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From Worldbuilding to Characters

Everyone rights in a different way. Everyone starts a story in a different way. Most stories (I think) come from an idea of some sort, contained in one of the three aspects of the literary holy trinity of character, plot, and setting. Some writers start with a character, and imagine the events in their life (plot) and the society (world) that produced them, and develop their story around that. Others start with a plot (I wanna write a story about a group of cyberpunk mafiosos fighting the cheese-loving lunar people!), and from that develop a world (cyberpunk future in which mutant mice have gained sentience and telepathy and taken over the moon and human cheese supplies) and characters (the head mafioso and the head mouse).

Then there are writer’s like me, who tend to start with a world and then build characters and plot from it. My large “Juxian Mythos” universe (which I write in far less than I should, alas) was created from this process. I started with a pantheon of gods (the Elders and Ancients), and from that developed a mythology involving the end of the universe, and then imagined the peoples that populated it. Before I had even thought of point of view characters or a plot, I had thought out the history of this world (billions of years of it, from the start of the universe) and the major historical figures, events, wars, and imperial expansions.

Once I had a firm grasp on the universe and world(s) I would be operating in, I was able to pick historically interesting times to set a story in. The discovery of earth and its integration in universal society? The Jakken Trilogy. The foundation of the space druids? The (very) work in progress Tal’kan Saga. The infamous S’kari-Aleuvite War? A Deadly Dance. By having the whole of history to play with, I was able to identify moments that would be able to house interesting plot for stories (and would allow me to flesh out this world with multiple stories).

Once the macro-plot for a story was chosen, then it was time to select characters. When creating characters, you are selecting a point of view, a perspective from which you and the reader will see the world and experience the plot. Sometimes these characters are historically significant figures (such as Jakken), but side characters can also provide a unique perspective on the world and its action, especially when a non-elite commoner is telling us what is going on (something I employ, somewhat, in Sundering Stars)However, in this process, it is usually important to have at least one character be historically significant; you want the character to accomplish something worthwhile, don’t you (especially in my space opera-style science fiction)?

After you have your character, you then have the ability to create smaller plots around them. By selecting the relevant event, you have the larger plot, but not your focal characters’ roles in it. You develop those through sub-plots and micro-plots, where your character is the driving force, rather than the history of the world. Thus, my own process of story generation creates two levels of plots: history-driven macro-plots that produce big ideas, and character-driven micro-plots that add depth to the world (this dual nature of plots I will discuss in a future post)!

That, in a nutshell, is how I generate stories; from worldbuilding to characters. It is similar to how I run roleplaying games; I create a sandbox for characters to play in and shape, except instead of players playing characters, I control them all. While this method is especially useful for world in which you intend to set multiple stories, you can also use this method for one off stories, especially if you are exploring sociological ideas. Though initially character driven, Sundering Stars developed along a similar process (the above description being more of an ideal type process). I knew I wanted to include one particular character, but then I created a massive history in the world she lived in, and created other characters based on the world, not on her.

So, the story-generation process is messy, and I’d be interested to hear how other people come up with the ideas for their own stories. But for now, happy writing (and reading)!

 
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Posted by on March 30, 2015 in Writing

 

Time Enough For Love and The Dispossessed

It’s been a while since I updated my readers (few and far between though you are!) on my reading list (or much else, for that matter). I have, of late, been tearing through Terry Pratchett novels (rest in peace, Sir Terry), which are as brilliant, witty, and insightful as always (though I must admit, Unseen Academicals disappointed me; it started so strong and went in a direction I was ambivalent about; I think there weren’t enough wizards in it, in the end). I also, a while ago, made it through two more science fiction “classics” written by authors at opposite ends of the political spectrum: Robert Heinlein’s Time Enough for Love, and Ursula K LeGuin’s The Dispossessed.

Heinlein’s novel is really a collection of short stories linked together in varying ways. Some of these short stories are told by one of Heinlein’s recurring characters, the inestimable Lazarus Long/Woodrow Wilson Smith, while others chart Long’s “present day” situation. The stories range from the charming (“The Tale of the Man Who Was Too Lazy to Fail”) to the annoyingly technical (“The Tale of the Twins Who Weren’t”), to the somewhat… unsettling (“The Tale of the Adopted Daughter”) to the bizarre (“De Capo”) to the thought-provoking (“Boondock”). Scattered throughout these stories are collections of Lazarus Long’s ‘sayings,’ some of which were amusing, some sensible, and most were annoying to someone who did not share his particular political beliefs.

As was the case with Stranger in a Strange Land, Heinlein’s work here focuses on sex, and particularly what people today would consider somewhat transgressive sex. Heinlein was a vocal proponent of free love, and his treatment of open sexual/familial relationships was thought-provoking in “The Boondocks,” even if the early sexualization of his clones was slightly off-putting. However, in “The Tale of the Adopted Daughter” Lazarus (a thinly-veiled stand-in for the author) sleeps with his adopted daughter, and in “The Tale of the Twins Who Weren’t” there is brother/sister-like sex (it’s a bit more complex than that, though). In the series’ finale, Long also infamously falls in love with and sleeps with his mother. Somewhat taboo subjects, some of which I will admit made me squirm, but I am glad that Heinlein made me do that and question by own thoughts about human sexuality. Kudos to him for that.

Overall, the collection was uneven; some stories were slow-paced or boring, including most of the “current day” stories, while others were much more engaging and really drew me in. Throughout, however, the writing was brilliant; I read this book right after a lot of Asimov, so I appreciated the flowing writing.

