Razor Mountain Development Journal #12

This is part of my ongoing series where I’m documenting the development of my serial novel, Razor Mountain. Be forewarned, there are spoilers ahead! You can start from the beginning here.

Last Time

I came up with a list of problems that need to be solved to move from my high-level Act II outline to chapter outlines. I tackled two of them: Christopher and God-Speaker’s character arcs.

Questions and Answers

Next, I’m looking at more of the questions that relate to Christopher’s story.

Who are the important exile characters? What are their motivations? How do they interact with each other, and with Christopher?

Ema, the exile leader. She was part of some sort of rebellion that didn’t go well. She’s left feeling responsible for this small group of desperate people. She wants to lead them to the outside world, but doesn’t know how to succeed at that. She’s initially excited to meet Christopher, but he can’t help her get her people out safe, and his description of the outside world is drastically different from what the exiles have been told. Some of the people who followed her are fed up, most notably Garrett. Others are just losing faith that they can succeed.

Amaranth, the hunter. She had a throat injury and/or surgery when she was young, which left her unable to speak. She always felt like an outsider among the people of Razor Mountain, and spent her formative years exploring the wilderness as often as she could. She joined the exiles to escape from Razor Mountain, but she would rather live in the forest than find some outside town or city. She only stays because she feels obligated to help the others. Christopher is another person who needs helping, but he does pique her interest in the outside world.

Garret, the traitor. Garrett is someone who never excelled under the 550th Infantry, but he blames his failures on others, including his brother. He thought it would be easy to escape with Ema. When the going got tough, he immediately blamed her and looked for a way to back out. He sees Christopher as a ticket back into the good graces of the Razor Mountain establishment – a bargaining chip. He ends up kidnapping Christopher and bringing him to the 550th.

Harold, the quiet one. Garrett’s twin. He’s probably smarter than his brother, but Garrett is constantly blaming him for their problems and telling him otherwise, and he’s come to accept that he’s the lesser brother. He goes along with his brother’s plans and makes excuses for his failures.

Misc. Exiles. I’ll need to decide how many exiles there are in total. I think it’s a small group, somewhere between 10 and 20 people.

Who are the important 550th Infantry characters? Again, motivations and interactions.

I had less detail kicking around my head for this, so I had to do some brainstorming. I wanted some sort of mid-level authority figure who will interact with Christopher once he’s in the custody of the 550th. He has superiors directing him, but Christopher doesn’t see them.

Again, I’m a neophyte when it comes to the military, but I did a quick bit of research.

Sergeant Chris Meadows, the interrogator. Chris is probably a Sergeant or Staff Sergeant, in a position to handle interrogation, with a few soldiers under his command. Since Razor Mountain has very little actual interaction with the outside world, I think most of his experience is from training and reading. He’s trying out his interrogation skills. But he also has a short temper that he has trouble restraining. Or perhaps he seems like he does, and Christopher only realizes later that it’s a bit of an act.

The shared name gives them something in common, despite being very different people. Chris tries to get information out of Christopher, but he’s indoctrinated with the Razor Mountain picture of the outside world, and doesn’t believe Christopher even though Christopher is forthcoming and truthful.

Specialist Gabrielle Speares, the good cop. Gabby is the other soldier who interacts with Christopher. She’s brought in to be the good cop to Chris Meadows’s bad cop. However, she genuinely dislikes Meadows, and sees this as an opportunity to out-perform him. She takes the strategy of not judging the merits of what Christopher says, allowing him to talk at length about the outside world. However, she begins to think that his descriptions are surprisingly consistent, and has some doubts as a result. She eventually goes around Meadows and his superiors with these concerns, which is what alerts the inner council to Christopher’s presence.

Chapter Summaries

With these characters and the little islands of world-building forming around them, I think I can get into Christopher’s chapter summaries. For now, I’m still following the 2:1 ratio of Christopher vs. God-Speaker that I used in Act I. Assuming a similar length, that would be approximately 11 chapters for Christopher.

