While You Are Over There: A Novella

“Well,” he’d say, in that drawl he likes when he’s educating you, “Seems to me everything that changes, isthe end of things. Everything’s the end of the world, really. We just get focused on some kinds of change and not others. You take an aspirin and your fever goes down, or the fever keeps goin’ and it kills off all the viruses, you don’t wonder where the fever went, or where the critters went. You just don’t.”

“…Right,” I’d say, like he was going somewhere.

“And so really it’s just perspective, isn’t it? We’re all afraid of change. The night we fell in love, that was the end of the world. That whole thing just killed me, Jonah.”

His eyes would go a little wild on that one. The panic returns, like it’s happening now; like it’s always happening. I just want to remember the good parts.

“And then but I wasn’tdead, I was just different. Well, I can’t imagine anything in the universe, even the end of the universe, that doesn’t fall under that rule. Things change, that’s all. From this side, looks like the Apocalypse. From over there, it’s just gettin’ on.”

“While You Are Over There” is found-footage science fiction. Widescreen in scope and intimate in execution, it’s the story of two scientists—imagine Reed Richards and Sue Storm, on the brink of a public divorce—riding the wave of journalism and popular sentiment to the top of the ratings charts… And contemplating an abrupt drop into the abyss.

Kirby Brendan and Jonah Hope, a futurist and an engineer, have spent the last fifteen years spinning a few defense contracts and media contacts into a whirlwind media flurry: Scientists of a new age, the spacefaring dreams of an entire globe hanging on their every adventure and discovery. Their snappy combination of Bravo-style reality TV and the scientific excitement of Neil Tyson or Bill Nye has brought a small Nat Geo channel down from the nosebleeds to become a water-cooler classic for families and intellectuals alike.

But years into their partnership, the cold has set in. An artificial intelligence, known to billions of viewers as their digital daughter, summons them to the orbital station they’ve paid for with fast talk, arms trading and photo opportunities. As the world looks on, Kirby and Jonah—the faces of a new scientific optimism, the embodiment of a dream fulfilled—are forced to reevaluate not only their personal values, but the reality of their marriage as a polemical act.

Through on-site media appearances and satellite-relayed reports, re-aired interviews and scenes never dreamt fit for public consumption, we track Kirby and Jonah’s last journey into space, to a reconciliation that could spell the end of the world, as family myths and history—and computational analysis—recombine into a desperate gambit for survival: Not only for one married couple and their half-human, invented child, but possibly the Earth’s fate itself.


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Reviews for While You Are Over There

Jacob Clifton’s one of my favorite writers, and his While You Are Over There is a gorgeously written, suspenseful story that is unlike anything else I have ever read. In telling the story of Kirby and Jonah, two scientists whose relationship is on the brink, even as their child Halley offers a different sort of threat (and hope) for them and the future of humanity, the story is as much about pop culture (and the unblinking gaze of reality TV and cynical media) as it is about futuristic space travel, AI, and more.

Kirby and Jonah are both believable and rootable characters, and Halley, their part-AI child, is as heartbreaking as she is terrifying, and is a fascinating and completely unforgettable character that will haunt you long after you finish the tale.

 If you’re a fan of thoughtful Sci-Fi and unique, complex characters, you’ll enjoy While You Are Over There. It stayed with me for a long time after reading it.—Angela Mitchell

Jacob Clifton’s writing always manages to break me open, and this was no exception. I became emotionally invested in Kirby and Jonah immediately and that kept me hanging on every word… [It’s] a lovely, beautifully written story and I adored every moment of it. —Emily M. 

Clifton has done a very cool thing here: made me devoutly wish the two main characters of this story (and their reality show) were real. Diverting and heart-tugging at the same time. —Kristen McDermott

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