September 19, 2018 at 1:17 pm #1543
I’ve tinkered with this about 600 times, and now can’t tell whether the narrator-type voice works for this. It doesn’t stay this ‘external’ beyond this first chapter, but it felt like the best way to tie all the characters and inciting moments together. But now I have doubts…Any thoughts v welcome. (1,500 words ish, but even just thoughts on the opening para would be fab).
When the lights went out across Europe, Lina Stephenson did not notice at all. Her ghosts were stirring too, but she did not know that either. Let her have this moment.
Hiking up a pine-dense valley in the Rila Mountains, she was thinking only of motion, and the smell of old snow. Her muscles were warm from the climb and she and Emilie Lechevalier checked neither their tablets nor their net connection until they were above the dwarfing forest and at a mountain hut crouched in the glacial curve between three peaks.
When they finally halted to power up their equipment, Lina grimaced and tilted the tablet so that Emilie could see the downed net. The PhD student swore softly in French and leaned back against a rock, taking long drinks from her canister as she regained her breath. Four months ago, Lina had been certain Emilie would not stick it out here, that she couldn’t make the transition from city-state to mountains. It was nice to have been wrong.
‘It was fine when we set off,’ she spoke aloud, ‘I wonder… Well, we can check the cameras manually and if it’s still down then we’ll have to come up again tomorrow.’
This is a stochastic moment: Emilie who had no ghosts, but had a virus in her bones, waking. Lina with her secrets, but her same virus sleeping. Balance, or chaos.
Later, Lina and Emilie returned to the research station where Thiago, the station manager, had already lit oil lamps against the slow summer dusk.
‘All the power is out?’ Emilie asked and Thiago lifted his eyebrows in reply. He was washing his hands at the outside rain barrel and Lina set her bag down against the wall as Emilie, head ducking, carried on into the office in the old house. Unlike the new building behind them, this one had walls of patched daub and a beam frame so warped it looked almost animalistic; which all meant that Emilie, unpacking her equipment, would be able to hear them talking. Lina scowled at Thiago, who pretended not to notice.
‘Camera in the south pass picked up another group of men, moving north.’
Thiago straightened up and scraped a damp hand over the stubble of his hair. ‘How many?’
‘Eight.’ It was not a big number, but… ‘I’ll go back up tomorrow to check all the tags, as long as the net’s back up – I might need to reset cameras anyway.’
‘Not likely poachers, up that high.’
Lina made a quiet noise of agreement. She’d assume they were migrants fleeing Greece or the wastelands beyond, if not for one thing. ‘I think I recognised a couple of them.’
‘Hmm.’ Thiago nodded without expression. ‘Nationalists, then. Not our business.’ As long as they weren’t taking anything: trees, large mammals, fresh water, birds. All hive-tracked, all protected.
‘It’s more than usual, you’re not worried?’
Thiago laughed shortly, ‘No.’ He didn’t look up at the peaks and Lina wondered not for the first time, what had brought him here to Bulgaria, so far from home; whether he too was hiding. ‘They won’t cause trouble,’ he added. ‘Too much to lose and we’re not the enemy.’
The lamp-light was gaining strength against a whispering dark. Somewhere frogs began their chorus and the last of the swifts screamed along steep arcs up into the eaves of the main house. Emilie came quietly to stand in the doorway again.
‘Had a call from HQ,’ Thiago said to the two women and the night. ‘Idiots have some idea of allowing in politicos in need of a break.’
‘What?’ It was an electric shock to Lina, a blow. This was a haven, it was her haven. A corner of safety defined by snow-painted peaks and the twin gods of science and ecosystem. She could not have it invaded. ‘You said no, though.’
‘Power cut out,’ Thiago said and looked up at the sky, east towards the very last of the daylight with that same frown and an odd, sad twist to his mouth. ‘I will do though. Don’t worry.’ He nodded once, and Lina remembered in a rush that he was ex-military. Despite the leg it was an easy thing to forget, until suddenly it was impossible to ignore. Maybe that was what he was hiding from, memories, but Lina thought it was more than that. She recognised in him too much of herself for it to be so simple.
