Tuesday, June 21, 2011

The Right Dynamic

It's a standard trope of the Old West that change comes from outsiders. The stranger comes to town, and by the time he's done, the town has been upended, its culture changed or destroyed, and he rides off into the sunset, being too volatile to keep around. And the truth is, this really happened quite a bit. Reading the stories of the Earp brothers, it's clear they wore out their welcomes in towns they cleaned up fairly regularly.

It hasn't always been the case that Old West stories start with an outsider. In earlier Westerns, like High Noon, the strangers were the bad guys and the hero was the townie sheriff who faced them down, but I grew up on Eastwood Westerns, particularly High Plains Drifter, and by the time they came along, that dynamic had been inverted. The outsider was the good guy - though frequently he's at best a mixed blessing. The dynamic of insider vs outsider is a powerful one.

Why this matters: Brass and Steel: Inferno is a story about Dante Blackmore, who is investigating some decidedly strange goings on in the town he's lived in for eight years. The problem I kept running into was asking how, if he's been there for eight years, has he been unaware of those goings on right along? He can't be (or I don't have a story to tell), and yet I have no desire to have the story depend on his incompetence or stupidity. Worse, the more I thought about it, the story I've been stealing the technique from; Dead and Buried - the novelization by Chelsea Quinn Yarbro; gets out of this exact problem only because the main character's memory may or may not be reliable. (Read the book. It's very good. The movie is only so-so.) I'd reached the point where I was facing upending the plot (again) by making Dante either an outsider coming in, or a war hero coming back after years of work away from his home town. Both interesting dynamics, but not quite what I wanted.

This afternoon, though, a third way emerged in the fleshing out of chapter 1 that hadn't been there before, and it gave me the feel I want. Blackmore's been in town for eight years, yes, but he's not /part/ of the town. People don't talk to him. It makes him as much an outsider as if he'd just gotten there. He knows quite a bit of the history, but he's not immersed in the town culture. Best of both worlds. All of a sudden chapter 1 starts to ring properly, and the town culture starts to work. Plus, the dynamics of gyrations of the town's culture as we all proceed through the plotline together start to make a /lot/ more sense.

For those playing the home game, chapter 1 is not the first chapter I've written. I have /lots/ of other chapters, quite a few of which will probably be in the final novel, but chapter 1 sets the town and lays down the culture, and it's got to set the right feel for me to play the rest of the novel off of.

Back to work.


Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Lights are on/Someone is home

When I reload my cyberpunk world - and I am planning to return to cyberpunk - you can expect the technology to look a little different. There are things I didn't imagine in 2004 (or 1991, depending on which parts of the Looking Glass world you're looking at), such as cloud computing, and the revolutions in the Middle East. There were things I did imagine too, for other purposes, and one of those things is this: a technique for making light activated neurons in mice.

Not inherently useful in cyberpunk you say? Consider this. Given a supply of stem cells, dropping those same genes into the stem cells and triggering those stem cells to become neurons gives you a supply of light activated neurons which you can implant in someone's brain. Add some encoding/decoding logic, a power supply, and an optical port, along with a good understanding of how the brain really works, and you've got direct neural interfaces. It's tempting to say "it gets rid of all the nanomachine handwaving of neurofibers" buuuut... I did say those neurofibers were practically living neurons themselves. In any case, I saw it, it amused me, and so here it is. :)


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