LeGuin’s The Dispossessed was almost perfect. While Heinlein deals with free love, she deals with free people – sort of. In her short novel (a part of the larger Hainish cycle), there is a planet and a moon: the planet (Urras) is a reflection of contemporary Earthly society, and consists of various nations dominated by a capitalist logic, while the moon is inhabited by anarcho-communist rebels, given the moon (Anarres) to settle as part of a deal with the larger governments on the planet. The story follows a brilliant physicist named Shevek from the resource-poor moon Anarres who travels to Urras in the name of science, only to discover the good and the bad of this alien society, having grown up without the idea of property.

What makes this novel work is the comparison between the two planets. The work is structured in alternating chapters, one detailing Shevek’s coming of age on Anarres, and one detailing his adventures on Urras, with the two meeting up in time in the final chapter. The two different timelines complement each other beautifully, and thoughtfully portray the culture shock of this switch, as well as how political power functions in a capitalist society, and in an anarchist one. Neither planet and neither society is a utopia (though LeGuin clearly favors the anarchist society, and I am inclined to agree). Even the theoretically utopian anarchist society has its problems in the form of pseudo-states and social vagrants.

The most interesting thing about the novel to me, though, was the language. On Anarres, there is no property, and the language used reflects this. For example, individuals never say “my handkerchief,” but “the handkerchief I use.” The author also made a nice distinction between property and personal possessions in the vein of Communist theory, which was appreciated.

The only thing that prevented it from being perfect was the ending, which felt like a cop-out with the Terrans and Hainish keeping Shevek’s science from being used for political gain in a deus ex machina. That being said, the ending didn’t ruin the novel, but made it less than it could have been.

I am now making my way through LeGuin’s Left Hand of Darkness, but am having trouble with it because it reads like an ethnography (not surprising given that LeGuin was raised by anthropologists), so it feels like homework to me!

But until next time, ta-ta!

 
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Posted by on March 28, 2015 in Readings

 

The Plot of Dreadship Omnipotence

Hello everybody! It’s been a while (far too long of a while) since I last wrote a post here (and even longer on my poor EsoTarot blog… though that blog has consistently high views!). I’ve been rather busy of late with classes, TAing, and most importantly, working on my MA thesis, which I am proud to say is pretty much done at this point; I’ve just got to get the paperwork done, then start thinking about how to turn it into separate conference presentations and get two publishable papers from it! Then on to the preliminary exams and thinking about dissertation work…

But that aside, I have come to write that post I had promised oh so many months ago, and talk a little bit about the plot of my current central work in progress, Dreadship Omnipotence! I’m still chugging along on it (albeit very slowly), though most of my attention (creatively, at least) has been on the Eldritch Wastes. Most of my progress on Dreadship has been in the form of ideas and outlining.

I’ve talked in the past about the world and characters, and now I want to talk (or write) some about the plot! As a reminder (it’s been so long!), Dreadship Omnipotence revolves around a darker Firefly-style type band of criminals in a transhuman interstellar and many-politied human society.

The novel itself will be the first of three, and follows the exploits of this crew as they struggle first to survive in a world that they have rejected, and then as they try to save perhaps the entire human race in a shadow war against a horrifying godlike being from the future. Along the way, the novel will explore the histories of each member of the crew and examine the reasons behind why they have dropped out of a seemingly utopian society.

The defining elements of the plot are contained, I think in the words “cyberpunk space opera.” The plot is grand and involves gods and struggle over the nature of humanity (in a similar way to Neon Genesis Evangelion, actually), thus being a “space opera.” On the other hand, the plot – not just the setting – is also “cyberpunk.” So, not only does the novel take place in a world dominated by digital networks (not to mention transhuman modifications), the plot also revolves around a group of misfits raging against a society they see as marginalizing them somehow and who, eventually, seek to expose it for the dystopia it really is.

Unlike typical cyberpunk stories, however, the main characters aren’t the only enlightened individuals in a world of dopes. As the characters become more devoted to their quest to expose the sick underbelly of human social organization, they will all begin to discover that perhaps it is not that society rejected them, but the other way around. Society is by no means perfect, but neither are the individuals in it. The noble anti-heroes in our story, thus, aren’t entirely correct about the dystopian nature of society. For most, society actually works pretty well. Thus, in the plot, I hope to explore a more nuanced relationship between the individual and society, as the main cast struggles to figure out why they can’t live with society, and what parts of society work well, and what parts they think don’t.

Against this smaller-scale cyberpunk conflict (deviants vs. society) is a larger one, the space opera side. This conflict is in the spirit of H. P. Lovecraft’s famed opening to “The Call of Cthulhu,” in which he writes that “[t]he sciences, each straining in its own direction, have hitherto harmed us little; but some day the piecing together of dissociated knowledge will open up such terrifying vistas of reality, and of our frightful position therein, that we shall either go mad from the revelation or flee from the deadly light into the peace and safety of a new dark age.” As our renegades go gallivanting across various human polities, committing crimes and living on the edge, they begin exploring the deep secrets that society holds, and find themselves a conspiracy. This conspiracy is not what they expect, however; they find that there has been a secret war waged for countless years by a select group of politically powerful scientists against an alien entity from the future, and then find themselves drawn into this struggle rather against their will.

