Rebooting An Idea – Reciprocity

future-city3For awhile now, I’ve been tinkering with a story idea known as Apocrypha. It first came to me back in 2009 when I decided to move away from space opera and into more hard science fiction. I even decided to relaunch the idea a few months back, which would be the second time I decided to reboot the idea. And now, I’m rebooting it yet again, but with one major change.

Basically, I’ve re-conceived the plot to focus on a world set in 2030, where China’s Communist system has collapsed, Russia continues to exist as a semi-fascist state, the internet of things is in full swing, and several different forces are competing for control over which direction the future takes. Some want to rehash old rivalries, while others want to bring about a revolution in computing that will dissolve all boundaries.

shanghai_towerThe name of the new story is Reciprocity, which is taken from the Chinese concept of Bao Ying. I chose this as a name because while researching Chinese ancestral religion, I came across a central theme which states that the fate of all human beings is determined by cosmic reciprocity.

The concept of Bao Ying is also expressed as follows in various Zhou-Dynasty texts:

On the doer of good, heaven sends down all blessings, and on the doer of evil, he sends down all calamities.

This belief incorporates two separate elements:

  1. Ming yun: which loosely translated, means personal destiny. Whereas ming is “life” or “right”, the word yun defines “circumstance” and “individual choice”. In the Chinese ancestral faith, it is perceived as something both fixed (bound by fate) and flexible (implying choice and free will).
  2. Yuan fen: which means “fateful coincidence”, describing good and bad possibilities and potential relationships. Here too, the elements of fate and choice intersect, with good and bad casualties being assigned usually to one or the other.

Both concepts are linked, because what appears on the surface to be chance events (for better or worse), are part of the deeper rhythm that shapes personal life based on how destiny is directed. Given the fact that I thought the story should focus on China, this concept spoke to me.

cyber_virusOriginally, Apocrypha was all about a group of apocalyptic terrorists who have ties to various anti-modernist, anti-western groups who try to use a Chinese cyber-virus named Hǔnluàn (Chinese for chaos) to accomplish their goals. However, this idea wasn’t panning out in a few ways. Mainly, the antagonists didn’t seem believable to me, especially where their motivations are concerned.

But after talking it over with a friend and neighbor, I came to realize that the real focus of the story was China – or rather, how the aftermath of Maoism would affect the country and the global balance of power. In this sense, the antagonists were much more believable if they themselves were Chinese ex-pats, people who were unhappy with the current world order and wanted to change it.

Unit-61398-Chinese-Army-Hacking-Jobs-With-Great-BenefitsBorrowing from Russia’s post-Communist experience, I basically foresee China going through many of the same problems in the near future. First, the state would find itself under a great deal of pressure due to ongoing demands for reform, pro-democracy protests, and the memory of Tienanmen Square. And I also imagine the health effects of air pollution and cancer farms would also add to the resistance.

But by the 2020s, I expect that the country will also be reeling from the effects of drought, famine, and the destruction of water tables. And then there would be the collapse of the economy caused by the implosion of the real estate bubble – a very likely possibility – which would end the Party’s long history of buying loyalty with economic growth. At that point, the Party would officially fall under the weight of its own corruption, bankruptcy and failure.

phoenix-towers-worlds-tallest-wuhan-china-designboom-01Ten years later, China would find itself in a state of serious change and facing an ambiguous future. On the one hand, it would remain a major power economically and militarily, but would still be suffering from lingering environmental damage and uneven development. As a result, it would find itself vulnerable to quasi-fascist politicians looking to exploit people’s uncertainty and funnel it towards a revisionist agenda.

I think you’ll agree, this idea makes way more sense than its predecessor. What’s more, it would give me a chance to cover a big angle I was looking at, which was the involvement of former members of the People’s Liberation Army Cyberwarfare Division (aka. Unit 61398). Assuming that said people were out a job in the not-too-distant future, they would be seriously upset and willing to help in a malicious plot.

What do you think? Too political? Or does it have potential?

Relaunching an Idea: Genome!

GenomeIn recent months, I did what I often do when I find myself in the midst of a few projects, where none of them are occupying my attenti0n completely. I went back to an old idea that never got finished, but which I felt pretty passionate about at the time. This idea was one a friend and I came up with while we chatted about human nature and genetic engineering.

Specifically, we talked about how people in the future might try to tailor their children to weed out self-doubt and the self-directed critical tendencies we all seem to have. That got the ball rolling, and in short order, I began writing the full-length concept into a story I called Genome. Unfortunately, this project, like so many others, lost my interest part way through and got stock in the Incomplete folder.

