My SF story Toward the Luminous Towers is coming out in Clarkesworld tomorrow! I thought I would preempt it with the bonus notes which usually come the day after publication, because I would really like to forewarn you this time. This story is probably one of the most upsetting things I’ve ever written.
Edited to add: Toward the Luminous Towers is now online!
Specific content warnings for the story: warfare and combat injuries described in detail, medical abuse specifically directed at a disabled person, oppressive political regimes, detailed discussion of suicide.
This story is a prequel to a series of stories I’m working on, Iwunen Interstellar Investigations (I3) – about two queer, nonbinary trans people who are a couple, and who fight crime! with magic! in space!
The series is going to be much more cheerful in tone, but I wanted to show separately that the characters have rebuilt their lives starting from very difficult places; something that I think resonates with many trans people, immigrants, and so on – people like me. The protagonist of this story is going to be one of the two investigators in I3. And yes, e is going to remain disabled, though differently than at the end of this story (in some aspects more disabled, in others less) – the teleport jump will also affect em permanently. I just want to write about the facts that disability is not a singular, unchanging thing, and that even in the amazing magical space future, there will be disabled people.
The protagonist is gender-unspecified here simply because it is a first-person story and it is not so relevant to the plot, but in I3 we will see that e is agender. (There will be multiple sets of nonbinary pronouns in I3, similarly to my story in Capricious last year, and similarly to… um… real life? 🙂 )
Eir former teacher is also a nonbinary person and this is mentioned only so that I can use the appropriate pronouns – specifically, they pronouns -, but this fact is not in focus. There will be Many Genderthings in I3, though, and all the trans feels 🙂
The old song about the night sky quoted several times is not an actual song; I had people ask me if it were. I made it up from scratch – I wanted it to sound a bit Soviet-style, but the setting is not based on the Soviet Union or even the Eastern Bloc in general. (Beyond the fact that I am from a former Eastern Bloc country, which no doubt influences my storytelling.) I simply wanted the lyrics to have a flavor that reminded me of my childhood.
Character names are not meant to evoke a specific culture. I spent a lot of time fussing over this and even changing a name in the proofing stage (sorry!!). The names do not have a canonical pronunciation; for the podcast reader, I recorded them with my rather haphazard pronunciation that ended up being a mix of Hebrew, Hungarian, and maybe even German??
*I wrote the story while being very unwell. I have an inflammatory disorder that occurs in waves, and at that point I had trouble just moving around at home in our apartment. This probably accounts for the very cynical and bitter voice.I do have all my limbs, though, unlike the protagonist; I’m just not always able to use them very well. I also have motor dyspraxia, which means I can’t use them very well even when I have no inflammation flareups; but that is an entirely different issue and I do not want to claim similarity. Losing limbs is different and is not something I am writing from experience. If you want to read an #ownvoices story about motor dyspraxia by me, I have one in the recently released anthology Defying Doomsday. This one is #ownvoices on different axes :)*As mentioned in-text, the protagonist is neuroatypical, like me; I do not get into the details in this story (this is why I am planning on having a very sprawling series of stories!), but e is autistic, specifically. This will be plot-relevant later, but is not plot-relevant here.*
The drugs are futuristic and all-powerful, but they were vaguely inspired by real-world drugs: GS-10 by modafinil and VPR-56 by valproic acid. I haven’t taken either, I just know about them related to work. Valproic acid is an anti-seizure medication, but it also has an effect of promoting neuroplasticity, as it has been recently described in a human study involving the acquisition of absolute pitch. (Hungarian first author!)
Disclaimer: do not take any drugs based on my story; I do not recommend this.
The story was beta read by Rose Lemberg. Thank you Spouseperson!!
The neuroplasticity theme was inspired by a doctoral seminar I was taking on developmental trajectories, led by Karla McGregor. She bears absolutely no responsibility for this story and hasn’t seen it before publication.
The bits about the logistic function, etc. are likewise based on actual science, and I was talking quite a lot about this the previous semester, when I was teaching labs for Psychology of Language.
…I guess this is a hard SF space fantasy story. *throws up hands*
I think many people do not really think about how librarians specialize in managing large amounts of data. It seems like such an innocuous occupation. I had this realization quite recently, and it stopped me in my tracks.
The very prima facie meaning of the ending is that the protagonist does not die but instead escapes, but I am sure there will be many people who read it as a suicide scene; it is kind of inevitable. What I was trying to express was that there are situations from which the only potential escape might as well look like suicide; both from an inside and an outside point of view. This point is very personal to me in ways that are probably not readily apparent from the story itself.
For people who like to keep track of such things (I know there are many of you!): this story found a market on the second try.
Finally, thank you everyone who came to my Worldcon reading to listen to this story! It meant a lot to me that I had an audience despite the fact that my reading was rescheduled multiple times and the wrong time was printed in the schedule. Thanks again!!