Something of an ode to the finale of Kubrick’s Dr. Strangelove, combining archival imagery of atomic explosions and Vera Lynn’s We’ll Meet Again, the film version of Em is to feature an onslaught of missiles coming after Em and Dee on the final ship off the planet.
As they rocket out of the bombardment, Fast and Furious style, explosions everywhere, in the air, on the ground, The Partridge Family’s That’ll Be The Day will play at My Bloody Valentine levels.
When the chains around me no longer ground me and my soul can sail away to a better life – That’ll be the Day
And when the silence is broken and words unspoken can finally have their say, then we’ll all sing out – That’ll be the Day
And when those feelings I’ve hidden are no longer forbidden and our love is here to stay Then we’ll all shine on – That’ll be the Day
Aqaara is constructed in outer space, specifically in the Lagrangian orbit between the moon and Earth, thus eliminating the problem of leaving the planet’s atmosphere. Aqaara is composed primarily of anorthite, a high-grade mineral found in abundance on the moon.
An anorthite-obsidian alloy is used for the exterior of the craft while an anorthite-rubber polymer is the primary material for the ship’s interior. Is this believable? Yea or Nay? The power source is a much bigger challenge. To be shared soon.
It’s one thing to face the blank page. It’s totally another to face a page that has been edited for ten years. A conservative estimate would be thirty versions, with hundreds of edits and switches. And so, yes, the blank page is nothing compared to that.
I began Anori in 2009. It was my leap into the world of speculative fiction, a challenge to myself. The initial first scene – which lasted over the first few drafts – was of a rocket ship launch, establishing theme, tone and perspective. I mean, the story was headed into outer space. So here we go. But it didn’t work. There was no hook. And so I moved that scene into a snippet on the television in Dee Sinclair’s living room. The book now begins like this…
The perspective remains distant but it is now Dee’s point of view, revealing an deserted world, a place from which she is clearly removed.
The prose are terse. Hopefully ominous too.
Dee, akin to the police car, is isolated and alone.
Immediately upon entering her world, her pet serval Apollo appears, who is the key to the story. Servals are felines from the African savannah. They are meant to be wild but have been domesticated as exotic pets. Apollo is a rescue animal who Dee spends much of her life with alone.
The story carries on: Dee takes Apollo out before the worst of the storm and meets the mysterious Och. It’s how it all begins. I’m just trying to get past all of this and continue on to page three. Fingers crossed.
The Cx Trilogy is the simple story of leaving this planet. As common as this idea might be in contemporary science fiction – including everything from Star Trek&Star Warsfranchises to The Martian and Ad Astra – the central idea of abandonment, leaving everything that we know for a complete unknown, remains frightfully undeveloped. In other words, these films emphasize ingenuity and determination over the more likely issues of angst and despair once Earth Out of View Syndrome sets in.
The essential themes of nihilism and isolation are not only developed through character development and dialogue, but also in the speculative technology that identifies the desperate struggle to find identity when the origin of everything known is gone.
Second Skin (a synthetic anti-aging agent) and The Bearing (a ring-like portal to the internet) are prevalent throughout the first book, Anori, while The Hive (a fully immersive place of sensual pleasure) and boochies (doll-sized genetically mutated animals) are featured in Book Two, Aqaara, which documents the generational flight to the destination planet of Mina. All of these devices are intended to fulfill immediate individual desires and lead to division and isolation.
The use of speculative technology as a world-building tool, although present, is not as significant in the final book, Mina. The majority of the speculative devices have been in use throughout the trilogy, leaving the only thing new to build is the planet itself. (You can’t get more world-building than that.) The challenge with building another planet is our limited experience with distant worlds; we actually only have a few planets to use as models, this leading to a tendency toward arctic expanses, forbidding deserts and prehistoric beasts is hard to avoid. (See Interstellar, Dune & John Carter.)
I did use images of Pluto and Saturn for inspiration as well as the distant corners of Earth and settled on a highly volcanic planet with two suns. Water dominates the surface and so many of the life forms are water-borne, including the animal believed to be at the top of the food chain – a sort of hybrid leopard seal.
