Author Archives: photocosmic

Progress Update

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Hi Everyone,

I’ve been so busy I haven’t had a chance to write an update in a long time, but rest assured I’m writing every day. I am currently working on a new fantasy series which follows on from my short story, No Escape. A few people asked about writing longer stories in the same setting, but initially I was skeptical because the original story had always intended to be standalone. Then, a conception for Magian the Infinite popped into my head and the story began to take shape. I took various locales and ideas I had in the back of my mind and filled out the world massively.

I gave myself a month to outline the book, a chapter a day. I had tried outlining before and it never really worked for me. I found it too constrictive. The pressure to tick all the ‘boxes’ irritated me, so I decided I’d simply pants the outline, or ‘plants’ if you will. Every chapter had to propel the story, and there had to be a beginning a middle and end. I kept the POV characters down to two.

After a month, I was really happy with the thirty-plus chapter outlines I had produced. Everything folded together pretty well. It worked as a standalone story and yet I could tell there was a lot of story left so I immediately started to work on outlining two sequels.

The outline of the second book was a bit more of a struggle. There were now three POV’s for various reasons. The setting was too open. When anything can happen, it’s harder to get traction on the story. Some of the early chapters were too loose, but the story gelled nicely about halfway through. At the end of the month, I had a full outline of 30-plus chapters finished.

The outline for the third sequel took only a month as well. There were some pacing issues (it moved too fast in places, at least in outline), but I felt it was pretty solid by the time I finished it. But, almost from the beginning, I knew there would be a need for a fourth book. That fourth turned into two.

So, after five months, I had outlines for a five book series. Each outline took 25 hours, give or take. I probably saved time spreading its development out over a month. My sub-conscious had time to mull over each chapter in a way it never would have if I had done it in a more concentrated time span.

Now, the real work had to begin. I started work on the first draft of the first book. I have a lot of other commitments (family, work, etc.) so I set myself a goal of writing at least five hundred words a day. And I stuck to that commitment.

The one rule I set myself was that I would have no ritual, no special time or place or mug for my coffee. If I was going to do this, I couldn’t give myself any excuses not to work. All I needed was either my computer or my phone. I used Scrivener on both so I could always work on the project directly. I found it extremely easy to use my phone as I was already used to reading pretty long novels on it.

Over the next four months, my muse brooked no excuses. Tired? Write the five hundred. Busy day. Write the five hundred. Not inspired. Tough, five hundred. Holidays, five hundred. At times, it might have been convenient to simply waffle five hundred empty words, but my conscience wouldn’t let me. Each day, the progress had to be real.

That’s not to say it was perfect. It was a first draft after all. There were lots of things I was unsatisfied with. But the important thing was I knew how to fix them. There was nothing in there that I feared. I solved any problems of that ilk as I came across them.

The outline worked out pretty well. There was the odd plot point that had to be dropped. For example, it quickly became clear that a letter supposed to be important to the plot couldn’t work, so that was scrapped for something better. Overall, very little strayed from the original outline.

At the end of four months, I had my first draft (63k). It had taken 156 hours. I immediately moved on to the next book. I didn’t even take a day off.

Book 2 felt much tougher. Remember the problems I had with its outline. I really struggled for the first third. The outline for those early chapters quickly went out the window.  The subplot fitted together nicely though and by the time I reached the end of the book, I could see pretty well how to fix most of the early issues. Also, even though I felt that I really struggled with it and that it had taken a lot longer to progress, in actuality, the first draft (61k) was finished a week early and took only 115 hours, three quarters of the time the first book took. It’s good to keep track of these things, not as a stick to beat myself with, but as an objective guide to my progress so I don’t have to depend on feelings but hard facts.

I’m about a week ahead of my original schedule for book 3. There’s still a long way to go, but I feel confident.

 

Startide Rising By David Brin

 

Startide Rising

 

The starship Streaker, crewed mostly by dolphins, has discovered what may be evidence of the race that started the whole cycle of uplift throughout the galaxy. Several other alien species, intercepting Streaker’s message about the discovery  to Earth, pursue the ship determined to seize this evidence for their own benefit. Damaged in an encounter with some of these aliens, the Streaker is forced to land on the planet Kithrup. As the ship prepares to flee again, various different alien fleets blockade the planet, their seizing of the vessel only prevented by their battle with each other. And the planet itself also threatens their survival.

This book is a sequel to Sundiver, I was disappointed by the lack of mention of the race discovered on the sun. Surely, that must have had some major impact on Earth. However, this book does lots of things which I really enjoyed. In including viewpoints from several alien races, it fleshed out galactic society and some of the reasons uplift had taken on such a central role. The dolphin crew, particularly the captain Creideiki, are more interesting than their human and simian crew mates largely because the incompleteness of their uplift gives them unique and compelling internal conflicts.

Uplift as portrayed here raised a lot of ethical questions for me. For example, it is only certain species of dolphin that are being uplifted. What ultimately happens to the stock that don’t make the grade? Are there going to be unaltered  stock left in the wild? What relation have they to their sentient kin? At what point does a neo-dolphin cease to be a dolphin at all? You have to be willing to not worry too much about these questions to enjoy the book. Why should the natives of Kithrup be candidates for uplift on a par with dolphins or chimps when the former can build their huts and use weapons.

Also there are a lot of viewpoints, so if you prefer a small number of points of view, this book may not be for you. However, I found the aliens’ perspectives and the insight into their various psychologies captivating. At the beginning of the book the action on the planet seems a bit detached from the orbiting battle but they collide dramatically the tension ramps up. All in all, it was well worth reading.

