2019 might have had some real low notes in it, but it ended well: I finished the second book in the Commonwealth Empire series, and booped it off to Swati Daftuar at HarperCollins India.
I’ve written about this particular beast before. I had a great deal of trouble with the thing. I finished the first version quite early – somewhere in March – but it just didn’t feel right: there were several interesting characters I wanted to bring in, among which was a prototype Inquisitor called Eliott Grimme. He, Charlotte Plague, and Gregory Mars were three of the first four Horsemen – the Reaper, Plague and War, respectively. To a large extent the novel was a dialogue between different generations of Inquisitors fighting against, and coming to terms with the fact that the little machines in my fictional Colombo would be their successors.
Unfortunately, the balance was off. Much of what made the novel Sri Lankan simply fell by the wayside: Ceylon through Eliott Grimme’s eyes was yet another backwater colony, yet another hostile topography to walk over. These people are, after all, colonial instruments.
Version two was finished in July. This time the balance was closer, but the background detail of Ceylon was still . . . not up to what it was in my notes, which went something like this:
- WHAT IS THE CHINESE PORT CITY’S GAME HERE
- HOW DOES CEYLON WORK UNDER THE BRITISH
- EXPLAIN WHY THERE IS NO INTERNET IN THIS WORLD
- HOW DOES THE INQUISITION FUNCTION
- HOW DO THE BOTS ACQUIRE A LANGUAGE COMPLEX ENOUGH TO ENGAGE WITH THE WORLD AROUND THEM
So I sat down in December, after Christmas, and told myself version three would be the final. I’d use the material from version one and two, but fundamentally reconstruct the whole story from scratch – including typing it out line by line, swapping the point of view of Eliot Grimme out for characters that would play a greater role in things to come, and exploring the city of Kandy in more detail. I also wanted the book to fit between the two halves of the story shown in THE INHUMAN RACE – to show how and why Kushlani de Almeida, the protagonist of the second half of the book, goes from being in second-in-charge of what is essentially a battle Royale with humanoid machines – to sacrificing her career and her life to make a legal case for giving those same machines fundamental rights.
The result: THE NATIVES ARE RESTLESS, a little larger than THE INHUMAN RACE. I had teasers of the Lanka Resistance Front and the political unrest in Kandy while the story happened: those were brought out more, and certain characters took on a life of their own when it came to making hard choices. The name changed: what started out as THE INHUMAN PEACE became what it is now after one person (in the book) made an offhanded remark on the political situation in Kandy.
And it fits right where I expected it to be.