In the most expensive nursing home in Scotland, squeezed between the bed and the pastel walls and the racks of brain-imaging equipment, Susanna Munro slumped with fatigue in the visitors' chair as she waited for her mother to die.
This story was indirectly inspired by a message-board post at my online writing group, Codex. Fellow author Joy Marchand wrote, "Larry Hagman (J.R. from Dallas) wants to be put into a chipper when he dies and sprinkled over a field of wheat. Then he wants someone to harvest the wheat and bake a cake from the flour. Then he wants his friends to eat the cake...." To which I replied, "Surely there is a story there: competitive funerals of the rich and famous."
There may indeed have been a story there, but I couldn't find it. I originally envisaged a black comedy about a nursing home full of rich people who kept planning their funerals with more and more elaborate science-fictional elements, becoming absurdly grandiose in their efforts to outdo each other. However, comedy and satire are extremely difficult to sell in the current short-story market, and I couldn't find an approach that I thought had any chance of publication.
Consequently I discarded the comic angle and most of the original material, retaining only the standard SF device of people being able to upload their minds into computers when they die. This theme has already been used in many stories (and novels), but I have often found its treatment unsatisfactory and unconvincing. I could cite specific examples, but I'm reluctant to write a lengthy explanation of why I dislike particular authors' work, lest it come across as gratuitous abuse. After all, these issues are subjective, and the best way to refute a bad story is not to criticise it, but to write a better one.
I therefore attempted to write a story addressing some of my pet peeves about the "uploaded minds" concept, avoiding certain implausibilities that I find especially irritating when I encounter them elsewhere. No doubt my story contains its own irritating implausibilities, but at least they should be different ones....
"Cut Loose the Bonds of Flesh and Bone" is about a woman whose mother is on the verge of dying and having her mind uploaded. One advantage of having an inventory of published work is that it's not always necessary to create new characters from scratch, since suitable characters may already exist in previous stories. The journalist Susanna Munro first appeared as a minor character in "The Hastillan Weed", and was subsequently the heroine of "The Edge of the Map". I decided that she would make the ideal protagonist for this story, which hence became a loose sequel to the previous pieces. These stories are self-contained in respect of plot; they simply share some continuity of background and character.
The final product ended up a long way off my original vision of a black comedy about competitive funerals of the rich and famous. Maybe one day I'll go back to that seed and try again.