New Standalone WIP

I’m taking a bit of a break from writing Voidstrider volume four to let some of the difficult plot elements rearrange themselves in my subconscious, and using the time to bang out a standalone side project.

I posted last year about running a DnD campaign online for a single player on the other side of the Atlantic. We wrapped up the initial campaign in the summer, around when I went back to work. Since then, our respective schedules have been hectic and we haven’t launched a second one.

We created that campaign pretty much wholly from scratch. There aren’t a great many single-player campaigns out there. (More than there used to be, though!)

My new project is adapting that campaign (set in DnD’s Faerun world) into a cyberpunk novel. There are difficulties in translation, you might say. But I’ve got the major beats figured out and I’m enthusiastic about the project.

It’s going to be standalone, although there may be an equally standalone sequel should we ever run another campaign with the character. However, it is set in the same universe as Voidstrider. It takes place on Earth (a somewhat neglected setting in the Saga novels) about 50 years before Voidstrider.

That decision, by the way, adds some constraints which enhance the difficulty of the adaptation. There are things, for example, that explicitly “are impossible” or “have never been done” in the earlier books that I can’t have people doing five decades earlier, right? (If I weren’t being so vague, I could give you the perfect example, but I’ll just say it has to do with the central fucking plot point of the whole thing.)

Voidstrider is space opera, but there are a few cyberpunk-ish elements. Roger Jon Grey, a sort of antihero becoming ever more the villain in each book, has a bunch of implants and livewires for connecting to machines and says things like “meatspace.” But the actual themes and philosophies of the genre are generally absent.

In translating our campaign’s villains and their nefarious plot from high fantasy into tropes more suited to science fiction, I’ve arrived at what might be a plot perfectly suited to the actual substance of cyberpunk. And by tying it in the Voidstrider universe, maybe I can flesh out those worlds just a bit more.

So, yeah. Pretty excited. Back to work now.

Clone Laws

Got into a discussion at the bar about the rights of clones. This is a fairly typical day in the life, mind you.

So we’re all talking about human cloning and what rights said clones would or would not have under the law as it stands. There was a bit of googling that led to a few interesting discoveries.

First off, several bar regulars were surprised that there is not, in fact, any sort of federal law against the cloning of human beings in the United States. Funding is covered, the act is not. So that’s interesting. (Other nations have various stances. It’s illegal to knowingly create a human clone in Canada, for example.)

The various United States all have differing policies. More than half of them don’t have any sort of law on the books. Arizona, Arkansas, Michigan, North Dakota, Oklahoma, South Dakota, and Virginia each have an outright and total ban on the practice of human cloning. And then there’s this…

California, Connecticut, Illinois, Iowa, Maryland, Massachusetts, Missouri, Montana, New Jersey, and Rhode Island each have some version of what’s sometimes called a clone-and-kill law. This essentially allows for the creation in vitro of human tissues so long as this doesn’t result in the birth of a living human child.

This is primarily for research purposes, of course. Certain people got very angry about it and claimed that these laws were designed to make it legal to create a clone baby for the purpose of then aborting that baby right at the very cusp of birth, which is … an astoundingly absurd thing to think. The idea that somebody wants an abortion so badly they’ll make a fucking clone. This is why we can’t have nice things, people.

So anyway, we all found that interesting enough but then we wondered what the deal was here in Tennessee. All of this, by the way, was sparked by the question of whether or not a clone would be able to vote, get a driver’s license, inherit property and so on. I found it particularly surprising that the most illuminating answers we found came from here in Tennessee, one of the many states that has absolutely zero laws (explicitly) regarding cloning.

First, I want to point out that the overwhelming majority of search results had to do with marijuana husbandry. But then I found something amazing.

Buckle up, kids.

You can read the entire thing here, but I’ll summarize. A couple files for divorce. The parties were able to agree on all terms but one: who got to keep the frozen embyros stored in a local IVF clinic the couple had gone to seeking help conceiving … in the wake of no less than five “tubal” (ectopic) pregnancies that had resulted in one fallopian tube removed and the other tied. No further natural pregnancies could occur. (Again, you can read the entire story and the court’s decision at the link beginning this paragraph. It’s a lot.)

The wife – Mary Sue – wants to have the embryos implanted in her womb so she can have a child. The husband – Junior – isn’t entirely sure what he thinks about his ex-wife having what is still technically his baby, and would prefer the embryos remain frozen for the forseeable.

Now the original court, defining the embryos as human beings, awarded “custody” to Mary Sue and instructed that she “bepermitted the opportunity to bring these children to term through implantation.” (Whoa.)

