Large Scale Central

Writing a noir sci-fi mystery novel

Extremely off topic, but thought I’d share one of my other activities. I think I mentioned that a friend of mine and I have written a sci-fi novel called Uncommon Scents.

I’m writing another novel in the same future “world” called The Avatar Murders. Not finished yet, but I’m about 30k words into the first draft. A long ways to go. Lots of fun.

The reason I bring this up is I just wrote a chapter about a model train hobbyist who is one of my characters, nicknamed Finger. The book is set in a future where everybody is in “augmented reality” 24/7 (digital overlays to what you usually see).

Here’s a snippet:

I lean down to look more closely. Some old timey buildings. Mostly made from wood, but some brick and rock. Arcane old machines. Steam driven it looks like. Crazy detailed. Looks like they are old and decaying. Rusting. Grimy. Realistic. Kind of cool.

Finger makes a few gestures. The buildings and machines come to life. Doors opening and closing. Wheels turning. Leather straps taking power from a rotating shaft near the ceiling to drive saws and other shop machinery.

“Wow. Ooh and aah! I like it.”

“Dude. We’re just getting started. Let me add you to the virtual overlay.”

More gestures. Then. Whoa!

The walls disappear. A scene right out of an old movie appears. Layers of mountains march into the distance, gradually disappearing into a haze. Several trains, smoke coming out of them, are doing various train things. More virtual buildings are intermixed with the physical ones. Trees and bushes are everywhere. People, tiny ones, are moving around the town. Dogs and cats chase. Birds fly.

And the sounds. Steam engines clomp. Saws whine. Wind blows the trees. Animal sounds echo. People laugh and yell and murmur indistinct conversations.

“Finger! This is amazing! OOH and AAH!”

“Ha! Glad you like it! That’s the reaction I live for.”

“You created all this?”

“Most of it. I got some designs from others in my circle of train buddies. But quite a lot of it is my own work.”

“Nicely done. So much to look at.”

“Take your time.”

I move around peering at different parts of it. Finger supplies the narration.

“I think of this as being part mixed-media sculpture with animation, part film set design, part caricature. It turns out if you just recreate an old town, it is pretty boring. But if you take the coolest features from all the old towns, and dial them up to eleven, then you get something that is way more cool. It grabs your attention. The entire layout is a bunch of scenes, meant to draw you into a little story. Each could be a set for part of a movie. And of course, the components have to be created, buildings, equipment, train engines and cars, people. That’s the sculpture.”

While he’s talking, I’ve been moving around. Despite myself, I’m finding it to be fascinating. Not that I want to do this, mind you. But to look at for fifteen minutes? Pretty entertaining.

“Very cool.”

“Ok, now for the grand finale. Have a seat in that chair. We’re going full virtual.”

Gestures. Suddenly I’m riding in the back of a steam engine. Fire at my feet, bewildering controls in front of me. I turn to look back and see a long bunch of cars behind us. The engine is working hard to get up a hill. Lots of smoke in the wind above me. Finger is sitting next to me. Grinning.

“This just keeps getting more amazing all the time!”

“You like? I can put you into any locomotive. Let you move around anywhere in the model, as if you were one of the little people. Like you are in a video game. But no zombies or shooting. Just a glimpse into our past. Some think of it as being idyllic. But it could be dangerous and brutal. Lots of people lost hands and legs to steam engines and saws. I don’t model that. Prefer to think of the simple life. Here to escape, you know?”

“You are an artist. I am impressed.”



Awesome. You could make all the action happen in the Railroad ‘virtual reality’ then we’d all read the book!

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Good writing, Jim. It puts you right in there

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Thanks, guys. This novel writing stuff is hard. But fun.