Thanks to the talent and focused dedication of the two actors, the director, and the production and theater staff, “The Other Two Men” was the first play in The Players’ Ring (Portsmouth, New Hampshire, USA) annual summer Late Night (new play) Series‘ 15 year history to receive a review (you can also read a preview review here); it was a success in a long-running, beloved Late Night Series well-populated with established playwrights (see the rest of the series here!); and the unusual genre of science fiction went over well with theater audiences. (I was in the lobby after each show and instead a grappling with an unfamiliar concepts the audiences: 1) enthused about the actors, 2) asked when they could see the play again.)
What was it all about?
My play “The Other Two Men” is part of a local 30-year tradition of doing ambitious small-cast science fiction in regional black box theaters. This play is set 800 years in the future in a colonized Milky Way galaxy. In this production, historians on an established colony world decide to clone two of their four planetary founders in order to solve the problem of what went wrong in their lives. These clones are raised in strict historical recreations of their 300-years-gone-by North America hometowns and are given the same military training as their originals.
This play is about the day the two young men meet.
They find themselves locked in one room until they solve an unspecified problem about the past. Some things go wrong … historians on this colony planet have only cloned two of the four founding figures; the clones have figured out they are duplicates of famous long-dead men and everyone around them is an actor in a living history museum; and they’re two unique new people – not their original, heroic progenitors.
This is a story about free will and predestination – what can and cannot be planned. It’s also a story about what is us and what has been pre-programmed by our circumstances. I’ve been writing about these characters for two years and I’m exited to bring them – and their unique problem – to the New Hampshire Players’ Ring Late Night Readings Series under the direction of Tomer Oz (not the martial arts expert on IMDB — the New Hampshire director/actor who is currently playing the electric moral center of the Ring’s current production of Rajiv Joseph‘s Bengal Tiger at the Baghdad Zoo).
“The Other Two Men” started as a short story. This play stands on its own but it can be viewed alongside my 18-story series featuring these characters that will be published in Black Denim Lit over the next few years. Three of the stories have already appeared: “This is Not a Love Story”, “Searching”, and “Planet 50”. Two other stories will follow this year. All of my work is interconnected: each work stands on its own but each piece adds depth and nuance to the others. Those who see this play will know things about these characters that no one knows – and I am thrilled to contribute (in a very small way) to the area’s unique heritage of live science fiction.
I’d particularly like to thank M. Marguerite Mathews & Greg Gathers, the Artistic Directors of Pontine Theatre, for their encouragement; the insightful actor/writer Alex Pease and the Generic Theater (NH) for their guidance and good advice at the reading last November.)
I’d been doing the Three-Day Novel Contest for several years and concluded (rightly or wrongly) that the then-sponsors and I had too widely divergent senses of taste for me to ever place in the contest. A few friends and fellow writers recommended National Novel Writing Month and I doubted I could get a new narrator (or at least a familiar narrator with a new project) to talk for an entire month. Worse, I never know how long a piece will be when I start writing it: I dreaded starting off with fine hopes on November 1st and ending up with firmly concluded a short story or a novella a few days later.
I decided to try: it was what I did when I had similar doubts about starting the Three-Day Novel Contest. At the end of that first November I had a complete novella (50,000 words is just over the Hugo award’s standard for a ‘novella’. It would make a fine short novel by 1950’s or ‘60’s SF publishing standards but it falls far short of contemporary ones.) The novella was “Steven’s World”. Like all of my National Novel Writing Month works it is still in the awkward fledgling stage – I work on them and revise them but never have the concentrated time to end up with finished piece that is ready to stand on its own.
Like many of my works, “Steven’s World” puts the narrator in a situation where he (or she) has every reason to quit but chooses not to. It’s a novella about the sole survivor of the small advance team whose colony site unravels catastrophically – and how he (or rather she) becomes the mother to a second, successful colony with a new advance team. Shortly after I finished the novella I wondered what let this narrator continue. I don’t write heroic SF: my narrators are ordinary people affected by new illnesses, prolonged trauma, isolation, repeated griefs and every other real-world consequence of spending decades alone far from help on a frontier. So what let this narrator report back to base and accept a second assignment? Personality? Beliefs? Loyalty to earth? Not being eligible to get out of his contract to serve? Was this a heroic story? Military SF satire? Or something far more small-scale and human?
I wrote a short story, “Nightskyman Hope” to explain his choice. Steven is alone on a 20-person ship: sick, depressed, and traumatized with no one and nothing preventing him from flying his ship into a star or a black hole. By the end of the story he’s back on base, he’s deleted his I-accept-any-and-all-penalties resignation letter for good, and he’s met the person who will be the center of the rest of his life – all because of a good psychiatric crisis-response computer program. (Or is it? Officially there is no live voice communication across galactic space ….)
I would like to finish the novella linked to “Nightskyman Hope”: Garnett Dorman shows up in two other pieces (alongside one of few earth-born women to remain at her post outside of earth’s solar system), in a third story Steven finally gets to hash things out with his ex (“Life on Earth”’s Edward) – with some help from Things We Are Not’s Olaf (yes, that’s Edward again in that story), and all of them get a last bow in a novel I’m working on now. Each story I write changes the other works I write.
