Sunday, September 23, 2007

Author's Note and Some Introduction to Dark Underbelly

About [cough] number of years ago, I had this idea. I had it while reading technical papers on the atmosphere of Venus.

The Cytherean (the hoity toity adjective for "Venusian") atmosphere is way cool for an atmospheric scientist. For one thing, there's so much of it, almost 100 times as much as Earth's. It has about as much nitrogen as Earth's atmosphere, but the rest of it is carbon dioxide, pretty much a planetary supply of it, whereas most of Earth's carbon dioxide is locked up in carbonate rocks, with a lesser amount dissolved in the oceans, and just a whisper in the air itself. Our oxygen does derive from CO2, however, with the remaining carbon mostly spread about in little bits of graphite in the crust, plus a few smidges in higher concentrations, which we call fossil fuels.

Venus is a "runaway greenhouse," hot as hell on the surface, and pressurized to boot. Not a place you'd want to live.

But while I was reading those technical articles, I noticed the pressure/temperature curves, and they said that between 50 and 60 kilometers above the surface, where the atmospheric pressure was near one bar, i.e. what we have on the Earth's surface, the temperature was also pretty livable, maybe 20-30 Celsius, say from 68 to 86 degrees F, for those who think in those units.

Well, there's a reason for that, and part of it has to do with Venus being an imperfect greenhouse, like Earth is, except that Earth has a lot of water vapor and not much CO2 and Venus has a lot of CO2 and not much water vapor. It does, however, have clouds of dilute sulfuric acid. The tops of those clouds are pretty close to that "Earth zone" of pressure and temperature.

Okay, so even in the "Earth zone" breathing the air would kill you in seconds, so you'd never notice the acid fog as it ate away your clothes and skin. So you don't want to try to live out in the open. But how about inside of something?

The air is carbon dioxide. A balloon filled with oxygen and nitrogen will float in a carbon dioxide atmosphere.

So I wrote a story about it, "Aphrodite's Children." A. J. Budrys liked it, so it appeared in Tomorrow SF. And there was a back story, about interplanetary colonies cut off from Earth because something really bad had happened on Earth. I made it a plague, with a lingering planetary defense system that had gone crazy because it was robotic and robots go crazy when a lot of people die on them. Seemed reasonable. Part of it is old SF tropes, and part is the "we need to colonize Space because all our eggs shouldn't be in one basket." And part of that was just how dubious a rationale that is for colonization. Losing Earth would probably kill any actual colonies, but I put it through the everything-you-expect-is-wrong grinder and came out with a lost Mars colony, a weirdly flourishing Venus, and an authoritarian State on the Moon.

All in the back of my head, you understand. Little of this made it to "Aphrodite's Children."

And then I woke up one morning with the beginning of a story in my head that I couldn't shake. The guy in the story woke up too, and he was irritable, and smart-mouthed, and dangerous, and he'd done something really, really bad once, and a lot of people were very indebted to him because he'd done it.

And I didn't know what he'd done, but I had to find out, so I began to write.

I was part of an ongoing group of professional writers at the time, since jokingly named "Will Write for Food." We had monthly meetings, and I brought in about three chapters a month. And most everybody was fascinated by the story, especially including me. It was rather like reading one of the old serialized pulp stories, even for me, because things kept happening in it that I didn't expect or plan on.

And the protagonist, Ed Honlin, (look, his name came from the dream also, so I can't tell you how I got it), was a classic noir detective, in an environment where firearms were almost entirely absent. You don't shoot off a gun when you're inside of a balloon, even if metal is plentiful, which it isn't on my Venus. And you don't use guns on the Moon, because, well, damn, there's vacuum outside, isn't there?

So it's all martial arts and such, and my guy is both big and well-trained. It turned out that he'd had some enhancements added as well. He can't beat everybody, but he can pretty much beat anybody, if you know what I mean.

He's also damaged goods, in many, many ways. And he knows much more than he should about torture. I wrote all of this before Guantanamo and Abu Ghraib, and I found upon later re-reading it that I didn't have to change a thing. I hadn't done any in depth research on torture, but it doesn't take a maven to realize that Jack Bauer fantasies are crap.

Anyway, you can get this much from the first chapter. I'm going to put up the whole thing, a chapter at a time, at my convenience or at others' urging, because there aren't any old pulp magazines to serialize this thing, and I've been recently reminded that life is short and I'm tired of waiting for agents and publishers to figure out what to do with it. Maybe if a few more people read it, they'll figure it out.

One way or another.

It's title is Dark Underbelly.

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