I’m not lacking for ideas so much as lacking for time as I’m in the middle of moving house–but rather than make that an excuse for my absence, I’ll just eke out time now that I’ve found it to jot down a handful of my pre-NaNoWriMo drafting and planning thoughts (for I have many).
New Persepolis: Space Ships, Cordyceps, Found (And Lost) Families, and Representation
…that’s it in a nutshell, really.
(NB: After a lot of thought, and outlining, I’ve tabled my city witch plan and will determine, at a later date, whether the idea is worth pursuing further.)
I’ve decided, after much discussion with members of my writing group (more on this later), to return to my 2013 NaNoWriMo project, New Persepolis. It is the broader novel that the short excerpt I shared a few weeks ago is set within. New Persepolis is a working title, and one I’ll probably change in the future. The idea for it has been tumbling around in my head, in multiple iterations, since at least mid-2012, and my first real stab at drafting an outline of it happened in October of 2013, just in time for NaNoWriMo that year. Prior to NP, and aside from the handful of Star Wars and Mass Effect fic I’d attempted to write in the past, I’d never attempted to create my own original science fiction story before.
In retrospect, I’m not sure why I waited so long to give it a shot, because it’s easily been one of the most rewarding world building experiences I’ve ever had. My attempts at world building fantasy universes have always been bound by some constraints that, probably, deserve their own blog post to be most effectively unpacked, so I’ll save those thoughts for another time. Since childhood, fantasy has been my ‘bread and butter’ when it came to playing in fictional universes; science fiction was always something else that I enjoyed, but couldn’t possibly create myself. I’m completely hooked now that I’ve taken the plunge, though, because with science fiction, I feel limitless in what concepts I can choose to explore, in what genre-specific conventions I can choose to adopt or reject, and in what kind of worlds I can create.
So, one of the things I’ve decided to do is blend genres. I’ve woven horror as neatly and inexorably throughout the plot as possible. That’s where the cordyceps come in. Monstrous fungi already seem to have an established following somewhat exclusive to the weird/horror genres. But I think the weird often serves as a bridge between horror and science/speculative fiction, so I’m happy to blend the deeply personal stories of my space opera characters together with the threat of a fungal infection that is indiscriminate in who it affects.
I’ll share an excerpt from the first draft now, then end, as always, with what’s on the radio. (It’s an oldie but a goodie–at least for me–this week).
(New Persepolis, short excerpt from the first draft.)
Earth is a graveyard for a trillion dreams.
I speak in hyperbole. Earth is not a graveyard, but it is where the dreams of two species were at once realized, and then crushed. This was a tragedy.
Let me explain. My grandmatron, Artwalli-Artethe, was the admiral who pioneered the exploration armada that found Earth a dying planet in its singular orbit around a star not even halfway through its lifespan. Star death, we can only speculate, is what forced the First Progenitors out of their home system and into the great expanse that we as thinkers have come to people over billions upon billions of generations. Without that death, there would have been no exodus to the stars, and the Shee–my people–would never have come into being. Nor the Dru, nor, as we can only assume, the Humans. My grandmatron wondered, as we Shee have always wondered, what cataclysm must have befallen the First Progenitors such that, scattered amongst the galaxies as they were, they lost all contact with each other. Will we ever know how many species in the known or unknown universe owe their existence to our long dead, long forgotten ancestors? How many species have evolved to sentience, become a people, constructed their great civilizations, torn them down, and been lost to extinction, lightyears away from us? No. How can we ever know?
With this in mind, it was the cosmos’s greatest gift to us that we should find even one of these distant cousins in the incalculable vastness of the stars–and we found two: the Dru, our cosmic neighbors, living on one of Nyer’s very own moons, whose cities slowly sparkled to life in our night sky; and the Humans, who were thrown into our path by chance and luck as our people ventured out of the security of our galaxy and into what lay beyond. The Humans, whose life and death was the planet that both sustained and slowly destroyed them. The Humans, who could be saved only if we sacrificed our hopes and dreams of intergalactic exploration, and instead dedicated those resources to carrying them back to safety with us through the stars.
I will forever maintain until my last breath and my remains are consigned to the sea, that the Shee on board the armada chose well when they chose to bring the Humans back to the homeworld. No dream, be it of one mind or one billion minds, should ever come to fruition if its cost is the right of an entire world to that rare and precious gift that is life. No, burn every dream to ashes if, to see it come to pass, even one sentient life must be sacrificed in the process. That is not dream, but nightmare; we should beg to be woken from it.