The ever-present sense of isolation is developed not only through the immense unexplored planet, but also through divisions in the mission itself. While a home-base, Ataa, is constructed on Mina, only a fraction of the people are invested in living there; groups venture off on long-term explorations while another large contingent elect to leave the planet altogether and continue their journey to another distant place. For them, the journey indeed is the destination.
World building is writing hell. As incredible – even fun – as the idea might sound, it isn’t. By anything being possible, there is no place to start. Even if it seems like a matter of just picking and choosing and away you go, it isn’t. Not for me. While I might have the germ of an idea – such as using dark matter to fuel an inter-generational spaceship – fleshing that out is akin to chronic constipation. My writing practice is centered on the small things – an image or line of dialogue – and going out from there. It is an inductive approach to writing, finding the bits of evidence to create the whole, such as the serval image at the watering hole that begat My Bad Side.
I didn’t know what that image meant at the time, but I knew it meant something and used it to find what might be next.
Building worlds demands the opposite to my approach to writing, a deductive method, going from the big picture to develop the small, focusing on time machines or warp drives, creating a story from those. This is what grinds my flow to a halt. If I can’t see where I am – the details of what it looks like to live on board a spaceship – I am perpetually stuck.
I got into the world of speculative fiction by accident. The protagonist in an earlier book, Dee Sinclair, stumbled ahead and wondered aloud if she might venture on to something else. As far-fetched as her world appeared at the time – a sex performer holed up with her pet serval – it was nothing compared to Greenland where she witnesses a fledgling world constructed before her eyes. This is the outset of Anori, the first book of The Cx Trilogy.
The crux of the speculative/sci-fi genre is world building, something beyond what we live in today. It isn’t just a matter of a propping up a couple of rocket ships and having characters walk about in space suits. Every detail has to be in tune. My most effective world building elements in Anori are Holoweb and Second Skin because they were simple to envision – a three-dimensional version of today’s internet and a spray-on fashion statement – and only a step ahead of what we have now.
I raised the world-building stakes in the second book of the trilogy, Aqaara, where Dee boards a generational spaceship bound for a planet light-years distant. Daily life aboard the spaceship took a long time to create, not just the details of the sleeping quarters and gatherings places but, more importantly, the mindset of leaving Earth to never return. I was in the Highlands of Scotland while mapping out this world, a far cry from outer space but at least isolated and quiet.
I planned the design of the ship while hiking, soaking wet, through the silence, but could not attain a genuine sense for what it felt like to live in this space, to sleep and eat, to lose all sense of time with a lunar or solar cycle, to see people every day – there was no day! – and to not know when, if ever, the journey might come to an end. That took another two drafts – in Puglia and then New York – to get it so it seemed like it really was so.
The final book, Mina, demands a literal new world. That’s where I am now. The temptation to settle for lunar landscapes and prehistoric beasts remains hard to resist. After all, what do I know about another planet’s flora and fauna? I have settled on a leopard seal/hedgehog hybrid as the creature atop of the food chain, as well as string of camera-stealing starlings. Who knows what the deep seas will offer? Something astonishing should happen soon.
My challenge with world building has given me pause. As transfixed as I can be in the fantastic landscapes of science fiction – where absolutely anything is possible – the writing craft must remain the focus. In other words, while the visions presented in this genre might be spell-binding, the characters, dialogue and construction of the narrative remain the foundation. My aim in writing The Cx Trilogy is to bridge the gap between literary fiction and speculative fiction, and not just build worlds but build worlds where we can literally picture ourselves alive and wondering. We will see what Dee’s progeny find next.
The connector to Dee Pod was empty, the infinitesimal vibrations somehow building out here with the view out the oblong windows of the deep blackness. Calli stared out into it, looking for something to move, the stars to move past, a planet to appear as a fleeting shadow, but she only had a vague sense of motion, moving forward maybe, and then not, just still again, going nowhere, hovering. And then as suddenly, forward again, something there and then gone, a planet, moon or fragment of something like that, thrusting forward, and then suddenly back, hard, twisting around, the thing coming past the other way, falling backwards now, thinking she might vanish like that, her heart in the back of her head, plunging, a real sense of going down that rabbit hole, in that thing, going forward and back at the same time, not in the same place, but around and around, up and down, all at once. And then spat out of that, lurching ahead, really forward at Hawking 4X, At that speed so close to light, feeling that, getting somewhere, the glare and things in the blackness really moving past, leaving those for the next, exploding ahead into the darkness, as fast she was she was moving still, on into nothing.
