The Virus Diaries: The Floating City

March 29, 2020 at 6:42 pm (Fully Sick, general life, Interactive Fiction, Mum Stuff, My Novels, Slow Writing)

Today is Sunday, which means I get to (mostly) ignore the kids and (theoretically) focus on my writing. I did have a reasonably good day yesterday: I was too tired to do much of anything until the kids were asleep, but then I finished expanding Chapter 11, including adding a section on future quarantine methods (someone from another city is visiting the main city, so he has to have blood, saliva and mucus samples taken, and have a chemical bath, and have his movements tracked for six weeks via his wrist computer). It’s a minor section, but of course I think it’s super cool that my vision of the future has learned a major lesson from COVID-19.

Zipper remains unimpressed.

A long, long time ago, when TJ looked like this…

… I had an idea for a story set in a floating city after the ice caps have melted. The idea bubbled away for years as I worked on other things. I’d always think of it when I went swimming, because of course the population of a floating city would be amazing swimmers (and because swimming laps is not exactly mentally taxing, so it’s an excellent time for random pondering).

I began properly researching for “The Floating City” in very early 2017. Inspired by Trump, I wanted to write some disabled characters (since he was being horrid to disabled citizens, among others). I was generally aware that there are more disabled people in the world than in fiction, so I thought it’d be good to change that balance a little. I was also aware that I knew very little and would need to go to some extra effort to make sure my representation of disabled characters did more good than harm.

I was originally going to have the reader choose whether they were mute, a double amputee, or phobic of deep water. The main issue with that is that the nature of ChoiceScript games is that choices should for the most part be very balanced. So having such a choice implied that those three options were all equally difficult. I couldn’t say whether they are or aren’t, but that just makes it even worse.

I’m fascinated by languages (I actually studied linguistics at uni, although not as a major) so of course the many sign languages in the world are very interesting (things like facial expression or the expansiveness of a gesture showing “tone”, and variations from place to place). Like most people, I’m aware that some Deaf people will elect to NOT get their hearing “fixed” given the option, because there is a whole Deaf subculture that is more important to some people than the ability to hear (the rough unpleasant sound of electronic “hearing” is definitely a factor too). I also liked the idea of a floating city made of glass spheres that people both lived in and travelled through. I imagined there might be sealed hatches that took an annoying few seconds to open. So I figured some basic sign language would be handy for people to communicate through glass, and I invented “Tapping” which is handy for those awkward minutes talking through glass, as well as giving people the option of tapping directly onto a person for a kind of “whisper” effect. Therefore, my floating city had a normal sign language dialect plus Tapping.

And, with Tapping being universally spoken, people would be more open to learning a few regular signs as well, if only to make those through-glass (or underwater) conversations more satisfying. I didn’t think that would be enough to actually have a fully bilingual city, so I made up something else: around a third of the population is Hard of Hearing or Deaf (a rather limited population pool brings out recessive genes).

With all that background, it was natural for most denizens of Kota Perahu to speak both sign language and Tapping. Which of course means being Deaf or Hard of Hearing is no longer a disability there, much as being very shortsighted is not a disability for me, since I can wear glasses.

I really liked the idea of a story showing by its world-building that it’s society rather than physical impairment that makes life difficult for disabled people.

I also really like the fact that certain disabled athletes are literally better than their able-bodied equivalents, because prosthetic technology is really cool. Someone I used to babysit works in the field of making cheap prosthetics for third world countries. People are 3D printing bright pink glittery arms, and tentacles (why not?) and water pistol arms. Kids are designing their own prosthetic limbs for fun.

So of course a person on a floating island could, hypothetically, become a real-life mermaid.

They’d need to be a double above-knee amputee for maximum movement, which would require considerable tech to overcome. But… a real tail? I couldn’t give up the idea.

So I badly wanted at least one profoundly Deaf major character, and a double above-knee amputee for the main character (so readers could ‘experience’ swimming with a real tail).

And that is how the story ended up, disability-wise. But I didn’t expect my research to have such a profound effect on my own family.

Chris has innattentive ADD. If you’ve ever met him you’ll notice he’s not hyperactive. Like… not at ALL. If he was any more laid back he’d stop breathing. But I knew there was a genetic element (apart from anything else, his dad also has ADD) so for the first two years of Lousiette’s life, she didn’t watch TV. That’s recommended for preventing or lessening ADD. This is an epic achievement, and all the more so when you consider how much screen time my kids get nowadays (… all of it).

Louisette as a baby.

 

I also watched her behaviour, and I noticed that actually she had amazing focus, even as an infant. She was, I thought, basically the opposite of someone with ADD.

But then when I was chatting to people about disabilities, someone mentioned “hyperfocus” as a symptom of ADD. The word alone was enough to stop me in my tracks. As the name implies, people with ADD are super duper focused on certain things, to the exclusion of the rest of the world. Just like… Louisette.

