Penal Colony

 

Penal Colony cover

See on Amazon

 

While heading for his car after a night out celebrating the closing of a big deal at work, Paul Taylor meets a strange, despondent man, poorly dressed for the cold, who seems horribly depressed by some personal setback. Still slightly drunk on both alcohol and success, Paul invites the man for a cup of coffee and some food at a nearby all-night diner.

There, this peculiar man tells Paul of a conspiracy begun by the creators of various social and virtual media companies…and of technology that allowed these conspirators to control the minds of the people of the world for their own personal enrichment. He tells of the overthrow of that conspiracy by a group of which he had been part…a group which had then turned on and “exiled” him.

Though the man’s story is engaging, and the man himself is personally convincing, Paul is forced to admit that he has heard of no such conspiracy or overthrow.

The man finally explains to Paul why he hasn’t heard of it. It’s an answer that Paul cannot believe…

I could a tale unfold whose lightest word would harrow up thy soul, freeze thy young blog…

Well, it feels like the end of an era, but I’m able finally to be able to say that I’ve completed the first draft of Unanimity.  I say, “the end of an era,” because it feels as if it’s the longest I’ve ever worked on anything in my life.  This is not literally true; my horror novel, Vagabond, which I wrote through college and med school, took longer, but that was because I wrote it so sporadically.  I foolishly worked on it only when “inspiration” struck, whatever that even means.  And the first full-length (hand-written) novel I ever wrote, Ends of the Maelstrom, probably took longer as well, for broadly similar reasons.

There’s no denying, however, that Unanimity is the biggest thing I’ve ever written.  At 530,549 words, its first draft is longer than the published version of either It or The Stand.  I don’t know how many days of writing it’s entailed.  I took at least one fairly long hiatus during the middle of the process, to complete various other authorial tasks, but even given that…well, in length, at least, it’s definitely my magnum opus.  So far.

I had no idea when I began it that it was going to be so long.  I don’t often really think in such terms, which is probably good, since I tend to run off at the keyboard.  I love words, I love written language, I love writing stories…and I’m self-indulgent when it comes to those loves.  I hope you’ll be patient with me, but I’ll understand if you’re not.

So, Tuesday I finished the rather melancholy final scene of my novel, and then Wednesday, as you may have noticed, I published Penal Colony, my latest short story (It’s available for purchase in Kindle format, for less than a buck, American).  Having both things happen more or less contemporaneously makes them feel more momentous than they probably are.

Now I must try very hard to take a break from Unanimity, and not to do any rewriting or editing on it for the month of February.  Fortunately, I have two short story ideas eagerly waiting to be written, and I really should finish up In the Shade as well, so I’ll try to get most, or all, of those works done this coming month.  They’re all horror stories—no big surprise—but at least one of them is a slightly jokey, cynical horror story, in which very honorable, morally upright, and laudable impulses and deeds are used against a well-meaning, if slightly self-righteous, person by dark forces.

Such—all too often, and regrettably—is life.

Hopefully, though, we won’t let that stop us.  Dark things and dark people are generally a lot noisier than good things and good people, so sometimes it feels as though they dominate the universe.  Yet the fact that civilization has survived at all, and continued to advance, seems to be mathematical proof that good and creativity are stronger than evil and destruction.  After all, it’s simpler by far to destroy than to create, and yet creation—in the human world—vastly predominates over destruction.  QED.

Sorry about that little digression into philosophy, but I thought it might be warranted.  It would be all too easy, I know, based on the types of things I write, for someone to imagine that I’m a pessimist about human nature, or the universe in general.  I’m not.  Though the second law of thermodynamics is as inescapable as any other mathematical principle, it’s also the source of life, and of our experience of time.  Life—certainly as we know it—can’t exist except where entropy is going from lower to higher.  I’m very much on board with the ideas David Deutsch describes in his wonderful book The Beginning of Infinity There is no guarantee that humanity and our descendants will go on to achieve a cosmic-level civilization, but there doesn’t appear to be any reason it’s not possible.  Whether or not it happens is entirely dependent upon our actions (and a lack of local astronomical catastrophes, of course).

