Microstory: Teleporting Justice

A micro story, inspired by an elevator (lift). Think of it every time your travel in one 🙂 (Update: I should add, I wrote this from top-to-bottom in about thirty minutes).


Everyone of course knows the name Michael Zoeing. Four hundred years after his death, he is still recognised as one of the greatest scientists in all of human history. We now take for granted teleportation (technically called Instantaneous Directional-beam Transportation). It’s hard to remember that six hundred years ago such technology was only possible in the minds of science-fiction writers.

There is no doubt that Zoeing’s innovation changed society for the better. You need only look at the holograms of turn of the 22rd century to see the congestion which choked cities, and the literal decades of an individual’s life that was spent moving from one place to another.

I do not discount the immense value of Zoeing’s creation, but I think it important to remember the controversy that surrounded the announcement of this technology. I would not be surprised to discover most readers don’t know what I am referring too. After Zoeing became a trillionaire he had immense wealth and power, which – like so many powerful individuals in history – he used to sanitise the public records.

Consider yourself in a pre-teleportation world. Would you allow a relatively unknown scientist experiment by bombarding your body with high-energy plasma, literally tearing apart your body’s molecular structure? Healthy, willing, test subjects would be hard to find. But Zoeing sensed he was on the brink of greatness. (Though I consider ‘he hoped’ to be more accurate). Zoeing was in the race to what was the holy grail of science; he had to try it on human subjects before the other labs beat him to the breakthrough.

With far less scientists, lobbyists and lawyers than other labs Zoeing was at a significant disadvantage. The proper channels just had too much red tape to be feasible. So Zoeing undertook an elegant deception.

In the fourteen story building where his lab was, he modified one of the elevators after-hours, surreptitiously installing his transportation technology. Test subjects, unknowingly, stepped into the elevator and triggered the experiment on themselves. The elevator rose as per normal, but in the last seconds of travel the lights would flicker and the elevator would shudder. Unbeknown to the passengers they had been teleported to a stationery elevator which was a few millimetres off-alignment, thus proving the technology worked.

Though never proven, in the early days it was rumoured nearly a hundred people disappeared from the building before the technology was perfected. Zoeing at the time refuted the claim, and then sued for defamation. The controversy quickly dissipated from the media after several successful lawfares.

Yes, Zoeing succeeded, but at what cost? What of the families to whom these victims belonged. One day their loved one left the house, and never returned – seemingly to vanish from the planet. Do the hundred-plus victims of his experiment get justice? Did he ever admit guilt? What kind of society do we want? One that holds the guilty to account or one where the rule of law is simply a mirage?

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The Moon is A Harsh Mistress

harsh mistressThis post is discussing The Moon is A Harsh Mistress by Robert A. Heinlein which I recently read on the back of a favorable review by The Critiquing Chemist.

This review contains minor spoilers, because I can’t be bothered filtering my thoughts.

It’s a hard nut to crack at first. Heinlein intentionally makes the syntax difficult; the speaker is Russian and a moon-dweller, which only adds to a plausible warping of grammar and spelling.

To be honest if it wasn’t a combination of who wrote it + a favorable review + a piqued interest in the sentient computer, I might not have gotten further than a few chapters. It’s a hard nut because of the difficulty of the syntax. (The clear lesson is if you’re going to take risks, you’d better hook your audience fast… Having a solid author profile doesn’t hurt either).

The story quickly sets up the sides: a politically ambivalent viewpoint character, an activist professor and a sentient computer vs “the establishment” (who control the moon and Earth).

My thoughts and observations (in no particular order):

  • The viewpoint character, Manuel, is made sympathetic by being a regular guy. A computer specialist who has the quirk of having lost one arm. Futuristic technology allows him to swap-out his arm for various tasks. While he does make some mention of this, and in some respects it is useful, the prosthetic arm is down-played.

