Workshop Episode 44 (Guest Host: Gareth Powell)

The Roundtable Podcast, Workshop Episode 44, with Gareth Powell and Dan Ritter Gareth Powell – author of the freshly minted awesomeness of “Ack-Ack Macaque” as well as “The Recollection“, “Silversands” and more – returns to the Big Chair to help Ryan Stevenson and me workshop a delicious future-tech sci-fi thriller (with a theological spin) shared by Guest Writer Daniel Ritter. Dan’s tale of nano-tech, deranged mega-corps, cybernetic cultures, and “The God Process” proves to be rich food for the table… everyone dives in with a gusto and by the end of the feast, we’re all sitting on piles of Literary Gold. (and if you find your writer’s appetite is still un-sated, check out Gareth’s Showcase Episode!)

PROMO: The Dead Robots’ Society podcast


Workshop Episode 44 (Guest Host: Gareth Powell)

[caution: mature language and themes – listener discretion is advised]

Check out this and all our episodes on iTunes and on Stitcher Radio!

On the horizon for Gareth…

  • Monkey Fever hits bookstores and e-outlets with “Ack-Ack Macaque” mere days from now!
  • Announcements (fraught with excitment) will be coming out VERY soon…
    • Fans of Garth’s previous novels will be dazzled and delighted
    • He’s also been doing some work for a “famous British Comic Book” that promises to astonish and amaze




… and on the subject of Master Ritter:

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Comments (23)

This episode’s guest writer brought one of the coolest big idea stories yet to this show! The rest of you guys did a good job upping the ante too, especially Ryan. Happy new year!

I know, right? This would actually be a very cool shared story world… I could see whole anthologies of stories taking place in this world. There’s so many levels and aspects of the world and culture that could be explored. Certainly a collection of short stories could be in Dan’s future. 😉

Thanks, Tim… a fabulous New Year back atcha, bud 😀

I am totally open to a collaborative aspect as well, Dave. It’s always been in the back of my mind to get the backbone of this world banged out in such a way that, while it’s a complete adventure within itself, it’s full of hooks for others to latch in and run with. Frankly, that idea really thrills me. Short stories are definitely part of the fabric of building this world. That’s an approach I’ve been using to get some scenes together and into the blog for people to feedback on. Fun stuff!

You flatter me, sir! I hand it to Ryan and Dave and Gareth – they did a champion job of putting the story idea through the paces. Now I’ve got a fresh batch of threads to weave into the existing piece, and I’m thrilled. Happy new year to you as well!

Well they have a way of taking things and helping improve them! Every story gets better with questions asked I’ll bet. Good luck with the writing!

Definitely, Tim! Thanks again for the kind words.

A couple of thoughts for Daniel

First: What stopped “The Ripping”? The obvious answer is Mr. Miller stopped it. When the far-east research group accidentally set off “The Ripping”, Mr. Miller was working for a Manhattan-Project-type-group. He came up with a counter nano which can neutralize “The Ripping” and stopped it from crossing into Egypt, Morocco or Alaska. So at the start of the book he is legitimately the hero who saved the rest of the human race. This does not prevent him from being a mad scientist, who will do unspeakable things to achieve his goals.

The next question I have is after “The Ripping” why do we still need an American Military? I’m not expecting the U.S. Military to disband, however with most of our “enemies” (China, North Korea, Middle East, etc.) gone who or what will the military defend us from? Dangerous Military experimental research only happens when there is a “clear and present danger”. Without an outside enemy, Miller won’t be able to continue radical research.

It’s not my story, of course, but I love your idea of having Miller be the “hero’ that saved the world from The Ripping. Of course, it’s entirely possible that he CAUSED it in the first place. In fact, his solution may have been a contingency that he withheld until the last minute to ensure his “savior” status, thus ensuring his prestige and influence to command the resources he needed to build his mega corp.

As for the military, you raise a good point, Peter… do you think the remaining world powers would just abandon all that real estate. It’s possible that there are plans to reclaim portions of the Ripped territories (and there may be some contention over who gets to reclaim which territory). There may also be some threats emerging from the Wasteland. Plus, with the world so up-ended, corporations would likely begin marshaling mercenary corps to defend their interests and seize new ones. I think there would be PLENTY of need for skilled (and enhanced) fighters in this turbulent world.

No he didn’t cause it. What I’m suggesting is the hero’s journey in reverse. He starts out as a real hero in the beginning, then becomes a villain at the end. Technically that is just as much a character arch as starting a criminal and ending a hero. Going from “fake hero” to villain is not as much of a character arch.

I do agree that there are things the Military could focus on, but it needs to be covered.

