Workshop Episode 51 (Guest Host: Tobias Buckell)

February 19, 2013 Posted by Dave Robison

The Roundtable Podcast, Workshop Episode 51, with Tobias Buckell and Jeff XilonTobias Buckell – author of the fabulous Xenowealth series, Halo™ tie-in novel “The Cole Protocol“, the recently released “Arctic Rising” from Tor Books, and so much more – returns to the Big Chair at the Roundtable to help us workshop a kind-of-superhero tale offered by Guest Writer, Jeff Xilon. Jeff’s tale – that begins with the destruction of the last superheroes – sparks a frothing conversation as we explore a whole plethora of perspectives, POVs, backstories, and approach vectors, exposing some very cool material that might help enhance the story and also explore some new ground for the super hero genre. The Internet gods were very cruel to us (our apologies for the wretched bits we couldn’t edit out), but that didn’t stop us from unearthing some serious Literary Gold! (and you’ll get even more writerly goodness over at Tobias’s Showcase Episode!)

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Workshop Episode 51 (Guest Host: Tobias Buckell)

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

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About Dave Robison

Dave Robison has indulged in creative pursuits his entire life. His CV includes writing Curious George fan-fiction at the age of eight, improv theater at age ten, playing trumpet at age twelve, as well as a theater degree, creating magazine cover art, writing audio scripts, designing websites, creating board games, hosting mythological roundtables and generally savoring the sweet drought of expression in all its forms. His years of exploration give him a unique, informed, and eloquent perspective on the art of storytelling.

14 Responses to Workshop Episode 51 (Guest Host: Tobias Buckell)

  1. Hey guys, still listening to this episode but couldn’t help noticing similarities to some other works while you were talking about making Jenny the main character.

    Brandon Sanderson’s first Mistborn novel seems quite similar. The less informed girl being the MC and the genius who drives the story being vital and having perspectives is definitely there.

    My worry here is that the sort of story Jeff brought in might be more original than what the others suggested. On the other hand, you definitely have a point, guys. Structurally it would be much easier to write the book with Jenny as the MC. Definitely it goes both ways, and originality isn’t the end-all be-all, but consider the possibility that sometimes the less obvious route should be followed.

    And of course, you’ve got to write what you love, both in characters and stories.

    • Jeff Xilon says:

      What are you doing to me Tim? :) During and after the show I’d pretty much come around to Tobias’ way of thinking about Jenny being the POV character, and now you’re going to get me reconsidering.

      Honestly, I think this story (or almost any story) could be told from any perspective. It would be a different story each time of course, but I think the plots and events of this tale could be told from Jenny’s or Isaac’s or Fitch’s or the leader of the movement’s POV. I’m going to have to figure out which story I most want to tell and which I’ll personally be able to write the best.

      So – anyone else want to weigh in on this issue? I’m happy to hear all ideas.

  2. What if the leader of the movement against Finch is Isaac? He just doesn’t know it, because he thinks he’s a genius. That would play well into the insanity side-effect of superpowers that Dave talked about.

    Another “what if” I envision is making Isaac think he’s the smartest person in the world, which he was for a time. But the explosion that everyone thought killed him actually birth to his alter ego–the leader of the rebellion. Make Finch even smarter and lure Isaac along, providing obstacles for Isaac to overcome. Then toward the middle make it more personal to Isaac. Something that will make him go from reaction to action.

    Hope I’m making some sense while I type this on my iPhone. it’s harder than it looks. ;)

    • Jeff Xilon says:

      Interesting idea Michael. So Isaac would be a sort of Tyler Durden character in this scenario then, yes? So would you tell the story from original personality Isaac’s perspective until a big reveal let’s the audience in on the secret? Or would you let the reader know upfront what’s going on and just keep the characters in the dark?

      • Michael Bergonzi says:

        I’m imagining two scenarios you could go with:

        1. Have it be like Fight Club, but have a scene or two that address the insanity aspect of the superpowers. You might need to foreshadow some more, but it’s much easier to do that kind of thing in movies than it is books.

        2. Instead of only one side knowing the other exists, have both of them be in the dark. That way, if for some reason you decide to give a POV to the rebel leader, you don’t have to cheat by withholding information from the reader.

        Also, since you mention “Fight Club”, I think that would be a good movie to analyze (if you were to go with my suggestion). I’m not sure if the book would be a better choice. Anyway, the whole upset the establishment theme in that movie would play in nicely with Isaac’s motivation to rid the world of people with super powers.

        • Jeff Xilon says:

          Interesting idea to link Isaac’s motivation to an anachronistic creed like Durden’s. Opposing a fascist-like control of the populace (in this case through super powered people instead of finances) is one of the original elements I was considering.

          I’m not sure if I want to try tackling a split-personality POV character, but I love that movie and have always wanted to read the book so maybe I can finally get around to it and call it “research”.

  3. Jeff Xilon says:

    Hell all!

    Just wanted to note a few things:

    1) Thanks to Dave and Bryan and Tobias for workshopping the story with me. I know it’s going to be a much better story for having done this.

    2) I’ll be keeping a close eye on the comments thread here and will be happy to engage in discussions with anyone who cares to put forth their thoughts.

