I want to start a running discussion, maybe for my own use mostly, of all the plot connectors within my novel manuscript, “Angel’s Brother”. See also the posts here for July 9 and June 9.
The first function to cover is, what are the “global” events that this novel proposes?
The most visible, in the early chapters, is a bizarre pandemic. It starts at high altitude in Colorado (and in fact, that has been the case for some of the enterovirus-68 outbreak) and has some frightening aspects. The main symptoms in the beginning are skin lesions in areas of the body with poorer circulation, like the legs, of diabetics, smokers, or many older people. The next symptoms are neurological: dementia, and delusions, that in some people lead to seizures and rapid death; in others, the patients stabilize for some months or even possibly years, to relapse into rapid death spiral. The disease is found to be caused by a bizarre RNA virus (borderline retrovirus) that might be contacted by prolonged physical contact or frottage. Gradually, the cases appear at lower altitudes. The government considers evacuating the highest towns, but then another outbreak occurs in the higher parts of the Alleghenies and Smokies from West Virginia down into North Carolina and Tennessee. Even more perplexing is that some people who have been moved lower and improve but then start to relapse do better if they go back higher.
The virus has the ability to use certain rare radioactive elements, which during certain periods in half-life generate mini-black holes. These may cause more tissue damage suddenly, but the main consequence is that the memories of the person and awareness are shared with a younger person after the person passes, or sometimes even during coma. There is speculation about sleep, too, whether dreaming can lead to telepathy through some unknown viral mechanism.
Younger, healthier people seem to recover from the virus, but are left with permanent intellect loss. But a very few, including some who test positive for the antigen and show a very brief one-time radiation exposure, don’t become ill and seem to develop supernatural mental powers, including the ability to assimilate the memories of others.
The second function is the arrival of extraterrestrials, who will be shown to be angels, with identities related to the 144,000 in Revelations. (This sounds like “The 4400”.) Gradually, it is learned that the “Los Angeles Angels” have set up a base on Titan, which seems to be a complete living colony. It’s not clear in this novel where else in the Galaxy or Universe they could go. (Christopher Nolan, with “Interstellar”, is not the first to suggest that clues to alien contact could occur near Saturn, or specifically Titan, the most interesting little planet (3000 miles diameter and an atmosphere) in the Solar System. )
The implication, putting all this together, is that the “universe” is running out of its ration of discrete souls, at least near Earth, and must consolidate them, perhaps into The 144,000.
Now a novel must deal with all this from the viewpoint of both characters, and organizations (corporations, or governments, or subunits of those) as they learn the information and must decide what to do about it.
It’s noteworthy (as a third function) that the manuscript, as it is now, has almost no references to radical Islam and its terror threat, but it does refer to Putin’s Russian expansionism, which I have set in Finland rather than Ukraine. That’s partly because the first elements of the story came to me in 1999, well before 9-11, and other factors since then have given me intelligence that northwestern Russia, near the Finnish border, may indeed harbor some dangerous secrets. There have been films around this idea, such as “Devil’s Pass” (about Dyatlov Pass, though that’s in the Urals, on my Movies blog Aug. 28, 2014), “How I Ended this Summer” (reviewed Feb, 12, 2012, and that’s in eastern Siberia), and “The Return” (reviewed Dec, 28, 2011) which does happen near Finland.
As to government agency, the parent would be the The United States Intelligence Community (link) The most obvious responsibility for responding to a pandemic threat like that above would start with the CDC, in HHS, but would quickly shift to the Departments of Defense (including DIA and NSA, and all the intelligence agencies of individual armed services), Homeland Security (I&A), then Justice (FBI), and the finally the CIA (which is totally independent of the Cabinet — multiple choice question for a government test!). In the novel, information about the “alien” issue has resided mainly with a background character named Ali Mogul, who left the military and spent some years in the FBI and is now retired. He has some interaction with a right-wing-funded technical education facility in West Texas called “The Academy”. (Sounds like “The Shop” in Stephen King’s world. doesn’t it.)
