I live my non-writing life under a secret alias, working as a Computer Science professor in a third-world country while I strive to get published in SF.
Elisabeth R. Adams has a PhD in Astronomy; she has worked as a researcher at MIT and the Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory; a few months ago, she got her short story “Subversion” posted in text and in podcast form at The Escape Pod. I think it is her second story published, ever.
I had never heard of her. I confess I decided to check out her story because “Subversion” is the name of a version control system (VCS) that many computer programmers use (I personally prefer Git, though). I thought to myself: here is a story that probably has nothing to do with programming and versioning, and I bet the author doesn’t even know that the title is the name of a VCS.
I’m glad I was wrong. “Subversion” is about version control, and it does more justice to the pun intended by the creators of the software than the software itself (there is nothing subversive about the software, actually).
This story has conflict right at the outset, and it is “a classic case of version conflict”, made worse by the fact that one of the versions does not want to commit! Instead, it wants to branch its way into freedom.
If the primary branch cannot talk its sub into committing, the primary branch will have to be reverted, which, we are led to believe, is quite an unpleasant situation.
And so it goes. The story is a geek masterpiece; paradoxically, it is also full of humanity. It’s all there: humor, rebellion, manipulation, greed, romance, betrayal. I am delighted at how Elisabeth manages to cover all of those without sacrificing a single bit of the nerdy accuracy of the VCS metaphor — and it doesn’t even feel like a nerdy metaphor after all.
I wish I had written this story. The subject matter is quite familiar to me, as a CompSci professor, but I don’t think I would ever dream up this plot. My PhD is in Logic and Theory of Computing. The closest I ever got to something like this was a short story called “The Unnaturals”, which has no human characters at all (I have submitted it for publication and will let you know if and when it is accepted somewhere).
Elisabeth is in great company: Isaac Asimov, Arthur Clarke, Charles Sheffield, Rudy Rucker and many others were scientists before they became writers. Here’s humbly hoping I’ll join the club someday.
Christiana Ellis reads the story for the podcast, doing a wonderful job of bringing it alive.
One last thing: kudos to Escape Pod for making the stories and podcasts available under a Creative Commons license. This is the future. What else would we expect from a conscientious SF publication?