Archive for the Writing Category

Hollow Shell, Chapter 2

Posted in SF, Writing with tags , on November 1, 2015 by davidnm2009

What is this? Hollow Shell is a rather strange SF/horror story, written from the viewpoint of a self-aware suit of power armour. In the previous chapter, we met Alex, our protagonist, who is not-entirely-enjoying an unexpected second life as an AI derived from a brain upload. We also met Onyx, an emotionally-insecure alien with whom Alex has had to establish a working relationship.

In this chapter, Alex and Onyx go to the firing range, where Centurion Kyanite is waiting to oversee the day’s training. Whilst Kyanite berates the misfortunate trainees, Alex exchanges notes with Melanie, a former banker and another post-human upload.

Faced with an onslaught of very-personal negativity from Kyanite, Onyx is showing signs of pressure. Alex needs to figure out a way to let Onyx keep his shit together long enough to be useful…

Chapter 2: A Memory of Ozone

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Hollow Shell

Posted in Writing with tags , on October 31, 2015 by davidnm2009

This takes some explanation, to put it mildly.

Hollow Shell is a story I’m working on. It’s perhaps the single most bizarre fiction idea I’ve ever had. It’s sufficiently weird that it took me a while before I decided to actually start writing it. And frankly, I’m not 100% convinced I’ll be able to bring it to a successful conclusion. In terms of genre, I think what I’ve got here is an oddball mix of SF and horror – but this is sufficiently off-the-wall that I’m not entirely sure!

Alex, our main character, used to be an estate agent but is now living an unexpected and entirely-non-theological afterlife as a sentient machine. In fact, Alex has woken up as the AI for a very specific and unusual type of machine. Said post-human AI has been brought back to not-quite-life through the use of alien technology, by aliens, for alien purposes.

And some of what’s been explained about said purposes might even be true…

(For purposes of warnings, Hollow Shell is rather dark in tone, and there will definitely be violence. However, it isn’t planned to have anything in the way of sexual content[!]. The writing style is first-person, present tense and semi-expository, for reasons that are shown in-story. There is also some humour, gratuitous pop-culture references, and an alien who gets taught human swearwords.)

Below the cut is Chapter One: These Haunted Wires.

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Sideways To Zero

Posted in Fanfiction, Personal, Science, Speculation, Writing with tags , , on December 29, 2013 by davidnm2009

I don’t think I’ve written anything about StZ yet, have I?

The funny thing is, the asari are one of my less-favourite aliens in Mass Effect. I’ve never tried ranking the various aliens by how interesting I find them, but I suspect they would be somewhere down the list. Certainly not at the bottom, but not very high up either.

(In case you’re wondering, the winner is the krogan. Headbutting FTW! Also I think krogan armour looks better than any of the others, with some of the turians as a close second. And the krogan have such a wonderfully tragic and compelling backstory, as well. Epicness and all of that.)

So, how come I’m trying to write a fic focused entirely on the asari?

Well. I do have something of a feeling of missed potential with them in the ME universe. There are interesting-sounding things we hear a lot about, but never really see. Asari democracy – just how exactly does it work? How do the various factions and interest-groups – Justicars, matriarchs etc., the various cities – all interact? What about asari science? We get told a lot about it, but never really see that much, even with Liara.

Instead, in ME1, the asari do sometimes feel a little bit like Fanservice: The Species. I often get the feeling that I’m some sort of six-sigma outlier as male gamers go, but actually, I would have preferred it if Liara had talked less about sex and more about her research. In fact, throughout 1, Liara is actually fairly vague about what it is she does. To be fair, this gets redressed a bit in ME3, particularly if you have the ‘From Ashes’ DLC. (Also, a minor grammatical gripe … shouldn’t that be ‘From the Ashes’?) I found this odd, as most real-world academics have a very hard time shutting up about their specialist subject.

The only asari world we see in detail is Illium, and the whole point of that planet is that it’s a freak. Its society is presumably entirely-abnormal, as are its governance arrangements. It is presumably relatively little of a guide to the more ‘normal’ asari lifestyle. Again, in fairness, one bit I did like was the conversation with the Tracking Officer on Illium, about Samara. The attitude she describes toward the Justicars did feel like something that had come out of an alien culture and an alien society, what with her evident surprise that anyone might consider the Justicars’ actions questionable and so forth.

