Saturday, December 10, 2011

When Stories Collide

"Comedy, love and a bit with a dog - that's what they want."
               Tom Stoppard, Shakespeare in Love 

Unless your audience is made up of folk who consider themselves dedicated to serious literature (or summoning forth the Cthulhu), comedy should be one's first instinct when it comes to competitive writing such as the Ultimate Blog-Off of Destiny.  

"Well, Mord," you might well ask, "If you knew that, why did you cast comedy blithely aside try to turn out a 1,500 word flash-fiction adventure/drama piece for said Blog-off?"

Ooh. Good question. 

The story that ended up being Post Mortem began as a comedy. Think Eve Online meets Guess Who's Coming to Dinner, sans the more serious social commentary elements. Just the funny bits, thank you. 

It started off well enough. Thomas and his stuffy, high-society mother (think Margaret Dumont) have words over his taste in fiances.  Here mother has gone to the trouble of sending her son to the "right" schools where he can meet the "right" sort of girl, and he rewards here attention to his future well-being by bringing home a coarse, near psychopathic Minmatar killing machine. (The fact that she's Minmatar got left on the cutting room floor as I whittled the story down to the requisite 1,500 word limit.)  Emma Javix, like any respectable Gallentean is all about freedom, self-determination and social justice. However, social justice has just landed at her dining room table and sunk hooks into her son in the form of this...this woman.  

Comedic hijinks ensue

See? Funny stuff. Until I got to the 'hijinx' part.  

For that I needed myself a near psychopathic Minmatar killing machine for Tomas' finance. And I know what those of you who've read the Interlude episodes of this blog are thinking: Mord has a thing for chicks in tight clothes carrying high powered guns. Nonsense. Mord is far too jaded and world-weary to be drawn to such things. However Mord knows his audience. The Science Fiction, Amime, Graphic Novel and Ships in Space culture is all about chicks in tight clothes carrying high-powered guns. So is the Fantasy culture, except those chicks carry swords, and are usually a bit more...ahem...gravity defying than their SF counterparts. 

The comic possibilities of this hard-drinking, dockside-brawling, man-ravishing, borderline insane capsuleer dropped into Mrs Javix tidy, well insulated world is neigh limitless. I mean, we have the bit where she attends book-club with Emma Javix and does limericks, the sudden tendency of the household appliances to curse at Mrs. Javix in Minmatar, the accidental shooting of the fluffy family pet with explosive rounds.

So I send a call up to central casting with the character specifications; and who do they send me, but Molls.  And Molls is not just another pretty face toting a large caliber side-arm. Oh, no.

Sometimes a character speaks to you; arrives fully formed and tells you his/her story. Writing about them is almost like taking dictation. Words flow and the presence of the character practically jumps off the page. Molly is such a character. 

Trouble is, she was the wrong character for the story I was writing.

Molls is an Odysseus-like character who is not merely touched by fate, but grabbed up in its full embrace. She survives both the slaughter of her fleet and, impossibly, the loss of her pod. She fights her way across the length of New Eden;  baffling pursuers, stepping over bodies, finding help in unlikely places, until she makes her way home. Only to find that, unlike Odysseus' Penelope, her own love has moved on to a new edition of herself.  

"Geez Mord," you might say, "What's with all the drama? Why didn't she just buy, borrow or steal a shuttle and get back to her home system before mid-day mess call the next day?"  

My, you're full of questions this morning. Unfortunately, to answer this one I have to take a brief side-trip down one of the rabbit holes of my imagination. Hang on, and and be sure to keep your arms, legs and other appendages inside the car until the ride has come to a complete halt.   . 

Now, in New Eden, we assume that the transition of "you" from your pod to your medical clone is foolproof; that surviving pod-splat after your memories, et al are transmitted to to your medical clone simply can't happen.  In fact the systems that facilitate the transition are specifically designed to make sure you don't accidentally survive.  Of course they also make sure pod "you" doesn't suffer unduly after the transition to med clone "you" has been accomplished. Personally I think the latter is a secondary use of the specialized bit of pod technology that hits you with a lethal injection to the brain.  It certainly sounds a lot better than saying you're being killed so you don't become a legal "inconvenience" for your newly woken up self. 

You see, not only your memories, skills, personality and such get transferred to your clone.  Your legal identity is transferred as well. So, to ensure smooth continuation of the capsuleer economy and culture, it's important that any loose ends be (ahem) taken care of.  And you, out there in the middle of the deep and trying to breath vacuum as your pod loses integrity, represent a profound loose end.  Hence the needle.  After all, we can't have two (or more) of you wandering about.  Quite messy for the legal, economic, and theological institutions alike.  Confusing for spousal units and offspring. And don't get me started on the security risks. 

No, there can be only one.

And if there is the needle, there must be other safeguards as well in the wildly unlikely event that the needle, the ordinance tearing your pod apart and the vacuum of space don't quite do the job of ensuring your demise. With your identity legally transferred to your clone, you would effectively become a non-person, unable to legally participate in any aspect of New Eden that requires identity.  No bank account. No medical system.  No legal protection.  You can be killed by the locals without legal repercussion.  The genetic mapping associated with any attempt at acquiring such services or a new identity would immediately tag you as an illegal clone of your legal self, i.e, that medical clone who assumed your identity when you "died".  Notified by such attempts to re-enter the system, the authorities would quickly locate you, bring you in, and take humane measures to ensure a dignified end to your suffering. 

And yes, that's a euphemism for sticking a needle full of neuro-toxins into your brain.

That's the essence of the situation Molly's dumped into at the beginning of her story arc, the driver of its central conflict. So, as you see, she was simply the wrong character for a spoof of Gallente high society - faction warfare meets the Marx brothers. And there was no question of adapting her to the story. With characters like Molls one has some latitude for change, subject to the character's approval. But there is a certain truth to such characters and if you force them to follow directions beyond certain bounds, they go limp and lifeless in your imagination's eye.  You end up with a sock-puppet of a character with no spark of life or literary ring of truth. 

So I dismissed Molly and set about the task of summoned up a more comedically suitable ingenue.

Molls wouldn't leave.

Try as I might, I wasn't able to get her out of the story. I was going to write about Molls, or I wasn't going to write.  Character persistence is an interesting variation on the "earworm" phenomenon, where you can't get a tune out of your head. You can either wait it out, or sing the song out loud a few times, thereby satisfying whatever part of your brain that's latched onto it. Same with character persistence. You wait out the character, or you give in and write about them.

With my 24 hour deadline ticking down, I was in poor a negotiating position. Thus, Postmortum was born; an awkward collision of two wildly different stories with Molly acting as the glue holding things together.  If you go back an look closely at the story carefully, you'll see the places where the "true" Molls peeks out and where she's just reading the lines I fed her.

Molly and Postmortum will go into my desk drawer for a while. I don't know that I'll ever write Molly's story. What with the restrictions the commercial Eve paradigm places on plots, characters and such, not to mention the intellectual property issues, I've no plans to write Eve fiction beyond the odd throw away piece. Molls' story is novel-length, and if I put that much work into a project, it needs to be satisfying to write and have a potential pay-day once it's completed.

But, after some time has passed, I'll sit Molly down in my mind's eye and see what she has to say to me. If her character's drifted enough be able to tell me her story in a setting outside the Eve universe, it could be the beginning of a beautiful friendship. We'll see.

It's all up to Molls.

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