Saturday, October 10, 2009

So Much for That Plan

I thought that I would be able to do one last polishing pass through one of my Okeanos novels and then send it to a publisher. However, when I sent it to some people who hadn't read it before, the response was very negative, and they basically want it completely torn apart and redone -- and they don't like several of the fundamental premises of the world.

So it looks like I'm going to set it aside for a while and continue working on Briar's Children, in hopes that a simpler storyline in a less-complex world will have a better chance of making that critical and so-difficult first sale. Which of course means having to get it moving again, since I seem to have gotten stuck while I was at Archon.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

All Is Grist for the Mill

I got into a lengthy and rather heated discussion on issues of race and privilege when I really should've been working on Children's Crusade, and as it rapidly went south, I realized that it's quite possible that some of these same patterns will come into play in the huge discussions after the Lankhidzist Revolution about the proper role of the various clones, especially those of Stalin's henchmen.

I can completely imagine Kolya Vornosky, faced with someone harping at him about the terrible crimes of Nikolai Yezhov and privilege derived from Yezhov's role in Stalin's crimes, firing back, "And what am I supposed to do about it?" And the other person becoming angry about his even asking, treating it as just this sort of affront, a presumtious demand based upon privilege, and assuming that he is acting in bad faith -- which is of course going to succeed only in getting his back up and ensuring that the discussion will devolve into an ugly confrontation that will resolve absolutely nothing and lead to even worse bad feelings.

The biggest question is whether this happens before or after his biggest and messiest political antic.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Do Two Wrongs Make a Right?

The more I delve into the history of the Soviet cloning program in the Lanakhidzist Revolution universe, the more my stomach turns. I'd known that they were using the geneset of disgraced secret police chief Nikolai Yezhov as their primary test bed for biomods, and that it often involved making clones and testing them to destruction, sometimes as embryos or fetuses, but also as born babies.

But now I discover that the lab in Stalingrad was also cranking out enormous numbers of baby Yezhov clones for Soviet chemical and biowarfare programs, once they had artificial uterine environments. They'd ship the "little hedgehogs" (yozhika, a play on "Yezhov,") in huge crates like day-old baby chicks -- except human babies don't have a yolk to sustain them for that day of travel, so the labs in Siberia would often find a quarter to a half of the airlifted shipment dead or dying. But they were just Yezhovs, so they were disposable.

I'm no apologist for Stalin's terror -- Nikolai Yezhov crossed a moral event horizon when he accepted Stalin's commission to be NKVD chief and ran the Terror meatgrinder at frantic speed. But I can't buy into the Asiatic principle that the crimes, however terrible, of one member of a family could stain everybody else -- not even clones, who share 100% of their Senior's genetic material. The Enlightenment principle that we are each individually responsible for our good and evil deeds, that there should be no corruption of blood (as the Founding Fathers thankfully wrote into the US Constitution) is too strongly written in my mind and heart, and I can't see all these clones of Yezhov as anything but innocent children being murdered.

Is it any wonder Kolya Voronsky is not quite completely sane -- growing up there in the Stalingrad lab, knowing full well that thousands of his clone-brothers are being made every year and shipped off to their deaths, that he is spared that fate only because Vladilen Voronsky's adoption of him severed the legal link with Yezhov?

All I can say is thank heaven that in our timeline cloning is not going to be developed as a gigantic out-of-control black project with Cold War fears or their War on Terror equivalent. We've had good, solid public discussions about the ethical issues and why we shouldn't be doing human cloning, even of great leaders, generals, inventors or whatever. It's possible that some rogue nation or sub-national actors might do human cloning once the technology for doing it with animals becomes sufficiently cheap and generally available, but hopefully we'll be able to catch them soon enough and will have the wisdom and compassion to deal humanely with their victims, just as we would a child conceived naturally through rape or any other sexual crime.

