Story Notes: “The Message” in Interzone

Interzone Issue 242 contains my story, “The Message”

Interzone Issue 242

This post contains spoilers after the break.

I began writing this story back in September of 2002.

Since then, it has gone through so many drafts that the earliest versions are almost unrecognizable. One of the oldest versions I still have is from July 2003, and not a single character from that draft has survived into the final, published story.

The direct inspiration here is, of course, the Yucca Mountain Nuclear Waste Repository, and specifically the “nuclear semiotics” project, which thought about the challenge of designing the site in such a way as to send a warning message to future humans throughout the subsequent millennia as the waste slowly decayed.

You’d think this story would be easy to write for me. It contains some math, some alien archaeology, some chemistry, and even “single-bit errors” — all stuff that I love. But for many years, this story went nowhere. I think all the bits I mention above, the speculative elements, were sound, but I couldn’t find the human element. Characters shuffled into story drafts and then shuffled out of them, leaving no trace. They did not feel connected to the set.

I gave up on it for a while.

Then I became a father, and I realized that sometimes, to a parent, communicating with your child is just as challenging as trying to communicate across thousands of years, across millions of miles.

And so the story finally had the human element, the bones that would hold it up.
xI’m especially grateful to Christie Yant, who helped me beat this story into its published shape.