  • Chapter 18 – (C) Amaranth takes Christopher into the exiles’ hiding place. He’s held at gunpoint and brought to Ema. She asks him about the outside world, clearly hopeful, then progressively more confused and worried by his responses.
  • Chapter 19 – (C) Christopher is introduced to the other exiles. They all have questions, and have mixed reactions to his responses. They are clearly disappointed. He notices that Garrett and Harold are stand-offish, but constantly watching him.
  • Chapter 21 – (C) Christopher wakes in the night as he’s being roughly bound and gagged. He has a bag put over his head and is dragged and shoved out of the exiles’ hiding place. They go out into the cold. From listening to his captors, he realizes that it’s Garrett and Harold. They eventually remove the bag, and the three continue toward Razor Mountain all night. It becomes clear that they’re mostly worried about Amaranth catching up to them.
  • Chapter 22 – (C) The group finally stops to rest and eat a little. Garrett warns Christopher that they will be going in to the main facility shortly, and that they need to be very careful or they will be shot. He does his best to scare Christopher, telling him that any outside intel he can give could help them with the 550th. Christopher has nothing useful to share, and says as much. Garrett makes a flag from a branch and a white shirt. As the sun comes up, they walk out into a treeless area at the foot of the mountain, hands up, flag high.
  • Chapter 24 – (C) They walk slowly and carefully. As the sun gets higher, a group of soldiers swarms them. All three are disarmed and handcuffed. They’re led through the woods, to a metal door set into the mountainside, and immediately split up. Christopher is hauled down a maze of nondescript halls to a place with jail cells. The soldiers put him inside, remove his cuffs, and leave him.
  • Chapter 25 – (C) Christopher assesses his surroundings. The cell has a bed with no sheets and a steel toilet. The lights are over-bright, and he becomes aware of a faint, high-pitched sound that quickly grates. The temperature, which felt warm compared to outside, soon drops. He is quickly miserable. He thinks about everything that has happened, and is a little surprised to realize that the very real possibility of death doesn’t scare him that much anymore. Despite his discomfort, he begins to fall asleep.
  • Chapter 27 – (C) He is jerked awake by loud banging from an unknown source. It stops, and he’s awake for some time before fading again. Just before he falls asleep, the banging starts up again. He realizes that all of this is to torture and wear him down. Some unknown amount of time passes like this before a soldier arrives and takes him to a room with a steel table and a camera in the corner. A man in uniform enters and says they have a lot to discuss.
  • Chapter 28 – (C) Time becomes a blur to Christopher. He spends time in the cell. He sits in the interrogation room. The man, Sergeant Chris Meadows, asks him about the outside world, asks strange leading questions, and is always dissatisfied with Christopher’s honest answers. Soon, Christopher is uncertain whether he is actually telling the truth. He begins to wonder if he’s lying, or if he’s lost his mind.
  • Chapter 30 – (C) Christopher awakes in his cell, on his bed. The lights are now dimmed. It’s warmer. The irritating noises are gone. He realizes that he has had a restful sleep, and savors the uncomfortable bed while trying to piece together what has happened to him. After some time, a woman in uniform arrives and enters his cell, bringing a chair to sit on. She shows some interest in his well-being, but he doesn’t trust her. She says that he has been deemed non-threatening, but that they still need to get as much information from him as they possibly can, and she has been tasked with doing it. She takes him out of the cell and into Razor Mountain. They walk along streets lines with homes and businesses, all clearly inside caverns within the mountain. In some ways it seems like science fiction. In others, it all looks oddly outdated. She leads him to a small but comfortable apartment, then sits him down and asks him to explain everything to her all over again.
  • Chapter 31 – (C) Christopher wraps up an interview session with Gabby, and they go on a little outing into the mountain city. She asks him questions about what he’s told her, and she allows him to ask her a bit about the facilities. She writes everything down in a little notebook. She relates the basics of the mythology that the mountain’s inhabitants have been indoctrinated with. She seems genuinely nice and curious, but Christopher trusts nobody at this point.
  • Chapter 33 – (C) Christopher has been living a confined, but comfortable life. His interviews with Gabby have petered out, and he seems to be in a sort of administrative limbo. She comes to visit him and tells him that she went around her superiors and brought him to the attention of the higher-ups, and they quickly took an interest in him. Now he’ll be moved yet again. She takes him through the facility, to an elevator. They go up. At the top, she hands him off to a pair of silent soldiers and wishes him luck. They escort him to an empty room and leave him alone. A camera in the corner watches him. Then a hidden door in the wall opens, letting him into the inner council.


I fleshed out the secondary characters that interact with Christopher in Act II. Then I wrote chapter-level summaries for 11 of his Act II chapters. When I started this session it all felt vague, so this progressed pretty well. These are still rough and will need cleanup.

Next time, I’ll be focusing on God-Speaker’s Act II. Much like Act I, I have less of a grasp on God-Speaker’s story. The act will largely be vignettes spread across centuries, so it will be a difficult structure as well.

State of the Blog – February 2021

This is something I’m going to start doing periodically, maybe a couple times per year. I want to reflect a little bit on what I’ve done, look forward at what I’m planning, and try to evaluate what’s working and what I want to change.

When I started this blog, I knew I wanted to write posts about craft, and I knew I wanted to post serialized fiction. I also had the vague idea that I’d like to document the process of writing as I do it. Beyond that, I decided I would figure it out as I went along.


  • My first posts were in September, so the blog is about 6 months old.
  • I’ve made about 25 posts.
  • My readership is still quite small: less than 10 followers, averaging 1-2 views per day.

When I started, I had no particular schedule or planned topics, and my posts were pretty sparse and spread out. However, over the first couple months, I realized that I wasn’t very interested in journal-style posts. I like discussing the craft of writing, and if I’m going to do that I want to focus on a topic and dig into it.

Although I knew that I wanted to post serial fiction, I didn’t have a story ready to go. Some serial fiction writers advocated jumping right in blind. Others suggested finishing the whole thing before posting. Part of what I wanted from serial fiction was posting chapters as they were written, but I’m a prepper, and I didn’t think I’d be putting out my best work if I didn’t plan it out carefully. Between my day job, family, and other hobbies, it was going to be a while before I was ready to start posting chapters. Rather than quietly working for months in the background, this seemed like a good opportunity to document the process, as I was brainstorming and outlining.

Around December, all of this solidified into a posting schedule: two posts per week, with craft-focused or variety posts on Mondays and development journals for my serial writing project on Fridays.

I also began to write my posts ahead of time and schedule them. This allows me to post at consistent times of the week, even though I grab little chunks of writing time throughout the week. It also allows me to build up a buffer of scheduled posts. If something prevents me from writing for a week or two, or I just want a vacation, the blog keeps on trucking.

I’m currently keeping a buffer of about four posts (two weeks with the current schedule), but I’d like to get a full month ahead – about eight posts. As I get to that point, I may begin to introduce some smaller, ad-hoc mid-week posts. However, I’m ramping up slowly to avoid burn-out.

When I start posting chapters of Razor Mountain, they’ll take over the Friday slot. I expect to still write weekly development journals, but they’ll probably be much shorter when I’m already posting the chapter that resulted from that work.

