Once upon a time, I wrote a science fiction novel about a space virus that changes what it means to be human. Technically I wrote several, but for now let’s focus on HOMEFRONT, and the trilogy it spawned five years later.
In the universe of the Transgenic Wars, humanity’s first explorations in near space found evidence of much, much older civilizations, and a peculiar little trick they used to adapt to their new homes.
Because humans are idiots, they brought the stuff back to Earth, and didn’t immediately lock it away in the deepest hole they could find. It got out, and as a result every living human being and any humans who would ever live again has some form of the Transgenic Virus (not a virus) inside them.
Most people live longer, and don’t catch colds any more. Some become stronger, faster, and more resilient than others.
Some grow extra arms. Some become telepaths.
Many people become afraid, and that fear destroys the Earth.
Fast forward a few hundred years. The most extreme (and most beneficial) forms of transgenesis have been exiled to the farthest known planets. On Earth, the population has dwindled, but also have become healthier and longer lived.
There is enough food for everyone, and enough power to light every home. But oceans are mostly dead. The industrialized world lives along shattered coastlines, fearing to explore the cities of old lest they awaken remnant war machines programmed to kill any human with a transgenic expression.
And all the important resources come from orbit, carefully apportioned by the Reclamation Council in exchange for water, air, and biomass processed on the surface to supply its military.
A military force comprised entirely of humans with vanishingly small amounts of transgenesis. So small, in fact, that they are considered to be virus-free.
Members of the System Defense Force want for nothing. They are the ultimate elites, and should any member test positive for the Transgenic virus, they are quietly retired to live whatever life they can make for theselves on the surface of the Earth.
It used to be science fiction. Then a killer virus of unknown origin misted its way onto the world stage. And let me tell you, writing stories about a post-pandemic world when we’re smack-dab in the middle of one is harder than I thought it would be.
And then last month the U.S. Department of Defense enacted a policy forbidding recruits who had tested positive for COVID-19 from enlisting or earning a military commission, and my fictional and actual worlds collided.
The DoD has since walked back the policy, but they’re still allowed to bounce a symptomatic recruit or one compromised by the disease, which in effect are the same thing.
Because everybody will have symptoms at some point. Because as mentioned above, humans are idiots. And weird viruses aren’t the only prophetic thing I’ve had to adjust in the text.
For example, the virus used to be an extreme allegory for Don’t Ask Don’t Tell, a ridiculously discriminatory policy which went away after I wrote the book but then came roaring back as fascism came back into fashion.
When I went to rewrite the book into a trilogy, I kept the virus, but allowed my biracial, bisexual protagonist to have a fuller (and more active) romantic life, and introduced one of her wives to the worlds as well. I let the characters tell me who they were, and this time I didn’t tell them they were wrong.
In short, my Big Gay Space Opera ™ (which fooled absolutely none of my queer friends) became bigger and gayer than ever, and I’ve very happy with the results.
Now I’m writing more stories in that world, and the split society I’d envisioned has to be reconciled. The consequences of the virus must be realized, and the stories of the “little people” most affected by it have to be told.
I’m not as happy with those as I could be, because in a lot of ways they’re still based on a pre-COVID, pre -NeoFascist world.
I’ve finished 12 out of 30 planned chapters of my next book. 10 of them were written in the summer of 2018, and only a third of them address the inequities of my future society. I’ve only introduced two new characters of note, with only one more planned for this novel.
As I look ahead, I’m realizing that I may not be able to tell this story in three novels as planned. I may not be able to do it in five, but I’ll give it my best shot.
So get ready for some rewrites as I expand my horizons. Because every bad thing I did to my characters in the last three has/will have lasting consequences, and not every ending is happy.