What I’m trying to accomplish with this novel

I recently told an acquaintance what I’m trying to accomplish with this novel:

This is what Heinlein’s Moon is a Harsh Mistress would be if it were five times longer (in a Neal Stephenson-esque discursive style), told from dozens of points of view, and updated for the 21st century.

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Back at it

I took six weeks off.

A week ago I got back to the novel.

Draft 4 target completion date: 15 November 2013.

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John C Wright on my reactionary science fiction

Over in John C Wright’s blog John wrote about, tangentially, motherhood.

I commented:

TJIC: My two-novel arc peaks in grand space-opera fashion: really big things blowing up, even bigger things blowing up, space ships bigger than anyone had expected, AIs, uplifted Dogs, coding hacks, robot hordes…but it does not CONCLUDE until the boy gets the girl – and the girl pulls back and says “wait, there’s one condition: we’re going to have kids. And lots of them.”

Who says science fiction can’t be reactionary?

To which John graciously replied:

JCW: But who says reactionaries are reactionary? It is the Politically Correct inmates of their own narrow thought prisons who react without thinking to support any idea that is against the status quo without bothering to discover if the status quo got its status for a reason.

From a science fiction point of view, the alien race that kills its own children in the womb sounds like some horrid insect critters from the dark side of the moon. It is the race of people who have lots of kids and lots more who will be the race that will rule the Sevagram.

This is an allusion to the curtain line of A E van Vogt’s WEAPON MAKERS OF ISHER, one of the best (and confusingest) curtain lines in Sciffydom, but the point of the line is that Man because of his emotional nature — including such emotions as loving Mom and loving one’s home and motherland — are destined to rule the galaxy.

The real reactionaries are the guys who are against the Mom and the flag and the cross and apple pie and babies and marriage, and honor and hope, the guys who hate Boy Scouts, the guys who hate the free market, the guys who hate and hate and hate — they are ones who react without thought. Whatever is their own, they hate.

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one week break

Lots of stuff needs to be done at work, and I’m a bit tired of writing, so I’m taking a one week break.

Back at it soon!

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chapter 149: Darren continues salvaging nuclear material from crashed UN ships, then gets a weird emails

== 2064: lunar surface near lock #473, Aristillus, Lunar Nearside

Darren scratched ineffectually at the side of his suit. His glove brushed against the fabric over his torso, which barely moved over the cooling undergarment, which only lightly touched his skin. The end result was that the itch wasn’t assuaged at all. Damn it. He needed a shower, some food, and a break. – but as long as his men were on the surface, he was going to stay with them.

Even as that thought occurred to him a yellow icon popped up on his screen. He glanced at it. The PSO in the air-pack was over 80% saturated. He pursed his lips. His own safety regulations said that he had to replace the primary pack or go back inside at this point – the second rebreather pack in his suit backpack was only for true emergency use. “Pierrick, do we have any spare PSO canisters on hand?”

“Darren, it’s Jan. Pierrick went back inside six hours ago.”

Darren grunted. “OK. Just hand me another PSO canister.”

Darren saw Jan turn and look at him. “Boss, how long have you been awake?”

“What? I – don’t worry about me.”

Jan shook his head. “How long?”

Darren looked at the clock in his display, did a quick calculation, and –


Finally he nodded. “OK, I’ll go get some sleep.”

* * *

Darren stifled a yawn as he paged through emails. He’d finish a first pass by the time the car drove him home, and then he’d get to the rest when he woke up.

The first six messages were Vosloo and van Heerden reenacting their monthly fight about extraction and purification techniques. Wohlwill process this, Miller process that. The fight was ostensibly about technologies, but it was really personality conflict that drove it. Despite being CC-ed by both men, Darren had been sitting this round out. Now, though, tired and irritated after fifteen hours in a suit, he dashed off an irritated note directing the two men to stop debating the technological merits and tell him the financial implications.

Only after he sent the email did he look up and realize that the car had stopped moving; he was home. He should get out of the car, walk from the garage to the bedroom, and sleep. Or maybe take a shower first, and THEN sleep.

Instead he turned back to the slate. Just a few more emails. He opened the first. The daily update from Reggie Strosnider, head of his security team. It was the usual stuff, with a note about the Earth kids who’d been trespassing at the battle site. Any reason they shouldn’t be held for two days then released as per the usual trespassing protocol? Darren shook his head ; the topic was beneath his pay grade and whatever Security decided was fine with him. He archived the message into the “low priority” folder and moved on.