Bloggery, Community and Readership

At this point, I’m relatively content to write for myself and send my bottled messages into the vast sea of the internet. In the long term, I’m not interested in writing only for myself. I want to grow my readership over time and get my writing in front of a larger audience.

A common refrain among content creators is that there are three main contributors to success:

  1. High-quality, original content
  2. Consistency
  3. Luck

The content is what I already spend the majority of my time on. I’ve got a consistent schedule, and plans to slowly expand that over time. And there’s not much to do about luck.

Beyond that, I’m looking at small ways to catch more eyeballs. I’ve read a bit about SEO and the interaction of WordPress tags and categories. I created a Twitter account (@DeferredWords) and set up automatic tweets for my new posts. I’ve also been finding and following other WordPress blogs to get a reader view full of good posts.

I’m probably not going to connect to other social media. Twitter is the only app I use with any regularity, and I don’t particularly want to support Facebook/Instagram.

Some community-building and cross-pollination will happen naturally through my comments on other blogs and my tweets and retweets. Some will come from search engines as I tweak my tags and categories and just continue to post on more topics.

Looking forward, I know I still have more work to do on site layout. I’ll be expanding the menu and possibly adding a few more widgets to make navigation easier and point readers to what I consider my best content.


I want this blog to be my writing home on the web. However, I’m also planning to cross-post new chapters of my serial fiction elsewhere. Posting in multiple places adds more busywork, but it also gives me the opportunity to get more eyeballs on my work. WordPress is great, but it’s not necessarily the best place to gain visibility for fiction.

Right now, I plan to cross-post to Wattpad. This seems like the one of the largest open venues for serial fiction around today. It’s available on big and little screens, and it’s got a slick interface. I’m also thinking about Tapas for similar reasons. Tapas seems a little more focused on comics than novels, but still a good spot for serial fiction.

I’ve looked at a variety of other options. There are a few sites dedicated to fiction, and even serial fiction specifically, but some look pretty rough, and generally don’t seem to reach a very large audience.

There is some side work that I’ll have to do for these platforms as I get closer to actually publishing. I’ll need to write up things like an author bio and back-cover blurb, and I’ll have to come up with (or commission) a book cover.

To Be Continued

So far, the state of the blog is “small, but making progress.” There’s obviously room to improve. I’d love to have more content, but I’m happy to ramp that up slowly over time. There are design improvements to be made, but I’ll work on those bit by bit as well. I want my main focus to be consistent, quality content right now.

I think I’ll probably do another one of these around mid-summer. By then, I’ll be posting Razor Mountain chapters weekly. I’m excited to see how things are going in six months!

Razor Mountain Development Journal #11

This is part of my ongoing series where I’m documenting the development of my serial novel, Razor Mountain. Be forewarned, there are spoilers ahead! You can start from the beginning here.

Last Time

I finished the chapter summaries for Act I!

A Little Meta Talk

I’ve now done ten of these development journals. It has been a lot of fun talking through the process as I figure out what this book is. Having to explain my thought process has helped me get more done, and clarified by thinking. I’ve also been surprised how useful it is to have the session-by-session details available to consult when I’m trying to remember a detail here or there.

These development journals also make it easier to think about scheduling. My original plan for Razor Mountain was to finish the prep work and start posting chapters in Q1 of 2021. However, I’m ten sessions in, and just finished outlining Act I. At my current pace, it looks like I’m probably not going to hit that goal.

Rather than try to cram more work into my weeks going forward, I’m going to just let that rough schedule slip if it needs to. My current pace feels good. I’m steadily progressing, I’m not feeling too stressed, and it’s balanced with the rest of my life.

Questions for Act II

When I made my act-level outlines for the two viewpoint characters, Act II looked like this:

  • Christopher meets the Razor Mountain outcasts, and learns about the main group from them. He’s brought to the main group, imprisoned and interrogated. He comes to the attention of the inner circle.
  • God-Speaker uses the artifacts and his newfound powers to gain control of several migrating tribes, bringing them to Razor Mountain. Over thousands of years, he grows more jaded and disinterested with the people he rules over, using them to further his ends, build up his stronghold and insulate himself from danger. He learns how to use the artifacts to keep himself alive and in power.

These descriptions obviously aren’t detailed enough to start throwing down chapter outlines, so I need to ask questions and figure out answers until I have chapter-level details.

  • Who are the important exile characters? What are their motivations? How do they interact with each other and Christopher?
  • Who are the important 550th Infantry characters? Again, motivations and interactions.
  • What about the inner circle characters? (These are slightly less important for now, as they’re mostly in Act III.)
  • How do I cover the thousands of years of God-Speaker’s story in a few chapters? What are the important points to hit? Do I want a different ratio of chapters between Christopher and God-Speaker? (Act I was 2:1.)
  • Who are the important secondary characters in God-Speaker’s chapters? Are they all one-offs until close to present day?
  • What does Christopher’s character arc look like through the rest of the book?
  • What does God-Speaker’s character arc look like?
  • What are the details of the artifacts? What do they look like? How do they work?

Changes in Character

In Act I, I set up Christopher and God-Speaker to run into a bunch of hardships and challenges. Both are deep in unfamiliar territory.

I’m getting to know these characters better, and now I need to spend more time thinking about their motivations, fears, and how they’ll change over the course of the story.

God-Speaker suffers this trauma, then comes into tremendous power in the form of the artifacts. He begins shaping the world around him into a sort of protective cocoon. The natural progression, as he lives longer and longer, is more detachment from and indifference to the people around him. He becomes insulated.

Ironically, by gaining the ability to continually extend his life through the artifacts, death looms larger and larger in his mind. His fear of death drives him.

