Dread Orange is the boiled down bathtub gin of my inner workings, aiming to warp your neurons a few degrees off their normal axes.
I plan to do this by slinging exotic, nutrient-filled content directly through your eyeballs and occasionally through your ears. You’re offering your valuable time and mental space, so I want to barter well in return.
Want is an evolving ingredient in life. In middle and high school I wanted to be an FBI Agent, and so joined the Tulsa Police Explorers. In university I wanted to be a computer programmer and then a 3D animator (and part-time screenplay writer), so studied at the Academy of Art University in San Francisco. And yet I’ve ended up in Tokyo teaching English. Never part of the plan, but turns out it’s a good fit. Pro tip: Enjoy the zigzags in life because it’s in the corners and curves you get the best views.
Throughout all of those wants, two things have never changed: I’ve been an avid reader and writer. Everything else has been facilitating these underlying themes of my character arc. Storytelling is a long, spun-out, challenging, and yet immensely satisfying road. Even as you read this, synapses are pouring plot lines and bystanders are passing out from the sweet, sweet fumes.
I’d like you to join me as I build the Centricity Cycle, a post-post-apocalyptic series full of thought-catalyzing characters, electric espionage, corporate doom-bringers, and political machinations.
From Dread Orange you'll get:
Thanks for taking the journey with me and please share my content with those who’d also enjoy the ride.
Which came first, the chicken or the galactic empire? Although science has determined the egg came first, our imaginations rarely work in such a logical order.
Sometimes it’s more top-down, beginning with the broad strokes—ancient/futuristic, egalitarian/dictatorial, coffee/whatever else isn’t coffee—and fill in the details as we go.
Other times it’s bottom-up, from the faintest whiff of pollination: a character quirk, an interesting street corner, a recipe. Often its a muddle of the two.
For me, the idea for Naion (the megacity setting of Centricity) came from an image. From that image, a sediment of paperwork accumulated, both physical and digital. A thousand inchoate descriptions, from social morays to technical blueprints to character traits. Little by little, this chicken-scratch buried me. It's bad as it sounds; suffocating under a heap of angry chickens is a terrible way for stories to die.
Every time I needed to access one of these nuggets of imagination excreta, I had to sift through so much irrelevant stuff. I wasted hours and days looking instead of writing. If you’ve ever read The Phantom Tollbooth, I’d become my own personal Terrible Trivium, moving sand endlessly back and forth because I hadn’t bothered to do the following things.
I now do. Growth.
Deep world building is history building (even if it’s an implied history since things don’t just poof into existence) and *accurate* history is about record keeping. Kings, robot clones, corporate spies, battalions of elite ferret shock troops all make for exciting stories, but empires last because Johnny B. Accountant stayed late at the office.
Keeping records as you go, and updating them as needed, will be a gift to your future self. Love yourself.
Which records? Here are 5 suggestions to get you started.
A mind map is a terrible thing to waste
Some prefer “book bible,” I like encyclopedia. This is pretty self-explanatory. The moment a concept or word that does not exist in our reality springs forth, record it and define it. You can categorize it by type (for example, technology) and sub-categorize it alphabetically.
To go one step further you can track the location of every instance a term shows up in your manuscript.
Timelines, timelines, timelines
See how I wrote timelines three times? That’s because I suggest making three of them. You could try jamming all the information into one. If you’re a master packer. I’m not.
The first is for scenes: who, what, where, when.
The second is for character arcs, which track the growth of your characters over time, and what inspired their change. Don’t forget the world itself, which is also a character that changes. For example, if you have a gun battle at the starport, it may increase security for other characters not involved. This cross-referencing will help your world feel more real.
The third is the plot arc, which, as it sounds, tracks your progression through the plot, with major events highlighted.
I use Aeon 2 but there are lots of options.
Your name doesn’t need to be Rand McNally to sketch out a basic map of the area(s) where your story takes place. This is important for judging distances and travel times. All other things being equal, it takes longer to go 10 miles than 2. Don’t forget to take into account terrain, mode of transportation, etc. when determining if Jackson can swoop in to save Mike in Grimsville five minutes after defeating Mr. Evil at Dark Pond.
Notes as You Go
In an unpaid endorsement, I have found the Scrivener app to be a lifesaver in more ways than one, but primarily for its ability to organize metadata. For every scene/chapter I write, I keep a running tally of all the people and stuff that shows up.
This is possible in a basic word processor as well, and if that’s what you’re using, you can use the insert > table function to create a table. On the left hand, your chapter titles, at the top, the categories to keep track of, including but not limited to:
Groups (Companies, Government Agencies, etc.)
Society (for laws, social mores, taboos, etc.)
You can create links to documents on your own hard drive or cloud account. This way, the information is made easily accessible without cluttering up the document you’re working on.
As soon as you make a change to your story, change the tables/maps/etc. that the change affects.
Because you want to be kind to your future self, and not leave them with a tangle of accumulated changes.
Also, you’ll be able to see immediately the ripple effects of your change. You may remove a character, thinking he’s unimportant, only to realize he’s the one who bought the poisoned milk in chapter two.
Don’t throw anything away
If you remove a big chunk because it’s not working, ctrl-X cntrl-V it to a new file. However, you’ll want to keep these organized. Create folders named things like “city descriptions.”
Save multiple versions
I can’t tell you how many times I changed something, only to later change it back. Or how many times I wrote a scene for one character that got cut, then used it later for a different character. You can even make different folders for different types of material (character descriptions, locations, etc.) With any major rearrangement, save a new version of the draft, and hack away, carefree.
