strange_aeons: (meh)
536 words sometime between Friday evening and Saturday evening, for a total of 1038 because I had not touched the WIP in a while. I feel like I may have finally cracked this thing, but I keep feeling that way and then discovering I'm wrong, so we'll see. I have no momentum yet, and that's bad. I also can't write while making scarves, so I may not get any until after Christmas.

I keep worrying about how much more trouble the beginning of this thing is giving me than the beginning of Life did, and having to remind myself that -- well, (a) I think I had to rewrite the first scene of Life at least once; it was just so long ago I don't remember. (b) Even if I didn't have to blank-screen Life itself at any point, the first scene was originally an isolated vignette, and even the characters who weren't in that vignette had been around in some form for a while. Of course I'm having trouble hearing these people's voices: I've never met any of them before. Also, almost everyone in this scene is a nonverbal tentacle monster.

There's a vibrancy I'm missing, and it took me a while to figure out what it is: Wakefield is not as fun a perspective character as Rook was, because Wakefield is not cranky. Rook was a cranky, cranky man, and his crankiness manifested itself as narration that crackled with jokes and sarcastic observations; Wakefield, on the other hand, has numbed himself to almost everything but his job, so what I get is mostly 'neutral speculation'. I suspect that the problem is not that the resulting narration is actually boring, but that I'm not comfortable when I'm not cracking jokes. Between that and the fact that the early stages of the plot are driven mostly by the actions of Nishimura and Taste of Copper, I spent some time recently in nail-biting anxiety about Wakefield having no opinions and no agency. I've been thinking about passive protagonists a lot lately, between devoting entirely too much of my brainpower to analysis of Twilight and then reading this; I get paranoid. Then I remembered that basically the first thing Wakefield does is save someone who just nearly shot him from death by falling while he's in the process of bleeding to death because he has strong opinions about whether it is appropriate to leave people to die. And then he goes to her husband's funeral because that's what you do, you honor the motherfucking dead. Okay, point taken. You have a personality.

Also, I have word of a scene much later in which Nishimura is going to accuse Wakefield of taking sexual advantage of a pair of innocent tentacle monsters. So there's that to look forward to. Actually, some of the shit that Wakefield is going to do later is so weird that I wonder if it will become difficult to keep him sympathetic. He never actually has sex with a tentacle monster, though, as far as I know. He still seems quite asexual.
strange_aeons: (Default)
One of the challenges the WIP presents me with is living up to the potential of the setting's central conceit without getting catastrophically sidetracked. I could write stories in even the setting as it is as the WIP opens for the rest of my life without exhausting its potential, though this is unlikely to happen because, as usual, what I'm most interested in doing is taking a good hard look at said central conceit and then breaking it. What I really need is a thriving fanfic community to do the work for me. Sign up in the comments.

For those of you just tuning in, of which I am pretty sure there are none, this conceit is that periodically stuff falls from the sky that any untrained sophont¹ can cause to turn into more or less any noun -- objects, creatures, and abstract things like 'my ability to fly' or 'the fourth primary color' or 'Beethoven's Fifth'. Most of this stuff is not around any more because some idiot made a type of creature that can replicate itself (given access to more stuff from the sky) and, once it's replicated enough, has both the ability and the inclination to establish a hegemony over all or most of humanity, whittle down the numbers of or outright exterminate other sorts of creatures, and track down most of the objects and the more annoying abstract concepts and destroy or repurpose them.

Aside from the rings of the gas giant it orbits being partly made out of magic stuff, the physics of this world are mostly as you'd expect, and the only ways to break the laws of physics are to be made of magic stuff or have the assistance of it (q.v. 'my ability to fly'). However, that leaves a tremendous amount of room for things that could not come about without supernatural assistance but which are not themselves supernatural, and the tone of the setting demands that these things be fairly bizarre. The second type of weird creature introduced in the first five hundred words of the WIP is a kind of semi-sentient biological aerostat that looks roughly like a ctenophore, which is a category so diverse that this comparison is actually, technically, accurate. I had assumed initially that they were magic, but outside of my prejudices about creatures that no sensible evolutionary process would give rise to, there's no reason for them to be. It's quite possible to turn magic stuff into creatures that can produce mundane offspring, or to turn it into a factory for producing such things -- I've mentioned cornucopia machines before.