I had not envisioned Miller being the direct hero in this aspect of having any control of The Ripping. I think (although I’ve never stated it clearly) I’ve always felt there are many years if not decades or centuries between The Ripping and Miller being alive and in play. That being said, I’m not opposed to delving into the spiritual/ether world, as we mentioned in discussion. I’m actually quite fond of Miller and The Ripping being tied together inasmuch as they are pawns of the pantheon, which has been busy for eons setting things up, pointing at details with fire off in this plot line. With that, everything that Miller is doing, as a master of his fate, is in fact only at his, perhaps unknown, slavery to his masters in the pantheon.

Dave, you hit the nail on the head with the wasteland world. That place is a wide open wilderness ripe for the picking. Mercenaries, bounty hunters, wild tribes vying for powers, military contingents, rogue battalions; all on the dunes of this nano-laden dust that is a character all its own. Imagine a landscape which is made of piles of disassembled molecules and elements, soaked with nanomachines needing only a gust of wind to create a viable mixture. A breeze results in a chain reaction of corrosives, or, a cat, black and powdery, that lives for five minutes, playing out a recorded memory before it puffs into nothingness. Or a swarm. Or a pack of dogs. Or worse.

Thanks for the thoughtful input on this, I appreciate it greatly. Since we recorded, The Ripping is one of the aspects I’ve put a considerable amount of time toward thinking through. You hit on very key elements. I think what needs to happen for this story is to back off my assertion that it was a rapid reaction. My initial stab at this was that it was a shock-and-awe, how-did-it-happen-that-fast sort of disaster. It seems that it fits better to be a long-haul sort of infection; think months or years of epidemic; “flu-speed” type of spreading. This gives the slow-burn horror feel to it; you see it coming not like a bullet but like an arrow, arcing right at you, but not time enough to evade. As Gareth pointed out, the North and South America region would not function if the rest of the world is instantly obliterated. If we have the Eastern world slowly wither over a few years, it allows industry and economy to adjust (faster that it wants, surely), to compensate, even if it’s a panic tsunami of world scale change.

Does Miller have a direct hand in pushing the tide back? I think yes, but not in a direct “Captain Hammer” event. I see him being the “Sam Wainwright” of it, providing salvation of funding, manpower, and resources.

Great point about the military, and no, I don’t see it existing in the standard Army/Navy/USAF/Marine habit. Seems more like it would incorporate into society a bit more, absorb police forces, neighborhood watch, nightwatchmen; I see it less on the national effort and more inward facing.

First off, a tip of the hat to all involved for another great episode. Not only did I become interested in a story completely outside of my usual preferred genre, but I was actively coming up with story ideas as I listened. Well done.

The big ideas that I keep coming back to are regarding Miller, the Ripping, and your main character. I’ll apologize now, I couldn’t get a firm grasp of her name. At times it sounded like both Easter and Ista, so I’ll just call her MC. Also, I’ll apologize now for any misunderstandings in the God Plan, or nanotech, as I could have used more clarification on how both of those things function in your world.

It seems right to me that Miller would have been responsible for the Ripping with a failed implementation of his God Plan. Since then, he has been researching what led to the failure and has narrowed it down to nanotech interference. His God tech won’t function properly in a host that has existing/former nanotech. This is why he needs MC so badly. She’s untouched by tech. She’s his Virgin Mary that will bring about the birth of his new God. For this reason, I would make people who have never used nanotech very much in the minority. She would have to stand out as being rare and important. There was discussion in the episode on what makes MC so special to Miller and why he would care. This idea, at least to me, pulls everything together and fits within the overall theme that you are working with. Hope it gives you something to work with. Happy writing!

Thanks for the kind words, Chris!

The name in question is “Istra”, and I’ve considered moving away from uncommon names for this very reason of confusions. It’s just a name I’ve been using for her out of habit since the early draft.

I like where you’re going with the virgin notion. I believe it was mentioned by Dave in discussion, too; the danger of diluting an attribute’s effectiveness if too many people have that same attribute.

It’s a very good point, and I can’t shake it off, even though it’s not in sync with what I’ve done so far in the world. Currently, I’m focused in on a time where the balance is beginning to tip; lots of people are beginning to take augmentation, so it’s a blend groups. I can definitely see, though, if she’s one of the last and final hold-outs, how powerful that gig could become, plotwise.

thanks again!