Hopefully this helps! Write on!
Look for Part 2 next month, where I'll talk about the more creative aspects of worldbuilding.
Luckily for me, one of my friends, John Laakso, is a talented voice actor. Even luckier, Cyberpunk Valentine touched upon a creative nerve of his.
Together we hashed out a script—well, he hashed, I threw in my two cents—and he recorded his own cyberware commercial. Listen to a shady dealer sell his cybernetic implants on John's blog. High tech for low creds.
You'll get a kick out of the ad; it's really well done, sound effects and all. This is the first of several, so I’ll let you know as soon as the next one is out.
For more information on John and his services, head over to his website at www.vocalgravity.com
From March 28 to April 4, my friend and I visited Istanbul, Ankara, Cappadocia, and Pamukkale. Here are our exploits, more or less. Along the way you'll find some advice if you choose to take the plunge yourself.
(All photos were taken by either myself or my friend using iPhones.)
Istanbul: Day 1
One thirty-five AM in Istanbul Ataturk Airport, and a crowd of waiting faces greet us at the exit. Many are holding signs with names on them; driver’s looking for their passengers. I’ve booked a shuttle via our hostel, but can’t find my name.
Wandering with a glazed look makes us ripe for the “Do you need a ride?” sales pitch. I'm inherently suspicious of anyone who approaches me trying to sell something, so we wave them off ... until one of them mind reads my name. Our driver! Well, not actually. He’s the guy that directs us to the driver. On our way.
At the Cheers Hostel in Istanbul's Fatih district, we are greeted by a succession of friendly people, one of whom is the manager (owner?), and his equally friendly golden retriever. Too tired for chit-chat, we are shown to our room in a building across the street. Nice, a completely remodeled bathroom. Who needs hotels?
The manger gives us a map. Our hostel is in walking distance from a bunch of major sites. Istanbul is a very walkable place. Off we go, with a recommendation to try a fish sandwich at a local place along the Bosporus just west of the Galata Bridge entrance.
On our way our, a smiling shop keeper pulls us in to introduce his wares: rugs and scarves of cashmere and silk. I wish my bed sheets were made of the stuff; so soft I could sink in it.
He suddenly asks us for a lighter. We’re a bit confused. Turns out he wants to burn the fabric to prove its authentic. Something about the smell, though we wouldn’t know the difference anyway. He’s surprised that neither of us has one.
Several times during the trip we were asked for a lighter. Many people in Turkey smoke, and assumed we had one. Sorry to disappoint, we don’t smoke, and hadn’t considered the authentication-by-fire trick while packing.
Our first stop is the underground Basilica Cistern, built in the 6th century by Byzantine Emperor Justinian I. It holds about 30 Olympic swimming pools worth of water. For drinking, not swimming in, I assume.
The vaulted ceiling, marching columns (9m/30ft high), and point lighting make it a good horror movie setting. Everything is damp though, there’s little/no water in the cistern. The echoes add to the eerie mood—though it's a bit undone by the take-your-picture-in-Turkish-costumes set just inside the entrance. These popped up in other sightseeing spots and felt out of place every time.
Near the back are some big Medusa heads, the highlight for me.
Second item to check off the bucket list is the iconic Hagia Sophia (pronounced kinda like "Aya Sophia" by locals). This grand church turned mosque turned museum shows its 1500 year age, but does so with stately fortitude. Overhead, impressive mosaic-covered domes. All around, marble stonework (some with scratched-in graffiti), and large round calligraphic panes displaying the names of Islamic religious figures.
Oh, and also a cat. With more than a thousand years of history around us, a stray cat becomes the center of attention. Within minutes, it has its own entourage.
Note on urban wildlife
Walking around cities in Turkey, we saw stray dogs and cats everywhere. Roaming in packs, lounging next to piles of food, even resting in little houses made for them. In our experience, they were friendly, non-aggressive, and mostly healthy. My friend went so far as to pick up the cats, and I couldn’t tell which one of them was happier.
We were told by one of the hostel managers that, in general, Turks don’t keep pets, so people see the hordes of stray animals as communal pets. Some have tags in their ears, showing that the government has spayed/neutered and vaccinated them. Still, approach at your own risk; rabies is a thing.
Onward to the Grand Bazaar!
The Grand Bazaar sprawls across more than 30,000 square meters. It actually starts before it starts, with layers of shops clustered around its perimeter.
I found the building itself more interesting, with thick bundles of dusty cables running across tile work like tree roots in a Cambodian temple. Countless side alleys branch in a seemingly infinite labyrinth. We find small upstairs restaurant/relax areas where locals chat and eat. Doors burrowing into the under dark. Cubby-hole workshops. Buildings built atop other buildings. People carrying giant sacks while navigating the narrow aisles—talk about threading needles.
From the Grand Bazaar, we snake north, to the Spice Bazaar (Mısır Çarşısı). One side street is packed with dudes, all shouting into cell phones. Gamblers’ Alley.
At the Spice Bazaar, we discover one of our two new addictions: Turkish delights. Imagine rainbows pureed and processed, then rolled into tubes and stuffed with nuts, fruits, your favorite dreams, and/or chocolate.
We could live on these things.
When we step into a shop, the staff grab rolls at light speed and chop off sample pieces. They're pushy in a friendly way, but be careful, if you dither they'll fill a whole box for you.
Chewy and sweet and even a little savory with the nuts ... flavor overload.
SOUVENIR TIP: We noticed that these roll-type Turkish delights were scarce outside Istanbul, with the small cubed version more common (which are good, but pale in comparison). Our second biggest disappointment of the trip was running out of time and not being able to bring back a truckload of them on our way out. Get them while you can!
