From: Boreal, Emily

To: Picual, Jim
Joss, Lillian
Gupta, Mohan

Cc: Executive Committee

You sent me to find the god of a dying world, and I found her, but it didn’t turn out the way you expected. I’m not sorry for what I did, but I do owe you an explanation.

Those of you reading this know very well the problem we faced, but I assume this message will be forwarded to at least one board member, so I’ll go over the basics.

Molly Khan had written six books in as many years, starting with Elyse Flayme and the Ice Queen, surprise best seller, first in the series that became the heir—at last—to Potter. Even better, this series meant something, because the crisis that faced Molly’s mythic world of Arrenia was a clear parable for climate change. The books were urgent and serious, but also fun and charming and, as Molly’s characters grew up, not a little bit sexy. They were broccoli fried in bacon fat.

Six years, six books, and a glossy TV adaptation running in lockstep: so far, so profitable. But Molly Khan’s agent was good. The books were contracted one at a time rather than all at once, so with each success, her leverage increased. Furthermore, the TV show was not permitted to proceed without a book to guide it: there would be no Game of Thrones–ing ahead of the author’s imagination. Molly Khan’s agent was really good.

Molly’s seventh book would conclude the series. There we were, proud publishers, along with our counterparts at the streaming service: perched, poised, ready to proceed into the final stage of this billion-dollar project.

But the Green Tolkien did not submit her seventh manuscript. The due date passed, and Molly was silent. We knew the book’s title: Elyse Flayme and the Final Flood. Another month passed. That’s all we knew. Three more months. The actress who played Elyse was being pursued for a Star Wars movie. Everything stood frozen, waiting on the author, her imagination, her drowning world, its fate.

She would not reply to emails; would not answer the phone. She was holed up in her house in Bodega Bay, the one she bought with the money from the first Elyse Flayme book and never left. She was, apparently, staring at the ocean.

So you sent me to California.

My mission was simple: determine the cause of Molly’s delay and identify what was needed to finish the book. I was authorized to offer, as enticement, an additional 2% of total back-end across all media, which could easily amount to $20 million. On the plane to San Francisco, I imagined myself carrying a giant check. In the rental car up the coast, I imagined myself hauling a sack of gold bars.

You all warned me about Bodega Bay. I’d never been to California at all, so of course in my imagination it was Eden, warm and woozy and comfortable. This stretch of coast—cold to start and colder as I crept north, with the cliffs calving away into the black water and the geological fault line totally, hilariously apparent—this was a world ending, literally ending, in slow motion.

I found Molly’s house out on the edge of town, perched on a particularly ragged and desperate cliff. The house wasn’t large, but its design was very modern, a slanted box built from wood that might once have been dark but had long since been blasted pale by the salt wind.

We had met in person only once before but had corresponded at length, mostly in the comments attached to the manuscript for Elyse Flayme in the Ocean Beyond Oceans, her most recent book, now lingering on shelves. Molly had included my name in the acknowledgments: “My thanks also to Emily Boreal, who gets it.” This had come as a complete surprise, and even now, when I think of it, my face gets hot.

Molly answered the door in sweatpants. 

“Of course it’s you,” she said. “Smart of them.” 

I told her I was just here to help, if I could. 

Molly nodded. “Fine. Let’s see if you can.”

On the flight, I wondered if Molly had suffered some kind of breakdown; the writer’s agony and ecstasy that, if we’re being honest, editors find sort of delicious. Encountering her, I had the sense not of a bulwark broken, but one currently loaded down almost unimaginably. Molly Khan was short and slender, swallowed up by her sweats; following her into the house, I was conscious of all the money, all the expectations, all the emotions balanced on that little body as if it were a fulcrum.

There were millions of readers, yes. Millions of viewers, sure. But the thing you really had to contend with was the cosplayers. Elyse Flayme had become a central symbol of the climate justice movement; at every rally, on the steps of every capitol, you found dozens of Elyses, and even more Osric Worldenders, partly because his cold wrath resonated powerfully and partly because his costume called for very short shorts. Molly had achieved the thing

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By: Robin Sloan
Title: Elyse Flayme and the final flood
Sourced From: www.technologyreview.com/2021/12/23/1041334/science-fiction-short-story-climate/
Published Date: Thu, 23 Dec 2021 12:00:00 +0000