Wednesday, July 01, 2009

Legacy Code

In computer technology, legacy code is stuff left over from earlier generations -- sometimes from the earliest days of computer programming in the case of mainframes. However, even microcomputer operating systems such as Windows often have substantial amounts of legacy code. Usually it results from attempts to make sure that new versions of software remain backward-compatible with earlier hardware and software -- for instance, so that older versions of a program will still run on the new operating system. Other times it is simply the result of programmers carrying over old code unexamined, either out of laziness or more frequently the result of deadline pressure.

Because I've been working on the story of the Lanakhidzist Revolution since I was in Jr. High, I've got almost thirty years worth of layers upon layers of ideas. The earliest versions were quite crude and simplistic, with no real understanding or appreciation of the societies of which I was writing (for instance, I really didn't appreciate the difference between Georgians and Russians, and the scenes set in Gori had the characters having Russian names and eating typical Russian foods), and even in the late 80's when I was studying Russian at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and had help from one of the professors, who read a lot of my manuscripts from that period, I still really didn't know how to use sources, or to weave details into the fabric of a story to bring it to life, so the writing was pretty bad.

Not to mention that a lot of the basic ideas still reflected a very youthful view of the world, one that hadn't been tempered with experience in the workplace. So now, as I'm working on Children's Crusade, my current version of the story of the Lanakhidzist Revolution, I'm constantly having to reconsider elements that I assumed would always be integral parts of the story. Should they remain, or is the legacy code a drag on the story that needs to go by the wayside?

For instance, I've corrected a lot of the mis-formed names that go back to the earliest layers of the story, figuring out what the proper forms of them should be (although in several places I've put visibly fake names in the place of the names of actual historical persons who are still living in our world and would obviously have a major role in that universe's fall of the Soviet Union too, such as Mikhail Sergeevich Gorbachev). But some of the relationships and the technologies that go back at least to the UIUC period now seem a little hard to support, at least not without some major changes in how they're presented.

Tuesday, June 09, 2009


On looking back at some old notes from a version of the Lanakhidzist Revolution I wrote in the 1980's, I realize how a number of characters who have turned out to be very important had their beginnings as bit characters whose names were tossed off rather casually.

Tikhon Chalkov was just a friend who helped Iosebi Lanakhidze at a key point in one of the early versions of Children's Crusade. There was never any hint of his being unusual in any way, and he never really held any major postings. But when I returned to the story in 2001, he turns out to be an unusually small, fine-boned man -- and as I realized that the Soviet cloning project was far larger than just a few clones of Stalin, I realized who he almost had to be, even if his name didn't follow the usual pattern in the Soviet cloning program of having the same forename as the original. And now he's not only the Minister of Security, but he's also firmly within Iosebi Lanakhidze's inner circle and a major POV character who effects major changes.

In the novel that would become The Steel Breeds True, Sergei Gerasimov was originally the least important of the three brothers, almost an afterthought who hung around on the edges but didn't take part in any of the major action. But when I returned to the novel in 2001, I realized that his name had to be significant, rather than just a cool Russian name -- and I finally knew why he and his brothers had fled the Soviet Union. Suddenly he came to the fore, becoming one of the most important characters in the novel, not to mention a critical link with the Lanakhidzist inner circle, once he recovered his other-memories and accepted his identity.

Amanda Lordsley-Starcastle underwent an even more extensive transformation between a couple of early versions of The Steel Breeds True. In the earliest version in which she appears, she is just "the professor's wife," with little or nothing in the way of characterization beyond being named Amanda. But as the story continued unfolding, I suddenly discovered she was a poet and that she wore her hair in an unusual triple braid from a common root. And then she got to be the star of her own side-story, "She's Leaving Home" (yes, the title is taken from the song by the Beatles) -- although some of the backstory in the current version of The Steel Breeds True is difficult to square with details in it (in particular, there is no mention of Arthur Lordsley's alcoholism, which plays an extensive role in the current versions of both The Steel Breeds True and The Ballad of Katie Hart).

Friday, June 05, 2009


Isn't it interesting when a character finally comes clean and tells you the truth about something?