Hey Chris! Were you shouting at your player while you listened? That’s our “benchmark of success” around here. 😉

Great insights (again, to a story that is not mine, so could be complete BS)… they sparked an insight into Miller for me, another take on his. Peter had mentioned a “reverse hero’s arc” for Miller and I like that. But I also like the idea of him causing that first Ripping. I can see him being fraught with grief, dedicating his life to making restitution for the horror visited upon the world… and then being tempted back to the project. Perhaps a new inspiration (see below) unveils the “missing element” that had caused the first iteration to breakdown. A wonderful exploration of hubris and regret.

I was trying to figure out Istra’s (???) value to Miller’s project. You and others mentioned her “pristine” nature, but what IS it about being untouched by tech that makes the difference? It got me thinking about how the human mind works and the mechanics of creative inspiration. What if the “taint” of tech is it’s interspersion into the human mental sequence. The crisp mechanics of machine “thought” disrupt that organic flow of conception and inspiration which is the very essence of “God”. The system breaks down (and “rips”) because the processors simply can’t adapt quickly enough to the layered manifestation of reality. Only “pure” thought, untainted by digital processing, can handle the massive surge of data.

Love this! 😀

Riffing on brain stuff..
The term ‘resonance’ comes to mind. In my short stories in the wasteland, the nano detritus has a harmonic nature to it; you have to listen to it and hear it, in some regard, to interact with it. Gives it a zen meditative quality to the interaction. I would expect that once you are infected, the “nanogin”, as I’ve been calling it (nanotech pathogen / cotton gin / mashup), is going to be resonating within and against the electrical conductivity in the electrolytes in your body/brain. So, yes, as part of what the nanogin does to you, it’s introducing a fabric of waveform activity in the synapse patterns. Modified people are operating at a whole different level chemically and fundamentally; that HAS to create horrid reverberations in brain activities. “Clean” people are not hived in to that “Borg” mind, to borrow (steal) the concept link.


I’d stick with the name. I like it. My issue was more hearing it pronounced with four different accents and trying to sort through it that way. In written form there is no confusion. 🙂


Ok, ok. I’ll admit to a little yelling. Especially when the comparisons of Cave and Jesus came up. It was just a short little step to the Virgin Mary and I was waiting for someone to say it, but nobody did.

I think the brain stuff is on the right track. There has to be something that the tech does to change a person permanently. My initial thought was on a DNA level, since I believe it was said that Miller was harvesting DNA. I like the idea of interrupting normal thought patterns much more, though. It is our advanced level of thoughts and consciousness that make God possible in the first place. At least, I haven’t seen many animal churches out there so far.

So maybe it has something to do with a tech tainted mind being unable to handle the purity of the reverse engineered God. This potentially could have been the catalyst for the Ripping. I’m definitely digging the idea that instead of creating God and perfection, Miller brought about a nearly biblical cataclysm. He’s now obsessed with fixing his mistake to the point that nothing else matters. Having him as the failed hero definitely gives him some of the depth that it seemed he was lacking at first.

Hopefully this helps, or at least doesn’t hurt, your story. I think you’ve got something good here. I’m really interested in seeing how Miller’s endgame would play out and what exactly would happen with a reverse engineered God.

Everything helps! If there’s anything I love kicking around, it’s the finer points of what this story world is developing into.

We haven’t even scratched the surface of the spiritual aspects. I’ve got a pantheon of gods/goddesses in play that I’m toying with bringing into the mix now, or later. I may only have to hint on it now, given the scope of work and my intent on keeping a simple story to tell. But if later, we’ll have a number of new religions in conflict that touch on techno-disciples as well as purists, creationists in the pure form (anything that gets created) vs destructionists (watch the world burners). Not to mention the rejectionists that turn away from everything. And, yes, that all filters back in to how well each person is tuned to it due to the infection of nanogin, or, lack thereof.

Thanks for the thoughts on this! Digging the conversation.

One thought that came up when you were talking about why Miller needs a particular character. Since he’s trying to reverse-engineer God from human DNA, and half the world has been turned into grey goo, it seems to me that the answer is pretty obvious: Whole ethnic groups of humanity have been destroyed, so anyone who remains from those groups is invaluable to Miller. He needs to harvest their DNA, but he can’t afford to kill them because they’re a scarce resource.


So if Istra were originally from Australia (for example). This also occurred to me.

Good point, Peter,
I’m thinking the refugee movement that would occur after a slow-model ripping would be massive and varied, and lend directly to that as a possibility. Neat stuff.

Exactly that, Doc. I think that’s going be a key element. Timing is the deal. Each click on the timeline is going to lend more or less to that purity conflict, and if we traverse down to where she’s that rare, we’ve got an interesting moment!

I think the ‘original grey goo’ story Ryan mentions in this podcast was Blood Music by Greg Bear.

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