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STRANDED…OR TAKING A STAND?
BY ANTHONY FRANCIS
A year and a half ago, my editor Debra Dixon asked me to write a story for a science fiction anthology about young people cut off in space and forced to deal with the challenge of creating their own new world. I jumped at the chance. For years, I’d been sitting on a drawing of a young centauress explorer trotting across fields of wheat towards impossible mountains, and I’d already constructed an elaborate setting called the Frontier where humans eked out a rough existence on sparsely scattered worlds on the ‘underside of the galaxy.’ As soon as I put the two together, I found an extended storyline blossoming in my mind—not just a short story, but books and books about my young protagonist Serendipity coming into her own.
After talking it over with Debra, I focused just on the start of Serendipity’s story: how she crossed paths with a Frontier starship crewed by refugee children who crashlanded on a world she wanted to claim as her own. But the story quickly went in directions I didn’t expect. The young Frontier boy I created to be Serendipity’s love interest, Sirius, surprised me by being gay. My intended villain in the story, the young captain Leonid, surprised me by falling for Serendipity, and she for him. The interpersonal relationships developed rapidly in directions I didn’t expect, and minor characters took on major importance as Serendipity and the Frontiersmen struggled to survive on this unexpectedly hostile world.
But the biggest surprise was that my action story hinged on a moral choice.
We live in a world filled with technological wonders, like spacecraft, computers, and robotic toys—and it’s fun to imagine a world where those delightful things are taken to the Nth degree, like Serendipity’s farstaff that took her across the galaxy, or the computer woven into her brain, or the robot pet Tianyu, her intelligent companion (and external conscience). But most of us are aware these delights are fragile, depending on a complex web of knowledge and industry and a tradition of cooperation: we live in a world only two generations away from the Stone Age.
What’s harder to remember is that we live in a world of civil wonders, like the right to move, to vote, and to express our opinions—and it’s scary to imagine a world where those things are taken away, where we can’t go where we please, where we have no say in what happens, where we’re not allowed to speak up. Few of us like to think about how our rights are fragile, depending on institutions and principles that can disintegrate with shocking rapidity: we live in a world only two days away from martial law, and two years away from a complete societal overthrow.
My Frontier was already a disintegrating wreck, so I made Serendipity is a historian to give her a broader perspective. Soon I found that Serendipity carried more with her than the contents of her satchel: she carried with her the seeds of a civilization, a highly advanced supercivilization I portrayed as having spread across the galaxy—and logically speaking, its morals should be as highly developed as its technology.
So when my characters were thrown together on this world, and things grew increasingly bleak, I decided I didn’t want Serendipity trapped by a shipwreck, like Robinson Crusoe. I presented her with the seeds of a brewing disaster, as the boys and girls of the ship turned on each other, and I wanted her to realize, through her historical knowledge, how sour things could turn if left unguided—and to decide that what she carried within her was far more important than any first aid kit.
I didn’t want her trapped by physical circumstances. I wanted her to make a choice.
The result is the story “Stranded,” the final story in Debra’s anthology of the same name. There are two other stories in the anthology, “A Strand in the Web” by Anne Bishop and “A Host of Leeches” by James Alan Gardner. Each one of these stories centers on a young person in the far future, and presents them with difficult moral choices, choices which they must ultimately resolve for themselves without adult guidance. I’m proud to have my story in this anthology: to have a chance to start off Serendipity’s story, not with her stranded, but with her taking a stand. To deal with Debra’s challenge not because she had to—but because it was the right thing to do.
I hope you enjoy it.
Anthony Francis is the author of The Skindancer Series. Sometimes tattoo magic is the strongest magic of them all.