Short Story Ideas
From time to time, I
think of an idea for a short story. I don't actually want to
write them--they interest me as ideas, not as stories. But
someone else might. If so, feel free.
Several people have
now done so, as you can see by following the links. In two of
the cases, the story went in a direction that had not occurred
to me—and worked.
A man of somewhat
indefinite age is courting a younger woman. He seems very
confident that he wants to marry her, and there is something a
little strange in the interaction, as if he knows her better
than he should. She is adopted of unknown parentage.
It eventually turns out that he is immortal, or at least very
slowly aging—perhaps a very lucky mutation kept secret. Most of
a century earlier he fell in love, married, lived happily with
his wife. She eventually got old and died. By that time, the
early animal cloning experiments were happening. He froze some
of her tissue, got involved at least tangentially with cloning,
waited for the science to develop. Possibilities at this point
include his going to college with a fictitious identity and
suitable age, getting degrees in biology, and becoming involved
in the research. Or, if he has accumulated a fortune, being
involved in funding it. Or ... .
However he does it, when the technology reaches the point where
cloning a human appears possible, he arranges a covert project
to do it, produces a clone of his wife, arranges for her to be
adopted, and waits.
One possible ending is that his project succeeds. Another is
that he discovers that genetic identity isn't enough—the copy
has turned out to have a personality sufficiently different from
the original so that he decides not to marry her after all.
Another is that she rejects him, perhaps because she falls in
love with someone else, perhaps because circumstances are too
different from those that led to the success of his previous
courtship, perhaps because she discovers what is going on and
rejects the idea of being made as a copy.
He still has some of his wife's frozen tissue, so patiently
restarts the project.
[I'm not sure if this could be done at short story length]
A moderately attractive young
woman takes a job as secretary or something similar in a
department of an elite university, a Silicon Valley startup,
or some similar environment. After working there for a while
she has an affair with one of the men, leaves.
Some months later, one of her ex-fellow employees encounters
her, pregnant and accompanied by a two year old and a four
year old—whose existence she had never mentioned. It turns out
that she wanted children, did not want a husband, and is
sufficiently well off not to need either a husband or a job
(lottery winnings, inherited money, ...). Instead of taking
her luck with a sperm bank, she gets a job somewhere where
there are a substantial number of unusually able men, decides
which one she wants to father her next child, seduces him and,
once pregnant, leaves.
Extended Child Care
You have a stasis
box. About a week after the baby comes home from the hospital--a
week of extreme sleep deprivation for both parents--you decide
you need a little break. Put the baby in stasis for two days
while you recover. Take it out and continue.
breaks get longer--babies are a lot of work. You end up with the
parents age seventy or so, the child two or three, and ... .
Tiffany M. Lee used this idea for a story.
Childhood Innocence--the Extended Version
Over the past
century or two, age of menarch has fallen quite a lot. Many
parents do not regard this as a good thing. An eleven or twelve
year old daugher is emotionally a child, biologically a woman.
With the progress of
medicine, we should be able to cure this problem fairly
soon--come up with a medicine that delays the onset of puberty.
You don't have to worry about your daughter getting pregnant at
fourteen, because at fourteen she's still a child.
One lets you slow
physical aging. Perhaps it is how we greatly extend life
expectancy--slow down the aging processes, starting at age one.
So a twenty year old looks like a ten or twelve year old.
Physically is a ten or twelve year old. Intellectually--twelve
year olds are as bright as adults, they just don't know as much.
But this one does. Emotionally? But it gets you to age 180.
The other is much
less radical. Kittens are more fun than cats. If only they
remained kittens longer. Much longer. Wonders of modern
Home Sweet Home
Block of houses, all
appearing identical. By each doorknob a light, red or green.
Someone comes around the corner, goes to the first door with a
green light, inserts his key, opens the door. He is home.
What is happening,
of course, is that his key contains the complete description of
the inside of his house when he left it that morning (or last
week or last month or ...). The houses are all identical until a
key goes in (red lights are occupied houses).
Now we add one crazy
person who actually thinks coming home to the same house
matters--who believes the identity of objects (and
pets--possibly also children if we push it?) depends on
continuity. So he does various things to try to get around the
system everyone else takes for granted.
used this idea for a story, and I like it; the final twist
is not one that had occurred to me.
Patient in a
doctor's office, getting a test which involves wiring patient to
a machine. As the description and conversation continue, it
becomes clear that the doctor's office is in a prison and this
is part of the release procedure. The patient has just been
acquitted, and the prison wants to make sure he is healthy
before they turn him lose.
Finally, the doctor
tells the patient to hold still, and pushes a button. There is
an instant of surprise in the patient's face as he slumps over
At which point we
discover that the patient was actually convicted, not
acquitted--but doesn't know it. This is a very merciful society
and they decided that although it was necessary to execute
criminals, they could at least be spared the horror of knowing
that they were about to be executed.
this idea for a story, and
I liked it.
said that very similar merciful-execution scenarios are central
to Bob Shaw's "In the Hereafter Hilton" (Omni 1980) and Robert
Rohrer's "Keep Them Happy"(F&SF
1965). I haven't checked.]
How to Live Forever
Time is odd when
you are dreaming. Sometimes the whole night goes in a flash.
Others, it seems like hours, but on the clock only a few minutes
Someone discovers that the phenomenon is real.
Subjective time slows down when you are asleep and dreaming
(either it sometimes slows and sometimes speeds, or it always
slows and the speeding is an illusion due to forgetting most of
your dreams when you wake up). Eight hours on the clock is forty
or fifty in your head.
He reaches the obvious conclusion--and sets out to
spend as large a fraction of his life as he can asleep.
An idea that shows
up in some Christian doctrine is that one's fate in the
afterlife depends on the state of one's soul at the moment of
death--so the sinful man who truly repents on his deathbed ends
up, eventually, in heaven.