    3) If anyone is interested, you can read the original piece of flash fiction that grew into this idea here: http://www.jeffxilon.com/flash-fiction-the-last-superhero-a-flash-fiction-challenge/

  4. Tracy says:

    Jeff,

    Thanks for sharing your story and allowing us to play in your sandbox. Just wanted to weigh in on how the supper powers may have gotten started.

    If your not scared of involved but hopefully plausible sounding explanations then I have one you can use that involves unobtainium, dark matter, human genetic mutations and genetically modified yeast or synthetic bacteria.

    The good stuff: Billions of years ago, a group of supper massive stars (binary, trinary or any other –nary you want) all exploded in supernovae at the same time. The resultant crashing together of titanic energy and particles waves caused elements to form with atomic weights far in excess of what is naturally occurring on earth. Most would be unstable and decay right away but sum of the ultra-heavy elements would find “islands of stability” where the number of particles in their nuclei achieved stable configurations. Elements 319 or 522 as a “no reason at all” example. These strange elements have the ability to form bonds with many of the various exotic particles that fall under the umbrella of “Dark Matter” and float in a cold, dark nebula until our solar system comes plowing into it.

    On Earth, a very rare genetic mutation causes one or more proteins to fold incorrectly and normally leads to deteriorating health conditions and a shortened life expectancy. However, when exposed to the elements from the nebula, the improperly made protein is able to bind with them and acts as a vehicle to make dark matter and any metaphysical properties attached to it, bio-available.

    For the antagonist to make Suppers at will, the genes responsible for the protein mutation are transplanted into yeast or synthetic bacteria so large amounts of the proteins can be produced and turned into an injectable serum. The injection is short-lived and metabolized quickly so it requires repeated doses. In addition, it may be habit forming.

    To nullify the Suppers, a chemical and enzymatic cocktail would break down the protein, strip away the dark matter particle and chemically bind the ultra-heavy element so it could not form another dark matter bond. The loss of supper abilities would occur within minutes of exposure to the nullifying agent and be a very painful process. The nullifying agent should be aerosolized. Some Suppers may have impenetrable skin, but everyone needs to breath.

    • Jeff Xilon says:

      Wow! Why aren’t you off writing some epically cool sci-fi yourself right now? Or maybe you are? With ideas like that you must be, or should be. So tell us Tracy, if you’re a writer yourself what are you working on and where can we find it?

      To be honest I think I’m going to have to read your post a couple more times to wrap my brain around it fully, but what I got so far certainly intrigues me. Your idea also has a certain bit of synchronicity to as I just read this article yesterday: http://www.newscientist.com/article/dn19733-problemsolving-bacteria-crack-sudoku.html

      After reading that the idea of programmable bacteria having something to do with the emergence of supers has been rolling around in my head.

  5. Tracy says:

    Thanks for your interest in my idea. I am a fellow Round Table workshoper (ep 10) but not yet a published author.

    • Jeff Xilon says:

      Ah, I came to the Roundtable a bit later than that and haven’t listened to all the earliest episodes yet. I’ll have to make it a point to get on that and maybe start with your episode then.

  6. Dan Latham says:

    Jeff,

    Quite a good story you have going. It really came together for me by the end of the episode. Here is my own input, which may be total bullshit.

    I had a bit of a problem with Isaac being the smartest man in the world. That brings about the Superman problem; how can you fight him? I think it would be more accessible to the reader, and easier to write, if he had high IQ, but was super talented in specific areas, genetic mutations or virology for example.

    Making his superhero persona “The World’s Smartest Man” as a marketing gimmick works quite well as a plot point, though.

    Going from the idea that the superheroes take away the dignity of first-responders to Isaac murdering all the heroes and villains, including his own brother, Adam, was an unbelievable stretch for me.

    I quite liked the idea that Isaac invents a device that mutes super powers. Perhaps he surreptitiously implants it on the others, but instead of muting powers, it actually kills the other people. Isaac has to live with and hide the terrible mistake he made.

    Making him a murderer right out of the box, made him irredeemable in my opinion.

    I loved the themes you are exploring and playing with. Keep up the good work.

    Dan

    P.S. I’m RoundTable workshopper ep. 09.

    • Jeff Xilon says:

      Hi Dan,

      Sorry to be so late getting back to this comment. You’re dead on about the smartest man in the world thing. I definitely agree that it has to made clear that it’s a gimmick, and not a case of someone being omniscient. I’ve personally had the enjoyment of too many stories sucked out of it for me once it became apparent that whether due to genius, or knowledge of the future or prophecy (I’m looking at you Fantasy!) the end results were both predictable and inevitable. Avoiding that seems to be one of the most important challenges for me, story-wise.

      The first-responders thing is an example (and also one of the seeds that grew into this idea). Your dead on that I’ll have to really build up a lot of evidence (at least from Isaac’s perspective) that genocide of the supers was the only option.

      Interesting idea that Isaac maybe kills other supers by accident. That’s something I’m definitely going to have to bounce off the wall of the ol’cranium to see what I might want to do with it.

      You’re right that he would be totally irredeemable otherwise, that is something I actually want to explore though. I do worry about going too far and making it something no one would want to read if I go that route though. On the other hand, irredeemable characters (see: Tony Soprano, Walter White) are sometimes quite fascinating.

      Thanks for your comments (feel free to give more!) Dan. I’ll be checking out your episode soon.

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