A Puzzle My Unconscious Gave Me

I’m writing a second science-fiction novel.  This is partly while I wait for responses from literary agents as I flog the first sci-fi novel around, and partly because I’ve finally discovered how novel writing, a life-long ambition, can work for me.  I want to pursue it further.

This second novel started out in my notes as a contemporary thriller/mystery.  Then I realized that it fit better into the universe started in the first novel.  (That was a welcome Aha! moment.) 

In that first novel, we are taken to developments a thousand years or more in the future, in the Third Era where a young archaeologist pursues his destiny.  (At that time, archaeological research to rediscover the advanced scientific accomplishments of the past are about the only way to make progress in the present and preserve Earth’s tiny toehold in space.)

The Third Era followed after the breakdown at the end of the more advanced Second Era, known for its over-the-top genetic engineering and weather wars.  But more obscure, historically, is the distant First Era in which you and I live now.  It became a matter of scholarly argument in the world of the first novel as to when the First Era came to an end, but there was speculation that it might be around the middle to the end of the 21st Century.

First draft of a second novel

So this second novel is set towards the end of that imagined First Era in Vancouver and the Lower Mainland where I live.  There are the trends of climate change and disruption, pandemics have come and gone, there are internet conniptions and decay, as well as other breakdowns in the financial and legal realms of what we’ve taken for granted as our “normal” world.  At the same time, technology (at least some of it) marches on.

The engine of this second novel though are the questions:  What if an intellectual, even spiritual genius, approaching, say, the level of a combination of Einstein and Krishnamurti were to appear, in this case in the body and mind of a young girl?  How would these particular characters and milieu respond to that?  How would the “hero”, who lost his sister at the same age to suicide, respond when this girl goes missing and is asked to find her?

I’m about 33,000 words into the first draft.  I’m happy about the cast of characters. The matrix of starting story events have been progressing without too much fuss.  I’ve wanted to explore issues of personal loss and the nature of consciousness (of all things), and I’ve got a bit of that going.

But now I’m at the point, I fear, of beginning to lose my way, despite my preliminary schemata of important scenes and character realizations to be reached.  Writing characters and scenes is always, I’ve found, necessarily different than what I might have imagined.  The logic of what is happening in the here and now of writing them often dictates a different result than I blithely foretold to myself.

I’m not yet stuck, but the organizing principle of the story is slipping from me and I need to regain it.  John Truby talks about this in his book The Anatomy of Story, as he describes the “designing principle” of the story, the unifying internal logic.  But I’ve got too much going on in my story with levers here, pulleys there, gears not meshing and turning the clockwork as they should.  It all threatens to tangle up without taking the story forward.

Primitive theory of psychology

My primitive theory about my writer’s psychology I’ve described before in the post “Working On A New Novel – Obsessed With Character” where I outline my reliance on the unknowns of my unconscious relaying through the subliminal level of my subconscious.  Very Freudian or Jungian or something.

Most anything I try to do on purpose with my dreaming parts never seems to quite work out.  I don’t, for instance, rely on going to bed with a fixed question in mind and a notebook to write down the realizations that pop out in the dreams I can never remember.  But last night, I dared to form a vague question to myself about where to go with the novel and an equally dim hope about maybe getting a fleeting image of something in a hypnagogic state.

King Rat

But nothing dramatic resulted, per usual.  However I did wake up this morning with the words “King Rat.  James Clavell” in my mind rising from the depths like a rare sea creature.  Just those words, clear as a bell.

I haven’t thought about that novel for years.  I remember reading it as a teenager in the 1960s in the rear bench seat of the rattly old school bus riding the 23 miles or so to the nearest town’s high school.  I remember now that my friend Ray recommended it to me.  He wasn’t much of a reader.  I took the book from him after he was done, wondering what he found in it.  I remember when I finished thinking it was good too.

King Rat was James Clavell’s first novel, based upon his own experiences in a deadly Japanese prisoner-of-war camp during the Second World War.  He would go on to write a number of novels, perhaps most well known being Shogun, which was made into a hugely popular TV miniseries.  He became a well-known screenwriter and even a director in Hollywood.

In King Rat, the prisoners from different armies and social classes struggle to survive under appalling conditions.  The novel creates situations for the characters to show how they choose to meet this struggle.

The King Rat of the title is an enlisted man who through his intelligence, ruthlessness, creativity and drive, has become the “King” of the closed society of the prison camp.  The ostensible leader of the prisoners, a British officer, is obsessed about catching the King contravening rules which supposedly regulate the prisoners’ affairs, such as smuggling of goods.  Of course the smuggling has become a necessary part of survival for many.

The story is told through the viewpoint of Peter Marlowe, a British pilot befriended by the King due to his facility with languages.  In time, although he disagrees with many of the King’s actions, he comes to view the charismatic corporal as a friend, which is a rarity in the often cut-throat atmosphere of the camp.

By the end of the novel, the end of the war comes, and the prisoners are liberated.  And, interestingly, at that same time the King loses all power and influence, or even attention, as everyone goes their separate ways, freed from the webs of control he devised.

A perplexing bafflement of a conundrum

At the end I will list several reviews which helped refresh my memory of the novel.  But I found these remarks posted on the blog History in your eyes quite apt about the King:

Marlowe comes to realize about him: “the King asks for the best of each man and rewards them accordingly, irrespective of class or position. …

“This is a story of power struggle in doomed and powerless surroundings. This is a story of mental agility over physical ability. This is a story where morals and principles take a backseat. This story shows how when one is determined to rule and lead in miserable circumstances, there are always people who shall follow.”

I also found this relevant question from another blog review of the book on Dead End Follies:

“Who would you become if the rules of society suddenly crumble and you had the opportunity to form new ones?”

So now I have this puzzle.  How does this World War II prison-camp story, in all its complexity, relate to my first draft sci-fi novel set sometime in the middle of this century?  I am going to have to sit with that for a while.

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Notes: 

I came across several useful reviews of King Rat online.  They vary in their articulateness and focus but I found all of interest:

Dead End Follies

History in your eyes

BakerstoneBroadcast

Explore posts in the same categories: Awareness, Book Review, Culture, fiction, mystery, Novel, Science Fiction, sixties, Writing

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