Shiplight

My latest publication, Shiplight, is up today at the fine Metaphorosis Magazine! Alongside some absolutely gorgeous cover art by Vincent Coviello.

This was originally one of the first stories I ever wrote; the first words hit the page in June 2012, but it’s been vastly revised over the years. It’s a science fiction story set on humankind’s first extrasolar colony world, about fear and politics and the inevitability of generational divides.

I have some story notes below the cut, but they may contain spoilers, so read the story first!

This story was originally part of a triptych, three interlocking-but-independent stories covering the same event from different angles: the planet, and two different factions on the Ship (crew and space marines). I had plans for a fourth about the post-Landing period, but never wrote it. The crew- and space-marine-centered stories long ago landed somewhere on the spectrum between “stories I’d like to get back to someday” and “trunked,” but Shiplight had more legs to it!

The first-written of those tales was about the Ship’s crew. Once I had the idea of the Ship – a single vessel, with a capacity of five thousand colonists, transit time of five years each way1 – I ran a few calculations on the planet’s population2, and knew I had the kind of inherent-to-the-setting conflict that would make a good story. By the fourth round-trip mission, population growth exceeds new colonist arrivals. Shiplight takes place on colony year 60, right before the 7th landing. In the ten years since the last Shiplight, about 11k natives have been born.

As should be obvious, “natives” refers to Sea-born humans, not to indigenous life. The planet has no indigenous animals more complex than fish or reptiles. This is definitely a too-easy answer to the real problems of a colonization mindset, but a short story can only spread its focus so wide. The work done on Sea is extractive in nature, and is probably doing considerable damage to Sea’s original biome. However, our heroes have other concerns, so it only appears in the story as mention of Earth’s interests in Sea and the powerful presence of companies like Raytheon-Tinto.

The city is called “New Plymouth” not because American culture dominates this future universe, but because the Chinese and Europeans have cities elsewhere on Sea. (Earth’s power balance is much like today’s, boringly enough; there is technically a global government through the UN, but also like today, it is dominated by a handful of Security Council nations.) The other cities were named and discussed in early drafts of the story, but cut out to clarify the political situation.

I originally wrote this story in the aftermath of the 2011 Occupy protests, and they’re an obvious inspiration for the natives’ protest structure. However, as the story went through revisions, the story-protests took on characteristics of other real-protest movements around the globe. You might be able to identify a major stream of the 2013 Gezi Park protests in Turkey, especially in the reference to “hooligans.” However, there’s also a taste of the Syrian version of the “Arab Spring,” where well-justified protests can sometimes lead to a bad outcome for everyone, at least in the medium term.

But who knows what comes next, when the Ship lands, and the parents see the mess their children and grandchildren have made?

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  1. By external clock. Subjectively it’s more like six months.
  2. I did this math at a college reunion, which is why one of my classmates has a brief Tuckerization as the offscreen senator

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