For those who were at Flying Pen Press's Summer of Science Fiction event, you've heard all this before. What follows is a transcript (more or less) of the speech and reading I delivered at that event.
Irreconcilable Differences is about a woman named Rachel Santana. She is an agent of Interpol Covert Services. She’s thirty-six years old, married, soon to be divorced, and an experienced undercover operator. They’ve taken a digital copy of her mind and personality, and implanted it in Micki Blake, a 16 year old hacker girl from rural Kansas.The mission: Locate the dangerous new player who is prowling the rural hacker ecology. Destroy him. Take no prisoners. Leave no trace. Use Micki Blake and her life as a cover.
What this means for the copy of Rachel Santana is that she’s spending time as a sixteen year old again. She’s in high school again. Above all, she has to face some hard questions. Who am I? How did I get to be this person/ Where do I go from here? These questions and their answers are a matter of life and death.
When I tell people about Irreconcilable Differences, the question I get the most is,Why Kansas?
My wife and I used to drive a lot between Colorado Springs and Sheridan Wyoming. It’s a long, dull drive. You wind up playing games like Road Kill Bingo just to pass the time. We stopped in Douglas Wyoming. It’s a town of about 5000 people, mostly support for farming and ranching, mostly retail and medical. It’s also the home of the Wyoming State Fair.
So anyway, we stopped there at the combination gas station, convenience store, and Subway Sandwich shop, and we’re sitting there, eating our sandwiches, listening to the country music, when these two goth-punks walk in. And they were in full uniform: Leather jackets, piercings, tattoos, chains, makeup, hair, the works.
No-one batted an eyelash. Except us. We talked about them for some time once we were back on the road. They were more interesting than road kill bingo. You don’t expect to see that kind of big city culture in Douglas Wyoming. But clearly, it’s there.
That idea rattled around in my head a while, and it really took off during another long drive, to the other end of Kansas. You want to talk long, dull drives? There’s not much interesting scenery. Not even much carrion on the road. I’d been working on a followup book for Looking Glass, I was thinking about cyberpunk and thinking about how yes, cyberpunk culture and technology would penetrate even here.
I knew this. I’m from these big square states. I knew it’d be different, going more rural with it, but Cyberpunk doesn’t have to be about big urban sprawls slowly being made over in the image of Tokyo. I’ve set it in normal cities before. What hit me at that point was that cyberpunk doesn’t have to be in cities at all.By the time I got home, I had a rough idea of Micki Blake and her life going in my head, so I scrapped the novel I was working on and wrote this one instead.
I can go on about this at some length, but rather than talk about the book, I’d rather read you some of it. So.
Our scene is in Kansas, on a school bus ride home, after Micki and the copy of Rachel’s first day together in high school. They’re in the process of hashing out their working relationship, and things have been a little rocky in that regard. Micki is calling Rachel by her high school nickname, Rae. Trust is still a touchy issue, and they’ve butted heads a few times. They’ve also run afoul of Robert Neil, Rachel’s soon-to-be ex-husband and boss at Interpol Covert.
One other thing. The dialog between Micki and Rae, takes place inside Micki’s head, where no-one else can hear. Rae, the copy of Rachel Santana, is narrating.
Stare out the window on the bus, as soon as we sit down. Reverie of tiredness. Mental fatigue. The neurofiber net may be depleting Mick’s blood sugar too fast. Have to ask Mom … Mrs. Blake for a bigger lunch, probably. Micki’s a growing girl. I’m tired of defending myself, and what I’ve done. Tired of explaining. Tired of living Micki Blake’s life with her, already. What was Robert thinking? I keep asking that, but no answers.
Look around the bus, from the stringy, long-limbed thirteen-year-old boys and their rather more developed female counterparts to the pregnant girl sitting in the back of the bus. They all look so young. Look at one boy. Young man. Thin mustache, as only a late teenager can grow. Blonde. Blue eyes like the sky. Talking to one of his friends. Impish flash of a smile. Look away. Close my eyes.
“Would you quit that?” she demands. ”I can’t see when you do that.” Give her back control.
