Friday, February 02, 2007



In January of 2007 I began work on SINFUL SURVIVAL, a science fiction novel, and by the end of January I had written a little over 20,000 words.

This project is planned to be a short novel of perhaps as few as 200 pages, something about the length of THE SHIFT, the short science fiction novel I had published back in 1986.

This novel was inspired by something I heard a futurologist talking about on the radio. He was visiting New Zealand and was saying on air that his generation would be the last generation to die. His theory was that we will soon be able to upload ourselves to computers, and therefore to live forever.

If you are a science fiction fan then you know that the idea of being uploaded to a computer is one that many, many SF writers have worked with. But that's in the realms of science fiction, where you are free to invent technologies which may never exist.

The futurologist, however, was in the business of advising people who seriously wanted to know the shape of the future, and what he was selling them was, in my mind, pure hokum.

Nevertheless, the interview with the futurologist, which I heard while I was in New Zealand early in 2006, stuck in my mind. And, eventually, I decided to write my own uploaded-to-a-computer book, and SINFUL SURVIVAL is the one.

The protagonist, Mavinda Cruft, has seriously sinned, making an error of judgment which has led to the deaths of thousands of people. Her punishment is to be sent to hell and to burn forever, sleepless and fully conscious, in the computerized environment of Balefire, a machine also known as Soul Hoster Nine.

But it is her computer copy that is destined to spend eternity in a computerized hell.

Mavinda herself, legally dead, survives in her physical form, and is regarded as being no longer human. Instead, the law defines her as "intelligent meat."

I had absolutely no interest whatsoever in writing a novel about actually living in a computer, because plenty of SF writers have done that already, and plenty more are probably hard at work on their own uploaded-to-a-computer fictions.

What I wanted to focus on was Mavinda's alienated status, legally dead but still alive on planet Earth, a total outcast from her society and with no way to survive but to join the bottom feeders and to get a job with a totally illegal spamming outfit, a company known as Smegma Sputum Incorporated, which disguises its true nature by pretending that its real business is the production of hard core pornography.

As I worked on the novel I started to characterized Mavinda as not quite mentally connected, given to misfiring in both her thoughts and her actions, and at first it was not clear to me why I was doing this. It seemed to be the natural way to go, so I went with the flow.

I have never understood the way in which I shape my characters. All I know is that I find ways to do this, without wargame characterization.

I wargame the hell out of plot, which is my biggest problem as a writer of genre fiction, but characterization, for better or worse, comes naturally.

As I worked on the book, an obvious problem started to loom larger and larger in my mind. Mavinda has got off too easily. Her society signs off on the notion that her computerized avatar, which is now her legal trueself, is suffering as it should. But Mavinda herself, the true original, survives.

Her brother, Argolid Ham, described as the "brightest of the Bright Christers," thinks that her survival is sinful. So how come her society lets her get away with it? Why don't the vigilantes simply shotgun her to death?

Finally, I came up with the answer. For the avatar to be produced, Mavinda had to undergo a process called scripting. For this process, chemicals known as illuminators are introduced into her system. When hard radiation is delivered to the brain, the resulting scans allow Mavinda's brain to be modeled down at the nano level.

The process of scripting takes six weeks and involves repeated jolts of hard radiation as the scanning process proceeds. Most shells, as the survivors are termed, die in the first year following the scripting process. For those who do survive longer, such as Mavinda, the long-term prognosis is poor.

With this discovery, I had an explanation for the reason why Mavinda's brain does not work particularly well. And, having made that discovery, I realized why I was writing about a brain-damaged person.

The reality is that I myself am brain-damaged, by brain shrunk by six cycles of chemotherapy with high-dosage menstruate and damaged further by 16 grays of radiation delivered to the brain. I live in a world of glitches, such as the mysterious glitch which occurred on the 30th January, when my toothbrush unaccountably disappeared.

I had been helping my daughter, who is a little less than three years of age, to clean her teeth. And, somehow, in the process of supervising my daughter's tooth-cleaning, I had put my toothbrush down somewhere, not in the place where it usually lives in the bathroom, and I had absolutely no idea where I had put it.

In response, I took the easy route, a typical Mavinda response, and went to my personal room and cut a new toothbrush out of its packaging. Mavinda is a great one for taking the easy route.

I am not, as a rule, my characters. Certainly I am not, for example, Drake Doa, the hero of the novel THE WALRUS AND THE WARHOL. Drake is compounded from multiple young men I encountered during my years of part-time peacetime military service, and he is compounded from elements of impetuous error and gung ho let's-do-it-nests.

A sample of that kind of I'm-a-young-man-and-I'm-not-ashamed-of-it behavior would be the two soldiers who, being based at a military camp known as Warier, amused themselves by constructing some kind of homemade cannon. They finally let it off, causing damage to the structure the army had allowed them to inhabit.

Discipline was imposed, of course, but the army didn't kick them out. If you're an army, you have to learn to work with what you've got. You have to work with the real people you find in the real world, not the imaginary people that less realistically-grounded organizations might try to find and work with.

Drake, then, is just one example of the many characters I have created who are definitely not me.

But, when I came up with the scripting process, I realized, at that point, that the Mavinda that I am writing about is me.

I addressed the issue of having brain cancer in my cancer memoir CANCER PATIENT, and blogged about it afterwards in my blog HUGHCOOK.BLOGSPOT.COM. Blogged about survivorhood issues.

But there is more to say, and Mavinda's sinful survival is a way of saying it.