Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Our Cyberpunk World: Robot Rock!

The article: Robot Rock Bands Intend to Replace Human Musicians Forever

Forget that standardized synthpop that John Shirley called "minimono" in his Eclipse/A Song Called Youth trilogy from the last half of the 1980s, the great lost masterpiece of cyberpunk. At least the band in Eclipse, the first part of the trilogy (not to be confused with a certain far more famous, and far less competently written, paranormal romance), allowed itself to be fronted by an old-fashioned rock guitarist. The bands of the real cyberpunk future don't even have human players at all. Their instruments play themselves. You see, they're robot instruments.

The first of these robot bands is being built by a music collective called Expressive Machines Musical Instruments. But keep in mind the whole battle robot subculture that grew up in the '00s. Robot instruments and bands will likely be the Next Big Thing in homebrew robot design.

New Wave was an '80s thing. Rave was '90s. The cyberpunk near-future is already going beyond both. This time, the instruments are playing themselves.

We've sure come a long way from the player piano...

Spanner Is Returning To Schedule. Really.

Faithful readers will notice that I've skipped a Monday. There is one big reason for this: writer's block. The tough transition from my default Night Owl Mode to Early Bird Mode isn't helping any.

Those troubles are over. Spanner Chapter 22 will be finished and posted tonight. Then, on Friday, I'll put the story back on schedule when I post the final chapter of Book 1.

I'm still here, everybody.

Friday, January 14, 2011

Spanner Chapter 21: High School Banned

The action gets fast and furious as we approach the climax of Book 1. The two big clashes, though, are yet to come.

I’ll just shut my trap now and let the story speak for itself. But not before I make sure you know that you still ain’t seen nothing yet...

...from previous

Chaos Angel Spanner — Book 1: Rock City Blues
Chapter 21: High School Banned

We learn not in the school, but in life.
Lucius Annaeus Seneca

I never let schooling interfere with my education.
Mark Twain

21 October 2014
Shira’s apartment.
The windows to Shira’s bedroom: replaced. Source of payment: the Slasher Hunters’ bounty money. Hunters present in the living room: Shira Thomas, John Peck, Lars Ulquiorra, Brandi Quinn, Arisa Saionji.
Peck: Big Al Fleer is dead.
Shira: One down, three to go.
Arisa: The Fearsome Foursome are now the Terrible Trio.
Brandi: He went out in the worst way possible.
Shira: In an incestuous clinch, taken out by his own daughter in a fit of jealousy.
Lars: (grins) And the daughter in question was Vicious Vivian.
Arisa: (chuckles) Couldn’t have happened to a more deserving motherfucker.
Peck: Even if we’d caught Fleer, there’s no way we could have collected on him. He was too connected.
Brandi: He was too high up in the hierarchy, too important to the men who rule.
Shira: But if the whole System’s going down, no one man’s safe, no matter how high he climbs.
Black Tower. The men who rule Seattle look down upon the city they hate. Cascadia Governor J. Walter Brinkman, Seattle Mayor Shepherd Luke Everson, and NPA Cascadia Section Chief John Cameron Becket do not wait for the Imperial Confederate Navy to replace the fallen Alan Fleer with a new Supreme Commander for the North Cascadia Fleet. The Fearsome Foursome welcome Fleer’s replacement, Randolph G. “Rat Bastard” Litton.
Brinkman: Welcome, Mr. Litton.
Everson: (raises hand in salute) Jesus America be with thee.
Becket: Father speaks highly of you, Mr. Litton.
Litton: Cut the crap, boys. And don’t fucking call me “Rat Bastard.” Let’s get down to business.
Brinkman: The problem is Spanner.
Litton: That’s all? Just one guy?
Becket: You don’t seem to be doing too well against him so far, Litton.
Litton: ’Cuz you idiots ain’t backing me up with action, One-Eye. If the one behind this Spanner is the same bitch keeps owning your daddy in chess, you’re in deep shit. I want charges, trumped up; evidence, planted; arrests, false, everybody; disinfo, floods of it. You go call your men, Becket; I’ll go make a call to my friend the Toymaker. (leaves)
Everson: Are you sure he’s trustworthy?
Brinkman: (puffs on cigar) The Rat Bastard is never trustworthy. That, my friend, is why we need him.
Becket: We’ll see...

