Wednesday, May 25, 2016

An Island of Unbridled Malevolence.

Boy oh boy, kids; have I ever written some really fun stuff this last week!

Since I came up with the idea for this universe a year or two ago, I've had my eye on a specific scene I really hoped would work in the book.  Keeping it as spoiler-free as possible, I'll tell you all about it.  I thought "Hey, so, if one colossus had been overrun by some really, really, really bad dudes - like the guy in the shantytown District 9 who tries to eat the dead aliens because he thinks it'll grant him mystical powers?  What would people like that do to their titan to make it look more intimidating, and how would normal people react to seeing it approach them when they realize how different it is from their own 'gentle giant' hometown?"  Adorned with war paint, hanged corpses of enemies, blasting music - how would you design a living, quarter-mile-high, bipedal war machine to frighten people into shock?

This past Saturday, I got to write that scene.  I'm really excited to have a scene in which Leon, the pragmatic and slightly jaded detective, is unable to properly process seeing that titan running at him from off in the horizon.  I wanted him to momentarily shut down completely, just overwhelmed by a world he can't understand.  I'm sorry I can't quite show it off to you yet, but damn is it gonna be good.  The few people I have shown it to, for feedback, have reacted very, very positively.  Here's the final sentence of the scene:

Sao was a 1,500-foot island of unbridled malevolence and he was louder than God.

Anyway.  I added nearly 5,000 words to the manuscript this past week, putting me over the 50,000-word mark.  It's becoming a book, friends!  See you next Wednesday.

Word Count:  50,006

Wednesday, May 18, 2016

Daydreaming (New Excerpt!).

Happy Wednesday!

After last week's unimpressive amount of creative output, I decided to hunker down this week and try to make up for lost time, punching in over 4,000 words - which would've likely been closer to 5,000 if I could stop playing Uncharted 4.  Nevertheless, I made some great progress.  More on that in a moment.

I've noticed while writing this book that I worry about something I never realized I'd worry about: time passing.  You know how, in movies, sometimes it'll seem like it's only been a few days of activity but near the end a character will say something like "Well, over the last few months since all this happened..." and it seems crazy?  I'm concerned enough with that happening to me that I find myself doing the opposite.  In the main story, there have been three deaths, a murder investigation, a journey from Johannesburg to Paris to New York and over a half-dozen languages and civilizations mentioned...and I think the whole thing has taken place in about four weeks.  Fortunately it seems to be flowing at a realistic pace.

Anyway!  This week I introduced Psamanthe, my flying colossus, in the book.  I posted a "first look" at her a couple months back, but here she is again as a refresher.

Psamanthe is populated almost entirely by Pacific Coast Indians - specifically the Tlingit and Haida.  My mantra of sorts over the last several months has been that I want to express the diversity and population shift in the world of the leviathans, and as animists with an avian deity, the Tlingit seem like the best choice to populate Psamanthe.  They help Leon travel from Paris (where he disembarks Triton) to New York to follow a lead in his case.  On the long flight to the West, Leon finds himself lapsing into a daydream, remembering an old conversation he had with his grandfather when he was a boy.  In the conversation, Leon's grandfather tells him about several of the other ways people tried to leave the surface when the fog came out of the ocean.  Here's a section of that conversation.