She was about to start Kindy, so I did some more research and was able to let her teacher know that we suspected she also had innattentive ADD. Twelve months later, it had been overwhelmingly confirmed and she started taking Ritalin at the relatively early age of 6. (Let’s not get into talking about Ritalin here. ADHD is both over- and under-diagnosed and plenty of people mistakenly believe it’s not a real condition or that it’s due to bad parenting and/or have legitimate concerns about Ritalin as it’s a very powerful drug. Yes, I know.)

At this stage—in 2017 I’d been too sick to work for two years, although I didn’t have the fibromyalgia diagnosis for another three years—it also slowly dawned on me that *I* was disabled.

Now obviously chronic illness and disability are technically different things. But there is a whole disabled community, and I’m in it. From that point onwards I grew used to the idea of calling myself “disabled” (It’s been five years now since I was able to do normal work, and it’s highly unlikely I’ll ever recover). Sure I’m not paralysed (as we always think of when someone says “disabled”). That doesn’t make me able-bodied.

So here I am. Disabled. Connected to others, and experiencing a lot of what other disabled people experience. I applied for a disability parking permit back in 2018 or so, which is SO GOOD and helps me to still be able to do some basic stuff like dropping the kids at school. This year I applied for the disability support pension, and that’s basically the bright shining light at the end of the tunnel of financial failure that is my life. I hope it’s not a train.

Ah, we were all so cute back then.

 

Anyway.

As part of the writing process, I tried to imagine how the current world could plausibly end up looking like the world of The Floating City, especially since the titular floating city was mostly made up of Indonesian refugees (that’s never actually mentioned in the story, although it’s mentioned that most Kota Perahu people have brown skin and most of those living in the underground city of New Sydney are pale).

So I decided that a world that had experienced the stupidity and racism of Trump might have a massive swing in the opposite direction, and briefly face the very real problem of Climate Change—and the immense numbers of climate refugees—head on, prioritising compassion, scientific innovation, and long-term thinking. Including massive investments of capital.

So in my version of the future, there is the invention of Glass, which is stronger than regular glass and also acts as a solar panel and a computer screen. The whole city is made of it.

And Australia builds Kota Perahu, and populates it with a balance of skills, prioritising refugees (or those who are in danger of becoming refugees eg those from the Maldives) but sprinkling in others as well. It is well built, sustainable, and fundamentally independent. It has certain regions that it travels through over the course of a year, trading along the way. It is very difficult to gain citizenship, which is darkly amusing when the ice caps finish melting and several major cities (including Sydney) are largely destroyed, making ‘rich’ refugees beg for entry to Kota Perahu. (That doesn’t actually enter in to the final story, but it would definitely have happened in their past.)

Other floating cities are built around the world. Some are done properly, and some are thrown together cheaply or in a hurry. Some thrive, and some are effectively new third world countries.

Here’s an image I’ve bought off Shutterstock for the cover:

Life settles into a new normal in which a lot of animal species have died out, others have adapted, and the chips have fallen into their new pattern. Australia has a new inland sea (never mentioned in the tale, although there’s a floating city there too), there are several major underground cities, and there are a lot more deserts.

And that’s where the story takes place, from the perspective of someone who’s grown up in a rather nice floating city and feels sorry for anyone who hasn’t. And their generation can spend a much longer time underwater than ours (based on a few people groups with amazing skills that exist today).

So. That’s pretty much the deal with The Floating City. I quite often write the first 50,000 words of a book in 4-6 weeks. This one IS technically finished (still editing) and it’s over 100,000 words… but it’s by far the book that’s taken me the longest to write. I don’t fully know why. Maybe because it’s scifi (just barely) rather than fantasy? Or because I knew I needed to research and really think about what I was writing? Maybe because this marks a shift in my writing (it does: my mojo is incredibly weak right now)?

I’m nearly there. Nearly. And I’ll be doing some more tonight. There are five versions of Chapter 12 (the climactic chapter) so it’ll be hard to stay enthusiastic all the way through, but I’m determined to do a good job.

An image for the icon when it’s on sale:

Like all my other ChoiceScript tales, it’ll be a Hosted Game released by Choice of Games.

Eventually.

Resource of the day: Check out all the Hosted Games by Choice of Games here. There are a lot of beauties there (including several that I’m involved in, the most recent of which is the cozy crime tale Death at the Rectory available on pretty much any device). They are a very easy entry into interactive fiction, and super fun.

Recommended donation of the day: Here’s a Tasmanian artist who can post stuff to you.

Recommended personal action of the day: Go for a walk.

Recommended hoarding item of the day: Chalk. There’s so much cool chalk art in people’s driveways right now!

 

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