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Editing Plans for Spanner Book 1, Part 2

I’m so close to finishing Spanner Book 1 (two half-completed chapters to go — finally!), and already thoughts of how I’m going to edit it during NaNoEdMo have been assaulting me for a week or more. I do need to cram that pesky Inner Editor back into his box for another day or two, but I still intend to work out how I’m going to rework the novel. I’m starting to get the feeling that by the time my multipass edit is done, it’ll be not just bigger (due to vastly improved character development) but different in tone as well.

Remember that Spanner Book 1’s subtitle is “Rock City Blues”. “Rock City” is a recent nickname Seattle got in the 1990s when that grunge thing spiralled out of control; in the context of Spanner’s 2014, it fits the city better than its old nickname, “Jet City”, because Boeing moved its jet factories to Charleston, South Carolina, because the labor is cheap and the politics conservative enough for a military-industrial conglomerate like Boeing to handle. Anyway, since the grunge fad broke, just about every non-ethnic festival in the city has taken on the air of a rock festival. Even The Bite of Seattle has gone full-tilt Bumbershoot. And right now, one thing besides decent character development that Spanner currently lacks is rock ‘n’ roll. I have the rocker characters. I just don’t have the rock. Yet. That’s one of my tasks for EdMo.

I’ve also been collecting source material in thrift stores and digging them out of my jammed bookcases. Here’s just a few of them:

  • Virus of the Mind: The New Science of the Meme by Richard Brodie: The obligatory source for a novel whose author claims to have crammed it with live mind viruses and which centers around a “battle for the mind” between a tyrannical Establishment and a rogue mind hacker.
  • A Public Betrayed: An Inside Look at Japanese Media Atrocities and Their Warnings to the West by Adam Gamble and Takesato Watanabe: Ostensibly about Japan’s notoriously reactionary mainstream media, it’s really a warning about the rise of its counterpart in the West. If you want to understand Fox News, this is the book to read.
  • Darknet: Hollywood’s War Against the Digital Generation by J.D. Lasica: Basically, about how the RIAA’s litigation jihad against file sharers spawned a monster: an invisible internet of encrypted networks that became known as the Darknet. Lasica’s point is that the more the old-fashioned push-media companies such as Fox News owner News Corporation try to lock down the Internet, the stronger and more dangerous the Darknet will be. By Spanner’s day, the World Wide Web no longer exists: there is only the app-based “CorpNet” and the clandestine Darknet.
  • Spychips: How Major Corporations and Government Plan to Track Your Every Move with RFID by Katherine Albrecht and Liz McIntyre: The authors expose Corporatism’s push to turn the whole world into a gigantic and inescapable Panopticon using radio frequency identification chips, promising an Orwellian nightmare once the government starts forcibly injecting them into people (which I predict will be a conservative program intended to criminalize dissent as terrorism). But they also point out that hackers and terrorists already have developed ingenious uses for the chips, such as RFID-activated bombs which go off when the target, identified by the ID chip on one of their cards or implanted in their body, gets in range.

I’ve got many more such books on my bookcases, and I’ll find more at bookstores, thrift stores, and my local library. I’ll probably take my time digging them out, since there’s still a month and a half before EdMo, JanNoWriMo is still going on, and FAWM starts in February. There’s also tons of information I can draw from the Web, of which my “Our Cyberpunk World” series of posts is a small and not all that representative slice.

Now back to finishing those final two chapters, since I’m posting them next week…

Monday, January 10, 2011

Spanner Chapter 20: Working for the Crackdown

You’d probably expect from the title to find a traitor in Team Spanner. Except for one thing: with all the surveillance tech the government’s overusing, is there even a need for traitors and spies anymore? Besides, Jennifer can spot a spy whenever she takes her glasses off, and Shira can Charm them into betraying the agency that sent them. In this chapter, then, the major villains take the spotlight. And then they try to hog it at each other’s expense.

Meanwhile, the Hackers of Reality continue their assault on the media system from the safety of the Darknet. Desiree takes on the role of point man. Shira manipulates from the shadows, and then tells everybody that (and whom) she’s manipulating. Karen earns her martyr cred at the villains’s expense. Team Spanner argue over how to spring her.

We find out that some of the villains are actually human, some despite themselves. Others, of course, are increasingly, or completely, inhuman. The Cartel’s “Moravec Plan” will explain what Ariel calls the “gods of power” in the seemingly materialist terms the Corporates understand.