The sandwich itself is, I’ll say, underwhelming. Turkey has a long list of awesome foods—the kebabs, grilled vegetables, spiced rice—but this did not make the cut. We aren’t sure what kind of fish it is, but my friend ends up with a species that's 80% bone.
For me, just fuel down the hatch.
CLOTHING TIP: In the above picture, you'll noticed how overdressed I look for the sunny day. We traveled to Turkey in late March/early April, and the cold slapped us on arrival, especially in Istanbul. The sun lies and the wind slices. I recommend layers, with a good windbreaker and fleece, and two pairs of shoes for walking and hiking.
Across the Galata Bridge to our last stop of the day, Galata Tower. The 360 view gives us a real sense of Istanbul’s scale, and it’s narrow observation platform gives us foreshadowing of heights to come.
We begin with the Topkapi Palace. Back in the 15th century, the Ottoman sultans used this as a home base to rule from.
Some of the coolest parts of Topkapi, like the armor and weapons displays, don't allow photography, so I guess that means you'll just have to go.
No first time trip to Istanbul would be complete without a boat tour of the Bosporus.
Bosporus Tour Tip: No need to buy tickets from anywhere except at the peer, a short walk west of the southern Galata bridge entrance. It's super cheap there. Travel agencies jack up the price and cover much of the same territory (at least for the 1.5 hour tour).
We end the day getting lost down backstreets, side stairs, and mystery doors.
Ankara: Day 3
We fly into Ankara early. Flights in Turkey run about $30USD one way, cheaper than an average taxi ride in Tokyo. We put them to good use, taking a total of 8 flights during the trip.
Speaking of taxis (they're cheap too), we take one to ASTI (Intercity Bus Terminal), and buy tickets to Cappadocia for the day after next from a company called Kamil Koc--no, not that, it’s pronounced coach.
The next taxi driver goes up on the sidewalk to get us around the bus station mire, and we get to our hotel in no time.
Hotel Mithat is a quiet, clean hotel with a fun door-less elevator and very cozy bathrooms. It stands across from a stunning, modern mosque, Anadolu Ulu Camil.
In-transit research turns up two points of interest, on opposite ends of central Ankara. Our walking shoes will have to earn their name today.
Through the castle’s outer gate, we enter a medieval-style stone village, with shops selling ubiquitous souvenirs and a guy making candy. A short walk later, we hit the castle.
In the courtyard, a group plays music. On the walls, a spectacular view plays music ... to our eyes. All of Ankara stretches out, a carpet of mostly red roofs. There are no guard rails and parts of the structure are crumbling. More than once, the yawn of a 90 degree drop gets my heart racing, even more so as gusts of wind try to push me off. We linger. It’s hard to get enough.
We come down the hill via a different route, more shops line the way. Some are aimed at locals, like hardware and medical supply stores.
An hour of walking in the opposite direction—past the hotel and through an up-scale neighborhood with character—takes us to the Mustafa Kemel Atatürk Mausoleum, guarded by soldiers who, like the Queen's Guard in England, stand absolutely still.
The scale of this is also eye-popping, though different from the castle. The stones are all clean cut to razor blade exactness, and it’s stark simplicity imposes its will on you. Nothing in Turkey can really be captured on fil.
Before approaching the main building, we decide to quickly pop our head in a human-sized door to the right and find out it’s a museum. That goes on for miles. The exit is way over on the other side, and it takes us a really, really long time to get out, even without stopping to look at everything.
We finally get into the mausoleum itself, and on our way out, catch a changing of the guard ceremony in its full-throated glory.
As evening rolls around, there is only one thing left we are itching to experience but are having a hard time finding: alcohol, preferably local. But many restaurants don't serve it; we get head shakes at our repeated inquires.
Fortunately, the receptionist at Mithat directs us toward a solution: an area called Kizilay, an island of nightlife in the otherwise sparely populated streets (though it is Wednesday night, so not the best day to gauge night-out energy). We find a good bar/restaurant with live music and a quick metal detector check. No problem; it's our portal to beer and a "Texas Burger" worthy of the name.
Göreme/Cappadocia: Day 4
In the morning, we take Kamil Koc to Nevşehir. The bus doesn’t actually go to Göreme (the town in Cappadocia), but to a bus station on the outskirts of Nevşehir, one of the larger nearby cities.
Both in to and out of Ankara, patchwork development creates a layered impression, almost like the rings of tree telling its history.
Newer apartment buildings decorate the outskirts; stylish, with simple geometric design elements and earthen color palettes. Interspersed are ruble piles, trash strewn lots, and half-built, abandoned-looking construction projects, rays of light lancing through the concrete skeletons of high-rises. I don’t know the reasons behind this tapestry of socioeconomics, but it’s interesting.
Other than that, not much to see except flat horizon and farm houses. Occasionally we pass cut-out police cars, there to force out-of-towners to slow down. Speaking of cars, several junkers sit on the roofs of buildings.
The bus driver is an interesting character. A sign says no smoking, but by hour 2 he’s puffing away. And we make some strange stops, with individuals getting on and off, many of whom sit up front, chat with the driver, and pay him in cash. Is this a side hustle? Dunno. No skin off our backs; we arrive 15 minutes before the scheduled time.
MONEY TIP: Many bathrooms throughout Turkey require 1 or 1.5 lira to use, so keep small change on you. Additionally, shops prefer bills smaller than 100 lira and will sometimes have trouble making change for larger bills.
