Monthly Archives: September 2019

624. Jandrax Meets Trenco

When I occasionally borrow, I take from the best. Tidac Wyrd s’Marquart got the s’ in his name from Andre Norton’s Star Gate. That is a classic novel unrelated to the movie or the TV series. The Marquart part, his fathername, did not come from Shrek; I wrote Valley of the Menhir years before Shrek came along. I picked up the notion of “avert” while I was visiting Earthsea.

When I decided to make Stormking fit its name, I was looking straight at my memories of Trenco. Actually, I hinted at that four posts back when I called Stormking “a place of Trenconian extremes”.

Trenco is a planet where the liquid isn’t quite water, and it rains 47 feet every night. Yes, I said feet. The entire ecosystem is made up a creatures who must be born, grow, procreate, and die in one planetary day. Their offspring will do the same tomorrow, and it gets mighty fierce. If you want the real scoop, read chapter 10 of E. E. Smith’s Galactic Patrol.

Dreamsinger has the same underlying theme as Jandrax, the oasis and the desert. In Jandrax most of a group of stranded colonists choose to stay in a fortified village while the remainder become wanderers, following the melt, a moving band of springtime. The wanderers life is crude, but they manage to squeeze freedom and joy out of it.

In Dreamsinger, the oasis is the buttoned-down Home Station in orbit, reasonably pleasant, but dull and lacking in freedom. The desert is the planet Stormking where a Uranian tilt turns the exiles there into perpetual wanderers simply to survive.

Back in 2015, when Cyan was due for publication, I pulled up my notes for Dreamsinger and wrote a few thousand words. Now that I am fully engaged in completing the novel, I found that writing again, and discovered a forgotten prolog.

Gaugi, a young girl exile, is speaking, telling a small part of her story before things shift to Antrim’s viewpoint. It is unlikely that this bit — or Gaugi — will end up in the final novel, but it gives a quick peek at the hardships the exiles endure.

The wind was fierce, but the wind was always fierce. So am I so it doesn’t matter, but it was making it hard to see and that can be dangerous. Deadly. The kamrak rose up before any of us had a chance to be ready for it, or to get out of its way, dripping acid, teeth and fangs ready. We scattered like quail — whatever quail are. They always scatter in all the Earthstories, so we scattered like quail.

Mazie didn’t make it. She almost did, but she didn’t. She fell down, tripped over a tilticle just before she got far enough away that the kamrak wouldn’t reach her, and then it had her. I saw it. I stayed to watch. She didn’t die all at once. That was the worst part. It was the acid that got her. The kamrak had her clawed so he didn’t bother to use his fangs. She lived longer than she needed to, longer than she should have, longer that I wanted her to. And I watched. I didn’t want to, but Ma told me early to watch everything, to always learn what I could. It might keep me alive and it might make my life better. I don’t know how watching the kamrak dissolve Mazie, screaming all the time would make my life better, but I learned more about how a kamrak feeds and someday that may let me escape like Mazie didn’t. I don’t know. Ma said learn everything, but watching Mazie die like that wasn’t something I really wanted to learn.

In that same packet from 2015, there was this description given to Antrim just before he joins the downsiders, by a pilot who knew them well.

Antrim, these people are smarter than you are, tougher than you are, and there is no softness in them. We’ve been dumping exiles onto Stormking for a generation. The dumb ones died immediately; the smart ones survived and had smart children. Those children have spent their lives surviving a harsher environment than you can imagine, no matter how hard you’ve trained. If you underrate them, you’re dead.

Sounds like studying the exiles might be interesting — if Antrim survives.

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623. Hanging a Shotgun on the Wall

They call it foreshadowing, or sometimes hanging a shotgun on the wall. That’s from the old mystery novel rule, “If you hang a shotgun on the wall in chapter one, you had better shoot somebody with it by chapter three.”

You want to let your reader know what is about to happen, but not too much, and you don’t want to bore him in the process. It really isn’t easy. The 648 word prolog-as-teaser at the bottom of this post took me three days to get just right, and that was after I was already 12,000 words into Dreamsinger.

Time will tell if it actually gets used. I needed to give my reader a small look at family life on Home Station and tease him about the mystery of the exiles, without making it look too ordinary or too outré.

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During the 115th year of the escape from Earth, Antrim was decanted. Four others had preceded him and three followed, all so close together that they shared a birthdae.

For a while, Antrim’s world was smelly, wet, loud, and untidy, full of strange hands and faces. Eight new babies and a rotating cadre of adults occupied Natal Intensive. Slowly the frequency of feedings and the incidence of fecal outflow slowed and soon only Ma and Da remained with the eight new children. Finally the spray hoses were removed, the floor drains were sealed, and the newbies were introduced to their first ferds.

There had once been a different name for them, but since the computer categorized them as Fecal Emission Retention Devices, they were now called ferds.

There also used to be a word for a group of young humans raised together by an adult male and female, but that word was out of fashion by 2242. Antrim and his seven sibs were Socialization Group number 1352.