As the First of my clutch, I have been asked to make a formal comment on the recently returned expedition, the descendants of the original research team and refugees, and the crisis currently underway on board the vessels. This is my statement: I am proud of my Grandmatron Artwalli-Artethe and her team for choosing to sacrifice “priceless” equipment and research opportunities, rather than living people for whom our compassion was their only hope. Yes, I am proud. You who judge her decision as short-sighted and sentimental should feel nothing but shame for your callous disregard for the value inherent in each soul in this universe; and, should a day come to pass when Nyer fails us and we find ourselves at the mercy of another distant cousin traveling through the the light and dust of the universe, pray that those cousins possess my grandmatron’s warm compassion, and not your cold indifference.
That is all I have to say.
Artwalli-Dirtathe’s public address regarding the Artwalli Armada Controversy
[. . .]
The village wasn’t nearly as far from the prison as it was from just about every other town within the habitable zones on Kol. It had taken Knut about ten lunar hours to drive there from Saarune, the metropolis where he had lived nearly every day of his life since the end of his fellowship at the Republic University in the Capital. Logic dictated that he should have preferred Lin Mereeta, with its sparse population composed of mostly his own people who were familiar with his condition and would grant him the necessary space he needed to function. He didn’t dislike it. He enjoyed its rock gardens and open air buildings looking out on the great, empty expanse of the desert, the familiar predictability of the roads that hadn’t changed since his childhood and the sleeping quarters in his family’s temple that had always been his. It was remote and quiet and beautiful, and he knew himself well enough that he would always love it.
But coming home for longer than a day or two at a time usually left him mired in all of that beauty, and utterly bored out of his mind. This time it was different because this time there was no one to greet him at the gates to Temple Otep except the new gardener who was only there to collect her weekly pay, and no way to know how long settling his aunt’s affairs would take, or how long he would be away from his colleagues and practice in Saarune. Knut pulled the sandcar around to the back, then let himself inside with the key that had been his aunt’s.
The temple still looked lived in. Teema had only been gone for a handful of days, and Knut had spent the previous evening there searching for necessary documents to settle her affairs and take care of the funeral expenses, completely by himself. He stood in the open air kitchen that still smelled of the spices his aunt had often cooked with, and realized that somehow he and Lis were the only ones left, and that time had taken the rest of their family while they were living their own lives. Somehow they’d made time to attend funerals, but making time to pay attention was beyond them.
The gardener came to stand beside him, ears flagged low, and shook her head. “Such a shame,” she said softly.
Knut had no idea what possessed him to say, “I don’t know, better a car crash than the blood disease,” but once the words were out there was no taking them back, and although the gardener gave him a dark look she didn’t say anything. Knut bit his lip against further accidental insult and searched through the pockets of his tarram for his data frame so he could access his aunt’s account.
“Here,” he said and held the data frame and stylus out to the gardener. She took both and signed her name–Estir–and as she handed them back to him with a reproachful look, Knut found that she wasn’t a new gardener at all, but the same gardener who had helped maintain the temple grounds for decades. She was much older now than Knut remembered. He opened his mouth to say something, anything, but she smiled thinly and said, “Take care of yourself, Dr. Otepi,” then turned and made her quiet way off the grounds through the courtyard.
Take care of yourself. Yes, he supposed he had better get started.
The last thing Teema had cooked before she died was a spiced lentil soup that was still several days’ away from going bad. Knut took of his tarram and hung it up near the door to dry, then ladled himself a bowl of the soup and found his usual seat at the low table in the central living area. He took off his gloves before he reached for his spoon and felt the barest whisper of other intimate thoughts against the edges of his consciousness. Late in the day as it was, he knew those voices belonged to other Dru coming and going along the main thoroughfare that passed in front of the temple. But this meal felt like part of a wake and those thoughts could have too easily been ghosts. Knut pulled the gloves back on again and ate in silence. He wondered whether or not the prison guards would let him bring some of this soup for Lis tomorrow.
The difference between his preference for solitude and the yawning chasm that was encroaching loneliness was a hard pit in his throat that made it difficult to swallow, all of a sudden. He looked anywhere but at the empty soup bowl in front of himself, and his eyes felt inexplicably wet when overhead, the house lights flickered as they had in the prison.
- Fool’s Errand: Book 1 of the Tawny Man trilogy, by Robin Hobb. Narrated by James Langton, who expertly (and enviably) flips between the voices of characters I’ve loved for over a decade now.I re-read Hobb’s Farseer and Liveship trilogies during what little down time I could eke out for myself during my degree program, and have been reading the latest of her Fitz and the Fool trilogy books as they’ve been published. The Tawny Man books, however, might be my favorite.
Notes and References:
 A 30,769 word outline, to be precise. …It’s about 57 pages long. Basically, it is the book, with little to no dialogue in it.
 And I think this is true of fantasy, too. But I need to think a little bit more about why I used to feel like it wasn’t true, and come back to the idea in another post at another time.