The Court of Appeals reversed this decision on the grounds of Junior’s “constitutionally protected right not to beget a child where no pregnancy has taken place.” The appeals court sent it back to the lower court with a directive to essentially assign joint custody.

Mary Sue then took it to the state Supreme Court. And that court chose to hear the case “…not because we disagree with the basic legal analysis utilized by the intermediate court, but because of the obvious importance of the case in terms of the development of law regarding the new reproductive technologies…”

This isn’t about cloning. But it isn’t not about cloning. The Court has an explicitly stated interest in emergent technologies and the shaping of laws to fit those new technologies. OK, so they hear the arguments.

By this time, it must be noted, both parties have remarried. Mary Sue no longer even wants to use the embryos, but she does want the right to donate them to another childless couple. Junior is very much against this, and by this point wants the frozen embryos destroyed.

Now here’s the meat. Sayeth the Courth, “One of the fundamental issues the inquiry poses is whether the preembryos in this case should be considered “persons” or “property” in the contemplation of the law.” The court of appeals had ruled in favor of property, and the high court concurred:

The policy of the state on the subject matter before us may be gleaned from the state’s treatment of fetuses in the womb… . The state’s Wrongful Death Statute […] does not allow a wrongful death for a viable fetus that is not first born alive. Without live birth, the Supreme Court has said, a fetus is not a “person” within the meaning of the statute.

Davis v. Davis, 842 S.W.2d 588 (1992)

At this point in our reading, you may imagine, the tone of the conversation shifted somewhat. While we are still fascinated by the implications of this with regard to human clones and whether or not they can steal our jobs, we must suddenly contend with the fetal elephant in the womb.

The Court goes on:

Without live birth, the Supreme Court has said, a fetus is not a “person” within the meaning of the statute. […] Other enactments by the legislature demonstrate even more explicitly that viable fetuses in the womb are not entitled to the same protection as “persons”. […]

Davis v. Davis, 842 S.W.2d 588 (1992)

And furthermore:

A woman and her doctor may decide on abortion within the first three months of pregnancy but after three months, and before viability, abortion may occur at a properly regulated facility. Moreover, after viability, abortion may be chosen to save the life of the mother. This statutory scheme indicates that as embryos develop, they are accorded more respect than mere human cells because of their burgeoning potential for life. But, even after viability, they are not given legal status equivalent to that of a person already born.

Davis v. Davis, 842 S.W.2d 588 (1992)

So there’s that. Right there in plain language. From the Tennessee State Supreme Court. Huh.

Anyway, the court notes that the original court’s “custody” ruling would have made the embryos legal “persons,” thus counteracting previous case law and leading to the effective outlawing of IVF treatments (and any other new and emerging reproductive technologies, one imagines).

The court concludes that the embryos are neither persons nor are they fully “property,” given their potential to become persons. In that light, the prospective genetic parents have to hash it out. Where there is dispute, as in this case, the court rules that the party wishing to avoid procreation (Junior) should prevail.

However, in cases where other methods of procreation are not available to the other party (as is the case here, as Mary Sue’s last eggs are tied up in those frozen embryos), then the argument in favor of procreation must be considered.

However however, since Mary Sue in this case wants to donate the eggs to a couple not party to the matter, fuck what she wants (I may be paraphrasing).

So anyway, what a story. The wisdom here is that, at least insofar as the State of Tennessee is concerned, a cloned human would seem to be a person and accorded full rights as such so long as the experienced live birth.

Does this mean children – cloned or otherwise – born of an artificial womb are not persons? Strictly speaking, I don’t think so … but should that circumstance arrive, there would likely have to be further litigation to firmly establish a yes or no on that. Because this was a custody battle and an indirect confirmation of existing abortion law, not a case about cloning.

Some Writing Rambles

The Voidstrider books seem like they’re taking me longer to write with each installment. Partly that’s down to my employment status. I was self-employed and worked from my home office when I wrote the first one. I have a “day job” (that mostly takes place at night) these days.

A less boring reason is that the saga grows more complex as it continues. Volume one had four principal point of view characters. That number has grown over the course of the series to something like ten, depending on how strictly I define “principal” point of view. The first book followed its characters in two or three main settings, with one or two scenes here and there in additional locations. At this point in the tale, I’m juggling events on and around Earth, Mars, three asteroid belt settlements, and a space station in the vicinity of Saturn. And it’s about to become astronomically more complicated over the course of volumes 4 and 5.

(Pretty sure I’ve said before, but the plan is for nine volumes. And there is a definite plan, but a lot of the how-we-get-from-here-to-there is extremely malleable.)

