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black box - new science fiction novel

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black box - new science fiction novel

Postby GChris » Thu Feb 15, 2007 10:34 am

I'm about to self-publish "black box" on my website -[link removed. Bmat]. It will be available February 25th.

I'm attaching a synopsis and a couple of chapters for any comments that you all might have. Still time to make some adjustments.

Thanks.

Chris

Gary "Chris" Christopherson
[links removed. Bmat. New members may not post links.]
"black box" Synopsis


Together, black box and its companion book conversion code are the first volume in what is intended to be the Conversion series. This sci-fi series explores a mysterious and powerful black box and its enormous impact on the world's people and their politics, religions, science and militaries. "Conversionists" and "anti-conversionists" engage in aggressive struggle for the black box's potentially unlimited power and the human race's future. Moving amongst them is the quiet shepherd, keeper of the black box.


Chapter 1. Discovery [South American jungle; 2004]

As Ti Ching wades through the tangled jungle underbrush, she keeps wondering if all this work is worthwhile. Maybe it is just too late. No. That is far too defeatist, she chastises herself. Even with all the destructive forces attacking the jungle in the 20th century, some good can come from preserving what's left and trying to reconstruct some of what has been lost. Sure, the jungle remains threatened. On the other hand, the problem is catching people's attention and turning that attention towards restoration. She pauses and reminds herself not to become too optimistic or to pessimistic. She has to maintain the right balance and stay focused.

Ti was born in the United States, ten years after her Chinese parents migrated from Hong Kong. In a few months, she will turn 30, though she looks young for her age. She wears her black hair cut just above her shoulders and softly brushed back from her face. Her round, black framed glasses set off the round shape of her face. Her friends and co-workers often call her cute even though she hates it. She hates being seen as effervescent as well, but knows she exudes effervescence. Neither is terribly helpful in her being taken seriously as a professional.

Her profession, a civil engineer, is a critical part of her. She received her civil engineering degree from the University of Wisconsin, specializing in environmental restoration. She has learned much from studying the work of the Army Corps of Engineers and is determined to avoid repeating many of its mistakes. Given the amount of damage done to the South American jungle, she’s decided to apply those lessons in a place where human beings have been and continue to be extraordinarily destructive. Having worked in the jungle for several years, she is now viewed by her peers as a jungle restoration expert, someone who is making a positive contribution to an enormous, unending undertaking.

Emerging from the trees, Ti comes upon a small clearing, leans down with her hands on her knees, and pauses to catch her breath. She’s tired and hot and the sweat keeps running off her forehead into her glasses. There’s still a long way and only a couple of hours to go before she reaches the relative comfort of her base camp. Her last two weeks of life deep in the jungle have been difficult. Fortunately, for Ti, the difficulty is easily countered by the jungle’s stunning beauty and never-ending diversity.

Breathing hard and sweating profusely, thinking wearily of the remaining miles ahead, Ti stops in the clearing. This is the one last opportunity for a brief respite before the final trek back to base camp. She removes her glasses, wipes the sweat off her face and shoulders, and cleans her glasses with a dry strip of her shirt sleeve. Looking for a place to sit, she spots a small earthen mound just ahead of her and walks over to it.

Seating herself upon the earthen mound in the clearing's center, she tries to imagine what secrets the jungle still holds and she has been just too busy to discover. The next trip is going to be different, she tells herself. Next trip, she’ll take time to stop and absorb all that nature is willing to share. No more ‘running’ through the jungle with tunnel vision. Here is nature in all its glory in front of and all around her; just look around at the stunning beauty in this isolated clearing. Very likely, Ti is the only human being who has ever stepped foot here.

As she takes a moment and scans the clearing, the mid-day sun’s rays bounce off the edge of a piece of smooth, grayish stone partially hidden in the earthen mound on which she sits. Hit with the brief flash, Ti squints her eyes so that she can see the object more clearly. “Far too smooth and sharp to be in a place like this,” she thinks.

Quickly, she takes out her knife and gets down on her knees. Carefully, she removes earth from around the stone. The more she digs, the more it is clear that something unusual is buried in this mound. Her excitement builds. Now she uses both hands and digs as fast as she can.

As she digs further, the dimensions of the stone become apparent, about six inches by one foot by one and one-half feet. She stops, drops backward to sit on the ground in front of the stone and drops her head onto her arms.

“Too bad it’s this big,” she says in frustration as she thinks about the long hike still awaiting her. “No way am I going to be able to carry a big, heavy stone like this out by myself. But there’s no way am I leaving it behind.”