Thus, the plot of Dreadship Omnipotence operates at two levels: one concerning individual-society relations, and the other society-universe relations. Camp NaNoWriMo is coming up in a few days, and I hope to get at least another 25,000 words done for it! Until next time, I leave you with this excerpt:

***

A run-down, rusted airbus clattered by overhead, and Idim had to dodge a falling screw as it fell from the bus and ricocheted off a nearby wall. At least the walls are mostly clean, Idim though to himself as he continued to walk through the city. I bet this used to be inhabited by the planet’s richest, and when they left to go up into space – probably to escape this awful gravity, urgh – they just left this city undefended, and the rabble moved in. Or else they helped the rabble move in to exploit them more. That would explain the shiny building here in the center of town… leftover, state of the art buildings from decades ago…

“Oh, Utopia,” Idim said under his breath. “Where did you go wrong?”

“Oh, Utopia was never right, sir,” a sweet voice said behind him. Idim whirled around, hand resting on the handle of his energy pistol – only to find it wasn’t there. Instead, he found himself facing a little girl, a mischievous grin plastered over her face.

“Wanna see a magic trick?” she said, eyes flashing. “It’ll only cost ya’ five credits.”

“Or I could just beat my weapon out of you,” Idim said. “My counter-offer is rather reasonable; you give me my weapon back, and I let you live.”

“Oh, I don’t have your weapon, mister,” the girl said. “But I can get it back for you with my magical powers.”

Idim sighed. “Street artist, are we? Entertaining the poor folks of Utopia who can’t even afford it?”

“Oh, we can afford it all right. It really isn’t so bad here. Actually, it got much better once the ‘stocracy left us well enough alone, and let us run our own affairs. We just let them think they’re ruling us from their plush little castles in the sky. They’re weak and fat and utterly clueless; they don’t know how to control the local wires. That’s what Rubyn does; messes with their wire feeds. Utopia’s ours now; the ‘stocracy’s trapped in its own little prison, mostly, and so we leave each other well enough alone.” The little girl grinned. “So Utopia’s never been right, but it’s been a lot worse. We’re rebuildin’, see, and the folks ‘round here need some cheerin’ up from us ‘tainers. So, do you wanna see my magic trick or not, mister? Ten credits.”

Idim snorted. “No trick of yours is worth that much. Your story wasn’t worth much, either; in fact, I think you should pay me to listen to your little propaganda piece.” In one smooth motion, Idim scooped up the girl, ducked into an alley, and pinned her against the wall, holding her up by her throat. Her eyes bulged out. Idim smiled as sweetly as he could. “So, little lady, I’ve got two questions for you. The first is when are you going to give me back my pistol, and the second is who do you work for?”

“Told… you…” the girl gasped. “I… don’t… have… it… and… I… work… for… myself!”

“I’ve got the weapon, mister,” said a small yet confident voice from behind the captain. “Drop the girl.”

Idim turned around to see a second girl, his rifle in her hand, aiming it at his head. Idim tensed his muscles to move, and the girl fired the weapon. The energy pulse went right by his head, missing him by an inch, and scorched the metal wall of the building slightly. Idim narrowed his eyes and released the other girl, who fell to the ground, clutching her throat and coughing.

“Hands in the air,” the armed girl said. “And why don’t you just go ahead and transfer five hundred credits to the public transfer account you’re being invited to.” The girl grinned. Idim looked briefly at the invitation to pay, and then dismissed it. Immediately, the girl in front of him frowned. “Do you want me to shoot your ears off? I’ll give you one last chance.”

“I bet you will,” Idim said, and then he turned around and reached down the half-choked girl’s dress. The girl shrieked and batted at his hand, but Idim ignored it, pulling his pistol out from between the space where her breasts would grow. “A bit young to use that as a hiding place,” the captain said.

“Drop the weapon or I’ll shoot!” the other girl said.

Idim straightened up. “You two are a bunch of crooks and scam artists. She’s a good pickpocket though,” he said, gesturing to the shaking girl on the ground. “You should treat her better. She’s more adept than you. And cuter.”

“Shut up!” the girl said, and shot her pistol again, scorching another spot on the wall.

“Though your forced overlay alterations aren’t bad,” Idim continued, walking towards the armed girl, “you made a few crucial mistakes. One, though the gun’s energy pulse went right by my face, I felt no heat. You should have aimed further away. Reduced effect, I know, but more convincing. Two, you painted scorch marks on chromstel. Chromstel doesn’t burn or rust. And third, what the hell kind of pistol goes ‘splort?’ Couldn’t you have found a better stock sound?”

“I was in a hurry,” the girl muttered. The gun vanished from Idim’s sight, and the girl crossed her arms. “You can go now.”

“Can I? Oh, thank you; your beneficence knows no bounds.” Idim bowed graciously, and then kicked the girl’s legs out from under her before sauntering away. “Pick your prey better next time,” he called back as he walked back out into the main street, hand firmly resting on his pistol’s handle.

 
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Posted by on March 26, 2015 in Writing

 

The World of Dreadship Omnipotence

I have spent the last few days living in another world, in my final push to finish the first 50,000 words of Dreadship Omnipotence in time for the end of National Novel Writing Month. I have succeeded in my goal, and Dreadship Omnipotence currently stands (in digital form) at about 53,000 words – and I feel as if things have only just gotten started. On that front, it seems like the final novel will come in at around 250,000 words (my estimate), and that in all likelihood this will become a trilogy, with the other two books being Dreadship Omniscience and Dreadship Omnipresence (spoilers!).

