Sunday, September 2, 2012

On Bullets, and the Biting Thereof

I can't do this right now.  I thought I could, and if I just jumped in feet-first then I could power my way through it and clean it up in post; but no.  Tabula Rasa is officially scrapped for now (again), because as I try to iron out how I want everything to go, I'm realizing that it's just not workable in its current iteration.  Reasons below the cut (they're all spoilers, so beware - it's mainly a list of reminders to myself of "Problems I Need to Fix Before I Can Actually Write This Shit").

1.  Premise:  The idea was that the planetary alignment of May 5, 2000 triggered a coronal mass ejection from the Sun.  Never you mind that the Sun is almost all the mass in our solar system, that's a number I can fudge without giving two fucks.  The resulting geomagnetic storm causes the Burnout, and scrambles most everybody's brains - mostly this results in everyone forgetting just about everything they know.

Problems:
A.  Things people do all the time, like speaking, come back easily enough (people in rural communities, who live directly from the land, would be mostly otherwise unaffected).  But how and where to draw the line has been a continuous thorn in my side.  How often do you have to read to be able to pick it back up?  Or fight?  Or ride a bicycle?  The fact that "how to read" and "how to ride a bike" work in fundamentally different ways gives me brain cramps trying to come up with an internally consistent way to do it without seeming all willy-nilly (or, failing that, tacking on a Sixth Sense style featurette at the end explaining just what the rules are so it doesn't seem so capriciously arbitrary).
B.  In cities, feedback from all the electronics scrambles people's brains so much that they turn into "The Forgotten," a special brand of zombie-esque generic foe that is reduced to fight-or-flight responses and quickly falls into roving packs of scavengers who can't be reasoned or argued with (and who also can't use sophisticated weaponry).  Sure, they're also a threat to each other, and I'm once again comfortable fudging the physics on it.  But how to stop them starving after like six weeks or so?
C.  Epileptics have seizures when miniature electrical storms in their brains temporarily incapacitate them, and they are singularly immune to Burnout because it simply triggers a seizure and then they're fine.  Stephen King does this all the time, turning disabilities into superpowers, and while it always sticks in my craw a little, most people seem to be mostly fine with it most of the time.  But I still feel shitty for doing it myself, and second-guessing my ass all the time is no way to write a book.  Nevertheless, I feel a need to have a small number of people who experience continuity with the past in order to help the main characters be a little more genre-savvy (and to short-circuit some conversations which would otherwise spiral into pointless "Well how do you know"-fests).

2.  Plot:  I was going to have everyone pretty much start believing the first damned thing they read.  So End-Timers out in the wilderness with their Bibles would start religion all over again, and so on.  There were also plot events touching on the pseudo-supernatural, Hoover Dam, some observatory, Yellowstone, fleeing to Asia, and the restarting of civilization.

Problems:
A.  There was going to be a little side-plot about a bear terrorizing some people who thought it was a werewolf (due to someone having werewolf literature out at the time of Burnout), and trying to figure out who in their community was the werewolf, and the wandering group of main characters was going to kill the bear and (maybe?) figure it out.  And a bunch of shit like that, too.  Problem is, it feels cheap - even if I only do it once.  Touching on the supernatural in an ambiguous way?  Fine.  But hammering home the "NO DAMMIT EVERYTHING IS ACTUALLY TOTALLY MUNDANE" point, even in subtext, seems a little too author-tract-y.
B.  I've never been to Hoover Dam.  I wanted to have something there about possibly getting civilization restarted, but there's a "cult of the manual" going on which gets in the way.  But since I've never been to Hoover Dam, I'm not really sure how whatever crew would have been there at the time of Burnout could have been able to react to it.  And I doubt that they'd just tell some aspiring young (28 is still young, right?) author over the phone how their staff rotations work and how prepared they are for a total disaster like Burnout and what would happen if all the gear failed at once and everything needed to be restarted.  Strangely enough.  That aside, the fact that it's going to wind up being something the main characters just have to walk away from anyway makes me feel kinda down about the whole thing, like it's a waste of time (though I suppose it could be a valuable learning experience for the kind of thing they need to know when they do eventually settle down and restart civilization).
C.  The characters need some way of determining that the Burnout was caused by the planetary alignment, which is easy enough with all the newspapers talking about it, but they also need some way of figuring out that it's going to happen again in 30-odd years (there was a similar one in the 60s, I just decided that I'd move it to the other side of the millennium for the sake of the plot).  That means an observatory with an astronomer, which shouldn't be too hard to find considering that Burnout happened at one of the most noteworthy events in astronomical history; but making that one astronomer at that one observatory be epileptic seems a tad too deus ex machina for my taste.  But without that, how is our astronomer (who has to do loads of astronomy to be able to remember how to use any of the equipment, remember) going to be able to figure out the "food and water" thing long enough for our merry band of adventurers to arrive on the scene?  Maybe our heroes can figure it out on their own, sure, but it would be a lot of work to calculate the celestial movements to figure out when the next one will be, to say nothing of when the last one was.  (It was in the 14th century, if memory serves, and I was considering fudging that to the fall of the Roman Empire anyway - I mean, I'm already re-writing history, this is just hop-skip-and-a-jump territory at this point.  Or maybe the scope is just spinning out beyond my control, instead.)
D.  Yellowstone erupts!  This is something that could go a number of ways, but I was considering just nixing almost the whole Western Hemisphere.  It would be an alternate meaning for the title (since not just most people's minds, but also like a continent and a half would be a nearly blank slate), and it was also going to be a way of resolving several long-running conflicts.  For instance, I had plans for the group to run into one cult-like town where one of the guys has a belt buckle that someone remarks is "cute" after misreading it as saying "Got Mittens?"  (IT'S ACTUALLY "GOTT MIT UNS" DO YOU GET IT THEY ARE NAZIS OH NO!)  There was going to be a big fight over whether the main characters just run away, leaving them to their own devices, or slay them all because the world's better off without them.  Yellowstone erupting dooms them anyway (along with everyone the group leaves behind), which was going to trigger a fun and exciting argument, and also force the cast all the way up the West coast and over into Russia.  I spent hours on Google Earth trying to plot a land route (you can't get to the Bering Strait by roads - not by a long shot!) and decided they could just commandeer a ferry somewhere.  All the while, they'd need breathing apparatus to avoid the falling ash turning their lungs to ceramic, and it would be a chance to do a little homage to The Road.  It works for a few reasons, I'm just worried that Yellowstone erupting might provoke charges of shark-vaulting on my part.  Shit, maybe the Nazis are already jumping the shark.  Or the werewolf.  Or epileptics being immune to brain-scrambling blasts from the Sun which also (possibly) caused the fall of the Roman Empire.  The self-suspicion never ends, which makes me worry about the whole damned thing.  Shit, maybe it just wasn't that good of an idea to begin with.  You see what I've been dealing with these last couple weeks?  I could've written so much snarky commentary on all this political bullshit going down, but instead, I was like, "No!  I gotta work on my crazy-ass story!"
E.  So after North America is ruined and the world is plunging into a miniature Ice Age and everyone gets over to Russia where none of them speak the language, they gotta find somewhere to call home and settle down, right?  Otherwise, how can they get down to the serious business of founding a civilization on reason and what-not?  Except now this just smacks of imperialism all over again, even if there were already conflicts going on in all those places - no, especially if the main (American!) characters solve them.  Gah!  I mean, I thought I had this cool idea about starting over somewhere around the fertile crescent, like maybe in Greece or around the Library of Alexandria, but now I really think that's too much.

So fuck it, once again.  Status quo, I guess - this story's just doomed.

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