This becomes a problem because there's no reason for the setting not to be seething with weird shit of varieties that I don't want to deal with. What's the first thing you'd do if you had a machine you could configure to produce any one thing? I'd start making sex toys, because that's where the money is and, well, because my interests are fairly narrow. But I don't want to have to deal with a self-reproducing race of robot girlfriends. There's a whole book in that, for one thing, and for another thing, a dozen people have already written that book.² More importantly, I want to write this book, which does not have room in it for me to deal with the implications of robot girlfriends; yet I can't ignore those implications if I want to be able to look at myself in the mirror.

Some of it I can handwave. Robot girlfriends that you can breed in your backyard are ... extraordinarily disgusting, I realize now that I've written that phrase, but they're also bad for business. Things that can reproduce are probably more along the lines of weird A Wizard Did It-style biological experiments. The cultures that had robot girlfriends, and I'm sure some cultures did, have been dead or subjugated for between twenty and a hundred years; most of those things are probably out of commission now, because planned obsolescence. I can deal with one or two robot girlfriends, just not one in every driveway.

Hmm. I may have just talked myself into feeling better about this.

Now that I'm thinking about it, this raises questions about Nishimura's friend the revolting monster. He is designed to have some specifically conditioned magic stuff plugged into himself; he can function without it, but it's as basic a drive for him as eating. It's also fantastically illegal, and he could care less about that, but it makes it damn difficult to get ahold of the magic stuff he needs. He is probably my primary villain, though there is another contender for the job. I had assumed he belonged to some race of magic-stuff creature that is given just enough stuff not to go extinct³, of which there are several, but he may actully be some kind of weird android. I'm not sure I like that, though. It makes his appalling physical appearance seem improbable somehow -- which is an arbitrary, irrational judgement, but, well, it's my party.

On the other side of the coin from all this I have the problem of making sure there's enough weird shit in the world for the conceit of the setting to feel sufficiently explored. Nothing drives me crazier than an interesting premise that the author never goes anywhere with. I don't have enough thoughts about this to make a full paragraph, it turns out. There it is. This irritates me, because my brain usually spits this stuff out in something very close to essay format; I feel like I've tried to step up onto a stair that isn't there. Good thing I'm not getting paid for this.

Nor do I have any closing remarks!

¹ But training helps, if you want consistent or precise results.

² I'm sure a couple of people have already written this one, but I have yet to encounter their versions of it, and until such time as I do, I don't care.

³ He needs more stuff plugged into him because he is supposed to be, more or less, a human being with magic powers of some kind I haven't devised yet, and it's impossible to make anything that complex from a single unit of magic stuff. You can make a full-featured human being (or other sophont with a biology), but as soon as you start adding supernatural abilities you have to compensate by taking away other types of complexity, like the personality, or the fingers. And that's if you have a really good unit; it would actually take about one and a half of an average one to make a human being. This is all relevant to the plot.

4 Who I don't even like. I was so disappointed. I was halfway into Perdido Street Station before I felt like the plot had started, and to get there I had to wade through piles of dialogue that is frequently horrible. Aspects of the setting are delicious, but none of them are central enough to Perdido Street Station to keep me reading. Are his later books better? Did he ever, say, figure out that nobody fucking talks like that?
strange_aeons: (snow)
I have written -450 words since my last update on the subject. At this point a blank screen rewrite is incredibly dangerous, because if I'm not careful I'll wind up rewriting the same five hundred words until I'm too senile to remember where I was planning to go anyway, but I'm orders of magnitude happier with what I have now than with what I had then. I'm not sure even I would have kept reading. I have a better handle now on everything -- universe, characters, mechanics of what's happening in this scene -- and have figured out how to open with a scene in which, while what is going on is bizarre, the perspective character has done it a million times and finds it fairly boring, without instantly crashing and burning. (He'll start to find it more interesting when literal people with guns literally jump in through the window and shoot the place up. I'm concerned I'll create a delete-your-first-chapter problem, but this is only going to go on for another thousand words or so, and it contains a lot of information that would be impossible to deliver in an action scene and which the action scene would be uninterpretable without. And the delete-your-first-chapter problem is not one of my issues, in general. And I'm not defensive, so stop looking at me like that.)