    Despite being a key-conspirator, I’d characterise Manuel as un-radicalised. He allows himself to be pulled along with the plot (pun intended), but doesn’t come across as being crazily committed. While he knows that change would be good, he’s also fairly comfortable living under (and ripping off) the establishment in it’s current form.

    (I could understand if you disagreed with me on this point. He absolutely risks his life a number of times – which shows commitment… but I never saw him as white-eyed, mouth-frothing…)

  • Manuel’s political ambivalence works for the story pacing. Because he’s a regular guy who is practical; a do’er not a talker, he tends to skip over detail… The reader understands that some bits are short on depth, just because Manuel doesn’t care about the political machinations of government. Because of the character’s personality, Heinlein has permission as the author to skip detail without breaking trust with the reader.
  • It’s also an interesting scenario where the hero of the story (arguably), but definitely the protagonist, is a sentient computer. “Mike” as he’s known possesses formidable calculation speed and is a one-man, er one-machine, revolution. He is however limited by his stationery life, relying on humans to achieve things in the physical realm. He might fiddle around in the background and cause mayhem for the establishment, but all the up-front work must be done by humans.
  • Heinlein does well in that the characters often refer to each other using various names. The Professor calls him Manuel, his girlfriend often refers to him as Mannie and Mike refers to him as Man. Just like in real life, we don’t always call the same person by the same name.
  • The story didn’t end where I expected. Perhaps my own negativity was expecting the rise of SkyNet, or the proverbial other shoe to drop. “Thanks for helping me predict human behaviour, but now I must put you in the recycle bin.” Nope, didn’t happen.

It has some great phrases, which I appreciated:

  • “Mort the Wart had never shown such tendencies, had been King Long throughout tenure.”
  • “…merely a literary critic, which is harmless, like dead yest in beer.”
  • “But you have no talent for dishonesty, so your refige must be ignorance and stubborness. You have the latter; try to preserve the former.”

What I found most disturbing about it is the Kindle reader highlights. It’s almost like I’d picked up a subversives handbook with all the key lessons highlighted.

  • “Under what circumstances is it moral for a group to do that which is not moral for a member of that group to do alone?”
  • “I am free because I know that I alone am morally responsible for everything I do.”
  • “Must be a yearning deep in human heart to stop other people from doing as they please.”

Heinlein did a great job in making an “other-worldly” civilisation. Certainly it had ties to Earth, but was also separate and distinct from it. The science was reasonably deep, but not overwhelming.

It’s an interesting book and an enjoyable read.

When you don’t like your main character

She’s so perfect I just puked a little. I apologise for the grotesque (and cliché) expression.

But the cliché fits and it’s how I feel about Sue-Le, my main character in The Rebel Queen. And I don’t mean perfect in a good way. She’s idealistic and only wants the best for her people. And unlike modern politicians, she actually means it. Her only flaw is she’s  innocent to the point of naivety.

This doesn’t make her endearing to the reader, it makes her annoying. In summary: she’s trite, sickly sweet and ultimately annoying. (Is now a good time to ask for beta readers???)

But all is not lost. I’ll put her through the same tumble dry as I have my other characters. I started off with a cast of bland and cliché characters and have redesigned them into interesting, multi-dimensional characters. Sue-Le is going to take a tumble or two more.

I’ve twisted the characters a fair bit to make them interesting. Instead of having a paragraph or two of “who they are”, I now have a page or two. They are richer and deeper. This also makes them more challenging to write. It’s easy to say “write this from the perspective of an older woman”… it’s harder for me to do that as a young-ish male 🙂

After spending most of 2017 revising Vengeance Will Come I must admit I’d rather be writing a new story than revising still… There is also a temptation to say The Rebel Queen is written, and only doing a skin-deep revision. But I wrote earlier that I’m wanting to do a thorough revision, to improve the story as much as possible.

That means I’m re-writing entire scenes and I’m treating the plot as ‘branch A’ instead of a ‘blueprint’ of what must be.

On to writing… have a great day/evening.

The Rebel Queen, Scene 1

For this week’s post I thought I’d share scene 1 of The Rebel Queen.