And that’s about enough of all that for now.  I’ll leave you to the rest of your day.  It’s bitterly cold up north, I know, and it’s even relatively chilly down here in south Florida, so wrap up warm, all those who are affected.  Curl up by the fire in a blanket.  Drink a mug of tea, or coffee, or hot chocolate, and read a good book, if you get the chance.  Listen to that cold, bitter wind howling outside, with a chill that seems more than capable of freezing the very flesh from your bones.  It sounds almost alive, doesn’t it?

It sounds almost…hungry.

TTFN

This blog of darkness I acknowledge mine.

For those of you who follow this blog regularly, you’ll probably be relieved to read that this will almost certainly be the last time I’m going to write, “work on Unanimity is proceeding well.”  As predicted, I should be finished with the first draft of that novel by this time next week, barring illness and/or accident.  It’s been a long haul, and though the editing and rewriting that follows will surely be a laborious task, at least this stage will be finished.  It is, by far, the longest book that I’ve ever written.

In a similar vein, you may also be pleased to learn that I won’t be speaking much more about Penal Colony*, for that story is all but ready to be published.  It may well be available by this time next week.  In many ways it’s a much lighter-hearted tale than Unanimity, to say nothing of being shorter, but it deals with a few of the same themes and ideas—namely the possibility of insidious threats to personal autonomy, and the possibly illusory nature of such a thing in the first place.

Don’t worry, though, if you don’t like to deal with serious ideas or themes when you read a story.  I’m no highbrow literatus at heart, however much I love Shakespeare.  One of the problems I often had with literature courses in college was that I never had the knack—or perhaps the interest—for trying to dissect works of fiction for deep meanings and hidden messages.  I just read stories to enjoy them.  With Shakespeare, at least, I’m darn near sure he wrote to entertain people.  This explains why I tended to get better grades in Calculus, Chemistry, Biology, and Physics than in English courses.  You didn’t have to try to figure out how to say something the professor thought was insightful, or that agreed with his or her personal take on a given work.  In math and science, if you know the material, you pretty much can get the right answer.

So, you don’t need to worry about my stories being unnecessarily complicated or deep.  I do, of course, tend automatically to put into them whatever I’m pondering at any given time, as I suspect any author does, and in real life I’ve been told that I tend to invite chaos.  But chaos can make for good stories.  It’s an odd fact of human nature, but things we like to read, or to watch, or the games we like to play, are rarely what most of us would ever want to experience if we could avoid them.  This has been said, and far better, by many others before me.

I plan on taking most of the month of February off from any editing or rewriting Unanimity, following Stephen King’s advice in his book On Writing.  We’ll see if I can meet that ideal; I make no guarantees.  If I’m able, though, it means that next month will be one in which I can dedicate myself entirely to new stories.  I have one or two works of short fiction that I hope to finish in that time.  Then will begin the proverbial wading-through-blood of making Unanimity fit to be read by other people.

It’s gonna be a while before that’s done.

In other news:  I’m always trying to think of ways to make my parallel blog—Iterations of Zero—work for me and with my schedule, and I may try something new with it.  I’m a fan of a few podcasts, and I am also an enthusiastic consumer of Audible books, especially nonfictions ones.  My own commute-based listening has convinced me that, however much I want to participate in, promote, and preserve the art and craft of written language, it may be useful to do more audio work, sharing thoughts and ideas that I’d planned eventually to turn into written blog posts.  As you know, I’ve done audio (and associated “video”) of three of my short stories and nine chapters of CatC, and I’ve developed a modicum of skill at using the medium, so I may start posting some more audio stuff on IoZ…perhaps starting by reading aloud some posts I’ve written previously.  Further bulletins on this as events develop.

Finally, a forewarning:  I’m planning, hopefully sooner rather than later, to rewrite the “About Me” section of this blog.  I wrote that piece many years ago now, and when I read it now, it just feels like I’m trying too hard.  I also left out a fair few of the more unpleasant but pivotal things that have happened to me.  I suppose this is understandable, even excusable, but I must remember my above-noted insight that unpleasant stories are often interesting to read.  Mainly, though, I just want to be honest about myself, as much as I’m able, and anyone who’s read my fiction can probably tell that a jolly, happy-go-lucky Dr. Pangloss I am not.

