I am now well into the second rewrite of the book. When I say rewrite, I really mean it. The whole thing is getting rewritten from scratch. The plot has really crystallized, and I’m really at home with each of the characters.
Part of making the story tighter has also meant consolidating the secondary characters. I’ve eliminated one big sub plot, a love story among two of the supporting characters that was very interesting, but frankly took away from the main arc of Joel and Sylvia. Eliminating this "distraction" from the overall plot, has allowed me to make room for more action.
The book is now broken up into three acts, each defined by ruminations on the future history of the Mona Lisa, and 1980’s pop songs.
Act I: Ciao Bella, song: Karma Chameleon by Culture Club
After the solar storm of April 15, 2301 botched the Mona Lisa’s teleportation from Rome to New York, da Vinci’s masterpiece was gone forever. A globally cherished artifact destroyed—along with hundreds of people unfortunate enough to be on, or in the path of motor-powered vehicles in the vicinity of Italy at the time.
A solar storm is what it sounds like: a generic term for increased activity in the Sun. In this case, a massive solar flare, followed by something called a colossal coronal mass ejection. That’s a fancy way of saying gargantuan electromagnetic solar shitstorm. A solar flare is initiated by the sudden release of energy stored in the Sun’s corona, causing the Sun’s plasma to heat up to tens of millions of degrees, accelerating and spewing out all sorts of radiation, resulting in a solar eruption. One way to think about it is to imagine an Earth-sized zit popping on the Sun’s forehead. Okay, that’s a pretty gross visual, but now it’s in your head, and out of mine.
In this particular solar storm, the energy from the corona eruption also caused an equally devastating coronal mass ejection which is a much slower-moving, billion-ton cloud of plasma. This cloud floated over Italy at a very unfortunate moment.
A more powerful electromagnetic pulse than mankind could ever hope to tame, the solar energetic particles hit the Earth with such force they ionized the sky, creating a vast cloud of energetic electrons that bounced around inside the atmosphere destroying electronics and fusing conductive wires everywhere.
Back then, when they teleported something, atomic sections of the object in transport were destroyed—cleared—concurrently along with their confirmed intact arrival at their destination. When the teleportation process was complete, the place of origin was officially deemed clear of the teleported object, and the item at the destination was henceforth considered to be the original.
By the time the people in charge realized there was a mistake in their teleportation protocol, nothing could be done to save the Mona Lisa. Rows of atoms perfectly replicating centuries old masterstrokes suddenly unravelled into nothing. The painting dissolved into a cloud of worthless gray quantum foam.
It wasn’t for a lack of redundancies, it’s just that black swans don’t play by the rules—and this one was a particularly petulant pen.
Prior to this travesty, most of the religious types were ambivalent to teleportation. It was a form of freight, not transportation. The very notion of organic teleportation was considered a fool’s errand, a technically impossible farce, owing to the fidget problem: living things fidget, so a good real-time atomic model that could accurately predict and transmit what they’d do next was still a scientific wet dream.
Nonetheless, some of the most orthodox religiosos could be found picketing in front of one location or another prior to the first public exhibition of teleportation. The devotees’ qualms with teleportation basically boiled down to two main arguments:
First, there was something to do with forbidden fruit. Bible thumpers had been generally grumpy about the practical commercial manipulation of quantum foam. Quantum foam is the stuff the universe is made of, so I guess their point was we shouldn’t have been messing with God’s Play-Doh.
The second divine umbrage, raised by an interfaith leader named Roberto Shila, was a more succinct channeling of the Tower of Babel story, which had oft been espoused to be an anti-technological omen. Shila’s zealous interpretation of the story was that the Babylonians had embraced their understanding of science and its workings under the premise of altruism, or at least an attempt to prevent another forty day and forty night flood, to the extent that they felt they would be able to spar with God on his turf. To Shila’s ilk, teleportation was basically a new flavor of the Babylonian stairway to heaven. In other words, teleportation was worse than us playing with God’s toys—it was us playing God.
