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Day Two Hundred and Twenty-four: Four Worlds

January 1, 2012 Leave a comment

Well, it’s time to wrap up December and World-Building month. It’s been an interesting experiment, with some good ideas and a fresh look at some characters and institutions that I kind of came up with on a whim sometimes. Probably the most fun is to look at those things that came into my head very well-formed and with some depth and look at them from another angle, explore their histories and motivations and find out new things about them. Doing so, I hope I can craft new and better stories with them in the future.

So, to close out this month and this year [1], let’s look at the four worlds that I’ve made – that I know of [2].

1: Outer Space

Not so much a world as a universe, and I put it by itself because I can’t yet connect it to any of the other three. Its most likely link would be to Earth Prime, but there’s no reason it can’t hook up to Urban Fantasy Earth or even High Fantasy Earth. That’s the nice thing about the future – put it far enough away and there are many ways to get there.

There have only been about three stories set here, and one of them technically isn’t canon so I guess that makes it two in all. There are a lot of challenges when you’re writing Space Fiction, not the least of which is thinking of things that haven’t been done before. But that’s something you can only manage if you plow through all the things that have been done before, and if you’re going to do that then you may as well have fun with it. I’ve got a few alien races to play with, one universe-weary human pilot, and the End of All Things. Other than that, my cosmos is wide open for exploration.

My task this year: write more Space Fiction. Come up with some weird worlds and strange cultures. Read up on astrophysics and look at the kinds of worlds that the Kepler program has discovered – how could they be used in fiction? And now that we know so much more about what’s out there in space, what benefits are there to going out? How will culture or business or society change? And is there any reason for aliens to invade Earth anymore? Lots of questions to address…

2: High Fantasy

I generally define High Fantasy as being a story where magic is available to the characters, and technology generally hasn’t progressed much beyond what we had in, say, the 15th or 16th century. Lots of swords and horses, kingdoms and city-states and the like (except for that one prince who managed to build an airplane).

While I’ve written a few stories that can be slotted into the High Fantasy genre, I’m still not entirely sure that they all belong to the same world. There’s no reason they can’t, of course – one of the general flaws of High Fantasy fiction is the conceit that all the interesting stories must take place on one continent, or even within one nation. There’s no reason why grand political battles can’t happen in more than one place at one time, where evil wizards try to usurp good but ineffectual kings, terrible monsters ravage the countryside and ancient prophecies foretell great changes in everything we know to be true.

Look at Lord of the Rings, for example. As interesting as its story was, that was still just one tiny corner of the planet on which it took place. Who knows what other amazing stories might have been happening at that time, with absolutely no one involved either knowing or caring what happened to Frodo and the ring?

So as long as all the rules or magic match up, there’s no reason why all my High Fantasy stories can’t occupy the same world. If there are discrepancies in those rules, then they either have to be explained properly, or the whole story has to be shuffled off to another universe. And again, much like with space, there are a lot of stories that have already been told in this genre. The trick is to figure out what’s been left out. I’ve found myself interested in the introduction of technology to a magic-heavy world, just to see what would happen there. How would freely available, post-Medieval technology change the political and social landscapes in a world where you have wizards and dragons? No idea, but I’m looking forward to finding out.

And yes, I’m sure someone’s already tread that ground. But I can do it with my characters and their stories and still make it a fun read.

3: Urban Fantasy

I’m a big fan of Urban Fantasy, which is generally depicted as modern Earth, but with magic. My favorite example of this is the Dresden Files series, which has an entire world of magic-users and monsters that co-exists with the more mundane world, always keeping itself just out of sight. Some of the most interesting stories come at the intersections of the magical and the mundane, which is what makes this series so fun to read.

I would also classify Harry Potter as urban fantasy, except that Rowling tries as hard as she can to stay away from the mundane world. But there’s no reason she can’t write stories of wizards and witches that are set in modern-day London or New York or Moscow. She’s just chosen not to.