Also, if one is open even about the most embarrassing aspects of one’s life, then one need not fear that those events can be used against one, even inadvertently.  I’m in some ways fortunate that many of my most damaging personal tales are already matters of public record; my personal darkness is rather well-illuminated.  If it contains the sorts of things that would drive you away from me if they were to be revealed later, then by all means, stay away now.

I am what I am, I’m my own special destruction.

But destruction and creation aren’t mutually exclusive, they’re just ways of looking at the processes of change.  And at this stage of the universe, embroiled as we are in the long transition from order to entropy, change is something with which you’re just gonna have to deal.  It doesn’t ask your permission, it doesn’t need your approval, and it will certainly never seek your forgiveness.

TTFN


Here’s a peek at the planned cover picture:

penal colony cover 2

Give me some music; music, moody food Of us that trade in blogs.

Good morning, good Thursday, and welcome to the latest posting of my blog.  I hope the year is going well for you all so far.

Those who follow my second blog, Iterations of Zero, will note that I recently posted the lyrics of a song, “Schrödinger’s Head.”  This is rather new and out of the blue, I know.  I certainly gave no explanation when I posted it, so I thought I’d tell the story behind it here.

Last week, a coworker and I were idly chatting between tasks (we sit next to each other at the office), when it occurred to me that “Gwyneth Paltrow’s Head” would be a great name for a sort of indie punk band.  I did a quick Google search and couldn’t find such a band, so between us we thought we should—at least in our imaginations—invent it.  Of course, the name of the band’s first album would be “What’s in the box?”*

After a bit of thought, though, it occurred to us that, at least if the band were to seek real commercial success, it might be better not to call itself “Gwyneth Paltrow’s Head.”  Ms. Paltrow is a curious character, and it’s hard to know how she would react to such a dubious homage.  We thought it might work okay if we switched it around and called the band “What’s in the box?”  We decided, further, that “Gwyneth Paltrow’s Head” was probably not even a safe name for the first album, and regretfully concluded that it would be better to go with “Tracy’s Head.”

At some point after that conversation, with my thoughts meandering like a restless wind inside a letter box, I decided that “Tracy’s Head” was just too banal and context-dependent.  The idea popped into my mind—possibly the result of quantum fluctuations—that the answer to the question “What’s in the Box?” might very well be Schrödinger’s cat, one of the world’s all-time most noteworthy box-dwellers.  And, since the Schrödinger’s cat thought experiment is all about superposition, it seemed fun to meld my metaphors and call the first album “Schrödinger’s Head.”  My colleague found this amusing enough, and he gave his approval.  It occurred to me then that if one is going to have such an album title, there ought to be a title song.  I’d had a good night’s sleep the night before (a rare occurrence) so I was full of pep.  Thus, when a lull occurred in the business of the day, I grabbed a piece of scrap paper and scribbled out the lyrics to such a song.

I’ll be honest:  for the last two of the final verse lines, I had to go online and look up more rhymes for “head.”  Not that they’re particularly difficult rhymes, as I’m sure you’ll note, but even so, I was drawing a blank by then.

My colleague looked at my rough draft and said that, of what he was able to read (my handwriting sucks) he thought it was fun.  So, I typed it up and loaded it onto Iterations of Zero.  I had some trouble dealing with WordPress’s new, supposedly better, editor; I found it cumbersome and non-intuitive, but that may just be because I’m not used to it.  In any case, the song is there, for your delectation.  I’ve even started writing a tune and chords for it, but that’s going to take longer than the words, and I don’t know that I will ever share it with anyone even privately, let alone publicly.  If I do, of course, I’ll let you know.

Okay, enough narcissistic babble about making up bands and writing songs on a whim.  I now turn to some narcissistic babble about my books and stories.

Penal Colony is almost ready to publish, but we still need to get a cover put together for it, which is behind schedule.  Nevertheless, it will probably be out before the end of January.

Speaking of the end of January, the final catastrophes of Unanimity are happening, the final confrontation is well underway, and I really should be done with the book by the end of the month.  Wow.  It’s the longest thing I’ve ever written, that’s for sure.  It’s longer than all but a handful of books that I’ve ever read.  Fear not!  I will cut it ruthlessly in rewrite and edit, of course, and the final product will be much shorter than the first draft, but still, there’s no way it’s not going to be a meaty book.  (For vegans such as the aforementioned Ms. Paltrow, fear not:  any such meat is lab-grown, clean meat, and no animals were harmed in the production of the novel…other than the author).

