Titles for works of fiction often cause authors a good deal of soul-searching. Ideally, we want to give potential readers clues about content, theme, style, and storyline. Not easy in anything from one to maybe a dozen words. Of course, the best titles are revealed as obvious choices once a book’s been read, so this series is largely for those who’ve yet to read the books featured.
‘The Methuselah Strain’ is a short novel in the science fiction/fantasy genre. I self-published the book initially, but my publisher, Dan Grubb who owns Fantastic Books Publishing, was compiling an anthology of speculative fiction and asked me to contribute, having enjoyed one of my earlier short stories. I wanted to expand slightly on the original story, which involves a brilliant woman in search of a father for the child she wants to bear in a world descending rapidly into self-destructive hedonism, and I wrote a short story to give more substance to one of her short affairs. Dan published it as ‘Hybrid Dream’ in the anthology, Synthesis. I felt it enhanced the original tale and he agreed and asked if he could re-publish the novella including the additional material. I was delighted. It meant a new cover design, much better than my own attempt, a bit more professional editing, and a book published in both digital and hardback versions.
So, why that title for this book? Luce is a talented IT supremo on a world run almost entirely by computers, with various androids doing most of the work as the human population, already in decline due to a mix of natural disasters and the huge increase in average lifespan, begins to reach a critical survival point. She experiences that essential female urge to reproduce, and seeks a suitable man with whom to create and raise her desired child, naturally. Those familiar with the Bible, and many who are completely unfamiliar, will recognise the name ‘Methuselah’ as that of a man listed among many others in the fairy tale as being of an incredible age; 969 years, to be precise, at a time in the evolution of humanity when the average lifespan is estimated at around 35-40 years. Luce is one of an experimental group whose DNA has been modified to give her effectively eternal life, and she’s around 400 years old at the time of the story.
I used the Biblical mythical being in the title to indicate the foolishness of dreaming of such a lifespan when humanity is so subject to negative emotional and behavioural self-destructive qualities. Luce dreams of a world returned to nature on a globe completely programmed and controlled by an impersonal but almost omnipotent system of digital devices. Her expertise in the security aspect of the controlling systems allows her to imagine she can somehow remove its control, which makes her a renegade in the eyes of the controlling system itself; a dangerous place in which to exist. Even the weather is regulated. But there are signs the system itself is beginning to fail and she’s determined to use these faults to change the way in which the few remaining humans live, hoping to give them reason to strive and fight rather than merely wallow pointlessly in the luxury and abundance provided by CenCom.
I added ‘Strain’ to the title to allude to the biological nature of her adaptations, but also in the sense of strain as a painful accident, an unwelcome force, an overstepping of what is normal.
I won’t reveal any more of the content here, nor tell you whether Luce succeeds in her ambition. But if you read the book, you’ll meet Monster, her android guardian; Randal, a sybaritic human ‘caretaker’ of a shopping mall; the Howsmade Buttla, an android servant capable of changing shape and gender to suit the proclivities of whichever human he/she recognises as his/her master; Repoz, the semi-sentient library of all knowledge; a rebellious and gifted artist, and a few other diverse characters. You can find a little more about the book here. Or, if you want to get straight on with reading it, click here. Enjoy! (If you do, please consider providing a brief review as a way of helping other potential readers decide whether to read it. Thank you.)