The complexity leads to a secondary problem. Revisions are honestly my favorite stage of the writing process, but there’s one aspect of editing/revising at which I’m an abysmal failure. I find structural edits and plot adjustments incredibly difficult. Tweaking sentence structure, clarity, dialogue, pacing and chapter order … these things come naturally, more or less. Altering plot beats – changing what happened – is much harder. The best way I can explain it is this: once I’ve written it, that’s what happened. I might move it around and say it happened earlier or later than I originally thought, or maybe show it from a different point of view than I originally wrote, or possibly interpret the event a bit differently, but what I can’t seem to do is travel back in time and pursue a different future. My thought machine just won’t let me do it most of the time.

This means I spend a ridiculous amount of time plotting. I don’t do outlines. Most of it’s in my head, and I have a single composition notebook about a third of the way full of the wriggly bits I can’t hold in my brain. But I’m holding a lot in my brain, and I go through it over and over. Tweak it, run it again. Take it from the top. It has to be perfect before we roll camera.

Plot beats evolve as I run through them over and over, move on to another only to come back, piece them together, move them around, imagine the movie playing out in my head.

And sometimes I have to make a major change.

I knew the basic story of Voidstrider 4 before I had more than a rough idea of 3. Mainly because volume 3 closed out (most of) the arcs comprising the first act or phase of the saga, whereas 4 opens up the next act and introduces the next phase of the story. Maybe it would be simpler to say that, back when I started, I knew what would happen in books 1, 4, 7, and 9.

A major plot beat in the fourth volume, for which I had detailed plans as far back as 2016, involved angry but misguided Martian citizens storming their world’s capital. And I’m finding that I can’t write it now. At least, definitely not as originally planned. For several reasons I’m not going to get into, but largely thanks to a traumatic day many of us watched live on our televisions with mounting horror.

I’ve spent a lot of time thinking over the past year or so about how I’m gonig to tackle this. Essentially, one of the three main plot beats I’d had planned out for years is pretty much unusable now. Can I change it enough that it can still work? I doubt it. Do I scrap it completely? Probably. What the hell can take its place? Remains to be seen.

But I think I’ve got a solid handle on it at last. I’ve been tinkering with other sections of the story this whole time, and much progress has been made, but so much else in the book is connected to that one event, I could only do so much. I think we’re back on track now. I’ll have to run through it a few more times. Because, much like reality, once a thing has happened, it always happened.

Hm. Might be layers to that statement.

Anyway. Back to work for me. Cheers.

My 2021 in Reading

I did something different in 2021, probably because for the first four and a half months of the year I was still on my 2020 quarantine-light. (I left the house, sure, but I limited those excursions and didn’t work at my “real” job until after my second jab) So for the first time since I was a kid who really wanted that free pan pizza, I kept track of my reading.

I generally have the goal of 52 books a year. (In my pan pizza seeking days, I could read 100 books over the summer, no problem. I didn’t have a job. Or pets and a house to keep up. Or, I guess, much of a life. Heh.)

I didn’t make it in 2021. I fell short, ending the year having read 45 books since January 1. I feel mostly fine with this number, given the fact that I got married in 2021. Putting a wedding together is a lot, and it was even more of a lot in 2021. Also, Syd and I had a three day party beforehand.

Anyway. Here are the best things I read all year:

In January, I read Kim Stanley Robinson’s Aurora, which is a comprehensive demonstration of why generation ships are a terrible idea. Unlike most generation ship stories, this one isn’t limited to either somewhere in the midpoint of the journey/usually around the third or fourth generation or the end of the journey. Instead, Aurora starts out “near” the end of the journey, takes us all the way through to the end, and continues on through a decision that this was all a bad idea and we should go back home, and keeps going through a second journey. Fucking incredible. (For another unusual generation ship story, albeit one that is a flashback subplot to a different story, Alastair Reynolds’ Chasm City is an old favorite.)

Also in January, I read Timothy Denevi’s Freak Kingdom, a truncated biography of Hunter S. Thompson focusing on his political years in the 60s and 70s. I’ve read other Thompson biographies, and this one doesn’t offer many new insights, but it does delve more deeply into one specific aspect of the writer’s life and explores it comprehensively. Recommended, even for non-Thompson fans. It rang especially relevant in the weeks following January 6.

Annalee Newitz’s The Future of Another Timeline is fucking delightful. I read it mostly sitting by a canal on Longboat Key in our isolation-friendly vacation rental. It was compelling, fun, and an extremely well thought-out take on time wars. And the characters are fantastic. I would go to a concert with them, for sure. (Hopefully our own future timeline will include concerts.)