But much of the backstory has been embedded (one layer up) in “fiction” (relative to the “real” events of the novel) penned by one Bill Ldzet, who is admittedly based on me. Bill has thought of the idea of the Academy, which he heard about with a bizarre job interview in the early 1980s in Texas. He didn’t get the job, but the contracting company that interviewed him, well, talked way too much. His writings bare an amazing parallel to the “truth”, signaled by his connections to the other “angels” that Bill seems to have found, such as Matt, the son of a woman who had purchased his condo.
This takes us to the two main protagonists of the story, Randy Ephram, around 40, working as a history teacher in ritzt North Dallas (or maybe Plano), and a fanciful Renaissance man, with the looks of Tom Cruise, maybe. He’s “almost” happily married with three kids, one of whom he was cajoled into adopting. But he was in Army intelligence, but was asked to leave for reasons that seem hidden. So he took a civilian job doing the same thing. Because the government thinks that this alien thing has an origin in Russia, he has been officially working for the CIA part time, and “stumping” his AP students for recruits. One of these is Sal Garcia, a “white” Hispanic boy, charismatic in personality, gifted in speaking many languages, and in computer hacking, oh yes, always “ethical”, Sal was adopted and raised by a fundamentalist Christian family in Wisconsin, but somehow he ignores everyone’s objection to his interest in his gay side, and gets away with it. As an aftermath of a military intelligence class with ROTC, Sal will “hack” Bill’s writings — that is, everything in the Cloud that he didn’t “publish”. As a result, DOD will examine Bill’s published writings to piece together the story. Some of Bill’s unpublished writings introduce real characters, like Ali, a retired intelligence agent who had gumshoed the Roswell files before and who claims that the car crash that cost him his legs was caused by a UFO, and Ali’s wife, Ellen, is a surgeon who first leans about the disease when traveling to Mexico City.
It’s important to note how the agency works. I don’t have “station chiefs” and double agents running around much, as in most spy novels, because what is going on at home really is more captivating. The CIA does people-centered intelligence overseas; the DIA does the people intelligence for ongoing military operations, and I&A and FBI similarly investigate homeland threats already known. The NSA does the cyber intelligence for the armed services, but in actuality the CIA does its own, which for characters like these results in their work applying in either agency.
(First published Monday November 3, 2014, 8:30 PM EST; updating will continue.)
The character Lurku, who has a bizarre appearance that makes him seem old and young at the same time, as well as very mixed race, has actually tracked down former Soviet weapons sites that now seem to house the radioactive elements that, when introduced into the virus, produce the bizarre disease The CIA sets up an early meeting (Chap 4) between Ephram and Lurku, but Lurku has also communicated with Sal.
Randy’s wife, Erin, is a health department nurse. She becomes interested in why the virus focuses on high altitude areas of the US and not other parts of the world like the Andes and Himalaya. She knows enough about her husband’s work (illegally) to pry, and learn about one of “Bill’s characters”, Ali Mogul, whose own wife had been one of the first to notice the new disease.
Notes on the “reality layers” (Nov. 13, 2014)
The narrative layers in the novel focus on “present” day with the major characters (Sal, Randy, their families, their “bosses” or classmates or students, etc), and on two streams of the “past” as associated with “Bill”: that is, how much of the material in his unpublished manuscripts is “true” relative to the novel, how much is pure fiction, and how much is actually true in my own reality.
I actually had developed a timeline assuming the original novel might be “pubbed” around 2005 or so. The original “Rain on the Snow” (May 13) plotline, where Bill goes to the Academy and is imprisoned after being accused of killing Matt (the character who turns out to be an alien) was subsumed to be inside “Tribunal and Rapture” (April 29 here), as Bill has escaped at the end of RS to join the “Nighthike and Immolation” scene at the end. A similar scene occurs in this novel, in the “middle section” (Part II), about two-thirds the way through. (The TR plotline was then re-embedded into an expanded RS plotline around 2005.)