Never mind that. They fought, hugged, smiled, frowned, screamed, sulked, and bonded with one another. They were a family, even though no one used the word.

Ma and Da actually had names, although the children didn’t learn them until much later, and they were unrelated to their kinder. They had high ma-pa-ternal indexes, and that was all that mattered.

For their first seven years, the children lived in their crèche and did not interact with the outer world. Da and Ma provided them with their education, aided by the central computer. It seemed normal to be a society of ten, since they had never known anything else.

They knew that at age eight they would join with three other socialization groups to become a schooling group. At age fourteen, they would begin to interact with the rest of Home Station.

Most of the adults on Home Station had never seen a child younger than fourteen, and did not want to. That also seemed normal. For now, eight children and two adults seemed just right.

Da taught history, mostly the history of their own small group of refugees, but also enough of Old Earth history to know why they had fled. Ma taught science and math.

When Antrim was six, they learned the planets. The computer provided a holograph in the center of the crèche with Sirius A in the center, Forge next out, then the broken cluster of planetoids called The Swarm, then Stormking, and finally Bifrost. Home Station was there, endlessly circling Stormking. Sirius B, various asteroid belts, and the other fourteen planets were missing from this first lesson.

Tril asked to see the surface of Stormking and the computer obliged. A three-D holograph filled the center of the room with a surging hellscape of rain and storm, but comp had made a mistake. This was not a censored version for an elementary lesson but a real-time display complete with struggling, nearly naked humans being battered by Stormking’s winds.

A sharp command from Ma cut it off and Mosh said, “Those were people. Why were there people on Stormking?” Ma refused to answer.

A few daes later, Antrim got Da aside and asked the same question. Da usually answered the questions Ma wouldn’t, but this time he was evasive. Antrim persisted, and Da finally said, “They are being punished.”

“For what? What did they do that got them into that much trouble?”

Da shook his head, and when it was evident that Antrim planned to persist, he said, “Stop asking. I’m not allowed to answer.”

“Why?”

“If I tell you, they will take me away from you.”

That put a stop even to Antrim’s curiosity. Then Da said, “If you still want to know when you are grown, come and ask me then.”

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One page later, Antrim is twenty years old and his question to Da has not yet been satisfactorily answered. It will guide his life and the novel Dreamsinger as he chooses to study the exiles by living among them.

622. My Place or Yours?

If you didn’t read Monday’s post yet, go there first.

The most difficult problem I’ve had in getting under way with Dreamsinger is that I wouldn’t want to live as part of the culture of Home Station, the orbital habitat which most humans occupy. I need it as the flip side of the culture of the exiles on the surface, but I don’t like it.

Never fear, I’m a professional. I’ll get there, but there will be a lot of moaning, groaning, and cussing under my breath along the way.

One thing is in my favor — in world building, problems are answers. A perfect world might be pleasant to live in, but it would have no fodder for storytelling.

The situation in Cyan which led to the beltmen leaving Earth created a culture of enforced, extreme civility. That’s not natural for us hairless apes, so there has to be an enforcement arm with no sense of humor. That is the system of directed dreaming, explained Monday.

Directed dreaming is a system that needs overthrowing, and that will clearly be a major theme of the novel. But what else does it imply?

On Home Station, you don’t sleep. Therefore you don’t need a room. Your exercise/dreaming time is brief, so what do you do with yourself when you aren’t working? Where do you go? Once I had asked myself that question, I filled Home Station with lounges.

Also, if you don’t have a bed or a bedroom, where do you have sex? Let’s see what the rough draft says:

Antrim headed down to Heaviside Lounge for companionship and to purge his mind of the problems posed by Riff.

Beneath a flowering mimosa he saw a girl he knew. She had removed her shirt as a signal of readiness, but no one had yet joined her. Her name was — Broa. His mental hesitation triggered the Farleyfile which gave him a précis. Broa 14284. The number told him that she was one or two crèche releases older than he was. He had copped with her three times before, but he already remembered that. She was a tech working in hydroponics.

He stopped and smiled down at her. She said, “Want to cop?” and he said, “Sure.” He peeled off his shirt and she unfastened his pants. There was a snarl when they hit the floor and snagged on his shoes. Broa was already barefooted, and laughed at him as he extricated himself. He came down on her without bothering to remove her pants and met her mouth to mouth and tongue to tongue.

The pants came off soon after, and they put on a clinic of the four positions and the eight variations. Several of the other occupants of Heaviside Lounge wandered over to watch and admire.

Afterward, they talked for a while. Her eyes were on him, but her attention had wandered and so had his.

She levered herself up, pushed back her tangled hair, and said, “I have to shower before I go back to the hydros.” She kissed him again, lightly and briefly, picked up her clothes and walked away.

Antrim lay there admiring her back side. Nothing in the moment impelled him to run after her.

