The gradual return to normality

My science fiction book Iskriget has gotten its first review: “Iskriget is one of the most interesting Swedish science fiction novels during the last few years.” A big smile!

The last month or so I feel that I have regained my “drive”, my ability to write a creative text to its “The End”. The last two years have seen too many half-finished endeavours. But in September I delivered the first article to Fenix magazine since before my sojourn in Afghanistan in 2008-09 and the editors said the text was up to my usual standards, too. It is an outline of an RPG campaign dealing with an alien invasion and the slow end of civilized life as we know it. It’s going to be published in the Christmas issue.

Well, when life hits you over the head, it takes time to regain the wits. Tomorrow I have scheduled some time for more creative writing — will I be able to do one chapter in my new novel? I know what’s going to happen, anyhow.

In medias res — a new tale kicks off

That morning, when the war began, I was on the run, at least in the eyes of the law. In the Republic of Karquim a woman reaches legal age on her 25th birthday, and since I had bicycled away from the college at night without permission, I was a juvenile delinquent. But my absence should not be discovered until nine o’clock and by then I ought to be in the air, heading for the Dutch East Indies.

Karquim cloudport is a second-rate facility where most services close at midnight. The ticket office would open at seven o’clock, so I had to wait in the all-night café where a young man sold stuffed baguettes and strong coffee. It served as a waiting room for some half-asleep European businessmen in dark suits and provided a table for a team of breakfasting native stevedores who soon would join the morning shift. They chatted in a dialect I did not understand while looking curiously at me, sitting alone at a window table with an view eastward across the civilian cloudship field. My plus-fours and linen jacket and the cloth cap I had put on the table probable made them wonder: what kind of person is that?

The grounded cloudships were vague shapes in the dark, each with a few illuminated portholes. I saw five, but I could not determine which one was C/S Wilhem Tell, which in a few hours would fly me west to another continent.

One hour after finishing my simple meal, the horizon began to glow in pink and illuminate the undersides of the scattered clouds. Soon the sun disk floated into the sky and the cloudships’ bulging metal hulls glittered in the golden light. Beyond them half a dozen small civilian aeroplanes were lined up on the grass.

The stevedores grabbed their hats and left the café. Time to head to the main hall, I thought, gathering my belongings and gulping down the last drops of coffee. When I looked out across the cloudship field, a swarm of black dots appeared around the low sun. I squinted to discern what that could be.

A klaxon’s scream pierced my ears.

Air raid! War!? The realization jolted me. Will I die because I fled too late?

The dots grew into a group of single-engine propeller planes dashing west across the civilian field and disappearing from my sight above the café window. I throw myself onto the floor. Machine guns fired and bombs thundered from the military area west of the cloudport terminal buildings.

The klaxon stopped howling. Slowly I raised my head and looked east through the intact café window. On the civilian field cloudships’ foghorns wailed while people fled from all open spaces. Two ships had their airscrews running at the same time as men toiled at their ramps with wooden crates, either pushing them away or dragging them onboard.

The Joys of Writing

Somewhat into my 50s, I sit down in front of the computer one evening and start looking back. My fingers dance on the keys forming words on the screen — yes, I am a writer, and in some manner I have always been a writer and story-teller since I mastered the craft of handling letters at the age of 5. I started reading science fiction when I was 8 years old (Jules Verne and Robert Heinlein in Swedish translations) and one year later I penned my first SF story as a school essay. When I was 14 I tried writing a novel, a pastiche à la The Prisoner of Zenda; it was failure and never got completed, but somewhere in our home lies a bundle of school notebooks (the classic ones with dark blue covers) with this tale of adventure and war in the 1890s.

And this road goes ever on, to paraphrase Tolkien. I am not the first wordsmith in the family, I have been told. My father’s father, who passed away long before I was born, made an art of writing clever and complex rhymed riddles on Christmas gifts (a Swedish tradition), poking fun at the gift and its recipient.

But unlike anyone else in the clan, I seem to be the first one to make a living out of writing. Well, I am not speaking of my fiction, but most of my professional life I have been writing non-fiction: games, media analyses, technical documents, magazine articles on science subjects (popular science, not research), books and reports on UN peacekeeping, press releases, etc. I am did not consciously seek this career. It just turned out that I had a particular skill and put it to use. I grabbed the assignments within reach and convinced those that pay my salary that I would be doing a good job.