Neither of those gripes were particularly novel at the time, nor unique to teleportation, as both were previously cited in admonition of genetic engineering, connected implants, and medical nanotechnology. So they were largely ignored by the general public other than a few journalists looking for “both sides of the story.”
But that all changed after the Mona Lisa disappeared.
Sure, accidents happen all the time. On that unfortunate day boats sank, drones crashed, trucks collided—all with invaluable souls and cargo on board. Any vessel in which the Mona Lisa might have otherwise been travelling would have also been devastatingly impacted by the same solar flare. But witnessing something so globally precious fade into nothing in real time sure had a lasting effect on people.
Act II: Isleworth, song: Bette Davis Eyes by Kim Carnes
The Mona Lisa, as I grew up to know it, was a painting which was once known as the Isleworth Mona Lisa, the authenticity and history of which was once fraught with contention.
Shortly before World War I, an English art collector discovered a Mona Lisa "lookalike" in the home of a Somerset nobleman in whose family’s possession it had been for nearly a century. This discovery led to the conjecture that Leonardo painted two portraits of Lisa del Giocondo, a.k.a. The Mona Lisa: The infamous one destroyed in the aforementioned da Vinci Exhibition, and the one discovered in Somerset and then brought to Isleworth, where it eventually came to be known as the "Isleworth Mona Lisa."
The story goes that da Vinci began painting Mona Lisa in 1503, but left her unfinished. Then, in 1517 a fully finished Mona Lisa painting surfaced in Leonardo’s private possession shortly before his death. The latter painting is believed to be the same that was destroyed in 2137. Based on this contradiction, supporters of the authenticity of the Isleworth Mona Lisa claim it is the first iteration of Mona Lisa, made at least partially by Leonardo 10 years before the “actual” Mona Lisa was painted.
Adding heft to this theory, in 1584, the same century in which the Mona Lisa was painted, an art historian named Gian Paolo Lomazzo wrote about "della Gioconda, e di Mona Lisa” (the Gioconda, and the Mona Lisa). Since "La Gioconda" was sometimes used as an alternative title for the Mona Lisa, the reference implied that these were, in fact, two separate paintings, with the Isleworth Mona Lisa being the younger version of her more famous sister.
What I’m getting at is that these days when people go to a museum to see the Mona Lisa, they’re really admiring the Isleworth Mona Lisa, despite the plaque beneath it which explains in detail that the two paintings weren’t the same, and especially since the memory of the elder portrait’s destruction is so etched in our collective memories.
Yet ask any ogler standing before her, and to them she’s still the Mona Lisa. Just as it was for me growing up.
So does that mean the painting formerly known as the Isleworth Mona Lisa is now actually the Mona Lisa?
Act III: La Giaconda, song: Bizarre Love Triangle by New Order
Many believe that much of the Mona Lisa’s charm is wrapped up in her mystery. Her enigmatic smile is emblematic of the notion that she and Leonardo da Vinci are hiding secrets from the viewer. Efforts at solving this mystery or puzzle have largely focused on the identity of the sitter, who is generally accepted as Madonna Lisa Gherardini, wife of a Florentine merchant, Francesco del Giocondo, hence Mona (short for Madonna) Lisa or La Gioconda (the feminine Giocondo).
But the beauty of the Mona Lisa isn’t who she is, the painting’s symmetry, or lack thereof. It’s not the color composition, or the brush strokes.
The beauty of the Mona Lisa, the reason it endures, in whatever medium, is the mystery that encapsulates the smile that greets us, it beckons us to ask one fundamental question: who are you?
Hello you lovely readers!