The Thessia mission in ME3 is more frustrating than enlightening. The implications of the Prothean beacon on Thessia are staggering; perhaps the real reason that Liara is having trouble with her career in 1 is actually because real asari ‘science’ actually consists of going and asking questions of the magic beacon, and interpreting the results? A sort of glorified tea-leaf reading, or a 40K-style intellectual cargo cult. One can imagine a scenario where the senior matriarchal academics are quietly laughing at all the young grad students and post-docs, who are running around trying to do that ultimate oxymoron, original research… But again, this is only explored to a limited extent. (Also, the Thessia mission turns into yet another annoying Cerberus event – it was never really about the asari, it turns out. Rather it’s just another platform for the dreadful Kai Leng to put on a performance, and for TIM to be irritating/tedious in public once more. Sigh.)

Also, how exactly did a supposed direct democracy manage to keep a secret like this for so long? It does seem to imply some sort of fundamental contradiction, lurking somewhere inside asari society. And where are the Justicars in all of this? Do they have an opinion? Would they have an opinion? Or would they consider something like this ‘above their paygrade’? We never get told.

All of these things have bugged me.

Plus, I have a mental image stuck in my head. (I kind of wish someone would paint it.) When the first asari came onto the Citadel, and they found the Relay Monument, how did they react to that? What did they see? What did they say? How did they feel? (For that matter, relatedly, when the Reapers harvested the Protheans, how come they didn’t recognise the Relay Monument for what it was? They of all people have no excuse for not recognising a mass relay! Bad cuttlefish, no biscuit.) None of these things get developed in any detail.

So these questions are a lot of what’s driving ‘Sideways’. In addition, I also have an interest in the more general theme of ‘science and society’. Here in the Real World(tm), our whole attitude toward science and technology is a contradictory mess. We seem to want the shiny consumer toys, but not the theoretical knowledge under them. Except when we do, in the sanitised ‘gosh and wow’ form that TV documentaries pretend to give you. And then there’s the whole confusing, festering mess that is the collision between scientific and religious ideas. Being a former scientist, I’m interested in exploring this theme. And the asari, with their purported technological advancement and supposed super-consensus democracy, seem to offer one means of doing so.

So yes; these are the ideas that are going on underneath ‘Sideways to Zero’. I hope that I’ll be able to develop them further over the New Year. I’ll probably fail – when was the last time I finished anything? – but it’ll be a fun process 🙂

And (you knew this was coming, didn’t you?), here’s the link to the fic. If any of this sounds interesting, please feel free to have a look!

Sideways To Zero, Chapter 1: A Failure of Funding.

Schemes of the Reapers

Posted in Fanfiction, Writing with tags on December 28, 2013 by davidnm2009

I was supposed to be working on ‘Sideways to Zero’ earlier.

StZ is proving to be a rather tricky project. I like thinking about it. I have plans. I know roughly where the story ends. There are revelations to be made and surprises to be had. I like chatting about them with friends. Sometimes there’s even a real buzz of energy. I even have a couple of tweaks on how eezo works, that would arguably make it consistent with General Relativity (and a very nice, if rather diabolical, explanation for where the canonical theories come from).

Then I find myself sat in front of the keyboard, and …


Anyway, today’s procrastination took an unexpected turn. It came in the form of 4,000 or so words of something else entirely.

So here are the Schemes of the Reapers. Or one of their schemes, anyway.

I was toying around with what hypothetical ‘smart’ cuttlefish might do. I wasn’t at all impressed with the StarBrat in ME3, and honestly feel that there’s quite a bit of lost potential with the Reapers. Ideally, an encounter with the Reaper collective consciousness should come off something like (for instance) Peter Watts’s Blindsight. (If you haven’t encountered that novel, it’s somewhere along the lines of 1984-meets-hardcore-neuroscience. Elsewhere on the internet, I’ve seen it described as an indictment of consciousness. It is, and a scarily-effective one.) An exchange with the Reapers should be a philosophical gut-punch, a sort of existential crisis; instead StarBrat is just irritating. Plus also Synthesis makes zero scientific sense. (What does ‘add your energy to the beam’ even mean? The chemical energy of Shepard’s body? The equivalent mass-energy? The weak electrical fields associated with the brain? Or just shallow, cliché-driven writing? Plus, depending on your choices, you may have already conclusively-disproved StarBrat’s ‘eternal recurrence’ thesis.)