A list of my stories: https://lisashapter.com/category/read-my-short-stories-in-order/
Reading: Wed., Nov. 11, 7:30 p.m. FREE
Performances: July 15-24, 2016
Emery Lawrence as Sgt Saskatoon* Elis II
Bailey Weakley as Sgt Nebraska Vogul II
Tomer Oz as the Voice of the Planetary Archive of Gestae’s World
Director: Tomer Oz
(not the martial arts expert on IMDB)
Presented by Oz Productions
* (Hey, you changed the guy’s name! I didn’t — this future universe writes in a set of characters that represent individual syllables. In this writing system “Saskatoon” and “Saskatchewan” are spelled the same. To Saskatoon’s permanent annoyance everyone but Nebraska calls him the wrong name – but he’s given up trying to explain the difference. Even his computer autocorrects to “Saskatchewan”.)
The descendants of the four founders of Gestae’s World decide to clone 2 of them and raise them in careful recreations of their 300-years-gone-by hometowns in order to solve the problem of what went wrong with their lives.
This is about the day the two young men meet.
Four years ago, in about this part of November, I was working on my National Novel Writing Month novel. I had started a sequence of 74 short stories (“Planet 38” and “No Woman, No Plaything”) and I had decided the unfinished novel The 75th Story needed a sequel. That National Novel Writing Month I was writing that sequel – and about this point in the month a minor character in the novel said something to the narrator, took over her chair, and said “Author, I have a story to tell you.”
I sometimes have several narrators with different stories trying to talk to me all at once so I said what I usually say: “Get in line. You’ve interrupted the narrator I was already working with.”
The reply was quite surprising, “Well, she’s my wife. And you need to hear my story first.”
Characters spring these sorts of surprises on me all the time: in this case the first narrator, Resada Gestae, was happily married to only one person – not the second narrator. “Fine. Talk. Make it snappy, I have a 50,000 word deadline to meet by the 30th – just like every November.”
That novel made the word count by the end of the month – and I am still working on it as of this week. The same second narrator then interrupted Reseda Gestae’s sequence of 74 stories (including “Planet 38” and “No Woman, No Plaything”) to tell “Story 45” through “Story 63” (including “Searching” and “Planet 50”) – and then handed narration back to Reseda.
Just when I was thinking about revising that past November’s interrupted novel for National Novel Editing Month, the second narrator, Saskatoon Elis, interrupted again with another curve ball: a version of him from 500 years ahead started talking, the first man’s clone. So I wrote a long short story about the clone called “The Other Two Men” – while keeping up with the original story-a-week-project. I was looking at that long short story a few months later and noticed it was all in one setting and had only two main characters: rather claustrophobic or stage-y for a science fiction story, even SF stories that take place on one ship usually have more characters than that. I started to wonder if it would work as a play, so I looked for a word processor with a preloaded stage play format, lifted out all the short story’s dialogue and started a long process of re-writing (including showing the play to an actor and giving the play to my editor who writes plays for a living.)
In the process of sending my short stories to literary magazines (“The guidelines say ‘no genre’? Hey, I don’t like skiffy, either.”) I’d noticed that a few of them took scripts along with short stories, poems, and/or essays. I also sent the script to a few theaters but since I’m new at this I wrote it to be read on the page. (I went through a jag of reading The Best Play of the Year in high school, so I’ve read most of my theater rather than seen it.)
Portsmouth, New Hampshire has a decades-old tradition of small theaters who perform avant-garde, small-cast, minimal-set plays. I drew on that tradition as I turned “The Other Two Men” into a play, aware of what a small theater could and could not do. I sent to play to one of these role models: Portsmouth’s Pontine Theater and in their kind rejection note they suggested the Generic Theater might like to look at it. After a bit of confusion over how their process worked I hand-delivered three copies of the script (this is my first time out of the gate) with three copies of a form explaining in triplicate that, erm, no, I had not gone as far as casting or selecting a director for the piece – I only wrote it. I had very low hopes: my script was going into a contest against experienced playwrights who had done all of those things. I went home, sent out more short stories, and waited for another type of rejection slip – this time from a theater instead of a magazine editor.
Instead, I got an email that my play was part of a short list of 8 or so plays sent to the Players’ Ring, a second local theater, for the selection of the finalists. That was nice to know – my rejection slip would arrive a bit later than expected.
Both theaters wrote and said my first play “The Other Two Men” was selected as a finalist – however it was quite short (I knew that, my theater friends did talk me through giving an estimated run time) and it would be paired with a second play. I quietly hoped the second playwright would be better known than me – but odds were any playwright would be more experienced and better known that I was, so I was glad to hear that news.
The Generic Theater and the Players’ Ring matched my first-time play with James Patrick Kelly’s “The Promise of Space” – the man who’s won the Hugo, the Nebula, and the Locus award (and many others, besides), the man who wrote for the Sci-Fi Channel’s Seeing Ear Theater. The man with an English degree whose acclaim-starred career in science fiction is nearly longer than my lifetime.