The bus station in Nevşehir is large, somewhat empty, and seems to be in the middle of nowhere, but taxis are readily available. It’s about a 15 minute ride to Terra Vista, our hostel in Göreme.
All the taxis we found in Turkey ran on meters.
MAP TIP: I recommend bringing printed addresses for all the places you’ll stay. Even if you have a pocket wi-fi (we didn’t), it feels safer to hand over a piece of paper than your phone to a random person.
Downtown Göreme feels a bit like a resort town. It’s built to cater to tourists, with many copy-and-paste souvenir shops and restaurants. Other than local food, we spot a number of Chinese restaurants, and burgers appear on some menus. Upon exploration, its real personality is revealed.
Göreme is built within the jaws of the rock formations that Cappadocia is famous for. Stone teeth jut out beside narrow streets, and the cave dwellings are everywhere. Many have been converted into hotels and restaurants (some which are more man made than natural), but there are also quite of few that have fallen into disrepair. Dark tunnels strewn with rubble hide behind outcrops and doorways cut from stone.
Our hostel manager recommends a nearby place for lunch, but it ends up being pretty bland. My dish is a kind of stew served in a clay jar that they break open in front of us. A cool concept. But in reality its crunchy, as pieces of the jar are flung into the stew. To add some flavor, I pour ayran into the stew. Ayran is a salty yogurt drink, and they do not skimp on the salt.
Alcohol isn’t served at this restaurant either. The guy tells us no one can buy alcohol today because the big election is tomorrow. We did not know this. In the evening it becomes apparent the 'no alcohol' thing isn’t true, as we find several spirits shops around town.
Time for a hike.
We start at the Open Air Museum, 15 minute on foot up a paved sidewalk. This is one of the only places in the area approaching crowded. It resembles an apartment complex, with dwellings and churches. The frescoes here are some of the best preserved, and info plates give them context. However, we had more fun in the less tame areas.
We continue heading uphill to the southeast, grab a bottle of water on the way.
SHOPPING TIP: Many tourist spots have cafes/vendors with their bounds, but prices are much higher. Wait until you leave the gates to pick up drinks or snacks.
We follow the road until it bends, then cut across, from here we get one of the most amazing views of Cappadocia.
It inspires us to head off road. Without any plan, we turn north, I think, and follow a ridge where it leads. More amazing views, more hidden stone dwellings. It’s quite windy, the paths are sometimes narrow and uneven, and the sharp drops likely fatal, so be careful exploring.
Dinner is at a cave restaurant called Topdeck, and despite sounding like the name of a family restaurant near a baseball stadium, the food blows my mind. Hands up or down, the best meal we have in Turkey. Most of the food is very good in Turkey, but Topdeck’s fare packs in a whirling dervish of flavor.
Göreme/Cappadocia: Day 5
The morning brings a one-two punch of disappointment. We get up at something like 4am for the famed Cappadocia hot air balloon ride. We are herded into a waiting room with a bunch of other people to chew on a light breakfast and wait. And wait. Two delays later, the flight’s cancelled due to bad weather. We ask about flights at other times of day, but an organizer explains they only go in early morning because it’s too windy the rest of the day. (Even sadder, the day after we left, the weather was perfect.)
For day 2 in Cappadocia, we've booked what is called by everyone the Green Tour. The tours here are color coded the same way by seemingly every tour agency. The green variety takes us south/southeast of Nevşehir.
In a van with maybe 10 other people, we head first to a stone cutting workshop. We are shown an abbreviated cut-to-polish process. In the end, they give the polished egg to the only kid in the group. I’m only a tiny bit jealous.
From the workshop we are taken to a jewelry store. This is one of two “sales pitch” stops on the tour. These are fairly common the world over, and since the short presentations are informative and they don’t really push us to buy anything, I’m good with it. Shocked to learn that a polished piece of Turkish turquoise the size of my thumbnail runs about $600.
Third stop, Kaymakli Underground City. Our guide is knowledgeable and friendly, and I get more information in a day than I Googled all trip.
-The underground cities were primarily used to hide/defend against invaders.
-35,000 people could fit in one city.
-Only about 10% of the city is open to the public, and there are many, many cities yet to be discovered.
Originally, we planned to spend our last full day in Turkey back in Istanbul, but they recommend we add a day trip to Pamukkale. Why not? We'll book tickets via smart phone as soon as we’re back in the hostel.
The second sales-pitch stop is at a food/cosmetics market, where a woman explains the health benefits of various rosehip and spice infused products. Put heaping bowls of samples in front of me, I’ll listen to any pitch you want.
The day wraps up with a trip to a different sort of holy site, one for die hard Star Wars fans. We learn from our guide that George Lucas (or his film scouts) came to Cappadocia to film the scenes of Tatooine, with the cave houses as backdrop. But before he could really get started, political upheaval sent him packing, and he had to film in Tunisia. Some people say these are unfounded rumors, but it makes a good story, and who knows?
Göreme/Cappadocia: Day 6
On our last day in Cappadocia, we are looking to shake off the heartbreak missing out on the hot air balloon. ATVs to the rescue! While we wait, the owner of the ATV shop tells us the nightlife used to be much better, then the hot air balloons came in, and nobody wants to stay up late drinking because they have to get up early for the balloons.
I can't remember the last time I drove an ATV. Just like riding bike. With four wheels and and engine. I’d say, “the views are great”, but at this point, you can just assume that’s the case wherever we are in Turkey.
