the book is growing

I’m about 80% of the way through the rewrite of the John-and-Dogs thread of the novel.

Good news: A lot of awkward writing is going away.

More good news: I think the characterization is really coming together: the Dogs are not just people, but very different from each other.

Bad news: The book is growing. A lot. It’s at 183,087 words already (that’s 732 pages), and at the current rate of expansion, it’s heading towards 900 pages or so. This means that I’m probably going to have to split it into two books.

Worse news: This is far more work than I realized when I started. The second pass (for writing style and characterization) is good, but it’s going to take a third pass, and maybe even a fourth until this becomes the novel (or, rather, the pair of novels) that I want it to be. This project will finish – at earliest – December 2012, and could plausibly extend to summer 2013.

Here’s an example of how the rewrite is progressing.

This is from the section where John and the Dogs have fought off the PKs on farside, and are now trying to build a small spaceship – Flight of the Phoenix style – to get back to Aristillus.

It was two days later and Max was still giving him shit about the “fabricating arc welders from microwave ovens” comment – in fact, they HAD had to fabricate an arc welder.

The mules had been pressed into service to clear a flat area on the ground – “the construction yard” – and John and Max had finished building the arc welder. John had absolutely rejected the idea of tapping either of the PK ship’s battery packs for power to run the welder: not only was the voltage and current profile all wrong (and – with out safety cutoffs, far too dangerous for a jury rigged contraption if something went wrong), but if they shorted out or otherwise damaged the battery packs, they would use up their one shot at getting back to the colony.

Instead, Duncan and Max had trekked south, following the paths left by Gamma’s rovers over the previous years, and found a few construction and mining robots that had been idled by the destruction of the facility. Gamma had built a surprisingly large percentage of its facility and rovers from conglomerations of off-the-shelf, open source mechanical and electrical components. The battery packs he had used on the rovers were textbook – the version repository code number was even machined into the side of each one right above the heat sink fins. The only difference was that the terminal connectors were not low temperature thermoplastics, as specified in the bill of materials, but some sintered ceramic. Max didn’t care much about materials science or mechanical engineering, but Blue noticed the detail and nodded. Not only were there more materials handy on the moon for making sintering ceramics, but it was a much better choice given the temperature swings.

It took several trips with the mules to haul back as many of the modular battery packs as they needed, and then the work began. The ship’s anchor cables were spooled out onto the deck and John turned up the current on the welder, double checked that his helmet darkener was set on auto, and struck a spark. One nice thing about welding and cutting in vacuum – no need to use a masking gas to avoid oxidation. That was handy – John figured that the nearest tank of CO2 / Argon mix was about 5,000 kilometers away, back at Aristillus.

A few minutes later and the anchor cable had been cut into several pieces and with the help of the Dogs, who ran the mules in remote mode, John began draping the cable pieces over the various cargo modules on the deck.

It was several hours of hard work, but eventually all of the cables were welded in place and the stanchions holding the cargo containers down to the deck were released. John went to the battery bank and flipped the power cutoff switch, then moved to stand on the small porch-like platform they’d welded onto one end of the AG unit. Blue moved onto the similar platform welded to the maneuvering thruster cargo container and clipped his safety line to the railing.


Just one day later the lifeboat project was well underway.

The mules hadn’t been designed to use their front legs as manipulators, but after Duncan and Rex had re programmed them to straight at PKs’ helmets, the creative floodgates were opened. Among other tasks, they’d been pressed into service to clear an area on the ground – “the construction yard”.

Blue and John collaborated on the design of the lifeboat. It called for a fair bit of welding, and the mules really weren’t designed to have the power for more than few quick tack welds.

Blue looked over at the ship. “I suppose you don’t want to use the one good power gen pack?”

John shook his head definatively. “No way. According to the meter on the side, we’ve got twice what we need to get back to Aristillus, but I don’t want to waste even one watt.”

“How about the three other power containers?”

John pursed his lips. “Aside from the fact that voltage and current are wrong, think about the state of those boxes. The paint is blistered. The cables are burned. Are the circuit breakers even working? What about the battery units and the bus bars inside?”

John thought for a second. “It’s not my first choice…but we might have to.”

Blue flattened his ears against his head, deep in thought, then suddenly announced “I’ve got it! Gamma had pickets kilometers out. He probably had mines or other sattelite facilities outside of Zhukovskiy. There’s got to be lots of hardware scattered around that wasn’t nuked. We track it down and scavenge the battery packs from that.”

John thought for a moment then nodded. When Gamma was nuked all of his rovers had frozen in place over the following minutes. They’d already scavenged a few parts off of the nearby ones. Conventiently for them Gamma hadn’t felt the need to reinvent wheels and had mostly fallen back on the large warehouse of open source part designs. Everything from screw threads to IP packet size conformed to standards.

The battery packs on the rovers were textbook – the version repository number was even machined into each right above the heat sinks.

The scavenged battery packs would work. All they had to do was find them a lot more of them.

Duncan and Max volunteered to trek south, following the paths left by Gamma’s rovers over the previous years.

