Book Jacket

 

rank 5918
word count 16495
date submitted 03.04.2009
date updated 18.04.2009
genres: Fiction, Science Fiction
classification: moderate
incomplete

Forever and ever

Ed Wilson

Immortality seemed so attractive when she signed up. A young clone is ready to take over her life. But she's changed her mind.

 

The year is 2042. Anna Bradley - rich, comfortable, 59 years old - is in line for serial immortality, her memories transferred to a new body cloned eighteen years ago. When the time comes there will be another body, and another. Once this was all Anna wanted, but she's lost her faith. Whoever wakes up in the new body, she can't believe it will be her, and she doesn't want to die.

The Semper Corporation has a contract with her name on it. The lawyers say she's rich enough to get out of it, but there's an eighteen-year-old girl waiting to come into a life of her own. And when it comes down to it that's what matters.

Anna has an unknown ally.

Semper ruthlessly exploits the latest science and the politics of a fragmenting world to clone the rich and pile up their money, leaving many people in its wake to take their chances. One of these, though, has worked himself into an important position in the corporation, and Anna's challenge gives him the chance to make his final move.

 
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    Anna Bradley came awake in a moment, staring wide-eyed into the gathering light.  She caught herself thanking something nameless for granting her one more day.

    “Work to do,”  she hissed, kicking off the covers to feel on the floor for her slip-ons.  It was warm – why let the air control deny it was September? – and she needed a shower.  But not yet.  David was coming this morning, and there would be time enough.  She stood up, slicing the shards of light which lanced through the ceiling blinds – more than enough to show herself in the mirror on the opposite wall.

    The wake-up ritual had developed over the weeks.  She pushed her shoulders back one at a time, smoothed the satin pyjamas down over her stomach, ran a hand through her short, chestnut hair.  The movements varied, but the rapid perusal of her body in the glass – slim and graceful still, she thought – was the same every day, as was the approach to the mirror to look herself in the eye.

    “Good body, Bradley.  Why don’t you keep it?”  Swallowing a yawn, she turned to leave the bedroom.  “Holo on!”

    A picture lit up in the wall – deserted lawns in early morning sunlight, empty and unassuming driveways reaching out between the trees.  “Not that!  News!”  she shouted, cursing her weakness, unprepared for what she knew she would see.  She was fighting this thing and she was going to win, but she had no desire to follow the cameras as they scanned the area around her home.  In case they found something out there which was planning to suck the life out of her.  Irritated, she shivered.

    There were few surprises in the news, but she had defined the selection and some would have called it parochial.  There were items about three business projects in which she had an interest, and a long analysis of the pros and cons of a new financial centre in Edinburgh.  Since she lived within easy reach of that city and made her living by dealing in money, the appeal was obvious, predictable.

    Her feed was also programmed to seek out even the most trivial stories about people she knew, and whatever it might discover about the Semper Corporation, which wanted her dead.  But when a piece about Semper did appear from time to time, it was either the driest of business coverage or the smiling face of the latest happy, rejuvenated client.

    Anna watched these news-ads eagerly, listening hard, searching for a crack in the armour, following up promising leads on the wires while she held the news on pause.  And yet, despite the concentration, she would often fail to take in a single word, her foolish brain trying to protect her from something she had to face up to.  And then she would be really angry.

    As she moved on to select her breakfast, one particular head in the holo-tank nibbled away in the corner of her eye.  It took a couple of seconds to recognise the man, but then she laughed out loud.

    “Roger, you old goat.”  His thin face grew, deep contours lighting up on either side of a sharp nose as the edit brought him out towards the audience.  The image gained in depth as well as size, and eyes as big as hands followed her into the kitchen.  The tank sat in the partition between bedroom, kitchen, and the main room of the house, her beloved observatory, and gave a full-depth view from just about anywhere in the building.

    Roger was talking as he always did – about his latest film – and playfully fending off questions about his relationships with its young stars.  It was thirty years since Anna’s path had first crossed his, and he’d been single-minded in his pursuit of pleasure then.  Nowadays the stories were wilder every time.

    “That’s the way he defies his age....”  The words came suddenly and hung in the air, their bitterness surprising her.  She stopped, breakfast half selected, her eyes pricking with unwanted tears.  She gulped a big mouthful of orange juice and cancelled the rest.  A woman with news of the latest trends in cross-border finance had replaced Roger in the tank, but whoever the eyes belonged to, they followed Anna round and down the two steps onto the long pine floor of the observatory.  She turned her back and walked away from the picture.