We get into Istanbul late, hop on a cheap Havabus into Taksim, where our final hostel is located. This is the moment we meet the one and only jackass in Turkey: a taxi driver. After we show him the hotel location on the phone, he grunts his understanding.
We notice that he’s not going in the right direction (thanks to offline Google maps), but he argues with us, insisting he’s going to Puffin Hostel. He’s not. He kicks us out of the cab ... somewhere. It only costs us about $4USD, but the greater cost is the waste of time, as we now don’t have time to see Taksim’s nightlife since we’ve got to get up at 3am to catch our Pamukkale flight.
However, almost immediately the powerful forces of Turkish hospitality balance the universe. A cafe barista lets us use the wi-fi (to update our map) and even offers us free coffee to make up for the taxi driver.
Three hours of sleep, sure, no problem. By now, all-powerful Turkish coffee has replaced the blood in our veins.
Pamukkale: Day 7
The white limestone sweeps upward, capped with terraced pools. We are asked to take our shoes off before stepping on the limestone, as it’s soft and easily damaged. The wet stone isn’t rough, exactly, but it’s not completely smooth. Watch out for the reddish spots, they’re slippery.
The lower pools are cold, and so have fewer people in them. Research tells me the pools are artificial. Before it was designated a UNESCO World Heritage site, motorbikes and whatnot ran up and down here, chewed up the pools.
Ancient titans could’ve used the city's amphitheater to eat their morning corn flakes.
We hike into the hills, where the crowds thin to nothing. Cut stones cover hillsides like wildflowers. We explore. The sun gains energy as ours depletes. We head down.
In the town at the base of Pamukkale, we have a late lunch, drink more Turkish coffee, and wait for our ride to the airport, which we reserved from a travel agency upon arrival.
While waiting at said travel agency, a couple bros in a private car show up, ask if we’re headed to the airport. They seem to know we've reserved, so we go. They race down the highway and chatter away to each other. Maybe suspicious?
When they start winding through back alleys, we ask what's up. They assure us they’ll transfer us to an airport shuttle. I’m mostly confident that’s not a euphemism for a roadside execution. But in truth, history so far tells me we’re safe, and we are.
Back in Istanbul, we grab a night beer in Taksim. The pub is on a busy street but is not busy itself, so we get the attention of just about every waiter in the place.
Time for sleep, then time to fly back to Tokyo.
Nearly everyone was hospitable, friendly, and helpful, and the longer we stayed, the more comfortable we felt, since we came to expect positive interactions. That being said, there are situations that seem dangerous, for example run down areas which carry a sense of foreboding. But we never felt like we were in physical danger (from people).
Like any foreign country, be aware of your surroundings (hard to do in massively crowded markets), and keep wallets deep in bags with a little money in an easy to reach pocket. Many people have a “no problem, everything’s fine” attitude, but don’t let that override your need to confirm prices, destinations, or other details before committing to anything.
Other than Turkish Lira, the Euro seemed to be accepted at many established tourist spots, like hostels and tour companies. Credit cards were sometimes not accepted. It was difficult to change Japanese yen in the small towns. Not a concern for most people I imagine, but I thought it interesting considering the warm relationship between Japan and Turkey.
Wi-fi was available in many cafes/restaurants.
Who’s your favorite robot of all time?
There's plucky R2-D2 from Star Wars, always ready with an insult for his befuddled companion C-3PO. Or the Terminator, a killing machine humanized by Arnold Schwarzenegger’s muscled thumb. How about Data from Star Trek, the machine who wants to be more human through the power of disgusting drinks?
Dalek, the Iron Giant, Bender, the Cylons, HK-47, Dot Matrix, Optimus Prime, Mega Man ... the list of greats is so long we need one of their positronic brains to help us organize it.
In this installment of Future of the Past, I'll look under the skin of one of the earliest androids—even before the term android became popularized in the late 1800s. “Android” comes from the combination of the Greek prefix ander- meaning “man,” (as in male person) and -droid, meaning “have the form or likeness of.” Looks like a man. Sorry ladies.
The word "robot" came along later in the 1920s, derived from the Czech word robotnik, meaning "forced worker." Not to be confused with Sonic the Hedgehog's arch nemesis, Dr. Robotnik. I wonder if the name made the man, considering his evil plan included turning animals into robots. His parents really railroaded him there. But I digress.
While many ancient myths speak of creatures brought to life through magical or divine intervention, mechanical, human-like constructions were less common.
So where does this idea of artificial humanoids come from? Many of us might sling our index fingers toward early science fiction pioneers like Isaac Asimov, who devised the three laws of robotics. Which were something about robots having to be sexy, homicidal, or hilarious. That's three, yeah?
Well ... those might not be entirely accurate. You can find the real ones here.
No one disputes Asimov's influence when it comes to peopleish robots, but, as the theme of this series suggests, we're going to jump back much further in search of android origin stories.
Nearly 3000 Years Ago ...
The time is ancient, and the place is Crete, an island in the Mediterranean and—more importantly—a stash pad for (one of) Zeus’ consorts, Europa.
She landed this all-expenses-paid abduction when Zeus transformed into a bull, waited for her to mount, then swam to the island. I know, Greek myths are all sorts of messed up.
To stop any would-be invaders from getting up in his *ahem* bidness, Zeus needs a guardian for Crete. Of course he turns to Hephaestus, the Greek god of blacksmithing, maker of automatons, employer of golden umpa lumpas, and ugliest of the pantheon—the last one's not a relevant point, I suppose.
