The Golden Age of SF is However Old You Are When You Die In An Alien Invasion

The columns of light striking the soil informed him of his condition. He was inside a SF story. Obviously.

His room appeared no different than it had before; the bed he woke up in, from which vantage point he witnessed this impossibility of aggression, was comfortable and worn and sagged near the center where he tended to resolve in his nightly rotations. But however familiar the setting seemed, he knew it could not be real, that this was no longer his real life – if indeed he had ever had one. In real life, green shafts of unknown energy did not smash into fields and streams, sending floods of muddy frog-water and whole stalks of corn careening through the morning sky. In the real world, one could not sense the fissuring of the crust below through the foundations of a house, the disconnection of plate from plate as the earth itself buckled. Since these things did not happen in the real world, this must not be the real world.

Assuming he had entered a fictional universe, some very basic questions begged an answer. First, what sort of story was it? SF isn’t without its own inner lines of demarcation, after all. Looking around, he set about trying to determine the parameters of his condition. Maybe if he could guess whose story he was in, he could figure out his role, a way to survive.

He narrowed his view, tried to look beyond the obvious. After all, perhaps this was a pastiche inside a dream or on a television show, itself occupying a less Golden Age-type tale. Maybe he should start small, think creatively. What criteria could he use? He looked away from the window, from the glaring blaze of heat-death; from the walls, blank and simple, devoid of clue or genre marker; past the empty nightstand, the mundane closet, the boring things strewn and hung here and there. Looking down, he saw the bed. Ah ha.

A writer would start here, and so he, being written, started here. Whose bed could this be?

He recalled the massive, luxurious beds featured so prominently in the works of Robert Heinlein. These beds were central to the galaxy-wide Red-Headed League that Lazarus Long had spawned. More action took place between sheets in the typical Heinlein book than ever happened between enemies, who usually dropped after a single shot. Looking left and right, he noticed the absence of even one, let alone two, people there with him. This was not Heinlein’s bed.

Could this be Le Guin’s bed? Was this the place where brilliant scientists crashed with manic irregularity, to dream up a fiery addition to some foreign physics? Was it a strange bed on a frozen world, a friendly posh bed or a simple warm bed in the territory of doubtful allies? He checked beneath the sheets, found the familiar things; the beam hadn’t left him genderless. Looking at his arms, he found that they too retained their usual hue. The beam had not rendered him colorless and gray. Alas, this was not Ursula’s bed.

Was it William Gibson’s bed? Was it a lonely rack in a shoddy motel, where a broken and lost relic of the filthy future might be consumed by a figment of someone else’s imagination? Was it a mere cubby hole, the ultimate symbol of minimalism and badass-ness, a claustrophobic cubicle where one might be ridden by a girl with sharp claws? Well, it was a bed; that alone seemed to disqualify it. He checked about for ratty plastic interfaces, or “decks;” none were apparent. Inside the bedside table, a lack of stimulants, weapons, or eyewear of any sort. No go for Gibson.

He tried to remember a bed in the works of Philip K. Dick, but came up empty. Maybe this was reflective of the man’s life. Other than one terrifying scene of domestic paranoia involving a teenage narc, he could remember not one example. Dick seemed to steer as clear of rest in his writing as he did while writing. If this was Dick’s bed, surely it was a mere pretext, a trap-door he would soon fall through into a hell of perceptual doubt or esoteric cosmology. More likely than not, in Phil’s universe, there were no beds at all.

He scrolled through the traitorous royal chambers of Herbert, the Freud-laden psychopathic millionaire mattresses of Bester, the horribly heavy beds of Lem, newly populated by the very old. He considered the lonely corporate-funded suites of Tiptree. He came up blank.

Outside, the beams moved steadily closer to the house, sending ancient trees up into wisps of smoke and ash. Time was running out, and so were ideas. A strange thought struck him from the corner of his mind. There was a new writer, he thought, whose stories had been showing up over the past few months. He liked to play with tropes, to layer allegories, to explore transcendence and iterative identity. He was also quite fond of literalizing, and considered SF to be a dialogue, carried on by SF writers in a constant interpretive cycle. He didn’t mind sacrificing a nameless, faceless character to make a point, either. There was a bed in one of his stories, and it was filled with the copied forms of a whole history of lovers. Maybe this is his bed, he thought, the heat now palpable as the beams moved across the lawn. He couldn’t recall his name.

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