The Big Idea: Will McIntosh

The game of love has a different set of rules today than it did even a few years ago — or so Hugo-winning author Will McIntosh recently learned. How will this affect how the game of love is played in the future? McIntosh speculates in his book Love Minus Eighty, and also, here in this Big Idea piece.


In the future, single people will have access to databases containing millions of potential mates, complete with photo galleries and detailed information about their interests.  Elaborate matching software will be available to assist in their search for suitable mates…

Wait.  That’s the present.

When Orbit books expressed interest in seeing a proposal for a novel based on my short story, “Bridesicle”, they suggested I expand it by creating a larger vision of love and courtship in the future.   Doing a little research, I quickly discovered that my ideas about love and courtship in the present were a little out of date.  For one thing, I learned that people don’t go on dates any more–that the word date itself is dated.   Now, I met my wife a mere six years ago, so it’s not that I’ve been out of the dating pool for very long.  Evidently even when I was dating, I was an out-of-touch throwback.   I asked my wife for her input on this, and she confirmed that she felt like she’d been whisked back a few decades when we first met, what with me calling on the phone to ask her to go to dinner, and offering to pick her up and all that.

So I dug in and learned what I could about modern dating, with an eye toward how this might affect courtship in the future.

Evidently the modern approach to courtship is indirect.  Men don’t call women they’re interested in–they text them.  And in those texts, they don’t directly express interest in the woman, they just ask if she wants to hang out with him and his friends.  This allows men to avoid the sting of rejection.

There was also a recent article in The Atlantic about a guy who bounces from relationship to relationship, utterly incapable of settling on one woman, because there are just too many single women online to choose from.  The article concluded that online dating is destroying commitment and intimacy.  This is a fairly common SF idea, often depicted in the form of marriage contracts with time limits.

I’m not convinced we’re really headed in that direction, and this is reflected in my novel.  There have always been people who are uneasy with commitment, and people who thrive in a committed relationship.  I think online dating will make single people choosier, not necessarily more reluctant to commit.  Online dating offers people the opportunity to customize.  If you want a partner who loves Elvis Presley and exploring abandoned buildings, doesn’t want children, is a Methodist but not a churchgoer, and plays the trombone, you can locate her in under a minute.  The thing is, she likely doesn’t live anywhere near you, so those who are easily mobile have an advantage.

If you’re not sure who you’re looking for, don’t worry–dating professionals are always working on more precise algorithms to help you find the perfect match.  In the future, those algorithms may become scary accurate, because dating sites are doing a ton of research.  For example, want to improve your odds of getting a reply from that person you’re convinced is your soul mate?  Crunching millions of initial messages and response rates, dating sites have very specific advice for you.  First of all, use an unusual greeting, like Howdy, or How’s it going, instead of the stale and overused standard, Hi.  Don’t compliment your future soul-mate’s physical appearance.  Make a joke at your own expense.  Be an atheist (seriously, that was one of their findings).  And for God’s sake, whatever you do, don’t misspell words.

If you’re not a good speller, there’s more good news: there are people out there who will write your profile for you, for a fee.  In Love Minus Eighty, I extrapolated this trend, creating dating coaches who feed you lines as you interact with your date (I just can’t figure out how to avoid using that word), so you can make a good impression by being funny in a self-deprecating way while resisting the temptation to mention what a great butt your future soul-mate has.

When it comes to the future of love and courtship, I’m betting the big changes won’t come from advances in information technology.  We’re reaching a saturation point in terms of connectivity.  Yes, one day soon we’ll be able to interact with 3-D projections of people from the other side of the planet, but really, how different is that from what’s available today?  I think the real action will come in biotechnology.  Imagine how different things will be for people seeking romantic partners when brain imaging advances to the point where you can tell whether someone is feeling love or lust, when extremely reliable lie detection is not only possible, but cheap, and when you are in possession of your entire genome, and are expected to share that information with potential romantic partners.

I incorporated some of these truly futuristic elements into Love Minus Eighty, but in the end, the heart of the novel became as much about love in the present as in the future.  Maybe that’s because I feel as if I’m already living in the future when it comes to love, and how we go about finding it.


