These Are The Ways – Shoreline of Infinity

Pleased to announce that my short story “These Are The Ways” will be out on June 15th from Shoreline of Infinity, issue 8! It’s available for pre-order now.

This was a weird and gratifying and difficult one for me, for many reasons. One, I don’t write a lot of sci-fi – keen readers will note that of my existing published short fiction, only one story (‘Mistakes Were Made’) is clearly classifiable as sci-fi. Two, it’s a war story but it’s also a love story, and while I’ve never been in a war, writers of all genres make shit up about it all the time without ever having so much as fired a gun, it’s one of those things that it’s acceptable to write fiction about when you don’t have any lived experience, but love, love is different, love is something you’re supposed to know about. And it’s been a long time since I’ve been in love. I joke that the last time I kissed someone and meant it I was sixteen, but some jokes are funny ha-ha and some jokes are funny-flinch, and. Well. And. And let’s just end that sentence there.

The story fell into my head as basically a single scene – darkness, an alien enemy with unknown weapons, a catastrophic lack of knowledge, everything muddled up with blood and pride and arrogance and fear and fame. And in the middle of it, two young soldiers in love. I wanted it to be a snapshot both of their relationship and their war – there was no way this story could have been any longer than it was. I just wanted to get that one scene down. The dark, the explosions, the blood.

Jen and Thea made me think about all my past relationships (oh yes, writing as therapy, it finally happened). When you fall in love with someone, how important is it that they are your peer? And in what way? Age, education, values, experience, occupation, culture? How important is it that you want to be with them as well as want to be them? How much of the relationship is aspirational? How much is acceptable? You don’t fall in love with your heroes; they get knocked off pedestals too easily. But people fall in love with people with massive inferiority complexes too, all the time. Having a chip on your shoulder is no obstacle. Being unable to say “I love you” is no obstacle.

And so I felt my way through their relationship as gingerly and gently as those days of first love – getting to know someone, realizing they’re about to make a tremendously bad decision, something you think you can talk them out of, realizing you can’t. Realizing that when you think you know what motivates someone, maybe you don’t. Thea’s small size and cultural baggage leads her first to enlist, and then to knock herself out again and again trying to prove her skills and competence. She walks around thinking she’s both lesser than, and better than, everybody else – and in the background is her family, her people, her planet, and her pride telling her that there is such a thing as a good death. Jen has a vague idea of this – she knows that sometimes you want what you want, and sometimes you want what you’ve been told to want, and as you get older you might be able to tell the difference, but they’re not that old. They’re not old enough. And war will do its damndest to make sure they don’t get old enough. It’s a test that they send soldiers out expecting to fail every time, and the way Thea passes it is, I think, emblematic of everything about her. If your goal is to kill, then you must kill; if your goal is to survive, then you must survive.

It’s unclear, I think, whether Jen wants to be Thea, as well as be with her. It’s unclear whether she believes they’re equals or in what way. And I found myself thinking back on my own years and years of relationships, spending far too long with the wrong people: Did I ever feel like an equal? Was that what I wanted? If it was, why did I settle for people who clearly weren’t? Maybe it was the case that I never did. And so on, and so forth. Finally I realized that maybe we never date someone we can look straight in the eye and see ourselves there; and maybe we shouldn’t.

Anyway, war fucks all that up, let’s just get that out of the way. I’m grateful to Shoreline for accepting this story and letting these few moments of an alien war be captured, and I hope people enjoy the story!

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