Saturday, October 11, 2008

Reading Update #6 and Story Idea #5

Another Thursday deadline missed, but this past week I hit a perfect storm of deadlines; between updating, finishing Farmerphile #14 and oh yea, some actual work related projects. "Mike is thinking about books" got pushed to the bottom of the list.

In the bedroom: This last week I read The Long Loud Silence by Wilson Tucker. For some reason I seem to go a year or so between reading his books and I'm always a little surprised how good they are and how much I enjoy them. I finished that book on Thursday and then started The Last Colony by John Scalzi. The danger of reading Scalzi, for me anyway, is staying up past 2:00am reading because I can't put the book down.

In the downstairs bathroom: My wife and I were talking to our 8th grade daughter about what foreign language she wants to take in high school, her choices being Spanish, French, German or Latin. Being practical minded she is leaning towards Spanish but my wife and I think she should consider Latin, especially since she (for now) says she wants to be a teacher. So, I went to the library and found AD INFINITVM: A Biography of Latin. I'm reading this hoping I will find something interesting enough, to get her to read, to perhaps pique her curiosity. However, I am a math geek with an engineering degree who always struggled in English and Grammar classes, so the chances of me finishing this book are 50/50.

At the office: I finished Wetware by Rudy Rucker on Friday. I can't imagine what reading his books stoned would be like, but straight they are quite a trip. Earlier this year I bought a 24 volume set of the complete works of Mark Twain. I had already read, or listened to, ten of them before I bought the set, and this is the first time I've had a chance to read one of these. I am taking A Tramp Abroad to the office on Monday. I hope it is even half as good as The Innocents Abroad which is my favorite Twain.

In the car: I wasn't too far into A Man without a Country by Kurt Vonnegut, when I realized I had listened to it before. That's ok, I happily listened to it again. While I was searching the library's database for books on Latin I came across A History of the English Language by Michael Drout. This is part of the Modern Scholar series of college lectures on cd I have talked about before. I put it on hold but since there is a wait I will need to find something else to listen to in the meantime.

Story Idea #5

Reading The Long Loud Silence reminded me of an idea I had a few years ago for an "End of the World" science fiction novel. It starts out with the main character, an unmarried loner, being in the hospital getting an MRI. He is in the machine surrounded by a strong magnetic field and, it being early in the morning, he falls asleep. Outside a meteor passes by very close to the earth and within a few hours nearly every single person and animal on the planet drops dead. Our hero finally wakes up, and after getting no replies to his question about how much longer this is going to take, he eventually slides himself out of the machine. He discovers the technicians on the other side of the glass wall slumped forward on their desks dead.

As he leaves the hospital he finds dead people sitting and lying everywhere. He has a hard time driving home because of all the car accidents which leads him to believe that everyone just dropped dead suddenly. Sometimes he has to get out and move a car or two in order to clear a path but he eventually makes it home.

(I thought about contacting the power company to ask them, if something like this happened, how long would electricity keep flowing? Would it be hours, days, weeks or months before the system shut down because someone didn't flip a switch somewhere. But, this being not that long after 9/11, I decided perhaps that wasn't a prudent idea. Although I am still curious about this.)

Our still freaked out hero goes through the usual steps of going to the nearest grocery store and loading up the biggest vehicle he can find and driving it home to store all the food that won't spoil. He gets a lot of frozen food crossing his fingers that he'll have electricity for a while. He posts messages on the internet hoping any other survivors will reply (again, I need to know how long he'll have electricity). After a few weeks of not finding any sign of other survivors and going out of his mind with boredom, he decides to explore his neighbors' houses for more canned goods. In one of the first few he finds a really nice book collection. This spurs him on to search the whole neighborhood for books and he finds several houses with large collections and some others with, if not large quantities, books he would have at one time considered valuable.

He keeps thinking about these books and eventually he lugs them back to his house. Then he starts widening his search and he finds more and more books until he gets to the point where he empties one of his neighbor's houses of furniture except for the book cases. Then adds more cases which he takes from all the other houses and in some instances builds himself. After a year or two he has a house full of science fiction, another full of mysteries, one of mainstream fiction, one of history, one of science, one of any other non-fiction... He plans longer and longer trips away from home to leave the suburbs and go to stores he knows of in the city. Though only twenty miles away these trips take days because he has to constantly move cars out of the way to get through the tangle of accidents.

As I was thinking about the slow building of the book collection and listing the finds he would make and the journeys he would take it finally dawned on me that there was no real conflict. After the shock of the all the dead bodies and figuring out how to store food and learning how to grow some vegetables, where was the problem? My title for the story was going to be "The Last Book Collector," but once I realized this was more of a fantasy than just an idea for a story...I decided to drop it.


CPC said...

Mike, "The Last Book Collector" is a great idea-kernel for a story. My advice is to work backward from that basic premise to find out what the story is really about, what themes you want to explore, and what the conflict will be. I'd guess that the real conflict could be psychological, and that conflict could be drawn out and emphasized by the difficulties of his post-catastrophe situation, perhaps in an ironic way. In other words, while the reader at first thinks "Oh, here we go again, another 'Last person on earth' story," the story would instead rapidly move from the problems of survival--which might turn out to be hilariously easier than the reader at first thinks, as the protagonist quickly collects a life-long supply of canned goods--to the massive problems he overcomes to satiate his bibliomania and create and catalog his penultimate collection.

Reading your story ideas kind of reminds me of reading synopses of Kilgore Trout's stories in Vonnegut's novels.

Mike said...

Thanks Chris. I wasn't going to post this idea but now I'm glad I did. I never thought of making this story, (my own personal Utopia?) a comedy. And if it turned out I (I mean he) had electricity for a while he would certainly start cataloging the books on the computer, then lose all that data when the power went out and have to start over again with pen and paper.

I mean a catalog would be crucial, there's only so much room in the van to haul books back to the house(s), you don't want to waste space on a book you already have two copies of.

Thanks also for the Trout comment. If I could come up with a central idea for a novel I might very well have a character sprinkle story ideas throughout it like that. I know it won't work for my BIG story idea (not posted yet) as it is already complicated enough.