 

 

 

Sundiver By David Brin

 

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The Earth has been brought into the galactic fold, but finds itself a pariah because of its dubious pedigree. All the other races in the galaxy have achieved sentience through uplift by older and wiser species. Or so the galactics’ propaganda maintains. Common wisdom dictates that it would be impossible for the upstart human species to discover anything not already in the massive galactic library. But with the prospect of sentient life being discovered on the sun that assumption too may be challenged. When Jacob Demwa is invited to take part in the contact mission, things quickly take a sinister turn.

This book was not what I expected. It’s not about uplift in the way I assumed. It is only in retrospect, having read the first two sequels, that I came to appreciate what it is about. Each book focuses on the travails of a sentient species from Earth. It happens to be humans in Sundiver. In the other books, the species in question must deal with issues around its uplift. Humanity in Sundiver faces the skepticism of their newfound allies because there is no evidence that any guiding intelligence was involved in their uplift.

The characters feel a bit flat as does the political background on Earth. There’s a lot of clever ideas packed into it, but they’re not developed in great detail. On the other hand, the main character Jacob’s weird alter ego left me scratching my head. I did enjoy the mystery aspects of it but I preferred the sequels.

Sarah Canary By Karen Joy Fowler

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As one of the characters, B.J. Voisard, might describe it, this story is exactly like the quest for the grail, except it takes place in late 19th century America instead of medieval England, and instead of a grail there’s a  mysterious woman with an unknown past who can’t speak, and instead of valiant knights there are a Chinese migrant, a suffragette, and an escapee from an insane asylum on quests to help her. Otherwise, it’s the exact same story.

The book is rich in detail and meticulously researched. The SF elements are more of an open question and it isn’t heavy on plot. The writing is excellent but the characters, quirky and memorable, make the book, particularly for me, the aforementioned B.J. Voisard. If you don’t find them engaging, this book really isn’t for you.

 

 

City By Clifford D. Simak

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This is a series of eight interlinked stories that deal with different generations of the Webster family and their robot servant Jenkins over thousands of years. Beginning the abandonment of the cities due to technological advances, it moves on to exploration of the solar system, the uplift of dogs and other species, the development of mutant humans, and so on. Preceding each story is a note written by intelligent dogs trying to give their canine reader some context about these strange, incanine (hey, made up a word) tales.

The notes get a bit stale after a while but the stories themselves are very imaginative and often tongue and cheek. While they are self-contained, each builds on its predecessors. I thought there are some interesting parallels (particularly in the first story) with the way modern technology can isolate us. However, perhaps due to the amount packed into them relative to their length, they can feel a bit rushed and even naive. Often concepts aren’t explored in any real depth.

The Websters themselves are often little more than names. Even Jenkins only comes into his own in the later stories. The dogs make their appearance in the third tale and they often play a secondary role to the robot and their masters.

The fifth story, Paradise, was my favorite because it tied a lot of elements together from the previous stories in a clever way while I liked the fourth story, Desertion, least because  I found its premise unconvincing.

February Update: If the Devil is in the detail, then editing can be like an exorcism.

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Finishing the 2nd draft of novel codenamed Spaghetti 1 at about 70k words, I immediately started on the 3rd draft. This draft will work through the detail of the story. I have the skeleton but it needs to be fleshed out in a lot of places. The organs are there, but some are too small or too big or in the wrong place.

This draft is also about making decisions. I must expunge the narrative scars of ideas that went nowhere. The 2nd draft had a level of ambiguity. For example, two mutually exclusive ideas might have been allow to coexist, I have to now choose, one way or the other. Where there are conundrums in the narrative, I have to solve them as I go along, even if it means taking a few steps backward at times. And of course, any decision can set off an avalanche of new ones. And new ideas are coming, better ideas than before, that must be accommodated in the story as if they had always been part of it.

And every detail needs to be carefully indexed so I don’t have to wade through pages of  text later, getting that horrible drowning feeling, to confirm I’m not contradicting myself. From dress to character, from motive to tea preference, everything must be made consistent.

It’s slow. It can be tedious. But is it worth it? Yes. It’s fantastic to see the story take shape, the characters come alive, and the blur come into focus.

The Continuous Katherine Mortenhoe By D.G. Compton

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Katherine Mortenhoe has a terminal illness at an age that is extremely rare in her time. This makes her fodder for a voyeuristic reality television show determined to track the final weeks of her life in humiliating detail. Roddie, whose eyes have been replaced with cameras, is the man charged with this task.

Written in the mid-seventies, this book is haled for its prescience. It certainly is insightful, if bleak. Even the humor that peppers it is grim. Most of the characters are unlikable except for Roddie’s ex-wife, Tracey.  Neither Katherine or Roddie are particularly likable well into the book, but they grew on me as they grew on each other.

The narrative view point moves between Roddie’s first person and the third person of the other characters (predominantly Katherine). Most of these shifts are highlighted by section break but towards the end, a couple of these are missing, presumably in error.

The ending puzzled me. Mulling it over, I’ve come to the conclusion that the book is less about Katherine than Roddie’s rediscovery of his humanity through his relationship with her. He’s the only first person viewpoint, he has the first word and the last. At the start, he wants to build a ‘continuous’ (complete and objective) picture of her, but he (and the reader) are only given glimpses of the connective tissue that binds all the versions of her into a cohesive whole (symbolized for example by the different versions of her name other characters are in the habit of using). In that sense, the original title of the novel, The Sleepless Eye, is more apt.