And I enjoy doing it. The thoughts swirl in my mind and form sentences by themselves. It does not matter whether I use Swedish or English, it just happens. English may not be my mother tongue, but somehow I have taken it to my heart and made into my “other” native language. Interestingly, I write (and probably think) in somewhat different ways with the two languages. My English tends to be more to the point, whereas my Swedish is more embellished.

Well, I remember reading a Steinbeck novel when I was young. Its protagonist was a man of my current age. And he thought he was seeing “the end of the race”. Life had gone from summer to autumn, so to speak. There are days when I feel like that, too. Then time becomes precious and I ponder on how to use the remaining 15-20 years of professional life. There are so many stories I want to tell, but which are the ones that would grab the attention of others. I don’t want to waste those limited months and years. I do not write for the desk drawer — I am a story-teller.

Two books down — what next?

I have published my first two novels. Now when they are behind me, I face new challenges. Since a few years, the English dieselpunk spy adventure Pandora has been resting in my computer. I haven not touched it since early 2009, when I had done about 80 book pages. Now it is time to once again take a close look at the MS. During the least few weeks, I have identified several plot points that need to be revised and the ending has to switch from downbeat to (at least partially) upbeat. The nationality of the male protagonist should be changed, the plot dealing with his sister’s adventure needs a new location, etc.

Silveråldern: “Titan” — de odödligas kamp

Jag har tidigare skrivit flera artiklar om de svenska rollspelens silverålder på 1990-talet och om projekt som förverkligades och projekt som dog sotdöden. Jag har gjort så många spelprojekt att jag inte längre har koll på dem alla. Rätt vad är kommer jag på något — “Ja, den gjorde vi också.”

Ett sådant projekt hade arbetsnamnet Titan. Encyklopedin Nordisk familjebok skrev: “Bildligt användas orden titan och titanisk för att beteckna en på egen kraft trotsande, mot gudomlig och mänsklig världsordning upprorisk natur.” Det blev bara en detaljerad projektplan som Mats Blomqvist, jag och ytterligare några skrev ihop åt 101 Production. Men det fanns aldrig pengar att gå från idéstadiet till produktion.

Inspirationen kom från många håll: en ockult Venedig-baserad 1770-talskampanj som spelgänget hade kört; en urgammal tysk film om den odödlige baron Münchhausen; filmen Highlander* och den teveserie som följde. Men dra inte alltför stora paralleller. Det handlade om ett antal sumerer och babylonier som med alkemiska konster hade bryggt odödlighetens elixir för mer än 4000 år sedan. (Nåja, de åldras inte och drabbas inte av sjukdomar, men de kan dö av fysiskt våld.) Dessa titaner, de dolda manipulationernas mästare, hade följt mänskligheten från de första stenåldershögkulturerna i Mellanöstern, Indusdalen och Egypten till idag. Med odödligheten följde sterilitet, så det enda sättet en titan kunde bygga sig makt och ära var genom att värva följeslagare. Med stigande ålder och alkemisk kunskap blev han dessutom alltmer omänsklig till sinnelaget. Den individ som har levt i fyratusen år ser lätt de vanliga dödliga människorna som kortlivade myror, redskap i de utdragna maktkamperna med de andra titanerna. Och den som inte åldras kommer att frukta än mer den död som vållas av olyckshändelser och mord: olika grader av paranoia blir ett normaltillstånd hos titanerna.

Sett med nutida ögon verkar upplägget likna Vampire eller Mage. Men så var det inte då. Konspirationer och alkemi, Cagliostro och Saint-Germain, kabbalism, dold historia och sekellånga maktkamper mellan odödliga mästare. Spelarrollerna skulle vara juniora aktörer bland livsfarliga veteraner. Jo, jag tror nog att det kunde ha blivit en bra produkt.

*Ja, det gjordes lyckligtvis bara en Highlander-film.

Detaljfixande i “Iskriget”

Jag skrev Iskriget i tre faser*: 1993-94, 2002-04 och 2010-11. I fas två och tre modifierade jag dess setting. Så det är inte så märkligt att jag hittar en hel del små motsägelser mellan början och slutet. Det blir en massa fixande den här helgen, innan jag skickar romanen på tryck.

* 1. pseudo-Traveller => 2. brackettsk planetary romance => 3. studio-ghiblisk dieselretro.