But, all of that aside, NaNoWriMo 2014 was a success! Alas, for the time being I need to make up for lost time spent on academic pursuits, so progress on the novel will be a little bit slow for these next two weeks. But for this week, for right now, I am going to talk (or write, rather) about the world of Dreadship Omnipotence, carrying over from my discussion of the characters last week. And of course, world-building is my favorite part of the writing process, so I have a lot to say.

Like a great deal of science fiction, Dreadship Omnipotence takes place in the distant future (there is deliberately no explicit date), when humanity has left Earth and colonized the stars (or rather, the planets orbiting them). If I had to summarize the world in a single sentence, it would be ” distant future in which the human race has colonized other planets and begun to evolve into something more, with different groups traveling different evolutionary paths driven by various types of rapid technological change.”

What does this mean, though?

The fundamental factor underlying this world is that technology has changed what it means to be human. The different and varied effects of this technology on mankind is most readily seen in the various different “branches” of mankind, who have changed their bodies and minds to adapt to their technology.

There are two groups of transhumans (“normal” humans are exceedingly rare, now), known as the “Twin Tribes of Man.” The Srivans rely on robots to perform the most meaningful tasks and were the first to create a post-scarcity society. In this society, personal cultivation is key, and the Srivans devote themselves to science and culture. They travel in nomadic “courts” through space, seeking new experiences. Over the course of their existence, they have developed superhuman abilities through genetic manipulation and technologically-enhanced training regimens. From this group have evolved the post-human “godlings;” individuals who have developed an ability to control matter on large and small scales.

The second, and by far the larger, group of transhumans are the Jayns, who are also the focus of Dreadship Omnipotence. Instead of relying on robots, the Jayns rely on advanced nanotechnology which has allowed them to live much longer, develop new, non-human creatures, and connect everyone together into the ironically-named “wire” (the galactic internet).  Along with these advances, Jayns have also developed the means to “digitize” consciousness, and thereby switch consciousnesses between bodies, albeit at a hefty price and much inconvenience. The defining feature of the Jayns is their connection to the wire, which they can interact with via computers, small phones, or most commonly, by nanobots which are passed down by parents (in the rare case of live birth) or inserted into fetuses (in the more common case of artificial birth) that allow individuals to manipulate a “digital overlay” over their vision that lets them view content the nanobots receive from the wire.

The Jayns inhabit planets, and are not nomadic like the Srivans. They are roughly divided into various sociopolitical entities; the totalitarian Dominion, the theocratic Imperium of Man, the free-wheeling and fluctuating Communes, and the Seven Nations (the most powerful Communes). The Communes are the largest part of Jaynic society, and are generally small, sub-planetary groups that live however they see fit, creating various types of sociopolitical systems. They defend each other against the Dominion and Imperium, and rally behind the more structured Seven Nations.

But the Jayns have also begun to develop post-human life forms as well, somewhat along class lines. The wealthiest Jayns have begun to develop telepathy, which they use to further cement their position. Certain investigations into telepathy yielded the creation of artificial transhuman beings known as “psiks,” which are consciousnesses that can possess human bodies.

The members of certain Communes also managed to diffuse their consciousness among millions of self-replicating nanobots, and thus created swarms of nanobots united by a common consciousness. These Communes have become known as the Nanopublics.

A third, and the most dangerous, post-human created by the Jayns are the “wyrdlings,” which are being that exist beyond space and time. Like psiks, they are artificial, and (spoiler!) are the subject of Dreadship Omnipotence.

Of course, thrown onto all of this evolution is the wire, which is really a conglomeration of different “sub-wires” and ansibles linked together under the “all-wire” that connects most of humanity with each other. This allows for nearly instant communication between individuals across huge distances of space, and also has created a crutch upon which many Jayns rely. This aspect of Dreadship Omnipotence was inspired by Eclipse Phase, and thus has many similarities to it. Related to this, virtual reality is also a major part of the world of Dreadship Omnipotence, but to say too much on this subject would, alas, spoil too much.

So there you have it; an introduction to the world of Dreadship Omnipotence.  Next week, I’ll talk a little bit about the plot. Ta-ta for now!

(c). Z. M. Wilmot

 
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Posted by on November 26, 2014 in Writing

 

The Characters of Dreadship Omnipotence

It’s been over a week since National Novel Writing Month for 2014 began, and I’m currently ahead of the curve. After a rough weekend in which I was forced to bury myself in my academic work and fall behind, I managed to pull through and jump ahead again on Sunday night. Alas, I am still (almost 10,000 words) behind on my reverse NaNoWriMo plan, but hopefully I can make that up soon (despite a wave of papers that need grading)!

So, this week, I wanted to talk (or write, rather) a little bit more about the characters of this year’s NaNoProject and my current central WIP for the forseeable future. I am very excited about this project – more excited about it than I have been about any project in a long while – and part of this attribute to the origins of the story, which I briefly described in last year’s post. Most importantly, unlike most previous works, I actually started this project with the characters, and then fused them with a world I’d been thinking about separately, and I absolutely love both world and characters (I love the plot, too, but it’s rather convoluted and not as “set” as the characters and world are).

So, who are these brave souls that will be exploring my grand cyberpunk universe? Why, they’re the crew of the spacefaring vessel Lysandra (at the moment), and are a group of smugglers, pirates, assassins, and mercenaries willing to do whatever shady job you want! If this cast sounds familiar, it’s probably because it is; as I mentioned before, part of the character set-up for this novel is based on Firefly and other similar shows. However, unlike the crew of Serenity, the crew of the Lysandra do not quibble too much about what jobs they take on, and cover a much wider range of them. There are no war heroes with strong senses of justice on this crew to keep them in check; all that keeps them together are money and a shared sense of camaraderie developed over a long period of putting up with each other. Unlike the crew of Serenity, they have only a very slight moral compass.

