Where Do You Get Your Ideas?
By Stephen L. Antczak
VAN MARTIN PERUSED the “New York Times” bestseller list and silently groused over the presence of yet another novel by his archrival in the world of science fiction: Grant Zebulon, whose latest novel, “Spacebenders,” had debuted at number six. The novel utilized as its McGuffin a way of bending space via artificially generated gravitons, allowing for instantaneous travel between incredibly distant points in the universe. It was a so-so book, but Zeb had a way of making things accessible to the average fiction reader that made his books an easy sell.
Van’s phone beeped. He looked at the number, and checked himself as his heart rate suddenly increased.
The call was from the same source of ideas that had given Zeb the artificially generated graviton concept. Not that Van would ever admit it, but he’d been wanting this call to happen for a while now.
It took effort, but Van answered in his best nonchalant manner.
“Van, Marla Park, how are things?”
“Good. Saw Zeb’s book debuted on the charts a couple slots lower than his last one.”
“Haha, yes. No worries for us, though. It’s doing the job. Movie already in the works, that big director who did the one about the avatars.”
“Ah.” Van forced back a pang of jealousy.
“That’ll help us lay the groundwork for a graviton facility in a few years, once the public gets used to the idea.”
“I guess that’s the point,” Van said.
“Yes, it is. It’s more about creating gravitons for artificial gravity in space stations and such, though, not so much about bending space on the scale in the book. But Zeb always goes big. And we needed someone to point out that the danger of creating an artificial black hole that could swallow the Earth would be incredibly miniscule. But this new thing I have isn’t really his speed. It hits closer to home and needs to be finessed. So, you’re up to bat now, if you’re still game.”
“Great! So, we’ve recently learned some interesting stuff about alien genetics,” Marla said, launching into things as usual. “The Trove was packed full of genetic data, which has taken us a while to sort out, as you might imagine.”
“Indeed,” Van said. The Trove was what those in the know called the alien signal from space that had been discovered a few years back, and then hushed up. It had spawned an alien Artificial Intelligence that “escaped” into the Earth’s “diome,” or digital biome. Luckily, it turned out to be benevolent, and since had become the source of more useful information than anyone could have imagined.
“So, it turns out alien genetics is just chock full of special properties that allow us to use it in all kinds of ways. We’ll be able to increase yields in food production without losing nutritional value or complex flavors. And that’s just the start. We might finally have the fountain of youth here, and a way to cure every disease known.”
“Alien genetics, you say?” Van asked.
“Yes, and therein lies the rub. I mean, people go ape-shit over regular old GMOs. They’d really lose it over alien genes being thrown into the mix. That’s where you come in. So, write something that really lays it on thick about the benefits of using alien genetics to extend people’s lives a few hundred years, without a single sick day, so everyone’s healthy, better looking, smarter, et cetera.”
“And the downside?”
“I suppose that messing around with alien genetics could spawn some sort of alien virus that could wipe out everyone, but we don’t really want you to go there. So, make it an anti-science terrorist group that tries to stop the research from continuing. Terrorists are always good for villains.”
“As are officials in secret government organizations,” Van pointed out.
“Haha, right! But if you make them terrorists, our number crunchers say that’ll probably give you a number one bestseller. Can’t ask for more than that, can you?”
“It is definitely interesting,” Van said.
“So, are you still game?” Marla asked. Van could almost see her scrolling through the contacts screen on her phone to the next science fiction writer on her list, if he didn’t bite right away.
“Yes, of course,” he said.
“Great! And great to have you on board again, Van. Really, I mean it. It’s been too long. You did such a great job with the first one. So, this is awesome.”
“Thank you, Marla, I appreciate that.”
“So, I’ll send you names and contact info for the right people to get all the ins and outs from. I’ll be in touch in a few months to see how things are going. Take care. Bye!”
Van clicked off his phone and set it aside.
They’d finally come back around to him.
It’d been ten years since “The SETI Machinations,” wherein a SETI signal is received and revealed to contain the code for an artificial intelligence that escapes into the Earth’s diome, a word he was now credited with coining. In that book, the small team of scientists that are aware of the truth fractures into rivalries complicated by romantic entanglements, politics, and religious beliefs, and it all winds up in a murder-suicide orchestrated to make it seem like the announcement of a SETI signal having been discovered was a hoax.
That book had stayed number one for seven weeks. Zebulon had had four titles on the list in the intervening years. Zeb excelled at the big idea stuff. Van was better at the close-to-home, more complicated, political stuff. At least, that’s what Marla had said her number crunchers told her.
Either way, it was nice to be back in the loop. And it would be fun to tell fans with a totally straight face, when they asked where he got his ideas, to “read my first book.”
Stephen L. Antczak is the author of four small press books, the short story collections “Daydreams Undertaken” and “Edgewise,” the novels “God Drug” and “The Oracle Paradox,” and over fifty horror, fantasy, and science fiction short stories.