Friday, April 16, 2010

Revisions: Selonge Naita, the Martian Spy

Here's another example of Revision at Work.  The following are drafts of chapter openings for a longtime novel project, Jonathan's War.  These sections feature Selonge Naita, a Martian spy participating in a war against Earth.  The Martians have just discovered (in the previous chapter) that one of the soldiers from Earth simply cannot die.  In this second chapter, Selonge will be assigned to solve the mystery of the man who is immune to bullets and lasers and plasma cannons.

Note that it's hard to make a story "behave" the way it "ought to."  Hence the multiple rewrites for a single chapter opening - and not all of them even cover the same moment in time.

Initial Idea – Selonge as Investigator:


Because the different units were known only by number, Selonge thought up her own name for her section.  The Bureau of Strange she called it.  It should have been called the Future History Section, or perhaps the Department of Scientific Investigation.  But she liked the idea of having an entire Bureau all to herself.  The Americans, she knew, had a Bureau of Investigation, and its fame had somehow survived the existence of the organization itself.  She wondered, sometimes, if the machines would let her keep one of the actual Bureau agents.  She was curious, actually, about how the Americans had solved mysteries.  She wanted to know if they had assigned specific people to study questions of the same type, or if instead they had trained every one of their detectives to examine every mystery from all possible angles.  And how would they train?  Would they read Sherlock Holmes?  Would they imitate the imitate the rationcination of one C. Auguste Dupin?  Or were they instead dependent on technology?  She could imagine an agent of investigation arriving at the scene of something unusual with a little black bag, and from the black bag he would withdraw vials for samples and instruments for analysis.  Either way, though, she preferred the idea that, in the end, every solution became a matter of intellect, a matter of weighing the clues and examining the evidence and pronouncing a verdict that was as inevitable as it was unquestionable.

A1 – Selonge as Free-Thinking Socialite who knows about the Time Travelers:


She had once met one of their allies at a party.  It had not, in the strictest sense, been a party – it had been more of a gathering, really, with nothing of note to celebrate.  But the late Nera-Four had never been particular about the difference.  “I celebrate life,” she had always said.  “I celebrate virtue.”

A2 – Oblique Approach to Selonge as Free-Thinking Agent of Change:


Once upon a time, there was a machine by the name of November Four.  As an artist, she had dubbed herself Novi, and she had signed all her paintings with a flourish of inscrutable color.  She had been an N-unit, one of those ill-fated precursors to the O-units.  Unlike the Oscars, the Novembers had never been designed for stability.  Their physical forms had been frail, mechanically speaking – they’d been designed as experiments in autonomous robotics.  “In our production line,” Novi liked to say, “each one of us was different.  No one knew what would work, so they tried everything.”

As an experiment, no one knew whether Novi had been a success or a failure.  She had been number four off a line of

B1 – Selonge as Combat Trooper Assigned to Conquer Earth:


The long line of troopers moved slowly down the hallway.  Selonge read a book as she waited.  She could have talked with Mysti behind her, or Booley, or even the colonel, but she didn’t. 

B2 – Selonge as Conflicted Combat Trooper Assigned to Earth:


During her last full night on Mars, she pulled on a suit from the stay-behind depot and took a trip topside to see the stars.  She told herself that the real reason for the trip was the need for peace.


C1 – Selonge as Member of “Ideal” Warrior Society:


She had killed her first rabbit at the age of six.  She didn’t have the brain or the stature for infantry, but she did know how to kill.  Even now she remembered the kitten box, and her pact with Misty that they would grab the little kitty heads and each of them twist on the count of three.  It was not the same as killing a living, breathing human being, no, but it had hurt just the same.  “Death should not be pleasant,” the machines had said, “but it is often necessary.”

She thought on this as she rehearsed.  Killing wasn’t supposed to be easy, no, but it was doable.  It was essential.  It couldn’t be helped.  Yet no one knew if the man inside would actually die.

D1 – Selonge as Brave Investigator:


After watching the video feed, she knew she would have to confront the man herself.  The colonel didn’t hold back with his opinion.

“Kid,” he asked, “are you dumb?”

She felt her face go red.  She hated that.  She wished she had a way to cut the hot flow to her face.  Especially times like now, when she had a job to do, the kind of job where she needed every ounce of trust she could get.

“I can talk to him,” she said. 

Final – D2 (combination of D1 with C1 and hints of B2): Selonge as a Formerly Brave Investigator from an Ideal Warrior Society who now feels Conflicted by the introduction of a New and Disturbing Phenomenon.


She had spent her entire life in training for this second war with Earth.  She had snapped off her kitten’s head for the final box test, and she had shot her way through the urban combat simulator.  She had read about human history – the history of her ancestors – from the beginning to the loose ends.  And now she didn’t know what to say.

“You did good in there,” the colonel told her.

“I didn’t even try the net,” she said.  And she didn’t even remember not trying the net.  She remembered pressing the gun to his face, and then pulling the trigger, and then falling backwards out the door into the damp night.  The moments in between could have never happened for as much as she remembered them.

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