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Going underground

Davy’s story first came to mind almost twenty years ago. I was working in a wafer fab in Dallas, and I had a vision of a policeman leaning against a wall, arms folded, watching the world go by. That world was underground, and humanity had moved there after some nameless apocalypse.

It wasn’t set on Earth. I made it vague enough that it wasn’t set anywhere recognisable. Anyhow, at the time I first started writing, Davy was Davy Persaud, a man, and a ranking officer in his nation’s law enforcement. He was investigating the Blue Legion, a cadre of terrorists that wanted humanity to live topside again. He got caught up with a number of people, including some beguiling women, and quite a few bad guys too.

I wrote several "iterations" of this story, drafts if you will. Here is chapter one of such an iteration. When an excerpt of one of these iterations (possibly the one I’ve uploaded) was posted to Authonomy, a creative writing website hosted by HarperCollins, it got a reasonable amount of interest. People liked it.

Yet, I never did.

It lacked something. As I rewrote and edited it, I tried to make it more "bad-ass", up the ante, cyberpunk it a little, without going down that route entirely. This was always a story about people, not their gee-whiz interaction with whizz-bang gadgetry and dazzling neon lights. It would have been too easy to ape Blade Runner and the tale would have lost all meaning.

One commenter said: then why make it science fiction? The story would stand on its own merits without giving it a SF treatment. I’ve mulled that option but I keep coming back to the underground, near future setting.

Now, this scenario has been done before. A policeman living in an underground society investigating crimes. Most famously, Isaac Asimov covered this ground with Caves of Steel, which I still haven’t read. I just know its basic premise.

So if and when I shopped the completed version of Davy’s story around, no doubt comparisons would be made, and not to my advantage. Asimov has some big shoes to fill, and I’m not trying to emulate him.

Gender fluidity

Davy’s story, which started off as Their Name is Legion, a take on Mark 5:9, turned into Kicking Concrete once I altered Davy into a woman, and changed his surname from Persaud to Lascelles.

Kicking Concrete is what Davy does figuratively. Her life has been one of constant frustration and near-misses. Then she meets the man she feels she can share her life with. Of course, it’s complicated.

But why the change to a woman? Well, not only did Davy (now short for Davina) become female, she also became younger, and lesser in rank - a trooper rather than a captain. The answer as to why is simple. I’m a man and it’s not challenging to get in a man’s head and spill out his fears, secrets and ambitions. I don’t think it is.

I can only guess what a woman is thinking or feeling with any given scenario. Some of that guessing is educated, but it’s still a guess. It’s a challenge therefore to write a comprehensively rounded female character that doesn’t react in hackneyed and predictable ways.

I’ve gone this direction with another character in a novel series I’m working on, and I think I’ve succeeded in creating a believable and compelling woman. My oldest child agrees that I have, so there is that.

Reacting to the world

There’s no point in setting a novel in an underground country unless people are somehow affected by this existence. Otherwise, it’s pointless window dressing. Same with setting a story on a spaceship or Mars. If these places don’t fundamentally affect the story and those dwell within, why put them there? As the Authonomy commentator said, Davy would work just as well without the troglodyte world and the SF.

Davy, in all his/her iterations, isn’t bothered by agoraphobia, which most of the folks in his/her world are. The open skies and the lethality of topside are major bugbears to the citizenry. So, characters do react to the threat of the world outside their own bubble.

But I’m still not happy with this subterranean scenario. As I said, Asimov did it before, and no matter how well I write Kicking Concrete, comparisons will be made. I was about fifty pages into the latest iteration when it dawned on me that rewriting the story is simply wallpapering.

So, it’s complete rewrite time. As I do with all of my unused material, I will cannibalise from it to create the new. Maybe I’ll actually properly outline it and go from there too, keeping in mind some caveats that I touch on here.

©1996-present Peter (Booth) Greenwell - texts and images CC BY-SA 4.0
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