The story behind ARIA: Left Luggage
by Geoff Nelder
I awoke this morning with a headache. Not your usual hangover throbbing, or dehydration fuzziness, or a migraine jabbing on just one side, but as if a worm had crept in tweaking pain receptors, triggering childhood smells of lime ice-lollies. Yet, that wasn’t the strangest discovery I made in bed. Cranking open eyelids, I found a mass of red hair – not mine. A sleeping face faced me. I didn’t recognise her. Had we…? My hands groped downwards and found no pyjamas… I rarely get that lucky. I edged backwards re-groping for the side of the bed. Too late, her green eyes opened followed by screaming.
Over coffee in an unfamiliar kitchen we found notes. We’d woken up like that many times. It’s what can happen with amnesia. It happened to my mother. The above wasn’t really me yet it was, vicariously, because a main character in my ARIA: Left Luggage novel has amnesia and so does everyone else he meets. The damn thing is infectious. Worse, it’s retrograde so that he forgets a year’s worth of memories every week.
So, there you have it. The nub of ARIA is how people behave, and sadly forget themselves to death when they have retrograde infectious amnesia. It doesn’t exist in reality thank goodness. Or workers would forget how to make penicillin, insulin, clean water, food and electricity. They’d forget where their work is, what bus to catch home, what home? Kids who’d just learnt to write find they forget how to read, and soon, how to talk. Older folk fare better in that it would take over a year for them to forget 52 years of memories.
Infectious amnesia doesn’t exist in fiction either. That stuns me. How could a humble teacher come up with an original premise? It goes back to my own childhood. My amnesiac mum (short term memory loss since a stroke) joined me to the Children’s Science Fiction Book Club when I was four. My dad was the illustrator for one of the first British SF magazines – Sidereal. My life was strewn with whacky ideas from the start. I have a touch of OCD and I’m a blip on the spectrum of Aspergers’Syndrome, butbutbut never mind any of that, it’s cycling that’s to blame for the infectious amnesia.
Many a time I’ve cycled up Welsh hills and halfway up, a thought will enter the slots in my helmet. I used to wait until I reached the top before jotting down the germ but I’d forget it, so now I get off immediately. Examples of such adrenalin-buzzed thoughts from my published shorts are: a woman who wakes up on top of Nelson’s Column; a man who thinks he has amnesia but realizes he is the imaginary friend of a little girl; Travelling Time – where it is time that is travelling. Halfway up Horseshoe Pass near Llangollen in Wales, while I was red in the face and in sight of a sheep leading a lamb across the road, the idea of infectious amnesia wheedled in. Hey, maybe it came from the sheep! Beast to man telepathy. Thanks, Larry, but a more favoured theory is that my exertion forces freshly oxygenated blood to my brain, energising dormant synapses. Added to that is the well-known hypothesis that when your mind drifts such as on a long hike or ride, thoughts wander across both brain hemispheres allowing more wayward ideas to occur than when you are still and focussed on a problem.
The Ponderosa Café is on top of the pass. By the time my pencil became blunt the infectious amnesia had become retrograde (lose memory backwards) and no one was immune. On the freewheel downhill the retrograde infectious amnesia had an alien origin. Hence – Alien Retrograde Infectious Amnesia = ARIA.
When I asked a professor of neurology to confirm there was no such thing as infectious amnesia he said I was warped. Hah, yes. He also asked if I had any obsessions with apocalyptic storylines. Erm, yes, and so another reason why my brain was so receptive to this concept. I’m a sucker for end of world doom stories. I remember being annoyed with Brian Stableford when at a SF workshop at the Winchester Writers’ Conference, he said such stories had run their course. No point writing them, he warned. Yet, since then we’ve had 28 Days, my favourite – The Road by Cormac McCarthy (novel (2006) and film (2009)), a wave of zombie films and TV series, and global virus annihilation stories. Sometimes it pays to ignore the experts.
Often the research phase of a novel project is as rewarding as the writing. ARIA is released after a mysterious case is discovered on the International Space Station and brought to Edwards Airbase. I wanted the case to stick to the superstructure by an unknown method and fretted so much I found an email address of an engineer at NASA. He, Leroy Chaio, replied that the struts were very thin aluminium, which worried him because micrometeorites could punch holes and he was ON BOARD at the time! My agent reckons that email is a first for an author being helped from space.
It would be cool if infectious amnesia was a Unique Selling Point, but had it been used before? I ransacked a speculative fiction database (ISFDB.org), pestered experienced SF writers like Charles Stross and Jon Courtenay Grimwood and asked SF nerds with eidetic memories. Between them all they came up with an episode of Star Trek in which mass amnesia was used, but it wasn’t infectious. Memento is a SF film based on a short story by Czech writer, Radec John (1986) in which the protagonist has anteretrograde amnesia, but gleans clues, which he has to write down when he awakes. This tactic is used by many amnesiacs and is used in ARIA only with NoteComs. Eh? I originally invented iPad in my first draft but Apple stole the name so I ran a competition in the Orbiters – a critique group of the BSFA – and we settled on NoteCom.
I had the urge to be different too in having the aliens absent in volume one. There’s plenty of speculation on why they planted ARIA, but the reader joins the characters in the discussion without really knowing. It’s a story of survival for the uninfected few to seek isolation and escape, maybe revenge eventually. I discovered a hidden valley in northern Snowdonia called the Anafon. It has a desolate beauty with feral ponies, a small lake, and a Roman road. It’s the hideout for the isolated group, and they have tough decisions such as should they kill to remain free of the infection?
I was so delighted that LL-Publications took ARIA even though I had to argue though mostly agree with their US editors over my use / misuse of Americanisms. In volume two, ARIA: Returning Left Luggage, you get to meet the aliens, but nothing is stereotyped. It is being released later in 2013 with the final volume in 2014.
A member of the Chester SF Book Group excitedly told me he’d read ARIA in a weekend. Damn it, Kyle, it took a year to research and two years to write! Hah.
ARIA – a science fiction trilogy / medical mystery
Winner of the Preditors & Editors Readers Poll for best science fiction novel of 2012
Author Geoff Nelder
Release: ARIA I: Left Luggage August 2012 ISBN: 978-1-905091-95-9
ARIA II: Returning Left Luggage Spring 2013
ARIA III: Abandoned Luggage 2014
There’s a video trailer at http://youtu.be/oh0AAXIe8VU
Geoff Nelder’s website http://geoffnelder.com
Alien Retrograde Infectious Amnesia
Today, Jack caught a bug at work. He catches a bus home. By the time he disembarks in the desert town of Rosamond, all the other passengers and the driver have fuzzy heads. Jack had caught an amnesia bug, and it’s infectious.
Imagine the ramifications:
The passengers arrive home, infecting family; some shop en route infecting everyone they meet. The bus driver receives more passengers giving them change for last week’s prices and today’s amnesia. Some passengers work at the power plant, the water treatment works, the hospital, fire station. All shut down in weeks.
One man, Ryder Nape, realizes what’s going on, but can he persuade friends to barricade themselves in a secluded valley, hiding from the amnesia bug?
“Geoff Nelder inhabits Science Fiction the way other people inhabit their clothes.” — Jon Courtenay Grimwood
“Geoff Nelder’s ARIA has the right stuff. He makes us ask the most important question in science fiction–the one about the true limits of personal responsibility.” —Brad Linaweaver
Robert J. Sawyer calls ARIA a “fascinating project.”
“ARIA has an intriguing premise, and is written in a very accessible style.” —Mike Resnick
Buy Now @ Amazon
Genre – Science Fiction / Medical Mystery
Rating – PG
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