For Act II, I think the scenes across thousands of years should show how God-Speaker builds up Razor Mountain and uses the artifacts, but also specific inflection points that reveal changes in his attitude toward death and his disconnection from people around him.

As for Christopher, I already feel like I have several plot points defined for Christopher in Act II. He’s better-defined in my mind at this point, so his story feels like it comes easier.

Christopher’s initial motivation is to figure out what’s going on, at least enough to find a way home. However, he will quickly get dragged into the complexities of Razor Mountain. His risk-aversion and fear of the unknown mirror God-Speaker, but he has to overcome them to make progress. As he gets further into Razor Mountain, he begins to realize that a lot of this is strangely familiar to him.

He starts with the exiles, where he sees the results of this oppressive society, and the fracturing that has occurred in the years that God-Speaker has been absent. Then he’s captured by the 550th Infantry, where he witnesses the absolute, cultish beliefs that some of the people maintain, and the extremes they will go to in support of those beliefs.

Finally, he enters the inner circle, near the end of the act. Some of the inner circle are devoted to maintaining and increasing their power and control – most notably those that attempted to kill him and disrupted his reincarnation. But there are also those who are still loyal to him, and have various levels of sympathy for the people of Razor Mountain. He sees all the systems of control that have been built up in service of God-Speaker.

Christopher starts out risk-averse and scared of danger. His journey to Razor Mountain gives him several chances to face his own death (lost in the wilderness, being shot at, and maybe threatened or tortured by the 550th). In the mountain, he has the opportunity to see the huge amount of hardship and suffering of the people there. This should set him up for the shocking discovery that he is actually God-Speaker, and the inner conflict between the two main characters in one head.

When Christopher unlocks God-Speaker’s memories, there is a transition process as he integrates into this ancient mind. The puddle of his personality flows into the lake of memories and experiences that comprise God-Speaker. For a while, Christopher remains dominant. In the midst of this, he has to thwart the plans of the inner circle members who want him dead. Then he has to decide whether he will fix things by reestablishing the status quo, or if he will tear it all down and give up on the idea of immortality. (He will.)


I came up with a list of problems that need solving to move from my high-level Act II outline to chapter outlines.

Next time, I’m going to try to answer some of these questions.

Writing Like Knitting

I wrote a poem today, which is not something I typically do. In fact, I didn’t intend to do it at all.

I was listening to Mike Birbiglia’s postcast, Working it Out. In episode 4, he talks about writing poetry with his wife, and Matt Berninger and Carin Besser of The National. They talked about all the people who are out there making creative work, but not showing or sharing it. Maybe not even having the desire to share. Mike seemed surprised and fascinated by the idea, and I also find it very strange to think about. Whenever I write, I always have the vague idea of a reader other than myself in mind.

They discussed working on a poem for years, “like knitting,” with no real concern or urgency for finishing it. In fact, specifically enjoying the not-doneness of it. Writing as a pass-time. Writing as a personal, private act, or peaceful meditation.

This idea really struck me. So even though I don’t write poetry, it felt fitting in the moment to write a poem about writing poems. I started writing, and before I knew it, a poem happened. I won’t vouch for the quality, but it was a fun little spontaneous act of creation. In fact, it was fun enough that I’m thinking I might delve into poetry again some time.

She Writes

She writes
Taps the keys
A poem, a secret, between her and the screen
Words are fluid
Day to day, month to month,
Year to year
Obsequious to whim and whimsy
To whatever mood takes her
That day
That year

The poems are not for others
They are hers
They are her
They are
A slow progression, knitting
Bonsai trimming
Cutting hair
No desire to share
To show
Not greedy
Just comfortable in the words
In the middle of making
No concern
For done

Razor Mountain Development Journal #10

This is part of my ongoing series where I’m documenting the development of my serial novel, Razor Mountain. Be forewarned, there are spoilers ahead!

Last Time

I outlined three new God-Speaker chapters to catch up with Christopher’s storyline, I fixed up the chapter ordering, and I thought a bit about the writing style of God-Speaker’s chapters.

Finishing Act I

To keep up my current cadence, I want to finish Act I with one more God-Speaker chapter and three more Christopher chapters. (Check out my previous post in the series to see the chapters in Act I so far. Since I know where I want the characters to end up by the end of the act, it’s just a matter of working through the steps to get them there.

In this final chapter, God-Speaker starts out separated from his tribe, alone, having fallen down the glacier. All that’s really left for him is to find his way to Razor Mountain.

Chapter 17

Because of the way I’m switching between Christopher and God-Speaker, this will be the last chapter of Act I.

To add insult to injury, I think God-Speaker will start the chapter with the discovery that the stone god he’s carrying was broken in the fall. This is the god that he speaks to, the reason for his name; the god that his tribe relied on for guidance and protection. This is the lowest he’s ever been.

He is disconsolate, and wanders in the eerie semi-dark world of tunnels and ice caves beneath the glacier. He feels as though he may already be dead.

After wandering for some time, he comes to a place where the ice is black and glows strangely. He realizes this is the smoking impact crater that he saw from on top of the ridge. He feels compelled to continue forward, in the same way that he felt compelled by the “voice” of the stone god.

He follows this compulsion until it leads him to a cave that descends into Razor Mountain. He follows it in complete darkness. Eventually, he comes to a place that glows in the darkness. This is the crash site. He finds the artifacts here, touches one of them, and his mind is changed forever.

My chapter outline in Scrivener is this:

Chapter 17: (GS) God-Speaker discovers that his stone god was broken in the fall. He gives it a sort of burial, then wanders beneath the glacier. After some time, he comes to a place where the ice is black and glows strangely: the impact crater he saw from above. He feels compelled to continue forward and finds a cave. He follows it in complete darkness until he comes to a glowing place where he finds the artifacts, touches them, and receives a sort of enlightenment.

