I put a new science fiction short story, The Dreamer, up on Amazon Singles this month. It’s about a group of people—and one woman in particular—who have employed a novel method for riding out the apocalypse in comfort.
A friend asked me to blog about how I arrived at the idea and how it evolved into a story. This is not an easy thing for me to do. Often my stories come from daydreams about situations or imagines, and I build a concept and a world around that. But in this case, I took a (somewhat) logical route.
I’m always trying to come up with unique takes on ubiquitous concepts like the apocalypse. We love the end of the world, but how many times can we go to that well? And for that matter, what exactly is the apocalypse?
In the original Greek, it simply meant a revelation; the uncovering of a secret or discovery of new knowledge. Only in the mid-19th century did the Biblical use of the word become the common one (revelation=Revelations, I suppose).
With another century and a half of evolution, the apocalypse has come to mean just about anything that involves the collapse of all we know. The nature of the vehicle is endlessly variable: environmental degradation, giant asteroid, robot uprising, supernatural threats, war, disease, famine…take your pick. And those are just the obvious ones.
So what’s the one characteristic common to all stories about the apocalypse?
You could make an argument for “hope,” I suppose. Plucky survivors fighting for safety, family, a new beginning. But that only shows up in most apocalypse stories.
Suffering? That’s universal.
Often suffering is quite acute. You’re eaten by something, shot by something, burned by something, rotted by something. But even when the apocalyptic antagonist changes, there is always one staple:
Lack. Scarcity. Suffering over the absence of resources.
Whatever we used to have plenty of, it’s gone, or disappearing at a rapid rate. Doesn’t matter if you’re fighting aliens or rotting from a disease or watching the environment go bonkers. In every scenario, you’re starving, eating the last of the canned food, slicing up the last kidney bean.
Which brings me back to the story. I wondered… if suffering is synonymous with the apocalypse, how do you live through the apocalypse without suffering?
You don’t live though it at all (I certainly wouldn’t).
You sleep through it.
Or you mostly sleep through it. The people of the story are the last on earth, huddled inside a protective base that can put them in cryogenic sleep for many years at a time. During that time, their robot assistants work what is left of the poisoned Earth, harvesting calories until there is enough for the entire population to eat and live in comfort…
For a single day.
They wake up, live one day with adequate food, and go back to sleep for decades as the machines prepare the next harvest.
So I had my idea. Maybe it’s a unique take on the apocalypse, I don’t know. But unique or not, I soon realized there was a big problem:
All stories require drama. All drama is conflict.
A bunch of people sleeping peacefully through an apocalypse doesn’t offer much conflict.
So something has to go wrong.
One of the people in this community is waking up while all the others sleep. She isn’t supposed to and shouldn’t be able to. Even worse, the dreams she has while asleep lead her to do terrible things while awake, even to those she loves and respects.
Why? That’s the story.
Hope you like it.