The next day, the net was still down. Which was the moment when Lina began to wonder, not about ghosts or loss, but about practicalities. The news, when it returned, talked of solar flares and electro-magnetic radiation surges and Lina ran a finger over burnt out wires, thinking, such an unfathomable thing, that storms ninety-one million miles away could leave States and enclaves, and her, without power or net. It pleased her, quietly.
This was a Sunday, the day it began was a Thursday, a storm system was cycling towards the Atlantic edge of Europe perhaps to extinguish wildfires across the Coto Doñana, but still doing nothing for the droughts. On that day, twelve bomb attacks occurred in ten cities and city-states. Two hundred and thirty-four people drowned at sea, and the news pages wearily tallied the dead. There would in fact have been two more bombs, if not for the moment at 08:46 GMT, when everything electrical failed, and when, for a few, that old virus woke princesslike and without fanfare.
But although the power outage caused murmurs and disruption and hardship, there was very little to identify this particular moment as pivotal rather than mundane. Perhaps because it was only pivotal to a small number of people, and perhaps every moment is pivotal to someone, somewhere.
One of those people though, was Devendra Kapoor, British-Indian, his wealth making his skin colour tolerable, his job making him safe. Him and his. He was in a meeting in the vast portlands of Marseilles. A minister from the French State-in-Exile sat opposite him and everyone was frowning at piracy rate data from the Med when the screens died and a late, bruising heat from outside rushed into the room. The minister cursed Gallicly and pushed to his feet.
‘Tomorrow then, Dev,’ he said, rubbing fingers over the sweat already beading on his forehead.
‘I know the figures,’ Dev said. But the words were abstracted, automatic because a buzzing had started up in his head, under his skin, as though all his muscles were mutating into flies. ‘We could continue, Ministre. Power might be back on shortly.’ His voice crackled, the light was too bright in here suddenly, it scorched his skull, his eyeballs heating as if with rage.
The minister looked out at the baked streets and back into the room that had been cool seconds ago. ‘Non,’ he said, ‘I cannot think in this heat. Demain, oui? Sept heures le matin?’
‘Sure,’ Dev said, closing his eyes and opening them again. Repeating it. His skin burned where the light touched it and he thought he might be ill.
Two more people now, to the north of Devendra Kapoor, both of whom he knew although Lina Stephenson did not, yet. Xander Wiley in his parents’ sprawling house in London and Tam Harrison in the stubbornly un-walled city of Bristol. These two were cousins and they would both lose everything, in a way.
Xander was hunched and intent in his bedroom, half-way through a hack dry run when all his net-tech lost power. He stared at the blank screens and thought, fuck, what if this happened when they did it for real? Nerves jittered in his fingers. He wasn’t ready, he thought. But also, god also, couldn’t wait to make this hit they’d been preparing for months. He was too high on secrecy and rebellion to really fear what they were doing, and if he could ask for one thing, if he could have one wish, it would be to watch his father’s face when the axe fell.
Younger and a rescue from the camps, with the pox scars on his legs still fading, Tam was with Charlie, one of his fathers, on that Thursday morning when their house fell silent. Tam set down his screen without complaint and searched for something else to do, and Charlie continued to read because he still used real books. Such a quiet moment, this one. So gentle. Even when Tam went to bed with his head aching and his eyes sore, they did not know. Not until thirty-four hours later when the power was restored, and Tam began to scream.September 19, 2018 at 2:58 pm #1545DaedalusParticipant
Personally I like it. The narrator-y bits make the transitions into a sort of PD slide. If you’re going to introduce a range of geographically dispersed characters in a short piece of text, this seems like a good way to do it. And I like the voice
‘This was a Sunday, the day it began was a Thursday’ – comma splice?