Has anyone done a science fiction version of this? Imagine, for
instance, that we can emulate a person in a computer and can
upload people. But the emulation isn't perfect--it emulates the
person as he is when uploaded but has much less ability to
change thereafter than the person had before uploading.
When you die, you are uploaded. If you happen to die angry, your
silicon continuation is an angry person--forever. If you die in
a mood of repentance for your sins, on the other hand, your
continuation is the good person that you (perhaps, absent death,
very temporarily) were at that moment.
Where Are They?
Humans suffer from a serious
design problem. Intelligence requires large heads. Skulls are
rigid. Childbirth requires the head of the infant—along with the
rest of it—to pass through the mother's pelvis on its way
through the birth control. It's a tight fit, and making it less
tight by widening the female pelvis results in adults less well
designed for running hence, in the environment where we evolved,
We solve the problem
by pushing as far as we can on each margin. Women have wider
hips than men and run less well. Human babies are, by the
standards of most other species, born premature, requiring
extended care—compare a six month old human to a one month old
kitten. The infant skull has design features that make it a
little less rigid than it will be in the adult. And, with all of
that, human childbirth, absent modern medicine, is still a
difficult, dangerous, and not uncommonly lethal process.
There is a solution
to this problem that we missed in our evolution but some of our
distant relatives found in theirs. Get the infant out of
the mother's womb early by transferring it to an environment
external to the pelvis but still internal to the mother,
designed to shelter and support the infant until it is ready to
face the outside world.
Somewhere out there
is an intelligent species that followed the marsupial path.
Their scientists, struck by the contrast between intelligent
marsupials and unintelligent placentals, have reasoned their way
to the explanation: On the path to intelligence, the placental
design is a dead end. All intelligent species, everywhere, must
be marsupials. [This assumes that all intelligent species must
be at least vaguely similar to terrestrial species and that
other problems block the evolution of non-mammalian
intelligence; a little plausible hand-waving will be required to
suggest a justification for the assumptions].
marsupials, a century or two ahead of us in their
technology, manage interstellar flight, start exploring. They
discover other planets, other species intelligent and not, all
of which fit their theory. Then they arrive at Earth.
The evidence is
clear—radio and television broadcasts, cars, airplanes,
skyscrapers, even satellites. The most visible species on the
planet is placental, hence cannot be intelligent—presumably pets
or domesticated animals, perhaps sub-intelligent slaves, of the
dominant intelligent species.
But where is it?
[For an alternative
version, the marsupials don't actually get to earth, but they do
succeed in receiving and decoding terrestrial television
Alternative Reproductive Patterns
Consider a lesbian
couple which wants children and would prefer that they be as
closely related as possible to both mothers. A number of future
reproductive technologies have been proposed that would produce
either a child who, like the child of a heterosexual couple,
gets half his genes from each parent or, more modestly, a child
with half his genes from one mother and a quarter from the
The latter objective can also be achieved with
current, indeed ancient, reproductive technology, by having one
member of the couple get pregnant by the father, full brother,
or son of the other, producing a child who is the son or
daughter of one mother, the half sibling, niece or nephew, or
grandchild of the other. This pattern is possible for a lesbian
couple in our society and I suspect sometimes occurs.
Imagine a society, perhaps a non-human society in
a work of fiction, for which this pattern is the norm. That
could happen if behavioral differences between male and female
made female/female couples work much better than female/male
couples. That could occur in a species where males never made
much contribution to child-rearing, or in one that started out
with a pattern like ours, but where social changes, perhaps due
to technological development, made behavioral differences
between males and females become over time a serious problem for
the stability of heterosexual couples.
Such a fictional society might be constructed in a
variety of ways. At one extreme, males could be entirely
unpaired, save for occasional sex with their sisters' partners.
At the other, and perhaps more interesting, extreme, the
female/female couple is associated with a male/male couple made
up of one brother of each of the female partners.
In this latter form, the children of the ff couple
are as closely related to the male couple--their "fathers"--as
to their mothers, with each child getting half his genes from
one father, a quarter from the other. That suggests the
possibility that mm couples might also be involved in child
rearing. If the species does not nurse its young, perhaps male
offspring go directly to the mm couple, female to the ff. If it
does nurse its young, the same pattern could be established
after weaning. Or if male/female differences in lifestyle make
dealing with young more practical for males in one part of the
year and females in another, the result might be a time shared
version of parenting.
One feature of the sort of stable structure I have
described is that all of a woman's children will be full
siblings of each other, since they will all be fathered by the
same brother of her partner. This has the advantage of providing
her daughters with full brothers to carry on the next generation
of the system.
One problem, with interesting plot possibilities,
is that mating now involves four people rather than two. A woman
has to find a female partner for herself who has a brother
compatible with one of her brothers. How practical this is may
depend in part on family size, in part on how selective the
mating preferences of both genders are.
I started with the case of a lesbian couple in our
society, but in the fictional case homosexuality is optional.
There might be sexual bonds in the ff couple, the mm couple,
both or neither.
In any case, it ought to make for interesting
social structures. Has anyone done stories along these lines?
The story starts with a
successful author along the lines of Leslie Charteris (The Saint
books) or Mickey Spillane. It gradually becomes clear that he is
older than he appears—a lot older. He is an immortal or
near-immortal story teller who, in order to conceal his nature,
changes identities every fifty years or so. Given his particular
talents, all of the identities are story tellers, details
varying by the culture, but always popular rather than literary.
The modern critics who scorn his work might be embarrassed to
discover that the author they look down upon is, among many
others, Homer. Also Chaucer. Possibly also Trollope who, on the
available evidence, had access to a word processor, presumably
hard wired into his brain.