Whew! I finally got a draft done of a story I’ve been thinking about writing since 2006, and researching for the last few weeks. (Working title: “Moura” — the one about H.G. Wells’ last lover, and about… well, I wouldn’t want to spoil it for you, now, would I? I don’t think the title will change, by the way, but who knows…?)
I’m going to show it to a few friends and get some feedback, which is something I haven’t done so much lately with stories. But this is a different sort of story than I’ve written before. For those who are giving me feedback, you might not want to read on until after you’ve read it. You’ll be hearing from me soon, I just need to get a few Russian words from a couple of my Russian exchange students and weave them into the appropriate spots in the story.
For those who are reading on, I’ll try explain what I think is different about this story, and why I wrote it this way.
Okay, things I’ve never really done in a serious story before, which I did in this one:
- There’s a large epistolary element. That is, about half of the story is told through letters exchanged between a number of characters. There are probably a few examples of this in earlier work of mine, but nothing published or publishable. It’a curious form, because not only can a lot be shown about a character through his or her writing, but a lot can also be implied. References to places or things or issues known only to the characters (but not the reader) can be thrown in, and it is natural. Yet it’s also a very strange form of ventriloquism, considering I’m appropriating the voices of real historical people. It’s quite strange. It’s also, unarguably, because of my having read Andrea Lynn’s Shadow Lovers: The Last Affairs of H.G. Wells (which I recently reviewed) that I decided to use the epistolary form — the real letters (between Wells and the people in his life) contained in that book are both fascinating and revealing.
- The SFnal premise is somewhat more vague, more in the background, and more ephemeral. This story is not “slipstream” as I understand it, and it’s not quite historical fiction — but it’s also not quite SF either, and most definitely not alternate history. It is, indeed, something like H.G. Wells’ Star Begotten: A Biological Fantasia, a book that I ran across after I had already come up with the basic story idea, but which doubtless influenced my approach in this tale. Star Begotten can be read as a bizarre short SF that is a kind of metafictional sequel to the much earlier The War of the Worlds, or it can be seen as a an ironic novel which is not SFnal, but rather a critique of how SF can muddle the minds and imaginations of the not-so-very-clever. I am most definitely riffing on Star Begotten, but I’m doing something somewhat different with it. Still, the capacity for the tale to be SF, or not SF, or commentary about SF, or meta-commentary on SF from within an SF tale, is something I’ve consciously built into the story. If one feels the SFnal element is real, then it’s an SF story. If one feels it is only in the heads of the characters, then it’s a story about SF, but isn’t necessarily an SF story in itself. Er, does that make sense?
- This heavy metafictional side to the story is something that I’m not sure the reader needs to grasp quite explicitly, but which grasping would help make the story a lot clearer, and which would make the story itself seem, perhaps, somewhat less flat and unfinished. In a sense, to short circuit things, no matter whether you read the tale as if the SFnal conceit is real or imaginary within the confines of the narrative, this remains a story that is as much about the history of SF, and its formative influences (H.G. Wells, particularly), and its influence on the Western imagination. This remains true whether or not you see the tale itself as SFnal, but at the same time, it is only true to the degree that a reader recognizes this influence of SF on the Western imagination, and so on.
- This story features almost all real, historical personages. There are a few minor characters who are completely made-up (people working in a train station, a Russian agent and his henchmen), but the majority of the characters are based on real people, named after them, and a certain degree of effort has been made to be faithful to what it’s been claimed these people were like. Again, it feels like a weird kind of ventriloquism. Weirdly appropriative, even thought every character who speaks in the story is now deceased; but it is, I hope, not malevolently appropriative. Certainly my intention is not to sully the memory of anyone; this is fiction, not reality, however much it draws upon the lives and personalities of real people.
As anyone can see, I’ve gotten myself into a lot of hot water with the task I’ve set out for myself here. The biggest problem is that my ending may or may not seem absurdly flat
I think the next few writing projects I’ll be working on will be revisions, since I’ll need some time for “The Tale of Baejjanggi & Gaemi” now that I know what kind of a story it’s going to be: a kind of cross between Kafka’s The Metamorphosis, Harlan Ellison’s “I Have No Mouth and I Must Scream,” Aesop’s fable about the grasshopper and the ant — one one narrative stream, that is, while in the other stream it’s kind of a mashup of Letters from Iwo Jima/Flag of Our Fathers and Charles Stross’s The Glasshouse. Not that the tale is in any way pastiche, except insofar as it is a retelling of the Aesop, and is a war story. The influences are ones I’ve come up with after the fact of starting to write, though I’m now thinking I should probably read Remarque’s All Quiet on the Western Front — recommended to me by my friend Ian McHugh — soon.
Oh, and it’s centered on a posthuman economics of processing cycles, and on disagreements of interpretations of the expected utility model, reference to which I ran across in… wow, I can’t even remember now! Little surprise, though, that an alternate working title of the story is “The Bernoulli War.”
(In fact, the story is two narratives experienced by the same character, and each of the working titles is for a separate story which originally was thought up individually, but which I since have realized ought to be fused into one tale. that;s why there are two working titles. I’ll be trying to mash the titles together somehow, though “Ant and Grasshopper: The Bernoulli War” sucks and “The War of Bernoulli and Gaemi” is a little too meh. I may end up going with
“Bernoulli’s War” or something instead, if the mashing fails — but I need to get a lot of research done to write the thing, and writing will precede titling, I think.)
But all of that is some ways away — for now, the next stuff in my queue is the revision of a couple of academic pieces I need to get sent out and published ASAP, and the drafting of a couple of abstracts for shorter papers I need to get working on in the next few months. Then story revisions while I work through some research, and then drafting the academic stuff. Maybe I’ll get some free time to work on this newer story by the summer. I hope so!