‘Domain’ – Demain? (French for tomorrow, I presume?)September 19, 2018 at 3:57 pm #1546
Dammit autocorrect! I’d not spotted the domain thing. Gah.
But thank-you for the vote of confidence. I’ve been vacillating back and forth like you wouldn’t believe!September 19, 2018 at 4:56 pm #1550
I love the sound of this story. A literary apocalyptic novel? YES PLEASE!
I definitely like the idea of having scenes from various characters’ lives, i.e. to have sections in different POVs. I think it serves the genre well because it creates an epic, global canvas for your story. Basically – how is the human race as a whole going to fare?
Writing in 3rd person also works well, I think. No-one gets to be solipsistic under these circumstances.
I did feel that there was a lot of information to take in in one go. I think this is because we flit from one character / group of characters + location to the next in fairly quick succession. Your omniscient narrator is stretching us over a lot of ground in a short space of time, especially for an opener.
I think there is a danger of the reader feeling a bit rootless – not clearly connected to anyone. This is always the risk with the omniscient narrator POV, unless our narrator has such a dominant personality themselves that we naturally (and happily) affix ourselves to them as we ride through the story.
So… perhaps rather than adopting the ‘omniscient narrator’ stance and dipping into all the different character’s lives (sliding about with PD) in the opener, I wonder about allocating each of these scenes to its very own section / chapter? In other words, shift it more into standard 3rd person, with clearly delineated sections for each POV?
I do love your style of writing. There’s a beautiful lightness of touch even as you describe such brutal and earth-changing events. It’s something I greatly admire.
I feel you have a wonderful collection of characters and geographical settings, each observed with such nuance of detail. This is testament to your knowledge and skill as a writer.
Within this detail you also set up plenty of hooks for the reader, e.g. ‘what are the camps?’ Makes it a definite ‘read-on’.
Is this the book you subbed to the indie? Or a new one???September 19, 2018 at 4:59 pm #1551JonathanParticipant
Ooh, hmm, okay, now this is challenging. To me, in the opening bits, there is definitely a disembodied voice that says things like “Let her have this moment.” or “Two more people now, to the north of Devendra Kapoor, both of whom he knew although Lina Stephenson did not, yet.”. That opening section is very cool. I like it.
However the voice doesn’t always stay disembodied, even within the first section. Eg:
” Four months ago, Lina had been certain Emilie would not stick it out here, that she couldn’t make the transition from city-state to mountains. It was nice to have been wrong.”
Here, as far as I can tell, we are pretty much Lina; that’s Lina’s inner thoughts and perceptions. Then, mixed in there is a good bit of Gibsonesque/Banks-esque/Clockwork-Orange-y sort of uberstylised vernacular. Again, all fine, but there’s just something … confusing about it. It’s not totally clear to me what I should settle into and when, or who is perceiving things how. Stylistically as I say it reminds me a little of Neuromancer, or the Culture novels, or Against a Dark Background, maybe even Will Self in places; perfectly ok when it’s consistent, more demanding when it isn’t. Do you plan to link in Lina’s voice to the techie-speak? Might she or Thiago use some of the chopped, clipped style? Or is this separation by design?
There are moments when the voice really pops. I particularly got a thrill from: “But also, god also, couldn’t wait to make this hit they’d been preparing for months. ” Again, straight in with a new voice that I can totally hear and really want to engage with, some nondescript yet genius-level hacker dude that somehow makes grey trascksuits sexy. Yet – and maybe it’s simply that there are a lot of voices and people to keep track of in a short space, but is it necessary that those 2 guys in London and Bristol are introduced now? Can they wait? What is gained by front-loading them now?
Ordinarily my personal taste doesn’t tend quite so much towards the ultra-minimal – I like a measure of floaty worldbuild alongside the architecture of the characters’ doings – but there is something absolutely thrilling about this, like being in a cool bar in an edgy part of a strange city where I’m seconds away from either having the night of my life, or making a complete arse of myself 🙂
TL;DR – I like the sleek swoops in; there just seems alot to take on board. Hope this helps. Thanks for the read 🙂September 19, 2018 at 5:04 pm #1554
okay, might be waffling on a bit here, but it’s sparked a load of thoughts.
