Time for Jukebox reveal! I must confess a certain bemusement with the way this story emerged. This was not a song I knew before this challenge- I listened to it when it was nominated, found myself tolerantly amused by it, and decided on a whim to offer it, without any idea of where a story might go if I actually matched on it.
The day I got the assignment, I wrote the following snippet:I met the Gambler on a train once. You know, the one from the song.
I said to him, "Hey, buster, I've listened to that song a hundred times, and it's terrible advice. You meet this guy and you're about to die. You tell him things that you think he ought to know, like "when to hold 'em", but you don't tell him how to learn these things. I'm not letting you out of here until you tell me HOW to know when to hold 'em." He refused, so I shot him.
I didn't know where to go from there. I imagined writing a story where my narrator shot a succession of characters from songs, for a variety of critiques, a story completely madcap, its lack of genre its defining feature, and eventually rejected the idea, but some of that narrator's rhetorical pose of brutish, philosophical toughness definitely endured in the narrator I did end up writing.
This is what I wrote instead:Have Spacesuit
(5114 words) by seekingferret
Fandom: Kill Your Heroes - AWOLNATION (Song)
Rating: Teen And Up Audiences
Warnings: Author Chose Not To Use Archive Warnings
Characters: Original Characters
It began six months earlier. Our whole crew was working as freelance astrologers in Tampa, hacking into NASA satellites to get the inside scoop on the cosmological phenomena that really predicted the future. It wasn't the most glamorous work, but the money was fantastic.
"Have Spacesuit" was driven by a literal interpretation of the second verse's musings about the Earth hypothetically being destroyed some day as a motivation for carpe diem. It was also inspired, as last year's fic was inspired by Monster of the Week shows like Supernatural, Buffy, and the like, by a group of somewhat obscure SF stories: Ben Bova's Rock Rats series and Sam Gunn series, John Varley's Red Thunder series, Brian Francis Slattery's Spaceman Blues, even [though I'm loath to credit it, since Harrison's prose is an embarrassment to the genre] Harry Harrison's Stainless Steel Rat cycle: stories about a future that still has people living on the margins of society, scraping by with ingenuity by seizing opportunities more fortunate people are blind to. Guardedly optimistic tales of the future of the 99%, if you will.
These stories, by the way, are the reason I hate the typical anti-meme that people throw around in response to the stupid meme about how SF used to be optimistic and is now full of dark futures. Battlestar Reboot and Star Trek TOS are typical stick figures of the argument, and so critics of the meme usually attack Star Trek by pointing to its progressive blind spots, its tedious storytelling, its bad acting and aggressive moralizing. This is a terrible argument that tears down our genre needlessly. Instead, the response to the stupidity of pining for Star Trek should be to point to writers like Bova, Varley, Slattery, to writers like Ken McLeod and Justina Robson and Melissa Scott and Charles Stross [and in the Star Trek era, people like Fred Pohl and Bob Silverberg] who write optimistically about disastrous futures. But I digress.
This story gets its start in 'the shadow economy', people skating dubious ethical and legal lines just to survive. If it takes anything important from the song that inspired it, it's the notion of opposition between normal people, the ideations of the song, and 'heroes', who are somehow another class altogether. I built this contrast on a simplified take on the complex relationship between the highly educated NASA workers on the Cape and the dirty Florida towns that surround it, drawing much inspiration from the junkyard astronauts of the Varley series I mentioned, not to mention the Drive-By Truckers' bitter Huntsville ballad "Puttin' People on the Moon". But much more than a political story, this is a story about people, people I attempted with every trick of trope subversion I know to sketch as vividly as possible in as few words as possible. Polo, who knows people in ways the narrator finds inexplicable, Karen the midwestern physicist who likes action movies, Selim, who studied interior decorating, Richard, who can't stay off the comms, Galina, who knows things the way Polo knows people... They were all a blast to imagine and I was as happy as my narrator that they got to survive. But my narrator was the best part. I still couldn't tell you my narrator's name, gender, occupation, sexual orientation, height, skin color, age, level of education... the thing that built this narrator was a little intentionality and a lot of bravado, and the idea of obscuring the things about identity that a narrator assumes about themself so deeply that they don't imagine needing to explain them. I hope people assume that my narrator is male and are shocked to find he is queer at the end. I hope people assume my narrator is female and are pleased by how much separation she has from 'female narratives'. I hope people build all sorts of working hypotheses about my narrator's identity that the story refuses to confirm, or actively rejects.
The morality underpinning this story is emphatically not mine. If I learned what my Zeroes did, I would not keep that information secret and steal a NASA spacecraft. But it's fun to imagine I would.
P.S. I'm sorry for the terrible science in this story. I feel bad about that, but if I were going to write this story as hard SF it would have been a novel.