I don’t claim to bridge that gulf here. (Can it even be bridged at this stage? The well has been pretty thoroughly poisoned.) However, it was interesting to have a look at some ‘alternative’ possibilities for Reaper behaviour. I like the idea of scheming cuttlefish, plotting against the galaxy and moving their chess-pieces slowly across the board.

I had a lot of fun with this story; it fell onto the page pretty much in one go. I only had to make a few minor edits before I had something I was willing to post. It was fast, too. I began typing after lunch today, and I was basically done by dinner.

I may write some more; I have vague ideas for two more stories, and possibly a third one beyond. We shall see.

Now, back to ‘Sidways to Zero’…

Relationship Counselling

Posted in Fanfiction, Personal, Writing with tags , , on October 4, 2012 by davidnm2009

(Here is a small bit of fanfiction I wrote the other night. It was originally posted at; here it is, complete with the formatting that FF ate. It’s quite short, about 900 words or so, and here is the entire thing, as it’s complete.)

Synposis: Post-Control ending, Liara has to deal with an awkward interpersonal situation. Sometimes decisions have consequences…

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Oh dear, I’ve perpetrated more fic…

Posted in Writing with tags , , , on May 2, 2012 by davidnm2009

So, I may have perpetrated a new fanfic.

This wasn’t really ‘planned’, as such. Rather at about 11.30 last night, I just suddenly found myself in a mood to write. So I did.

Anyway, the story is over here [], and it’s called ‘Convolution Kernel’. It’s (a small part of) my take on how I would have ended the Mass Effect series, had it been me doing the writing. Obviously it wasn’t me doing any of the writing, so all of this belongs firmly in the Your-Mileage-May-Vary head-cannon box. However, I do like the idea of setting Reaper!Shep on Harbinger 🙂 Now that would be worth watching!

The other reason I wrote this was that I was interested in having a poke at what exactly the Reapers are and how they work (as machines, I mean). This isn’t really something that’s developed much in the series itself, oddly enough.

Believe it or not, this was partly inspired by something from a data reduction pipeline (don’t ask…).

Differences And Writing

Posted in Writing with tags , , on April 12, 2011 by davidnm2009

Like many people, I’m an amateur writer. I’m not brilliant at it and have a lot to learn. In particular I’m recently becoming aware of the potential minefield that is writing characters who are ‘different’ to you in some way. In particular here, I’m thinking of gender. It is a pretty fundamental thing, and it will have an impact on a character’s personality and behaviour … and as I’m slowly beginning to realise, it’s very, very easy to completely get it badly wrong.

I’ve been trying to work on my depictions of female characters, as frankly, that hasn’t been all it could be. I’ve noticed that I have a tendency to shove them into distant, unapproachable roles (such as the Inquisitor and also Kelso in The Misfits). It’s not conscious and it’s not deliberate, but that’s what I’ve found myself doing. Also, a while back I became aware of the Bechdel Test.

After the usual period of denial, I became uncomfortably-aware that a lot of my stuff fails it. And given that I like to imagine myself as a reasonably-liberal, reasonably-modern person, I wasn’t too happy about this!

The first step to dealing with a problem is admitting that you have it. *Tick* The second step is, well, trying to do something. My first experiment with that was At The Inn, which did represent some progress.

I’ve been trying to build on this, which is partly what’s incorporated into the following. It’s also where I’m putting into use the thinking I’ve been doing about alien planets and their possible interactions with human physiology. (Although that’s not so obvious in the first section, here.)

So, below, is the opening bit from the project I’m tentatively entitling ‘Shot In The Dark’. I’m not claiming to get everything right and I’m not claiming absolute success or perfect achievement with my attempts, but I am genuinely trying!

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