NaNoWriMo 2011 – Road To Elysium

It’s that time of year again, NaNoWriMo is coming around, and I’m gearing up to participate.

My Nano history: my friend Turtle talked me into it six years ago; I started three days late because I was convinced that I wasn’t interested until I saw her so motivated and having fun, and the peer support, and finally caved and started. Failed miserably – exams were at the same time. But I was hooked. Same deal next year, but I got to about 25k this time. Next year I hit under 20k, but that was a month before my wedding. The year after that was 2009, and I wasn’t going to school, and I booked time off work in November to prove that if I had the time, I could do it. And I finally did. Last year I got a new job, and the weeks I had booked off in November disappeared. But I was working close to home, and slightly shorter shifts, that gave me two hours a day extra to do it, so I was determined to give it all I had, and I made it again last year, if barely.

This year I figure I got it in the bag. I have 1 week off, and I’ve had my hours reduced at work – bad financially, but writing wise… eh, I’m enjoying the time it’s given me to work on revision, so there are perks. As long as I don’t get overconfident and lazy, I should be golden.

The project this year: Road To Elysium. Breaking away from my usual Dieselpunk, and delving into science fiction, specifically cyberpunk. The setting will be intergalactic, and largely inspired by current economic events, extrapolating the Corporate personhood idea out to where corporations are now government, and there are no nations, just Companies. Workers are often brainwiped to protect corporate informational assets.

There is slavery, though they don’t like to call it that. In this world, people in debt are forced to work off their debt in service of whatever corporation that owns their debt. Whoever owns their debt, owns them. Society is composed of mostly debt slaves, since the companies don’t pay their workers in cash, but credits that can be spent only on company goods, or traded for cash at a pointless conversion rate, so that no one can actually get out of debt. Or their parents debt, passed down to them. The only other option for someone who can’t work, or refuses to, is bankruptcy, in which case they must go to live on one of the refugee camp planets.

The story starts with the main character, who’s been brainwiped, and doesn’t remember anything before being rescued from an escape pod two years ago. A strange woman shows up to take her away from the mining asteroid she works on – her debt is being sold to another company because that company is looking for a “certain type of worker”. What that is, they won’t tell her, other than she fits the bill.

Once they’re free and clear, she finds out that the woman who’s taken her away is an AI from the planet Elysium, a paradise where all inhabitants live in perfect harmony and equality. The woman tells her that’s where she came from, and she’s come to take her home. But the Corporation that owns her debt catches on, and their journey home becomes a desperate flight from the corporation’s mercenaries, among others.

Seeing as I’m breaking out of my old habits with genre, I figure I might as well in other ways as well. I think I’m going to try writing in first person, present tense, just to mix things up. The Windup Girl by Paulo Bacigalupi was in present tense, and while I noticed right away, it didn’t detract from my enjoyment of it. First person is a little less foreign to me – I wrote my first novel in first person (an abomination that will never ever see the light of print on paper). And most recently, I wrote a short story in first person. I hadn’t planned that, I just had the plot entirely worked out, and sat down to write and the first sentence came out in first person. I looked at it and blinked, and went with it. It’s one of my better pieces, but too long for a short, so it’ll probably be a novel some day.

In any case, I’m being ambitious and daring this year – I suppose I had to make up for having a more comfortable amount of time to work on the thing. Which reminds me, I should go finish the outline for it. 😛

Occupy Winnipeg: My first brush with activism

Yesterday I attended the first general assembly of the 99% in Winnipeg, Manitoba. I was one of those people walking up the street in between the people with signs decrying corporate greed. It was really cool. And with the subject material I write about, it only makes sense that I should be there to stand up for what I believe in. I only wish I could stay out there through the night with those guys, but I’m working, and if I was there, then I couldn’t be writing, and since that’s where my talent lies, that’s my form of protest.

The first thing I noticed was, having come expecting police to be around, was that there weren’t any. There was a cruiser parked a little ways away, but we think that might have been a speed trap. Not that Winnipeg is known for violent protests (the Winnipeg General Strike notwithstanding.) The group was very clear that it was intended to be a peaceful and sober event.

