November 01, 2005


NaNoWriMo, or the National Novel Writing Month, has started.

For some insane reason, I thought I would give it a go this year. Fifty thousand words in thirty days? Ha! Piece of pie. Easy as cake. (ed. - avoid cliches, especially getting them wrong).

Actually, I have had a juvenile science fiction novel bouncing around inside my brain for a few months. It will definitely show influences of Heinlein and Kim Stanley Robinson, though I hope it has some of my voice, too. I've sketched out a few (three) main character treatments, and written a very rough plot outline, so I'm hoping the thing will write itself. (Ha!)

I posted a dialogue exercise from the pre-novel here a while ago. I probably won't be able to use that, as the "rules" require new prose. I may have to bend the rules a bit, though, since that conversation never went anywhere and I never wrote more than a couple of hundred words.

Even though the goal is a 50,000 word novel(la) by the end of the month, I may write more or less. I'm just trying to write every day, though.

If you want, you can check out the first 982 words of the next great American juvenile science fiction novel below the fold. I will accept constructive criticism, and look forward to suggestions about naming the thing (Jake's first name is based on my dog's name, and the last name pays tribute to the Swiss Family Robinson, Robinson Caruso, and the author of one of the best Martian SF trilogies ever written, Kim Stanley Robinson).

Chapter One
Home Under the Range

Jake Robinson ran.

At the age of seven mears, his paces already stretched at least five meters each when in a full run. Of course “run” is not quite the right word. Instead, he loped in the graceful awkwardness that all children of Earth display when moving quickly in the one-third Martian gravity.

Even when, as with Jake and his parents, the children of Earth were born on Mars.

Jake’s running boots echoed in a slap-back patter off the cavernous walls of basalt, as he retraced the billion-year old journey of a Martian lava flow. The path of this particular lava tube wound through a twenty-kilometer circuit, most of which his father had sealed and pressurized over the past ten mears.

Embedded in the Martian bedrock below and behind these walls was an ancient aquifer. An aquifer whose waters rained on the Martian surface when the oceans of Earth were just bringing forth their first complex organisms.

A little bit further, he thought.

Recently pressurized, the air in this part of the lava tube was cool, dry, and odorless, except for a faint hint of ozone. Jake coughed - his throat and mouth were dry and sticky. The omnipresent fines that found their way into everything on Mars always caught up with him halfway through his morning run.

He gulped a few swallows of water from his belt bottle and glanced at his wrist comp.


Twenty-seven minutes out. This was the point furthest from the elevator lobby that led back up to his family settlement, Prometheus station.

If I can just keep up the pace, this might be my best time yet, he thought.

Heading back toward his home, Jake began to remember the accident. His mom and sister. The anger came back. The guilt.

Just push it. Harder.

His loping pace increased by at least another meter per step. His jaw clenched.

Focus on the time.

As Jake ran up to the elevator door that led from this gigantic basement to his family’s settlement just on and under the Martian hill country, he took another glance at the wrist comp:


Best time yet. Twenty klicks in 52 minutes. Not bad for a kid.

He stepped into the elevator, punched the “M” button, and drained the remainder of the water from his bottle.

He considered the last few drops in the bottle. Water was his family’s business.

Well, water and the heat needed to extract it through the Martian permafrost.

And electricity. Where you had water and heat, you had electricity.

Jake rode the elevator the hundred meters or so up to the main level of the Prometheus complex. He stepped out into the main airlock that joined the five spokes of the gigantic underground wheel he called home.

“Jake, is that you?” asked his dad.

Who else would it be, he thought. “Yes, dad.”

Paul Robinson walked into the airlock. “What was your time today?”

“Fifty-two minutes, dad.”

“That’s fantastic, son! I hope you’re still planning to enter the race over in the Burroughs Burrow next month. Are you?”

Jake paused. “I don’t know dad.”

His dad’s face clouded over slightly.

“I’m just not sure I’m ready to do it.”

“That’s OK, son. Whenever you’re ready.”

Paul said, “And speaking of ready, you need to get ready to go out and check out the panels. For some reason our main heater is pulling some extra amps. Until we can get it diagnosed, we need to get every last bit of power from the panels to keep from dipping into our reserves.”

“Right, dad.”

Jake headed down the eastern spoke to his quarters for a quick shower and breakfast snack before he suited up to head outside.

An hour later, Jake stepped out into the Martian morning. The morning sun shone weakly in a clear salmon sky. Jake walked along the geometric trails along the valley floor that traced the circle-and-spoke outline of the Prometheus farm. His boots crunched the frosty ground, occasionally stirring small puffs of dust.

Another typical morning on Mars, he thought.

Jake was inspecting each of the kilometer-long arms of the sprawling solar farm. He keyed his in-helmet phone: “Dad? We need to let the spiders out. The panels on axis C are looking a bit dusty this morning.”

“Will do, son,” came the reply from his dad. “Thanks for telling me. When you’re done with the rest of your walk-around, get back in here pronto. I’ve got a surprise for you.”

“’Right, dad. I’ll be back inside in about an hour.”

A, B, and C axes done, he thought. Only E, F, and G to go.

As Jake continued around and began to inspect the fourth arm of the massive hybrid-thermal-electric solar collector, he glanced over at the C axis, noting the small army of spider-shaped robotic cleaners already dusting off the panels.

Most farmers have their bots do this automatically, he thought, with a hint of resentment that his dad made him physically walk around. Not only that, but they monitored the status of the panels remotely.

His dad had explained that spiders were not cheap, and that the less they were used, the longer they would last. If Jake didn’t like that, he could always consider dusting the panels manually. His dad didn’t trust the remote monitors, either, and wanted a real person to investigate them personally.

His mom used to do it, and she would sometimes bring Jake and his little sister along. But that was before the accident…

Don’t go there, he thought angrily.

The thought of dusting more than 18,000 square meters by hand kept Jake from complaining too much about his dad’s odd choice of chores. In fact, Jake normally looked forward to the chance to walk around his family’s station early in the morning. It gave him time to think about things.

Posted by JohnL at November 1, 2005 09:53 PM | TrackBack

I'm no expert on writing fiction, so I'll just say it's good enough to get me interested and looking forward to its continuation.

Posted by: Boyd at November 2, 2005 08:48 AM

Dig it! I'm glad you're doing this -- I am too and are we insane?!?! lol. You're off to a great start (I saw the second part to this -- I'm hopping over to read that next!), and keep it up! :D

Posted by: dawn at November 3, 2005 03:55 PM

Sounds like a good beginning. Esp. like the "mears" for Mars-years. Good touch.

One thing Heinlein did so well was to be able to drop a detail into a story (best examlpe: "The door dilated") w/o explanation & let context establish it. (Few cowboys ever paused to explain their Colt .45's, after all...)


Might be a good idea to have some sort of sealant sprayed on those lava-tube walls... cut air loss via fractures as well as avoid silicosis, etc.

Don't forget to take care of the atmospheric water vapor (w. dehumidifiers) - don't want to waste water, after all...

Do they really need an elevator in 0.3G? unless heavy equipment is coming up & down, I'd think a ladder more than adequate.

Best of luck w. the story!

Posted by: JohnW at November 4, 2005 06:28 PM
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