A few messages later – was that email from state.gov.us ?

He blinked, then chuckled at the very idea. It was a joke. Or spam with a fake return address.

He tapped the delete key. There. Inbox zero. He unbuckled his seatbelt and stepped out of the car. He could FEEL the hot stacatto of the shower on him already.

He let himself in from the garage to the kitchen, then walked through the master suite to the bathroom. He turned the water on high – damn the cost – and shed his clothes. The mirror started to fog and he was about to step into the shower.

But something was nagging at him.


This was stupid.

He looked at the shower. He wanted to climb in it right this second. Then he looked back at his slate. He sighed. This was stupid, but it would only take a second.

He opened his email, then dug into the trash folder. He found the message from state.gov.us and looked at the headers.

– and was immediately surprised. It hadn’t just sent to him; Mike Martin, Javier Borda, Albert Lai – the CC list was long. Could this message be real?

What was this message? Saber rattling threats about economic crimes? Or might it be an attempt at negotiation?

He reached out and shut the shower off.

He opened the message and read it with growing incomprehension. Why the hell was the State Department looking for a couple of kids? And why the hell were they spamming CEOs – people who were basically war criminals, from their point of view – asking for favors?

He shook his head. This had to be a joke. He reached out to turn the shower back on, then froze. An odd thought struck him. These college kids State was looking for – these couldn’t be the two trespassers his men had found shooting video of the PK invasion outside his warehouse, could it?

HE flipped back to the Reggie’s email and checked the names and blinked, his eyes crusty with fatigue.

Holy shit.

He had the two kids that State was looking for.

These two assholes were important to someone. But why? And to who?

He calledup a search engine and copied in the names from Reggie’s message. “Hugh Haig”. “Louisa Teer”.

His jaw dropped. Hugh Haig. Senator Linda Haig. This couldn’t possibly be true, could it?

On the other hand, it would explain why the State department was reaching out to him.

He looked longingly at the shower enclosure. He wanted – no, he NEEDED – hot water and then and a long rest.

He pulled out his phone. “Pierrick, meet me at the office – I’ll be there in ten minutes.”

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progress continues

I finished the Mike-and-Darcy thread. There’s some really nice symmetry there – the book starts with a chapter that showcases Mike and shows that Darcy isn’t his top priority, and it ends with the two of them holding hands, looking at their new home, and committing to an exciting awesome future together.

…and then for pure writerly showing-off that only one reader in one thousand will catch, the very last paragraph of book 2 has a lot of close echoes to the very first paragraph of book 1.

(c.f. Isn’t this where we came in?)

I juggled some chapters around near the end so that the series ends with a Mike-and-Darcy chapter. Not only does this deliver the symmetry I note above, but it solves a problem: there’d been some weirdness where the saga ended on interleaved high notes (yay! this adventure is over!) and low notes (oh noz! there’s danger on the horizon!).

By moving four four chapters into an schwarma-scene-afterward I let the book end at the proper emotional pitch.

Damn, I’m smooth.

In stats news:

  • I’m 70.5% done and still on schedule for finishing this draft around 1 October.
  • 323,587 words = 1294 pages.
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Leslie Fish

Leslie Fish just gave me permission to use some lyrics from one of her songs in the novel.


In a hat-tip to my various metal-head e-friends, I’ve taken license to have the band in the novel perform it a bit darker / angrier / growlier than usual.

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behind the scenes

Brian left a comment:

I am reminded that RAH and Virginia, for short story, used a roll of butcher paper and two days of time to work out the calculations for an orbit. For a line that read (IIRC) ‘And he took off and departed Lunar orbit’.

Nobody saw the time and butcher paper, but it got baked into the story. And it felt right.

Probably one of the many reasons people still read Heinlein, but not many of his peers from that era.

Wikipedia and spreadsheets make it a lot easier.

…but, yes, there’s still some work.

I’ve got one scene in the novel where kinetic energy weapons (2 TEU cargo containers full of gravel, with phenolic resin ablative shields over steel nosecones, which small steering vanes and simple PID loop controllers) strike targets on a Caribbean island.

