planetfall book 2 – progress report #1

In the last blog post I wrote about some of the cultural references squirrelled away in planetfall book 1. Pink Floyd and Alice in Wonderland are the major touch points. I made the point that both recognisable and non-recognisable cultural references add quick depth and context, allowing the author to concentrate on other aspects of description and plot and so on.

In this post I’m going to give an update on planetfall book 2. Most people reading this blog contemporaneously won’t have read book 1 yet (it will be self published over summer 2011 on Kindle and other platforms), so it may seem strange to discuss the sequel already. However I need to talk about it! And who knows, perhaps it will give a sense of the wider universe I have planned out.

Where planetfall book 1 deals with the events that lead to the collision of great cultures, book 2 deals with the aftermath. It is set around 20 years later, although I don’t have a specific time span; sometimes I think it’s 13 years. But roughly 20 years will do.

Events have moved on, and war has broken out. The story follows a Marine and his experiences of life on the front line. In the original drafts of this part of the story the Marine was non-gender specific. I wanted to create an illusion that the Marine could be male or female, so that anyone could identify with him. However over the years,  and especially since I returned to the story in early 2011, I made a decision to give him a gender.

What he still doesn’t have is a name, and this is deliberate. The story is told from a first person perspective (for those with limited experience of grammar, that means it’s from a “I did this” perspective, rather than the second person of “You did this” or third person “She did this”), which has fallen somewhat out of fashion in literary circles of late. However, I am keeping it like that as I want to cash in on two things. First, the typical use of the first person is to help create a sense of immersion in the story for the reader. One of the reasons authors use “I” is to encourage the reader to feel like it’s them in the story, or to make it easier for the reader to identify with the protagonist (the main character). And secondly, I want to bring some  of the sense of the first-person shooter computer games to a book. There are few books inspired by computer games, even fewer inspired by first-person shooters. And while this book isn’t inspired by any particular first-person shooter, it is a popular convention and something that a lot of people recognise. So why not?

To whet your appetite, here’s a sneak preview of the opening page of planetfall book 2. It hasn’t been through a vocal edit yet (during which I read the work aloud to pick up on rhythm, clashing sounds, and so on), nor through an edit based on continuity of tone with later material, or had anyone else read it. Excuses aside, here it is:

Dust falls. I exhale. Sections of roof crash to the floor, red-orange with heat. The dust is thrown up with irradiated ash.

The building’s remains give me shelter, of sorts. The walls gape at the wasteland outside. Lightning crackles from the air. From a cloud. From the ashes and dust. It’s all the same. The land is carbonised. The air is ash. The clouds are dust. The nuclear blast has laid waste to all.

The secom suit is struggling. It talks to me, through my body, through its intimate embrace. It images tactical data on my retina. The suit has formed a hard protein shell against the radiation. I look wicked, like death incarnate.

Bodies surround me. My colleagues. Dead. Their bodies lay carbonised like the land outside, limbs cauterised where suits remain intact around them or where the geometry of the blast wave failed to find them.

I live.

I walk to an external wall. Twisted rods poke out of the fractured biocrete. I look through the lightning glaze. Silhouettes of ruins jump and are static in the strobing.

I remember: I am a killing machine. That this was necessary. That destruction and death is needed for survival. I remember there are sometimes necessary losses.

Death finds its accommodation in war. In this war it is at home.

I ask my secom for a radiation count. The suit is working. The internal radmeter is still green. I was lucky.

For the new few hours I settle into a routine: survey the area in small sweeps; take holos of the blast zone, the target; attempt to revive the suits of my dead colleagues, the other Marines. Secom is more valuable than the person. I check radiation levels. I check for enemy signs. I check for a rescue signal. Some of the secom recovers so I absorb it into my own suit.

Lightning stalks the land, angry. Winds stir the ash, settle the ash, blast it into gales. The planet is trying to fix the trauma.

Eventually my suit picks up a signal. I signal in return. After twenty minutes a dropship arrives. Marines jog out, their suits encasing them in organic horror.

I am in the dropship, sinking into a jumpseat. Safe again. The suit grows into the seat, bonds with the ship. My body floods with a sleep drug. I see my mother’s smile. I pass into a dreamless sleep.

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