The Agony of the Sci-Fi writer

It is a truth universally acknowledged that writing a novel is not an instantaneous process. It takes time: often more than a year from first draft – the weeks of ‘just get the damn story down on paper so you have something to work on!’ to final grammar-nazi edits, and eventual publication.

This can pose something of a problem, and I don’t mean the obvious lack of income in the intervening time. No – it’s the intervening time itself that’s the trouble.

Here, for example, is an extract from the first draft of Evening Lands, sequel to The Price of Time. Without giving the game away let’s just say that partway into the story we catch up with our villain Stan Mills, in his diffuse form, haunting a well-known Usonian* landmark:

No expense had been spared in the construction and furnishing of the building, its distinctive footprint stamped in the mind of everyone on earth.

But few know the interior: the terrazzo marble floors, the polished wooden doorways and dados; the daylight streaming into every corridor, each lined with a parade of formal, framed faces.

Grainy or sharp, fair or swart, relaxed or stern, all share something from a common well, for those who can only see: Fear. It gleams as a tiny shard in their eyes. They are all known to him: by name; by history. He permeates them: their thoughts, their hearts; their work…

Professionals in the science and art of communication: the subtleties that hide in the words and phrases of living language; the patterns of the networks of contacts over which words – and the thoughts hidden between them – propagate; the hard components of engineered infrastructure. The means by which information can be disguised using particles that are also waves…

Experts in the mortal mind: its form, its frailties, its irrationalities. In the living body: its highways, its weak points; its perceptions of reward and pain. The many and varied ways in which mind or body can be twisted, broken – made to malfunction; the various laws and conventions prohibiting most of these, and the ways of circumventing the latter.

Here, too, are artificial brains, and even minds, their abilities far exceeding that of any individual. The decisions handed over to such minds are month by month increasing in importance, working their way up the chain of command.

There is much to learn here: how can Fear penetrate such artificial minds? Can they be made to enhance it – magnify it? If so, might there be some means of feeding it back to the population? If not, then can they at least be made to fear, anyway, that such means nevertheless exist..?

When I wrote these words I made an educated guess that sometime in the near future – but not just yet – a way would indeed be found – or revealed to have been found – to ‘use the artificial minds to enhance Fear and feed it back to the population’.

My guess, in the best Science-fiction tradition, proved spot-on.

I just got the timing wrong: the Cambridge Analytica bombshell beat me to the press.

But look on the bright side.

Our Evil Genius now has to dream up something even more nefarious to come out of those Evening Lands…



*Usonian: here just intended to mean of, or about, the United States, rather than a particular school of architecture.

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