Forging ahead

It’s All a Matter of Time and Distance

And reality.

Both my Husband and I turned out to be the footloose members of our sibling assemblies, except if you look back a generation, we’ve more the norm, and our siblings the oddball stay-close-to-homers.

Our kids have continued, and often bettered, our example and it used to not matter. You can always hop on a plane and visit them, right?

Now, as a science fiction writer, I’ve had to deal with the fact that traveling to visit relatives on another world is time consuming.

I never thought I’d have to consider it the real world.

But the last year and a half . . . the real world is rubbing my nose in the things I’ve glossed over or completely missed in the fiction.

Number Two Son lives in Taiwan. I am delighted that when we last visited (for Chinese New Years) in January of 2020, we arrived home on February 2, 2020. Yeah, two days ahead of some serious flight restrictions and quarantines. Mind you, we took the better safe-than-sorry route and drove home from the airport to self-quarantine for two weeks (hurray for hurricane supplies!)

But to visit Taiwan now? Anyone coming in from abroad faces a mandatory two week quarantine before they can go anywhere. Kinda makes tourism and family visits tough.

So . . . with diseases of various sorts in mind . . . How should a writer handle travel between worlds?

In some cases the length of the trip would take care of the problem (as an infectious disease works through all the passengers and crew and hopefully dies out before they reach Mars!) But, say, ground-to-orbital habitat would require . . . what? A health check and a few days isolation before liftoff? Mandatory vaccination for everyone on the habitat and visitors as well. And hope for the best?

Well . . . fiction, so I can handwave really, really good medical systems, unobtainium antibiotics and so forth. So I can get on with the story without two weeks of the Hero climbing the Quarantine Hotel walls. Messes with the pace of the story, you know.

And since I have dimensional portals instead of spaceships, I have no way to use the trip as the quarantine. So I go the easy route and mostly ignore the problem, other than throwing in a rare “What do you mean you imported four horses through three cross-dimensional worlds and you have no idea if any of them have ever had a single vaccination!” just because even I can’t entirely ignore the problem.

But there’s another issue. An older one. When a family member moves to another world, well, you might get an occasional letter, or vid recording. It’s not even like today’s “Well, I guess we won’t get to El Paso, Sacramento or Seattle this year to see everyone. Maybe late next year . . . and who knows when we can get back to Taiwan.”

It’s more like a few centuries ago where moving across an ocean meant you might never see your family again, ever.

And I really haven’t put much effort into the angst involved, nor the difficulty in adjusting to cultural changes, a new language or even the local differences in usage in the new place.

Leaving fiction behind and taking a dive into the dumpster of current events . . .

Sarah Hoyt, being an immigrant, has spoken about the difficulty of assimilation.

And I’m starting to wonder if we’re all facing something like that, but facing not simply adapting to a new-to-us culture, but to a culture that is new to everyone and still changing.

It’s a bizarre place where we can be anything we want to be online, so why not in the real world? Where we judge people by external characteristics and mentally (and sometimes publicly) assign them to a group we think they belong to. But we have a right to invent new genders and pronouns unique to us and insist every one use them.

It’s a baffling place where we’re accused of denying science when we demand a scientific basis for political policies claiming to be based on science.

Where a philosophy of economics and governmental structures to that end, that has failed disastrously and led to huge death tolls every time it has been implemented . . . is the goal of Nations that were built on the model of the most successful style of economics and govenment ever seen on Earth.

It’s as if a huge portion of the population has ceased to believe in the real world.

And reality is going to hit hard.

You know that hierarchy of need? Air, water, food, shelter, family, friends, books, internet, rock n’ roll . . . well, the way I’ve written the most recent characters there’s no telling what sort of music they’d like . . .

I’m think I need to secure and protect as much of that pyramid as possible while I figure out what the heck it is I need to adapt to.

But my reality, right now, involves these seven, count them! Seven stories that need to be finished, edited, covered, and published.

Maybe what my Hero needs to do is find a balance between an unstable cultural/governmental in the midst of a huge change . . . and the new reality. If it works out in the book, maybe I’ll give his method a try. (Not really! I think he’s going to have to fake his death and disappear.)

The above picture is Number One Son, who took a four day drive down from Seattle for a visit, starting to forge an axe, or perhaps a future. Who knows? Some times when you heat things up and pound on them you just wind up with a mess.

And below, a Time Traveler who’s having a terrible time saving the world.

13 comments

  1. In my Nwwwlf books I make it clear that no one who goes to the stars ever sees their families again. I had no need to hand wave that so I didn’t. FTL, cryogenic sleep, that was enough for these books.

    1. I should say “mostly” never. I can’t remember if it’s in the published version or not, but I have a hazy recollection of letting Gilead’s poor parents see him one more time before he emigrated for good.

    2. They would hold wakes for immigrants in Ireland, since it was as final as dying.

  2. I would hate to see travel restrictions so tough that travel here would be near impossible. I want the Covid 19 restrictions to be a unique event, not the start of escalating reactions to keep epidemics from becoming pandemics. Or excuses for totalitarian rule.

    As a writer, I bounce cheerfully back and forth between fictional worlds and the real one. And sometimes not cheerfully as I realize my fictional worlds are acting rationally while the real one isn’t.

    1. Travel restrictions only apply to the law abiding, they may be an inconvenience to the law breakers but there always seems to be a way around them.

