story notes!

To inaugurate my new actual website (which I am still wrangling, sorry for the mess, graphic design is very much NOT my passion) I thought I would do some quick and extremely belated story notes on Islands in the Dark, which came out from Escape Pod last fall. Also I need to actually write something here to justify having a blog section! This is maybe just some very fancy lorem ipsum.

So, I wrote this story in the summer of 2016, largely because of a confluence of near future-SF and cyberpunk adjacent media that I was consuming at the time. Season five of Person of Interest just ended (if you would like to talk to me about how amazing and underrated that show is, PLEASE do), the Counter/WEIGHT season of the podcast Friends at the Table was ending and I was crying about it on a weekly basis, and I finally read Neuromancer (I was reading Neuromancer, of course, in preparation for playing The Sprawl, a tabletop game inspired by it, and which is featured in Friends at the Table.)

All of this was kind of swirling around in my head, and then I decided to rewatch Looper, a movie which I have a great and enduring affection for (it is by no means a perfect movie but I just really love it, okay). A lot of that affection comes from the fact that it's a near-future sci-fi film that takes place in Kansas City. And a huge chunk of the film's action happens on a farm in the middle of nowhere, outside the city. So, watching it for the third or fourth time, I was thinking about that, and I decided I wanted to write a story with that kind of setting. I was also thinking about Kansas City, and the few times I've had to explain to people not from the Midwest how yes, there's technically two Kansas Cities, and that while I grew up on the Kansas side, it would probably be more accurate to say I lived in a suburb of Kansas City, Missouri. It is, honestly, a little disingenuous to say there are two Kansas Cities, because if someone says Kansas City, they mean the one in Missouri, which is like, actually a City with a capital C. The one in Kansas is theoretically part of the same metropolitan area--but there's a state line in the middle, which makes things kind of weird. But if there weren't a state line...

There's probably also something to be read into the fact that I wrote a story where America was both literally and figuratively dissolving in the summer of 2016, but that goes without saying.

There's something innately interesting to me about rural areas in futuristic settings. The open spaces often go against what you'd visually expect--a cramped city, running out of space, almost feeling like it's running out of air. And I was also thinking a bit about how ridiculously big America is, and yet, once you get outside of a city, so much of it is empty.

I kind of love how easily I can trace the paths of inspiration for this story--the setting was inspired by Looper, the ambivalent perspective on AIs by Person of Interest and Counter/WEIGHT and Neuromancer, and a little bit by Ancillary Justice, too. Looking back on it, I don't think I realized how much of Person of Interest's Root there is in Ria. (Ria's name was changed before publication, so I promise they didn't initially just both have short R names, I would PROBABLY have noticed that.)

What interests me most about this story is the question of what it means to be alone in a world where it's theoretically so easy to connect. To me it's very intensely about loneliness, and about the almost inertia that loneliness can have. And there's a particular kind of being alone that can come from scrolling endlessly through social media, where you are, in some ways, surrounded by thousands of people. But cutting yourself off from that can feel lonely too. At the same time, I really, really didn't want to write a story that was broadly anti-technology (hopefully I succeeded!) I feel like saying anything more would be weird, so I think I'll cut it off there.