So which callous, egocentric jackass fells our brave defender? None other than Jason, of Jason and the Argonauts fame. This hero, heroing away without regard to who he steps on to make a name for himself, comes upon Crete. Jason's lover Medea—who's also a witch—tricks (or drugs, depending on the version) Talos into allowing her to remove the bolt holding in his ichor (read, motor oil). His life force drains away “like molten lead,” and boom! I assume it made a loud “booming” sound when he keeled over.
On a side note, the bolt was located in Talos’ heel, a weakness similar to Achilles, thus confirming the ancient Greeks’ foot fetish.
So one of our first androids, a predecessor to all the snarky, funny, empathetic, badass creations to follow, was little more than a glorified security guard. I believe, deep down, he had ambitions, dreams, goals. To open his own ice cream shop, maybe. I know this was before ice cream, or refrigeration, but who knows what amazing things Talos could’ve come up with, given better employment opportunities?
They story kicks off when Zula’s desperate/idiot boyfriend bungles the sale of stolen credit card numbers. For her poor choice in men, Zula is rewarded with a kidnapping, and we are yanked into an around-the-world adventure involving every type of villain ever punched by Liam Neeson (and a few he hasn’t—get on that!).
See, all the makings of a page-turning thriller. And it is, but it's also more, and your enjoyment of the novel will depend on how much you like that "more" part.
Reamde brims with details vast, deep, and edifying. Want a glimpse into the Russian mafia's white collar crime operations? Check. Curious about how virtual terrain and game economies are created and managed? Got that too! Hungering for a comprehensive description of the topography along a section of the US-Canadian border? No? Well, it’s got it anyway.
The first several chapters introduce us to Stephenson's info-heavy style. This block of characterization had me checking the description several times to make sure I was reading a thriller. We get grandpa watching TV, people chatting on a gun range, backstory on a woman killed by lightning.
I understand the why: it developed a clear sense of Richard’s strained relationship with his family, and so made him more real and the ending more meaningful. Cool. But Stephenson could've achieved the same thing with less—an issue that rears its head throughout the book.
Still, power on, it's worth it.
These sidetracks mostly feel quick because of the interesting views along the way. But there are moments where Stephenson’s descriptions of, for example, the hills, rocks, trees, and their exact configuration drain the action of some momentum. Then the next scene roars into your face, drowning out the impatience and forcing you to hold on, white-knuckled.
Multiple story threads take us through China, the Philippines, Seattle and other exotic locals, with an eclectic groups of tour guides: a Hungarian hacker, Russian mobsters, and networked Islamic terrorists. The kind of guides that'll show you a good time right before beating you to death in a dirty alley with a technical manual.
The rich cast of characters had my attention, especially Zula. She’s a fighter but not indestructible, with a textured backstory based on her home country of Eritrea. I connected with her even more than, say, Jazz, from Andy Weir’s Artemis. I also developed a fascination with several of the baddies. Or a fear of. A fine line between the two.
To sum up, despite an info-heavy story and one big infusion of plot thickening coincidence, the brilliant parts equal more than the sum of the whole.
Oh, by the way, it about 1000 pages.
While at an aroma therapy session in an abandoned radar installation, I accidentally tapped into a pirated neural feed—possibly due to the transceiver parts I inhaled.
The static is as ragged and thick as a New Year’s hangover, but I’ll assemble what I get into something approximating coherent thought.
Lucky for us, the first transmission I picked up fits right into February's Valentine theme.
...Despite all your artificial assistants, we predict a sixty-six over six times six percent chance you’ve forgotten to spend your money in the right direction for this special day.
Fear not, I’m Vento Yaster with Nester's Neural Network coming direct to your brain to save you with some last-minute deals from our sponsors. Remember: the three Ns mean you win!
Is the ol’ ball and no brains always harping on you for not following them around wherever they go? No? Well, surprise them anyway by jumping out from behind their favorite kiosk—or from the adjoining bathroom stall—just to say “I love you so much I can’t ever not know your exact physical location at all times” with Tera Tech’s ForEverywhere location tracker!
The beautiful part about this never-apart device: there’re two delivery systems. The software version installs directly into their cerebral implant, integrating into the firmware so it’s nearly impossible to remove—and to detect!—without a complete reformat. The other, more intimate option is a micro-tracker injected into the C1 vertebrae, just below the base of their skull. Only way to be rid of you is to chop off their own head! Physical installation extra. If that ain’t love, then love is a waste of IOUs.
Speaking of debts...
We’ve all been in need of a quick infusion of funds from time to time. And we’ve all done things we’re not proud of to get it—I know I have! I’m still waiting for my children to stop saying they have no father. You weren't grown in a lab, kids! So what if I auctioned off your childhood memories. Get over it! (static) right, yes, I know, shut up.
The point: you needed money. So you used a carton of fermented algae and vending machine sleeping pills to knock out your significant other long enough to remove an organ for resale. Don’t say you haven’t, we’ve read your credit report!
Best of all, when they attempt to use the Xomo organ, the soothing voice of Sheevo Gnoe explains they’ll get a working replacement as soon as your software seance business turns a profit.
Buy now while their body is still warm ... and asleep!
Slide me a tall glass of liquid nitrogen because these deals are overheating.
Subscribe to Satisfaction
With all the hours spent up in virtual space, who has the time—or the orifices—to fulfill your partner’s every whim? I do, for one. Call me, aha! (static) But the next best option is Fun Gunzer’s Leisure Playhouse. A candied buffet of the least-defective recalled pleasure androids still on the market. Ignore the warnings, focus on the low, taut-bottom prices!
An Improved Outlook
Let’s move on to the most important aspect of your partner: their looks!