His mind was cleared, his body was spent, and the pleasure had been profound. But she was still, after four sexual meetings, so much a stranger that he had reflexively triggered the Farleyfile when he saw her. If he never saw her again, he would feel no loss.

It didn’t seem like enough.

Sex right out there in the open? Well, the future is supposed to be different and there are no secluded, grassy riverbanks on a space station. Actually, if you are living in society that controls your dreams, privacy is non-existent already. On Home Station, even the desire for privacy is considered a mental aberration.

In some ways, this culture is a bit of a feminist dream since everyone is completely equal and there is no power structure of dominance — except for the dream therapists, but that is a whole other level of this novel which we’ll get to eventually.

Everybody is comely. I don’t have space here to tell you where babies come from, but take my word for it, they all come out perfect. And it is considered impolite to refuse an offer to cop(ulate).

It sounds like a 14 year old boy’s idea of paradise, but it isn’t that either. Everybody on Home Station is so damned equal that nobody needs anybody. Want sex? Do it. Twenty minutes later you can each go your way without even exchanging names.

It’s very unromantic.

The culture of the exiles on Stormking, which we will see later, is based on survival. It is totally different, but also completely unromantic.

Antrim, our main character, has imbibed all kinds of romantic notions from reading the literature of Old Earth. He is seeking something neither culture stands ready to provide. He is going to have a rough time of it.

Corollaries, implications, and unexpected consequences of the structure of directed dreaming are falling out onto the page every day, often surprising the hell out of me. Weird things are happening and I haven’t even gotten to the culture of the dissidents who have been exiled to Stormking. Their lives are really different.

621. Dream Culture

For the last month or so I have been fleshing out one corner of a universe that I began writing about decades ago. My first SF novel was Jandrax, a lost colony story. Cyan came later, filling in the backstory of that same universe. Dreamsinger, which I am writing now, continues the process.

If you have read my novel Cyan, you will remember that when Keir visited the asteroid belt to view the B&A coreship, he discovered that the beltmen were secretly preparing an expedition of their own. They feared the impending destruction of Earth, but had no interest in colonizing a new planet. They had come to prefer life in space.

In the Cyan and Jandrax universe, the exploratory expedition to the Sirian system had found that the planet occupying the Goldilocks position — the distance from Sirius with the same level of radiation as Earth — was taken by a planet with a Uranian inclination. That is, it was tilted onto its back like a sad tortoise, with first one pole and then the other pointed toward it’s star as it moved through its orbit.

With no habitable planet, it was likely that Sirius would never again be visited by man. This made it an ideal destination for the beltmen who wanted to live in space without interference from planetbounds.

When the Procyon colonization expedition departed for Cyan, the beltmen were nearly ready to leave for Sirius. Keir’s last message was of farewell and good luck to them.

The beltmen had to build their craft in secret with minimal resources. It was a crowded, spinning torus which held 2000 refugees from impending disaster. Under-funded and under-powered, it would take an eighty-seven year journey to reach Sirius, and a generation would die in transit.

During that long, slow, crowded journey, civility became essential to survival. The refugees evolved a system called directed dreaming.

Once each day, each person entered into a dream like state during which her/his body (not under his/her conscious control) underwent rigorous exercise, followed by dreams tailored to keep them civil.

This is how it all sounds in the rough draft:

The dreamers were hanging, heads encased in sensory deprivation helmets, in ten rows of ten. They had already gone through their exercises, contortions that had stretched and strained every muscle and left them all soaked in sweat. Now they settled into a deep, quiescent, unmoving sleep

It looked like a grotesque mass hanging, but that was an illusion since their weight was just sufficient to keep them from bouncing off the ceiling. Being suspended by their necks at this level of gravity did not even cause discomfort.

Now, one by one, they began to move. An arm shot out here, fingers gripped nothing over there, arms crossed over chests to hold something in, legs shot out to kick some threat away. Each one was now in his own directed dream. Carefully tailored images were fed into their brains and they reacted. Uncivil inhibitions were destroyed; fears were dredged up and alleviated; prejudices were wallowed in until they seemed foolish. Angers were expressed in dreams, so they could be suppressed in waking life.

Dream therapy was every person’s right and obligation. Dream therapy was the key to civility. Dream therapy kept them all sane and happy.

It took less than an hour and a half, and afterward every person was ready to go back to his life. Each one was exercised, refreshed in mind and body, cleansed and cleared of all angers and resentment. There was no more need to waste a third of your life in sleep.

Sleep had never really knitted up the raveled sleeve of care anyway, but directed dreaming did.

You understand that I am setting this up as something that seems like a good idea, but isn’t.

Once the refugees arrived at Sirius, they immediately undertook the building of a larger station to be their new home. Directed dreaming continued to lubricate the wheels of progress, but not everyone agreed with this new way of life. Those who could not conform were exiled to Stormking, which was a place of Trenconian extremes, and a death sentence for most of those transported there.

I had already outlined all of this while I was still writing Cyan. For the last month or so, I have been fleshing it out. We’ll see some of the new thinking on Wednesday.