Monday, June 29, 2009

The Complete Bronze and Glass

It has been a longstanding issue with the blog's navigation that it displays posts from most recent to least. This is perfectly fine on the main page, where most usage is concerned with seeing what's been posted last; but when trying to read through a series, especially one with more than a handful of entries, it becomes extremely bothersome.

This is an attempt to counteract that, with bonuses. A "Table of Contents" for the series, with commentary in white after each post. (To avoid 'spoilers'.) They're intended to be read after you've finished the entire series, and may not make sense otherwise. (Well, all right. They may not make sense, period. But that's the risk you take reading anything that I write.)

Part 1. The gears spin to life.Huh, it's been a while, hasn't it! Thinking back.

The most obvious thing, looking at this post, is that it's in a completely different style. Honestly, not sure why that happened; the transition shows up around part 4. (I'll comment more on it then.) Kind-of wish I'd kept this style throughout - it's much more lighthearted, which strikes me as superior, in general, to TERRIBLE SERIOUSNESS - but given the wordcount in parts 1-3 compared to that of 4-epilogue, I think I know which I'll rewrite if I ever try to sort this thing into a more coherent, unified form. Pity.

Another brief note - when I began writing this series, I had intended to write it in a single post. (I had the general structure of the story known from before I ever started writing, less a few of the specifics; notably, the ending.) The rapid-fire sequence of the first three posts came from my attempt to just finish the silly thing; by the end of post three, it had become somewhat clear that the story was rather too large for that. Still, funny thought.

Interesting things about the post itself, then. Two things. First - it is perhaps notable that Two never actually met Four before its departure. Perhaps not. Second - notice the "Omni-Chassis", mentioned here? Notice how it sticks out like a sore thumb? Notice how it never actually showed up in the story itself?


Yeah, the "Omni-Chassis" is what later became the "working frame". (That bit of terminology itself coined because I was really sick of using the plural of "Chassis" - "Chassis.") Call it a blooper, and let's move on.

Part 2. The matter of identity. Funny - I'd entirely forgotten the Council segment of this post until I re-read it just now. This is exactly why we need name-tags on our posts!


Perhaps not.

Yeah, the most interesting thing here is our friend Forty-Three. Look at him. So ready, so eager to drop everything and serve at a moment's notice! So shy and reserved! Truly he is the best of friends.

Aside from him, I should probably clarify the matter of the paint. "How, exactly, if they've never had paint, do they know the word for it?" you ask. Oh - now you're getting into vocabulary in sci-fi/fantasy, my friend! A poor move. There's two good explanations. The first - they don't actually have a word for paint, but instead created one on the spot from roots - like, say, 'blueglass', which is not a word, but is perfectly comprehensible. It's a decent explanation, but rather avoids the real question: "How do they have language at all? They've only existed for a day!" The correct answer is that they came with a pre-programmed vocabulary, presumably based on the language of the Creator. (Thus their ability to speak to him.) And that vocabulary includes a word for paint.

Problem: solved.

One last brief note - spot the "etchings into our very metal" comparison? (Five's first line in this scene.) Remember where that shows up again? I'll mention it again then, in case you don't.

Part 3.
Our hero takes charge. Ah, all kinds of things first show up here. The geography is established - I drew a map at one point, which I may end up re-creating for this. (I wrote all over the original.) The issue of Two's crash is solved - nightfall! (It's actually something somewhat stranger than that, but I'll explain more in the commentary for a later post, where the distinction becomes clearer.) The limit on mechanism-reproduction is set (though, in fact, the number of mechanism caps out at around two-hundred and fifty - the census wasn't that accurate, and a handful of backups were built after the cap was set, granted for especially valourous conduct.) And, of course, the Three subplot is set up.

A brief note on the Council - yes, most of its members never really do anything within the story. That's because they're pretty much Four's minions; not much for independent action. (Though one of them, Twelve, gets a very brief (non-speaking!) role here.) A list of Council members, from the moment we first see the Council onwards:
Two: Eldest and wisest of the council-mechanisms. Oversight role.
Four: Most... vehement of council-mechanisms. Basic research.
Five: Somewhat indecisive. Mechanism-at-large.
Seven: Very formal. Oversees Council etiquette, intermittently.
Eight: Something of a geek. Chief engineer, which is a pretty important post, for a mechanism.
Nine: "A nobody", in Eleven's words. Maintainance. Mostly toadies to Four.
Ten: Also a bit of a nobody. Briefly oversaw surveying, before Forty-Three took over; later ended up in charge of the military operations, before its destruction in the Great Defeat. Kinda got a rough deal. Total toady to Four.
Eleven: Really, really bitter. (By the time we meet it, anyway.) It's not clear what it did while it was on the Council, but it's so ticked off at the hypocrisy it sees there that it ends up creating the Unbounded. (Oops.) Appears especially annoyed at Four.
Twelve: The last of Four's toadies. It's never mentioned, but its role in the Council is oversight of resource extraction. (Woodcutting, ore-mining, and that's about it.)
Forty-Three: Appointed to the Council by special merit; close companion to Two. Handles odd-jobs initially, graduates to complete control of all ornithopter operations. (All that it's allowed to know about, anyway.)

