Hello! Hello to everyone down in the front row, and all the folks sitting by the aisle in case there's a fire. Hello to you people at the back who thought you were here for something else. The robot porn is over the road, down the steps, through the unmarked gate... or so I've heard. Hello to my alternate selves, and everyone here who isn't me. Hello Manchester!
It's great to be back. I grew up here, in one of those council estates where burglary is the local form of recycling.
This is another one of my stories based on the premise of parallel universes. In the notes to "I Was Nearly Your Mother", I described how I first encountered this concept and became fascinated with it. Although the device has been used in lots of stories and novels, I think the territory is far from exhausted. Authors often focus on alternate worlds which are very different from ours, and there's certainly plenty of room to imagine changes. However, I'm particularly interested in the notion of parallel Earths which have only recently diverged, and hence are so similar to our own that they contain alternate versions of ourselves. What would it be like to meet different versions of yourself?
I'm a fan of standup comedy, and I enjoy the observational humour of comedians such as Jerry Seinfeld. It struck me that meeting yourself, and interacting with yourself, might make a good topic for observational humour. The differences between your parallel selves would typically lie in the realm of minutiae — details which are small, vivid, often absurd. These are exactly the kind of details that a good comedian can turn into humour.
I decided to set myself the challenge of writing a story in the form of a standup comedian's monologue. To do this, I had to come up with some appropriate patter, punch lines, and so forth. By considering various aspects of what it might be like to meet different versions of yourself, I managed to write a fair amount of material.
The hard part was writing a monologue that also worked as a story with a plot. In reality, a comedian's routine rarely consists of a coherent story-arc with a beginning, middle and end. A comedian will usually discuss different topics and shift between them, but without a "plot" as such. Crucially, a comedian has great latitude for digression — indeed, a set can often be considered simply as a sequence of digressions.
This is very different to readers' expectations of a story. Readers, particularly in the SF/Fantasy genres, expect a forward-moving plot, and they are usually intolerant of digressions. When I circulated early versions of this story for feedback, readers kept complaining about the digressions — not on the grounds that they weren't funny, but simply because they didn't move the plot forward. I began to wonder whether these people had ever seen any standup comedy. I found it frustrating that many readers were unwilling to engage with the spirit of the story as a comedian's freewheeling monologue.
In the end, the final version of the story is a compromise. I removed a lot of the observational material I'd originally written. Some of it remains, fleshing out the skeleton of a more conventional plotline. When I realised that the story needed a stronger plot, I decided to depict the progression of a romantic relationship, since that's a standard topic for standup comedians.
I should perhaps clarify that I don't necessarily endorse the approach to relationships described in the story. There are elements of exaggeration and absurdity — it's intended as comedy, not a how-to manual.