She resumes her excavation. Finally, enough earth is removed for her to try to move the stone. She applies all her strength to moving the stone. To her surprise and relief, the stone moves easily and is much lighter by far than she expected for a stone this big. In fact, it’s too light. Ti thinks it must be hollow.

This observation is soon verified as she looks over the stone carefully and sees what appears to be a sliding panel.

She slides the panel open. As she does, she sees that the stone chamber is unique in several ways. She takes a mental inventory: its sides are wafer-thin. It has the appearance of stone, but has the flexibility and resilience of metal. Commensurate with the thinness of the material is its great lightness. She gently weighs the object in her hands. It’s about twenty to thirty pounds.

But to her great surprise, there is more. Much more. The chamber is not empty. Her pulse beats rapidly.


Inside the chamber is an object as unusual as the chamber itself. There’s a solid black object of nearly the same dimensions as the stone chamber. She carefully removes the black object from the chamber.

“Amazing!” she thinks, “there are absolutely no markings at all. Not even the slightest scratch or blemish! From everything I can see, it is a perfectly formed black stone, glass or metal object and it is apparently solid.”

“But that doesn’t make sense. It is far too light to be solid!"

“I have a stone chamber that is too light and its walls too resilient for stone,” she says to herself.. “This is very strange. It looks like and feels like stone, yet it doesn’t look like an object that is cut or carved by technology that I know of.”

“The black object seems to be the same. It appears hollow as well or to be some super-lightweight metal alloy or glass. But unlike the stone chamber, there is absolutely no sign that it can be opened.”

Ti is perplexed. She has two objects that make no sense in either the jungle or in civilization. Even so, she has a “find”. She jumps up and starts dancing around the clearing.

After a few minutes of uninhibited joy, a more immediate concern hits her. She stops cold. Time has escaped her. She’s been here for more than an hour. If she doesn’t move quickly, she won’t make it back to base camp before dark and the next stretch of jungle isn’t the friendliest place to be after dark.

But her mind drives forward another thought: she’s got to get her find back to civilization as quickly as possible.

But she hesitates. “Do I have the right to remove something that has probably been part of the jungle for a very long time?” She’s often referred to herself as a ‘jungle preservationist’. Her life is dedicated to preserving the jungle, not stripping it. “But surely, these objects could not have anything to do with the jungle or "preserving" the jungle,” she argues out loud. “But then again, why were they here? What is their purpose? And how did they get to a spot that supposedly no other human being has ever visited?”

She shakes the soil off her hands and gets up. She’s got to get moving and make it to base camp before dark.


During the journey back, her mind weighs what she is going to do with her find. She’s here under a U.S. government funded grant and she feels some obligation to turn her find over to the government. However, she’s not totally comfortable with that course of action. Her experience with government and how it responds to unknowns, especially where there appears to be an ‘intelligence’ associated with it is far from a positive one.

Ti tosses around the idea of treating the object as an archeological find and turning it over to a scientific institution, like a university or the Smithsonian Institution. Yeah. The Smithsonian. She could compromise and send the object to the Smithsonian, but let the government know that they have it. The idea of turning it over to the Smithsonian gives her a bit more comfort. Still, she has to be concerned about my government grant and the people who she reports to. She can’t afford to get them upset and lose the grant. Then she’d really be finished here. After all, the government agency is trying to do some good in the jungles of the world and deserves some credit for that. Still …..

Suddenly she loses her balance, falls down hard and bruises her knee badly. Shocking herself back to the immediacy of a painful reality, she realizes that if she does not focus on where she is going right now, both she and the objects might never see civilization again.

She quickly reminds herself, “Jungles are not forgiving to fools or those with minds lost elsewhere.”

She renews her trek, a bit bruised and limping badly.

With about an hour to spare, Ti limps back into her base camp, empty at the moment, and resolves to let her internal debate rest. Unfortunately, sleep tonight is not going to be an easy goal to achieve. She has too many thoughts and too many questions.

----------

Having tossed and turned for most of the night, Ti awakens abruptly at dawn.

“What am I going to do? Since I’m the one who removed the chamber and object from the jungle, I’m now responsible for what happens next.”

“Oh my god! What if I get it wrong?

“Okay. Okay. Think. I can do this. Fortunately, I have over a week over figure this out before civilization returns in the form of the supply helicopter.”


