Isolation story: (10) The End of Time

What you get here is the entire history of the universe, an explanation for the Fermi paradox, and a debate about the purpose of life. Say what you like about my stories, they deal with the big questions.

You also get isolation of the most extreme kind.

This story comes from my Spring Tide collection (which I’d very much like more people to read). Most of the stories in the book are more-or-less realist stories with contemporary settings, and none is science fiction – but ‘The End of the Time’ is the one that comes closest.

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Isolation story: (9) The Perimeter

The isolation in this case consists, for two of the characters, in being among the last real human beings left in London, and, for one character, in discovering that they are…

Well, read the story.

This story, another personal favourite of mine, first appeared in Asimov’s SF in 2005 and was collected in The Turing Test.

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Isolation story: (8) To Become a Warrior

Finding it hard to concentrate on new work at the moment, I’m taking a ridiculous amount of care over my choice of these isolation stories, and the sequence I present them in! If you want the full effect, scroll down and start at (1) and read through them in order.

‘To Become a Warrior’ appeared in Interzone in 2002, and was included in Gardner Dozois’s Year’s Best anthology for that year. I never included it in one of my own short story collections because I used it instead as an element of my novel Marcher.

Towards the turn of this century I became aware that there was a reaction on the way against liberal, secular, technocratic modernity (and I was right!) This was reflected in my first novel, The Holy Machine, as well as in the group of short stories which became Marcher.

This version of To Become a Warrior, which I posted on this site a couple of years ago, has a different ending from the one originally published. I felt that was more appropriate in the world as it now was. (In the novel, which deals with parallel time lines, there are three different endings to the story, as Carl makes three different choices.)

I am myself a former social worker. A ‘deskie’ in the terms of this story.

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Isolation stories: (7) Aphrodite

This is another of my personal favourites and comes from my most recent collection, Spring Tide. Since the two characters only meet very briefly in the middle of the story I think it qualifies as an isolation story. Being alone isn’t always bad.

Like ‘The Kite’ (story 4), it contains no science fictional elements whatever, except perhaps that in both cases I try to come at familiar places on Earth as if they were on an alien planet.

My beautiful granddaughter is called Aphrodite, as it happens, but she is only one, and this was written two or three years before she was born.

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Isolation stories: (5) Dark Eden

No, not the novel, but the short story of the same name that was the prequel to the novel: the story of how people first came to live on the planet Eden. This story first appeared in Asimov’s SF in 2006, and was subsequently included in my collection, The Turing Test. (It isn’t the first story I wrote set in Eden, that was ‘The Circle of Stones’ which was published in Interzone in 1992, 20 years before the novel Dark Eden).

This is not the most brilliantly written of my stories, to be honest. (I think the previous story, ‘The Kite’, is about as good as I’m capable of.) But it has proved very productive, since this story is referred to throughout the Eden novels, right up to the final line of the final book.

Anyway, you don’t get much more isolated than the characters in this story.

PS: The Ballantyne effect is named after my good friend Tony Ballantyne, who suggested it.

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Isolation stories: (4) The Kite

A bit of a stretch to link this story to my self-imposed ‘isolation’ theme, I admit, but I think a case for it can just about be made. This story is one of the best things I’ve ever done. It comes from my Spring Tide collection, and there is nothing science fictional about it at all.

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Isolation stories: (3) The Turing Test

My third ‘isolation story‘. (Scroll down for the others). This is the title story from my first collection, which did very well for me, and in a way launched my career (thanks to Andrew Hook who published it and entered it for the Edge Hill Prize). The story was originally published in Interzone in 2002.

This story is about existential isolation rather than the literal kind. The narrator and protagonist, Jessica Ferne, is the subject of another story in the same collection, ‘We Could be Sisters.’

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Isolation stories: (2) Atomic Truth

Here’s the second of my ‘isolation stories’ for self-isolated people, all of which will deal in some way with the theme of isolation. ‘Atomic Truth’ is one of my favourites out of all my work. The isolated character, Richard Pegg, is based in part on a real person, Brod Spiiers -he died many years ago- that my wife and I used to know (more background to the story here.)

The story was first published in Asimov’s SF in 2009 and was later included in my second collection, The Peacock Cloak, from Newcon Press.

Looking at it now, I’m struck by the fact that, for some reason, even though the story is set in the future, I several times use language from the past (‘burger bar’ for instance). I don’t think this was a conscious decision. Perhaps I did it partly because I knew Brod Spiiers in the seventies. But I guess Richard Pegg is also, to some extent, a young me. I was a pretty odd and isolated young man. I used to hitchhike everywhere those days, and his encounter with Jenny reminds me of conversations I had back then with some of the drivers who gave me a lift.

As with all these stories I’m reproducing here, the text comes from my final manuscript and not from corrected proofs, so there will be typos I’m afraid.

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