    “I should do what he does,”  she whispered at the big window.  “Make do with a new lover every week.”  The glass was three metres high and fifteen from end to end, uninterrupted, and the world outside was bright.  It should have been appealing.  “But I chose immortality, and now I have to defy that!”

    Each building on the settlement sat apart from the others, and this one stood on a rocky outcrop – just a pimple on the mountainside, but enough to give her a magnificent view of the slope above and around, and the patches of dark green, tended forest clinging to it.  It was a view to make you stare for minutes at a time, but this morning she couldn’t quite remember how to feel about it.

    “Holo:  exercise!”  At her words the tank changed again – a grinning man in sweat-patched leotard, a dozen similar figures of both sexes following his every move and his every shouted instruction as the music boomed and buzzed.  “Restart!”  The image faded to black, then those perfect thighs and pectorals reappeared, still gleaming but not yet sweaty.

    The electronic drums picked up the beat and Anna put herself in the centre of the sprung floor.  It wasn’t difficult to follow the routines – they hardly changed from session to session on this channel.  And five minutes of exercise was quite enough – especially in loose night clothes – so she called “Holo:  off!”  and strode back to the kitchen, a bigger orange juice in mind.

    Then she stood again at the long window, cool tumbler in hand, gazing out at the world.  The rest of the settlement – fifteen exclusive dwellings, fourteen people or sets of people she had almost no contact with – extended down the road towards the distant valley.  From her little ridge she could construct a scene which went right up to the dark, tree-covered slopes, so that she could believe her money had bought her a whole mountain, not just the best view of it.

    Anna felt her pulse returning to normal, and the sweat turning cold on her back.  Like an icy finger, she thought, and almost shouted out loud when she stole a quick glance around the room.

    “Get a grip,”  she told herself.  “Nobody comes in here without my say-so.”  And no soul-hungry slip of a girl was going to get the word.  Reassured, or at least distracted, by her own bluster, Anna returned to the bedroom.  She took out clothes for the day, checked the mobility of the bracelet on her wrist then, walking slowly from room to room, she waited.

   

    ****

   

    I’m hungry.  When I’m outside the building, which is the way to the dining room?  And there’s nobody here to invite me to eat.  It’s cold, but it feels better if I hug myself.  There’s light from somewhere, and noises...

    What’s wrong with noises?  Back home, the noises never stop.  But they never come near to me either.  Talking’s not a noise, not with the people I know.  You hear them, but they’re not noise.

    Should I go home?  I don’t know where that is.  Or should I go and seek my fortune?  That sounds like a good thing to do, but where do I start?

    It’s just like a normal morning, when I wake up.  The light spreads and it’s a new day.  But today the light is so far away and there are no walls.  I can stand up and walk three steps, four, five, six, and there’s still a long way to go.

    A man down there, running across the grass.  I don’t know him – better wait behind this tree and watch.  He’s not coming this way, and I don’t know whether I want him to.  Would he know me?

    Further on, across the grass but always further up – the mountain is there – there’s a little bench.  It’s hard, metal, with holes in the seat, and it’s uncomfortable – just a moment sitting there and I want to move on.  The world is too big to look at, but I can’t turn away.

    The bench wasn’t all bad, though.  I can think that, now I’m back in the shelter of the trees.  There was a candy bar waiting for me on the metal seat – somebody opened it for me.  It tastes very good.

   

    ****

   

    The sun was everywhere now, and Anna was content for a moment to let the tank show her pictures from the security cameras.  Perhaps a shower would be OK, but again and again she selected the view of the road up from the gate, up from Edinburgh.  Nearly eight o’clock now and, sure enough, she could see a classic vehicle moving silently up the hill.  She relaxed and allowed the system to choose its own vantage points, tracking his progress onto her plot.

    David was still a handsome man, she thought, as she watched him step out of his car.  He looked up at the house and already his brow was creased with concern.  He would know she was watching – he would hope she was watching – but it couldn't be just for the camera.  He pushed the heavy black hair off his forehead, then adjusted his position with a hand on the vehicle’s roof.