That’s about all there is for this week.  I hope you get at least a little tickle out of my song lyrics, if you bother going to check them out.  Be on the lookout for Penal Colony.  You can even just begin to scan the distant horizon for the eventual approach of Unanimity, but please don’t hold your breath.  It’s still going to be quite a while.

TTFN


*All this refers to events at the end of the movie “Seven,” for those of you who don’t recognize the references.  In case you haven’t seen it, I won’t explain further.  I don’t want to give any more spoilers than I already have.

And therefore, since I cannot prove a lover, to entertain these fair well-spoken days, I am determinèd to prove a blogger…

Good morning and Happy New Year to all!

I was just idly wondering, is New Year’s Eve/Day the single most broadly celebrated holiday in the world?  I wouldn’t be surprised if it is…and I suppose I wouldn’t be much more surprised if it isn’t.  Still, considering the general adoption of the Gregorian calendar by, as far as I know, all the nations of the world, I would suspect that New Years is the most generally recognized possible day of celebration worldwide, across all cultures.

That said, I hope all of you who do celebrate it had a wonderful time doing so this week and didn’t suffer too many ill-effects in consequence.  This new year number sounds just a bit like the beginning of a count-down (20…19…), which could be the lead-in to good things and/or bad, but next year at least we should all have clear vision to face whatever comes.

Okay, enough of that nonsense.  I have few new things to say with respect to writing this week, but I’ll give you such updates as there are.  First, of course, I am very close (relatively speaking) to the end of Unanimity.  Interestingly, just yesterday I re-started taking the train—both to save vehicular wear and tear and to force myself to get in some walking every day—and between the train and then some time in the office before work, I got significantly more writing done than I had on any other day in weeks.  Some of this may simply be because I’m approaching the end of the story, and the excitement is building, driving me to push out work more quickly.  Some of it may be from resting over the dual holidays (thankfully, I did rest, being neither very social nor much of a drinker).  But I think just not having to drive (except to the station in the morning) and thus not having to worry about traffic, to say nothing of getting a bit of exercise, really seems to do me some good.  Here’s to hoping I’m right.

Penal Colony also approaches its end.  Which is to say, the editing process is nearing completion; the story has been finished for some time.  I’m enjoying editing it, and I’ve certainly cut a lot of fat out*.  It’s at least a little bit light-hearted, despite its dire predictions about a possible sinister side of social media in the future (I know…can you imagine!?).  It’s certainly not as heavy as Solitaire, but that’s not exactly a high bar to clear.  Of course, all of this means we’re going to have to start working on the cover design any day now, which is its own special, and sometimes stressful, task.

In other news:  I don’t recall whether I’ve blogged about this already, but I recently read the book, Bird Box, responding to all the hype (and some interesting-sounding hints) about the Netflix movie (which I have not seen), and it was quite good.  I left a nice review, not too long, but hopefully useful, on Amazon, and I’d like to take this opportunity once again to cajole all of you readers—especially if you read independent authors—to rate and, if possible, to review the books you read on Amazon, or at least some significant fraction of them.  I know, I tend to harp on about this a bit, but it makes a tremendous difference.  It’s also very useful for an author to get feedback from general readers, who after all are the market for whom the books are written.

I don’t have a tremendous lot more to discuss this week, and I’ve almost reached my stop.  I wish you all, once again, the very best of new years, and I hope you enjoy yourselves and read plenty of books in 2019.  While it’s true that there are a great many other good sources of information and entertainment available, some of which are more seductive—and certainly more passive—than reading, written language remains the lifeblood of civilization, and the most direct and efficient means by which to convey information and stories between human minds.  As physicist Lisa Randall points out in her wonderful book Warped Passages, sometimes a few words (and perhaps a bit of math**) can be worth a thousand pictures.

TTFN


*I have a darkly humorous fantasy of some future person reading Penal Colony and thinking, “This is the story after you cut a lot of fat out?  What was it like before?

**which is, after all, just a special type of words