OK, so I’m working on a novel, called The Light Station. It’s set in the twenty-third and twenty-eighth centuries, and follows one Caesar Minnox, a lonely forty-something with a drinking problem and a house full of relics. In a nutshell, this is a story about sex, death and time travel – amongst other things.
We all know the importance of a strong start, so I’ve decided to share my prologue with you. I’d be delighted to hear what you think – whether it’s good, bad, or downright ugly.
Caesar Minnox is a lost soul. Unable to find his place in a deteriorating twenty-third century society, he decides to embark on a life-changing journey and travels forward in time 600 years to the colony of Neo-London. At this point in the future, time-travel has become little more than a package holiday. It has been commercialised; tamed and domesticated. People visit to sample the inventive methods of intoxication, the exclusive health spas, or simply to say that they’ve done it. No real attention is paid to the world beyond their window.
Outside, the Sun is eagerly eating itself. As it morphs into a red giant, prompted by failing stores of helium, its radius expands and advances ever closer. Now, only a few protected colonies remain amongst otherwise disintegrated cities, generating their time-travel tourist trade whilst the planet awaits its inevitable fate.
Upon arrival in 2813, Caesar hopes to achieve the sense of belonging he has yearned for his whole life. Instead his sense of alienation is crystallised by his interactions with his fellow tourists. He finds himself drawn to a native scientist who confirms the existence of nomadic communities living outside of the colony’s boundaries. Though they are poverty-stricken and live devoid of all technology, Caesar develops romanticised notions of escaping to join these godless outlaws. He imagines himself being accepted by those learning to live in the dirt, and begins to wonder if his salvation lies beyond the colony’s glass perimeter…
Intent on escape, Caesar rushes into a nearby souvenir shop and buys a poorly thought-out survival kit before disappearing unnoticed into the night. What he finds out amongst the wastelands is far beyond anything he could ever have imagined and will change life as he knows it forever.
Dusk was falling on a damp, sticky autumn night; the first of many. Caesar surveyed the city from above with eyes the colour of a gathering storm. London was sprawled out beneath his sixtieth-floor apartment in all its glory, lights twinkling in greeting of the gathering crowds. Already he could hear the familiar night-time song – the buzz and thrum of distorted basslines, the crescendo of a siren’s wail, the guttural chug of rails and clattering heels-on-tile from deep within the Underground. The city rose out of the smog like a Valkyrie, fearless in the face of a sun that edged ever closer.
The days were always hot now. Even when it rained, the days were hot. The seasons had ceased to matter in that respect. Those who could took refuge inside, where the climate and air quality could be controlled. Those who couldn’t took measured breaths and hoped for thicker skins.
Caesar wouldn’t choose to be anywhere else though. The heat was everywhere, and besides, London was his city. The architecture spoke to him of ages past and battles won, and hiding in amongst the blocks and office buildings, he had found structures as old as digital memory. Caesar liked to think that they had stood watch over the years, as silent vigils of the city. Up close, London was all cramped streets and towering walls, drowning in smoke and dirt and crowds that shoved from every side. That didn’t matter. Not from up here. He could gaze down as if he were watching a television screen and could change the channel at any time. The people below him were nothing but a distant, thinking swarm – they could be anybody, anything. He liked it better that way.
It wasn’t that he hated them. He just didn’t know how to be a part of their world. The life he had been born into fit him poorly and he never seemed to grow into it, no matter how tall or wise he had gotten. His father used to joke that at some point during his childhood, the world had moved on and had chosen to leave him behind. He preferred his mother’s words – but then, he always had. During the years after she was gone, he had had to listen to his father unabated.
Not anymore though, he told himself, and never again.
He settled himself by the window, snuggled deep into his favourite chair and returned to his book. Paper was an expensive commodity nowadays, but books had been his guilty pleasure ever since he was a boy. The volume he was currently reading dated back centuries and was bound in luxurious, embossed leather. It was the only one left of its kind. A work of art, Caesar thought, even before you’ve opened it. He ran his fingers over the raised letters of the cover as he had done a thousand times before. This illustrated edition of Blake’s work was his favourite and held pride of place on a bookshelf which lined most of the room. The insurance for that alone had cost him thousands; printed material was now considered antique, as were most of his belongings. The majority of the furniture in the apartment was carved from solid wood, and the fabrics were hand-woven in the old way. Mock-ups of famous Impressionist paintings covered the walls. The surfaces were filled up by eclectic accessories, like the bust of One-Eyed Putin which sat poised in the hallway to greet him – half of it was kitsch, obsolete nonsense, but that didn’t matter to Caesar. That wasn’t the reason he had purchased these things. He collected them because this world no longer had a place for them. Their presence gave him a comfort he had never found in a crowd.
Though he had tried to make the technology in the space as unobtrusive as possible, its presence was inevitable. Most aspects of the home environment, from cooking and cleaning to monitoring and security measures, were fully automated. Furthermore, it seemed no one could get by in the twenty-third century without at least one reader and projector in every room.
Gods forbid I was to miss out on something, Caesar mused, it would turn to history before I knew about it. Seems I’m the only one left who cares about what’s past. He sighed. No-one cares about the facts, about the fear and death and sacrifice that’s come before us, about what’s made us who we are. All they care about is the present; the here and now. It’s all about e-tabloid headlines and bright lights, the Next Big Thing, and of course the fun, fun, fun. When did we become so shallow?
He spent many of his nights like this, alone and melancholic, pondering where the world had gone wrong. As an employee of the British Library, Caesar spent his days recording every last speck of cultural data deemed to have potential value for future generations. Given that nobody wrote books anymore, the definition of ‘value’ had been somewhat transformed: the last three months of his working life, for example, had been dedicated to documenting all the packaging, advertisements and examples of consumer feedback – including every comment or spin-off ever uploaded – for the controversial Japanese cereal, ‘Tii-To’ (famous in the mid-22nd Century for using topless schoolgirls to sell their merchandise). No wonder I’m so grumpy. The world’s gone bloody mad and I’m the only one who seems to have noticed.
As usual, that called for a drink. He shuffled into the gleaming marble kitchen, intent on topping up his glass. He found the bottle empty, but for a measly capful or so. Dammit, he cursed himself, I knew I’d forgotten something.
He had synthetics on tap within the apartment, of course, but Caesar had never really taken to any of the Government-approved intoxicants. They were clean, tasteless and ultimately unsatisfying. No, what he really wanted was the good stuff – a mature Scotch whisky or Russian vodka, perhaps, something with a real kick to it.
Big Ben rang out over the city, solemn and unflinching as ever. The eighth gong told him that he had time to get to Charlie’s before he closed up for the night.
He scooped up the bottle and peered through its eye. “One for the road?”
He shrugged and drained the last of it before slinging a coat around his shoulders and making his way out into the darkening streets of London.