Love Minus Eighty: Amazon|Barnes & Noble|Indiebound|Powell’s

Read an excerpt. Visit the author’s site.

11 Comments on “The Big Idea: Will McIntosh”

  1. So, Cyrano de Bergerac meets the future. And founds a startup. Sounds like a good read!

  2. I assume you can skip the “be an atheist” part if the dating site you’re on is . .

  3. I really want to read this! Anyone who is iffy should listen to Bridecicle, his short story on Pod Castle, set in the same universe!

  4. I read about your book over on Magical Words, as well, and it sounds really cool. Social networking and it’s buddies and the consequences thereof is a fascinating topic. Definitely gonna be picking this one up at some point.

  5. I’m about 75% through this book right now. Every chapter is so good. There are times where it feels like the author just sucker-punched me in the gut and I literally have to put the book away for a minute or so in order to digest how I feel.

  6. Will McIntosh wrote about it at Magical Words as well, and this bit made me feel a little tired just thinking about it:

    it’s about love and dating in the future, and specifically a dating center where beautiful, cryogenically preserved dead women try to win another chance at life by convincing wealthy suitors to revive them

    Beautiful women looking for wealthy men does not strike me as a clever and futuristic idea, even dressed up with cryogenics. More like a retro view: women are utterly passive Barbie dolls (can you get more passive than being dead?) who sit around looking pretty to attract a mate who will (literally) give them a life. Men have money and status and power and shop for women by their looks. I am a little squicked by the entire concept of live men/dead women; it sounds like a patriarchal fantasy.

    Can anyone who’s reading it convince me that it isn’t riddled with trite sexism and a very creepy take on male-female relations?

  7. Hi Susan,

    It’s distressing for me to think that anyone would interpret my book that way after reading it. It’s intended to be the exact opposite. Here’s a quote from a review on the website Pornokitch:

    “It is…horrible. Mr. McIntosh let’s us know just how horrible it is – prostitution, grinding misery, the soul-crushing loss of agency. It is one of the most grim and least titillating visions of the future ever committed to print.”

    I hope that helps. Although I’d like to think the world depicted in the book is grim, but the story itself is at turns hopeful, and maybe even sweet.

  8. Thanks for responding, Will. That does make it sound a little different; creepy and horrible rather than creepy and wonderful. But, um, it still seems like a fanboy fantasy come true: beautiful women completely in their power who have to please them to live. ICK.

    Possibly I am a little over-sensitive about sexism in SF this month (can’t imagine why), but I have to wonder: why is it passive women and active men in your “dating service”? Why not active wealthy women shopping for buff, well-endowed boy-toys? Why not both genders shopping for either gender? This seems an oddly sexist and heterosexist extrapolation from today’s world of OKCupid. Is there more to this that didn’t make it into your little summary (quoted by me above from Magical Words)?

    And are you deliberately playing with the trope of “fridging” women or did you manage to hit that genre hot button accidentally?

    Possibly I should just read the book, but I’m not sure I’m up for grimness and soul-crushing misery, especially if I also get to end up grinding my teeth about sexism. I can get all these things in real life. :)

    On a lighter note: this modern indirect courtship thing is impossible. Not only can I not tell if someone wants to date me, I can’t seem to manage to communicate “I want to date you” to someone else. What a bunch of wusses we have become! Self included.

  9. Dear Susan,

    Have you read the book yet?

    I devoured it and, as a feminist, scientist, and human being, loved it. Will McIntosh explores online dating and human connections. We see events from both female and male perspectives and even delve into relationships that don’t have to be about sex. At the same time, he doesn’t shy away from describing the less savory aspects of society (such as human trafficking and perversion).

    What he is doing is setting up example scenarios to start a critical discussion on human relationships. Was Orwell advocating for thought crime and was Huxley supporting shock therapy for children? No, they were showing what might be, what could be.

    McIntosh’s world is not ‘sexist’ for the sake of exploitation, but to show the different sides of humanity. Most of the people in the book make mistakes, but they are admirable and human. I cannot ask for more.


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