I completed my seventeenth novel on October 6. This is the first draft of Balloon Ship Armageddon, the seventh and last Jack Commer, Supreme Commander novel, a statement I make with crossed fingers because who knows whether I might ever want to take Jack up again? I can’t help but notice that the force of rough draft logic left in a couple hints for future work …
I say this novel is “completed” because to me a finished rough draft is in some sense a completed novel. Something has been psychically started and finished. A truly “final completion” to manuscript status is of course X units of time away.
I haven’t reread the book yet and will probably let that task slide for a few more weeks. I’ve already had the alternately delightful and disturbing experience, common to a reasonably long draft of 88,000 words, of looking back to earlier chapters, composed a couple months ago, that I’d completely forgotten having written. So rereading a first draft is often like reading someone else’s book, and ideally should be conducted as noncritically as possible, giving the story a chance to breathe before the foundation construction crew arrives for Draft 2.
It’s hard to come up with any sort of synopsis, or the kind of marketing paragraph you’re expected to provide for a final manuscript. The initial draft seems to have sprung out of the unconscious, and so we have the following dreamlike babble:
In Book Six, The SolGrid Rebellion, Jack’s rebellious son Jonathan James wound up trapped inside a solid chromium pyramid after being obliterated by a Martian shattergun. In Balloon Ship Armageddon he’s successfully separated out from the pyramid to become a Wounded robot, though the two companions trapped inside the pyramid with him, Rick Ballard and T’ohj’puv, die horribly. The Wounded are a robotic race that infiltrate civilizations in order to steal all the energy from their stars to create quasar artworks billions of miles away. Okay. So Jonathan James heads to the Greater Magellanic Cloud, a satellite galaxy of the Milky Way 163,000 light years away, and a concept that’s fascinated me from childhood. Jonathan James thinks he’s now a Class J Wounded, but finally realizes he’s in fact a Class A, the highest level, programmed to initiate an Anti-Dark Energy Lens that will destroy the Orion Arm of the Milky Way, including the troublesome Sol which has resisted Wounded attempts at takeover. The Greater Magellanic world Jonathan James conquers, Ailyuae, has no electricity, even down to the subatomic level, and for 124,400 years the leaderless Wounded robots deposited there have fought endless senseless wars floating in balloon ships, since the oceanic surface of the planet is toxic.
Meanwhile, Amy Nortel, the Wounded doctor who separated Jonathan James from the pyramid, turns out to have been Jack Commer’s English AP teacher back in high school, and, acting her role in gloriously over the top fashion, sardonically gets to work in some John Donne and John Keats lines, and … robot Laurie Lachrer 283 decides she’s much more qualified to fly in the Typhoon VII as Jack’s physician/engineer than the human Laurie Lachrer she’s modeled on, and, unfortunately, the Marsport Automated Transport System, which has gotten too much of a grip on United System Space Force software, agrees with the robot’s assessment, and …
Is that clear?
While my Tarot card of “Balloon Ship Armageddon” is dated August 8, 2003, I didn’t think of it as a writable novel until digitally colorizing the card in June 2015. Even then it was just a concept with no plot. Since then I’d idly mused about Jonathan James, or else Jack Commer, captaining a Balloon Ship Armageddon, but the February 2018 dream below was the first spark of getting anything underway. By March 12 I’d committed to writing Jack Commer Seven. In April and May I interviewed twelve series characters at length and published the interviews on the blog. At 22,956 words, this effort was around a quarter of the length of the finished book. The interviews were an unusually high energy warm-up to beginning the book on May 31; just a small amount of the interview wording found its way into the rough draft.
The 2/20 dream: Visionary dream of space wars and empires. In the ongoing warfare, a huge spherical sector of the universe has been made uninhabitable. An exotic, medieval-looking two-dimensional map of the entire universe has been made on the black stone floor of a thirty-by-thirty-foot room in a castle. Astrological symbols are inscribed along the sides of the map. On the floor sits a basketball-sized object representing the uninhabitable region, rendered to scale in the universe. One must try to wrap one’s head around the fact that this 3-D spherical rendition is sitting on a 2-D map, thus: what would it look like or represent in the actual 3-D universe? In any case a basketball-sized object in a thirty-by-thirty-foot room is a definite amount of space, but certainly not taking up too much of the universe; it can be avoided with some thought.
copyright 2018 by Michael D. Smith