This is not to say that the main cast consists only of cruel and vicious characters who would sell their own grandmother for a penny. They’re not heartless; they just care about themselves and those in their social networks significantly more than they care about anyone else. They will not hesitate to kill or do unsavory jobs, even it means hurting a lot of people. They stay afloat at the bottom of society, and don’t have the luxury of being too choosy. They do what has to be done, and have no regrets.

So, in some ways, they’re like a nastier version of Firefly’s crew. But who are they, actually? They come from all walks of life, but here’s a brief teaser of each of the main cast:

Idim Jyn – The charismatic captain of the ship and an insufferable prankster, he acts like a bumbling idiot most of the time to hide his true intelligence. He has an incredibly disciplined mind and is capable of mental feats few can master, and on top of that is a master of both strategy and tactics. He does have a warm heart beneath his cold, analytic mindset, but it takes a lot to bring it out, and even then he reserves it mostly for people he knows or people he thinks will be useful. Idim is always willing to give everyone a fair chance to prove themselves to him, but he does not believe in second chances. He remembers little about his childhood, except that it was awful, and briefly held a post as a military analyst and mercenary for a short-lived and little-known terrorist group before it disbanded. He despises most forms of virtual reality, though is more than competent with other technology that lets him interact with the digital networks of the universe, known as “wires.”

Tathal Litenz – The ship’s first mate and pilot, Tathal is a very troubled woman. She doesn’t remember who she originally was, as she digitized her consciousness long ago and has had it transferred between a wide variety of bodies before losing all of her wealth and getting stuck with the semi-reanimated corpse of a drug addict on the planet of Utopia. She looks like a mess and needs a rather constant supply of drugs to fuel the broken body she currently inhabits, and she strives desperately to gain access to one of the rare facilities where she can change bodies again. She is gruff, easily angered, blunt, and unwilling to compromise. She tolerates Idim Jyn and respects his intelligence, but is somewhat distant from the rest of the crew. No one understands why she is the first mate, and not Krisval Orteck.

Krisval Orteck – Krisval hates his name, and when he was old enough had it changed to “Melkorh” after his favorite evil entity in his favorite holodrama. He also has a pet robotic mouse named “Soron.” Melkorh is the ship’s engineer, and is not comfortable with the digitization of the world, and was only dragged into the realm of organic nanobots and the wire kicking and screaming. He is brilliant with hardware, however (and some of the relevant software), and possesses a mechanical arm that not only houses a huge variety of tools, but can also be used as a dangerous weapon. He is insecure and quiet, yet extremely competent. He is one of Idim’s closest friends, and understands him on a level no one else does.

Marek Syonda  A short, plump, heavily bearded man dubbed the team’s “Demolitions and Distractions” specialist. He is a brilliant hacker of local wires, as well as an expert in demolitions. He speaks very formally and thinks of himself as an artist and gentleman. He is an infamous media bomber, and is wanted under numerous identities for “hazards to public knowledge,” not to mention terrorism. Despite his mild-mannered and kindly appearance, Marek has little regard for anyone he does not know personally; to him, everyone he doesn’t know is just an abstraction and could even be a false creation in an increasingly digital universe. As such, while he is kind in person, he has no problem with killing large quantities of people to achieve his ends or unseating entire media systems to distract people from what his friends are up to. Problems are only real when they affect him and those he knows; otherwise, he could not care less. The digital and social experience of mankind, to him, is a blank canvas.

Bygorj Vishtahl – A former Druidic priest of the Empire of Man, he was cast out for his unorthodox ways. He inhabits an inhuman body, being a ten-foot tall, green-furred minotaur/satyr hybrid. He believes that all life and matter is linked together through quantum resonance, and so that death is largely meaningless, and is merely a reordering of the great god Pan’s affairs. As such, he has no qualms about killing and feels no remorse, no matter the victim. He serves as the crew’s doctor and cook (he used to get those two jobs mixed up, but he’s better now), and is also extremely devoted to spreading the word of Pan to anyone who will listen – and many who won’t.

Lemi Forsath – An orphan from the planet Utopia, Tathal picked her up to force her to repay a debt, and Lemi now works as a cabin-girl on the ship, performing odd tasks and helping where she can. She is very young, being only about ten years old, but spent her whole life on the streets. She is a brilliant digital artist, and is a master of projecting images into other peoples’ heads. She dreams of being a big holodrama producer some day. She gets along well with most of the crew, save for Idim and Melkorh, who both have a distaste for her digital art and find her more annoying than anything.

Fitnaya Almakry – Introduced under the alias Khoresh Eylkaum, Fitta is one of mankind’s most feared assassins, most wanted criminals, and a sniper beyond compare. She is also a very skilled hacker, though has trouble hacking on the fly, and so is very fond of careful planning. She makes use of ubiquitous security cameras to line up her shots after hacking into their feeds, and uses surprisingly small, yet powerful, pistols to do her job. She joins the crew initially as an extra hired hand on a mission, but circumstances later force her to join them permanently and reveal her true identity. She is very intolerant of incompetence and is rather caustic and sarcstic. She strongly dislikes Idim, but comes to eventually recognize his competence.