The upshot is that the 502 words I have now -- squeezed out in fits and starts since last Saturday; I don't think the daily update thing is going to work for me anymore, given the state of my life -- are impossible to read. There's too much worldbuilding in too small a space, mostly delivered in the form of parenthetic phrases, such that by the time the end of the sentence arrives the reader has forgotten what the beginning was about. Also, the adjectives and adverbs are packed too closely together, and on my workaday prose, that doesn't feel lush, it feels purple. This bit will probably grow 50%-100% in revision. Terrifying. Still, much better.

Also, I have written possibly my most confusing-out-of-context sentence ever.

Scent of Water was approaching Wakefield, trailed by the other four members of its menage in ascending order of their ability to quickly disentangle themselves from its personality; Fiveness had hardly budged, but Nostalgia was practically on Water's heels.

Put that in your brain and smoke it.

The way the character dynamics are working out in this thing, it may very well fail the Bechdel Test, the Ledhceb Test and what I just named the Bedlech test via a completely random and innocent scrambling of letters, success conditions for which are:

  1. It must contain at least two male and/or female characters

  2. Who talk to each other

  3. About something other than a nongendered or genderqueer entity

I'm cheating, of course. As someone points out in the thread I linked to, the Bechdel test ceases to function in the presence of such characters. Nishimura seems to be the only one with a romantic subplot coupon -- Wakefield appears pretty much asexual and may be a virgin -- and is probably going to redeem it with the Mad Scientist's Beautiful Daughter, which would mean passing the Bedchel Test at least, but at this point I don't think the Mad Scientist or Nishimura's friend the male-identified revolting monster have anything to say to either each other or Wakefield that isn't about one of aforesaid women or one of several sexless creatures.

In other news, I am not to be trifled with while I'm recovering from a Ren Faire drunk:

[ profile] oneironaut says, "Hmm. Cladistically speaking, birds are reptiles. I've never eaten one of your conventional scaly reptiles as far as I can recall, but when people talk about reptile meat I always get the impression that it's somehow different from mammal meat. Yet your grouse, a reptile, tastes like venison."
[ profile] oneironaut says, "Conclusion: deer are reptiles."
Vinci the Magnificent says, "You're distracting me from my horrible movie, and making the roommate choke on her ice cream."
strange_aeons: (what I get up to in the bathroom)
Today I had the pleasure of struggling to write the first sentence because it's hard to put words together, instead of struggling to write the first sentence because I have no idea what the fuck is going on. Then I finished struggling with the sentence and wrote another 401 words, for a total today of 413.

Put that in your pipe and smoke it, [ profile] lilairen!

This is my strangest setting ever. I knew it was pretty weird, but only now that I'm trying to render parts of it in a format that is at least first-draft levels of accessible do I realize how very bizarre it actually is, in much the way that my habits seem only mildly awful and socially unacceptable until I try to explain them to someone else. This thing feels weird and foreign even to me, which is intriguing; usually things out of my own brain feel prosaic to me. It makes me worry that it's full of darlings, or possibly that I have a tumor.
strange_aeons: (Default)
I'm in the market for a(n English) term for the petals of a flower, collectively. I'm aware of corolla, but there are obvious problems with that; I'm hoping there's a term I've missed that bears a clear resemblance to foliage, plumage and pelage. I could just make one up by analogy, but what I'm coming up with is mostly appalling -- petallage is technically fine, but, well, I have my self-respect. Bractage is possibly acceptable,¹ but most people don't know bract. (Interestingly, it and petal are both from Latin words referring to metal plates. See also foliage. Anyone know how that happened?)