The Christopher Chapters

Christopher’s chapters are a little more work, but he does have three chapters to do it in. He starts in a bad place, lost in the wilderness, and unsure if his map can actually guide him to anything useful. He’s now too far away to go back to the bunker that was his safe place.

My act-level outline has him receiving some help from Amaranth (unbeknownst to him, at first). He is shot at by soldiers from the 550th Infantry, and finally meeting Amaranth and being led to the exiles. Actually meeting a group of people after being alone for so long seems like a suitable ending for Christopher’s Act I, and a good counterpoint to God-Speaker, who ends up completely alone, also at Razor Mountain.

Chapter 13: (C) Christopher realizes that he is probably going to die in the wilderness. He finds a bit of Zen in this, and decides to just continue traveling toward the next point marked on his map. While walking through the forest, he comes across a rabbit carcass, skinned, gutted, and ready to cook.

Chapter 15: (C) Christopher wakes the next morning. He’s stiff and injured, but beginning to feel used to it. He packs up and walks, thinking about the rabbit. He decides that someone must be watching him and looking out for him, though he doesn’t understand why, or why they don’t reveal themselves. He comes to an open area and sees that he’s close to the distinctive peak of Razor Mountain. Suddenly, someone starts shooting at him, and he takes cover.

Chapter 16: (C) Christopher takes cover and moves deeper into the forest to avoid the shooting. It’s coming from the mountain. While hiding and fumbling with the gun he brought from the bunker, he sees Amaranth. She sneaks between trees to him, without showing herself. She indicates that he shouldn’t fire back, and motions to lead him on a route through the trees that keeps him hidden from the shooter. After a while, it seems to be safe and they walk. Nightfall comes, and she finally brings him to a cliff-side entrance, similar to the bunker where he first found refuge. Inside, it’s much bigger than the bunker. She leads him underground, to the exiles.


I finished the chapter summaries for Act I!

Next session, I’ll probably be getting a little more abstract again, as I map out what happens in Act II. There will be more characters, more interactions between them, and more mysteries.

Guessing the Future for Science Fiction

Taking on the role of oracle is one of the greatest joys and biggest challenges of writing science fiction. There’s something magical about reading a story that unveils entirely new ideas, technologies, or shifts in society, only to see those things come to pass a few years down the road.

It can be equally interesting to look at less accurate “futures” from bygone eras and see how they turned out wrong. What does the hopeful and often hubris-filled science fiction of the post-WWII era say about the society that generated it? What about the gritty and depressing dystopias crafted in the ’80s?

Guessing the future isn’t easy. Occasionally, we get it right and look prescient. More often, we get it wrong in some way or another. But we can at least perform our due diligence by building our fantastic futures on the mundane foundation of the present.

Hard and Soft Science Fiction

There is a stylistic split in the genre of science fiction. It’s not a hard line; it’s more like a gradient. “Hard” science fiction does it’s best to extrapolate from the present in a straight line. In hard SF, the future should be explainable. It should follow logically from what we see in the present. “Soft” science fiction cares less about explanations, crafting futures that are convenient to the story, without worrying so much about the through-line between the present and the future.

In practice, no science fiction story can completely describe all the events and technologies that led from the present to that particular future. There is no perfectly hard sci-fi. And some stories will simply have less to explain. They won’t be as concerned with the technological nitty-gritty of the future.

Still, when we think in these terms, it’s easy to start placing different stories somewhere closer to the hard or soft end of the spectrum. The Mars trilogy by Kim Stanley Robinson is fairly hard, concerning itself greatly with the details of the technology and grounded in cutting-edge space travel research. Meanwhile, Herbert’s Dune books or the Star Wars movies are fairly soft. The setting and the technologies serve the story, and little explanation is provided for their provenance.

More distance from the here and now, be it temporal (“a long, long time ago”) or physical (“a galaxy far, far away”) is going to add softness. The future imagined in Dune is so many thousands of years in the future that the intervening time couldn’t possibly be accounted for within the text. In fact, after Herbert’s death, a whole swath of Dune books were written to fill in some of that intervening time.


If you accept that your story is going to be soft science fiction, you may not have to worry too much about extrapolating. Perhaps you’re writing an allegory, where the future setting only serves to contrast with the present day. Perhaps you’re writing a fantasy story, and the backdrop of spaceships and laser swords are purely aesthetic.

Assuming you’re writing harder sci-fi, you’re going to need to decide what your areas of focus will be. Do you want to explore future technologies? Do you want to explore how they might change life for individuals, or across larger swaths of society?

Science fiction must tell a story, but it has the added burden of building and explaining its world as the story unfolds. Every story has a limited number of words it can spend building the world. By choosing specific areas of focus, you can maximize those words, and cut passages that stray too far from those areas.

Find the Starting Points

To build a future, you have to start in the present. There are always interesting things happening in the world. Which of those things relate to your areas of focus? This is the research stage of the project, where you’ll need to look at what trends or technologies already exist, or perhaps what scientists are actively studying in the field.

For example, let’s look at some technologies I’m interested in for one particular story. I’m interested in augmented reality (AR), intertwining of digital and physical worlds, and the increasing power of hackers to affect physical objects and systems as they become integrated with the internet.

For this project, I would look into the various VR headsets and the sorts of applications people are running on them. What about low-cost alternatives, like Google Cardboard? What about prototypes like Google Glass? The AR functionality on modern smart phones allow me to see what furniture might look like in my house before I buy it. What else can I do?

I might also look into recent hacks that affect real-world systems. Iran’s uranium enrichment program was hacked to break their centrifuges. The US has a variety of concerns about the safety of their electrical grid.