Trevor Semotok gave a rousing speech on the steps of the Legislature building. I have a video, but it’s taking a while to edit out the shakiness from my shivering, I’ll get it up later. (ETA – video working now, no more giving people motion sickness.) There was also a First Nations contingient, and their “Princess of the North” was an amazingly powerful speaker.

One neat thing I learned about is the Human Mic. Apparently on Wall Street, they’ve outlawed voice amplification, so they can’t use PA’s to get the voices heard. Instead, they’ve come up with the Human Mic. One person, the speaker, when they have something to say, shouts “mic check!” and everyone who can hear them, shouts “mic check!” back, and they keep calling and responding until everyone who can hear the speaker is paying attention. Then the speaker starts their message, keeping it to 2-4 words at a time, and after each 2-4 words, the crowd of participants repeats their words, so that the words can be heard beyond how far one person’s voice could reach.

It was quite powerful, because not only is it a substitute for a PA, it also results in the participants saying out loud – shouting out loud, the message. Speaking something out loud is a powerful thing, psychologically. I’m stealing the idea and putting it in a novel. 😛

We marched downtown and held our first General Assembly of the 99% of Occupy Winnipeg. There was lots of use of Human Mic, and cars driving by honked in solidarity when they saw our signs. The buses were good and loud, but the cement truck took the cake for horns.

The politicians are still saying it will go nowhere though. That nothing will come of all of the protesting. That we’ll just give up and go home and submit to the policy changes that will crush the spirit out of us. The legislation undermining collective bargaining the federal government is laying down on unions, the new free trade agreement that will make NAFTA look like it was environmentally friendly and pro small business, and the abolishing of the Canadian Wheat Board that will have food prices that are already rising, skyrocket, and put small farmers out of business. They say there’s nothing we can do.

There’s an air of desperation in all of this. It’s like we know if we give up now, that’ll be it. We’re putting everything we’ve got into it now, and if we don’t succeed in forcing change now, we’ll have nothing left. I think that’s why, in some places, it’s getting violent. That’s the next step, if things don’t change. The movement is worldwide, and the demands are the same all over.

Politicians criticize our lack of a specific message. The problem with trying to put a specific message to this movement is that how can we pick just one can of BS out of all the cans that have been shoved down our throats? They want to make us choose just one thing, when any one thing is one of the many straws that broke the camel’s back. If protesting specific things made a difference, they would have heard the people every time they protested in the past. It’s too late for that now. They’ve proved that they don’t care what we, as citizens, want. Our government doesn’t represent us. It’s time for revolution. 

Lamenting the Death of Print or Why I Don’t Have an E-book Reader

There’s been a lot of talk about the death of print and the rise of electronic books. Many say that authors need to get with the times and go electronic, and then others say they like the feel of a book in their hands, and will never buy an e-book reader, and the people like them will keep print alive, if only on a smaller scale.

I keep saying I’d love to have an e-book reader, because it would make buying books easier, and if I got the sony one, I could do copyedits on my fiction on it. Someday when the credit card is paid off, I’ll get one.

Then I read this post, from Seanan Mcguire:

And there it is. That’s why I don’t have an e-book reader. I can’t bloody well afford one.

The library was my place, right from an early age. My dad took me regularly – it must have been every two weeks, because that’s how long you were allowed to keep a book back then. I went through books like nobody’s business, right from the time I learned to read, which was pretty young – my dad read to my brother and I regularly, and he would point at each word as he read it, so that I started to pick up patterns pretty fast. I would read anything I could get my hands on. When I’d read all the children’s books in the house, he must have started taking me to the library when he saw me reading the backs of cereal boxes for the lack of anything to read on the table.

When I graduated from picture books to chapter books, it was to Thornton Burgess, and his books about forest animals. When I got to longer books, it was because I was in love with horses (what teenage girl isn’t? (well, except for my mother…)) and got into the Black Stallion series, and Marguerite Henry and her Chincoteague ponies. I read every book in the library that had a horse or a unicorn on the front.