With her digital recorder in hand and the tools available in the camp, Ti proceeds to discover what she can about the two objects. She suspects the black object is probably the most important, but the least penetrable. She’ll have to be careful to not destroy it as she’s conducting her tests.

Ti decides to focus her attention on the stone chamber first. As she looks over the object and its stone chamber, she narrates constantly into a tape recorder, keeping a detailed description of all that she sees.

Her first discovery is that the stone chamber is made of stone like that commonly found in the area in which she discovered the earthen mound and its holdings. But the fabrication of the stone chamber is a whole other thing.

“The stone itself is not uncommon,” she says into the recorder. “However, in its current form as a stone chamber, it has apparently acquired properties that go far beyond the original stone upon which it is based. No stone could be so thin and yet not be at all fragile.”

“I’m confused here,” she mumbles. “I don’t get it.”

“Though the chamber is hollow as if carved or cut, that explanation doesn’t seem to make sense. The stone chamber has all the characteristics of being formed molecule by molecule and, in that formation, of being reformulated so that the stone acquires the additional characteristics of the most high-tech of metals. But, as strong it is, I don’t think it’s indestructible.”

After Ti conducts several tests with mechanical cutting tools and gas torches, it’s clear that the stone chamber can be cut, though not easily. If the tests with the torch are any indicator, a higher temperature torch or a laser will do the job.

With all her tests, she still believes that the chamber is made of stone, but, no ordinary stone. Somehow, it has been formed into shapes and is as indestructible as any modern metal available.

Impatient, she turns her attention from the chamber to the black object. Somehow, she thinks this is not going to yield that much information. With a great amount of care, she conducts similar tests on the black object as she had on the stone chamber, but here she tries to exercise a bit more care, since she does not want to destroy the object.

After some time, she pauses, sits down on the workbench and puts her chin on her knees. She sighs with a bit of relief and resignation. She holds the tape recorder close to her mouth. “Apparently, I don’t need to worry about damaging the black object. No matter what carving, cutting or chipping tool I employ, there are absolutely no signs of any impact. I’m beginning to suspect that this object is much more than just a perfectly formed black stone, glass or metal box with no other use. This is no natural object; this was crafted with great skill and knowledge.
Someone went through an awful lot of trouble to make this dark object. Someone took extraordinary steps to leave it in a place that no human being is ever expected to visit.”

Exhausting the tools available and her own analytic skills, she now knows as much as she is going to know without outside help. She has to make a decision about what to do next. Not fully trusting either the U.S. government or the scientific institutions by themselves, she decides to notify both and send the chamber and black object to the Smithsonian via the supply helicopter due tomorrow morning.

Since she’s got a small amount of leave time available, she’ll ride along to the airport and make sure that the two objects get on the next available flight to D.C. Once she does that, her mission is complete and she can return to her work in the jungle.”

But it’s going to be incredibly hard giving up these objects and returning back to her regular work here. She’s been so excited about her work here. But now she’s been bitten by this new find. She’s got so many questions and no answers. She doesn’t want to let this go.

“But I must,” she says with unhappy resignation.

As the day wears on, she makes the calls. The government officials are somewhat curious, but are more so skeptical. To them, the find is not terribly important. Give it to the Smithsonian, they tell her. As far as they see it, it will write off as some archeological find that will end up at the Smithsonian anyway.

On the other hand, the Smithsonian officials have much more than a passing interest. They, as does she, realize that the objects just do not fit in the area of the jungle in which she found them. Someone, for some inexplicable reason, went way out of his or her way to place the objects there. What these objects are is a tantalizing question to the officials. If she did what she says she did, these objects do not make a lot of sense in terms of what they are or where they were.

The arrangements are simple. She is to deliver the objects to the airport and place them on a plane bound for the U.S. The plane is to arrive at Washington Dulles Airport late the next day. The two objects will be marked for pick-up by Smithsonian Institution officials and their government escorts.

The next day, Ti watches the plane take off. She is not happy. She pouts. She wants to be on the plane and be there for whatever happens next. Frustrated, she turns away, kicks the dirt, and admits her misery, “I’m torn,” she mutters. As important as her work here is, she fears she’s making the wrong choice. She should have gone along. She should be part of the discoveries yet to happen. She fears that the black object and its mysteries will impact the world in ways she can’t even begin to fathom and she fears most that she’ll not be there to be part of what happens next.


Brief Excerpt from “Chapter 12. Conversionists”

Politics continue to play a big part in the black box's fate. As the conversionists and anticonversionists both grow in number and power, politicians feel increasingly trapped in this "lose, lose" situation.