¹ Bracts are not petals, but neither are the things I need the term for. They're more like tentacles than they are like anything else, but no one calls them that; they also resemble leaves, feathers and, very slightly, fur, but the terms for all of those things give the wrong impression. Foliage, for example, says very strongly to me that I am dealing with something plantlike, which is not the case here.
strange_aeons: (snow)
It turns out it's incredibly hard to turn this into a comfortable-to-read webpage, so I have done the unthinkable: I have gone back on a color scheme. Further tweaking may follow, such as when I decide I hate this khaki-green color. I can feel it approaching. I still think the original is a better piece of art, but it's not suited for what I wanted to do with it (I hated the grey-cyan colors I was coming up with for the background of the text area even more than I'm eventually going to hate the current colors, orange would have been worse and a greyscale color would have been Just Wrong).

Also, I've gotten a paid account; you may see some strange things in the comments sections of my posts (and my friendspage, those of you who look at it) until I've finished adjusting the CSS.

[ profile] ibnfirnas, [ profile] aquaeri, Graydon: Thank you for the suggestions; I have much processing to do before I can say more on the subject. I have solved a couple of tangentially related problems in the WIP in the ... incredibly short week since my last post:

1. The action takes place not on Earth, or another planet per se, but on the moon of a gas giant with a ring system that pelts the moon with stuff, either constantly or seasonally. I knew there was a perpetual, stuff-throwing lightshow in the sky, so this ties things up neatly. Its inhabitants may call the moon Earth; I know that they call the planet in the sky Heaven and that it is of substantial religious significance. (If it has other moons they will be of significance also, but I haven't worked out the details.) I will be employing a lot of English in this thing, in part because I finally realized what a chore making up words is -- which is a strange thing for a conlanger to say, but you don't come here for the sense. This probably means that I'm going to spend a lot of time finding out things like what the tides are like on the moon of a gas giant, which is never going to be relevant because I expect all the action to happen well inland.

2. Wakefield is not an adopted name. Members of population D have ethnically British surnames (and don't look particularly ethnically British). Bs have probably-French names and I am vacillating between Norse and Japanese names for population C. The latter suggests (but does not mandate, see above about population D not looking British) the nearly irresistable working title A World Without Blonds. The roadsigns are printed in population D's language; they were a major power until population A changed the laws of physics, declared them heretics, crushed them, conquered what remained of their cities one by one, and repurposed their mages'-anthills.

There is another can of worms here, but, well, I'm opening it. Wakefield will be changing the laws of physics back. (Somehow.) Population D's mageocracy was founded on the denial of free will to things (the stuff that falls from the sky) that have the potential for it but, at the time that the decision to deny them free will is made, do not have it and are unlikely to develop it without someone deciding to give it to them. The official population A line is that this is slavery and evil and this is why D had to go: everything that can have free will must. I don't know whether they're right; I don't know whether it's possible for me to determine whether they're right; there's no analagous situation in the real world. If I had to point to a group of bad guys in the setting it would be population A, and they secretly violate their own rules all the time (in fact their numbers would be much smaller if they didn't, and the expansion of their empire would be much slower), but that doesn't necessarily make them wrong. I've known from the start that I was going to have to deal with this issue, but this circular thing where the person who makes a D-style mageocracy possible again is a member of D who has been working for members of A most of his life I did not expect. Because I am kind of dim; now that it's come to me it seems like, if anything, an incredibly predictable route to take.

The commodity-as-person-as-commodity themes here were the final nail in the coffin of Life on Earth, which also concerned itself with the subject in a less morally ambiguous way. I find this sad, and also worrisome.

Cut for length and very nominal spoilers for some of the work of Warren Ellis and Tim Powers. )
strange_aeons: (meh)
I have a cold. Again. I've had something like half a million colds in the last year, where previously I've gotten them at a rate of about two per year. (This is probably a stress thing. That, and having a desk inches away from a woman I have dubbed Patient Zero.) I hoped I was done a couple of months ago when I caught the same plague that was laying waste to everyone on reality television at the time, and spent a week essentially dead. No such luck. God, my head.

Time to talk about race!

Not how you're thinking. Maybe next time. )

Aside: I just saw that ad for the asthma controller that contains salmeterol and therefore 'may cause asthma-related death' again. There's a joke about the FDA and 'lethal quantities of irony' in there that I can't formulate. I blame the illness.