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An excerpt from'Call It “The Bug” Because I Have No Time to Think of a Better Title'

If my mother weren’t dying of ovarian cancer, and I hadn’t come home to be around my father, I might have written a story something like part of the following (Choose Your Own Adventure, please): A young woman, Ela, travels by great glass elevator to one of the geostationary spaceports encircling the toxic Earth. Ela has made contact through some minimal, slangy future form of the internet (retina-based) with Clar, an old woman. Clar’s implant – which I was thinking of calling an ‘imp’ or an ‘iBug’ but am now simply and exhaustedly going to call a ‘bug’ – Clar’s bug is still fully-functioning. For years, Clar’s bug has protected her (a read-out here, an alarm there) from ninety-five percent of humanly-occurring infections, viruses, cancers (that flesh is heir to) (our species-wish to disinherit ourselves). Clar’s bug, note, was an early-ish model, and she could never afford (after the divorce) (basketball player) to upgrade – newer models, assuming we are in 2055, cover ninety-nine point eight percent of humanly-occurring viruses, etc; and the mean average human lifespan can no longer be calculated because, at the top end of the economic scale (Berlin or Mumbai or Yerevan), so few people are dying. It is (the mean average) probably somewhere between two-hundred-and-twenty and two-hundred-and-fifty years. Deaths do still happen – the longer people spend alive together, the more annoying they become one another. There are therefore murders, suicides, domestic accidents, overdoses. But Clar herself is dying in her poor woman’s cell of an untreated because undetected – by her bug – because hyper-rare, degenerative disease. It affects the ability to swallow; it causes constant involuntary tears; it coats the body in lesions. Clar is dying slowly, gently – and Clar, because of who she is, and because that person is a person very like others – Clar does not want to be alone when she dies; and Clar cannot afford off-world nursing; and Clar would rather die than suffer the social humiliation of a return to Earth. Her only asset, apart from her undesirable cell, is her bug – which has a working life of up to three-hundred years. It was designed to be self-installing, and self-uninstalling, so as to be available to the maximum number of consumers, including those in the world’s least sanitary countries (Australia and Haiti and Austria).

A little bit about Toby Litt

Shortlist

Toby Litt is an English writer and academic in the Department of English and Humanities at Birkbeck, University of London. His books includes two collections of short stories and several novels. In 2003 he was nominated by Granta magazine as one of the 20 Best of Young British Novelists.


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