Luckily, writing for China Daily Mail got me interested in it again. You see, the story takes place in one of my favorite environments: the Northeaster Megapolitan region known as BosWash – aka. the Boston-Washington D.C. metropolitan axis. In the story, I decided to add a little symbolic feature known as the BWHM, or BosWash Health Monitor, which rates the cities pollution based on the Air Toxicity Factor (or ATF).

The scale was out of 100 and during the course of the story, it kept getting higher. Well after reading about China’s air pollution and the AQI (Air Quality Index) which has a maximum ranking of 500, but which needs to be revised to account for Beijing’s 700 plus ratings of late, I began to think I had stumbled onto something golden!

Or, I had simply stolen something without knowing it and ought to pursue it since it’s relevant. But of course, to make the reference accurate and work for readers, I had to since revise it to make the BWHM out of 1000 so people would know exactly how toxic and polluted this future, dystopic megacity really was!

In addition, I also began thinking I should do with Genome what I did with Whiskey Delta and begin sharing it here, chapter by chapter. And so here it is, the first-ever installment of Genome, which is the prologue chapter entitled “The Big Sink”. As you can probably tell, I was going for a real urban noire feeling, with some cyberpunk elements thrown in for good measure. This, you will find, is offset by some dry humor down the road…

Enjoy, and feel free to let me know if it’s any good, in need of a full-scale rewrite, or a short trip to the Recycle Bin! 🙂

*                    *                    *

It was an evening like any other. The sky was ashen grey, rain clouds and thunderclaps flashing over the urban landscapes. Outside of the establishment, a few people lingered in the rain, taking in their carcinogenic fixes and staring with blank faces.

In the distance, the sound of thunderclaps and sirens set the nighttime scene. And the rain, it fell hard. So hard it could almost wash the scum off the sidewalk for another night. But even if it could, the scum would return tomorrow. It came in endless supplies, and the fight to keep it at bay was always constant.

Bastion stepped out of the twenty-four café and made a quick appraisal of the evening. The prospects were grim, much like the weather. No one to go home to, few women adequate enough to invite home, and a whole lot of pain and misfortunate to look forward to tomorrow. Another day of bills, alimony and hard-luck stories from perps, policemen and unaffiliated scumbags, nothing but the bottle and takeout meals to keep him company in the one bedroom flat that passed for a home.

Just another day in the life of a Detective working the Big Sink.

Sparking up his torch, Bastion lit up the stubby green tube between his lips and inhaled deeply. Everyone who stood out in the rain with him was taking their daily smoke break, sucking in the terrible tasting shit that was supposed to ward off the tumors and slow death that city living brought on.

It was a constant feature in the news, the build-up of toxins that was forcing everyone to ingest one kind of poison to offset the others, and every day the count got higher, bringing the city closer to the brink.

Last he checked, the experts said it was at a robust eight-hundred eighty-five on a scale that reached to one thousand, though that could be updated in the near future, as it had in the past. No one in his immediate surroundings could say with any certitude what would happen once they reached the top of that index, but all indications said it would be bad.

He looked around and gauged the people next to him by the tired, sunken looks in their eyes. Already he could tell how long they had been on the medication just by the look of them.

Sandra, the head waitress, the one with the yellowing skin and eyes to match: five years.

The gentleman in the nice linen suit with the bowler cap on: three or so.

The server boy with the terrible nostalgic get-up that was supposed to be the theme of the restaurant, red suspenders and a white collared shirt. A year tops. And then there was the old Manchu fella with the white hair and the terrible wrinkles, his skin the color of leather and just as tough: ten years!

Of course, he himself wasn’t too enthused about taking up this particular dirty habit. But the nice doc had summarized it for him thusly: Smoke it, and live to the ripe old age of sixty-five, then proceed steadily downhill. Don’t, and die of melanoma or an inoperable tumor at fifty-five. Twenty years was what he was buying with this terrible, stinking stick that was smoldering in the corner in his mouth then. It smelt awful and tasted a hell of a lot worse!

One could fit a lot of living in the space of twenty years, consuming one poison to kill another. And they learned a valuable lesson from it too. Just another gift the Big Sink provided for anyone lucky enough to be born into her. Just like life, it was a gift nobody asked for and was unreturnable, so you enjoyed it while you could.

If only, he thought, bringing him smoke to a quick conclusion and then stubbing it out on the ground. He checked his right side to make sure his piece was still there. On the way home, he might just get lucky tonight and have someone try to kill him. Then he knew he’d get the added excitement of a life or death struggle, a nice trip to the emergency room, and maybe a new lease on life. They always said you had to have a brush with death to find the value in living. Bastion was eager to find out.