On Sunday, I announced a schedule for this blog, that I am now going to have to break. The Thursday and Friday posts are going to get deferred until a later date.
The reason is that I am coming up on a four day weekend, and it is my goal during that time to make more progress on my current work-in-progress novel, the title of which is The Other. I currently have about 10,000 words, which I wrote back in late March. I have a minimum goal of another 10,000 by Monday.
In the wake of the 2016 election, I knew that I wanted to try to condense our political moment into something science-fictional and I struggled through numerous attempts to do just that.
My first attempt was a novel that never made it past scene two called A Year in a Day. The rough idea was for a pair of protagonists to go to a distant plant and get entrenched in a society whose population were only ever awake for one hour a day. The imagined planet had a time-zone-sized slice of daylight that would traverse the globe. The result was populations in various localities that, despite their technological advancement, were radically out of touch with one another socially, since none of them could ever be conscious at the same time.
The next idea got much further along. Commencement Day posited a twenty-ninth-century Earth that looked much like our present day, thanks to a mesh of nanites that humanity invented to hold the biosphere together when ecological collapsed threatened all life in the twenty-second century. The protagonist was a programmer who discovered that the nanite mesh was failing extraordinarily slowly and humanity was still doomed. I got this novel to about 30,000 words, but it floundered because it didn't seem to capture the essence of our modern crisis of political identity. By using technology as the central metaphor, I was essentially giving up on identifying and therefore investigating the social nature of the problem.
What I realized earlier this year was that I had already invented the perfect setting to explore these ideas in one of my prior novels, the world of Alterra. Even more perfect, part of the solution to the plotline of that novel involved the construction of walls. What could be better?
The Other is set on the Asura parallel universe of Alterra, ninety years after the events of the first novel. At the end of Alterra, the Asurans set up walls around their portal to keep the Deranged away from Alterra. By the time of The Other, they have expanded their walled-off zone immensely, enclosing a number of their cities into a central "hub" and extending walled roads out to even more "spoke" cities. This new country calls itself the Reclamation.
But all is not politically well in the Reclamation. In the "hub" cities, new ideas are forming about humanity's relationship to the "nanite-bodied," their more politically correct term for the nanite-enhanced human-offshoot species, whom the protagonists in Alterra called the Deranged. Meanwhile, the inhabitants of the "spoke" cities, with enemy territory surrounding them on all sides, feel particularly vulnerable and ever more abandoned by hub-city politics. Their demand is simple—more protection, more safety, more walls.
For ninety years, the Deranged/nanite-bodied have been unable to penetrate the Reclamation's defenses. An event at the beginning of the novel will throw all that into confusion. The walls will be, in a sense, breached. What are the motivations of the nanite-bodied? Do they remain hostile, or are they potential allies? Which political party can best protect the populace of the Reclamation? Are the things that each party tells itself about the other party true? I won't provide easy answers to any of these questions, but I do feel I finally found the right questions and an adequately speculative mode for exploring them.
I'll update on Monday with my progress and give a new timeline for my posts about Helena Rosenblatt's The Lost History of Liberalism and my retrospective on The Shipwright.