Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Winning Veronica’s Heart—Ian Creasey

"Winning Veronica's Heart" is my second appearance in IGMS, following "The Report of a Doubtful Creature" in the November 2009 issue.  It is, however, a very different style of story.winning-veronicas-heart

I've always been fascinated by the notion of parallel worlds.  As a child I read a lot of books by Andre Norton: she was my "gateway drug" into the SF genre.  Her novel The Crossroads of Time introduced me to the idea that there existed different versions of the Earth, where history had taken different paths; and with a suitable technological gizmo, you could travel between all these alternate worlds.

It's a well-worn trope, of course.  Authors are often drawn to gaudy, big-picture scenarios: Earths with radically different histories, based on different outcomes from major events such as the American Civil War, the extinction of the dinosaurs, etc.

However, if there are many parallel worlds, then some of them will be very similar to our own, having only recently diverged.  And it seems plausible to me that if the technology for travelling to parallel worlds is ever invented, then these similar worlds will be much easier to reach than the radically different ones (e.g. Earths where the dinosaurs survived), because they're "nearer".  After all, in the realm of space travel, it is much easier to land on the Moon than it is to reach distant stars and galaxies.

The key aspect of these nearby parallel worlds is that they contain winning-veronicas-heartdifferent versions of ourselves.  In a world where the Roman Empire never fell, I would never have been born, so there is no "alternate" version of myself.  However, in a world which diverged twenty years ago, there is a version of me who shares the same childhood, but who made different decisions in adulthood.

What if you could travel to worlds inhabited by your alternate selves?  What if your friends and lovers also had different versions?

I'm a fan of standup comedy, and I enjoy the observational humour of comedians such as Jerry Seinfeld.  It struck me that meeting yourself, and interacting with yourself, might make a good topic for observational humour.

The differences between your parallel selves would typically lie in the realm of minutiae — details which are small, vivid, often absurd.  These are exactly the kind of details that a good comedian can turn into humour.

I decided to set myself the challenge of writing a story in the form of a standup comedian's monologue.  To do this, I had to come up with some appropriate patter, punch lines, and so forth.  That wasn't the problem.

The hard part was writing a monologue that also worked as a story winning-veronicas-heartwith a plot.  In reality, a comedian's routine rarely consists of a coherent story-arc with a beginning, middle and end.  A comedian will usually discuss different topics and shift between them, but without a "plot" as such.  This is very different to readers' expectations of a story.  Readers, particularly in the SF/Fantasy genres, usually expect a forward-moving plot.

So to give some shape to the narrative, I decided to describe the progression of a romantic relationship, since that's a standard topic for standup comedians.  I should perhaps clarify that I don't personally endorse the approach to relationships described in the story.  There are elements of exaggeration and absurdity — it's intended as comedy, not a how-to manual.

The final draft of the story was a compromise between observational humour and a more plot-driven tale.  I hope it succeeds in capturing the merits of both approaches.  Nevertheless, I know that in other universes nearby, my alternate selves have written an infinite number of better versions....

--Ian Creasey