One of the few things I enjoy about flying is the ability to write without interruption. It was on just such a very delayed flight two days ago that I was able to pull together this update to let you know what’s going on:
Inkshares and I have finally agreed on a final scene list for The Punch Escrow. I can honestly tell you that getting to this point has been incredibly challenging, but very fulfilling. I was just telling my wife yesterday that I would be frustrated with the editing process, but every single time we do an iteration the story becomes exponentially more clear and exciting. This last round of edits was all about ensuring every beat in the story pops. This picture might give you an idea of the sort of granularity I had to get into when composing this latest iteration of the narrative:
Yep. Our protagonist hears the call of nature, but can’t find a bathroom in order to heed it. Even this seemingly innocuous scene is an important beat in the narrative, otherwise it would not be there. By the time this latest rewrite is done, nearly 80% of the 2nd draft, which itself was 50% different than the 1st, will be entirely rewritten. I would expect there to be less than 10,000 words of commonality between the first draft of the manuscript and this latest one. Crazy, right?
Incidentally, bathrooms in the 25th are architected to be extremely efficient, absolutely no running water. Waste is dehydrated and recycled, all that remains of what can’t be reclaimed is dust. High pressure air enriched with sanitizing nanos is used to cleanse your nether-regions and hands. Totally sanitary, good for the environment, and unwasteful. We actually have much of the capacity to do this today (okay, not the sanitizing nanos), but bureaucracy inhibits progress.
In other news, I have submitted to final draft of my short story Morcom is here. for the Too Many Controllers anthology, which will be coming out on the Nerdist imprint, possibly even before The Punch Escrow. It’s a 6,758 word story about a mysterious program developed by Alan Turing, designed for a computer that he knew would not exist for nearly a century after his death. Incidentally, it’s based on a true story! The narrative is told through various press clippings, blog entries, and even Slack chats. I’m very proud, and happy with it.
That’s it for now. Don’t forget to keep up with my twice monthly column on the intersection of science fiction and present reality, The Future Is Now, on Geek & Sundry.
Just a quick note to let you know that things with The Punch Escrow are progressing better than I ever imagined. This book is really coming into its own.
The third draft of the manuscript should be complete in the next 6 weeks. Which would keep us on an early 2017 publish schedule. I am looking for fresh beta readers, so if you’re at all curious about the adventures of Joel Byram from the 25th Century, please get in touch.
I’ve submitted the final draft of my short story Morcom is here. to the Too Many Controllers anthology organizers. I will have more information on its publication date sometime later in the month, I believe.
Also, if you’re a size XL or L men’s shirt size, send me a message. I’ve uncovered a few extra The Punch Escrow shirts. First come, first serve.
Lots of good stuff happening, but I’ll be brief (mostly because I’m writing this update during my lunch hour, and I’m starving). First, please be sure to check out my latest The Future Is Now column on Geek & Sundry. This time I examine just exactly how close we are to putting human feet on Mars. (close than you think!)
Now, I get about ten emails every week asking me, "Is the book done, yet?" - So, as is my charter, I will show you just exactly where I am in the rewrite:
As you can see, I’m very, very close to being done with the first rewrite. I’m staying up extra late and waking up extra early every day this week to get it done, and in my editor’s hands in order to meet the Inkshares manuscript delivery deadline of August 1. If I get that done I think there’s a good chance the book will land on the early side of 2017.
While we’re here, I’d like to also update you on the short story I’m writing for the Too Many Controllers anthology, which, if you haven’t already acquired, you really should. As promised, since the anthology reached its 300th reader target, I’m unveiling the name and synopsis of my contribution. My story is entitled: Morcom is here. Here is the synopsis:
A journalist researching the UK’s World War 2 Colossus computing program at Bletchley Park inadvertently unearths Alan Turing’s most complex, clandestine program. A tome of handwritten code designed for a computer that he knew would not exist for decades after his death. Many believe the program to be an artificial intelligence game Turing designed to defeat his own famous test. A one hundred million dollar XPRIZE challenge is announced, awarded to the first person or team who could successfully execute Turing’s opus. A team from the University of Michigan thinks they’ve got what it takes.
