Lust, Entrapment & “In Your Face”
I would love to live in a world where anyone could look any age they liked. It’s my firm belief that humanity would, on the whole, benefit by being liberated from the involuntary creep of wrinkles, sagging and spots that comes with advancing years, not to mention greying, unwanted, or entirely absent hair.
Note: I’m not saying that being old is automatically unattractive or undesirable. Neither did I say that everyone should look young. I just think we would be happier in ourselves if we could choose. And to a certain degree we already can, thanks to a gamut of technologies from hair dyes to plastic surgery. We live in an age where the surviving members of the Rolling Stones shake locks as lustrous as a teenager, while teenagers sport grey rinses. People’s choices expand with every generation.
It’s easy to imagine that someone, some day, will invent a machine that turns the clock back (or forward) as easily as selecting an option on a menu.
Such a machine might resemble a matter transmitter–or, to put it another way, a matter transmitter could in theory be used in such a way. When you’re scanning someone down to the atomic level and turning them into information, there’s nothing (except perhaps the law) stopping you from tweaking that information before it’s turned back into matter, remaking that certain someone differently in any way you like. Editing out wrinkles or adding a distinguished streak or two would be dead easy. Through such a process, someone could be a teenager for breakfast, an adult for lunch, and an octogenarian for dinner.
If you allow that matter transmitters are possible, then this is something that emerges naturally from the technology . . . along with a number of unintended consequences, starting with the end of age-ist discrimination and ending, arguably, with the scenario of “Lust, Entrapment and the Matter Transmitter”, my short story in the Fablecroft anthology In Your Face (which is raising funds right now to expand the anthology). (Edited to add: goal achieved! You can still contribute, though, if you want to help make this book a SFWA-elligible collection.)
This was a hard story to write for a number of reasons. The first: it’s potentially enormous in execution. There’s easily a novel to be squeezed from the idea of a world full of people who can be any age at all. Maybe I’ll write that novel one day. (When I do, though, I promise it will be better than In Time.) For now, though, I had to strip the concept back to a single scenario, which took time and a great deal of thought.
It was then I got stuck on the fascinating question of how dating culture changes when you can’t tell how old someone is in a nightclub.
That cute young girl? Pushing retirement. That distinguished gent’s craggy visage? Hides the mind of a teenager. Maybe this is not in and of itself a problem: how is changing faces different from borrowing a friend’s dress or jacket in order to present the best possible way? Maybe a culture willing to look beyond the superficial won’t be bothered by the same issues we are (because naturally if you can change someone’s apparent age you can also change their fertility or life expectancy or many other relationship deal-breakers). Social mores would adapt just as they have with the automobile, the Pill, and Tindr, to the benefit of many.
That’s the happy version of this scenario.
The unhappy version leads me to the second reason why this story was hard to write. Who wants to spend too long in the head of a serial rapist who looks young solely in order to entrap young girls?
But this was the story idea I kept coming back to. The one about a sexual predator using technology to aid him in his quest for victims. It was the story I wanted to tell, with lots of resonance for present times, but it was not a story I wanted to write, if that makes sense–because writing requires research. And research into monsters like this . . . ugh.
So I kept putting it off. Whenever someone asked for a story, I’d bring out the notes I’d already made, thinking that maybe the time had finally come to get the idea out of my system. Always, always I thought of something better, something that would allow me to escape that terrible place where a baby-faced cherub used the skills of an experienced creep to feed on the innocent. In time, I felt as though the idea was following me around like some ghastly vampire. I began to hope that someone else would write this story before I did so I could with a full-body shudder shrug it off forever.
No such luck.
Then came the invite to contribute to In Your Face. I say “invite” but what I mean is “challenge”. A home for stories too hard to sell or to write because of their subject matter . . . ? If ever an opportunity existed to exorcise this piece of work, In Your Face was it.
All I had to do was conduct the research (ugh for so many reasons, including but not limited to the PUA movement) and get the story down on paper. Then I could be free of it.
Like many difficult things, however, this was more easily said than done. I didn’t want to spend too much time in the head of my principle predator because this was going to be a short story, not a novel in which there would be time for nuanced characterisation. Better, I thought, to present the familiar in an unfamiliar context, the meat of many science fiction yarns, and then let the twist seal the deal.
It took me a long time, however, to find a structure that didn’t feel used a thousand times over. Only by talking with friend and occasional collaborator Simon Brown did a way past this block prevent itself, a way that required further editorial guidance before it began to feel like it was leading somewhere real, rather than providing a clever conceit behind which I could cower from what I had wrought.
That was the third reason “Lust, Entrapment and the Matter Transmitter” was so difficult to write.
Some stories are born in light, flow like rainbows onto the page, and sail out into the world on shining sunbeams. Others crawl out of dreadful caves onto the dank, lightless of shores of the author’s cowardice, where they flounder until someone prods them, snarling, into view.
Maybe there’s a creepier story than this one that springs from the possibility of readily available re-ageing. The grim inventiveness of our species never fails to deliver.
I, however, don’t want to write it.
Now, if I haven’t entirely talked you out of reading my story (which, incidentally, contains fewer words than this post), “Love, Entrapment and the Matter Transmitter: a Case Study” will appear this coming April in In Your Face, an anthology containing stories that are “provocative and/or confronting but with a firm purpose … pieces that will perhaps make readers uncomfortable because they are a bit too hard-hitting or close to the bone, but which interrogate these themes and ideas, and make a point about the world we live in.” It will be launched at Contact 2016, the national Australian SF convention. I’ll be there.
Happy birthday, Alice Paul.