The hardest part of writing for me is deciding the next project. In addition to new ideas, I have several old stories I wrote decades ago that I might be able to salvage now that I have more experience. One that resonated recently is one called “The City is Fallen.” I thought I’d take you through a typical examination process.
The original incomplete draft was 305 pages of sci-fi, with a piles of notes three inches thick. There were at least ten pages of indices to order the random scenes and background. In several cases, I actually taped printouts into the the journal. Thank God for laptop word processors so we can do this in software now. I spent a night reading over the text. The drawings in the margins brought back a lot of good memories (see sketches throughout this post).
I still like the premise, but it has serious flaws. Benoin is a military captain on a remote, hot planet. The mountain fortress provides water and power for the surrounding community. The capital, like Rome is considered “the” city, center of culture and power. The society, 730 years old, survived alone through the years of chaos when Earth’s empire imploded and rebounded. Self-sufficient, they survived with a rigid code of law. Leaders must recite all the city codes by heart, the first of which forbids mining of the black glass. The society trades its minerals, water reclamation tech, and computer AIs for wood, spacecraft, and weapons. Picture a society that combines Modern Saudi Arabia and Golden-Age Greece. Reestablishing contact with earth fleet causes social upheaval.
The tale begins with the fortress being invaded by surprise. If I were to write this today, I would show the main character surviving only because he was engaged in some activity against regulations—smoking, phoning a girl, etc. The original arc has the hero as sole survivor trying to hold the fortress—a bit too convenient. The first third of the novel is filled with action scenes that remind me of Die Hard, as well as fun with AI. Benoin gains clues to the identity of the enemy, what they want, and human traitors who aided them. After he sends an SOS, he is forced to abandon the fortress, taking key tech and memory crystals with him. He seals off what he can for another week, with an option for self-destruct.
Here it gets choppy. The city has surrendered. Benoin gathers a few allies. He tries to rescue loved ones and punish the traitors. In the process, he finds out his childhood girlfriend is one of the New Order following a professor who summoned the aliens by his probes into the ancient ruins under the obsidian. The professor has become contaminated by a rare radioactive compound and needs the aliens to survive. To do this, he needs to provide them with humans for their experiments.
Two special military envoys arrive to answer Benoin’s call and want to destroy the city in order to save the world. They clearly have paranormal abilities. Benoin tries to save as many people as he can and offers the aliens a chance to surrender. Much of his angst is an attempt to redeem his ex-girlfriend. She represents the city, with all its allure and infidelity. Eventually, they exhaust all second chances and he triggers the mountain’s eruption. The invasion is obliterated under lava and their poisonous tech buried under a layer of new, black glass. Benoin lays the foundation for a new city, starting with the law “thou shalt not mine the black glass.” The traditional military shows up after everything is resolved and the hero rides off into another dimension.
Now for the negatives. I could never decide whether Benoin was his first name, last name, or both like Cher. I wrote this back in 1987 when I worked at AT&T and lived in isolation. During the first hundred pages, Benoin doesn’t converse with anything but computers or the voice of an invading hacker taunting him—a window into my world. I skipped any description of his girlfriend and their relationship, having no basis myself. Worse, I didn’t show enough of the actual invasion to be exciting or hook the reader. Interstellar help arriving in two days strains credibility. The chapters were 25 pages long with the main character, with interludes 2 pages long from another point of view. Way to alternate boredom with confusion. The alien race "shaktrani" sounds too much like the Shaidan shadow creatures from my Behind the Walls of Sleep series or the later Babylon 5. The heavy metal plague that destroys everyone inside the fortress is unworkable. The aliens use human hemoglobin with this radioactive power source in order to generate power and produce more source. Despite the heavy allegory, this doesn’t work scientifically. Since then, Matrix used the concept of people as batteries, and I’d be accused of copying. I borrowed the civilization and volcanic cycle for my Temple of the Traveler series, so there goes the setting. This was also part of a series about a paranormal agency I toyed with since second grade. Turns out that I stole two of my best plots from that series for the Jezebel series, which this won’t fit into.
Lastly, as part of the Greek theme, I named the city after an unfaithful queen from the Iliad, Clytemnestra. Deep allegory, right? Only later did I find out that this is a gag name meaning “hidden penis.” You have to love those wise-cracking Greek poets. The only way I could use that now is if I made it part of the title, like “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Penis.” I refuse to Google that title for duplicates. This was fun nostalgia, but I’m throwing this one back into the recycle bin. Next!