I am deeply grateful for this, and to the Generic Theater, and the Players’ Ring, and to James Patrick Kelly (“Y’know, you don’t need *this many* stage directions”) and Alex Pease (“*Formatting*. What script software did you use?” *kof* “I didn’t.”) for their guidance and advice.
Come see James Patrick Kelly’s “The Promise of Space” and my play “The Other Two Men” read tonight by the company of The Generic Theater at The Players’ Ring tonight at 7:30 p.m, the tickets are free. (Cast: Alex Pease as Sgt Saskatoon Elis II, Collin Snider as Sgt Nebraska Vogul II, Alan Huisman as Maj Saskatoon Elis I Director: Susan Turner. (Players’ Ring Late Night Series Performances: July 15-24, 2016) (review)
– Lisa Shapter
My alternate history novella A Day in Deep Freeze is now available in paperback and ebook forms!
1963: Emran Greene is a successful corporate accountant, a hopeful soon-to-be-father, and an unremarkable husband–except for the lingering effects of an experimental wartime truth serum, his ex-boyfriend, the impossibility of his conceiving a child, and all of the other secrets he keeps from his wife and his employer. One of these, the secret of the lonely grave he visits regularly in Riverport’s Castleview Cemetery, holds a tragedy that just won’t stay gone…
Order it from:
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Are you a reviewer? Click here.
I write fiction that is a metaphor for things that are difficult to say in plain, non-fiction prose. I write feminist science fiction set in a single-sexed military that has colonized the Milky Way galaxy. I’m doing the old and revered fictional trope of taking a minority’s experience (women’s) and giving them to members of a majority (men) – to take away that ‘I can’t entirely identify with someone who’s Other’ that sometimes happens in readers’ subconsciouses. I hope this may make my perceptions of women’s experiences clearer to readers who might not pick up the straight-up version of the same thing (an all-female science fiction story – a genre I don’t always finish, myself: ask me someday for my review of Herland or Door into Ocean.)
As a result, readers sometimes ask me why the otherwise tolerant and egalitarian society in my military science fiction has banned women from serving in space. The in-world reason is not complex or nuanced: it is the irrational reaction to the tragic loss of an all-female transport ship a generation before due to an unexplained hull rupture. I’ve sometimes responded to sudden misfortunes by getting upset about smaller, more controllable things: what if an entire planet (and the policies of its representative government) did the same thing on a larger scale?
The male narrators within my military SF stories are very aware that their home planet’s decision is irrational and hypocritical: but they will lose their careers if they advocate for a political point of view while in uniform. (Read my story “Life on Earth” in Expanded Horizons (Jan. 2015) for an example of this.) They are very aware that the human body, with very minor individual variation, can survive only a narrow range of pressures and temperatures – they endured every survivable extreme during basic training (beside women, I might add, who still serve a limited military role within the solar system). Nearly every one of them wants the ban on women to end: they frequently encounter life and death challenges where the training, intelligence, knowledge, strength and problem-solving of women could have made a vital difference, and they say so (if only within their own thoughts while telling the story). These are also stories about how even an unwanted, artificial segregation from part of humanity changes their culture and thinking, as little as they wish either to be changed.
I also write fiction where the pieces of the puzzle are scattered across several stories. A generation later, my narrators do not remember exactly why a transport ship was entirely crewed by pregnant soldiers. In the novels and short stories from the same time there is the mundane explanation that these are the wives of men and women with field assignments on their way to join their spouses at their colonial posts. The maximum galactic travel time is six months, the first three month is the most fragile trimester in a pregnancy: better to serve it on earth (or in a transport ship with a full neonatal hospital). Their later children will be born onworld in clinics with limited medical staff, but their oldest child will have the best start. The truth is, the frontier is an immensely dangerous place to have children – and the transport ship is an attempt to ensure at least some reproductive success.
The exact cause of the all-female transport’s loss is never found: despite investigation, it remains and enigma and a source of conspiracy theories … and homeworld responds by banning women from serving in space. It makes no sense: there’s no ‘why’ but the over-compensation of the human brain in trying to find patterns and avoid danger. A generation later a lot of the details have been forgotten; my narrators have to live with the ban (and almost none of them support it).
At the end of this network of interrelated stories written across the history of this single-sexed military there is a novel: a novel about how and why the ban on women’s service in space is reversed.
I do not share my narrator’s views. I am not writing these stories to advocate for the characters’ individual politics. (I don’t like political advocacy novels from any part of the political spectrum.) I’m asking wider questions about what it means to be human, what the consequences are of asking only part of humanity to be more involved in childbearing (if technology might permit neither or both men and women to have children – by artificial wombs or artificially created full hermaphroditism), and what it means when humanity does not fully use all of the strengths and skills of its whole population (caused by sociological or historical accidents, not a deliberate decision that some portion of the population is not worthy of full consideration.)
So: the men in my stories stand in the place of women. (You can even try it with the non-military SF novella A Day in Deep Freeze.) Read them in that light and see if it makes them less cryptic.