Technology in Stories

As TV Tropes has an entire page about, cell phones are still hard to work into stories for some reason. Maybe we’re all still used to them being part of the future, like in sci-fi TV shows and such. One of my favorite books about writing, How Not to Write a Novel by Howard Mittlemark and Sandra Newman, makes mention of this–in the past nobody had cell phones, and there are lots of stories from back then that would be totally different with cell phones. If you’re writing in an era that has them though, you at least need to remain aware that at least someone probably has one–unless you’re dealing with my dad in which case he might’ve forgotten or intentionally left it at home. Or you’re dealing with me, who hates all phones and refuses to have one. But I still have a tablet, and I’m at least gonna email somebody, even if they don’t respond.

My first two novels, Slubes and Darmenzi, featured protagonists from a small village–only a couple characters even have regular phones. So that wasn’t much of a big deal… except in retrospect I’m not sure why Zeth didn’t have one, but does have a phone in his vehicle. Ah well, what’s past is past. Maybe he was trying to hack his phone and install wings on it or something and he broke it. He doesn’t live at a place where he could buy another one, anyway.

In Wandering Fortunes, the protagonists again begin living in a very rustic area, so they have no cell phones. Then they move to the big city… so of course they’re going to get cell phones! Now I have to deal with this malarkey! Well, the first time it really becomes pertinent it actually makes more sense for them to not have them–they’re put in prison, of course their stuff’s going to be confiscated. But for the most part I actually have a note while editing, and one of my passes I actually keep cell phones in the back of my mind. “They have them, is there a reason to use them?”

Now then, the reason I didn’t call this “Cell Phones in Stories” is I also apparently have trouble remembering that cars are a thing. At New Zhopolis the main characters are always running around; initially they don’t have a vehicle, and at a big city I suppose I can imagine traffic being so bad that it’s easier to get around walking. It’s also particularly troublesome when there are few parking spaces. But you know what probably does exist? TAXI SERVICES. Buses! And if you’re going halfway across the city you’re probably not gonna run there!

A lot of times this probably doesn’t matter because you’ll show the characters once they’ve arrived, not on the way, but you’d better believe I had a chapter where they ran halfway across the city and when I started editing I was like “why are they running halfway across the city?? they’re in a hurry so they won’t wait for a bus but did you know there are services now where you can call (maybe with a cell phone??) and someone will drive to where you are to drive you somewhere??? I’ve used one before! what? no i’m not talking about uber. i think these are local. although an uber service would definitely be something you could easily have in a story, but honestly the only difference between it and taxis i can imagine is one of them probably isn’t unionized, and obviously you should make sure your fictional characters are properly unionized. what were we talking about? who are you, anyway?”

Anyway. Check your email. Then check your spam folder. Thank you.

Now up, Wandering Fortunes chapter 7: The Obsidian City

Chapter 7 of Wandering Fortunes is now up. The Obsidian City, New Zhopolis, finally appears! Big city! Tall buildings! Dim lights!  Innumerable residents! Numerable but still a pretty high number of species! Subways, districts, roads, vehicles, orators, scam artists, grumps, racism, and jerks, jerks, jerks!

Wait, somewhere along the line that took a turn for the worse. Will the big city turn out to be all that it promises to be? Or will it turn out to be more than that and it turned out we just didn’t hear its promises right the first time?

As always, I post these chapters early for $3+ patrons on Patreon, so this chapter has been available for a couple weeks now and patrons will be able to see more of Alden and his friends’ adventures in The Big City in just a couple weeks. Even if you give just one dollar though you still get to see things early, as I post weekly updates that include a snippet of work much further ahead. You can take a look at a bit of chapter ten already!

Wandering Fortunes: details on the new Cloudy Cuckoo Cosmos setting

On January 1st I will post the prog first chapter of Wandering Fortunes, my third book. While the fist two books, Slubes and Darmenzi, focused on some slubes from the planet Mintop, Wandering Fortunes focuses on the two neighboring planets of Zhop and Derantu. This means an entirely new setting, cast of characters, and species, but still in the same universe and right next door to Mintop anyway.

Right now Zhop and Derantu are only briefly mentioned by name in the about page for the CCC. As new chapters of Wandering Fortunes are released, new character, species, and location profiles will be added. It’s finally happening. The information sections on this website have only had about a third of the CCC. Now the full picture will begin to form.

Ha ha ha, just kidding, it’s not even close to a full picture. But for the main setting, Mintop, Zhop, and Derantu is a large portion of that.

Mintop is actually the least advanced of the three planets, and the focus was on a small village on a small island where technology is generally clay. We did see Interpolis, a big city of tall buildings and cleeple, but it’s nothing compared to Zhop and Derantu. Robots are actually a pretty common sight in the major population centers, the weapons they have makes the Mallet Blaster that Zeth gave Numer look like a toy, and vehicles that makes Zeth’s Transpide look like a starter vehicle in a video game are everywhere.