In general I like the opening couple of paragraphs. It paints a strong and immediate picture of character and place.
You set up the omniscient narrator with the phrase highlighted in bold below.
“When the lights went out across Europe, Lina Stephenson did not notice at all. Her ghosts were stirring too, but she did not know that either. Let her have this moment.
Hiking up a pine-dense valley in the Rila Mountains, she was thinking only of motion, and the smell of old snow. ”
If you remove that phrase it becomes straight third person:
“When the lights went out across Europe, Lina Stephenson did not notice at all. Hiking up a pine-dense valley in the Rila Mountains, she was thinking only of motion, and the smell of old snow.”September 19, 2018 at 5:05 pm #1555
Oop – crossed with Jonathan.September 19, 2018 at 7:03 pm #1564SandraParticipant
Raine, as you know, I’m a lazy, non-analytical reader, so you’re getting facile first impressions from me – and thanks for ‘stochastic’ – but I thought this a really enticing beginning, launching lots of characters, all of whom promised interest, tension and above averagely intelligent entertainment.September 20, 2018 at 9:17 am #1580
Thank-you so much for your comments, everyone. They are so helpful. Oh wait, I should tag, right, else you might not see it? @jd73, @daedalus and @sandradavies, you are ace. Thank-you. I love the word stochastic too!
@philippaeast – no this isn’t the one with pub/agents, it’s one of the next two and I’m trying to decide which one to throw out into the world next!
I might try softening the *really* distant narrator phrases, and also see if I can find a way to root it a bit more. Lina is the main PoV, but the others are PoVs too, and I think we need to see them at this key starting moment. But maybe I flit between them too quickly. Oooh, or… I do the external narrator bits to introduce them all, and then return to the closer in Lina bits to end the chapter. The next chapter is in her PoV, so that might flow better. Hmm. I might try that…
🙂September 20, 2018 at 11:10 am #1591JaneShuffParticipant
You know what Raine, I think your last suggestion might work better. It’s hard for me to comment because I’ve read and loved this before but I found some of the transitions in and out of distant narrator bits somewhat abrupt but that could just be because it was unfamiliar.September 22, 2018 at 10:27 pm #1691ElleParticipant
I enjoy reading this, I get a Station Eleven vibe from it (that’s a good thing) in terms of setting the apocalyptic atmosphere and hinting that something’s coming however I think it might be a bit too much setting up in one go for my liking and I’m not overly fond of the omniscient narrator style (but that’s a personal preference of mine). I agree with the others when they said that it sounds quite distant in place and in and out of close and far narration is distracting.
One thing is by the end of only 1,500 words you have introduced quite a lot of people which can be somewhat confusing. I was wondering whether it might help the reader to introduce all the main characters in a more staggered way.
I hope this helps and based on that extract I would definitely keep reading.September 23, 2018 at 11:35 am #1706Sophie Jonas-HillParticipant
I really want to read more of this and work out what’s going on, but I feel this opener is on the way to being something amazing, but isn’t quite there yet. I loved the writing style when you really pushed it and were bold, when you were writing almost in a voice of god style, and could have read a lot more of it. For me, it then focuses in a bit too quickly and in too many directions for a first chapter, so I got a bit confused by the scene changes. Don’t get me wrong, I loved everything I read and really wanted to find out what will happen, and what has happened, to them all, but I could have done with a little less pace.
The impression I got from this is a sense of even more serious levels of migration and hostility to this, combined with a technical break down, terroism and possibly a pandemic as well – and yes, love the genre, can’t get enough of the end of the world – so please take all my comments as basically a massive thumbs up – I want to read more of your narrator style because I think it’s brilliant!
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