Leon's grandfather had also told him the saddest story of survival in vain – the story about the people who fled to mountaintops and other high places, believing the early, unsupported rumors that the 1,000-foot fog ceiling that rolled in from the seas would become thinner at high altitudes.  “’Oh, the air in places like Mount Kilimanjaro and Mount Everest is so thin, there’s no way the fog could creep very far up them,’” his grandfather said, imitating early evacuees with a tone of flippancy.  “’You wouldn’t have to go up to where you couldn’t breathe – just a few thousand feet from the base would do it.’”  He shook his head and took his own voice back on.  “Some of them even built greenhouses to get fresh oxygen further up there, sonny.  You had whole swarms of folks just trying to buy up land and build housing further and further up the sides of Makalu and Mont Blanc and Denali.”  He sighed. 
“But it didn’t work.  None of it worked.  We’d pass nearby a mountain a couple times a year and there would just be less and less of it visible.  The families who stayed down there realized it, too.  They crept higher and higher up the mountainside every few months.  They knew what was coming.  Imagine.  Imagine a mother and father looking down and seeing that, that gloom, marching towards them like a sentinel – towards their family, their children.  Now think about this.  You know the mountain climbers used to have to bring oxygen tanks with them just to climb up and down the mountains because the air gets so thin.  You know that, right?  Nobody had brought oxygen tanks with them when they moved – they figured they’d rest comfortable between the fog ceiling and the summit.  Even if they had brought them, oxygen tanks wouldn’t last forever.  So you’ve got desperate families – parents, trying to protect their children – moving up the mountain to escape the fog that they’d been assured would never get to where they’d moved.  At the same time, they know they can only go so high before they run out of oxygen.  Stay and catch Red Lung, move up and asphyxiate.  What do you think they’d tell their kids?” 
His grandfather paused to let the thought sink into Leon’s head. 
“Now I said some folks opted to buy higher and build these big greenhouses to try and get fresh air from plants they brought,” his grandfather said.  “Well, how long do you think they’d last with every one of their goddamn neighbors breaking down their doors to get in?  If the fog was moving up the mountaintop, it would get to the greenhouses eventually, but giving up is not something we do easily.  Some people kept their civility and migrated as high up as their lungs allowed and just waited it out, but others…” 
“What happened to all the people on the mountains, Grandpa?” 
“Nothing good, kid,” he said.  “Like I said – we’d pass a mountain at first and see people living on the mountainside, houses, kids playing outside.  We’d go past it again in a few months, and after a couple more passes the houses would be swallowed up by the fog, campfires burning and tents pitched a few hundred feet higher.  Into the second year you could tell how much smaller the visible summit had gotten, and fewer fires and fewer tents were set up, and they were closer to the greenhouses.  Eventually the fog overtook them too, and before long…” 
“…No more tents.”
 Thanks for reading!  As always, please share with your friends and let us know your thoughts at A Carrier of Fire's Facebook page.

Total Word Count:  46,201

Wednesday, May 11, 2016

Quiet Week.

Hey, everybody!  I'm sorry to say I had some health issues and a doctor's visit this past week so I didn't get a whole lot done on the book since last Wednesday.  It wasn't a complete loss, though; I got some good research done on the Tlingit people of the Pacific Coast of Canada and Alaska and I did add just over 1,000 words (compared to my usual 3,000).

Expect a more formidable update next week.  Until then, why not check out last week's entry about inter-colossus travel?  That was a beast of a subject to research.  Thanks for your patience; stay tuned!

Wednesday, May 4, 2016

Medieval Siege Weapons and SRT'S for Dummies.

Early on in my research for this book last fall, it became apparent to me that I'd have to have my humans move from one wandering city to another.  This process would have to be practical, quick and believable but above all, not in the least bit extravagant nor convenient.  I think I've mentioned a few times on this blog that I wanted to do away with too many easy answers for the characters on the theriopolises.  The indomitable spirit of survival and the perseverance that breeds ingenuity are regular backdrops for this book.  Chief among them is inter-colossus travel, which I've detailed briefly but here's a thorough look at my system.  It's a bit wordy, but stick it out with me - it's pretty badass.

It all starts when two colossi find themselves within about a quarter-mile of each other.  For this example, let's say our male lead character Leon Adler wants to depart one colossus - let's use Proteus - to a slightly taller colossus - we'll go with Triton.

All immigration is done by ropeway.  Every colossus is fitted with several ballistae - medieval siege weapons that resemble sedan-sized crossbows - on the port and starboard sides of his/her back.  These manned ballistae fire large grappling hooks, trailing over 1,000 feet of twin ropes, that land on the other colossus's back near its ballistae.  I'm calling the firing/receiving areas "harbors" or "docking bays."  So Proteus and Triton cross paths and Leon wants to go from Proteus back to his hometown of Triton, right?  The ropeway is created when Proteus fires one grappling hook over to Triton and reels it back in until the ropeway has just enough slack for travel.  Now that we have our ropeway we need to get our citizens across it.

Leon Adler and any other people wishing to travel to Triton have to traverse the ropeway, hand over hand, to their destination.  Leon has with him a climbing harness that he straps into.  The climbing harness is in the shape of a pair of boxer shorts but is mostly straps and butt support.

Climbing harness, facing front.
This harness fastens to a short "lifeline rope" (which is just shorter than the length of your arm) around its user's bellybutton area.  The opposite end of the short lifeline rope fastens to a slightly modified zip line trolley - think of a kids' backyard zip line mechanism with no handles.