Imagine this: it's a beautiful evening beneath the flood lights, you're staring long and deep into their eyes and think: this is my soulmate, the only one for me ... at least until the contract expires! Aha!
But really, time stops, it’s just the two or more of you, and everything is perfect ... except for their face. You’re not sure what the problem is, but it drives you up the wall and out the window.
Want the answer? Of course you do. That's why you tune in. And to be told all your fears are justified. They are!
So, what's the problem with your partner's face? It’s not yours! No one’s face is better than your own! So give the gift that looks back at them every day, from every reflective surface, until the end of days. Pick up a Dr. Gentlemen's clone surgery gift card while supplies last.
Make Lasting Memories
Planning the perfect date or a romantic couple’s getaway takes a lot of effort. You have to listen to your partner’s whining about the rights of vat meat stem cells. You have to convince your boss to give you the time off, and make sure a bot doesn't replace you in your absence. And to top it off, you’ve actually got to go! Or, do you?
Why not let Flashback Factory’s dedicated team of engineers craft the memories for you? Really, what’s the difference? If you think you’ve been to the resort hotels of Sukaya, there’s nobody except everybody else to tell you otherwise!
Don’t stop there. Get remembered as the greatest lover ever, (static) reliable, likable, or just plain tolerable. Use your imagination—or let Flashback Factory do that for you, too.
With these gifts, your loved one is sure to love you back! And if they don’t, they probably aren’t worth the trouble anyway. On to the headlines ...
Disclaimer: The views reconstructed here don’t necessarily reflect that of the blog author, his affiliates, or his imaginary friend Pete.
Aliens invade, unfathomable technology, mass casualties, enslavement. Human hybridization follows to help the aliens acclimate to our world. We cast fearless explorers into space to seek humanity’s salvation … and so goes a sliver of the “science fiction” genre.
Who gave us the blueprints for this infinity box we now store so much in?
The Founders, the Mothers and Fathers of Science Fiction, these titles evoke names like Jules Verne, Mary Shelley, and H.G. Wells, who worked between the early 1800s to the mid-1900s. Does this mean sci-fi was born a hundred years ago? Two hundred?
Not even close.
Put on your extra-capacity time machine pants, because we’re going back almost two thousand years.
A True Story targets classical Greek myths, exaggerating tales of heroes to a point where they stretch so far beyond their original shapes as to become something else entirely: science fiction.
The title itself plays with us, as the story is the opposite of true, though Lucian is honest about his lies:
“I see no reason for resigning my right to that inventive freedom which others enjoy; and, as I have no truth to put on record, having lived a very humdrum life, I fall back on falsehood--but falsehood of a more consistent variety; for I now make the only true statement you are to expect--that I am a liar.”
His lies have gotten more mileage than most people's truths.
Alien Races and Celestial Warfare
A war rages around them, fought between the Moon people and the Sun people over colonization and territorial disputes of the North Star. Territorial disputes, the forever problem.
Genetic Hybrids and Future Materials
A Heavy Injection of Fantasy
The war ends, but Lucian’s journey continues. Upon returning to Earth, a whale swallows his crew. Having bumbled into someone else’s house, they battle fish people with Aquaman-esque assistance from dolphins, emerging victorious. Even poking fun at myths, Lucian can’t help make himself a victor.
They island hop across an ocean of milk, running into several “liars” of classical fiction like Homer (author of the Odyssey, not the donut-muncher). Lucian chops the story off here, promising more adventures in future installments. But, as far as we know, none ever came. A liar to the last, Lucian was; though he said he would be, so does that mean he was telling the truth all along?
A True Story overruns with puns and innuendo lost on modern audiences. Further obscuring the humor, Lucian throws most of his satirical jabs at works that no longer exist. He must have been a riot in his day.
Lucian dreamed up enough ingredients for even the most epic space operas, still fresh after two thousand years. Yum.
In our mission to get a story on to paper, we are often starting from less than zero, because zero assumes your only obstacle is the blank page, with you possessing no qualms, an unwavering confidence in your writing acumen, and knowing exactly who your characters are and where they’re going.
If that’s you, teach me your secrets. Otherwise, we have to cross a chasm of self-doubt. I have spent many infuriating hours staring at the computer screen, willing greatness to emerge. Unfortunately, my computer is not haunted by the ghost of Philip K Dick or Robert Heinlein.
Here are a few ways to get you to the other side.
1) Get a running start.
Beginning in media res (in the midst of the action) is an excellent way to stab the reader right away ... or is it grab the reader? No, stab sounds right. Anyway, this works for finished products but can trip us up on first drafts. We end up fretting and dithering because everything is important from word one.
Instead, back up a little. Or a lot. Write about a character’s morning routine. Their trip to the grocery store. Deliberately choose the most boring thing they were doing before the action starts; you now have the freedom to hack it off later without remorse. There’s also a chance of producing unexpected insights into a character’s personality: steamed milk latte or convenience store sludge? Daily life can be illuminating.
2) Don't fear the dirt. It is where trees grow.
We all inevitably produce garbage along the way to eloquence. That’s the way the brain works—until we can replace our wetware with something better. Your goal should not be to avoid garbage, but to use it as compost. Accept it, wallow in it. Even go one step further: tell yourself, “Today, I will write the most cringe-worthy version of this scene I possibly can. I will aim for awful, create catastrophe!” Then you can’t be mad at yourself, because you did it on purpose. It was all part of the plan. So go ahead, write it bad—but write it.
3) Layer it on thick.
