the first rewrite is underway (hurray!)

When I finished the first draft of the novel around September 2011 I thought that I’d take a week off, then polish the first draft into a second draft by the end of the year.

In fact, I needed to take three months off and began the rewrite in mid January 2012.

The novel has, as Brian Dunbar says, “good bones” to make it a really decent book.

…but right now it’s a mess.

By the final page I had the experience of writing an entire novel under my belt, so the last few chapters were decent.

…but on the first page I had effectively zero fiction writing experience, so the early chapters are … atrocious.

I’ve got about 20 tasks on my to-do list.

First on the list is to read through each thread in the novel, one at a time, and rationalize character actions, add in more characterization and personality, and engineer each thread so that it helps build as well as possible, towards the climax.

I’m working on the “John and the Dogs” thread first.

Here’s an example of the rewrite I did today:

Before

The dogs put their plates and bowls into the decontamination box – no need to wash them when the alternately searing and freezing environment just outside could do a perfect job – while John dug down into the lower level communication interfaces. Overriding the defaults, he called up a map of individual overflights, called up medium level logs of message exchange sessions, then dug down even deeper, to protocol setup, and finally all the way to the bottom, looking at azimuth and declination settings on the laser, TCP packets send, IP session attempts, and more.

As best he could tell – and he wasn’t an expert at any of this, but was just reading the documentation as he went along – the satellites had appeared over the horizon when they were expected, but in each case, had refused to respond to proverbial knocks on the door. He’d never looked it up before, but the satellites swung by barely 90 km overhead.

“Blue, we’re not getting anything from the satellites, but they’re in position, and on schedule, so … Well, I don’t know what follows that ‘so’. What’re your thoughts?”

“My thoughts are that we never really need to talk to the machines, we can go a good long time with out food, if we have to, we can go a short while with out water, and we really really like to keep breathing. … so the problem is that our next drop in seven days might not happen, and we’ve got four days of reserve scrubber cartridges after that, and then, unless we get some drops, we’re dead.”

“Yeah, that’s pretty much my thought. We’ve got redundancies, with multiple machine clans willing to supply us, and we’ve not only got enough reserve cash in the accounts, we’ve got Kevin who’s keeping tabs on things and will do what it takes … so there’s no much to be done other than keep hiking.”

“Speaking of hiking, I take it that there’s nowhere we can hike out to with less than 11 days of air?”

“Nope; nearest tunnels are 700 km away, we’re lucky if we cover 10 km per day, and so we’d still be almost 600 away – well over the horizon. It’s remotely possible that someone else is out on the surface on Far Side with us, but we didn’t hear anything about it before the satellites went down, and there’s no way to get information on it now”.

Max joined in. “Well, if our plan is ‘keep hiking’, but hiking isn’t going to solve our problem, our plan is really ‘do whatever the hell we please, and hope that we get contact restored’, right?”

John thought for a moment and then agreed.

Max continued “Well, I’m not arguing that it helps in any way, but just out of curiosity, I’d like to spend some of that time figuring out what happened to the satellites. Can we see them from here?”

“They’re 60 km up. I don’t think our suit cameras have enough resolution to see anything more than dots.”

“Maybe not one camera…but what if we spread out several suit cameras across a plane, do some sort of long exposure hack, and do some post processing to mimic one of those synthetic array / very large aperture things ?”

“Yeah, we could do all of that … but why bother sitting in a tent and coding when we could be hiking ?”

“Because for all we know, every one of the tunnels has been nuked, or contaminated with bio weapons, or something, and by sitting still for a few days, we can gather a bit of data … and if we’re the last sentient beings left on the moon, we can come up with a plan B”.

After

The dogs cleaned up after the meal – while John and Rex dug into the software stack of the tent, digging into log files and examining status codes.

Overriding the defaults, John called up a map of individual satellite overflights, then dug down even deeper, to protocol setup, and finally went all the way to the bottom.

“Rex, look at this”.

The two of them looked at azimuth and declination settings on the laser, and at the logs of TCP packets and IP session attempts.

“I’m not an expert with this, but it looks to me like Gamma’s satellites are popping up over the horizon right on schedule. What do you make of it, Rex? Is the problem some configuration in the tent’s systems?”

Rex ignored John until he was done paging through some data. Several minutes passed before he deigned to speak “No, we’re configured correctly… it’s … the satellites aren’t responding when we ping them. Look.” He extended one paw to point at some logs on one of the wall screens. A small animated logo of a shark swam back and forth relentlessly on the drag bar of the window, but below that a few lines of inscrutable numbers and text had been highlighted. “Right IP, right MAC address, right port, you can see the timeout…everything’s good except the satellite isn’t responding.”

Blue often found Rex insufferable, but now he sat back and watched. All of the dogs were decent coders, but Rex could jump into any situation or system and master it effortlessly. Blue had no idea if this was the first time that Rex had dug into the tent’s communication logs, or if he spent his late nights reading obscure code stacks when everyone else was reading or listening to music.

Neither would have surprised him.

John titled his head back for a moment, as if to look through the opaque tent ceiling and the solar shield over that at the satellites swinging by barely 90 km overhead.

He then swung his head around to face the three Dogs who were watching the investigation play out. Well, two other dogs. Duncan had apparently grown bored of something as trivial as losing their only communication link back to Aristillus and was absorbed in some MMORPG he was playing on his slate.

“Hey, everyone. We’re not getting anything from the satellites, but they’re in position, and on schedule…and I need some ideas here. Give me your thoughts. What’s going on?”

Duncan swiped a paw across his pad to silence it, then looked up.

“What?”

Blue closed his eyes just for a moment.