Obri Hathorken –  The crew’s part-time intern, Obri handles mid-range planning and is an expert in both nanotechnlogy and superlocal wire hacking. While Marek hacks the small stuff, Obri hacks the big stuff. She works at a prestigious laboratory as her day job, and uses a holographic projector to work with the crew when she’s not working there. She is extremely intelligent – quite possibly the smartest member of the crew – and teases everyone around her mercilessly. Though she’s relatively new to the crew, she’s already made herself home there and is relied upon by them all.

Priva-Dynaj Matory – The crew’s “handler,” Dynaj (or “Dynnie” as Idim calls her) is an older woman who is obsessed with rediscovering her “analog” self. While extremely competent in the virtual world, Dynaj enjoys spending her time free of the wire whenever she can. She is an avid roleplayer and phenomenal accountant, and is in charge of lining up jobs for the crew. Like Obri, she does not physically travel with them, but calls and texts them frequently to keep them up to date on their accounts and upcoming jobs. Dynaj is very well-organized and always several steps ahead of the crew in her planning.

Syon Q – No one knows what the Q stands for, not even himself. Syon Q is an old man whose previous crew wired him into the Lysadra‘s weapons system, which drove him slightly insane. He identifies more with digital entities and artificial intelligences than with “meatbags,” and can hear the voices of even the smallest pieces of software. He is very attached to the Lysandra and communicates with the rest of the crew on her behalf. He is prone to childish fits of rage and a very shaky conception of reality; he drove off the previous crew of the Lysandra by constructing mobile turrets and literally chasing them off the ship. He was subdued by Idim’s crew and converted to Druidism by Bygorj, who has become his best meatbag friend.

So, there’s the crew of the Lysandra. They won’t all last through the story (I already know at least two will die – but whom?), but for now I am enjoying them. As for other characters – like the antagonist – they’re identities will remain secret, as their faces are important twists in the story’s planned plot. But, just for teasers, here are the names of a few of the major antagonists, human and not: Methuselah Charmandrius, Zigur Zanzak, the Spider, and of course the overarching baddy, the Basilisk.

Until next time, happy writing, and wish me luck!

*goes back to scribbling*

(c) Z. M. Wilmot

 
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Posted by on November 11, 2014 in Writing

 

NaNoWriMo and Dreadship Omnipotence

As always, I’ve been busy slaving away for my PhD program, this time mostly focusing on my Master’s project and my teaching assistant duties. Unfortunately for my sanity and free time, however, November also marks National Novel Writing Month, when I sit down to try and write 50,000 words on a single project in thirty days. If you haven’t come across the event before (abbreviated NaNoWriMo), I highly recommend you visit the site here. If you’re interested, you still have time to hop in and go; all you need to do is make an account and start writing!

This year, I’m hoping to get a huge chunk of my current main WIP, Dreadship Omnipotence, done (so far I’ve got 5,100 words written). By no means do I think I’ll come close to even finishing it, especially seeing as how it looks more and more like the story will become a trilogy. I have neglected to post any information about this work yet, though, so I’ll take a few minutes from my writing time to sum up this year’s NaNo project, and the current focus of my attention!

The basic plot, in blurb form, is simple: Idim Jyn is the captain of a crew of space pirates and smugglers in a transhuman future where the disparate factions of mankind have begun to journey down very different evolutionary paths, and the very nature of humanity is uncertain. When Jyn’s crew steal an experimental starship from a secret laboratory, they uncover a terrible truth and find themselves in the middle of a war against an unknowable godlike being from the far future.

My idea for the story began about a year ago, when I tried to imagine what it would be like to write my own spaceship-roaming-through-space novel (a fairly common trope, particularly in television shows such as FireflyLexxBattlestar Galactica [to an extent], Farscape, and manga/anime like Cowboy Bebop and One Piece). I developed the character of the captain (who was then called Adam Jayne), heading a ship he arrogantly called the Dreadship Omnipotence leading a band of space pirates, who plundered and pillaged the galaxy as they willed and had a good time. My original conception of the captain was actually based on Jayne Cobb from Firefly, which was where I got the name Adam Jayne (the first names of Jayne’s actor Adam Baldwin and Jayne himself). In the current incarnation, this was altered to Idim Jyn and his personality is rather different, but there’s still something similar about Idim and Adam.

Alas, I shelved this idea for a while as I focused on other projects, until I ran across a neat roleplaying game called Eclipse Phase through one of my (far too few) friends. The game is set in a transhuman solar system, and it fired my creativity drives more than anything had in a while. I let the basic ideas of transhumanism, horror, and the black void between planets and stars guide me, and soon I came up with a rather detailed transhuman future, with an attached cyberpunk space opera plot and a cast of wild characters.

For the rest of the month, I’m going to try to post once per week with a short novel excerpt, and a brief description of the characters, the world, and the plot; the holy trinity. For next week, I’ll be writing a bit about the characters, so stay tuned! For now, you can check out the excerpt posted on my Works in Progress page if you’re interested, and then read this small excerpt below. Until next time, ta-ta!

***

“Have you been saved today?” the thing said to another man as he dangled a pamphlet in front of him. The man held a fry in one trembling hand as he slowly stood up and backed away, with one last longing glance toward his meal. “The great god Pan knows what to do! Submit to your inner nature and follow the three-fold path of the Druid! First, come to terms with who you are-”

The man was gone. The big figure frowned and turned to his friend, sitting across the table. “And you, ma’am, have you heard the word of our Great God Pan?”