I’ve got a few stories in this world, with golems and a university that specializes in magic, fairies that show up when you’re hung over and people who actually create dreams for pay. As with the High Fantasy world, I can’t say for sure whether all of these stories occupy the same universe, but for now it looks like they do. In the meantime, there’s no reason I can’t mix and match and play with the world and how it works. One of the most fun tropes of Urban Fantasy is that magic – and all that comes with it – is not much more than another tool to be used. It won’t make your life easier, and will in all probability make it much more difficult. Putting those magic-problems together with the regular gripes and issues of the modern world is always fun.

4: Earth-Prime

This is where nearly everything happens. Anything that doesn’t contradict what’s already been written can be shoehorned into Earth Prime sooner or later, and I have such fun playing in it. We have super-heroes, of course, because I’ve been a fan of comics for ages and ages. There is some magic, but it’s not as pervasive as it would be in either High Fantasy or Urban Fantasy. There’s a Hell Dimension next door, through which strange creatures sometimes travel. There’s ghosts and time travellers and shape-shifters all manner of strangeness in this world.

I have huge cities and small towns, Evil Corporations and Secret Societies. I’ve got some celebrities and artists and politicians, and there’s plenty of room to grow.

Now you may ask: why? Why set all of these stories – and there’s a lot of them – in the same world?

Because it’s fun, that’s why. As I mentioned above, I’m a big fan of comic books, and when I was a kid some of the best stories were the crossovers – when you got to see a bunch of heroes working together who normally would be confined to their own books. It was a thrill to know that Gotham City and Metropolis were on the same continent, and that Batman and Superman could get together and hang out, if they wanted. As a reader, just knowing that these characters all inhabited one giant universe meant that there was so much more going on than we were told, which made me want to read more.

As a writer, having a shared universe means more potential for conflict and collaboration. For example, I already have at least three super-geniuses in this world – Julian Harcrow, Kevin Truman, and Paul Barbeau. What would happen if they got together on something? Hell, what would happen if they went head-to-head against each other? I have no idea, and that is awesome. [3]

The more stuff I add to Earth Prime, the more possibilities arise from it. Not all of them will be good stories, but hidden in there will almost certainly be some gems.

There are a few unplaced stories, which don’t seem to belong together and which don’t comfortably fit into one of these four worlds. And you know what? That’s okay. There’s no reason I can’t make another universe when I need to – they’re cheap.

Thanks for hanging in there while I navel-gazed for a month! The new stories should begin shortly, and then it’s a full-court press up to the end of May and the completion of this project.

See you there!

—–

[1] And yes, I’m writing this on the morning of January 1st. One of the biggest things I’ve discovered this year is that being on vacation plays merry hell with my sense of deadlines…
[2] Gentlemen.
[3] Note to self: Make some Lady Geniuses.

Day Two Hundred and Twenty-three: The Nightfinder

December 30, 2011 Leave a comment

For the month of December, I’ll be world-building. This means taking a look at the people, places, and institutions that I have created over the last six months and trying to figure out more about them. This will involve a look at the stories in which they’ve appeared, and then some speculation, stream-of-consciousness writing, and with any luck a few revelations. In addition, I may come back and add new material as the Elves in my unconscious ship out new ideas, so I’ll be sure to link them up.

Your feedback as readers is, of course, more than welcome. There are probably questions that I’m forgetting to ask and holes that I need to fill.

Wish me luck!

——————

As part of NaNoWriMo, I came up with an overall theme that had to do with the classical elements – air, water, fire, earth, and aether. During the “fire” section, I thought about campfires and what they represented: safety, warmth, companionship, s’mores – but also a kind of safety in the darkness. A beacon at night for others to find you. A small zone of civilization in the wilderness, rudimentary civilization though it might be.

With that on my mind, my thoughts naturally turned to the end of the universe [1] and how the only stars that are likely to still be shining in the ridiculously far-away future would be the red dwarfs stars. These stars are not only the most common type of star in the universe, but they burn so well and efficiently that they have a projected lifespan of hundreds of billions of years – far longer than the universe has existed so far and much, much longer than our own short-lived sun will exist. So I thought that at some point, these red dwarf stars are likely to be the last ones left when all the hotter stars either burn out or explode. And if there is intelligent life able to do so, it will huddle around these stars, getting as much energy from them as they can until they finally burn out.