When I got into science fiction, that was how it happened to. It was “A Swiftly Tilting Planet” by Madeleine L’engle, and I went back to read the first books in the trilogy first, because I’m neurotic that way. But it had a unicorn on the front, with bonus wings, and I had to read it.

So then I started cleaning out the library of their science fiction and fantasy, eventually moving over to the adult section. This would have been thousands of dollars worth of books, easily. I would go through one a week at least. Lets see, one book a week, for a year, at, say 10$ a book, we’ll be conservative, even though a lot of those we probably 30$ hardcovers, would be around 500$ a year. And I’m not even counting the non-fiction I took out. Which tends to be more expensive. I educated myself on all kinds of things, just browsing the racks to find interesting things.

It’s like a bookstore! Only free!

We do need libraries, and our libraries need funding. As the gap between the poor and the wealthy widens, opportunities disappear. Libraries have always been a haven for enlightenment, and when public schools are losing funding, and teachers are overwhelmed with class sizes, students with the desire should always have the option to initiate their own learning opportunities.

(as the concepts of intellectual property and information ownership and the rights of the poor to access them creep into the setting of my next novel….)

The Zeitgeist – Writing in the Spirit of the Times

This is something of a followup to this post and this post. Robert J. Sawyer touched on this on his “Idea is King” lecture as well. It’s about finding an idea that will hit a nerve with your audience.

Think about what concepts are big right now. The current issues and events rocking our world today. A work that makes statements on that is the sort of work that will get people talking, and right from the time of Jonathan Swift and H. G. Wells, science fiction and fantasy have been a platform for making a statement.

I find as I’ve matured, the ideas that come to me are the sort of ideas that are in the Zeitgeist. Obviously I can’t feel strongly about every concept being debated right now, but the bigger ones that I feel most strongly about, I write about.

My last major project, The Box, was about religious tolerance and faith, and the conflict between science and religion, approaching it from the speculative standpoint of “what would a society look like if science was the dominant religion?” From that, the idea was born of a country where an underground group of rebels dedicated to science had overthrown the reigning theocracy, and captured God in a contraption they’d built, and ultimately turn out to be no better ruler’s than the theocracy had been.

My current project, The Eyelet Dove, originally was about a country occupied by a conquering country and revolting against the occupying country. I slowly got frustrated with it, there was something wrong, and I couldn’t put my finger on it. Then finally I realized that the reason I didn’t like it, was because I didn’t want to write about an occupation – what was on my mind was the conflicts in the world today between the corporate aristocracy and the working class people. That’s what I feel passionately about right now, and when I realized that, the story turned into a people’s revolution, overturning an oppressive and indulgent monarchy and upper class.

And with the way the world is going right now, that’s totally on the front page of the Zeitgeist newspaper.

And now I have NaNoWriMo coming up, which I do every year, and have finally decided on which of many ideas bouncing around in my head that I’m going to do. It’s going to be science fiction this time, possibly classifiable as cyberpunk, with AI’s being a major theme, but then I read this article on debt and my worldbuilding elements began to fall into place. Many futuristic science fiction novels themes center around an extrapolation of how the world will be in X number of years, if things keep going the way they are.

This one’s going to look at debt, and how the current economic situation has turned the lower class into little more than a slave class, with no upward mobility and no power. So that will be the world my main character is trapped in, only with spaceships and asteroid mines, where there is no government anymore – the government has been bought out by the Corporations, and their employees are their citizens, and if they have any debt, they’re their slaves. Only they won’t use that word – that’s an ugly word. There will be internment camp for the bankrupt, and defaulters will be hunted like escaped slaves. The companies won’t pay employees in cash, but in credit that can only be used for buying company goods, so that their employees can survive, but can never get out of debt. And there will be an attack on one of the companies, attempting to delete all of their financial records, so as to free their employees from debt, by a legendary hacker. It will be fun.