Six and One aren't on the Council because it formed after they buried themselves; Three's not on it because he left first. And that's pretty much all there is to say about the Council, except to note its self-appointed, entirely undemocratic nature. (They seemed to get away with it.)

Other noteworthy things about this post:
- The picture. It really is adorable! (And yes, if it wasn't clear, I drew it. I am not an artist.)
- The comment - the first and only of these posts that the inimitable Mr. Zhang has read. His instinctive grasp of the material is obvious.

Part 4. A lot of walking, a lot of talking, zero action. And here we have the style transition. Things get more serious, slower-moving, and much longer. (So very much longer.) Aside from that...

- Three tends to be a bit more taciturn than the others. This is a characterisation that I tried to apply throughout his scenes, with limited success. (Here, for instance, he has quite a nice little monologue.)
- I'm quite fond of their travelling-chassis. (Which, if I ever had to, I would probably end up pluralizing as "travelling-frames", just so I could avoid that dang unpluralizable "chassis.) It's kind-of got a character to it, you know? It's with them for almost their entire journey! (With the exception of the last leg to the Creator.) Man, I miss that thing.
- Yeah, Learned Hand. Like his brothers, he has a namesake. I heard it once and immediately knew it had to feature. Sadly, he's not nearly as cool as the man he's named after. Alas.
Also - it's not really clear in the text, I think - Learned Hand is a six-foot tall Mayan-esque statue. (Obviously, I couldn't describe him with that term in the narrative!) The mechanisms are "less than an inch in any dimension". He's a bit bigger than them.

Part 5. A follow-up to the cliffhanger at the end of Part 4, and exploration of dimly-lit areas. As with Part 4, a lot of walking, a lot of talking; this really was a slow section of the series. (Though things heated up afterwards.) I had a great deal of trouble writing this post - not full-fledged writer's block, but something close - and I think it shows. It's... slow.

Things heated up shortly thereafter, though.

Notes on the post:

- I'm pretty sure that my description of Learned Hand is the most description I gave to anything, with the possible exception of the Cities, much later. Everything else - the mechanisms, the ornithopters, the chassis/frames, and of course the Creator - was left pretty much to the reader's imagination. I am well aware that this is a traditional feature of the written word, to some degree, but in a series with such peculiar creatures and concepts, it may have been something of a weakness... if anyone ever reads this (unlikely!) and feels inclined to weigh in one way or another, shoot me an e-mail. nick (dot) feinberg (shift-2) gmail (dot) com, as ever.

Actually, just do that if you have anything to say about this series, or any of the rest. Feedback is the fuel of the writer, as they say.

- My characterization on the map scene was... hm. Makes the Hands seem rather a bit dimmer than they are.

- Ten thousand days isn't actually a very long time.

- Three never did end up seeing Two again. Aww.

This was the last part of the story I wrote before completing my outline. While I was writing the preceding ones, I had a general idea of the story, but wasn't entirely sure about the ending and the ordering of events. The outline helped a great deal to structure events and keep things moving at a decent pace; none of the other parts were nearly as slow as these last two, I think.

Outlines: a useful tool for long-form writing? Who would have thought?

Part 6. Back home, differences of opinon escalate. Four is really less than helpful, at times.

And by 'at times', I mean 'pretty much all of the time.'


- Was happy that I managed to work a mention of the Purge in. There's a number of things that are true ('true') of the mechanisms and their world that I never ended up writing into the story. (This is because the background serves the story, not vice versa - if I put every detal of history and culture that I can think of into the posts, they would not only be three times longer, but much less interesting.) For an example, there was a long explanation of the mechanisms' calendars, and some details about their practices for actually using their 'backups'... didn't go in. But the Purge did, as a quick mention, so I was happy that it worked out.

- Seven actually shows some character here! Shocking. Thankfully, it never happens again, and he remains completely flat for the rest of the series.

- Odd that Nine doesn't toe the party line and ends up voting against Four - rather uncharacteristic, given his unquestioning support throughout the rest of the series. My suspicion is that he's a bit of an opportunist - sides with Two while he remains dominant in the mechanism-politics, switches sides later...

It's not clear in the text, though.

