Early last year, after about a year of working for Bohemia Interactive on VBS2, mainly travelling around on airplanes running training courses for military simulations folks, I finally embarked on a project that had been buzzing around in my head for over twenty years.
I'm fairly sure it was the catalyst of working in the simulations field that helped me realize that the time had actually come, and I actually could pull it off, but it had been a long road. When I wrote my first novel, which I started when I was nineteen (it shows its age!), I needed five years of research, which included joining the army and becoming an infantryman, before I could say I had the needed spark to finish it. The relative quality of these projects notwithstanding, no-one can ever say I don't take my research seriously.
The spark for this one came in the form of the Simulation Hypothesis.
I've heard it called a number of things. Theory, argument, hypothesis. It's an old idea, and the Matrix got a good deal of mileage out of it. As a narrative device, you can see it in works like The Truman Show and Dark City, among many others (Source Code and eXistenZ come to mind).
My favourite exploration of it is Nick Bostrom's. Do yourself a favour and read it, if you get the chance (or haven't already). He assigns three propositions equal weight.
(1) the human species is very likely to go extinct before reaching a “posthuman” stage; (2) any posthuman civilization is extremely unlikely to run a significant number of simulations of their evolutionary history (or variations thereof); (3) we are almost certainly living in a computer simulation
Now, I've heard people describe this as a proof. It's not proof of anything, actually. It's just a thought experiment. If you really get into it, it leaves you almost totally convinced, and the idea can take you to some really interesting places.
For my part, it took me to finally starting work on The Glimpse (working title). It's currently at 36,000 words, and I'm really having a good time with it.
I'm not unique in wanting to write a transhuman novel. I'm not sure I'd call it transhumanist, but it's definitely on the topic. This is because, though I can often make a pretty good case for being a transhumanist myself, I remain unconvinced.
A lot of these kinds of novels have been written, of course, and many of them are absolutely fantastic. Just before I put pen to paper I went back and read a whole whack of Robert Heinlein's Howard Families books. I love/hate Lazarus Long, and I wanted to try to engage in a send-up of Heinlein's misogyny. Sci-fi tends to be short on characterization and long on ideas, and there's nothing I like less in a sci-fi novel than the glaringly obvious fact that the writer lives a boring social life and can't avoid passing that on to their characters. It's like science fiction authors have a weird social form of Dunning-Kruger, so I knew this novel needed to focus on characters over ideas, while remaining as close to hard SF as I could pull off.
In The Glimpse, the protagonist, Alton Ely, is leaving Earth on a spaceplane. We don't at first know why, though we get hints about a deceased ex-wife, some training of some kind, an overriding fear of roller-coasters, discomfort in microgravity, and something resembling sleep paralysis which terrifies him, and puzzlingly, tends to happen when he's awake as much as when he's sleeping.
The craft docks at an orbital superhotel in the form of a Stanford Torus.
We have, of course, seen these before. They're an old idea, and 2001: A Space Odyssey had the clearest early visualization of one. Recently, Elysium gave us a beautiful visualization, even if the film didn't bother to get too far into the realism side. I want this book to be as close to 6 on the Moh's scale as I can get it. I'm not a physicist, of course, and the story is primarily character-driven, but that's the goal, so the laziness with which Elysium handled science when it could have done so much better really got to me. Why did he not even bother with orbital mechanics? That was a letdown, even though I really enjoyed the film over all.
Neill Blomkamp actually said that he thought the idea of a Stanford Torus was fanciful and unrealistic. I suspect that's why he didn't seem to take it seriously in the film. He was using it as a clumsy social metaphor. In the universe of The Glimpse, Earth's skies host no fewer than ten major habitats, two of which are cylinders, most of them at the lagrangian points of the Sun-Earth and Earth-Moon systems. The stations are built by pulling material from the moon, near-Earth objects, and the asteroid belt, and they are owned and operated by anyone from private consortia to the Church of Scientology to the Mormons.
The first one Alton Ely visits is called 'Pedestal,' and it's the smallest and newest, orbiting a bit higher than the ISS is now. There he meets a supermodel working in a bar; a riff on Heinlein in two ways: his women are always beautiful, and they serve as foils to his men; and economic disparity between those who live on Earth and those who live in orbit. Think of the arctic. If you moved up there, you'd for sure get paid a lot, but the cost of living is so high that you'd never be able to use it. Extend that to space--everything and everyone has to be trucked up on spaceships at massive expense, and weight and volume matter more than anything else.
Now, Lena Sidorovna is not a foil. At first, she appears to be, but as time goes on, we realize that she's well aware of Heinlein, and that both she and Alton Ely are almost spookily (think fourth wall) aware of the parallel. It's not that they know they're in a book, it's cultural. The high culture of this universe, as far in the future as it is, is almost like the best parts of probably Reddit or Tumblr, but certainly TVTropes. Its wit thrives on recognizing references, often to memes. In this case, Alton and Lena immediately recognize that they're practically living out the premise of The Cat Who Walks Through Walls, except that their experience is self-aware and sets out to subvert the inherently misogynistic arrangement Heinlein used. At times they critique their own adventure as though it were his novel.
36,000 words in, I'm in the second act, and not wanting to toss out any spoilers, we're seeing the plot thicken: who Alton is and why he's left Earth has finally been revealed. New, unlikely characters are introduced.
So, basically, this blog is going to be a proving ground for the ideas I either have explored in the book, or will explore as I continue to write it.