So I imagined a ship from one of these star-hugging colonies – one of the first red dwarf stars to fail. The people who lived there would have to evacuate, sending ships in all directions at supra-luminal speeds to try and find new homes somewhere out in the vast, unending darkness of the universe.

The Nightfinder was one of them, and gave me a nice, two-part story. Here’s what we know about the ship and her crew:

171: A New Star 1

  • The captain is Atris Parkell.
  • The ship moves through “supra-luminal space.” At random intervals they would drop back into real space, look around, and move on if they couldn’t find a red dwarf colony.
  • Crew members are outfitted with neural encoders for the transmission of information. They also work as translators, as long as the computers have been given a plaintext code to compare the new language to.
  • Their ship had originated around Delta-b Cygnus, which was a generation or two from failure.
  • The ships were meant to be legacy ships, packed with crew and civilians.
  • Suicides began after a few months, reactions to “existential dread.”
  • There are starkeepers on the crew – experts in solar science.

Part of writing this would be thinking about what kind of ship the Nightfinder would have to be. With the exodus from its star, it was pretty clear that the Nightfinder was going off into the unknown and never coming back. What’s more, it would be traveling alone. The exodus plan for the people of Delta-b Cygnus was basically to send ships in all directions, in the hopes that one of them ran across an inhabited star. Not the best plan, mind you, but the future state of the universe – at least as science understands it now – would really allow for nothing else.

The universe is expanding, you see, and it’s going so very, very quickly. This doesn’t mean much for us, but in the far-off future, it’ll mean that things are farther apart than they used to be. The stars won’t be sprinkled lavishly throughout the sky, but will rather be rapidly-flying pinpricks of light until they get so far away that their light can never reach us. The skies of the future are desolate and empty, and cosmology as we understand it will be impossible.

So the people of Delta-b Cygnus would literally have no idea where other stars were. They would just have to hope for the best. This also was why the Nightfinder and other ships had to be able to travel at faster-than-light speeds. Anything less, and they would never catch up. There would always be more space in front of them so that even if they did have a destination, it would always be receding away from them, faster and faster.

At the same time, it have to be a legacy ship. FTL travel is nice and all, but when you don’t know where you’re going, the universe is still a terrifyingly big place. No one knows how long they’ll be looking because no one knows where the other stars are. All they can do is pop back into real space from time to time, look around, and hope for the best. It’s a crappy plan, really, which is why I knew that there would be suicides starting pretty quickly. By the time they reach Alpha Aurelius, I figure about two-thirds of the original population is gone, and the ship is run by a skeleton crew that consists of whomever they can dragoon into working on it. The sheer hopelessness of their mission, the vastness of the universe – it’s all too much for a lot of people, and they simply give up. Somehow, the captain is able to keep some from doing away with themselves.

Of course, given what he discovers about Alpha Aurelius, it’s uncertain that he will be able to keep doing so…

—–

[1] As they do.

Day Two Hundred and Twenty-two: The Workaholic

December 30, 2011 Leave a comment

For the month of December, I’ll be world-building. This means taking a look at the people, places, and institutions that I have created over the last six months and trying to figure out more about them. This will involve a look at the stories in which they’ve appeared, and then some speculation, stream-of-consciousness writing, and with any luck a few revelations. In addition, I may come back and add new material as the Elves in my unconscious ship out new ideas, so I’ll be sure to link them up.

Your feedback as readers is, of course, more than welcome. There are probably questions that I’m forgetting to ask and holes that I need to fill.

Wish me luck!

——————

I’m going to do a couple of short ones, as I’m a day behind and the New Year is coming up. I’m sure you’re all busy as well, so I won’t take up too much of your time.

Our random number generator today provided us with Peter Wach, a character who has popped up in a couple of stories, never with a lot of good happening to him. Let’s see what his stories tell us about him.

46: The Big Day

  • He works 80 hours a week at Munin Scientific.
  • He’s working on “carbon pico-crystal arrays” that will allow a vast amount of storage space on a single chip.
  • He’s married.
  • He has a personality conflict with Ewan Conwell.
  • He was accused by the management heads of Munin of stealing work from Conwell. He was then detained and interrogated by security.