Part 7
. Negotiations go poorly; surprises are sprung. And a quick pop-over to Learned Hand & co, trudging through the sands.


- I transition from 'chassis' to 'work-frames' here. Bit of an agonized shift. Really wish I'd come up with a better term. Ah - I should've invented one! Like "gearsteeds!"

If I ever get this published, that'll be one of the things I change. Beyond a doubt.

- Man, Eleven gets some really good jibes in.

- The question Twenty asks Learned Hand is less major, in the final Bronze and Glass, than it eventually was - the ending shifted a bit during production. But it might be fair to argue that it's the central question driving the plot - the Unbounded, after all, are the obvious answer. (Their purpose is not to serve Creation, but to, simply, reproduce - sounds a bit like a criticism of secular humanism, doesn't it, if you look at it that way? Believe me, it's not intended.)

- I really regret the curse words. I mean, there's some impact, but... in retrospect, it was a poor choice. My apologies.

Part 8. Conversation with an everyman, griping, and a long-belated revelation. I think the structure for this post, and the last one, worked really well. It's the first time I've done this, in a story - the switching back between alternate plot locations. (I think.) Learning experience!

- Re-reading it, I have a strong feeling that the ornithopter landing sequence was (unconsciously) inspired by something from Star Wars. Like, Luke landing his X-Wing, or something of the sort. It has that feel.

- One-Twenty-Six retracts it, but he's totally right - Forty-Three is a bit of a manipulator, when it suits him.

- Lots of details about the mechanisms' use of fire for night ops. Don't recall if I ever explained it in the story proper, but the basic idea is that they actually operate on something rather like an ideal heat engine - take heat from one source, spit it into a colder location, do work with the difference. Their poor operation in the desert (mentioned in the last part) is because there, everything is hot - they can't dump heat from the air into the sand very well, because there's not much difference between them. They completely shut down at night, when the air gets colder than the ground...

It probably falls apart if you look at it too closely, but that's the basic idea.

Hey, look, I'm totally ignoring what I wrote a bit ago! Go me!

- One-Twenty-Six and its backups show up a few times more. I'll try to remember to mention when they do.

- The reason Forty-Three sets up a meeting with One-Twenty-Six is to arrange the special survey flights, the ones that Two complains about later. For its own reasons, it wants to keep things private.

- In Three's interlude - the basic idea is that these sites, the ones they visit before they find the Creator, are previous settlements of the Creator's creations - sentient machines, not dissimilar to the mechanisms. They ended up destroying themselves well before Three arrived, in what you might call "foreshadowing".

If you were into that kind of thing, I guess.

- Pity that palisade repair didn't really do anyone much good.

- The dam is first introduced here - I'd wanted to put it in earlier, but it got crowded out. (Ditto with the Cities). My worry was that the dam would be seen as introduced at the last moment, abruptly - this didn't really happen, luckily.

The Cities, on the other hand...

Well. Moving on.

Part 9. It was a dark and rainy night. Well, all right, it was day... still. You understand.

- I'm not actually sure that the mechanisms can squint.

- Tens of thousands of days seems like a lot - and for the mechanisms, which have existed for just eighty, it is! But it's actually - assuming their orbital period is roughly three-sixty-five days, and/or that they're on Earth - just over twenty-seven years. Not exactly millenia.

- There's a lot of weird things going on with the mechanism religion. It's basically a weird variant of the watchmaker argument, applied to the self. It does seem to be at least partially vindicated at the end - they do find their Creator. But I'm not really certain that they were created backwards in time.

You could go either way on that one, I guess.

- Aww. Poor Twenty! If this was a television show, it'd be the most adorable, energetic one. The one you make everyone love! You make toys of it!

I guess you probably wouldn't be able to kill it off, then.

Just another reason this will never be on TV.

- If only Learned Hand could hover a few inches higher in the air, it wouldn't have these problems!

- Thirteen is babbling a bit at the end, if it isn't clear. It's very excited.

- Also, this is the reason that Three and Thirteen aren't valid subjects for Creation, after everyone else is destroyed in the aftermath of the battle and flood. Just in case you were looking for 'plot holes'.

(You devil, you. Go pick on a series that actually has professional editors and stuff! I'm too easy a target to be subjected to such cruelties.)

Anyway, we move back to the Origin and the main cast after this. Won't see the others again until the Epilogue. (Which was originally going to be a separate post, which I'd delay for several hours or a day, just to really bum out / mess with my readers. Reader. Mr. Rebert.)

(Yeah, didn't end up doing that.)

Part 10. A walk and talk, and some more talking on the side.

The mechanism are really bad at that whole 'ecology' and 'preserving nature' thing. To be fair, they've only been around for a few months. Haven't exactly gotten a chance to build a long-term understanding of things...

