog November 2013
Every starship must pass through the Hub to reach its destination. This has made invasion and conquest impossible and brought permanent peace to the greater galaxy -- or has it? When David and Nashira go home to Earth with Rynyan in tow, will they unknowingly put their planet in peril?

This story appears in the November 2013 Analog.

I have to admit, this story arose partly in response to a lukewarm review of "Home is Where the Hub Is." The reviewer latched onto what I'd said here about the sitcom origins of the Hub premise and interpreted HIWTHI through that filter, claiming it was a story that was all about maintaining the status quo and employing predictable sitcom tropes -- which is never what I intended the series to be. I wanted it to be an intelligent and plausibly developed comedy, not a shallow or formulaic one. I don't want to think that I wrote this story solely to disprove a single review, but that review did make me think that maybe I had been too unambitious about evolving the characters and storylines. That sort of thing would be okay for a weekly sitcom, but for a more limited, infrequent series of prose novelettes, I should go deeper and develop the characters and situations more fully -- or at least move up some of my long-term plans for them.

I also wanted to take advantage of the fact that what I created was essentially a serious, plausible SF universe, with the stories just happening to focus on a funny set of characters and situations within it. To me, that always created the potential for doing something more serious in the same reality. Many of the best comedies often take a more dramatic turn, just as the best dramas have plenty of humor. In this case, I wanted to explore how the Hub would affect the nature of war, certainly a serious subject. And I realized that the story would give me an opportunity to deepen the characters and bring some meaningful conflict and growth to their relationships. But as always, the more intense the subject matter, the richer the humor about it can be.

This story unfortunately took a long time to write. Partly this is because my father passed away in the summer of 2010 and it threw off my writing for a while, and then other projects such as Only Superhuman got in the way. But it's largely because, as I wrote the early scenes of the story, I realized it was leading me toward a visit to Earth -- and I couldn't take the characters to Earth without exploring their backstories, their families, and the like. So I needed to flesh out things I hadn't before, both David and Nashira's "origin stories" and the specifics of what Hub-era Earth was like. I had to take my time to work those things out, and to figure out how to balance a visit to Earth with the rest of the story while still keeping it within my preferred 10,000-word limit for Hub stories.

By the time the story was finally ready, I realized I'd let three years slip by. And Stanley Schmidt had retired as Analog's editor by that point. I was worried about whether the new editor, Trevor Quachri, would like the Hub as much as Stan had, and I wasn't sure what my options were for selling part 3 of a series to a different magazine. Fortunately, Trevor liked the story, so here it is at last.

Spoiler discussion and notes 


Other original fiction: 
"No Dominion" What happens to homicide investigation when death becomes a curable condition?  The answer is more complicated than you might expect.  

This story has appeared online at DayBreak Magazine since June 13, 2010.  Click the title to read it there.

As a lifelong Star Trek fan, I've always favored optimistic science fiction, and have mostly tried to write fiction set in a future that's better than the present.  However, over the years, I've learned to add more darkness and ambiguity to my stories, on the principle that those were what sold.  Even though the world in my fiction is an improved place, I often focus on the parts where things are still going wrong.  Even when everyone is trying to do the right thing, the situations are too messy for an easy answer and outcomes tend to be bittersweet.  My work has turned out to be less optimistic than I originally intended.

So I was pleased to discover the existence of the Shine anthology, a project undertaken by editor Jetse de Vries to focus on truly optimistic science fiction, stories that portrayed a better future and a vision of how we could attain it.  This, I figured, was right up my alley.  But as it turned out, I had trouble thinking of an idea.  The anthology's guidelines specified near-future SF, set within the next 50 years.  I tend to assume that things are likely to get worse before they get better, that climate change, overpopulation, and the impending technological revolution will create a lot of turmoil that we'll have to work hard to overcome before things can really start improving.  Also I'm just not a near-future kind of writer, preferring to set my fiction farther afield in space and time.

So I kept setting this aside for later consideration, and almost missed the deadline as a result.  When I realized I only had three weeks left, I knew that was it -- either I came up with something in the next 24 hours or I gave up completely.  I expected the latter -- but by the next morning, I had the idea for "No Dominion."  The title, fittingly, comes from Dylan Thomas's poem "And Death Shall Have No Dominion."  The idea of curing most forms of death certainly struck me as optimistic,  yet I realized it offered a number of interesting complications from a law-enforcement perspective.  The result is more a police procedural, heavily influenced by Law & Order, than a classic murder mystery.

I had the story written within days.  As it turned out, the anthology deadline was extended by a month, which was good, because I belatedly read a pair of posts on the Shine weblog spelling out in detail what de Vries was and wasn't looking for, and the original version of my story violated several of his ground rules.  For one thing, it was set in space.  More importantly, it merely showed a better future without really discussing how the world could get better.  I took a while to revise the story to fit de Vries' parameters, and it worked.  There wasn't room for my story in the anthology proper, but de Vries decided to publish the overflow in an online form, creating DayBreak Magazine for that purpose, and I was delighted when he offered to buy my story for DayBreak.

"No Dominion" is my second published story to be written in the first person -- the first being "The Weight of Silence" (see above) -- and one of the few I've ever written in that form.  First-person is something I generally don't like to use unless I can justify the narrating character having the talent, inclination, and sufficiently precise memroy to tell the story in prose form.  That isn't really the case here, so I'm not sure why I went with first person.  It just felt like the right approach here, perhaps because it's a common idiom for detective stories.

This story is not set in the Only Superhuman universe.  If not for the 50-year deadline, it might have been compatible; as it is, though, it's in a world with a swifter rate of medical advancement.  Whether I do anything else in this story's universe remains to be seen.  But I've always felt it was a waste to create a whole universe and only do one story in it.

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