*Hawking 4X: four time Hawking Speed which, at .21 light speed, is the fastest speed Stephen Hawking believes humans will ever be able to travel.
…where we leave our guarded understanding to break free from that containment to find the universe that lives within all of us.
“We sat on the rocks. All of us we were naked, stark naked. It wasn’t a sex thing, none of that. It was just being naked by the lake.” Liyuan’s mouth was too big for his head, his hairline a straight line on his forehead; he wasn’t as old as he felt, moving his hands slowly over his knees as he spoke. “We saw the storm at the far end of the lake, billowing up, thick and black, rich, swirling over the tops of the trees. The trees were lush green in that light. And the thunder, the way it rolled down from the heavens, the lightning echoing behind it, that was the magic. The rain came racing up the lake, that pristine darkness suddenly a tumult with it hammering down. The drops splattered on our skin and the rocks, so cool and wonderful. And we slipped into the water, pushed out from the shore, our bodies wavering beneath the surface, and drifted out into the downpour. It was the most natural thing on earth, swimming into that glorious darkness, so warm, out into the middle of the lake.”
Ashe knew all of this. She had experienced these very thoughts, floated in this exact dream, but it had vanished. She could not hold it.
“We were in the middle of the lake, the rain coming down in sheets, just sheets and sheets of it. That’s what I remember the most, the rain, the lightning a mile away, the quiet, the sound of the rain against the lake, the black clouds and the still water, so dark and pure. And I’m afraid of that. I’ve always been afraid of the dark water. Always afraid. But not this. Not this.”
Po appeared on the shore, floating just above the lake, indiscernible for the woman, not Ashe, who tried to will her away. It never worked.
“We stayed in the lake, our faces looking back at each other, turning around, spitting out water, little streams of it, the impression of our fluttering arms and hands beneath the surface, just a hint of those. This was it. A moment of divine existence. Yes. Exactly that.” He closed his eyes as he rocked slowly forward and back, his hands out for balance. “And then the lightning was right there, a streak of it across the black sky and into the water, the thunder ripping through us, the storm right on top of us. We knew we had to leave. It was dangerous. And we didn’t. We stayed, thinking we might die like this, struck dead, floating belly up, and we were good with that. I was overjoyed. Overjoyed.” He stared at her, wide-eyed.
“The program makes you get out of the water.”
“Out of the water?” His face suddenly became creased, his eyebrows moving sharply down, his mouth pulled tight. The light had gone out of his eyes; he was going to cry.
Ashe pulled his hands together and cupped them in hers. “None of that. You hear me?”
He held her eyes, staring back, dark, his mouth a sharp line, and then reached out and touched her chin. “That’s an error. That was the purpose of creating it, that lightning shearing the air, terrifying blasts every second moment. And yet never have I been so without fear. I belonged there.” He sighed and sat up straight again. “Sometimes I think that I might still be there, still in that water.” “The program needs to be rewritten.”
“Yes.” He nodded back firmly and let out some tears.
It’s been a long time since my last post – six weeks, a new record. Have I lost interest? Am I just writing? I don’t know. Here is an outtake of what I am working on:
There was just the sound at first, high overhead, the wind bending over the trees, branches dipping down into each other, and then the sunlight flashing across her arms. And then the smell of the lake nearby, water splashing up a narrow gap, her feet on the cool rock, toes gripping onto the cracks, tight to the bumps and scales of the surface, padding down the porous surface, a little girl there, crouched down, by the bushes at the shore, scraping at the lichen, poking her fingers into the water, and she was beside her, both of them, bending down, tiny fish schooling nervously against in the dark alcoves, and felt the girl lean into her, her hair ticking her arm, her breathing mingled with the sound of the water, and then looking back at her, her sharp hazel eyes, looking back briefly and then back down into the water.
“I spoiled you.” Dee was there now, and they were walking together on adjoining paths. “I did everything you wanted. I never said no.”
The trees rose up on either side, languid and old, the wind pushing hard through their tops. It was a comforting sound, like waves on the shore, protected in the shadows. It was a remarkable thing how each step was made, the next rock calculated, up to the next one, crossing from side to side of the trail, measuring the gaps, moving forward.