Here’s some of the text:

As the gravel boats – spaced out in a rough circle – entered the thermosphere the first few molecules of air started to impact the nosecones, but the density was so low that it would have taken specialized sensors to even detect it. Sensors that the boats did not have.

After a 400 kilometer fall through the thermosphere the boats entered the mesosphere, still punching downwards towards the rapidly growing Carribean ocean at almost Mach 30, dropping over 10 kilometers in height every second.

The air was still sparse enough that a human without a space suit would pass out immediately and die almost as quickly as on the surface of the moon, but there was just barely enough air that the maneuvering vanes at the rear of the boats began to click-click-click as they moved to fine tune their paths.

Ten seconds from ground.

The air around the boats thickened rapidly. Now 0.001 atmospheres, now 0.01, now 0.1 atmospheres.

The hypersonic impact of the falling ships against the air was so powerful that molecules themselves began breaking apart. Ozone, molecular oxygen, water vapor, even triple bonded molecular nitrogen all shattered, throwing off a cascade of atoms, ions, and raw electrons.

Subtle luminous hints in front of each gravel boat soon grew and brightened, turning into fiery disks just millimeters in front of each nosecone. Inside each boat the software noted that the rate of successful radio packet transmissions had fallen from “six nines” to fifty percent, and then below a key threshold. The ionization blackout caused different subroutines to be loaded and executed. Each boat switched from GPS to inertial navigation. Ring laser gyros that had been designed fifty years previously, open sourced a quarter century ago, found in archives two weeks ago, and fabbed, tested, and installed a week previously now directed the gravel boats.

Seven seconds from ground.

The boats crossed the boundary between the meosphere and the stratosphere and the density of the atmosphere kept climbing – now up to 0.3 atmospheres.

On gravel boat number three – the one aimed for the southern-most guardhouse – a wrinkle in the hastily applied heat shield resulted in an uneven flow of superheated air over the nosecone. The uneven force force tugged on irregularity harder and harder and then in a millisecond tore a fingers-width of ablative panel away from the underlying metal.

With the carbon laminate gone the underlayment burned through nearly instantly. Once the underlayment was gone a pencil thin jet of 6,000 degree Kelvin ionized air began burning through the steel nosecone, quickly vaporizing the metal and contributing traces of lunar iron and to the emission lines of the blazing glow.

Six seconds from ground.

Here’s some of the math:

Note how I start with things like

  • initial velocity of an item falling from lunar orbit (11 km/s)
  • the dimensions of a standard cargo container
  • the density of granite gravel

and end up with things like

  • terminal velocity at impact
  • energy of one boat hitting, as measure on the nuclear kiloton scale
  • seconds elapsed from top of mesosphere to earth impact

It may not matter to anyone else, but it matters to me.

And, I’m happy to say, to Brian.

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planning a novel: magic comes from hard work

In a thread about writing, Vox Day writes:


Some authors love to create myths about the magic of the process, but as Glenn Frey commented in the documentary about The Eagles, the secret of song-writing is in the elbow grease. Most of the better writers simply work harder at their craft than the lesser writers, just as most of the better-selling authors work harder at selling books than most of those who don’t sell as many.

a commentor Stickwick replies:

These myths contributed to my sense that there was something elusively magical about the creative process, that it “just happened,” and either you had the gift or you didn’t. A few months ago, Flavorwire published hand-written notes by a few well-known authors, showing how they organized plot points, characters, etc. (including a massive spreadsheet constructed by Joseph Heller for Catch-22), and I was astonished to see that there’s, you know, actual work involved in fiction writing. Like Frey’s comments, this dispels the magical myth of the writing process.

This is all rather encouraging, as it means someone without the natural story-telling talent of, say, Tolkien or Heinlein can still, in principle, work at producing something halfway good.

The referenced Flavorwire article is fascinating.

Here’s a paper-and-pencil spreadsheet outline of Heller’s Catch-22 (click to embiggen):

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snakes stats in a table

draft start finish duration words/day size
1 1 Jan ’11 24 Aug ’11 235 720 169,000
2 1 Jan ’12 3 Aug ’12 215 976 210,000
3 04 Aug ’12 20 Dec ’12 139 1,975 275,000
4 17 Mar ’13 06 Oct ’13 (est) 203 1,724 350,000 (est)
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