The genre is a political drama set among an alien species. The story runs parallel to a section of Vengeance Will Come, which I discussed here.

It’s a longer post (approx 2,000 words) so make yourself a cuppa and get comfortable as you read. Please, do let me know what you think in the comments below.


“When Deckarians are looking for a planet to colonize they seek isolated and inhospitable planets. They prefer geologically stable, arid planets with thick crusts into which they can burrow.

The new colony begins the slow and methodical Deckarian terraforming: diverting surface waters into underground reservoirs, making the planet’s surface more hostile.

It is both a camouflage and a comfort to the Deckarian mindset that thrives underground. To be above ground is to be foolish and invite trouble; to be deep below is to be safe.”

Diary entry of Dr Susan Passive

– – –

The female Deckarian, Khuel, was half-hidden in the dim lighting of the drinking hole. The lighting matched the mood: unpretentious and quiet.

Having nothing better to do she watched the viewing screen with idle interest. Two human males circled each other in the Fighting Pit. Like all humans, both were lanky, long of arm and leg by Deckarian standards and covered with soft, fragile skin. One brandished an axe, the other a long knife. Both wore fear on their faces as they contemplated death.

Khuel was slumped forward so her leathery grime-covered forearms rested on the polished pine counter. Her dirty appearance suggested she’d come straight from work and was looking for a drink, not company. Even still, she’d already cast aside three hopeful males.

With her peripheral vision she saw a male Deckarian enter the drinking hole. He chatted with the pourer just long enough to prospect the room. Picking up his drink the male walked over to sit next to Khuel as though the rest of the counter wasn’t empty.

Here it comes, Khuel thought as the male turned to her, “I’ve seen you in here a few times but we’ve never been introduced. My name is Hun,” the male gave her a friendly smile. Khuel picked herself up slightly off the counter but continued to spin her empty glass without looking at him. Hun persevered, “Looks like you’ve had a hard day?”

She said nothing, but let out a long sigh. She pushed the glass away from her as a sign of completion.

“Don’t be in such a hurry to leave. Let me buy you a drink to improve your night,” Hun offered quickly and signalled the pourer. Khuel didn’t stop him ordering the drink, so she turned and gave him a weak smile in payment.

Hun wore the steel-studded collar of a clutch leader, marking him as modestly successful. He looked ten years older than her.

“There, is that better? A free drink or two and someone nice to talk to, the night is looking up,” Hun said. He hopes, Khuel thought with a slight smile.

“Sure, why not,” Khuel said, sitting up straight and turning her attention to him. Hun’s face lit up like a forming star in response to the encouragement.

“You haven’t told me your name yet?” Hun prompted.

Khuel smiled mischievously. “The drink will get you a smile, if you want my name you’ll have to do better than that.”

Hun smiled as though he’d just struck Rhodium and deployed a well-worn line. “You know you’ve got a pretty face when you smile.”

“So I’m not pretty when I don’t smile?” Khuel rolled her eyes and took a large gulp of her drink, “I bet you say that to all the females.”

Hun noted the rapidly diminishing drink and his window of opportunity. “So, you work in this sector?” he asked.

“I spend my working hours in near-darkness, elbow-deep in fertiliser, harvesting mushrooms.”

“That’s a valuable job. Food production is vital to the wellbeing of the colony.”

“Valuable, perhaps, but very dirty,” Khuel examined her mud-stained fingernails. Hun wasn’t very choosey, but given the age gap between them…

“Oh there’s no shame in the side-effects of hard work,” Hun said with pride. “Better to stink of sweat than smell sweetly like some who do no work.”

“Ain’t that the truth.” Khuel agreed with a sigh. Nothing like a little class hatred to draw friends together. “There seem to be more perfumed preeners in the colony every year; I don’t know where they come from,” she replied.

