REJECTED STORY PITCHES
The year after my story ‘Sex Secrets of the Robot Replicants’ was published in A Life Worth Living, that volume’s editor, Simon Guerrier, called for submissions for Big Finish’s follow-up anthology featuring Bernice Summerfield, Something Changed. On this occasion Simon – probably sensibly – rejected my story ideas, and I didn’t contribute to the volume which was eventually published.
I present my suggested story outlines here for interest’s sake, and not because I think he was mad to reject them. (I don’t think that, although each of them is still a story I would have loved to have written.)
[WARNING: SPOILERS for Something Changed follow...]
The premise of Something Changed is that in Chapter One (Simon’s own ‘Inappropriate Laughter’), a visitor to the Braxiatel Collection where Benny works activates a ‘history machine’ which splinters time in a disastrous way. This is followed by fourteen ‘Chapters Two’, each written by a different author and set in a different version of history following this point. In the book’s final chapter, Chapter Three (‘After Life’, also by Simon), history is mended and all the stranded timelines are drawn together once more.
The brief, then, was to propose a story set in Benny’s future, in one of an infinite number of potential histories. Here are the three suggestions I came up with.
(Told in the third person, with extracts from paired history texts by Benny. This piece might work best as two half-length stories, separated by others: alternatively, the two narratives could be interspersed together, using different fonts.)
The sixty-five-year-old Benny writes a history of the Braxiatel Collection over the past twenty-five years, from the activation of the history machine. Or rather, two Bennys write two histories of two Collections – from the standpoint of two very different possible futures, which we see in operation around her as she works.
In one history, the machine works perfectly, and [the Collection’s proprietor, Irving] Braxiatel retains a monopoly on its use. The technology revolutionises the academic study of the past, and the Collection becomes a mecca for scholars of all worlds and races – a thriving and prosperous intellectual utopia where all can meet in serene harmony, and perfect security. Its libraries and learning are without parallel, and it becomes the spiritual capital of the entire sector, ushering in an age of reason and enlightenment.
In the other history, the machine works perfectly, and the technology is offered on the open market. Among the buyers is an innocuous-sounding corporation which turns out to be a front organisation for some philosophical remnants of [the Nazi-like former occupiers of theCollection,] the Fifth Axis. In their hands it proves a devastating weapon: after all, a technology which can observe any point in the past can be used to spy on what your enemies were doing half a year ago, or half a second. An insurgent faction might use it for military conquest, a state government to spy on its own populace. Nothing a citizen of such a society said or did could remain private... and so it proves, as the New Axis rises to dominance over its whole sector of space, occupying the Collection and imposing its totalitarian rule over all its inhabitants.
From certain hints in both histories, however, it will become clear that, through the original history machine, a link exists between the two alternatives, the utopia and the dystopia which it has helped to create. Although this is kept a secret from the authorities in both worlds, the two Bennys are in contact, and the Benny of the utopian Collection is using its wealth to help the resistance effort in the dystopian one. The Axis-dominated Benny’s situation is not altogether hopeless, then – but nor can the other Benny ever be happy, knowing the life under which her counterpart, and those of her friends, are having to suffer.
THE HISTORY MACHINE
(Told in the first person by Benny.)
The history machine goes disastrously wrong, pitching Benny and a handful of the other characters back in time to 1890s England, and into an H.G. Wells pastiche which basically writes itself.
Separated at first, it takes the group weeks to re-establish contact with one another, by which time [Benny’s ex-husband] Jason has used his outlandish stories of life in the distant future to inveigle himself into society in the guise of a gentleman time-traveller, while [her half-alien son] Peter and [the Collection’s reptilian Martian gardener] Hass have fallen into the hands of a deranged biologist, who sees this ‘Dog Boy’ and ‘Crocodile Man’ as support for his sadistic experiments in forcing evolution’s hand. Benny is furious with Jason for what appears to be his opportunistic freeloading, but it turns out that his conspicuous behaviour has been an attempt to create a historical record of their presence, as a message for their friends in the future. And it evidently works, for shortly afterwards a Martian spacecraft, commanded by Hass’s brother Sset, arrives on a common outside London...
Trying desperately to prevent the trigger-happy Martians from decimating the English army, Benny must also rescue her son and friend from the demented vivisectionist, and her husband from participating in an ill-advised and deeply premature Moon mission.
(Told in the third person, with extracts from ‘primary texts’.)
The history machine destroys the universe utterly – matter, energy, time, space, all erased from existence as a new universe wells up instantaneously to replace it. By a freak effect, those at the epicentre of the catastrophe survive, or at least persist, in the form of disembodied intelligences. As the new universe takes shape, Benny and her friends discover that they can influence its development, and (over the course of what becomes billions of years) direct the evolution of its life forms. They end up with a thriving universe full of life, where they are seen, with considerable justification, as gods.
It’s effectively the Virgin [Doctor Who] New Adventures’ take on [H.P. Lovecraft’s] Great Old Ones – except that, rather than incomprehensible horrors from before the dawn of time, Benny and friends become more like the Greek and Roman gods: a squabbling, shagging divine soap opera.
The story will be set on one of the worlds of the new universe – a culture of warlike plant-beings created by Hass, who acknowledge the other gods but treat the Gardener as their primary deity. The backstory (and the fact that this is a whole new universe) will only be revealed gradually, through excerpts from this culture’s sacred texts. The more immediate story is that the priests of the Gardener, desiring to go beyond their frequent animal sacrifices to their deity, have succeeded in ‘capturing’ a god in their main temple, and intend to destroy it, to the glory of Hass.
The cuttings from the sacred texts will reveal that, despite their accession to divine status, nothing has changed for our heroes – indeed, they are trapped in a stagnant state, without development or progress. The love-quadrilateral between Benny, Jason, [the amoral art thief] Bev and [Peter’s father] Adrian goes on and on, flipping through interminable permutations over the millennia but trapping them as tightly as ever. Brax is still distant and unapproachable – in the new universe’s theology he is a distant, omnipresent deity, not personalised in the same way as the others (the closest parallel being Brahma in Hinduism, who dreams the cosmos into being). Hass is the loner among the gods, more interested in tending his worlds than in participating in their politics.
At the story’s climax, the junior plant-priest who has been our viewpoint character is granted a divine visitation, as the goddess Benny arrives in the temple to free its helpless prisoner – the god-child Peter, who in all the aeons of this cosmos has remained frozen in infancy, never growing up.
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Something Changed cover © Adrian Salmon 2005.