    She watched him perform the little rituals – checking that he’s taken everything he needs from the locker, putting the key in his pocket, then taking it out again because it’s still needed.  He’d been wearing a jacket as he drove up, but now he looked around at the bright hillside and leant in again to throw it onto the back seat.

    “Holo:  off.”  When it was all over, she would give David and Clara the best meal she could find and a hundred times more, but for now it wasn’t fair to watch him, even if he knew he might be watched, even if everyone in the whole damned world knew they were in memory almost everywhere they went.  Anna forced herself to sit, in her robe and the sweaty night clothes she had worn for her exercises, until her visitor actually got to the door and triggered the annunciator.

    “Hello?”  She kept up the pretence a moment longer.  David would know she was expecting him.  After a moment’s thought he would probably tell her off for not supervising his every step to the door, but it was worth it for the few seconds when she could pretend she really was safe and secure and ordinary.

    “It’s David,”  the air announced unnecessarily.  The tank was back on – automatically – to verify whoever was standing at her door.  He looked agitated and she had no reason to delay him further.  The brief, pointless experiment was over.

    “Door:  open,”  she intoned, standing automatically to greet him.  He held her shoulders for a moment, kissing her cheek, then stood back.

    “You’re looking good this morning.”

    “Don’t tease me David.  I need a shower and some time to finish off.”

    “No, I mean it.  You look relaxed.  It’s good to see you.”  She felt a momentary blossoming, the state of being flattered, liking it, but the smile in his eyes was faltering.

    “There’s something wrong...”  She wanted him to deny it but he walked past her, stood staring through the inescapable big window, up towards the peak, getting something out of it.  He spoke without turning.

    “She’s loose.”

    “Who?”  But Anna knew, and suddenly she felt the weight of every one of her fifty-nine years.

    “She got out some time last night.  I had a message from my contact in Semper.”

    “And where is it now?”  Anna refused to personify this threat to her being, but she was the only one who made the distinction.

    “They’re not sure, but my information is that she’s tagged, so they’ll catch up with her soon.”

    Anna had simply wanted to take a shower, just a moment of abandon guaranteed by David’s presence, but now, in her mind’s eye, she piled on layer upon layer – clothes, walls, the hillside itself.  Anything to conceal her from what might be stalking out there.

   

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Hannibal Barca wrote 1780 days ago

This sounds an awful lot like 'The 6th Day'. I'll watchlist this for now.

Madison wrote 1832 days ago

I was drawn in by your title and pitch, as well as the cover image - really like that! I found the first chapter moved slowly because it was mostly internalization and an infodump to bring the readers up to speed on your MC. Might I suggest that the last part of the chapter (David's arrival) become the first part? Then you hook us into wondering who escaped, daring us to read on and find out why they are a risk to Anna. As well, Anna did not appeal greatly to me as a character, I would like to see more dimensions to her early on. Remember to show, not tell - the great wall of text when one starts to read is a bit intimidating, using more dialogue in your first chapter would make things flow. I am very intrigued by your premise, but want more from your introduction to reel me in.

This is of course the feedback of only one reader, and reading is a subjective process so please take what you will and toss what you want!

K. Bell - Regression

Pierre Van Rooyen wrote 1833 days ago



Dear Ed,


Those rejections letters you talk of. Yes, I know them well but they don’t phase me. My first novel took three years to write and one and half years to get published, but only after I dumped one third of the words.

Forever and Ever is on my revolving bookshelf. Nice work.

Over the past five months I have spent three hundred hours providing page-long critiques but can no longer keep up with the volume.

So I’m trying another way of passing on information.

I will attempt to do better than critique your work by indicating how you might judge it yourself. Rather along the lines of give a man a fish, feed him for a day. Teach him how to fish, feed him for life. You may or may not agree with everything and I admit I do not always stick to these thoughts either.

What I have set out below are guide-lines based on what I myself have learnt from being published.

The pitch is critically important as among the book-lists which editors scan, your pitch stands alone with no support from the synopsis. I write the synopsis first, because a key sentence there is usually appropriate for the pitch.

A synopsis is not a dust-jacket advertisement. Aimed at a professional editor, it is a no-nonsense summary of what happens in the novel, including how the novel ends. Don’t leave the editor dangling and don’t ask her questions. Tell her.

Somerset Maugham said, ‘There are three rules for writing a successful novel. Unfortunately, no one knows what they are.’