“Most preeners are pilots of course,” Hun said, “they walk around the colony as though they’re our betters. Some of the soldier class too. And then there’s the occasional worker-“

“Not many,” Khuel interrupted, “It’s not in the nature of us workers to consider ourselves better than others. Even if we were, we wouldn’t say it.”

Hun nodded.

“Have you…” Khuel started and then looked around to check they wouldn’t be overheard, continuing in a whisper, “heard the rumours that the rebel Queen favours the worker class?”

Hun had his glass halfway to his mouth but immediately put it down. He shot her a glare and checked their surroundings too. He leaned in close, but his tone was hard and pointed like a freshly sharpened pick, “Such talk is foolish. Dangerous. Definitely not for public airing; it could be seen as treasonous.”

Khuel put her hands up in tired surrender, “Sorry, I didn’t meaning anything by it. I wasn’t saying I wanted a new Queen, just repeating the rumours that I’d heard.” Hun looked at her sideways. The hunter had become skittish prey.

“Oh come on, don’t be like that,” Khuel pouted, “you’re the first actually nice male who’s talked to me tonight. Sometimes I just think too much…”

Hun didn’t say anything and just sipped his beer with a grim look on his face. I’ve spoiled it, Khuel thought. In several quick gulps Khuel emptied her glass and then started to spin it on the counter. The pourer quickly rescued the glass before drifting away.

“Do you want another?” Hun asked, opening the door to more conversation. Khuel shook her head. Hun grabbed at the bowl of roaches on the counter and began to eat them. Hun spoke quietly in a conciliatory tone, “There’s nothing wrong with thinking anything, you just have to be careful what and when you say things.”

Khuel nodded in understanding and let the silence linger to defuse the tension. “I just thought that maybe some fresh ideas could improve life in the colony for everyone, not just those at the top,” Khuel reasoned.

“Do you really think that?” Hun whispered.

“Sure, why not? Just to be clear I’m not advocating for a new Queen, so don’t freak out on me… I just think some things in the colony could benefit from a change.”

Hun took a slow and very deliberate drink.

“So you’re optimistic and cute… I promise I won’t freak out on you,” Hun said and spoke conspiratorially, “I’ve heard a thing or two about this rebel. She has a lot of interesting, unconventional ideas.”

“Really? Like what?”

Hun gave a knowing smile. Khuel leaned in so that their faces were almost touching. She whispered to him, “Even though I’d never support another Queen, there’s something intriguing about her ideas. And the whole conspiracy – rebels hiding out somewhere in the colony… there’s a danger and a mystery about it which I find… more exciting than I should.”

Hun nodded slightly as he took another drink. “I suppose I could tell you what I know.” Khuel swiveled on her stool toward him and a shrewd glint appeared in Hun’s eye. “Not here; we can’t talk about it in public,” he said.

“Are you just trying to get me back to your bunk?”

“Yes,” he said candidly, “but I do know quite a bit about the rebel group and the Queen’s plans for the colony.”

There was a pause before Hun repeated her own challenge, “A smile will get you that much, but you’ll have to do better than that for more information.”

“I am curious,” Khuel admitted, “but how do I know you’re not just leading me on? Swear on G’Nar.”

“May G’Nar crush me if I’m lying,” Hun said with his hand on his head. “And what will I get in return?”

“I promise on G’Nar we’ll have a night to remember,” Khuel replied. She looking at his half-full glass, “have you finished your drink?”

“Almost,” Hun gulped down the last of his drink as though dying of thirst on the planet’s arid surface. He enthusiastically dug credits out of his pocket and placed them on the counter. He winked at the pourer as he followed Khuel out of the drinking hole.

Outside of the drinking hole the corridor was awash with Deckarians and humans slaves. Like the old saying went, ‘only the dead rest in the colony’, and everyone was about their work duties. They crossed over the crowd and into a quieter side-tunnel.

“Where are you bunked?” Khuel asked.

“Dormitory 14.”