Scenarios from the Project Notebooks of the early ’00s: exactly none. New characters introduced from the ’90s Notebooks: Option.

The battle now kicks into high gear. Expect casualties.

Friday, January 7, 2011

Our Cyberpunk World: Your iPad Is Now a Robot's Head!

The article: A robot lover's robot (iPad not included) (MSNBC Techolog)

Leave it to iRobot, the Roomba people. Their AVA concept robot is not planned for release yet. But it's one of the stars of CES 2011. Unlike their more famous cleaning robots, it's a general purpose robot. Your tablet computer, whether an iPad or an Android-based tablet, serves as its head. Just think of what you can do with an AVA, an augmented reality app like Layar, and your new cyberpunk mirrorshades...

EDIT: And a Kinect.

Our Cyberpunk World: Your New Cyberpunk Mirrorshades

The article: CES 2011: Your new cyberpunk mirrorshades (BoingBoing)

I've been saying since Layar became big on the iPhone last year that the one thing still lacking in 2010 that would make augmented reality popular was the right goggles. Guess what? Now they're here! And with Lady Gaga's paid endorsement!

These new Polaroid-branded sunglasses contain a camera to take pictures with and a display with which to view them. Only one thing is needed to make it useful, and that's AR. Once they converge, what was still future technology when I bookmarked in the early '00s will become a reality at last. You can be sure of one thing: Bruce Sterling will be keeping track of it here.

You can take a look at the announcement at CES 2011 here:

Spanner Chapter 19: Hackers of Reality

A man cannot spin a character out of his inner consciousness and make him really life-like unless he has the possibility of that character within him — a dangerous admission for one to make who has drawn as many villains as I.
Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

I have a nasty temper. I have a social conscience. When the two come together — watch out!

Or just read this chapter and find out just how evil a Dennis Jernberg villain can truly be.

In this case, the villains are Admiral Alan Fleer and his partner in crime, Honey Sue Falconer. I put my full fury into them. You want to know just what Team Spanner are up against? Consider this: Spanner is the most cynical gangster epic in the history of fiction. The word “gangster” is properly defined as the kind of serial killer that runs in packs. This explains the importance of the Slasher Hunters to the story. There is no tyranny without the most vicious gangsterism to back it up with terrorism. That’s right: tyranny, terrorism, and gangsterism are one and the same thing. It cannot be any other way. Cascadia’s ruling “Fearsome Foursome” — Admiral Alan Fleer, Governor J. Walter Brinkman, Seattle Mayor Rev. Luke Everson, and NPA Cascadia Section Chief John Cameron Brinkman — are mob lords, and Cascadia is their turf.

Is it any wonder that those Evangelical Christians who remained Christian despite the extreme temptation of power willfully risk their lives to call “Jesus America” the Antichrist?

So how does a hero take on such a synarchy of supervillains? Not by force. Not by mass protest, at least not at first. By hacking reality itself. Turn the spin against the spinmeisters. Take the battle to the enemy at a higher level. Make them fight you on your home territory. Strike the killing blow with weapons they cannot defend against.

Scenarios from the Project Notebooks of the late 1990s: the robot suicides and the Mexican standoff. Characters: the Skeever Brothers.

And now the battle is joined at last...

Thursday, January 6, 2011

JanNoWriMo: 21 Down, 2 To Go (Spanner Book 1)

So far I've completed 21 out of the 23 chapters of Spanner Book 1. I had to take a couple days' rest so I could recover from the intensity of the snowballing climax. I put a lot of passion into Chapters 18 through 21. Now I'm ready to get it finished.

Only two chapters to go.

The last six months have been quite a ride for me. Actually, I'm the one being ridden, by my muse, driven to write the story that's been obsessing me since 1992. I am not about to stop until I get the whole series finished, edited, and published, not even for such distractions as FAWM, NaNoEdMo, and Script Frenzy.

I'm not going to start editing and writing Book 2 until I get past Chapter 23. After all, I'm getting ready to post them right here, and soon. Those first seven chapters (24-30) will get pretty complicated, before I get back into the unwritten stuff. My goal for Book 2: get the whole thing written before EdMo begins.

Once again, it continues...

Monday, January 3, 2011

Spanner Chapter 18: White Riot in the Streets

The reckoning is getting closer. Hope and Karen take their proper place in the heart of the action. (Requiring, of course, that I retcon them back into earlier chapters. But not now...) The villains show their power, yet pull their punches; right now they intend to intimidate, not exterminate. And at last, Bart Green and his Valiant Team throw their Team Challenge out to Team Bremelo.

