Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Beware the Future Making Your Unpublished Stories Anachronistic

On Monday, the very day my story "Love, Anger, and Pity; or Fuck Everyone in the Entire History of Humanity" was published, the U.S. Supreme Court made a ruling that made a plot point in the story an anachronism ("Supreme Court rules: Offensive trademarks must be allowed").

(Well, not perfectly. The ruling [pdf] invalidated the Trademark Manual of Examining Procedure §1203.03(b)(i), and my story refers to §1203.01. But close enough.)

This is not the first time that U.S. Supreme Court affected that story, although the first time didn't cause an anachronism. My first version of this story was written in 2012. Originally Eddie called Tom his partner, and in 2015 after the Supreme Court ruled gay marriage to be legal, I changed the story to have Eddie call Tom his husband.

(And gay marriage has changed what used to be non-ambiguous phrases into ambiguous phrases. Ten years ago, "Before Tom and Peter got married..." would be interpreted as two separate weddings where Tom and Peter married their wives. Now you need to make it non-ambiguous by writing something like, "Before Tom and Peter married each other..." or "Before Tom and Peter married their wives...")

There are a number of unpublished or unfinished stories sitting on my computer's drive. I can think of two of them that now have anachronisms since I first started them:

1) Some characters get to the International Space Station on the Space Shuttle. And since the last Shuttle flight was in 2011, when I get around to finishing that story, I'll have to choose another means of getting them to the ISS. With luck, I'll be able to get it published before 2024 when the ISS is scheduled to be retired.

2) A woman is checking her calendar to determine the best date to break up with her boyfriend. Original story: the calendar is a Day-Timer, a small notebook. Updated story: She uses the calendar app on her phone.

Of course, the you can avoid the future causing anachronisms in your stories if they take place at a certain time in the past. But then, you have to worry about inadvertently putting anachronisms in stories from the start. (I imagine in a hundred years there will be stories written where 1970s punk rockers use email).

You can take this post as a plea to writers (and myself!) to finish their stories and get them published. Don't let your unfinished stories remain unfinished, and your finished stories unpublished.

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