127: Last-Ditch

  • Some time after the events in The Big Day, Wach went to Taylor Petraglia for help.
  • He wants some kind of revenge/compensation from Munin.
  • After the events of The Big Day, Wach was fired, his bank account was frozen, his house was foreclosed on, his driver’s license was revoked, and his wife was sent a well-doctored photograph of Peter having sex with a teenage boy.
  • He’s currently staying with a friend.

Here we have a classic hard-luck case. Peter is a person of very narrow focus, and normally it would serve him well. It allowed him to work on this project, which is every bit as revolutionary as he claims it will be. In his words, “When it gets into production, it’ll be a bigger advance in computing than the integrated circuit.” So that’s saying a lot.

The problem, of course, is that he misses a lot of what goes on around him, which made it very easy for the conspiracy against him to be pulled off. And to be fair, I don’t think that Ewan Conwell actually had anything to do with it. He was a convenient excuse for the higher-ups to use, and the fact that Peter doesn’t like him very much just helps sell the whole thing. In fact, if Ewan found out how his name had been used as part of their snare, I reckon he’d be pretty angry about it.

The main thing about Peter, though, is that he is very good at what he does, and pretty crap at everything else. He never would have dreamed that his work would lead him to this situation, which betrays a certain trust in the fundamental order of things. He doesn’t have the time or desire to worry about the bigger picture, and so assumes that everything is working smoothly. A more street-wise man, perhaps, would have recognized the potential for backstabbing and hidden a copy of the data somewhere outside the company. But Peter is not that kind of guy.

Whats going to happen to him from here on out? Good question. If he’s gone to Petraglia, then Peter could just end up being the catalyst for a good mystery-thriller story. On the other hand, it would be interesting to see a naive kind of guy like Peter wade into the murky waters of industrial espionage and somehow come out on top. A more challenging story, certainly.

We’ll keep Peter around and see what happens to him, I think.

Day Two Hundred and Twenty-one: The Inevitable Monster

December 29, 2011 Leave a comment

For the month of December, I’ll be world-building. This means taking a look at the people, places, and institutions that I have created over the last six months and trying to figure out more about them. This will involve a look at the stories in which they’ve appeared, and then some speculation, stream-of-consciousness writing, and with any luck a few revelations. In addition, I may come back and add new material as the Elves in my unconscious ship out new ideas, so I’ll be sure to link them up.

Your feedback as readers is, of course, more than welcome. There are probably questions that I’m forgetting to ask and holes that I need to fill.

Wish me luck!

——————

Man, vacations really aren’t good for my ability to stick to a deadline. So much napping to do…

Anyway, today I’d like to look at the third Evil Corporation on my list – Barbeau Pharmaceuticals. Now give me some credit here: they really are going to ruin the world for the rest of us. At least that’s if all the time travelers are correct. Let’s see what we know about this company and its founder, Paul Barbeau:

33: Monsters

  • Time travelers have been trying to kill Paul Barbeau since he was born. Before he was born, in fact.
  • Barbeau Pharmaceuticals will produce “a neurocybernetic viral analogue that would safely cure nearly all forms of human disease.”
  • Paul Barbeau injected himself with the first batch.
  • The company has a blue logo.

45: Sleeper

  • Paul was a high school freshman at ten years old.
  • He developed a new printable circuitry as a science project.

65: Amanuensis

  • Cerbecorp is looking at a cooperative agreement with Barbeau Pharmaceuticals.

116: Paul Barbeau (interview)

  • The nanotech virus the company is developing will be a cure for nearly all disease. However, it will eventually network and create a human “hive mind,” eliminating individuality almost entirely.
  • The company will go to any lengths to protect Paul Barbeau and ensure that the future comes to pass.
  • The original complex will be raided in 2066.

Huh. I really thought there would be more.

It kind of resonates with Cyberdine Systems from the Terminator movies, and brings up the great question of whether or not we can really change our future. Paul Barbeau’s analysis of his rather unique problem leads him to believe that the future cannot be stopped – his company will create the panacea, which will go on to pretty much eliminate humanity as an individualistic species. He cites as evidence for this that he hasn’t been killed, despite the repeated attempts by time travelers to get rid of him:

Miss, most people who are targeted for assassination are indeed assassinated. It may take a few tries, but the killers only have to be successful once. The target has to be successful – or lucky – all the time. And there is no one so lucky that they can survive near-constant attempts for their entire life, as I have.

