It’s been far too long since I’ve done one of these, so I felt now was an excellent time.
Each week, on Friday, I go rummaging through my junk drawer: the odds and ends of unfinished (or un-started) novels I’ve accumulated. To keep things fresh, once a week I set aside a day for working on projects other than my work in progress. This week was more about taking stock of projects I hadn’t worked on in quite some time, so admittedly I was all over the place. But it left me feeling pretty good about the state of my writing at the moment.
Over the past year, this story has quickly become my favorite side project, and I dare say stands now as the one most likely to materialize in book form in the (reasonably) near future.
As I haven’t done one of these in a while, I’ll provide a refresher for each of my current side projects. Ashes is a work of dystopian science fiction. Set at an unspecified point in the distant future, the story follows a group of human children born aboard an automated colony ship, launched following a currently unspecified ecological catastrophe on Earth. Upon the ship’s arrival at a distant, Earth-like planet, these children will be expected to colonize the new world, and rebuild human civilization.
During the early phases of the story, where I’m writing now, the main characters are not the colonists, who at this point are small children, but rather the artificial intelligences running the ship. These take the form of two programs: the genial Mentor, responsible for nurturing and educating the children, and the cold, menacing Minder, responsible for guiding the ship and seeing to the physical well-being of the colonists. As such, several interludes between early chapters take the form of conversations between the two programs.
I’ve thoroughly enjoyed writing this story thus far, yet as I reviewed what I’ve written thus far, I’ve been stuck anew by just how…unsettling…much of it is. If anything, however, I find that encouraging. At its core, the story is intended to challenge our perceptions of humanity, both by portraying the programs as sentient in their own way and showing how children develop when raised by machines, rather than humans. I’m eager to resume work and see how things unfold.
My regular reader will likely recognize this one as my chosen project for NaNoWriMo 2017. Unfortunately, about halfway through the month, I hit a snag, and the story stalled. While that was unfortunate, it did result in my revisiting Wide Horizon, and finally completing my final edits on the novel. Still, that leaves me with the question of what to do with Breaker.
The good news is that, over the course of last November, I did indeed manage to get a lot of the story on paper. The bad news, however, is that in doing so I found myself trying too hard to turn the story into a culturally-relevant young adult novel. In my experience, forced writing tends to read like something written at gunpoint, and looking back I’ve found much of what I wrote over that month to be exactly that. Thus, much of what I’ve written thus far is essentially useless.
At times, a writer ends up succumbing to pressure: the pressure to create something marketable, something trendy. However, taking a look at the best science fiction writers in history, one finds that a piece written to be topical or relevant in the present time often rings hollow. Breaker began as what I felt was an interesting, original story. To really do the story justice, I need to get back to that. If I write something enjoyable, interesting, and fresh, no doubt I will find an audience for it. Much work remains to be done on this one, but I feel good about my most recent revisions.
Unlike Breaker (and very much like Ashes) this is a story that’s very much in my proverbial wheelhouse. The Inheritors takes place in the far-distant future, on a very different Earth. In this story, humanity is long gone, having left Earth millennia earlier for parts unknown. By the time the story begins, the machines left behind on Earth have evolved into a thriving civilization of artificial beings, riven by ideological conflicts not unlike those of their creators.
I really like this story, partly because it will take place in two very different settings simultaneously: the physical world, in which each artificial being exists bound within a physical body, and the virtual world, a vast computer network known as the AllNet, in which each machine exists as an independent consciousness tied to the whole.
The first story in a planned series, Rectifier, takes place centuries after a terrible war fought between opposing factions of machines. The war was costly: by attacking one another in the virtual world as well as the physical, the machines inadvertently erased vast amounts of data, effectively erasing their collective memory of their past. Since the war ended, lines of code hard-wired into the AllNet have prevented another conflict, as any such conflict would result in the entire network (and all machine programs) being erased and re-created. However, by this point, steep divides between various factions have led to the point where another, unthinkable war looms on the horizon. The action in the story will revolve around one program, David 313, as he seeks the Rectifier, the first program to achieve true consciousness, in hopes that his return could avert a war that would wipe out all life left on Earth.
(for more background on this story, you can read The Rectifier, a short story I wrote some time ago that ultimately led to this concept.)
I like to think this was a productive day. I may not have worked much on these projects, but I’ve been away for a while, and needed to reacquaint myself with my own work. Much remains to be done, but it’s always a good feeling when I look at unfinished projects and see potential. I can’t wait to see how these, and other projects, unfold. Have a good weekend, readers, and as always, dare to dream. – MK