Saturday, January 29, 2011

The Pericles Commission

I'm reading The Pericles Commission. It's a murder mystery set in ancient Greece, in the time of Pericles. Sometimes the atmosphere is wonderful, sometimes I'm not sure if it feels quite right to me. I'm not far enough along for any accidental spoilers, so I'll just say Socrates is the detective's 12 year old younger brother, and the fate of Democracy is at stake!

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Resistance is Futile

I grew up with Star Trek reruns, and longed for more episodes for a long time. I was less interested by the time they actually came, and never bonded completely with the new characters. When many other shows followed the Next Generation, I only caught an episode of one now and then.

Yet they've given us at least one idea of enduring fascination. The Borg Collective. Forget your iPod? No problem. You can play video games on the inside of your eyes when boring people insist on talking to you. To function at peak capacity the elements of the Borg should have high endorphin levels. Fortunately sex will do this, and a properly informed nexus will be better at finding compatible partners than individuals would be at pairing themselves off. Imagine the things a mind composed of many brains could understand, not just about technology, but philosophy and the universe.

What's that you say? What about losing your individuality and being enslaved? Well, it could happen, but the automatic assumption says more about us than Borg Collectives. Would bees live fuller and happier lives if not for the subtle control of the hive, or do they exert that control on themselves, because that is how they are suited to live? How about ants? If our brain cells tried to live individual lives in a pond, they would probably die in short order. Many human brain cells live as long as we do, a long life for a single cell. Not a bad gig, and I don't know if they would truly experience anything as profound as consciousness if they had individual 'individuality'.

Could it be we can form a Borganism if and only if we are suited to one?

Maybe, but no technology comes without dangers, and no software works perfectly without being debugged and alpha and beta tested. If you install new software and hardware in your brain, the warranty may be voided.

This is the central conflict of my new novel. Brett Johnson hates hive minds, yet is called to persuade one to surrender peacefully to avert a war that will cost millions of lives. He falls in love with a woman who is part of the hive mind, and begins to doubt that it truly destroys people's individuality. He must avoid being used as a tool by something that may well want to absorb humanity, but fears he's being used by some of his own superiors who may after all want war.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Big Ideas

The other thing I love about Bujold is that great characterization never comes at the expense of great ideas. Cryogenic storage which can keep people in suspended animation until science finds a cure for a disease is a staple of science fiction. But nobody has thought out the secondary consequences as well as she has. Even people who are just old may help science will extend their lifespans - but what happens if almost everyone wants to be kept alive?

Some of her questions deal mostly with her own universe, at least superficially. But many will come back to bite us in a slightly different form if cryogenic suspension becomes real. Unlike some of her imaginary worlds, political votes can't be delegated. But people won't give most of their property to their heirs if they expect to need it after revival. How will the trust funds assigned to represent their interests make their investments? And in some industries, takeovers and mergers about, due to economies of scale.

If the technology does become real, nobody has done more than Bujold to prepare us for the bumpy road ahead. And unlike characterization, this is mostly unique to science fiction.

I too hope to address the human condition in a unique way, not because the technology I describe is likely to come in the exact way I describe it, but by looking at an ancient fear and desire in an entirely new light.

Monday, January 17, 2011


One of the few books I've bought new in hardcover is Cryoburn by Lois McMaster Bujold. I love Miles Vorkosigan, and I've been waiting a long time for the next in the series.

As an author, I've been thinking about what I can learn from her. Certainly Miles has plenty of weaknesses, meaning both vulnerabilities and character flaws. One of the reasons I always pull for him is because sometimes his stunts don't work, although his adventures usually come out well in the end. I love Nero Wolfe and Archie Goodwin too, but they've gotten away with so much I sometimes hope to see them fall off the tightrope.

Miles Vorkosigan doesn't just have random flaws to make him human either. All his flaws are related to his strong points. His brilliance and creativity can lead to mistakes a conformist would not have made. His confidence and independence can lead him to break rules which actually have good reasons behind them, and suffer the consequences. And his personal courage creates headaches for his associates. But he always takes responsibility for his mistakes, and busts his behind fixing them.

Bujold is a big name in science fiction now, which also gives her high expectations to meet. I've been thinking about how she satisfies both those of us looking forward to seeing Miles again, and new readers encountering him for the first time. Since he's garnered responsibility and power as a result of previous adventures, a new reader might not empathize with him if she began at the wrong point. But we meet him after he's just barely escaped some kidnappers, desperately wandering through a huge maze full of people in cryogenic suspension, hallucinating from drugs the kidnappers gave him, hungry and thirsty. His acutity is on display in his quirky thoughts about his hallucinations, and there are hints of his importance elsewhere, but neither can help him now, as he seeks escape while his thirst gets ever worse.

Before my latest rewrite, several people told me the same thing about my novel. They had trouble bonding with the main character. I knew how awesome he was, but it didn't come out in the first pages. I had a similar problem in reverse with a short story. The reader was supposed to be waiting for the protagonist to take a fall, but the editor of the magazine I submitted to didn't feel emotional involvement with him.

I guess I know what to check for first in my future novels and stories.

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Been There, Done That, Wrote the Synopsis

Well, it's been nine months since I last blogged. So this is my bloggy rebirth.

Much has happened since then. I received my first pair of novel reviews from Deadly Prose, and became frustrated. Eventually I rewrote and got two more critiques. For the first time someone felt and enjoyed the effect I was trying to create, but there were still plenty more changes to make. I rewrote again. Now different critiquers are giving me different advice, and the advice I haven't yet followed doesn't feel right to me, so I'll probably wait for suggestions from an agent or editor before making more changes.

I've written the synopsis, sought advice on it both in a forum and on Deadly Prose.

Does that mean I'm ready to start querying? Well, I've read you should put a manuscript aside a month or so and work on your next novel awhile before submitting the completed one. I have three more novels in various states of completion, so once I do make my first sale, the pace of one a year shouldn't be too hard to keep up.