Author notes: Spookmoth

SpookmothWriting these author notes has made me realise how many of the stories originated from New Scientist. The idea of wiring computers to animal’s brains to turn them into robots has been around for a while, but one article went a bit further and raised the idea that interfacing with an insect’s sensory system could turn it into a well-camouflaged surveillance drone. It’s some way away from happening because it’s not possible to make the computer component light enough at the moment, but give us a couple more decades of Moore’s Law and the NSA and GCHQ could be the fly on the wall as well as the ear in the ether.

The concept languished in my idea swirl for some time. A gimmicky surveillance technique wasn’t much use without anything interesting to spy on. It was another article, this time on the depletion of the Ogallala Aquifer, that gave me the idea I needed to move forward. So much of the agriculture of the American Midwest is dependent on water deposited during the last ice age, and won’t be replenished until the next one. At the rate it’s being pumped out, it may run out by the end of the century, leaving a large dust bowl in the middle of the USA and a large food deficit.

I asked myself if the United States would stay united if the government on the east coast was divided from the cities of the west coast by a couple of thousand miles of badlands. I decided it would depend on the competence of the government of the day. At a time when Congress was incapable of even agreeing on its own budget, it wasn’t a stretch to imagine the country descending into internal wrangling and economic collapse. If that happened, it wouldn’t take much for the West Coast to decide to cut themselves off from the unfolding disaster. I don’t think this is a foregone conclusion and I hope the USA will move beyond the destructive partisanship of its current politics, but stories require conflict so I inflicted an inept president on Washington.

When I visited Arizona, I was struck by the way the towns and cities spring out of the desert, surrounded by parched sand and rock. I found myself likening them to trees, dependent on being able to draw in enough water to prevent them shrivelling and dying. With apologies to the citizens of Phoenix, turning your beautiful city into a ghost town to underline the politics of the story was just too good a chance to miss.

All I needed to ensure conflict was a beautiful woman, and any writer who can’t do that should give up and go home.

One oddity of this story was that I wrote it at a time when I had the idea that American-themed stories were more likely to get into the American markets, which account for most of the short science fiction world. It was resoundingly rejected by several American markets and sold to a British magazine. Another preconception went up in smoke!


Spookmoth was published in Wicked Words Quarterly #1, which is no longer available. It is now available as a standalone Kindle edition.


Wicked Words #1 on Goodreads

Spookmoth Kindle edition on Goodreads

Cover design by Manda Benson, incorporating photographs by Andrewcollins123 and MOD.

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