“We don’t need your imperalist religion here,” the woman sneered, crossing her arms. “Religion is the opiate of the masses. You priests just use it to control the citizens of the Imperium.”

“No, no, no, you’ve got it all wrong,” the figure said, not unkindly. “I am no longer even a part of the glorious Imperium; I am an ambassador of my own free will. My unorthodox interpretations of the scripture led to my banishment, you see. But that just goes to show how truly great and flexible the great faith is! For even though I have been cast out from its noble ranks, I am still able to consider myself a true servant of Pan! I know that I have found his shade, and I am equally sure that soon my imperial comrades will join me!” The being cleared its throat, then continued. “The noble faith of Druidism can never control then, you see, but only liberate! It will help you connect with your innermost self, and help you find your place within the universe-”

“Eh, fuck you,” the woman said.

“Oh, indeed, that is one of Pan’s greatest teachings! ‘Men of the universe, be virile, and women, be fertile, so that life can ever increase and the universe will be filled with the vitalitous bounty of untold children, and thus may the cosmos come to know pure joy in richness and diversity!’ I would be honored to, as you say, fuck you.”

The woman stood up, edged away, and then fled without another word.

(c) Z. M. Wilmot

 
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Posted by on November 2, 2014 in Writing

 

Ten Written Works That Changed My Life

As an author and academic, the written word has had a tremendous impact on my life. I spend most of my time, both at work and at home, dealing with the written word in its various forms, whether through writing, editing, or reading, in fiction and non-fiction. As such, it should come as no surprise that certain specific works I have read – whether they be book series, novels, nonfiction books, essays, or short stories – have resonated with me or otherwise drastically affected either how I saw the world, how I interacted with it, or how I lived my life. In keeping with the current trend of making lists, I wanted to then offer you all a list of the top ten written works that have changed my life:

1). The Grey King by Susan Cooper
When I was but a wee lad, my mother read this book to my brothers and me. Though it is the fourth book in Cooper’s Dark is Rising quintet, it was by far her favorite of the series, and at the time one of her favorite books. This book changed my life simply because it is the first book I have a clear memory of reading (or hearing), and it was got me hooked on reading non-picture books. I am certain I read other books when I was younger, and I even remember many of them. However, it is upon having this book read to me by my mother that I got hooked on the written word, and understood how powerful books can be when combined with your imagination. Plus, it’s a great book and part of a great series (I went on to read all five books), and I actually made friends by introducing them to the themes of this work!

2). The Lord of the Rings by J. R. R. Tolkien
I read The Lord of the Rings at a very young age, and it remains the first book I actually read on my own (I have no idea why my parents let me do this). It also introduced me to high fantasy, and opened my eyes to the power that world-building can have. I think I can trace my own obsession with world-building as a writer (and reader) back to the influence of The Lord of the Rings. While I have mixed feelings about the writing and characters (and plot), the world of the The Lord of the Rings was the first immersive world I experienced other than this one.

3). The Redwall Series by Brian Jacques
Rest in Peace, Brian Jacques. I had the pleasure of meeting him once when I was small, at a book signing. I was too shy to speak to him, but all I remember was a laugh, him commenting on what a nice boy I was, and a signature in The Legend of Luke. I still have that book, which remains one of my most valued possessions because it showed me that authors are people. It was the first experience I had meeting a famous author, and it made me realize that there was a person behind the words, and worlds, that I was reading about. Redwall as a book series was also the first extensive series I ever read, and the rodent main characters – and my love for them – were what inspired my mother to make me try the Skaven race in the tabeltop game Warhammer, which had an enormous impact on my lifecourse, as it turned me into a gamer and roleplayer. Thus, I really think I can trace back my earliest desires to write back to Redwall and its introducing me to the world of gaming, as well as of showing me that authors are real.

4). The Dune Series by Frank Herbert, Brian Herbert, and Kevin J. Anderson
Dune was the first science fiction novel I ever read, and I still consider it one of the best, if not the best, novel ever written. It turned me onto the dark path of science fiction, from which I never recovered. I did not want to read this book at first, as I thought it looked boring and stupid, but both of my parents forced me to read it. After a chapter, I was hooked. By the end of the novel, I wanted more, and I began reading the rest of the series, including the prequels and sequels (well, most of them, anyway). Dune sparked my first interest in questions about humanity, and not only what it means to be human, but what it means to have a human society. Perhaps here I found my earliest interest in the social sciences, my other passion.

5). The Hyperion Cantos by Dan Simmons
If Dune was my first science fiction novel and series and introduced me to the genre, Hyperion was what kept me interested. To my young mind, Hyperion was everything Dune was, and better, because it was shorter and (at the time) it seemed to me to have such a great sense of scale. I read Hyperion and its sequels before finishing the Dune books, and so I was able to achieve a sense of completeness in it before I ever got that same sense from DuneHyperion was also a beautiful story, in a way that Dune isn’t (Dune is brilliant, but I wouldn’t call it beautiful), and made me rethink the ways in which I saw the world. It instilled in me a sense of wonder and awe (which my cynicism eventually shattered), and also showed me what happens when power is used to destroy mankind’s potential futures. It was Hyperion and its sequels that made me think about what it meant to be human on an individual scale, and what it meant to truly live life, rather than just experiencing it. The Hyperion Cantos remains one of my favorite book series, on par with Dune in many respects, and it introduced an element of humanism into my own thoughts – and eventually, my writing.