      It may be very simple and cheap if your border is porous or the means of transport you are using allow easy bypass or it may be more difficult. For a criminal to build a huge generation ship they’d need a lot of motivation, to find a shady sort that would do 30 seconds of hand waving to open a portal would really lower that bar.

      Here in Arizona we see all sorts, folks just start walking north and hope they don’t die in the desert.
      Human smuggling runs by professionals, but that still risk death on a bad day.
      Tunnels leading to a discrete auto ride north, much safer but we still see deaths.
      I’m probably missing a lot of less obtrusive and possibly safer methods like fake papers and the like too.

      Unless it is essential to the story I’d think avoiding the border control issue would be best, too many worms in that can.

      1. Oh yes, the US border is a joke. The only way to deal with it is to remove the incentives.

        In fiction, that sort of mess is best introduced only if it’s relevant to the plot.

        And in real life, combinations of human error can add up to issues. I would be ashamed to need as many stupid human errors in a plot as happen in real life. As my son in Taiwan says, a combination of the one airline pilot being put in the wrong room–regular instead of quarantine–and it wwas a pilot who actually had Covid, and then a hotel worker carrying it out into the general public . . . there may have been a bordello involved . . . And in like 6 days they went from zero to 1500 cases. 20 of them with no known contact with the known cases.

        Or maybe, with the internet and people hearing about things like this, writers can start getting away with absurd chains of events, too.

  3. I’d swear I left a review for that one, but I don’t see it. It’s one of my favorites! Tons of fun. Crazy timey-wimey stuff.

  4. I always notice when the bus schedules don’t match up. How can they travel so fast and never get jetlag or suffer from meeting strangers and picking up new and cruddy head colds? Or the utterly amazing ability to never sleep.
    But yeah, boring reality slows down the story.

    I do think that the universe, indifferent as it is, is asserting itself. Reality can only be denied for so long before it bites back hard. Much of the craziness we’re seeing is our elites having to face reality for the first time in their well-cushioned lives. The universe refuses to behave as they want and so they descend ever deeper into abstraction and how things “should be” if only we all behaved properly.
    Reality doesn’t care what you want.

  5. ” But we have a right to invent new genders and pronouns unique to us and insist every one use them.”
    And everyone has a right to laugh at us if we do. And kill us if we attempt to compel their use.

  6. One of the things that I’ve been thinking about for one of my SF universe projects is that one of the few solid interstellar agreements is the Biological Quarantine Standards (BQS). You thought rabbits in Australia was bad? The classic Terran mouse has done more damage to planetary ecosystems than you could even imagine. And anything that humans can eat, can eat humans. Or infect them.

    (There was one world-passed Stage Five and Six quarantine and had a small colony population. Between two Patrol Fleet circuits-roughly three months-they found everyone on the world dead. Video showed that all of the adults and most of the children just…stopped moving, in a period of less than two hours. Breathing, some indications of neurological activity, but just…stopped. Nearly seventy thousand people to be restored from cortical stacks-assuming they could find the stacks, and all of the children were Really Dead because the were too young to have stacks back in those days. All of the recovered stacks, when instated, told the same thing-they just fell over and couldn’t move, couldn’t do anything. Until they starved to death, or dehydrated, or something broke in their heads (i.e. died from being unable to sleep).

    (It was found out that it was a combination of a local flea-like pest that had a life cycle similar to the cicada and a prion disease that they carried as a part of their reproductive cycle.)

    Nobody jokes about BQS. Nobody tries to get around BQS-that’s a good way to get Really Dead in even the worst slum colonies. You might have firewalls for every piece of hardware you got loaded, but you have a software patch access for BQS to update your immune system. Nobody wants a repeat of some of the disasters that have happened and illicit plant/animal smuggling is only slightly above pedophilia-for-profit in the hierarchy of criminals.

    (Doesn’t hurt that most colonies have large Spacer populations-several hundred years of selective breeding pressure of the people that don’t screw up and leave the airlock open. Or fail to make sure everything is working properly, and check things three times.)

  7. Not handwavium;bureaucracy. Before departure you must undergo a Travel Physical performed by a medical professional familiar with where you’ve been and where you’re going. The travel IS the quarantine, time spent in a confined space under observation by crew and fellow passengers. Must lean your head against the wall-mounted thermometer before entry to the mess hall, to check for fever. All urine and solids are scanned by computer for viruses. Upon arrival, the ships doctor reports “No problems” and you’re free to go.

    It’s rarely mentioned in stories because it’s universal, it’s background noise, not relevant to the story. How many showers did you take, how many times did you do your nails on the trip? Who cares?

  8. No colony world run by sane adults would allow dimensional portals on the surface of their planet. Portals would open on an airless moon, in a fortification that Death himself couldn’t breach from the inside. Otherwise the risk of contamination, not to mention invasion, would be unacceptable. Ships and cargoes would similarly need to be offloaded in space, quarantined and allowed on the colony surface only in controlled conditions.

    I handled the whole issue by having the Valkyries never leave Earth. They send spaceships all over the place controlled by FTL radio. Remote drones, emphasis on the -remote- part. Aliens, when they come to Earth, generate drones from local materials.

    There was one exception, the time when they got sucked into a parallel world and then came back. But it was a parallel Earth, so no unpleasant alien bugs got to hitch-hike.

    Sometimes uninvited visitors generate extra-dimensional gates on Earth, but lately they find a Valkyrie standing in front of it with a really big gun and an unwelcoming expression. KaPOW!

  9. If the trip is at least as long as the quarantine, it’s a self-solving problem; the ship itself is the quarantine.

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