Lastly, I wanted to call your attention to my editor, Robert Kroese, and his new book The Big Sheep which is officially available for purchase today. I’m a huge fans of his writing, and this book is sure to entertain. It’s half Philip K Dick, half Douglas Adams. What’s not to love? You can get yourself a copy from Amazon, or, if you’re a collector, autographed copies are available from Schuler Books.
Happy Saturday to the loveliest readers in the world. There have been some amazing developments that I am finally able to share with you. It’s been hard holding it in, but now that it’s official I’m happy to announce that I will be writing a column called The Future is Now that will explore the intersection of science fiction and present technology. The first TFIN, in which I explore the current state of laser weaponry is now live!
You’ll be pleased to know that debate over my flagrant reference to lasers and phasers being "the same thing" has already incited a heated debate among the Trekkies of Geek & Sundry, and so, in traditional fashion, I have managed to outraged the very people I was trying to entertain.
Speaking of outrage(!) - The future vintage International Transport shirts have arrived. These beautiful organic cotton shirts commemorate and celebrate International Transport’s 2393 R&D Offsite during which The Punch Escrow was first successfully tested in the teleportation of a live human "volunteer".
This means that the logistics of shipping all of the good stuff many of you have earned or won will likely happen in the next week. I have gotten a lot of requests to buy the shirts, but unfortunately I’m just not set up to sell them. Likely Geek & Sundry will probably take over merchandising for The Punch Escrow as we get closer to the publication date. Maybe they will resurrect this design. As things firm up I will let you know where to go/who to ask to make these kind of requests.
Lastly, the amazing anthology of which I am a part, Too Many Controllers, continues to go from strength to strength in the Nerdist "video game" contest. We’ve already reached "Quill" publishing status, meaning that regardless of whether we win the contest or not, our anthology is getting published, but we’re in it to win it, my friends. I was hoping to share the synopsis of my story with you, but alas, we have a strict information release cadence. I’m told that perhaps my story’s synopsis will be unveiled once our reader count reaches 300. Please help us get there! Here is a "hint":
I’m about 40% done with the first rewrite of The Punch Escrow. Also, t-shirts and mugs have been ordered for all those who won them, shipping information should be available sometime next week because I’m a logistics dinosaur. There’s some amazing Geek & Sundry news coming up too...
But that’s not what this update is about. It’s about a new anthology to which I’m contributing a very cool science fiction story about Alan Turing’s legacy. It’s an 8,000 word tale concerning Turing’s final gift, in death, to the love of his life, Christopher Morcom. Alan created a game that could only be run on a "thousand Colossus computers" - knowing full well that kind of computing capacity would not be available until long after his death. It touches the topics of forlorn love, the singularity, and the nature of spirit.
The anthology featuring this new story is called Too Many Players, and it’s available for pre-order today. It features 15 stories from the creme-de-la-creme of Inkshares authors; many of them contest winners. It’s simply an amazing collection well worth at least ten of your duckets.
Yesterday I was informed that The Punch Escrow will be the official inaugural selection for the Geek & Sundry collection on Inkshares! At this point I am still shocked that all of this is happening: That my book is getting published through Inkshares, on the Geek & Sundry imprint. I love you guys, I’ll never be able to give enough thanks for your help in making this happen.
As for the book itself, I’m still in the midst of the first rewrite, currently in the midst of the eighth chapter, The Sky Cries Martyr. In case you want a window into what that looks like, here you go:
As you can imagine, it’s a long and grueling, but living process. For example, even this screenshot is not up to date, as last night I got rid of the "eye cam" reference because it was redundant and slowed down the flow.
Don’t let my pursuit of perfection worry you though, I think I’m well on pace to deliver the rewrite to Inkshares by my August 1 deadline. Once I do that I’ll be able to share a more concrete publication timeline. I’m really looking forward to working with Inkshares and Geek & Sundry on making this book the best it can be. You guys are awesome.