The trolley is modified with a simple cam device near its wheels.  The cam device works similar to the hinge-mounted door stoppers you see at schools, retail stores and office buildings.  When you nudge the door stopper down with your toe, it allows the door to be opened but it stubbornly brakes when anyone (or the door's weight itself) attempts to close the door.  The cam device is virtually identical in terms of purpose and physics, only it's far smaller.  Instead of a door, it's the trolley.  Instead of the floor, it's the ropeway.  Now, these cams really do exist and are a different part of rope-climbing rigs, but we'll get back to that.  With a cam that only allows the trolley (and its rider, Leon) to move in one direction, Leon can climb the rope to the higher point (Triton) freely without risking sliding all the way back down to Proteus's ballista.  The cam stops them from losing ground.

In addition, there are two other pieces of climbing gear attached to our intrepid detective to aid in his journey.  These are two different types of foot ascenders.  The first is a basic foot ascender: a set of nylon straps that tie around the shoe with an all-important cam device near his ankle.  When Leon is ready to start his journey, he threads the cam on his foot through the ropeway and closes the lid on the outside of the cam so it doesn't slip out.  Now he can, for all intents and purposes, climb up the ropeway with this foot, using the cam and his body weight like rungs on a ladder.

Foot Ascender:  Alone (top) and mounted to boot (bottom)

That may be enough of a climbing rig to satisfy most fact-checkers and doubters, but goddamn it to Hell, anything worth doing is worth doing right.  So let's look at Leon's other foot.  On Leon's other foot, he wears a Haas foot ascender, which is a real-life, honest-to-God special kind of ascender invented by Michael Frankhauser.  The Haas does have a boot strap like the above-pictured ascender, only instead of attaching straight to the cam, the boot strap attaches to a fixed-length retractable bungee-like cord.  This cord reaches up about to the climber's thigh and attaches to the ropeway at that point  - and there is where the cam clips on.  This way, partnered with the standard ascender pictured above, the climber can run up a climbing rope with both feet, as though the climber had personalized steps/rungs on a ladder, moving as fast as his or her arms can grab at it.

Don't believe me?  Or did I do a piss-poor job of explaining it?  Here's a video for proof.  This climber attaches completely to the ropeway in 30 seconds and climbs 75 feet in another 15 seconds.

Please don't imagine that the use of the Haas ascender in my book in any way equates to me receiving any compensation or endorsement from Mr. Frankhauser.  I thought his device was a cool and practical and helpful invention and I wrote him and explained my project and asked if I could add it into the book and he said yes.  End of story.  Well, aside from him taking the time to explain to me how a lot of SRT (single-rope technique) climbing gear is assembled onto the climber and the rope itself.  At this climber's pace, 75 feet in 15 seconds or so, a 1,000-foot journey straight up to Triton would take Leon about three and a half minutes.

But didn't I mention a second rope?  Well, I know I haven't much gotten into the politics of an immigration system complete with passports etc. today, but the second rope would be for an immigration officer.  This officer takes the second rope on the same grappling hook (with the same climbing gear) down about halfway between the two colossi.  S/he checks the travelers' immigration papers to make sure everything's in order and can then either send them on their way or turn them back the way they came.  Failing their adherence to this law, they can either be detained at their destination or, in an extreme circumstance, unhooked from their lifeline by the officer and sent down to the surface.

"But if Leon's taking up the rope headed from Proteus to Triton, what about people who want to go the other way?"  Well, as I said, both colossi are outfitted with several ballistae each.  Remember when I said earlier that the two colossi approach each other and each harbor fires the grappling hook to the opposite colossus?  That's where the other one comes in.  While Leon has adorned his harness, lifeline, trolley and both foot ascenders to climb up to Triton before their paths crossed, other citizens from Triton have done the same for their journeys to Proteus.  With ropeways headed in each direction, the transit system begins to resemble a two-way street...dangling 1,200-plus-feet in the air.  Since Triton's citizens merely need to head downhill to Proteus (Triton is the tallest colossus), they can skip wearing the foot ascenders on the way down and simply slow to a stop when they reach the halfway point and the immigration officer.  Most zip line trolleys these days offer handbrakes, and even on ones that don't, using climbing gloves to cause friction on the rope is far from out of the question.

Okay.  That's plenty to tide you over for the week.  Enjoy!

Total Word Count:  41,723