Correct. There are no rules for creativity. Think of Richard Bach’s Jonathon Livingstone Seagull. So way out, so creative it was rejected over a hundred times. Then it became a best seller.

There is one criterion though……. entertainment. Our writing must entertain from the very first sentence. There is no other reason for story-telling whether around a camp fire or in print..

I have struggled nine years to write three novels. Each written three times. One published, one lying fallow, Fig Tree currently in the process of being rewritten for the fifth time. Two literary agents requested the full manuscript but threw it back at me for narrative story telling. So I am rewriting, converting narrative to dialogue.

Based on what has happened to me, these are my thoughts on what editors want from us…………….


Plunge directly into the story. Do not set the scene or back-story first. When we go to a play and the curtain rises, we don’t see stage hands putting the props in place. The stage is already set. Likewise our opening paragraphs to the reader, the actors should immediately get on with it.

I have found that our opening chapter isn’t necessarily the first one we write. It might only occur to us when the novel is completed.

Let our characters drive the story-telling via dialogue, interplay and direct action. It’s stupid (although I am guilty of this) to have a stage set and silent characters frozen, while an off-stage narrator bores the audience with what is supposed to be happening on the stage.

Write minimal words because research shows that our readers’ brains race ahead of our words, visualizing the scene themselves, anticipating how our sentences end…… four times faster than they are reading. They become bored and frustrated by our overwriting, over description, unnecessary information. (I have been hauled over the coals for this.)

Write tight, sparse, lean, stark, bare bones. Adjectives and adverbs are for people who need a crutch to support their unimaginative nouns and verbs. As far as possible, always seek the appropriate noun and verb.

(Read John Steinbeck’s field notes Journal of a Novel which he jotted down while he was writing East of Eden. He edited out as many adjectives and adverbs as possible, finding the appropriate noun or verb instead.)

And yet, in my rewrite I am horrified to find superfluous words, adjectives, adverbs and general waffling which I am getting rid of. I am embarrassed at my own work.

My vocabulary is poor, so I use Roget’s Thesaurus which is a treasure. A real work-horse and a delight to use. It’s a companion that provides thousands of alternative words. Appropriate nouns and verbs are there for the picking.

Don’t write your scenes. Live them. Experience them. Meditate. Daydream yourself into them Watch what is happening. Listen to what the characters are saying. Smell the sweat or the aroma or whatever. Touch what the characters are touching. What do you feel? Taste the bile, the coffee, or the skin of the lover.

All communication is made through our five senses. I wear earmuffs when I write, to help me leave this world, experience the emotions and the senses and disappear into another universe which is the scene I’m trying to paint.

Are we stirring the emotions of the reader? Feeling is critically important. This can be achieved through good dialogue. Speak your dialogue aloud to hear what it sounds like. Is it natural? Do people really speak like that? Is it too formal? In the real world, we often don’t speak complete sentences. So dialogue can be truncated too to make it more natural.

In my opinion a novel must generate its own momentum, so readers experience it rather than read it. This can be achieved by dreaming it, experiencing it, living it, rather than writing it.

To avoid clumsiness I edit out the past participle ‘had’. I change ‘he had done it’ to ‘he did it’ It seems to make the action more immediate and more relevant.

I also dump words ending in ‘-ly’……. seemingly, clearly, obviously. actually, strangely, finally, eventually………. and all the others. Somehow they weaken our writing and make it vague.

And I am finding that much of the dialogue reads better if the ‘he said, she said’ is deleted.

Taking words out of our sentences and taking sentences out of long narrative paragraphs, in my opinion, is the secret to better writing. I can easily cut my stuff between 20% and 50%.

I learnt this when a literary agent demanded I delete 40,000 words from my first novel of 120,000 words. I was shocked but I cut it back to 80,000 words and the novel was published.

Fig Tree has already shed 16,000 words and I am currently rewriting it for the fifth time, changing the dialogue, cutting the narrative and tightening the writing as much as possible. I might dump another 6,000 words.

You may be interested in The Video Inside Our Heads, which is part of a confession I made about my idiocies in attempting to write. See, ‘How I Wrote and Sold My First Novel’ in Forum’s Writing section. It’s quite insane and you’ll probably laugh at me but it did work and I suppose that’s what matters..

I trust this is better than a critique and provides a bit of food for thought..


Kind regards,



Pierre Van Rooyen.

The Little Girl in the Fig Tree.

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