Sunday, August 30, 2009

Plots To Go

My first story is called “Nescience” and it features an Arabic woman mathematician, coerced by her country’s intelligence agency to go after the secrets of a quantum computer.

The second story, “Urban Warrior” tells the story of a retired police accounts clerk in a Northern town who volunteers to test personal defence systems for the cops. Needless to say, some don’t work and others work all too well.

Both of these are written in first draft at around 5,000 words and will need considerable polishing before they can face any kind of public.

I wanted the third story to be more conventional SF, and my first idea was this.

A small meteor lands in Africa, and soon a variety of ever more complex life forms are observed in the vicinity. Their purpose is unknown but they defy capture and expire rapidly if trapped. It is noticed that this strange ecology evolves new forms with precisely the capabilities required to defeat whatever agency has previously thwarted them.

A little more research indicates these creatures have organic radio transmitters in their brains, and each type has a typical identification code. As the humans use more and more sophisticated technology against this alien community, they just keep turning out more and more lethal variants.

As they fight earth’s finest to a standstill, it become clear that they’re building some kind of transmitter (Radio telescope? Gamma ray laser? Neutrino transmitter?). This is surrounded by military sensing equipment and when the message goes off, we pick it up. It’s simply a list of the IDs of the alien types which have successfully secured the area and built the transmitter. It turns out this is the optimal intelligence the alien home-base needs.

So, it’s an interesting idea – that from the biology of a super-organism one can reverse-engineer the ecology to which it’s optimally adapted. But I rejected it as a story idea. Why?

Because a story needs characters and plot as well as context. And the obvious storylines here are: (i) military SF – fighting an increasingly-capable alien ecology (Deathworld, anyone?); (ii) figuring out the transmitted message and what it means. Sadly, neither storyline interested me much – they’re both too predictable.

Context-switch: here’s my current idea. We have a scientist who’s been kidnapped off the street, never mind by whom. The action is set around his interrogation, but he doesn’t think he has a secret to tell.

But he has. Lot’s of opportunity to write descriptive prose around interrogation (everyone likes vicarious pain). And the plot hinges around the fact that an organisation may know – implicitly – something which no one individual of that organisation may know. But perhaps they will come to realise it under interrogation, and then what will happen?

So that interests me.