For the combining of digital and physical worlds, I could dig into mobile games like Pokemon Go that follow the user’s real-world location to change the game-state, and use AR to project game objects onto the user’s surroundings.


Once you have some starting points, you need to begin extrapolating. What are people researching today? What isn’t possible yet, but might be possible with one or two simple advances?

Computing power, internet speeds, and many other “base” technology enablers tend to increase steadily over time. If the only limitation on something today is the speed of computers, chances are good that the limitation will go away in the future. The price and size of popular technology tends to decrease over time as well. Any technology today will likely become smaller and cheaper in the future.

These are surface-level extrapolations. To go deeper, you need to think about how the technology might be used, and what it might enable. What might good and selfless people want to do with this technology as it advances? What might evil, selfish people want to do with this technology? Can it be an enabler of other technologies or societal shifts?

Technologies do not stay isolated. They don’t live in silos. They cross-pollinate, mix, and work in tandem. Sometimes they obstruct one another. How might this new thing affect other technologies, positively or negatively?

Back to the example of AR, digital/physical crossover, and hackers.

I imagine a future where AR is ubiquitous. It’s powered by mobile devices (something that’s already happening). It’s displayed on glasses (similar to Google Glass), and it’s controlled with a strap around the fingers, for motion control (a streamlining of Nintendo’s console controllers, Microsoft Kinect, and many similar technologies). I imagine that AR could use mobile location technology to provide location-relevant data. A bluetooth “beacon” might also transmit to nearby devices.

With this kind of ubiquitous AR, physical objects might be unnecessary in many contexts. A clothing store might not bother with a sign out front, or even outfits on mannequins. A sign that appears to nearby shoppers in AR could be cheaper and more eye-catching. The AR outfits in the window could be tailored to each individual shopper and their search history, or on a carousel that displays hundreds of options, one after another.

The crosswalks on the road could be virtual, communicating with local traffic to determine when it’s safe to walk.

On the other hand, hackers could graffiti an AR storefront without the bother of buying spray paint and sneaking out at night. They could graffiti hundreds of storefronts from their basement. Perhaps they could convince passing mobile devices that they’d made a purchase as they passed by. If they were nefarious enough, they might alter the crosswalk algorithms so pedestrians step out in front of cars.

Technology and People

Even the hardest, most tech-oriented science fiction has characters with motivations, goals, conflicts, and challenges. Technology is only interesting in context with people, even if those people are aliens, robots, or sentient jars of mold.

Technology sometimes affects us at a personal level, affecting our behavior as individuals. Sometimes these effects are more powerful in aggregate. Many of us are familiar with the changes in personal behavior we’ve seen in the rise of social media. As societies, we’re still in the process of working out how those changes will ultimately affect our politics and our social discourse.

Technology can affect our behaviors and the ways we interact with one another. One hundred years ago, relatively few businesses had branches in multiple countries, and those branches were more independent. Now, many people in large corporations have regular phone conversations and video meetings with their counterparts around the world. Products and services are launched globally, and directed by corporate leaders halfway across the world.

Back in our example, how might ubiquitous AR affect interpersonal interactions? If I run into an acquaintance on the street, and I don’t remember her name, a quick image search of her face could help me find it and avoid embarrassment. Of course, the privacy implications of this type of technology is considerable.

We already see many people absorbed in their phones on public transport and in public spaces. When AR makes your entire range of vision into a screen, will that exacerbate the effect. Will we finally be isolated in our own little virtual bubbles, as many doomsayers have been complaining about for years?

Final Thoughts

Extrapolation is hard. Of the thousands of works of science fiction that are produced, only a few are going to hit the mark, and only some of the time. However, even if we can’t always guess the actual, literal future, we can at least produce futures that are logical, well thought-out, and internally consistent.

Internal consistency means making sure that one technology doesn’t preclude or contradict another. Some technologies are mutually exclusive. Betamax and VHS can’t both take over the world. CDs and Zip drives don’t live side-by-side indefinitely.

On the other hand, conflicting technologies can precipitate interesting societal conflicts. Does it make sense to have a future where people grow organs in labs to increase their longevity, while also developing the technology to upload human minds into computers? Maybe not. Or maybe this is what precipitates a global crisis, where we have to decide as a species whether being human requires a specific physical form or not.

If you find yourself having trouble, you might be tempted to go into the far-flung future, because there’s so much room for things to happen in the intervening time. Instead, try getting as close to the present as possible. Extrapolate tomorrow. Practice working your way outward.

Have you seen any new technologies that inspired you? What did you extrapolate from them? Let me know in the comments, and I’ll see you in the future!

Razor Mountain Development Journal #9

This is part of my ongoing series where I’m documenting the development of my serial novel, Razor Mountain. Be forewarned, there are spoilers ahead!

Last Time

I outlined five more chapters for Christopher, while reserving a couple of slots for God-Speaker chapters.

Plot Shape, and a Counting Error

When I went back and looked at the chapter outlines I had so far, I realized that I mis-numbered them and need to adjust the ordering. Chapters 2 and 5 were God-Speaker chapters, and I planned to have two more chapters dedicated to him, up through Chapter 12. However, I had earmarked chapters 6 and 10, and I don’t want two God-Speaker chapters back-to-back.

Although the God-Speaker story and Christopher’s story are very separate at this point, I’d like to have them relate to each other here and there. They might have some similar action, related themes, or happen to cover the same geography around the same time. I think that this will help the stories to feel a little more connected. So I’m going to be looking for opportunities for that.

