#104: Novel Learning

This is mark Joseph “young” blog entry #104, on the subject of Novel Learning.

With permission of Valdron Inc I am publishing my second novel, Old Verses New, in serialized form on the web (that link will take you to the table of contents).  If you missed the first one, you can find the table of contents for it at Verse Three, Chapter One:  The First Multiverser Novel.  There was also a series of web log posts looking at the writing process, the decisions and choices that delivered the final product; the last of those for the first novel is #71:  Footnotes on Verse Three, Chapter One, which indexes all the others and catches a lot of material from an earlier collection of behind-the-writings reflections that had been misplaced for a decade.  Now as the second is being posted I am again offering a set of “behind the writings” insights.  This “behind the writings” look definitely contains spoilers, and perhaps in a more serious way than those for the previous novel, because it sometimes talks about what I was planning to do later in the book or how this book connects to events yet to come in the third (For Better or Verse)–although it sometimes raises ideas that were never pursued.  You might want to read the referenced chapters before reading this look at them, or even put off reading these insights until the book has finished.  Links below (the section headings) will take you to the specific individual chapters being discussed, and there are (or will soon be) links on those pages to bring you back hopefully to the same point here.

These were the previous mark Joseph “young” web log posts covering this book:

  1. #74:  Another Novel (which provided this kind of insight into the first nine chapters along with some background material on the book as a whole),
  2. #78:  Novel Fears (which continued with coverage of chapters 10 through 18),
  3. #82:  Novel Developments (which continued with coverage of chapters 19 through 27),
  4. #86:  Novel Conflicts (which continued with coverage of chapters 28 through 36),
  5. #89:  Novel Confrontations (which continued with coverage of chapters 37 through 45),
  6. #91:  Novel Mysteries (which continued with coverage of chapters 46 through 54),
  7. #94:  Novel Meetings (which continued with coverage of chapters 55 through 63),
  8. #100:  Novel Settling (which continued with coverage of chapters 64 through 72).

This picks up from there, and I expect to continue with additional posts after every ninth chapter in the series.


History of the series, including the reason it started, the origins of character names and details, and many of the ideas, are in those earlier posts, and won’t be repeated here.

Chapter 73, Kondor 66

I never put a year on Kondor’s visit. Within the past decade or so libraries, or at least the library I have most frequented, have changed their systems drastically. At one time when you picked up a book on the shelf there was a paper pocket glued inside the cover in which was in essence an index card on which were the names of everyone who had borrowed the book, along with the date that they did so. Thus the information Kondor wants would have been available easily. Today you would need to access the library circulation desk computer and run a special routine against the database to obtain the same information, but since at least a few of the books I get from library discards have those pockets in them (cards removed) it is likely that the cards were still in use wherever/whenever Joe is doing this.

At this point I was working from the view that Ralph Mitchell stole the vorgo. I had worked out that his motive would be connected to the death of his wife, that he hoped he could use it to restore her to life. The first time I ran the scenario as a game (which was after I wrote this) I went with that solution. This time it was falling into place too easily. However, it was easy to make Krannitz and Merrick seem innocent—I had not at this point considered that they might be guilty.

Chapter 74, Brown 25

Again we see Derek’s negative reaction to “school” as a concept.

I needed to skip Lauren primarily because I needed to get Derek’s reaction to the school expanded before I returned to her.

It’s obvious that some people know how to read and write, because Chicker writes and someone else is able to read what he writes. However, it’s not a particularly common skill in a world like this, and it is probably needed to go forward.

The giant moth and the snake with eight arms both came from Gamma World games. It took me a very long time to understand that the eight foot tall winged creature that traded information for tasty clothing was a mutant moth, and I’m not at all certain of the origin of the eight-armed snake but I think the books called it a “menoral”, so I got the concept pretty clearly.

It is an interesting point that my schools had rooms that were set up similarly to office meeting rooms, and some offices have presentation rooms set up similarly to lecture halls, so there is enough overlap that you can easily run a small school in a large office.

Derek notices that Lauren seems to be able to keep up on everything she is doing even as she increases her workload. That’s not really true, as we see in the next chapter, but I’ve noticed that it is not at all uncommon for busy people to become busier and realize themselves that they are becoming overburdened long before anyone else notices it.

Chapter 75, Hastings 68

Lauren has a bit of a crisis of faith. Most believers have them, times during which God seems to be absent. Hers is particularly understandable, because she is in a low-magic world, a world in which spiritual realities are restricted. Yet it lets me talk about such faith crises in a way which addresses them in the real world as well.