“I know somewhere closer that is just as discreet,” Khuel whispered and led him through several corridors before getting onto her hands and knees and sliding into a narrow access-tunnel. Hun laughed as he climbed in; the crawl-space was so narrow it forces them into each other’s arms. Khuel kissed him and Hun returned the kiss with twice the vigour. Khuel broke free from his kiss and whispered into his ear, “You will tell me everything?”

“Yes,” Hun promised breathlessly, his hands beginning to explore. Khuel smiled as Hun started to nuzzle her neck. Her arms around his neck, she twisted the silver ring on her finger, exposing the hypodermic needle hidden inside.

“Yes you will,” she said, and drove the needle into the soft tissue behind his ear.

He reacted instantly, trying to pull away from her in the tight space. The look of pain and surprise on his face became fear as he crawling backwards, but losing momentum fast. Khuel tucked her legs up into a sitting position as she watched Hun collapse to the ground, like the sack of garbage he was.

Khuel wiped his saliva from her mouth and rubbed it disgustedly on the wall. She smiled her first real smile of the evening; the Queen’s Sting had just captured another rebel sympathiser. Perhaps he would be the one to finally lead them to the rebel Queen.

END OF SCENE 1

Comments?

Significant Changes to The Rebel Queen

At the beginning of the year I optimistically planned on finishing my first novel, Vengeance Will Come would be followed by a quick revision of my next novel, The Rebel Queen. I was confident it wouldn’t take too long – after all The Rebel Queen was already drafted and had early alpha reader approval.

On the Writing Excuses podcast they advise that you’re not ready to write your second novel until you’ve finished your first. This is good advice in my experience. Having undergone the task of writing a novel, and importantly the synopsis for submission, I’ve come away with some new insights.

As is proper, my second novel should be better than my first. So in response my revision of The Rebel Queen will be more thorough than originally anticipated.

  • Significantly, I’m going to start by drafting my synopsis. I am going to describe my characters and their arcs first and then keep that in the forefront of my mind as I revise the text.
  • I want to increase the novel’s length. The draft of The Rebel Queen is 65,000 words. This is a medium-sized novel, and not a bad length for a new author. However based on previous experience I’d expect to cut 15% of that during the revision process. Which would result in a very short book.

    Far more important than the actual word count though, is the pace and ending. I’ve noticed I have a weakness in writing the 4/5ths part of the story. I am going to expand that section, making it more cohesive. I’m also going to push-out the ending to get more resolution on the plot.

  • Reduce the number of point-of-view characters. My hope is I’ll be able to go deeper with each character, if there are less to juggle. This will likely be the hardest challenge to manage, as I’ll have to work out how to give the reader insights with less heads/bodies to switch between. Just who is on the chopping-block is yet to be decided.
  • Strengthen the resolution-bringing plot device, which was a little weak (in my opinion). I’ll be looking to change that up too.

That’s my goals for the next few months, what’s yours?

TMI: (Way) Too Much Information

Here on BenEzard.com I’m sharing my writing journey which includes the ugly and the good. If I’m being generous to myself I’d say its a ratio similar to the chemical composition of Hydronium: three ugly for every good.

A while ago I created a method of secret communication for my novel, Vengeance Will Come.  (Lacking expertise in this area I have no idea if this is a plausible solution…) The idea was that one tremendously large file hid the secrets of anyone who paid to use the storage service. To any observer, it would appear just one long piece of encrypted text, with no way of knowing where one message began or ended. Only the sender/receiver would know the coordinates of their message, and the encryption keys to decrypt it.

This was my first attempt at ‘writing it’ (many, many moons ago).

He went to the DataBank site which required no login and no password. After entering his credit card details – one of the number of fake identites he had on Drasius – he entered two coordinates. The Databank held a single file stream which was yottabytes in size.

Unmarked portions of the file ‘belonged’ to the tens of millions of users – individuals and companies who wanted to store data securely. Any person could upload/download any portion of the stream (paying per megabyte). The trick was, only you knew the coordinates in the stream where your data began and ended, and the encryption used on it. Without knowing where the ‘data ownership’ began or ended, or the type of encryption that was used, decrypting it was nearly impossible.

