The Story Behind the Stories
Hard Times in Nuovo Genova, or How I Lost My Way by Chris Barnham
One of the things that always interests me about writing fiction is the way that you make stuff up
and sometimes the characters and the ideas take on a life of their own. You think you've written
something the way it should be, only to find that you have to go back and explore it some more.
I wrote a story about a young man called Siggy who meets a woman called Ellie. They fall in love,
and she shares with him a fantastic secret: she has stumbled upon a mechanism for travelling
between different versions of reality, between worlds that are subtly or dramatically different from
our own, depending on how far you go along a mysterious path called the Way.
That story--called Once There Was a Way*--ends sadly. Siggy has a wanderlust; showing him
the Way is like giving him the keys to the sweetshop. He can't resist using it on his own, without
Ellie, only to get lost in parallel worlds, forever searching for the version of reality he left behind,
the one with his lover in it.
I always thought the concept of the Way lent itself to a series of stories, and sure enough I wrote
others. The story of Siggy and Ellie hadn't been fully told. I left Siggy wandering the Multiverse,
searching in vain for the Ellie he left behind. But what about Ellie?
That thought led to my story Sigmund Seventeen, the sad tale of what Ellie did after she lost
Sigmund. That story is available online at Electric Spec magazine.
What both those stories show is a truth that lies at the heart of much science fiction: whatever the
powers and possibilities that become available to us, through technology or otherwise, our fate is
often determined by the flaws that lie within us. In Once There Was a Way, Sigmund loses Ellie
because he always wants to look around the next corner and suspects the grass is greener, and so
fails to see what he already has. In Sigmund Seventeen, Ellie risks wasting the endless possibilities
available to her in a doomed search to replace the man who got away.
I'm thrilled that the latest Way story is going to feature in this summer's Intergalactic Medicine
Show. It's called Hard Times in Nuovo Genova and doesn't feature Ellie or Siggy. It's still
however basically a boy meets girl story, set in multiple versions of Chicago. Except the girl has
the power to travel at will between alternative universes, and the boy doesn't. Surely a recipe for
This new story also--like all my stories set on the Way--is at heart about this truth: what we get
out of life is largely determined by what we are able to bring to it. There's no magical or
technological fix that can make us what we are not.
*If you want to read, Once There Was a Way, it is included in the short story anthology Flicker,
out now from Filles Vertes Publishing. Filles Vertes also published my new time-travel romance
novel, Fifty-One, which is available now.
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