My January Fifteenth Author’s Note

book cover of a person walking down an alley with an umbrella and the following text: January Fifteenth, “Money Changes everything–except people.” Rachel Swirsky, “One of the best speculative writers of the last decade.” –John ScalziJanuary Fifteenth debuts tomorrow! This is my last post before it heads out into the world.

(ICYMI, check out some of my earlier posts about January Fifteenth, including my official announcement, the Debut Sampler, and meeting the characters. Preorders are available through several different online platforms, including Powell’s, Amazon, Indiebound, and Barnes and Noble.)

Here’s the author’s note I wrote for the beginning of the book:

Dear Reader, 

January Fifteenth takes place in a near-future America with a Universal Basic Income (UBI) program. If you’re not  familiar with the term, Universal Basic Income is a policy proposal for the government to provide an annual income to  its citizens. Details vary—like how much that income should be—but every citizen would get it, without condition. 

For me at least, any argument about UBI begins with one question: will it help people? 

Practical assessment follows, of course, but that’s the first thing we have to know. In its ideal form, if everything went  perfectly, would UBI improve people’s lives? I don’t have a definitive answer, although I pose a series of possible  questions and answers in this novella. 

During my research on American UBI proposals, most of the hypotheticals I saw concentrated on the traditional  concerns of the right versus left political axis. Would UBI open new possibilities for society, or encourage a culture of  laziness and dependency? 

I became more curious about other questions. For instance, some people dislike that UBI goes to people of any social  class—so whatever might (some) rich kids do with it? Some people are wary about the ways cults exploit contemporary  welfare programs—what might they do with UBI, and how might others try to stop them? Pervasive, systemic racism  has created an enormous disparity between the assets of Black and white American households—can and should we  brush over that history as if White and Black communities have an equal starting point? Money can help someone  escape an abusive relationship, but would Universal Basic Income change what happens afterward? 

The characters in this book have gone through hard things, from being orphaned to domestic violence to forced  marriage. Many of the scenarios in this book reflect situations that I or people close to me have gone through. Others  evolved through research and talking to people. So many of us have gone through similar tribulations, whether the more  common horrors like casual racism and sexual assault, or the more rarefi ed ones like cult exploitation. These things  impact our lives. They affect our happiness. They certainly affect how and why Universal Basic Income could change our  circumstances. 

Although I hope January Fifteenth is true to the characters and emotions, I can’t claim it’s an accurate prediction. UBI  could play out in lots of ways that are equally, if not more, plausible. For example, in January Fifteenth, the practical side  of running UBI is relatively smooth and easy. As a world-building choice, that allows me to let fiddly details fade into the  background while I focus on the characters. But is it the most likely scenario? Probably not—very few things seem to be  easy. 

Even within the world I set up, there are a ton of possible alternative and conflicting scenarios. I could have happily kept  adding more. In fact, a fifth thread ended up on the cutting room floor during an early draft, when the word count kept  relentlessly increasing.

If I can make any “true” predictions, I suppose they are these: 

  1. Money can make life easier, but it can’t solve everything. 
  2. Adding money to a system with underlying problems won’t fi x those problems on its own. 
  3. After any massive change, some people will be better off, some people will be worse off, and many people will be both better and worse off. 
  4. However the future unfolds, it won’t go according to my values. There will always be outcomes I don’t expect. Some of them will contradict my beliefs about the world. 
  5. I’m definitely wrong about something. 

Rachel Swirsky

image of people walking through a snowy street with the following text: January Fifteenth. A new novella from Tor.com. by Rachel Swirsky. Follow four women through January fifteenth, the day when they get their Universal Basic Income. Hannah, an abused mother on the run with her two sons. Janelle, an activist-turned-reporter raising her orphaned sister. Olivia, a wealthy college student celebrating “Waste Day”. Sarah, a child bride in a fundamentalist cult. Money changes everything—except people. “a fascinating thought experiment” - Caren Gussoff, Locus Magazine

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2 Responses to My January Fifteenth Author’s Note

  1. Pingback: Mike's Blog Summary - news-cog.com

  2. 2
    nobody.really says:

    Libertarian-ish econ blog reviews January Fifteenth, including a quote of all five of Swirksy’s “true” predictions.

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