John and Blue worked on the deck, unspooling the ship’s anchor cables and draping them across the steel decking. John hefted the arc welder they’d unbolted from one of the mules, turned up the current, double checked that his helmet darkener was set on auto and struck a spark.

Blue commented “Nice thing about vacuum: no need for masking gas”.

John grunted agreement. Very handy – the nearest tank of CO2 / Argon mix was about 5,000 kilometers away back at Aristillus.

A few minutes later the anchor cable had been cut into several pieces. John stretched his back and neck and let Blue run the mule in remote mode. Under Blue’s control the cut-up cable pieces soon draped over three of the cargo containers. John took the opportunity to switch out the batteries from the welder, swapping in fresh ones from the rapidly dwindling pile.

They worked as a team, mostly in companionable silence, until the last battery pack beeped an alert over the local network and shut itself off.

“Looks like we’re done for a while, Blue.”

Blue put down his tools and wandered over, then sat.

“Do you think the PKs on the ship have died yet?”

John was silent for a moment then said “I figure so.”

“Does it bother you?”

“I gave them the opportunity to surrender.”

“I know – I heard you. I’m asking if it bothers you?”

“It had to be done.”

Blue was silent, drawing John out. “Yeah, it bothers me, but it wasn’t the first time I’ve killed people, and it’s looking more and more like it won’t be the last. It doesn’t bother me when I’m doing it…because it’s immediate and it has to be done. And, in a way, it doesn’t even bother me afterwards, because I know I made the right choice. I guess it just bothers me that people set up situations where someone has to die.”

Blue remained silent.

John wasn’t normally loquacious, but he felt he could open up to the oldest of the Dogs – there was a quiet wisdom in him that didn’t square with his young calendar age.

John continued “I didn’t join the rebellions in Texas or Alaska, even though I had lots of friends who did. They weren’t wrong to fight. They were right – they shouldn’t have to choose between their homes and their freedoms. ‘Love it or leave it’ isn’t patriotism – it’s the choice a mafia enforcer delivers. ‘This is my neighborhood’. No, it’s not … it’s the neighborhood of whoever lives there. So, yeah, my friends were right to fight. …but I thought it was a doomed fight. Mao said that the guerilla is a fish that swims in the ocean of the people…but what if the people don’t want to be free? Then maybe it’s time for the guerilla to go somewhere else.”

Blue merely “hmmm”-ed.

John continued.

“…but now the PKs are following us here? If I hadn’t shot those troops, we’d all be arrested on our way back to Earth now. You guys would be killed, and I’d be Gitmo-ed for life. So, yeah, I feel bad that the Earth governments are running the schools, feeding the kids propaganda, bringing them up to believe that subservience to the State is the right way to live, and then sending those people to kill you and arrest me. Because once the State does that, someone is going to die – either us or them. I choose them, of course…but it shouldn’t have to be that way.”

“So you’ve got sympathy for the PKs, because they were brought up to not know better?”

Now it was John’s turn to be silent for a few moments. “Yeah, that’s about the size of it.”

“But you were brought up in the same school systems, the same political courses -“

John had no response.

He and Blue sat in silence for a while before Blue spoke again. “Do you think that Max looks forward to war a bit too much?”

“I think -“

At that moment they were hailed. An approaching cargo rover had crested the low crater wall and was relaying a stored message from Duncan and Max. “Hey guys – Christmas time!”

John and Blue moved to the gunwales and looked. On high magnfication they could make out the large flat-bedded rover, stacked high with battery modules.

John and Blue moved to the gunwales and looked. On high magnfication they could make out the large flat-bedded rover, stacked high with battery modules.

It took half an for John and Blue to unload the first cargo rover. By then a second rover – and then a third, this one also carrying Max and Duncan – arrived.

With ample power John turned back to construction.

A few hours later all of the segments of anchor cables had been welded in place, the one good power cable had been disconnected from the bridge and reconnected to an AG unit, and the stanchions holding the cargo containers down to the deck were released.

John stepped onto the small porch-like platform he’d welded to one end of the AG unit. Blue moved onto a similar platform welded to the cargo container that contained the maneuvering thrusters.

Both clipped their short safety lines to the railings.

Dan asked for a visual diff of a segment to show how changes happen and I wanted to do that, but it wasn’t really practical – there are so many changes that I’m not sure that there’s even one line that’s identical.

…which gets back to how much work this is. I’m basically writing a new novel on top of the old one.



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3 Responses to the book is growing

  1. Max Lybbert says:

    I knew that the draft you posted on the blog needed to be fleshed out a bit. But I hadn’t considered how large the thing would be once that was done.

    It’s a tall order, but I suspect it’s less work than building two businesses. OTOH, it’s probably not as lucrative as building two businesses.

  2. Gus says:

    Cool. Interesting how some of the technical stuff is now worked into dialogue rather than straight exposition. I’m fine either way, but then I guess that makes me fine with ‘hard’ sci-fi 🙂

    Also like the additional sociological discussion.

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