6). The Manifesto of the Communist Party by Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels
Well, this item certainly changes the tone of the list. The Manifesto of the Communist Party, or The Communist Manifesto, is the first piece of non-textbook scholarly work I remember reading (in freshman year of high school), and it has stuck with me. I have read it countless times now in my work as a sociologist, and while other examples of Marx’s work may illustrate the Manifesto‘s ideas better (The German Ideology and Capital come to mind), the Manifesto remains the best concise work of what Marxism is. While I don’t agree with everything Marx said, a lot of what he did say rang true with me, and it was after reading The Communist Manifesto that I began not only to see better my own role in society, and my class’ role in history, but that I also began to think, for the first time, sociologically. As I am now pursuing a PhD in Sociology, the importance of this work should be rather self-evident.

7). Democracy for the Few by Michael Parenti
This was the textbook for my introductory sociology course at university. While I credit my interest in sociology to a certain amazing and influential high school teacher, it was this sociology course on “social problems” and this textbook that cemented my interest in sociology, and led me down the path I am now. This book is what kept me in sociology after Marx’s Manifesto and my high school teacher introduced me to it. Written by a journalist, this book was the first to open my eyes to all of the problems in contemporary American society, and what drove me to want to try and alleviate some of those problems (hubris, I know), and what kindled my interest in sociology as a discipline and a way of looking at the world. I still have this textbook on my bookshelf, and I maintain that, while maybe a bit dated, it is one of the best introductions to what the social sciences can offer society at large ever written.

8). “The Call of Cthulhu” by H. P. Lovecraft
While by no means the first work of horror I ever read (Poe’s “The Pit and the Pendulum” or “The Tell-Tale Heart” win that prize), H. P. Lovecraft’s famous short story has been by far the most influential piece of horror in my own life. One large part of this is because this was the first story by H. P. Lovecraft I ever read, and another part of it is that in it I found an expression of my own growing cynicism, first implanted in me by reading Marx’s Communist Manifesto. The cosmic standpoint offered in this short story – and in most of Lovecraft’s work – actually made me feel better about my own nihilistic views (at the time), which had come to replace some of the humanist values instilled in me by Simmons’ Hyperion. In particular, the opening passage of the short story still resonates with me, and it is sometimes a viewpoint that I still espouse:

The most merciful thing in the world, I think, is the inability of the human mind to correlate all its contents. We live on a placid island of ignorance in the midst of black seas of infinity, and it was not meant that we should voyage far. The sciences, each straining in its own direction, have hitherto harmed us little; but some day the piecing together of dissociated knowledge will open up such terrifying vistas of reality, and of our frightful position therein, that we shall either go mad from the revelation or flee from the light into the peace and safety of a new dark age.

Theosophists have guessed at the awesome grandeur of the cosmic cycle wherein our world and human race form transient incidents. They have hinted at strange survivals in terms which would freeze the blood if not masked by a bland optimism.

Aside from this, H. P. Lovecraft has had a tremendous impact on the themes in my own writing, perhaps more so than any other author.

9). There Are No Children Here by Alex Kotlowitz

Another work of nonfiction, this book was written by a journalist who followed a family living in the Chago projects for several years, and coupled this work with interviews about the family’s past and, eventually, with work he did revisiting the family many years later. This book is a visceral account of black poverty in modern America, and is hugely eye-opening for a middle-class white American like myself. Other books about race and class could have been hear as well: Douglas Massey and Nancy Denton’s American Apartheid and Michelle Alexander’s The New Jim Crow spring to mind, but both of those, while sound sociological analyses and eye-opening in their own right, lack the imagery and visceralness of There Are No Children Here. This book really made me think about race, class, violence, and poverty in a way I had never thought about before. [Interestingly, I have yet to find an account of gender inequities that had a similar impact on my life].

10). 2001: A Space Odyssey by Arthur C. Clarke
This is by far the most recently read book on this list; in fact, I only read it a few months ago. Despite this, 2001: A Space Odyssey has significantly changed my understanding of the larger universe in which we live. While previously, Lovecraftian themes of insignificance and horrible truths dominated my thoughts, Clarke approached the problem of significance in an entirely different way. Like Lovecraft, he believed that mankind was ultimately insignificant in the cosmos, and 2001 clearly demonstrates this. However, for him, this insignificance is a beautiful thing, not a horrifying one, and somehow he manages to inject a human element into an enormous universe. The universe isn’t horrifying; it’s beautiful. The passage in which Clarke describes the ship’s passage over Jupiter in 2001 is one of the best descriptive passages I’ve ever read, and simultaneously puts humanity in their cosmic place while urging them to step beyond it. 2001: A Space Odyssey combined the humanism I took from Hyperion with Lovecraft’s cosmic despair and allowed them to both live side by side in me, and gave me a burst of optimism to temper my pessimism.

So there you have it; ten written works that changed my life! Feel free to comment with yours, or of course, to try and read some of the ones I listed above!

And some honorable mentions:

The Uplift Saga by David Brin
American Apartheid by Douglas Massey and Nancy Denton
Selections from the Prison Notebooks by Antonio Gramsci
“Bureaucracy” by Max Weber
The Social Construction of Reality: A Treatise in the Sociology of Knowledge by Peter Berger and Thomas Luckmann
The Word for World is Forest by Ursula K. LeGuin
The Last Unicorn by Peter S. Beagle

 
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Posted by on September 30, 2014 in Personal, Philosophical Musings, Readings

 
 
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