In February I re-read William Gibson’s Neuromancer, and devoured S.T. Gibson’s A Dowry of Blood. Anne Rice just passed a few weeks ago, and if you’re a fan of her work who might be having mixed feelings in the wake of her passing, you might check that one out. It is very much in the same wheelhouse, but also … look, as someone who read Interview and Lestat about a dozen times each in high school, this is weird to say, but Dowry is better. Epistolic, and written from the points of view of Dracula’s three brides, it has the dark eroticism and angst of the damned nailed, but doesn’t wander in and out of Christianity and certainly doesn’t dip into aliens or lost cities under the sea. Focus. (Okay, a standalone obviously isn’t going to wander aimlessly the way a series encompassing 15 novels can. But still.)

I spent a good chunk of spring and early summer with Peter F. Hamilton and Timothy Zahn, and also catching up on short stories in FIYAH, Analog, and Asimov’s. (I definitely recommend a FIYAH subscription. They won a Hugo, and for good reason.)

I also got to read, pre-release, Cheryl A. Lawson’s A Dark Genesis. I recommend this one for people who like Star Trek: The Next Generation and sci fi horror like Alien. It’s a novella, and I read through it in two sittings, and I loved it.

I read a lot of comics over the summer. I won’t count single issues for my reading list, but graphic novels and trade collections are A-OK. It counts as reading a book, you weirdoes. Let your kids read what they want. Anyway: Far Sector by N.K. Jemison was absolutely everything I ever wanted from Green Lantern and a seriously awesome science fiction yarn. I also read Dan Slott’s entire run (to date) on Fantastic Four, and it is glorious. I also re-read Neil Gaiman’s Sandman, because it’s going to be a show soon and I hadn’t read it since I was a teenager. Still good.

In October I finally got around to A Desolation Called Peace, Arkady Martine’s follow-up to the phenomenal A Memory Called Empire. I highly recommend them both. Few authors can so skillfully render an alien culture. Martine ranks at the top along with C.J. Cherryh, and her Aztec-inspired Teixcalaanli are fascinating.

Also in October, Alastair Reynolds’ Inhibitor Phase arrived. The latest installment in his Revelation Space universe re-uses some story elements he’s used in the past. (Including one from the aforementioned Chasm City involving identity.) It’s far from his best work in terms of ideas, but his craft has improved by leaps and bounds since 2001’s Revelation Space and his eye for cinematic holy-shit-that’s-awesome moments has seldom been better. Recommended for fans of the series, but definitely not a jumping in point. Anyone not familiar with Reynolds should probably start with a standalone like House of Suns, which has one of the best plot hooks I’ve ever heard of.

And I closed out the year re-reading James S.A. Corey’s Persepolis Rising and Tiamat’s Wrath, in preparation for the final Expanse novel Leviathan Falls. I’d hoped to round off the series by year’s end, but I’ll be taking the ninth volume into 2022 with me.

So how about you … read any good books lately?

2021

Well I’m sitting in bed with my laptop, two sleeping dogs, and a cat who thinks she’s a dog, waiting on Covid test results to pop up in my e-mail to let me know whether or not I’ll be going to work tonight. It’s 2021, but not for very much longer.

What to say about 2021? It wasn’t 2020. It was weirder than that. Somehow this year has managed to be both better and worse. We have vaccines now, but a lot of people don’t want them. Some of the people who do want them yell very loudly that no one should want them.

I did some work on the Florida Man vs. the Elder Gods project this year, but it’s a hard slog. Satire is very difficult in these times. Just look to all the critics saying Don’t Look Up is a terrible, smug failure instead of, like, a perfect satirical encapsulation of our sad fucking reality. Even if you can somehow manage to satirize this modern world, well…

I also got about halfway through the first draft of Voidstrider vol 4. Had some pitfalls there too. Particularly when I got to the scene, which I had first planned for back in 2018, in which a bunch of misinformed Martians storm the Martian capitol building. Yeah, that became very difficult to write.

I went back to work at the bar in May, fully vaccinated and full of optimism. And in September, I married the most wonderful person I’ve ever known. Sydney and I joke that, after last year’s lockdown, we’d already been married a decade. We’d only moved in together two months before our jobs shut down and we had to stay home. If we could make it through that…

We even managed to take a trip, in the summer when it looked like things might be OK. We had a very strange AirBnB experience in Chicago, but it was lovely in the end and oh man did it make me realize how much I miss living in a proper city.

So I’ll take some good memories of 2021 with me going forward, and I hope you will as well. It’s another year soon, and despite the cynicism with which many of us have come to view the turning of the calendar, perhaps it will indeed be a better future.

As always: be excellent to each other.