John repeated himself. Duncan shrugged – not like that weird human shrug where the shoulders actually move ** towards ** the head, but the more natural feeling one where one’s shoulder blades move back and one’s neck bobs forward. “Uh…not a huge deal, is it? We were already complaining over dinner that we have to go around the crater because the voxels are too big…so who cares if we don’t talk to Gamma for a while?”

John was patient. “All of our supply drops are scheduled via this uplink. We can go a good long time with out food, if we have to, we can go a short while with out water, and we really really like to keep breathing. … so the problem is that right now we’re just hoping that our next drop in seven days is going to happen.”

Duncan looked at him quizzically. Clearly he was still half lost in his game.

John spelled out the obvious. “We’ve got four days of reserve scrubber cartridges after the drop date.”

Duncan still wasn’t getting it.

“After the scheduled drop we’ve got four days until we run out of reserves… and then we’re dead.”

Duncan’s eyebrows went up. “Oh. Oh. Oh…man!”

John responded dryly. “Yeah, that’s pretty much my thought.”

Rex had been ignoring the back and forth and had been clicking deeper into the protocol logging program, occasionally typing in new filters or queries, and starting hard at the data. He turned back to the conversation. “We’ve got seven days till the next drop, then four days of reserves. That’s 11 days of air. We can’t hike anywhere useful with that, can we?”

John nodded. This was the conversation he needed to steer them on to. “Nearest tunnels are 700 km away. We’re lucky if we cover 10 km per day, and so we’d still be almost 600 away.”

Rex leaned forward. “At 600 km away can we reach -”

“Nope, we’re still well over the horizon at that point.”

“And radio -”

“No ionosphere, no propagation.”

Rex’s ears were already up, but stiffened a bit and he panted lightly. After so many years with them John interpreted Rex’s focused and concerned body language automatically, with out even thinking about it.

Blue interjected for the first time in a while. “It’s remotely possible that someone else is out on the surface on Far Side with us. If there is someone out, and at exactly the right place, we might only have to hike to the nearest hill and broadcast…”

John spoke “We could, but the nearest hill is back the way we came. We waste three days getting there, and then – when we find that there’s no one around, we spend another three days getting back here-”

Blue finished his sentence “- and that uses up 6 of our 11 days of air, to no effect.”

The tent fell silent for a long moment.

Blue thought, then spoke again. “This is classic game theory. There was something in World War II – the allies having to decide which bombers to give escorts to -”

Where Duncan spent his time on MMORPGs and Rex spent his reading source code, Max spent reading military history. He interrupted “No, it was about which path to send destroyers between islands.”

Blue and Max, both first generation Dogs and pack mates for just over 20 years, fell into their normal clipped conversational mode.

“A paper by Oskar Morgenstern ?”

“No, maybe von Neumann -”

“Is this the one where your reply is-”

“Not iterated, no”

The back and forth sped up until it seemed the two were just half-grunting, half-barking syllables at each other, until they both fell silent.

After a moment John realized that they’d reached some sort of conclusion, but he was damned if he understood what it was.

“Uh…and?”

Both of the first generation Dogs looked at him quizzically, as if they didn’t understand how he hadn’t followed their ‘debate’.

Blue spoke “We keep hiking on. The supply drops might already be there, or we might have a good uplink and a bad downlink, and no matter what, it’s the most predictable move on our part, so we want to do it.”

John bought himself a few seconds of time by scratching his three day growth of beard.

He knew intellectually that the Dogs had been designed for intelligence and had lots of human neural DNA spliced in, but in the day to day tasks of hiking, cooking, and chatting it was all too easy to fall into thinking of them as precocious children. …but every now and then the situation would let their raw IQ and their stunning recall shine through, and every time it was a bit of a sucker punch.

“OK, we hike on. I wish there was some way to figure out what was up with the satellites -”

Rex again turned from the protocol analyzer displayed on the wall screens. “They’re 90 km up. Our suit cameras can’t see them as anything more than dots.”

“So we can’t -”

Rex’s face had a look of scorn for John’s merely above-average intelligence. “- so we spread out several suit cameras across a plane, write some code to do a long exposure capture hack, then write some code to process it into a synthetic array to emulate a very large aperture lens.”

If John had been sucker punched a moment ago now he was out flat. “So what you’re saying is -”

“Give me an hour to cobble together some code. Then we’ll have high resolution pictures of the satellites.”

Duncan had finally heard some aspect of the crisis that sounded like as much fun as his video game and so was up on all fours and padding softly over to the airlock. “I’ll spread out the cameras!”

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6 Responses to the first rewrite is underway (hurray!)

  1. Max Lybbert says:

    Wow. You’re right that’s a huge improvement. And while I’m not surprised that a rewrite could improve things — even the greats manage to improve with rewriting — I *am* surprised that a rewrite could improve that much.

  2. Brian Dunbar says:

    Duncan swiped a paw across his pad to silence it, then looked up.

    “What?”

    Blue closed his eyes just for a moment.

    Hey, that’s good. The whole rewrite, yes, but that made me smile, brought out in few words a whole range of the relationship they have.

    It would be a special kind of suck to be a minority reduced to a handful, and have one of the survivors act like a goober.

  3. ScottH says:

    Great work, Travis!

    One question: If Duncan’s still playing a MMORPG in the tent couldn’t he ask one of the other players for help/contacting Gamma?

    One typo – ninth paragraph: “John titled his head back…”

    What about splitting this book into two books if the amount of text keeps growing as you rewrite each chapter?

  4. Gus says:

    The part that made me chuckle was Duncan not getting it and having it spelled out to him 🙂

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