“I flipped through the channels. Strange how most TV shows depicted the world as corpseless. Nary a corpse to be seen on the sitcoms, cop shows, interactives– all those people, walking the streets, working, cutting up with friends, and not one of them followed by a corpse.” — from Followed
Plot is less important in Will McIntosh’s stories than immersive worlds and relatable protagonists. As a diehard genre reader, I’m resistant to anything that could be labeled literary fiction and chafe at the suggestion that sometimes stories just end. But I had to reconsider my prejudices after falling in love with Hitchers and Soft Apocalypse. Here were two novels set in the middle of catastrophic events, but their storylines were “merely” about coping with guilt and searching for happiness. I didn’t know you were allowed to do that in science fiction.
McIntosh is an adept fantasist, and it wouldn’t surprise me to hear someone categorize his work as magical realism. But the science fiction elements of his stories are essential components of their settings, not pat metaphors for elements of the human experience. He’s practicing pure science fiction– imagining what everyday life would be like if the world surrounding us was fundamentally different. This makes his work both intensely personal and incredibly accessible.
His next novel won’t be out until June, but McIntosh has been publishing short fiction for over a decade. It’s too early in his career for there to be an official collection of his work, but many of his stories are available for free online or featured in prominent anthologies. I was able to track down 13 of them (I’ve posted direct links at the end of this article), but there are four that deserve special attention.
One Paper Airplane Graffito Love Note is a straightforward love story set in the early 20th century. It’s about a girl whose life is stolen in books, movies, and songs. A tale of lovers separated by circumstance who keep in touch through unnatural means, it’s a concept McIntosh has explored several times. Perfect Black, Perfect Violet, and Eyelid Movies all involve technologies that allow people to experience others’ lives. Over There hits the same notes, but with alternate realities separating a couple instead of physical distance. But One Paper Airplane Graffito Love Note is the most complete, and McIntosh’s extrapolation of what social media norms might look like in an age before television is especially romantic.
There are echoes of those stories in Bridesicle as well, but the premise of McIntosh’s Hugo-winning short story sets it apart. A hundred years in the future, scientists have perfected the technology to revive our bodies after death. Unfortunately, not everyone has the money to pay for it. Those who die poor are stored in cryogenic banks and must rely on the kindness of strangers to revive them. Told from a distressing point of view in a fascinating future, the only disappointment of Bridesicle is that it wraps up too easily. Luckily, McIntosh seems to have an obsession with world-building, and he’ll be expanding on Bridesicle in his next novel, Love Minus Eighty. Also of note, there are references to “hitchers” in Bridesicle that are substantially different from those depicted in Hitchers the novel. I’m curious to see how that pans out, or if McIntosh just liked the idea enough that he took it in a different direction when he made Hitchers a ghost story.
Viscerally rather than existentially terrifying, Defenders is available digitally in Lightspeed Magazine’s August 2011 issue and for free on their website. (Free is great, but I like Lightspeed’s format, it’s only $2.99 on Kindle, and the magazine’s editor John Joseph Adams does good work.) A decade after a failed alien invasion of Earth, human diplomats finally get to meet the robots that were their salvation ten years previously. It ends too soon, but I love this story. It would be my favorite, if it wasn’t for one other thing.
That would be Followed. Followed is a zombie story based on an idea so simple, I’m amazed it hasn’t been done a hundred times before. Like McIntosh’s most effective work, Followed is rooted in contemporary concerns, and the level of ordinary detail he brings to a world plagued by the living dead is what makes it click. Whether writing horror, science fiction, or fantasy, his stories feel real. There’s very little disbelief to suspend. There are few genre authors I can say that about.
McIntosh has written dozens of stories, but of those I was able to track down, these four best represent his strengths, and they’re the most fully realized. It’s not surprising I’ve been so captivated by his work. He’s clearly a world-builder, and many of his stories expand upon premises he’s introduced previously. There’s definitely a sense that he’s been collecting bits and pieces of inspiration and combining them into larger, more detailed worlds as his career progresses. So far, all three of his novels started out as excellent short stories, which makes me very excited to see what he does next.
Bridesicle can be found in the Nebula Awards Showcase 2011 anthology. It is available in Kindle format as well as print.
Defenders is available on Lightspeed Magazine’s website.
Followed is available on John Joseph Adam’s website.
One Paper Airplane Graffito Love Note is available at Strange Horizons.
Other Connected Stories:
Echoes in Evening Wear is available at Futurismic.
The Fantasy Jumper can be found in The Year’s Best Science Fiction and Fantasy 2009 anthology, available in Kindle format and print.
Perfect Black is available at Daily Science Fiction.
Perfect Violet can be found in The Year’s Best Science Fiction and Fantasy 2008 anthology, available in Kindle format and print.
Eyelid Movies is available at Futurismic.
Free Lunch is available at Daily Science Fiction.
Linkworlds is available at Strange Horizons.
Over There is temporarily available at Asimov’s Science Fiction website.
The Perimeter is available as a Kindle single.