Do you understand what this means?

I cannot be killed, miss.

They cannot succeed. All of these bodyguards are really just here to make the odds as small as possible, but I could go wandering through the poorest part of the city wearing a tuxedo made of thousand dollar bills, and I would not die. I could be surrounded by murderous time travelers all day, and they would not kill me.

No matter what happens, I must survive to create the virus. The killers are themselves the evidence of that. If I gave up, they would have no reason to kill me, and thus would never have started their mad crusade. But still they come, which means that I must succeed. It is a thing that is beyond my control.

At least so far, he seems to be right. I haven’t come up with a reason why he shouldn’t be right, but I do know that I’ve created a fanatic, and they’re always fun. The only thing that will convince Barbeau that his destiny is not inevitable is his own death, at which point he will be beyond caring. So in many ways, Paul Barbeau could be a wonderful antagonist for someone to work against in the future.

About the company itself, I know this much: it’s a very well-regarded pharmaceutical company, famous for its innovative and pioneering research. They make enough money that their motto as far as things like regulations is that it’s “better to ask forgiveness than permission,” and so far it’s paid off for them. The company has not gone public, and is directed almost entirely by Paul Barbeau, who is considered a genius in both the scientific and medical fields. The company has branched out a little into other consumer goods, but maintains its focus on medicines. It donates a sizable amount of its product to developing countries, garnering it an excellent reputation in international politics, which gives it more leeway in performing research and getting into countries where other companies might be barred.

Barbeau himself, however, is something of a recluse. While there are many rumors as to where he lives – a private island, an underground desert base, a complex built into a mountain in the Canadian Rockies – his location has never been confirmed. He communicates daily with the directors of his company, and seems to possess an intricate knowledge of what they’re doing at any given time. This has led to suspicions that he has a network of “reporters” in his company, or at least a very advanced electronic data-gathering program.

Barbeau is not evil, really. Not in the conventional sense, anyway. He really does want to help people, and his company has a remarkable record of doing so. If you didn’t know what was going to happen in the future, you would say that Barbeau Pharmaceuticals was the model of a good company trying to do good work. But Paul truly, truly believes that he will end mankind as we know it, and rather than try to stop what is coming, he’s decided to embrace that.

Of course, ending mankind as we know it isn’t really a laudable goal, so I’ll have to create someone to fight against him, to try and see to it that the horrible future he’s working on never actually happens. To do that, I’ll have to make someone who is (potentially) as strong and as driven as he is.

The big thing is this: when I write this story, Paul will have to be the protagonist. He’s the one with the goal, after all, which is what a protagonist is, and the person trying to stop him must naturally be the antagonist. So: a story with a villain protagonist. Always fun…

Day Two Hundred and Twenty: The Shadow Agency

December 27, 2011 Leave a comment

For the month of December, I’ll be world-building. This means taking a look at the people, places, and institutions that I have created over the last six months and trying to figure out more about them. This will involve a look at the stories in which they’ve appeared, and then some speculation, stream-of-consciousness writing, and with any luck a few revelations. In addition, I may come back and add new material as the Elves in my unconscious ship out new ideas, so I’ll be sure to link them up.

Your feedback as readers is, of course, more than welcome. There are probably questions that I’m forgetting to ask and holes that I need to fill.

Wish me luck!

——————

I’ve mentioned here a couple of times that I have a deep-seated distrust of corporations, but did you know that distrust also extended to the government? Why yes it does, but in a different sort of fashion. Where I have nothing but contempt for the way that corporate entities abuse their power and manipulate the public, I have a kind of grudging admiration when the government does it.

Why? Too much X-Files when I was young and impressionable, I suppose.

But also, the motivations for government secrecy seem ever so slightly more legitimate than corporate endeavors. If a government is engaged in a massive conspiracy or cover-up to protect national interests, to defend the security of the nation, or to protect its people, I can kind of get where that’s coming from. If a company is hiding data, falsifying studies, and engaging in unethical behavior just to turn a profit or to boost its stock price, I find that reprehensible.