Because I have fewer detailed ideas for what will happen to God-Speaker than I do for Christopher, I spend some time thinking about what the general shape of his plot should be at this point in the book. For Christopher, the book starts off bad, but things have to start going well enough that he gets up the courage to set out on his journey, only to be repeatedly pummeled by a cruel universe.

I think it makes sense to have his arc at this point somewhat mirror Christopher’s. Since he gets fewer chapters in Act I, that arc will have to be compressed. God-Speaker’s first two chapters are pretty bleak. This means the third God-Speaker chapter should have him overcoming some hardship and getting a reason to have some hope. That hope then gets dashed in his fourth chapter.

Christopher starts out alone, and will only start to meet other people as he gets closer to Razor Mountain. God-Speaker starts out among other people: his tribe. He needs to end up alone by the end of the act. However, I don’t feel much interest in the hypothetical story of the tribe dying off one-by-one to attacks or hunger or illness. A story could certainly be made out of that, in the general trajectory that I want, but I’d rather think about other options until I find something that catches my interest more.

Christopher’s first interaction with other people is coming soon. I think it’ll be signs of Amaranth helping him out, and some of the Razor Mountain soldiers shooting at him from afar. To keep the corollaries going between the two storylines, that would be a great time for God-Speaker to end up alone. One character makes connections while the other loses them. To do that, I’m going to separate him from his tribe.

God-Speaker Chapters

  • At the behest of their god, God-Speaker’s tribe crosses rough terrain and climb to a high place. From here, they can see a path through the vast glacier to a vast grassland. They also see a crater and Razor Mountain, partly encased in ice. This appears to be an evil place to them. They plan to follow the path to the grassland.
  • Montage? The tribe travels across mountains and glaciers. They make primitive sleds and find some food, but not enough to be full. They come to a point where they can start the long descent down to the grassland. A blizzard sweeps in and slows their progress.
  • The tribe trudges on through the blizzard. The god moves God-Speaker to climb a slippery ridge, and he sees that they are close to the place where the ice opens up. He directs the others, but slips and falls. He slides deep down under the ice, back in the direction they came from. He is lost and alone.

For this to fit with Christopher’s chapters, the discovery of a good path should align with Christopher feeling prepared to go on his journey. The blizzard should hit both characters around the same time, and God-Speaker being separated from his tribe should align with Christopher finding the burned bunker and realizing that he is also lost and alone in the wilderness.

The Story So Far

Here are all of the chapters outlined so far, with the new, adjusted ordering. To some readers, I suppose this may feel like a lot of chapters to not even be done with Act I, but I naturally tend to write fairly short chapters, so I’m not too bothered.

Also, I started annotating my chapter summaries in Scrivener with a (C) or a (GS) to indicate the viewpoint character at a glance.

  1. (C) Christopher wakes up on a small plane over the Alaskan wilderness. Everyone else is missing. With no parachute and no fuel, he jumps out over open water. He survives the fall with an injured leg and manages to swim to shore. Freezing and hurt, he looks for shelter. He finds a strange door in a cliffside, where he can input numbers. He puts in random numbers, and the door unlocks. He stumbles inside, passing out from cold and exhaustion.
  2. (GS) God-Speaker and his tribe prepare for the winter migration. He prepares the tribe’s small stone god. Another tribe attacks. They drive the attackers off, but several members of the tribe are killed or wounded, and supplies are stolen. They begin the migration dispirited.
  3. (C) Christopher wakes in the bunker, injured but alive. He explores the bunker and finds food, beds, and geothermal technology that looks like 1950s science fiction. He finds a large, old radio, but nobody responds to him, and the only signal he can find is a cryptic numbers station that continually shifts frequencies. He also finds a map that has several locations marked, but no explanation of those markings.
  4. (C) Days have passed, and Christopher is settling into a routine. He starts a bonfire outside the bunker and burns green pine boughs to create a column of smoke. He hikes the area around the bunker, but has found nothing but empty wilderness. It begins to snow heavily, and he returns to the bunker for the evening. He is restless, scared, and uncertain what to do.
  5. (GS) God-Speaker travels with his tribe, carrying the stone god in a carrier on his back. It snows frequently, making travel more difficult. They consult the god to determine where to go. They attempt to hunt, but the hunting party encounters another band of travelers. They have a tense face-off, but do not fight. The hunting party returns empty-handed. Everyone is hungry.
  6. (C) Christopher decides to investigate the closest marked point on the map. He collects all the equipment he thinks he will need. He tries camping outside the bunker to get comfortable with it. By the end of the chapter, he feels ready to do a test excursion.
  7. (C) Christopher hikes a half-day out, sets up a camp site, tears it down, and returns to the bunker. He has some troubles with his equipment. He gets a little lost. He’s tired, and it’s very late by the time he gets back to the bunker. He decides to rest up and plan for the actual journey to the mark on the map.
  8. (GS) At the behest of their god, God-Speaker’s tribe crosses rough terrain and climb to a high place. From here, they can see a path through the vast glacier to a vast grassland. They also see a crater in the glacier and Razor Mountain, partly encased in ice. This appears to be an evil place to them. They plan to follow the path to the grassland.
  9. (C) Christopher sets out in perfect weather. He travels most of the day, then sets up camp. Everything goes smoothly this time, and he feels good.
  10. (C) Christopher wakes up when his tent collapses in the night. There has been a huge snowfall He does his best to jury-rig a lean-to, but it goes poorly. He gets no more sleep before morning and is forced to eat and pack in heavy snow. He is cold, wet and miserable. He decides to continue, but is once again full of uncertainty. his progress is very slow, he twists his ankle, and he still hasn’t gotten to his destination by nightfall. He’s exhausted, and he constructs something that barely qualifies as shelter.
  11. (GS) Montage? The tribe travels across mountains and glacier. They make primitive sleds from birch. They find some food, but not enough to be full. They come to a point where they can start the long descent down to the grassland. A blizzard sweeps in and slows their progress.
  12. (C) The next day, Christopher feels that he is nearing his limits. He searches for the marked location for most of the day. Finally, he finds it, but it’s ruined. It was clearly smashed and burned decades ago.
  13. (C) To be determined.
  14. (GS) The tribe trudges on through the blizzard. The god moves God-Speaker to climb a slippery ridge, and he sees that they are close to the place where the ice opens up. He directs the others, but slips and falls. He slides deep down under the ice, back in the direction they came from. He is lost and alone.

