"Digging for Paradise" by Ian Creasey — story background

Before I opened my eyes, I knew we'd arrived.  I felt no sway, no stomach-turning pitch or lurch as the waves tried to coax another tribute of vomit from my empty gizzard.  "Was it a long voyage?" I asked.  The longer it had taken, the longer my wife had suffered in the cages of correction.

This story arose from the notion of sending a group of characters into the very far future, the End of Days.  Of course, this is a well-worn trope, but it's more frequently seen in science fiction than in a fantasy context, probably because SF is (in general) more forward-looking than fantasy.  SF is based upon the assumption of progress, and hence the future is considered to be an inherently interesting place — the ideology of SF is that the future will be better than the past.  In contrast, the fantasy genre tends to be backward-looking, with narratives often set in a milieu explicitly defined as having decayed from a previous age of wonders.  Fantasy stories set in the far future, such as Jack Vance's Dying Earth novels, usually show the final epoch as a rather drab fag-end of history, overshadowed by former glories.  I'm a big fan of Vance, but for my own story I wanted a future full of possibility and the promise of dazzling visions.

To implement this, I adapted a concept from Larry Niven's classic novella The Magic Goes Away, in which magic is fuelled by a non-renewable resource: when the local mana has been used up, magic is no longer possible.  Niven's story fits the template of fantasy as a narrative of decay from a glorious past to a bleak future.  But by making a slight tweak to the premise, I changed the implications.  What if the magical "fuel" accumulated slowly over time?  Then the further into the future you went, the more potential for magic there would be, with greater marvels to be wrought.  At the End of Days, the possibilities would be infinite.

In some respects, this is a fantasy version of the SF trope of the Singularity.  As I said in the notes to my novella "Strawberry Thief", I believe that sometimes the genre of a story is only a matter of presentation, of setting.  One advantage of presenting a science fictional idea in fantasy terms is that it allows the author to scrape off the encrustation of jargon commonly found in SF, and approach the theme from a fresh angle unencumbered by the familiar characters and furniture that SF tends to recycle.  There are no hackers in Middle Earth.  (Not yet, anyway — not until Tolkien's copyright expires.)

As an author it's easy to be seduced by the notion of writing about a future full of dazzling wonders.  It's somewhat harder to actually come up with the dazzling wonders, together with characters and plot.  I wrote the first version of this story back in 2002; at the time I thought it was a little weak, but I figured that not everything I write can be above average, and it's not the author's job to second-guess the quality of their own work, so I sent it out a few times and it inevitably got rejected.  I was in the middle of printing the MS and cover letter for another submission when I experienced a sudden revelation as to exactly why the piece wasn't working and what the story was really about.  The bad news was that the story would need a complete rewrite from the ground up, and would need expanding into a novelette.  I think a lot of writers would have trunked the piece at that point, reckoning the effort wasn't worth it, especially as several markets had already rejected the story, and there are markedly fewer venues for novelettes.  But I'm stubborn; I almost never trunk a story.  I went ahead with the rewrite anyway.  It was a significant amount of work, but it paid off in 2008 when the revised version was accepted by Realms of Fantasy.

At least, I thought it had paid off.  A contract eventually arrived, specifying that my story was scheduled for the June 2009 issue.  Then the publishers, Sovereign Media, decided to close the magazine, with the final issue being April 2009.  This was a kick in the teeth, as it meant the loss of a major sale, together with the difficulty of finding another home for my story.

Fortunately, Warren Lapine came to the rescue by buying Realms of Fantasy from Sovereign Media and relaunching the magazine via his own publishing company, Tir Na Nog.  As my story was under contract, it formed part of the inventory acquired by Lapine, although he had to pay me himself because the previous publishers hadn't got around to sending me any money before deciding to shut up shop.

The hiatus caused by the transition meant that there never was a June 2009 edition of Realms of Fantasy, but "Digging for Paradise" appeared in the first issue under new ownership, dated August 2009.  I was certainly grateful to Warren Lapine for saving the magazine and publishing my novelette.  Sadly, Realms of Fantasy did not survive for much longer: after a further change of ownership, the magazine folded in 2011.

"Digging for Paradise" was subsequently reprinted in two themed anthologies: Shadows of a Fading World and The Great Tome of Forgotten Relics and Artifacts.

Page last updated: 31 March 2016