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Forward Progress

April 25, 2009

Finished Computer Power and Human Reason; review to come soon (link is to Wikipedia instead of Amazon as the book is out of print).  Also made three pages this morning, after resolving to write at least one.  Got through the scene with Caroline and her mom and sister, with minimal damage to myself.  So I think my production speed is about to pick up.  My continued employment, albeit at reduced hours/wages, has definitely lowered my stress load, and allowed me to think about things like, well, writing a novel.  Recently I’ve been reading lots of SF, having taken some escapism time with Peter F. Hamilton’s Night’s Dawn trilogy when my job was hanging by a thread.  And I’ve stayed in that groove, reading AI-rich narratives like David Marusek’s Counting Heads and Mind Over Ship, and now blazing through Ian McDonald’s River of Gods. 

Between my SF reading and my news reading on AI/Robotics, it’s funny, I’ve been having all kinds of interesting ideas for part two of the novel – strange how that works, when I felt so stuck on part one.  There are so many approaches being taken to what AIs will be like, how they will think, how much they will or won’t need us, that I’m encouraged in my own approach – really, most all the SF on AIs is “after the fact,” i.e., they exist in full form, Athena popped out full-formed from the head of Zeus.  What I’m doing – taking Alex from a rudimentary phrase catalog/news crawler/recommendation engine, towards personhood as he synthesizes the input and personalities of all the people working on him, then backwards as he’s corrupted into a lowest-common-denominator commercial product/salesman, and then forwards again as the good guys win and “open source” him – just isn’t something I’ve seen.  Like aliens, AIs are something we believe we will encounter one day, and yet, since we have no evidence as to what they’ll be like, we’re free to speculate wildly.  Really, these are frontier days for writers who want to create AI; anything we want to dream of them doing or being is possible, just as people could once still believe in life on Mars when Edgar Rice Burroughs sent John Carter there to do battle.  One day, no doubt, what we write today will seem quaint or silly or both when compared to what AI really turns out to be, just as Burroughs is today – then again, Ray Bradbury’s The Martian Chronicles holds up even though we know people can’t live on Mars.  If the story is good enough, people will suspend disbelief indefinitely.

So of course now I’m motivated to get through part one so I can get to the “fun stuff.”  Funny, I don’t know that I’ve ever delivered a manuscript more than 300 pages long, and right now I’m seeing that part one itself will probably be 150-200 pages, with a 25 page “interlude” to explain Christopher and why he “sells out” the project, then at least 200 for part two, and then…well, I don’t think the story will go on beyond that, but I can imagine a 25 page coda in which all the loose ends are tied up.  The thing is, I’m not rushing it this time – in my previous novels, I’ve had good ideas, got the plot rolling, and then didn’t know how to tie it up, and instead of being patient and thoughtful, I just dashed something off.  I’m definitely not in that frame of mind now.

It’s funny, these blog posts are almost like a private diary – traffic to the site is so low as to be almost nonexistent (1 or 2 hits a day this last week, I wonder if my own visits count as one?).  My best day I had 29 hits, and that was a moon or two ago.  Of course, I’m not out there promoting it, really, but then how do you promote a work in progress?  Come see the unfinished novel!  Marvel at the author’s anxieties!  But despite the world’s minimal current interest, I’m surprisingly not discouraged – I’m allowing myself some helpful delusions of the type I used to have when I was convinced each one of my novels was going to catapult me to the heights of fame and fortune – delusions in which I’m in demand to give readings, explain how I constructed both Alex and what happens to him in the world of commerce, and am afterwards mobbed by handsome thoughtful young men who just love writers.  If this were a bad, manic episode, you’d call it a delusion; then again, if you were to put the positive spin on it, you’d call it “creative visualization” – visualizing the book  as complete, as good, and as successful.  Which honestly is what I think I’m doing – I’m not “convinced” like I used to be that I would become the Emperor of Everything upon publication; rather, I’m creating a picture for myself of the rewards I’d most want to have on completion, to motivate myself to get to the place where they might be possible.  I’m moving slowly now, but I think I’m picking up speed, a little at a time – like the guy said, momentum is energy.

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