At last, December draws to a close, and I find myself with a day of rest. I went and saw the Last Jedi yesterday, and quite liked it*.
It’s been an extremely hectic and extremely rewarding month. I instagrammed something at the start of it:
At the start of September I foolishly promised myself that I’d finish an entire second novel by December. Finished as in proper second draft, ready to read.
November came and went. My father died, wiping out my bank account – burning bodies is expensive, as it turns out. Exams happened: I put in forty hours of self-learning a month, minimum. My workload increased, because I started chasing a grand new theory of the world – with social and economic data for over two hundred countries.
It’s mid December. On top of working 10.30 to 6.30, I’ve researched and written forty thousand words. I’ve rewritten half that. I’ve fused social, economic and migration data for two hundred countries… I’m still not fast enough. There’s still too few hours in my day. All I want to do right now is to kick back. Cut down on the nicotine and maybe go somewhere and relax for a while. Play some more Warframe. Roll back a bit to when I had the time to game properly, and not run like a mad hound to the beat of my own sadistic schedule.
When I wrote that, Craig Martelle’s Expanded Universe 3 anthology was being released on Amazon (containing my short story Dreadnought). I was also helping Navin Weeratne and Thilani Samarasingha organize a centennial for Sir Arthur Clarke, one of my childhood heroes. I was planning out a shared universe novel called 2054 with Janita Lawrence and Jason Weberloff. Deadlines were tight.
Part of me wanted nothing more than to do the emailers, get my weekends back, and just read or game for the rest of the year.
But perseverance paid off, as it always does. The research started making significant progress – much as I want to talk about it, I can’t until the data is rock solid, so let’s put that off until later.
The Expanding Universe 3 launched well. Thanks mostly to Craig Martelle’s efforts, it earned the Bestseller tag on Amazon – the third time I’ve hit the top lists this year.
And the Clarke event? We initially feared few people would make it, because six other events were happening at the same time – including TweetupSL right next door. But Sir Arthur’s work touched a lot of lives, and it turned out to be one of the highlights of my year.
Paul Elard Cooley and Terry Mixon, bestselling science fiction authors and hosts of the Dead Robot’s Society Podcast, spoke about scifi and its place in the world, and were super patient as we hacked together laptops, microphones and a Dvorak keyboard to connect them.
Kavan Ratnatunga, who discovered gravitational lensing with the Hubble Space Telescope, traced the treasure from the wreck that Clarke found off the Great Basses Reef. Sriganesh Lokanathan spoke about Clarke’s 1952 dream of GPS and how we at LIRNEasia use it today. Thilina Heenatigala spoke about how modern astronomers like himself process the torrential amounts of data that telescopes give us.
And Chris Dharmakirti, well, Chris spoke about EVERYTHING. From the economics to the biodiversity to the ocean beds to gravity wells. And I muttered some stuff about AI, including my theory, based on what Gary Kasparov did with Advanced Chess, that the future will be human + machine vs human + machine instead of human vs machine.
Our event came after another stellar celebration of Sir Clarke by science writer Nalaka Gunawardene, who for many years had been Sir Arthur’s intellectual right-hand-man and assistant. That event captured a lot of activists and policy people – and we got the geeks. As we packed up and headed out for a celebratory beer, I felt pretty satisfied.
At precisely 11 PM that night, I realized that I had to write 15,000 words in the next 24 hours. I needed to finish the Blue Mountain, that story about post-apocalyptic Colombo. This had been sort of running in my head like a mantra, but I hadn’t been paying it much heed. So I got back home at 2 AM, strapped myself in, and started writing.
By 8 PM the next day 12,000 of those 15,000 were done, and I couldn’t push the thing any further. I compiled it, thought about a title (the Inhuman Race) and sent it off to Kanishka Gupta, who runs Writer’s Side, South Asia’s largest literary agency. I knew I had done a good job, but in my head I was kicking myself for cutting it too soon.
Imagine my surprise when Kanishka wrote back barely 24 hours later saying he loved it. Attached to the email was his editor’s advice on tweaking the book and a request for outlines on book 2 and 3.
Goddamn YES. I had set off to publish four things this year: The Slow Sad Suicide, Numbercaste, Story Plot, and Dreadnought. Now I’d written an entire novel – set in an entirely new universe – and hooked Kanishka with it. I felt like punching the air. I think I DID punch the air. Then I went off to work, because work.
And now that the year is winding down to a close, I can tally up this year, and think about it.
- Changed jobs and careers, from being a product marketer to being a big data researcher at LIRNEasia, going from a 500-man software corp to a tightly knit 20+ team of researchers working across the world
- Completely rebuilt my core skillset, going from being a journalist / copywriter to being a fledgling data scientist, putting myself through a very rigorous self-learning schedule
- Published a short story and a debut novel that sold well, was loved across the world, and now is starting to pique the interest of policy folks and people interested in the future
- Given myself an intense course on story structure and mythology, some of which I published as a non-fiction book
- Spoke at a bunch of events, including Lanka Comic-Con and Global Voices 2017
- Worked in a scifi anthology with some amazing authors, many of them New York Times and USA Today bestsellers
- And got the biggest agent in South Asia to boot.
I set off this year to publish four things: The Slow Sad Suicide, Numbercaste, Story Plot, and Dreadnought. Now I’d written an entire novel – set in an entirely new universe – and hooked an agent with it. My research is going well. As a reward to myself, I printed up a bunch of posters for my bedroom office- Fullmetal Alchemist, Battlestar Galactica, and some of NASA’s delightful retro posters. I’m spending today indoors, re-reading Chris Botkin’s Water Music, sticking things to walls.
It’s a good way to end the year.
PS: *About the Last Jedi. I quite liked it. I felt Rian Johnson chased a few subplots that were entirely wasted, and there was that moment in the third act where you could see him frantically tying stuff together, but – and maybe this is just the writer in me – I know how hard it is to keep control of a story, and I forgive him for that. There are some obvious merchandising additions, but hell. It’s Star Wars.
Overall, beautifully shot, beautifully framed, and I personally felt the lack of black and white heroes added to it rather than detracting.
As for Snoke not being fleshed out – Palpatine wasn’t fleshed out in the original trilogy; neither was Jabba the Hut; and Lando was a complete WTF moment; those characters were all as thin as toilet paper, but it worked.
The Last Jedi is the same. There’s good shit, there’s some paper fluff, there’s a few bad editing calls, but it works and works well, if not consistently. I feel they did well here. I really do.