I’ve had this post in the queue for several months.* It’s one of those posts that I’ve needed to write, but haven’t wanted to write, and… Well, here’s the thing: I can be dumb, and insensitive, and I write from my own life’s perspective (which has been pretty darned good). Since I’m a writer, sometimes there are elements in my projects that can be dumb, or insensitive, or come from my own life’s perspective (which sometimes ignores that other peoples’ lives have not been pretty darned good).
GREEK KEY has been out for two weeks, so this is the obligatory getting-my-working-life-in-order post.
Hey! It’s Monday! STATE MACHINE just went live, and I’m going to talk about the plot…ish. This’ll be vague to avoid spoilers, but if you’re familiar with the books or the comic, you’re already aware that one of the general themes I use is real-world superheroes.
This is the part I have fun with, especially in the Rachel books. The
400 *cough*cough* 350 members of the Office of Adaptive and Complementary Enhancement Technologies have a tiny quantum organic computer chip implanted in their brains. This chip allows them to access and, to a lesser extent, control frequencies in the EM spectrum. Since nearly everything within our scope of existence is affected by the EM spectrum to some extent, this is a pretty big deal. Also, having an adaptive, evolving computer in their heads lets the OACET Agents change themselves…within reason. The implant enhances biofeedback, which gives moderate improvements in performance to athletes who practice every day, or some additional mental abilities to those who meditate regularly.
I especially love the autoscripts. Each time one Agent discovers something new, they can package that learned experience in an autoscript and pass it to someone else in the collective. This second Agent can then use that script, modify the script as needed, and then pass that modified script to someone else, who can in turn modify it to their own needs… Think of it as the ultimate form of the collaborative learning experience. In the Rachel books, I had to make Rachel resist fully participating in the autoscript process. If I hadn’t, we’d be following a cyborg who just becomes progressively more and more powerful over time. Rachel is fun to write because she knows shouldn’t be a cyborg–except for her perception and frequency-manipulation skills, she is terrible at it!–and she’s mostly just stomping through her extremely weird life while everyone around her levels up.
Unfortunately, superheroes need villains. Villains are also fun to play with, but much harder to write, especially as the Rachel novels use an entirely different set of rules than the comic to keep it more relatable to real life.
- Rule 1: No koala (sorry);
- Rule 2: Ghosts will never be on-camera;
- Rule 3: If ghosts do influence events, they will never be identified as ghosts.
I can’t avoid the ghosts altogether, not while still being true to the original material, but they’re downplayed. STATE MACHINE will probably be the most “ghostly” book in the Rachel novels, and it still adheres to these rules. But with the ghosts off of the table, where does that leave the villains? Ghosts are a hell of a game-changer, if you think about it. They’re invisible, invulnerable allies, and they have a crazy range of powers (teleportation, mental manipulation, etc.). If they’re gone, how do you write a bad guy who can take on 350 near-omniscient cyborgs who are motivated by self-preservation?
Well, you’ve got to go big. A single bad guy would get steamrolled by OACET. But a single bad guy who knows how to use societal and political systems as a weapon? There are tons of “systems” out there. Government. Public opinion. News cycles. Tax law!
Gaming the “system”, whichever one that is, is the only way a modern super-villain can go toe-to-toe with our heroes. Systems are huge, unwieldy weapons, and it takes ages to position them correctly, but once they’re set up and good to go, very little can stand against them. Societies are imperfect monsters, and are slanted to favor certain persons. If you know how to work that system to your advantage, bam! You’ve now got superpowers.
Now let’s go back to the part where I said I try to keep the Rachel novels “more relatable to real life.” There’s real life, and then there’s fictional “real life”, and these are quite different because one is usually all about the crushing burden of finances and oh no oh no oh NO so many bills all of the time why do they keep coming aren’t I a good person?
And the other is escapism, which is a major reason why we enjoy reading fiction.
If Richard Hanlon et al. wanted to eliminate the Agents, they should go after them financially. The U.S. government has a long history of defunding unpopular agencies, so why should OACET be any different?
(I can honestly see why Lucas spent so much time discussing interstellar commerce in the more recent films and the CLONE WARS cartoons. This makes perfect sense–control the money, control the universe. Personally, I don’t think he went far enough. If you’re going to travel down Financial Plot Point Road, then the Emperor should have defunded the Jedi. “Oh no, you’ve lost your non-profit status! However shall you pay for your spaceships and laser swords now? Principles sorely tested when buy a sandwich you cannot, hmmm?”)
However, while money may be magic, it’s also difficult to turn into an interesting plot. Not impossible! Just difficult, and I don’t know enough about how money works to pull it off. (Follow the money, they say, and I say, What, where? There was money? Did the bills eat it again?) So I usually play around with the more humanized “systems”. In STATE MACHINE, Hanlon’s back in the role of the Big Bad, and he’s not going down without a fight. He’s extremely smart, and since he created OACET, he knows their weaknesses.
The next book in the Rachel series is book 4 of 7. The supervillains are less about working the system, and more about overthrowing it–because if you’re going to have completely balls-out evil villains anyhow, they might as well not bother with pants.*
* My elevator pitch is terrible.