I left an open slot at chapter 13 for Christopher, to keep the cadence of two Christopher chapters per God-Speaker chapter. I like having patterns like that, but I’ll re-evaluate it when I continue Christopher’s outline, and I’ll break the pattern if it doesn’t fit with the flow of the story.

Other God-Speaker Thoughts

I was idly thinking about the story a few days ago, and I thought that God-Speaker’s tribe very likely had much simpler and less expressive language than what we have today. It would likely revolve around the daily tasks for survival and small-group interactions. Using cartoony “cave man language” would be heavy-handed (and unpleasant to read), but I might be able to convey some of that sense in a more subtle way by purposely constraining myself to shorter sentences and short, common words.

It would be a bit like this popular XKCD comic. Conveniently, there’s already a tool that I might try to help with this sort of writing.

When God-Speaker finds the artifacts and starts to learn how to use them, his capacity for complex thought and language is expanded, and that can also be reflected in the style that I use for his chapters.


I outlined three new God-Speaker chapters to catch up with Christopher’s storyline. I fixed the chapter ordering. I thought a bit about the writing style of God-Speaker’s chapters.

In the next couple sessions, I want to finish the chapter outlines for Act I.

Is Cyberpunk Retro-Futurism Yet?

The author of Neuromancer – the book widely considered to have kicked-off the cyberpunk genre – says it’s now a retro-future. That’s pretty interesting, considering how much high-profile cyberpunk seems to still be happening.

For those who don’t follow video games, Cyberpunk 2077 was perhaps the most hotly anticipated game of 2020 (before it ended up releasing late, dogged by accusations of employee abuse and so buggy that refunds were offered on some platforms). Blade Runner 2049 was a lauded, big-budget movie just three years ago. And most of the streaming services have their own recent cyberpunk offerings.

Through five decades, we received a steady, if inconsistent, stream of cyberpunk literature, cinema, television and games. Not only that, but it gave us an almost absurd number of ___-punk sister genres, cribbing the dystopian outsider aesthetic and patching in various kinds of technology.

Death of a Genre?

Unlike most genres that take place in the present or a particular historical era, most science fiction has a built-in shelf life. While most people might be able to look past the 2019 “future” date of the original Blade Runner or the clunky flip-phones of The Matrix, there comes a certain point where an imagined future starts to feel stale.

The parts of these retro-futures that actually came to pass seem somehow more depressing, more mundane, more obvious when we live inside them every day. The predictions that failed often seem further away than they did before, or outright absurd.

Some of cyberpunk’s staying power might owe to pop media’s perpetual mining and re-mining of nostalgia for remakes, reboots, sequels and spiritual successors. Cyberpunk has also accumulated plenty of visual and tonal markers that have been used (and abused) to provide quick and shallow style. For every Matrix, there’s an Equilibrium or Aeon Flux.

It seems clear that if cyberpunk does die, it will be a slow, sighing death. Most science-fiction genres and styles don’t go away completely. They inform the sub-genres and successors that follow, transforming or splintering.

Where is the Center of the Universe?

Back on Twitter, Aaron suggests that the future is in “Gulf Futurism, Sino Futurism, Afro Futurism.” It’s not hard to see that these are all sub-genres with very different geographical and cultural centers from old-school cyberpunk. Cyberpunk is rooted in extrapolations of 1980s American culture. Even when it goes as far afield as Hong Kong, it’s more 1980s British Hong Kong than post-handover Chinese Hong Kong. The neon hanzi are largely window-dressing.

There is certainly a deep vein of anxiety in America that suggests that the country’s cultural and economic influence on the future is waning. That refrain seems to be getting louder, not quieter. Meanwhile, other places in the world are seeing their cultural and economic influence grow at breakneck pace, even as technology upends old norms and traditions.

Gulf futurism centers the world on the Arabian Gulf, while Sino Futurism looks at the future through a Chinese lens. Afro Futurism explores futures and themes not only centered on the African continent, but also on African diaspora and the complex intersections of culture and history that brings.

Cyber, Solar, Bio or Steam

Other Twitter responses mention solarpunk and biopunk, offshoots that focus less on traditional cyberpunk technologies like AI and VR, and instead explore the consequences of things like environmental disaster, climate change, and runaway biotechnology. In a world where climate change becomes more apparent every day, these themes are more relevant than ever.

Meanwhile, there are many other derivatives that shift the aesthetic from futuristic to fantastic. Genres like steampunk and dieselpunk are more fantasy than science-fiction, enjoying anachronistic alternate universe playgrounds that are concerned with the themes of the last century rather than the themes of the upcoming one.

Fodder for the Reading List

Cyberpunk will continue, in some form or another, but it’s getting long in the tooth. Maybe its latest micro-renaissance will prove to have interesting things to say about our modern dystopian world. And even if it doesn’t, it’s interesting to see the genre splintering in so many different directions. If nothing else, these tweets have inspired me to sample some of these other sub-genres.