I'd been under the impression that Tisha Chalkov got his leg injury in the line of duty, in some kind of gunfight with a CIA agent. Yet it never quite squared with his having been an interrogator from the beginning of his KGB career.

Imagine my surprise when today he finally owned up to it being the result of an ordinary civilian accident. He was going to an outlying KGB office to pick up some papers needed at Lubyanka when the trolley car on which he was riding was struck by a truck driven by a drunk. Apparently he never talked about it, and when he came into prominence during the Lanakhidzist Revolution, someone fabricated a fanciful account of spycraft for an article.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Just a Slight Shift in Perspective

I'd been stuck on a meeting scene in Chapter 7 of The Ballad of Katie Hart for ages. When I tried to move it forward, the dialog fell so flat that even the character in question commented upon the leadenness of his words.

And then I realized that the whole first part of it was solitary introspection on his part, which meant that there was no really good way to switch gears to interaction -- and it was made even worse by the first interaction being a formal address to the group as a whole, rather than interaction with any one individual.

Finally today I had a chance to sit down and rework it. After several false starts, I finally got a good beginning conversation going, and from then it was almost astonishingly easy to keep things moving forward. It also helped to have another character in the meeting scene burst out with a question, so that everyone started chiming in instead of politely waiting for the meeting leader to speak.

It's not perfect, and I need to see how it dovetails with another scene. But at least I think I finally have something I can work with.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

At Least this Time I Caught It Early

Recently I've been working on Children's Crusade again, and I had decided to jump ahead to the second book for working while standing in line, etc. However, I'd become stuck on the scene in which Grigory Semyonov is meeting with the Politburo, discussing the significance of the events at the end of the first book. I just couldn't seem to find a way to get it moving beyond the introductory paragraphs.

Today while I was standing in line at the grocery store, I realized that yet again I'd made the critical error of starting the scene with the principal character in isolated introspection, thinking about the situation but not talking to anyone -- and then I couldn't find a suitable bridge to get someone else into the scene with whom he could talk.

So there was nothing to do but throw the entire scene away and start afresh with Semyonov talking with his long-term assistant, Anton Dumar, about the things he'd been thinking about privately in the original version. We'll see if I can get it to go anywhere.

Wednesday, March 04, 2009

The Black Box

A few days ago, after having several repetitive dreams dealing with someone I knew at the University of Illinois, I decided to pull out The Ballad of Katie Hart and get back to work on it. It had stalled out in the seventh chapter and I'd never been able to get it going again.

And as I was thinking about the scene in which Sergei Gerasimov's clone-brother is talking with two of the Stalin clones and one makes a scathing remark about just what Katie sees in Ferdinand Yabur, and I realized that I had a major logic hole. Never once have I established what exactly had led to Katie becoming so emotionally obsessed with a man who was actively disliked by at least one major POV character, and who was despised by several others because of his obliviousness to the strife his wife was sowing.

Once I saw that logic hole, I also realized that the characters of both Ferdinand and Marie Yabur were effectively black boxes. Their inner lives were completely opaque to the reader, with no evidence of their motivations except those attributed to them by POV characters who had absolutely no reason to think well of them.

I think at least part of the problem is that the novel had its beginnings as a roman a clef, and Marie Yabur in particular was based upon someone I regarded as an implacable enemy. But to make it work, I somehow have to get inside the headspace of these two characters and find a way to show what is making them go.

Saturday, January 31, 2009


In the last month I've done very little fiction writing, instead concentrating on writing reviews of various science fiction and fantasy books. Rather than writing brief capsule reviews intended primarily to guide people's buying decisions, I've sought to delve deeper into the works, comparing and contrasting them, examining them in terms of literary antecedents. And I'm wondering how this work will help me when I do return once again to my various worlds. For after all I'm not abandoning my writing, simply allowing these fields of endeavor to lie fallow for a while, in hopes that I can return to them with renewed vigor.