It’s not the kind of moral distinction that can help you sleep at night, but I think a lot of people would agree. After all, men and women who sign up with the national military, kill and destroy in the name of their country, are generally considered heroes. Men and women who sign up with a private company – Blackwater/Xe, for example – kill and destroy in order to pull down a fat paycheck, well… let’s just say there’s no holidays in their honor.

So, it felt natural that I should come up with a government agency of my own, to be used where I see fit, and that agency is the not-so-creatively named Department of National Security.

The DNS has shown up in a few stories so far. Here’s what we know about them:

104: Discipline

  • The DNS took in Carly Siminsky after her powers manifested.
  • They’re training her in their use.

133: Khrys Ferro 1

  • The DNS deals in counter-terrorism action.
  • It has field agents and bureau agents.

135: Khrys Ferro 3

145: A Little Rain

  • They have a database on metahuman criminals.

180: Away from the Green

  • They’ve enlisted the help of Evelyn Pierce.
  • They fight drug trafficking.
  • They have experience dealing with metahumans.

189: The Bad News

  • They have been holding Carly Siminsky for several years – five or six.
  • They have a desert training facility.

Okay, I think that’s about it.

So far, nothing really earth-shattering. They deal with superhumans, but they don’t keep them a secret or anything. And there’s no indication that there’s any kind of super-human registry or anything like that. The DNS just keeps tabs on them and tries to enlist those that it can into helping it deal with its problems.

Of course, it can’t just be that. There has to be something more insidious going on. And once I figure that out, I’ll look forward to exploring it.

What I do think I know about the DNS is that it’s been around for a very long time, but has only been public for a few years. The way I see it, the DNS was an extra-legal department that connected various agencies in the United States government: the FBI, the CIA, the NSA, DoD, IRS, State Department, all of them needed to keep in touch with each other somehow, but lawmakers had done a fine job of firewalling them off from each other.

Much like life, bureaucracy finds a way, and by the time World War 2 was in full swing, there was a network of connections between all those major agencies. That network grew into a shadow agency all its own, funded by siphoning off from the departments that Congress knew about. The attacks of September 11th, 2001 were a chance for the agency to come out into the open – somewhat – but at the same time required that it be forced to perform more mundane, publicly-visible tasks. Like counter-terrorism, for example.

And just like an iceberg, of course, much of the DNS is hidden well out of sight, still dealing with the connections between agencies and issues that don’t really fall into the bailiwick of any one department.

I will have to figure out more specifically what they do, of course. There are certain things that the CIA or the FBI already do very well that it wouldn’t make sense for the DNS to copy, so I’ll have to figure out what those things are. Right now I know that one of them is dealing with metahumans – so pretty much any metahuman story is going to end up with the DNS in it somewhere.

Day Two Hundred and Nineteen: Last Chance to Escape

December 26, 2011 Leave a comment

For the month of December, I’ll be world-building. This means taking a look at the people, places, and institutions that I have created over the last six months and trying to figure out more about them. This will involve a look at the stories in which they’ve appeared, and then some speculation, stream-of-consciousness writing, and with any luck a few revelations. In addition, I may come back and add new material as the Elves in my unconscious ship out new ideas, so I’ll be sure to link them up.

Your feedback as readers is, of course, more than welcome. There are probably questions that I’m forgetting to ask and holes that I need to fill.

Wish me luck!

——————

One of the great realizations I had when I started doing this project was that while I certainly wanted to write something new every day, there was no reason why I couldn’t recycle ideas from time to time – especially ideas that I may not have been able to fully exploit when I first tried them out. That’s not to say that I’ve got a complete handle on them now, but I’m pretty sure I’m better than I was.

In any case, one idea that I had was pretty simple, all told. With all the stories of people who travel from one world to another, one of the things that doesn’t often get dealt with is the aftermath of their trip. How do you deal with living in a fantasy world and having the adventures that go with it, and then come back to the mundane world of bills and work and television? The Chronicles of Thomas Covenant probably handled it best of the books I know of – but poor Thomas didn’t handle it very well.

That seems to be the way of things, though. I mean, what other way could a person react to that kind of transition. that kind of experience? Really, the only way you could possibly handle it would be to either go utterly mad or to convince yourself that you had already done so. And that’s pretty much where I started this story – with Adam walking into his home for the first time since his adventure in Another Place. So let’s see what we know about him from day 76, A New World.