“Slow down, Apollo.”
“Is it?” Calli squinted ahead, the sun slanting across, the shadows now sharp and long.
Dee was getting ahead, Icarus and Apollo beside her. “You need to catch up.”
“Don’t be cruel.”
“That’s who I am. That’s who we are.”
“You’re the worst.”
“No.” Calli had to use her hands now, pulling up on the edge of each slat, and then her feet, full-fledged climbing. Icarus and Apollo were way ahead now, almost at the foot of the castle. They were going to get there in a minute. She couldn’t believe that, that they had climbed so fast. It was amazing. Dee was almost there too, and then there was the sound of something coming apart, tools scattered loose in a box, rattling against the sides, hard back and forth, and then suddenly released, a last slip of a metal shaft against a metal edge, and then nothing.
The crowd was larger, people up both walkways, chants and holograms everywhere. A bright orange drone floated above, slowly coming down.
“Hello, how are you doing?” It was the man from the Hive, now dressed and atop a glider, floating behind the drone.
“Want me to smash that thing?”
“We’re making a film,” he replied.
“Name’s Norich.” He raised his eyebrows at her as he glided down. “How would you feel about me filming you now?”
“For your personal pleasure?”
“Sort of Cinema Verite.” The camera-drone, an orange sloped contraption, floated down over his shoulder. “I’m examining the nature of The Hive for the Ark News. The impetus of that, right? I’m thinking individually, right? Why do we do the things we do?” He looked half drunk, the way he glanced back and forth between them. “Like, what is to experience it?”
Dee shrugged. “Go ahead and try it.”
He landed, leaning forward, wincing at the effort to think of an answer that could not be deflected. “Wisdom, knowledge, that is very human.”
Dee studied his long face, almost earnest, knowing he wanted to listen, his hands open in front of him, waiting for something. “Sex, that’s what I think you’re after, sex and more of it.” Norich nodded back at her. “You know how people say that men want to have sex with young women to avoid their fear of death? That gorgeous taut flesh, so primal and real, the dream of the boy through the old man, it’s got nothing to do with dying, my friend. It’s just being alive, that sexual drive, mindless and direct. But to avoid death? No, it’s not that. Everything is to avoid death. Eating, drinking, going to the bathroom—”
“What about good driving habits then?” Dee added.
“That’s sure as hell part of it, awareness of what you are – your limitations, that you have a perspective, that you’re aware that we tend to think that we know something—”
“Us people. That we know something that no one else can exactly understand. Even with as much as anyone might know, in their mind for a certainty, whatever is gathered through books and media, experience, relationships, there’s only that, only that perspective.”
“Humility then,” Dee ventured.
“Yes, that’s part of it.”
“I think what you really mean is sex,” Dee concluded. “And the answer is no.”
“It’s more our limitations.” Norich tried to pat her on the shoulder. “It’s all about being aware of that.”
“So we’re in agreement then.” Dee went past him into The Hive.
I know my blog has been lacking as of late – and will be again – but in the meantime, I will get at it as I am writing as I should, attempting to complete a third draft of Aqaara, the second part of my speculative trilogy. Anyway, here is an expunged scene:
“You ever been on the subway in New York, Faith?”
“Yes, of course I have.”
“Ever take your son there?”
She looked scared, like she might leave. “Yes.”
“I was on the subway a few years ago, and there were two men arguing, two guys yelling at each other. Everybody backed away from them. It was the commuter rush. Nobody wanted to get near. And then one of them punched the other guy, hard, knocking him backwards into a wooden bench.”
“Bam! Bam!” The boy jumped up and down.
“The guy yelled, ‘And stay down!’ And walked right onto the train with us. No one spoke. He was standing right beside me. I knew I should have said something. ‘You assaulted that man! That is a crime! You can’t do that.’ But I didn’t. I said nothing. I did nothing, like everyone else. I was afraid he might have a gun or a knife. That’s what I told myself. The subway doors closed. He looked around at all of us, defiant. Nobody would meet his eyes. And we stayed like that, us commuters just going home like it was a normal day, a criminal with us now, and then it pulls into the next stop, 59th Street, and he gets off. I looked at the woman next to me. We were both so relieved to have him gone. The doors closed, and we continued on our way.”