“What? That’s just Bobby Freyr. What’s the big deal? I mean, yeah, he’s hot, but…”
“I just feel old, Micki. That’s all.”
“Well, you are old. But don’t get any ideas about Bobby. He’s dating the senior class president. Bobby’s graduating this year, too. He wouldn’t notice me if I painted myself blue and came to school naked.”
“You might be surprised.” I’m taking far too much joy out of teasing Micki. This is getting out of hand. But. But.
“Oh, please,” Micki says. “He doesn’t even know my name.” Defiance. Challenge. I feel it from her. I feel it as though it’s my own, too. Okay. We can go that way. “Make a bet?”
“Oh, yeah? What?” she asks.
“I’ll bet I can make him notice you. Extra points if he already knows your name.”
“Um,” she blanches a little. Smile a bit at her, in the gestalt. “Um,” she starts again, “You know I was kidding about painting myself blue and going to school naked.”
Chuckle at her. “Trust me. Nothing like that, Mick. Nothing indecent, or immoral, even.”
“Yeah, right. Okay, what do you get if you win?”
“A nice, long soak in the tub. Quality time.”
“And if you lose, how about you do my homework?”
“You’d get better grades if I didn’t.”
“I never was a great student, Micki. I wasn’t anything special. Just one of the other kids on this bus. Nobody you noticed. Unless you were on the volleyball team. Sang in choir. That kind of thing.”
“So how do you think you’re going to get him to notice me?”
“I’ve learned a few things.”
She nods slowly. “Okay. Homework verses tub. I got a history paper due tomorrow. Pretty much any topic from the turn of the century. I figure you could write on the war in the Middle East.”
That. Wouldn’t be my first choice, but…“Fine. You’re on.”
She grins inwardly. “Snap. You’re so going to lose.”
Assert control. Micki doesn’t resist. I could use the practice. When the bus stops at its next stop, I get up. Move to Bobby’s row. “Hey Bobby.” Smile.He looks up, as though a little startled. “Hi. Um. Micki, right?”Nod at him. “Yup. That’s me. Congratulations. You know. The whole graduation thing.” Try to get the patter right. Try to let Micki’s speech sound like Micki.
“Thanks, Micki. Looking forward to it.” He chuckles. He goes on. “Are you going to the end-of-year party on Saturday?”
“I dunno. I’m kind of grounded.” Roll my eyes. Micki’s gestures. Body language.
Smile at him. “You gonna be there?”
He chuckles a little. “‘Course. It’s my last chance to go. Wouldn’t miss it for the world.”
Lean forward just a little. Invade his space a bit. He glances down the neck of Micki’s tank top. “Well, then,” I say, “I’ll have to try, won’t I? Maybe see you there?” Give him another smile. He chuckles, looking a little shy.
“Maybe,” he says, and smiles back.
“Blake, get back to your seat and sit down!” the bus driver yells. “We’re moving.”I sit Micki down in her seat. Give her control back. Try not to smirk. Too much.
“Oh. My. God,” she says.
“He’s like, the most popular guy in the school, and a senior, and graduating, and you just flirted with him. With my body.”
“He… ” she squirms.
I can feel the flush rising to her cheeks. “Say it.” Definitely smirking now.
“He noticed me. He even knew my name.”
“Yup.” Chuckle at her a little.
“How did you know? That he’d notice, I mean.” I should not, as a rational adult, feel such a sense of victory from this as I do. But I’ll take it. I could use it. I might even get to like it.
“It’s the kind of thing you talk about at reunions, Micki. ‘Hey, I remember you. You were the star football player. Voted most desirable guy in the yearbook.’ And he says, ‘Yeah, I remember you, too. You were the yearbook photographer. The quiet one. I always wanted to ask you out.’ And you both laugh, but in the back of your mind, you think, ‘Aw, shit, I wish I’d known before you were married.’ Well. Now you know.”
That’s just a little taste of Irreconcilable Differences. I’m pleased to announce that the book is available today, right here at The Tattered Cover. Thank you.