The timeline for Matt becomes critical, as he must be no later than 17 during most of this novel. So in the “reality history” of the novel he will be the son of “Toby and Shelia”, born near Minneapolis shortly before Y2K. The parents are minor college-age characters here but were important in “Tribunal and Rapture”. But the TR and expanded RS (call it “RS1”) manuscripts have Matt to be the son of a fitness instructor named Kelly Skiis (female), who winds up working at “The Academy” as PE instructor, born int he late 80s. Skiis had bought Bill’s “first” condo in Dallas and lived there some years, losing her first husband to diabetes, and encountering other hardships until giving birth to an amazingly gifted son, seemingly through immaculate conception. Matt then is abducted by the “angels” for about a year and returned, all the wiser, as a kind of “teenager who fell to earth”, sort of a Clark Kent type (with only more subtle “powers”, like direct telepathy). No, he looks a little beefier than David Bowie (and, yes, I did love the 1976 film “The Man Who Fell to Earth” by Nicholas Roeg. and might as well mention it here —- the way the identity of Thomas Jerome Newton gets revealed is instructive).
There’s another computer hacker, Amos, the son of Ali in TR, who (according to the novels) got fired from a place Bill worked in the 1990s for check-skimming on a mainframe, a crime for which Bill was nearly implicated. He was prosecuted, did community service, and hid behind a double-life in the world just before the Internet and Google could out everybody. Then he changed. He seems to have been abducted, which could be related to his dad’s auto collision with a UFO years earlier. He could be “infected”. Bill will be partially “infected” by his intimate encounter with Sal half-way through “the novel”. Bill, subsequently, undergoes major transformations toward the end of the book (especially after the Immolation) short of becoming an “angel” himself.
Sal will learn that it is by checking out and analyzing Amos, he can tell how much of Bill’s “fiction” is really true.
Based on the experience of writing my older manuscripts, I found it was more promising to tell “the story” through other characters who learn things from “Bill” (Me). So, the writing is still “selfie” but less so. The most interesting protagonist would be someone I would admire and want a relationship with — the Sal character, or the earlier time slice of Randy. If Sal is to become an “angel”, it’s noteworthy that he will learn this by “hacking Bill”.
(Jan 9, 2015)
Notes on the split between Bill’s “novels” (as hacked by Sal and later even Randy) and his actual life (as hacked by Matt).
Most of what is depicted in the novel before 2000 “happened”. Bill was contacted at work by each of two defaulted condos in Texas, in the logic of the novel. But the older one (which first was sold in 1981) gets cleared a second time by a mystery realtor who sells the unit to “Kelly” who then has Matt in the mystery mudroom by immaculate conception. Kelly is a younger doppleganger to the woman who bought the unit in 1981 and lost a husband to diabetes, and then became impoverished before the realtor found this doppleganger. The CIA knows about this, seeing it as a kind of prophecy resolved by the “real” Matt who must reconcile the timelines (Chap 17); but Sal will find it only through hidden writings — until he meets Matt then at the “health fair”. Randy’s wife has heard rumors of the “mystery disease” through her job, but the narrative in Bill’s TR novel about how Ali’s wife, a surgeon learns about it will be generally true in reality, as is the isolated EMP attack on Ali’s second home.
Although Sal and Randy develop a romantic relationship, it would be interesting to give Matt a chance to challenge it — with Sal.
(Jan. 15, 2015)
Early in the novel (Ch 1), it is noted that Ali Mogul had also hacked Bill’s harddrive in the early (or maybe late) 1990s, before Bill even had Internet. But then the CIA lost interest in his musings, and simply provided a summary, which Randy learns about when he is hired as a civilian and later meets Lurku in Chapter 4. Because Bill’s TR novel “predicted” Ali’s UFO encounter, leg loss, and then heart attack (and EMP incident), the CIA takes Bill seriously again.
Sal finds, however, that Ali had kept looking until shortly before 9/11, when he has his “real” accident in west Texas with the UFO and loses his legs, and becomes a civilian. (Actually, the real accident was in W Va, but even Ali has told everybody the UFO story in the desert.) He stays in domestic intelligence work, but no longer has access to Bill’s stuff, whatever he says his reasons. (Bill had predicted the accident to happen in 1977; also Bill had correctly described Ali’s boyhood in rural Florida around migrant farms and near Belle Glade.) And shortly after Bill’s real life transfer away from his job in VA, Ali’s son Amos really did get arrested for tampering with a financial system where he worked. So the period right before 9/11 turns out to be the division between “future fact” and fiction in Bill’s private writings.