Plus, it's not like we did any better.

- One-Twenty-Six reappears.

- Ooo! Four gets 'owned', as the kids say! Go, heckler, go! (I'd forgotten that bit.)

- Interesting to contrast the mechanisms' values to our own. The Unbounded are, if anything, much more human than the Originals. They value their own existences; they reproduce freely... oh! And they aren't big fans of torture. The Originals, naturally, have only contempt for them as a result.

Except, possibly, for Two. Two seems to have compassion - it wants to cure the Unbounded, bring them back into the fold.

Well-intended, but even if Two had been listened to - instead of the mechanisms following Four's leadership instead - I'm not sure the Unbounded would have taken it well.

- In context of the 'heat engine' thing, earlier, the Cities are mostly about concentrating heat in the air (by means of the light and so forth), keeping a temperature gradient running... not certain it makes all that much sense, really.

- A cliffhanger! I wonder what will happen next?

Part 11. Beginning of the end. But not the end of the beginning. That was Part 3, probably. Or maybe Part 1. Depends on how you think about it.

...yeah, anyway. Moving on.

- Ooo, time-lapse format! Watch the mood change as time passes! Watch: it gets darker.

And so does the time of day!

So clever

(^period intentionally omitted)

- Never gave a really in-depth description of ornithopter dogfighting. If I ever revisit the series, I may rectify that.

- Ten is writing Four's battle plans, if that's not clear. It's a bit of an armchair general. Things don't end well for it, sadly.

- Power shifts to Four here - it's been going in that direction ever since the vote to abduct Eleven, but this is the final push. Makes a big difference for the mechanisms' strategy. From 'try to avoid killing fellow mechanisms, when possible' to 'KILL THEM ALL, LET THE CREATOR SORT IT OUT'.

Also, Four does some shouting.

- The 'sharpened wing-edges' are for dogfighting.

- One-Twenty-Six appears again! ...for the final time. It's their first loss, but it won't be their last.

- The spring guns don't make that enormous an appearance in the final battle. Mostly, they're used as small arms for the crew. Sorry! I thought they'd be more useful than they were. (So did Eight!)

The firebombs really stole the show!

- Also: obviously, the presentation is unrealistic. Everyone who has ever done a presentation involving any type of technology knows that if there is any "reliability defect" present, it will always make itself known during the presentation. That's how you know this story is fantasy.

- I read a lot of military fiction, so I had fun writing the description of the battle. Seemed plausible to me. Sometimes things go like that.

- The bit about the funerals, like the mention of the Purge, was another background thing that worked its way into the story.

- Forty-Three totally isn't hiding anything.

Part 12. Finale. Everyone dies.

This is the bit where I get pretentious. (It's about the whole series, not Part 12 specifically.)

"So," you might ask, were you in a literature class examining Bronze and Glass. (God help you!) "What's the point of this story? What's the meaning the author's trying to convey?"

Authorial intent, generally, is irrelevant to literary criticism, so I can't just tell you "it's about pies" and settle the matter then and there. (It's not actually about pies.) But I can give you a few thoughts, my hypothetical friend. Those are: It's probably not about faith - at least, not in a simple way. Everything every character does is influenced by faith - "rational faith", as one character terms it, or otherwise - with the exception of the Unbounded. So the story is that of the villanous atheists rebelling against the virtuous faithful, eventually destroying the latter because of their own leniency towards the ungodly? Perhaps - but Four and its cabal is portrayed the least sympathetically of all, even more than the Unbounded - at least, the way I tried to write them, in any case. (Note the encounter between Four and the Unbounded leader.) It's probably not some nihilistic creed, arguing that everything the characters back at Origin did was pointless - after all, they all died, their grand constructions were ruined, but One still got Created, right? (Or they did all that, and One still wasn't created.) But remember - if Two hadn't destroyed the dam - and if all the other mechanisms hadn't fought hard enough and well enough to buy it the time to do that - then there would have been a horde of very unfriendly Unbounded waiting for the Creator's party on their return. That would have been a rather less pleasant ending, I think.

So - why "Cities of Bronze and Glass?" Were they really all that major to the plot?

No. But the first thing I envisioned - the very core of the story - is the vision of the grand domes rising out of the forest, shimmering bronze.

The second thing was their destruction

(This post itself took over two months, on and off, to compile. It weighs in at around 3700 words - about 17% of the length of the series proper.)

(Something about this series...)


Chris said...

I think The Council's form of government deserves its own word: Numerocracy - rule by the low-numbered.

Cavalcadeofcats said...

It's really just seniority - gerontocracy - though I like the idea.