Now, many anticonversionists embrace the view that the box has probably been on Earth for some time. Along with that, they believe that the black box was used in that distant past. They see the black box as the devil's hand reaching into Eden. Without the black box, many believe that God's original plan would be in place and “Eden” would exist. For them, the black box is the source of original sin or the result of it.

To the conversionists, the black box is the equivalent of the "holy grail" and sought with the same fervor. The government's hiding of the box is no less an outrage than a wall around Jerusalem. Conversionists demand access to the black box. They demand the right to conversion. Court suits are filed. Laws guaranteeing access to the box are introduced. The pressure to bring the black box out into the open grows quickly.

Already, politicians on each side of the issue have won and lost elections on this issue. For most of them, they wish the box never existed. There was a time when the destruction of the box was an easy solution. No longer. Now the ramifications of its destruction are potentially as great as its being accessible to the public.
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Postby Bmat » Thu Feb 15, 2007 11:14 am

I am intrigued by the stone. However, the present tense is very distracting.

The conversation with herself after discovering the stone seems stilted. It would work if she is making a voice recording, which maybe she is doing and I just missed it.

"tossed and turned" is hackneyed

“Oh my god! What if I get it wrong? - What is she worried about?

“Okay. Okay. Think. I can do this. Fortunately, I have over a week over figure this out before civilization returns in the form of the supply helicopter.” - needs "to"

, but here she tries to exercise a bit more care, since she does not want to destroy the object. - I'd think that she would want to exercise equal care with the stone chamber

It is surprising and confusing that the government officials would not find something so unusual as being of interest.

I suspect that contractions should not be used in the narration if they are not the in the thoughts of the character.

In general I am drawn in by the story and am interested in what the object is. The present tense, though, distracts me from the story.

Good luck with your work. :)
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Postby GChris » Thu Feb 15, 2007 11:23 am

Very much appreciate the feed back.

I and the editor assisting me with final editing tried the tense in both present and past and finally went with the present as the primary approach.

It is not that the federal folks would not have been interested, it is a question of having the right federal folks at this moment. That all will change as the book progresses. For example, see the brief excerpt from Chapter 12.

Thanks.
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Postby Bmat » Thu Feb 15, 2007 11:34 am

You are welcome.

Ah! I see about the federal people. Thanks for clearing this up.
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Postby Chaeronia » Thu Feb 15, 2007 2:29 pm

Hello, Chris

I was debating with myself whether or not to post my thoughts here, because it is quite clear that you have gone to a lot of effort in your writing. But, for good or bad, stories are posted on this site to gauge opinion and, as such, I feel I should mention how I just could not get past the tense and structure of the piece. It really was a struggle to get through.

I can't help but feel that your choice of tense will be an obstacle in your story's marketability, and whilst I understand that this is just one person's opinion, I think you are in danger of ostracising a lot of readers. To me the third person present does not make for a fluid read. I have no issue with the present tense per se, but I normally read or write from a first person PoV.

I would very much like to seen excerpt of yours written in a more 'normal' tense, as I think it could make a world of difference, but as it stands now it just seems to jar with me. The word 'unnatural' kept going through my mind as I read through it, and when it came to describing what Ti was thinking the third person style really seemed contrived. But I understand the effort that such alterations would require at this late stage, so all I can do is wish you all the best in your efforts. Please keep us updated as to how it is going.

In terms of the content (and I've not read it all as it's quite lengthy to read and comment on in detail), I had one or two issues:

I felt the second paragraph was unnecessary: it's just exposition that does not need to be there. It adds nothing, which means it detracts from the flow. The first half of the third paragraph also suffers for the same reason.

I felt the finding of the box, its description and its effect on her, was a little lacklustre. Again, the neutrality of the narrative caused by your use of tense meant I felt detached from what was happening, and I reciprocate Bmat's opinion on the stilted dialogue. I didn't get any feeling of gravitas at this obviously important moment.

You use the word 'But' four times in quick succession as she considers whether to take the objects with her – small thing, certainly, though noticeable. Watch out for repetition.

And again:

Inside the chamber is an object as unusual as the chamber itself. There’s a solid black object of nearly the same dimensions as the stone chamber. She carefully removes the black object from the chamber.

You repeat 'object' three times here. (Similar point in the fourth and fifth paragraphs with the use of 'sweat' and 'glasses.' Pedantic issues I know, but important.)