  • He has a sister, who was good enough to take care of his home when he vanished to wherever he’d gone to.
  • Prior to coming home, he had been in a psychiatric hospital for a few months.
  • Certain stimuli can trigger flashbacks of his time in the other world.
  • His doctor, Thomas Greer, was against letting him go, but Adam convinced him that he was healthy and ready to leave.
  • Adam believes that he had a nervous breakdown, brought on by stress from work, the failure of his marriage, and the death of his mother.
  • He was found in the middle of a field, laughing and crying, and was brought to the hospital.
  • He left the hospital believing that he was fine, but is now really not so sure about that.

Again, this is kind of treading Thomas Covenant’s ground here, but Adam’s not exactly a leper. When he left the hospital, he was on board with the idea that he had “experienced a near-total disassociative state of mental dissonance.” But now that he’s home alone, that conviction is very quickly becoming more and more tenuous as his memories/delusion intrudes. Here’s what he remembers (or thinks he remembers):

  • A snowmelt stream and high, impassable mountains.
  • A woman with him by the stream.
  • A great voice, possibly that of a dragon, saying, “Very well, then. We are agreed.”
  • His arm being burned.
  • A great mansion, gilded and perched atop a high mountain.
  • A woman with eyes as blue as the sky on a late autumn day and skin that was deep, almost impossible violet, and her breath smelled of honey when they kissed.
  • Red skies and rain that burned and great insects that flew and carried people off only to drop them from the sky.
  • A blade in his hand that sang to him and called down the lightning when he needed it.
  • There was a stone, and that stone was a key.
  • There was a door, but it wasn’t a door.
  • “There was a path, and it was a path he could not see but he walked anyway and it led him to her. To the keep. To the dragon and the battle and the promise. And the field.”

Okay, then. How about them apples?

I could ride the idea for a while that maybe Adam really had this experience and maybe he really is nuts, but that would bore me pretty quickly. It’s the kind of story that has to be done with great skill and care, and honestly I’m not sure that I could pull it off without making mincemeat of the whole thing. And besides, I’m already convinced in my head: his experience was real. Very real. And it’s far, far from over.

There are a whole lot of questions that need to be answered here, and part of that is because I’ve started him off at the nadir of his adventures.

You see, in really good hero stories, the hero has to be brought low. Really low. And he has to ask himself if all that he’s going through is really worth it, or if he should just give up. And at this point, the author stands there in front of a nice, shiny door and holds it open for him, and says, “Look – we can end this now. You go your way, I go mine. Sure, there are plot points that need to be resolved, but if you’re not ready to take this all the way, I understand. Here’s the door.”

The hero needs to look long and hard at that way out, that simple means of getting off this insane ride. And if the story is going to work at all, then the hero has to want to see it through more than he wants that nice, easy way out. So he turns his back on the door, and the author smiles and shakes his head knowingly and you hear the soft, irreversible click of the door closing forever.

That’s where Adam is as we start this story. He could go back to the hospital and have treatment after treatment until he’s well and truly sure that everything he’d gone through was a delusion. That would be the easy way out. Or he could find his way back and finish what he started.

Seeing as how this nadir usually comes in right in front of the big climax of the story, that means I have a whole lot of back-story to deal with. Including, but not limited to:

  • What is this world that he went to?
  • How did he get there in the first place?
  • Who was that woman?
  • What bargain did he strike with the dragon?
  • What role did he play in this other world?
  • Why and how did he come back to his own world?
  • What does he still need to do to complete his quest?
  • How will he get back to that other world?
  • Will he ever return to his world again?

Exploring those questions is going to be a hell of a ride. I look forward to it, though.

Day Two Hundred and Eighteen: Daughter of Power

December 25, 2011 Leave a comment

For the month of December, I’ll be world-building. This means taking a look at the people, places, and institutions that I have created over the last six months and trying to figure out more about them. This will involve a look at the stories in which they’ve appeared, and then some speculation, stream-of-consciousness writing, and with any luck a few revelations. In addition, I may come back and add new material as the Elves in my unconscious ship out new ideas, so I’ll be sure to link them up.