This method involves writing in passes. For example, write out all the dialogue, nothing else. Next, internal reflection. Then setting description. Do this until the section is complete. The order you do it in isn’t important, the goal is to make the whole less intimidating by dividing and conquering (and you are very much a conqueror, having overcome the desire to return to your snicker doodles and binge watching). An added benefit is that layering will help you better judge if the ratio of content is working.
4) Do flybys.
When I’m staring at a giant to-do list of chapters I have to write, bleary-eyed, overwhelmed, and not sure where to start, I hop through several chapters in a short amount of time. I’ll write somewhere between a paragraph and a page starting anywhere in the scene, then move on to the next. I find this to be a real present to my future self, who will be tackling a half-done chapter instead of a none-done one.
5) Use people.
But in a good way. It’s much easier to make excuses to yourself than to others. Call on a friend—or anyone willing, really—and make them a promise. Promise them you’ll be finished with a chapter by the end of the week. Even better if they also promise you something; doesn’t have to be about writing. Maybe they need to complete a human diorama for … whatever project requires one of those. Up the anti by devising a punishment. For example, you have to take them out for dinner. You don’t want to disappoint Edwin the building handyman who dabbles in human dioramas, do you? No. So finish that chapter!
6) Watch movie trailers.
When my energy is at stagnant-pond levels, I go on to YouTube and find movie trailers that match my genre. These micro-bites of condensed action and storytelling pump me up and can kick-start my own mojo. Just be careful not to get lost in the infinity chain of YouTube links. Set a time limit of 10 minutes or so.
A note on editing:
Be wary of that infection known as “perfection.” Avoid the urge to tinker until after you've finished. Instead, use top-down editing: story --> chapter --> scene --> line. It'll save you cargo loads of time. When you edit chapter by chapter, you are potentially spending hours fixing something which you'll have to tear out anyway. The first version never survives, no matter how much energy you pour into it. So don’t waste your finger sweat.
I hope these words get your own flowing. They’ve helped me. An encore of inspiration can be found here, to remind you that even the Great Writers had to struggle, just as you do:
Now, get to it.
I went through several openings for this post, and couldn’t settle on any of them…
Fear of failure is one mean bastard. It’s not a weight you can simply chuck into the abyss and be done with. It’s got the tenacity of those creepy dolls from horror movies that keep coming back no matter how many times you burn them on a pile of angel hair.
Brilliant ideas never rust if you don’t get them wet.
Planning is awesome right up until it’s burying your corpse in the backyard under so many good intentions.
…And I noticed I was stalling by trying to come up with a poetic way to describe stalling. No more. I’m strapped into a giant slingshot; time to stop cranking it back and just—
Rewind to 2005. I was taking a screenplay writing course at the Academy of Art University, ...
... a side quest to my ultimate goal of becoming a master visual effects and 3D animation artist. Our assignment: write a 10 page screenplay treatment.
The PI is stumped. Weird events ensue. I vaguely recall a creepy little girl (because of course) in a stairwell and a portal to another dimension.
(I remember neither the author’s name nor the magazine it appeared in, but if this sparks a memory, please let me know in the comments.)
Enigmatic and disquieting, the story provided more than enough fodder to hash out those 10 pages. I received good feedback from the teacher, put more flesh on its bones and ... nothing. Life went on. For six months. That’s a long time when you’re 22.
But the story wouldn’t leave me alone. It watched me from the computer lab shadows. Followed me down Post Street and past Divas to my 2am gym sessions. Its presence was amplified by my growing awareness of all things Japanese, sparked by friends and the culture stew that is San Francisco.
I began with great passion ... and unrealistic expectations. As I clicked my way through thousands and thousands of frames, adjusting control arms, deformation, and timing, I came to realize, painfully, that my love of the end product did not extend to the process.
Animation, like all jobs, has its moments of slog. The surrounding bureaucracy also takes more than a few pounds of flesh. Movie/game release dates are nearly impossible to change, so deadlines must be met, whatever the cost to artists’ evening plans. Clients, even well-meaning ones, are sometimes not versed in how the technology works or what it’s capable of, so their requests can be vague to the point of abstraction. Budgets and plans change, casting aside hours of completed product. And on and on into the void.
But when it all works out, and a vision comes to life, the results are oh so beautiful. Worth all the sweat and tears and caffeine-induced shakes. Some of my former classmates have gone on to help bring major productions to life. While I envy them for that, I don’t regret going in a different direction.
Back to that different direction.
I started writing the sequel to Happy Home in South Korea, titled Fluffy Bunny Kill Force, and finished it shortly after relocating to Tokyo. This book sees my heroines tackle the underbelly of the Japanese music industry and their pop idol assembly lines.
It took me 4 years to write the 2 books. As of now, maybe 50 people have read them. Not entirely the books’ fault. My “marketing strategy” consisted of my parents telling their friends, and me working it into conversations with cute girls: “Hey, I’m writer ... No, sorry, they’re not translated into Korean.”
The Quoddy Tides, a local newspaper in Maine, did review The Happy Home Death Machine, comparing it (very lightly) to The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. I still do a little dance over that coup. You can read it here. Pro tip: savor every victory, no matter how small it is, or how big you get.
But it was too late. By the time I’d had this epiphany, I’d already moved my mind to a new city, one of my own creation: the city-sphere of Naion.
In a way, it is Tokyo. It is Hong Kong, it is Istanbul and Brussels. Strained through a cybernetic fever dream. My playground, a character in its own right. A place which has seeded an entire series.
Come on in. Don’t mind the smell of burning ozone and street food, you’ll learn to love it. For your safety and enjoyment, keep your eyes open.