In the major cities and countries, anyway. Wandering Fortunes starts out at pretty much the Zhop equivalent to Nottle. It is basically like the sticks here on Earth. And just around the riverbend over that hill there is a tribe of mages with robes and masks and they do dark magic and, oh geeze, listen, these guys are figgin dangerous, do not go messing with them.

Well, actually, that’s the very first thing we do in this book. Science and technology is everywhere, and magic lies underneath. Science fiction-fantasy.

Zhop is a cold planet, the furthest inhabited one from the solar system’s sun. (In contrast, Mintop is the closest inhabited planet to the sun.) Most of the forests on the planet are sparse, and outside the forest is even sparser. It’s mostly drab, gray tundra when there are any plants at all, and it’s all one supercontinent surrounded by ocean. Most of Zhop is occupied by tiny, oft-squabbling kingdoms, but everything is under the thumb of the Zhopian Guard, a planet-wide police force and military that exists to keep the peace. It’s headquartered at the planet’s capital, New Zhopolis, near the northern pole, where tall, dark buildings and advanced technology rules. Civilization here is highly developed and technological. Self-powered vehicles are the expensive norm. Robots are commonplace assistants. However, few realize the magic that hovers everywhere and in everyone, and monsters lurk everywhere, some greatly disguised.

Derantu is between Zhop and Mintop, and is the most highly advanced of the three. Lots of technology on Zhop was taken and adapted from Derantu. Simple robotic assistants are commonplace and are becoming more advanced all the time. They’re totally stealing your jobs. Unlike Zhop, Derantu has individual countries without an overarching controlling organization, though there has been a loose coalition of countries for centuries. Two countries in particular have been enemies since nearly their founding, and what strikes everyone as odd is that the main species of these kingdoms were also found on Zhop. Derantu is a vibrantly-colored planet with bright colors everywhere you look, but the planet is less peaceful than it first looks and old grudges are hidden under the cheery colors everywhere.

Between these two and Mintop lies the Planet Peacemaking Power, an organization designed to balance the three planets’ powers and to solve crises. This was mentioned briefly in Darmenzi.

And through all these highly-advanced, technology-filled worlds of science and machines, one beach ball comes to life. Magic is real here. Don’t believe me? That’s okay. It doesn’t care. If you can think it, it is already here.

January will bring both the first chapter and a new character profile, and then nothing will make sense ever again. But in a good way! More to come.

Character Profile: Wrodin

Today for Father’s Day, I have a character who has never had a father!

One of the islands that the crystals wash up onto is deserted—devoid of any life, actually. Not even plants. Instead, it’s covered in junk and scrap metal. It looked as if a thousand factories building metal objects exploded. And one of these metal objects is hit with The Conqueror’s animator.

Wrodin is a machine built for war. When closed it’s just a red sphere, but the two halves can split open to reveal a black cylinder connecting them (where the obligatory “living inanimate object eyes” appear). As a war machine, it comes fitted with a vast array of weapons: explosive shells, missiles, rockets, energy guns, bullets, miniature versions of itself, its own weight, and a massive energy blast that can cut through solid steel.

Wrodin is fixated on war. Aiming to be The Conqueror’s top general, it desires nothing more than to sweep the cosmos by The Conqueror’s side, blowing up anyone who stands in their way—the slubes included. But with Wrodin on his side, The Conqueror had better invade quick—Wrodin might just blow everything up in its raging passion for destruction.

Character Profile: Terrent

Terrent is a real terror. At least, if you think bratty kids who complain if not everything goes their way (and then complain even if it does) are terrors, and who doesn’t, right?? Anyway, the second agent The Conqueror recruits is using his gene splicer, which takes a rather strange target—a kid, a child, a turtle only 8 years of age.

After being zapped by the gene splicer, Terrent gets a mean streak and technological adeptness: he finds a shard of the crystal, and then does the logical thing and starts shooting torpedoes at a harbor. He does what he wants, and he does it for fun (and sometimes nachos).

Terrent thinks of himself as cool and as better than most everyone else, is easily irritated and easily irritating, and tends to shout bad insults at people. His ability to rig up devices quickly can come in handy, but the fact he’s quick to anger and then quick to make a fuss like the universe revolves around him makes him just as annoying as he is useful.

Most of the characters we’ve seen so far have been kind of rooted in technology? Well, that’ll change next time…

Character Profile: Sawn

When The Conqueror realizes the crystal is being gathered up by inhabitants of the planet he intends to invade, he decides to show them his might—but covertly. He doesn’t want them realizing he’s there, so he begins to recruit agents from the planet below using his technology, starting with an animator.

Sawn is a buzzsaw. That’s really all there is to it. It’s a buzzsaw brought to life through nanotechnology, and now it has two big, red eyes on its side. It’s quick to anger and quick to just about everything else. Floats like a bee, stings like an angry blade of death. It relishes in destruction, whether it’s sawing through wood or living tissue.

As it was given sapience by The Conqueror, it aims to rebuild the crystal and kill whoever gets in its way. But this is only the first agent The Conqueror creates, and there are more to come…