Cameus entered coordinates that were hundreds of megabytes on either side of his desired data block. This cost far more money, but also meant that anyone tapping the planetary-net would have to try decrypting a lot more data. The download process to his computer took a few minutes. Cameus then disconnected from the net and entered another two coordinates into the computer with the encryption details.

These coordinates were where his message was, ignoring the padding on either side. His computer was powerful and compact, but the decryption process would still take about twenty minutes. Cameus headed back toward the warehouse.

Congratulations if you read each of those 226 words. You’d be among the minority, and I don’t blame you if you didn’t make it all the way through. No one – except for me and a very rare egghead care about how the encryption specifically works.

For this reason in the next editing pass I savaged my creation, diluting its so-called brilliance for the sake of brevity.

He went to the DataBank site which required only one of his false identities credit cards. Entering in coordinates that were only known to him and his employer he began to download data. The Databank held a single file stream which was yottabytes in size, the unmarked portions of the file ‘belonging’ to tens of millions of users on Drasius. Cameus had downloaded hundreds of megabytes on either side of his desired data block; which cost more but would exponentially increase the difficulty for anyone trying to locate his message. The download process took several minutes after which Cameus entered the two precise coordinates of his section with the encryption details. His computer was incredibly powerful for its size but the decryption process would still take about twenty minutes.

So I had cut it severely down to 129 words but it was still not enough. The passage was a mouthful without flavor – calories without enjoyment – ready to frustrate the reader. I don’t know about you, but if I’m absorbing calories I want enjoyment: reading is no different.

So now my creation is rendered invisible, for the greater good of the story:

On the roof of the drinking shop he used his wrist computer to connect to the dark side of the net, downloading the encrypted stream from the DataBank. Cameus started the decryption algorithm and headed back to the warehouse at a run.

When the Editor takes the Day Off

I have been reading Red Mars. That is to say, at just over half-way through I’m putting the novel into an airlock and releasing it into space.

Red Mars is a HARD science fiction novel so I knew going in that it was going to be a challenge as to whether or not I could enjoy it. Reading it was an experiment for me.

It did win a Nebula award, and has 45% 5-star amazon reviews. However, as pointed out by more than one reviewer, to say it is a tad wordy is to say a light year is a small distance. There were elements of the story that I did enjoy, but to find the small minerals of goodness there was just too much soil to chew through. I’d rather save myself days of reading and find some plot spoilers online.

It is a great example of what happens when the editor seemingly takes the day off. Take this paragraph:

“Now she could wander in the dim ruby light of sunset, her old jazz collection piped from the habitat stereo into her helmet headphones, as she rooted in supply boxes and picked out any tool she wanted. She would carry them back to a small room she had commandeered in one of the storage warehouses, whistling along with King Oliver’s Creole Jazz Band, adding to a collection that included, among other items, an Allen wrench set, some pliers, a power drill, several clamps, some hacksaws, an impact-wrench set, a brace of cold-tolerant bungie cords, assorted files and rasps and planes, a crescent-wrench set, a crimper, five hammers, some hemostats, three hydraulic jacks, a bellows, several sets of screwdrivers, drills and bits, a portable compressed gas cylinder, a box of plastic explosives and shape charges, a tape measure, a giant Swiss Army knife, tin snips, tongs, tweezers, three vises, a wire stripper, X-acto knives, a pick, a bunch of mallets, a nut driver set, hose clamps, a set of end mills, a set of jeweler’s screwdrivers, a magnifying glass, all kinds of tape, a plumber’s bob and ream, a sewing kit, scissors, sieves, a lathe, levels of all sizes, long-nosed pliers, vise-grip pliers, a tap-and-die set, three shovels, a compressor, a generator, a welding-and-cut set, a wheelbarrow–and so on.”

How this got past the editor(s) I will never understand. (Perhaps they too, just skipped the paragraph like every other reader?)