That's as far as I can read for now, although I did glance at the excerpt from the 12th chapter. This felt more like a synopsis of events rather than part of any story being told, so I would be a little wary of that, but it is hard to gauge properly as it's such a small section of a chapter that is deep into the book.

That's all from me. I hope you don't feel I have been unfair in anything I have said here, and I'd be very interested to hear any comments you might have. Again, I'd like to wish you all the best for when you publish your story.

Kind regards.
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black box

Postby GChris » Thu Feb 15, 2007 2:46 pm

I very much appreciate the feedback. You are picking up on some of the issues from earlier drafts that were improved, to a point.

Let me do a bit more thinking about what can or can't be done at this point. Will talk to the editor that has been working with me on some of these points.

Again, thanks. The goal here is to create very good science fiction that also carries a strong message.


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Postby GChris » Fri Feb 16, 2007 2:37 pm

Respecting the rules of engagement for the forum, Bmat and I were able to work out a good way both to get feedback on the soon to be released novel, "black box", and to let you know how to access it.

For those of you interested in reading the full book, I will be making "black box" available for reading on February 25th at http://www.GChris.com. The only "requirement" is that the reader is asked to return the favor in the form of a "good deed", some act of kindness in keeping with the book's message.

I also greatly appreciate the feedback so far and look forward to more. In the spirit of improving all of our works, I will share my suggestions for other people's work as well.

Thanks.


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Postby clknaps » Fri Feb 16, 2007 9:58 pm

Chris, welcome to the forum-
Intriguing story, I would like to read more. Thank you for posting this for us.
I agree with what the others have said, the tense was difficult for me to navigate through, perhaps because it's such a different style, one that I am not accustomed to reading.
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Postby Scriven » Fri Feb 16, 2007 10:11 pm

You start with an info dump on your main character. There isn't really anything to draw me in the first few pages.

One of the main rules of jungle exploration is: Never go anywhere alone. I think it would be extraordinarily rare for someone to just wander around untamed jungle by themselves, especially someone who traveled there to help protect the Amazon. Jungle ground growth is so thick you typically need to hack a path, you can't just go for a walk. This is out of character behavior for a "Jungle preservationist."

All the dialog is just descriptive monologue of Ti talking to her self. Its rather dull and sounds stilted.

How do you just "send" something to the Smithsonian? Especially if you're not an archaeologist and have no contacts there?

The better part of story telling is showing and not telling. You do a lot of telling and not that much showing.

Also, "I just found this strange artifact in the jungle, let me use my cutting torch on it?" What the hell?

I think if you're going to to an "Object" short story you really need to have a lot of hard science to back it up. You might want to try reading Singularity by Bill DeSmedt
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Postby GChris » Sat Feb 17, 2007 2:42 pm

Again, good feedback for this and Book 2 which is in final edit.

On Ti, who does not continue as a main character, I wrestled with how to introduce her enough but without slowing down the story. I plan to do some refinement before publishing next weekend.

On the first person style, I've gotten varying feedback on whether to change or not. An earlier version was not first person. I'm inclined to stay first person though I realize the tradeoffs that I may be making.

Keep in mind that Ti is very early in her career and is not necessarily making the best decisions in terms of being out in the jungle or in how she handles the black box and it container. The "torch" was an example of frustration coupled with over enthusiasm.

Also, she is not really that much alone out there. This is a team exploring a new area and she is just operating out one of the new directions. It is also to bring the point that dumb bad luck is what brings something (the black box) hidden out into the open.

On showing versus telling, I think that gets better as the book progresses. I'm taking one last look at that as well.

Again, many thanks. Hopefully, I can return the favor.

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Postby GChris » Thu Feb 22, 2007 3:21 pm

Just a quick note that I have made several key changes based on review feedback as I prepare for the Feb 25th posting.

Based on the very helpful input, Book 2 has been re-titled to “save the world complex” and the Series has been re-titled to “Save the World Complex”. The new title(s) speaks more to why the book was written, what message it is trying to transmit, and what it challenges people to do. This also ties together the novel with my “progressive art” (e.g. “save the world, complex” sculpture) sculpture work. The theme play off both how people are characterized (having a “save the world” complex) and how difficult it is to “save” an extraordinarily complex world. Originally, this theme was going to be introduced later, but it seems better to do so now.

I do much appreciate the help and look forward to more.


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Postby GChris » Sun Feb 25, 2007 10:10 am

Just a quick note to let you know that black box is finished and now available online. Just requires a "good deed".

Many thanks to all the people who helped review the draft. A number of refinements were made based on the suggestions.

I hope you enjoy.


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