Wednesday, 29 October 2014

Yet more novel ideas

November is nearly upon us, that month when the world’s population of fictional characters is incremented by at least a million as aspiring writers across the globe sharpen their pencils and set to work on dragging the novel inside them kicking and screaming onto the empty page.  If you don’t take part each year in National Novel Writing Month – or NaNoWriMo, as we veterans like to call it – then you don’t know what you’re missing.  What else, after all, is there to do in this muddy, overcast month; this dour, humourless security officer of a month who beckons you in from the warm oranges of October only to keep you waiting in cold, windy dampness for what seems like an eternity before finally unhooking the rope which admits entrance to the delights of December?  In the UK, we try to liven up this bleak collection of days with bonfire night, supposedly once a celebration of a terrorist’s failure to blow up the Houses of Parliament, but possibly actually just an excuse to remember what being warm felt like.  In the US, the artificial bubble of enforced gratitude generated for Thanksgiving collapses so spectacularly on the day after that news coverage of the blood lust of Black Friday has now become important entertainment viewing the rest of the world over.  Anything to make the month pass more quickly.

But November novel-writers are oblivious to all of this.  Enshrined in their little cocoons of their very own make-believe, the only possible relevance of happenings in the real world to them are if these can offer any potential plot devices.  Time passes all too quickly when you’re trying to knock out 50,000 words in a mere thirty days, though this is not to suggest that there won’t be moments when you wish no-one had ever invented the concept of the novel or writing or language even itself, and that an impromptu world war would at least have the silver lining that it might spare you from having to think about any of these things ever again.

For the past couple of years in AVENUE magazine I’ve entertained myself (and, possibly, one or two readers) in November with a collection of potential storylines for Second Life inspired novels, that emerging genre of fiction across the surface of which I’ve vainly scratched away for the past eight years.  For my own amusement as much as anyone else’s, therefore, I humbly present yet another.

Lindependence Day.  The continent of Nautilus decides it wants independence from the rest of Second Life and manages to convince Linden to hold a referendum of its citzens.  The campaign is ferocious.  All attempts by the board of governors to persuade Nautileans to vote ‘no’ only seem to increase the percentage saying to the pollsters they’ll vote ‘yes’ – even Ebbe Altberg’s surprisingly emotional plea not to vote yes just because it represents a possibility to “kick the effing Lindens” has Yes campaign leader Nigelex Salmage claiming that the No campaign is falling apart.  In the end, even Philip Rosedale is wheeled out to make the case for ‘Better Together’.  Salmage is unperturbed; speaking with absolutely no authority whatsoever, he claims that an independent Nautilus would keep the Linden as its currency and that residents will still be able to access Torley Linden videos.  In the end, the reality of independence is brought home to the majority when several high-profile mesh creators start talking about relocating their skin factories to Zindra.

Project Really Interesting.  Comedy. A bunch of high-school nerds create the perfect female avatar and she comes to life in the real world thanks to a keyboard spillage during a thunder storm of something cutting edge (let’s say a memristor-graphene suspension) that one of the gang swiped during a school trip to the local science genius’s laboratories.  It turns out that the very same genius has been secretly plotting to take over the world and our heroes manage to put a stop to his plans through a sequence of contrived events that mostly require one or all of them to be naked accidentally.  A zany caper from start to finish; if this were a movie you could expect it to be advertised on buses during a holiday season.

The Amazing Second Life into Darkness.  In a not-too-distant future, the successor to SL is launched by Linden.  Marketed as a reboot rather than a sequel, ‘Amazing Second Life’ features planets rather than continents and sims, with travel between worlds a lengthy, complicated and expensive affair.  Whilst your initial rez point is officially described as random, it soon becomes clear that Linden are employing a formula which the company eventually fesses up to being derived from your Google search habits, your Amazon spending pattern and the number of times you’ve shared pictures of Grumpy Cat on Facebook.  Group identity being what it is, however, the revelation comes too late to prevent entrenched identities from forming and, within barely a year of the new metaverse’s release, two nearby planets go to war over a mesh body IP issue.  It is the first in a decade-long series of conflicts which historians later refer to as The First Virtual War.  Property is destroyed by missiles which initiate a virus chain reaction when detonated.  The real life media don’t know quite what to make of this, and the novel follows a young intern reporter as she travels around Earth to meet individually in real life the refugees from a virtual planet that’s been almost totally ravaged by the Primfluenza Virus.  Her journey takes her from a French Chateaux to a New York apartment to a bedsit in a Hillingdon council estate.  “It was terrible,” one refugee – a member of the German aristocracy – tells her.  “We were running around in panic because one moment everything was normal and the next it’s all vapourising before our eyes.  All gone, just like that.  All gone.  Everything.”  She then orders her butler to bring more tea and weeps silently for several seconds, telling our bemused protagonist, “You don’t know what it’s like.  You don’t know what it’s like.”

The Time Traveller’s Virtual Partner.  Within hours of meeting and falling in love in the metaverse, Wigander Sansom and Dostree Chan are astonished to find out that they’re communicating from different time periods.  Twenty-two-year-old Wigander is a full quarter-century ahead of the thirty-year-old Dostree’s 2018.  In 2043, it turns out, people have become nostalgic for the good old days of SL and the Ruth look is very fashionable amongst teenagers.  One of many self-proclaimed ‘retronauts’, Wigander was spending his time exploring the thousands of abandoned regions (preserved for posterity by Google as a tax-deductible expense) when he came across ‘Moonstand’, a sim of space-themed fairground rides which – unbeknownst to him – runs on a server which utilises experimental memory chips made from a memristor-graphene composite.  At first, the love-struck pair declare this barrier to the possibility of physical union as a meaningless triviality and rejoice in the universe finding a way to bring them together; a few days later, however, Dostree asks casually if Wigander can research 2018’s winning lottery numbers for her.  A month passes and Dostree becomes a millionaire many times over, but each meeting she has with Wigander sees his recollection of their previous encounters more and more degraded.  Throwing caution to the wind, she buys one last winning ticket, but when she logs in to celebrate with her love, Wigander is no-where to be found.  The reader is then told he was the son of the original winner of that final ticket, an unemployed writer who kept secret his fortune from his family by claiming all his money was from the sale of his Kindle novels.  Without that lottery win, he doesn’t feel able to ask for the hand in marriage of his girlfriend and Wigander is never born.  Dostree, of course, knows none of this; just when you think it can’t get any more heart-breaking, the reader is told how she looks sadly through her apartment window at the statue of ‘The Railwayman’, a newly erected tribute to her town’s local history and the very same statue which – not a hundred pages earlier – Wigander also was noted to look at through his window.  Yes, Wigander was Dostree’s son.

Red Prim Rising.  The Russians launch their own metaverse, Вторая жизнь созданных шахт (Second Life of Crafted Mines).  Derided by western governments, it becomes an overnight internet sensation and populated by millions of disaffected Americans and Europeans.  Everyone becomes friends and world peace breaks out.  Well, I can dream.

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