Lauren left the world in about 1999. The Internet existed and had opened to ordinary people, but most ordinary people weren’t using it yet. She never had much contact with it; it just wasn’t part of her life as housewife and mother at that time. Even Derek had only some exposure to it, and it was not nearly so massive a thing as it is now—he left a few years later, when Google was still an upstart and Facebook hadn’t displaced MySpace. So they don’t know much about cyberspace yet.

Chapter 76, Kondor 67

It occurs to me that this is the second mystery in this book—Derek had to solve the slasher summer camp murders. I’ve always wanted to write a murder mystery, but they’re not easy; I suppose I’m practicing for that.

I wrote a web page once about expanding the local phone service to eight-digit numbers by replacing the three-digit “exchanges” with four-digit variants. People said it would be much more trouble than it appeared.

The bit about banks wanting to be located in expensive buildings is, or at least at one time was, true. Insurance companies do the same thing with their main offices. The idea is as Joe suggests, that the real estate investment makes the company look solvent so you trust that they’ll have your money when you want it.

I remember realizing the difference between measuring mass with a balance scale and measuring weight with a spring scale sometime in high school. Electronic scales would undoubtedly also measure weight, and the value of gold, despite being given in dollars per ounce, is really based on its mass.

Chapter 77, Brown 26

The idea of bringing in the Internet, in some form, seemed essential to Derek’s future: I needed him to learn far more about computers, particularly, than he could learn simply by looking at the ones in the compound. The site would have been connected to information elsewhere, and that was the way to make that possible.

My recollection is that robots were fairly common in Metamorphosis Alpha, and were also found in Gamma World, but I had not included them in my version here to this point partly because I did not want Derek taking one with him.

Chapter 78, Kondor 68

The “batteries included” line was something of a throwaway, because of all the products in our world that say “batteries not included” on the package. It was actually difficult to package early chemical power cells and have them stay fresh and not leak, which meant that many products would have a shorter shelf life if the batteries were in the package, so “batteries included” is probably the exception, but it didn’t seem inappropriate for that to be another difference between universes.

The comment Krannitz makes about the Vorgo rumored to have real magic is one of the clues. I realized when I created the game version that I needed two different versions of the magician (there named Merlin Mandrake for mnemonic purposes), one of whom holds the view that magic is not real, and the other who believes and hopes to find it in the world somewhere.

Making up names of places that sound real is part of the game, and part of the story. The places given sound like they would be real places in the world, but not in this world.

Seeing is clearly not believing, and Joe illustrates that by his attitude that all the inexplicable things he has seen have explanations, he just doesn’t know what they are. Magic is denied as the starting point, and the fact that he can find scientific explanations for some things that are thought to be magical to his mind proves that the rest of the supposedly magical things have similar scientific explanations that are simply not yet known to him.

Chapter 79, Hastings 69

I am not certain now that I understood why Grarg was so against the Internet when I put him in that position. Part of it was my feeling for a character I had played a few years before, and part of it was that I needed someone to cause friction, to disagree with the rest of the group, without being or seeming to be a villain. I started with the idea that the science of the ancients had destroyed the world, and I knew that there were factions within that game world that felt that way; but I also saw that that was an insurmountable objection, that Lauren probably could not ever win Grarg over to her side if that was the real problem. I thus went with the idea more as Grarg’s smokescreen for his real problem (perhaps inadvertently illustrating that people often have arguments against what they want to reject that are not the real reasons), and looked for something that could be solved.

I ultimately looked up the quote Lauren cites. It is apparently attributed to George Santayana, and in its original form reads “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” Lauren didn’t need to have it right or know where it originated.

Running a school is challenging, but it’s also somewhat boring to watch. I needed to bring some action into the story. That would arise again later for Derek, but I also knew that I had to make Derek an independent character and also start teaching Bethany, so the powerful Lauren had to be moved forward.

Chapter 80, Brown 27

As mentioned, I needed some action. I figured that the cat had to lose, but Lauren was going to be killed in the process, and that meant that someone had to fight against the cat besides Lauren. Derek was the obvious choice to see the monitors, and I could use his perspective to describe the fight and thus avoid having to cover the moment Lauren is killed. It also gave me the chance to show how powerful Grarg was and how skillful Qualick was—two characters about whom I knew a great deal more than had been included in the story. That’s often the case, but it helps to reveal the characters in action.

Chapter 81, Kondor 69

I think it was about this point that I decided Mitchell didn’t do it. I needed a more interesting mystery, and he became my misdirect.

I also decided who did it, because now I had a viable suspect the reader would not have guessed, but who fit the pieces well.

I hope these “behind the writings” posts continue to be of interest, and perhaps some value, to those of you who have been reading the novel.  If there is any positive feedback, they will continue.

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