The time is coming closer. The day of reckoning approaches for Governor Brinkman, Admiral Fleer, Mayor Everson, and Police Chief Becket. They control all the guns, thanks to the Neo-Confederate police of gun control. But the amorphous opposition have weapons of their own, weapons that do not kill, yet destroy. Weapons like popular discontent and the Law of Plausible Deniability. And, as Shira and Jennifer explain, the Old Confederacy was a lost cause because of the ruling slavelord élite’s contempt for the masses led them to lose it to the capitalist-led North. If there’s any ideal that’s pie-in-the-sky, it’s Synarchy.

Scenarios from the Project Notebooks of the early ’00s: the redneck gang attack, Shira’s Go-Yo, the Team Challenge (now in its final form), Shira's duel with Bart, her continuing chess game with Dr. Becket, and the Moravec Plan.

The disaster is snowballing. The horror unfolds, but you can’t avert your eyes...

Sunday, January 2, 2011

A Look Back at Spanner Book 1, with Editing Notes

After my NaNoFiMo victory for December 2010, I can finally take a break to look back on what I've written for Spanner the novel so far and see what the pressures of NaNoWriMo victory and publication deadlines have caused me to leave out.

Of course, I'm currently working on Chapter 22; Chapter 18 won't be posted till tomorrow. But this late in the book, I'm now in a much better position to see the plot holes I need to fill in for the second draft (and first book draft).

Amazingly enough, for once the plot's not the problem! Writing Bad Company, I had little trouble with the characters, but the plot still refuses to come together even three years later. Looking back at Spanner, I find I need to upgrade some of the characters from background to "minor yet important" status. These are the most important:
  1. Karen Kubota. She's proved to be so important late in the book that I need to boost her role in the earlier three-quarters. I already have her as head cheerleader, which all but makes her, and not her cousin Shira (the main character), Charmian's natural nemesis, where Shira is jock king Bart's. The other important thing I need to keep in mind is that she is a devout Buddhist, and in fact a youth leader in her Buddhist organization.
  2. Aira Izumi. As I've written her in the serial, she looks like a fairly normal-seeming kid from a bizarre background. I need to emphasize her freakishness more. I need to make it clearer that, far more than gangster Koji and sadistic Nenene, this "loli" is trouble incarnate — just like Shira herself.
  3. Hope Reston. Shira's mother doesn't appear much at all, and when she does she's more of a background character than anything. For the second draft (for the book), I need to bring her into the foreground, because she's really every bit as important as Karen, and because otherwise the ending won't work.
  4. Ariel Shield. So far, she appears only in Chapters 4, 7, and 15. She needs to hover in the background more, so in the second draft I'll need to find more places to put her so she can watch over her niece and nephew, the Shelley twins, and keep an eye on the fascinating Shira.
  5. Willa Richter-Thomas. I need to characterize her better. To understand her, you need to know that she is:
    1. a psychologist whose position in her guild is constantly threatened.
    2. a socialist.
    So far I only have her as a beautiful and elegantly dressed former (?) postpunk rocker who got trapped in a disastrous marriage with villain Dr. Henry Becket for a month back in 1992 and who later (for reasons explained clearly in Chapter 7) married her own daughter. There's not enough of her life showing up on the page.
  6. The hackers. In the serial edition I find I have a tendency to focus on only a few characters in a large group. That means not just Team Bremelo/Spanner, but the hackers of the Skeleton Krewe and the crew of their pirate TV station, KCUF. I need to bring more of them back in so it'll look like more of a group effort.
There's one more thing I've downplayed so far: the social context. I need to make it crystal clear that the replacement of Union with New Confederacy and of United Nations with United Corporations means deliberate mass impoverishment resulting from an elite policy of vicious and unending class war. I need to make the consequences of the "Law of Social Darwinism" visceral. I need to make sure it hurts. Only then will you understand the desperation and enthusiasm with which the Cascadian people take to the streets and the illegal ballot box in Chapter 23 and why it causes "Black Panic in the Suites" (the chapter title), and the revolutionary situation in Book 5.

This will be part of my editing agenda for Books 1 and 2 during NaNoEdMo. These and other improvements will make the book much stronger than the serial. In short: in Spanner, unlike Bad Company, I need to improve the characters and context. The plot? No problem.