Your feedback as readers is, of course, more than welcome. There are probably questions that I’m forgetting to ask and holes that I need to fill.

Wish me luck!

——————

Okay, let’s take a look at one of my earlier characters, from a story that really could benefit from some serious re-working.

Elli Acton is the only daughter of a very powerful man – Wilford Acton, who founded Acton Informatics. She’s appeared in two stories, only the first of which is canonical. The second, however, still reveals a bit about her character, so we’ll use it here.

4: Daddy’s Little Firecracker

  • Her full name is Eleanor.
  • She has been divorced more than once.
  • She doesn’t often talk to her father – nor does she seem to want to.
  • She believes that he has interfered in her life somehow.
  • She has brought a gun with her that she plans to use on her father.

82: The Value of Information

  • Elli sometimes reacts with violence when her father is mentioned.
  • She likes to read non-fiction.
  • She has little patience with guys who try to chat her up.

And that’s about it. Clearly the key to understanding Elli is understanding why she hates her father so much. I mean, she really did mean to kill the man, and if you’re going to do that then there has to be some pretty serious hate going on.

My first impulse is to say that it has a lot to do with her father’s work. That’s usually a pretty good starting point, and having a distant, unapproachable father has been a reliable trope in fiction since, well, forever. But it can’t just be that he works too much, and I think it’s the information we get in the second story that really may provide the key. The narrative says, of Acton and his company:

[Wilford Acton] was the founder of Acton Informatics, which began as a maker and supplier of customer listings back in the late 70s. As technology improved, Acton and his company became the premier designers of databases in the nation, and were now supplying programs and programmers to nearly every major government and corporation on the planet.

Michael, the POV character in that story, wants to work with Acton to create a system that essentially anticipates the wants and needs of consumers by way of monitoring their purchases and finances. So for example, if their credit card activity shows an increase in social activity – like going to bars or restaurants or clubs – then they might receive coupons to local eateries. Someone who lost their job, whose credit activity might be showing a lot of late-night internet purchases, might see a lot more ads for counseling popping up in their browser.

Now, it’s ethically dubious at best, but here’s what I think is going on: Acton Informatics has been doing this for a while now.

I’ve noticed that my Evil Corporations tend to be specialists. Cerbecorp is the best at security, Munin Scientific is the best at memory and storage. Acton is the best at processing and manipulating information. I’ll have to do a longer piece on them before the month is out.

What it boils down to, however, is that Wilford Acton used his daughter as a kind of test case. He managed to collect enough of her data that he could predict her actions with incredible accuracy, and spent years manipulating her into certain decisions. At least one marriage, a job, moving to a new city, that kind of thing.

Elli found out (How? That’s a good question.) and she was exactly as upset as you might expect someone to be. She wavers between trying to pretend her father doesn’t exist and focusing her laser-like fury on him. She absolutely refuses to forgive him for what he did, and has no interest in finding out why he did it. As far as she’s concerned, it was an unforgivable violation of her trust, and she will spend the rest of her days hating him.

Naturally, this makes Elli a difficult person to get close to. She trusts very, very few people, and even those only conditionally. She takes any possible association with her father or his company as a sign of betrayal, and is not willing to hear anything good said about him.

This, of course, offers up a couple of interesting story possibilities. One, of course, is Reconciliation. One way or another, Elli is forced to listen to her father’s reason and understand why he did what he did. She needs to be given the choice to forgive him, rather than completely denying the possibility.

The second story possibility is an Alliance. As much as she hates her father and everything he is associated with, there may come a day when she needs his help more than she needs to hate him. The alliance would be fragile and uncomfortable, but it might go a way towards that reconciliation storyline.

I’m really lucky, actually – I get along very well with my parents. I find it hard, and a little sad, to try and put myself in the position of someone whose relationship with their parents has degenerated into virulent hatred. Maybe in order to help Elli to overcome her issues with her father, I should look into the stories of people with such poisonous relations. How did it start? How was it healed, if at all? Why would hating someone for years be preferable to finding some level of forgiveness?

I suppose that’s one of the real benefits of writing – you get to explore these questions without actually putting yourself through them.