After almost a year, I’ve been back hard at work on the novel I started during NaNoWriMo 2012.

With a working title of “Halcyon” (subject to change as the story unfolds and I get hold of a better focal point) it’s about a young girl, Jade Vardis, living in Automated City 099, known by its residents as “Halcyon”, so named after the Halcyon Corporation which built and ostensibly manages the entire enterprise. Her life with her parents, both of whom worked as prominent Halcyon scientists, came to a tragic end when her mother was accused of murdering her father after he discovered her efforts to aid the resistance movement. Jade, whose father’s work was creating interfaces between the biological and the mechanical, was used as a guinea pig for some of his more secretive experiments, leaving her with a number of undocumented cybernetic enhancements. With her mother in an institution for the criminally insane and her father gone, Jade has no one to turn to when she begins manifesting strange and powerful abilities that give her access to and control over the ever present technological systems that surround her. Realizing that she may possess the weapon that the oppressed people of Halcyon have needed for so long, Jade starts pushing back, and in the process makes a terrifying discovery about the only home she has ever known.

Or something like that. It is, as they say, a work in progress.

In any event, one of the more interesting facets of Halcyon’s super-efficient technoculture is that almost everything governing the operations and management of the city is robotic. As part of the automated cities project (initiated after central governance and economic planning in the US broke down and more and more major population centers were going bankrupt), AC099 has been existing in isolation through self-sustaining means for nearly a century. And the machines are running the show.

Satsuriku Hajime is a loyal servant of Halcyon. He pre-dates the city’s origin through significant cybernetic enhancements of his own, and is one of the few who remembers “the time before.” He is known by the people of Halcyon as “the Puppetmaster,” because he is a creator of machine/flesh hybrids that serve as some of the shock troops of HalcyOps, the city security and enforcement division.  Most significantly, he is the creator of the Karakuri Corps, an elite group of operatives who exist as mechanically-animated corpses of deceased human beings. They have the grace and fluidity of movement of biological lifeforms, but the endurance, obedience, and hive-mind of machines. Predominately used as assassins and espionage agents, the people of Halcyon refer to Karakuri operatives as “spooks.”

From the unfinished draft of Halcyon:

The citizens, especially those of the lower castes, had taken to calling his Karakuri warriors “spooks”, but he found this term exceedingly vulgar. His creations may have seemed unnerving to their childlike minds, but he had transformed them into the pinnacle of biotechnological perfection. It was true that they had been, at one time, merely human. But now, they had transcended. They had been sublimated into something other. Their once-living flesh – an ecosystem of muscle, tendon, and bone that produced the biological elegance and dexterity that purely robotic systems lacked – had been liberated from the encumbrance of what the simple referred to as a “soul”. Now, they were animated by higher means: lithium-ion chemistry, organic circuitry, nano-fiber, microprocessor-driven servos. The oxygen needed to keep blood flowing and tissue from decaying was pumped mechanically through subcutaneous tubes, making the Karakuri unnaturally motionless when locomotion was not required. They were like living statues; animatronic golems swathed in pristine, anti-ballistic compression suits. Their contorted, lifeless faces served an excellent foundation for grafting necessary equipment onto bone. Still, the aesthetic of these death masks was unnerving to most, so he had hidden them behind faceplates of dark, reflective polymer, adorned as necessary with instruments enhancing their ability to sense and communicate with the hive. These perfect instruments of his will were so much more than they had ever been before he had re-created them. Before he had hollowed them out and breathed into them the machine spirit. Their organic imperfections were shrouded, now, replaced with an intricate facade of artifice that made them breathtaking to behold.

Hajime is one seriously messed-up individual. He is, for all intents and purposes, a necromancer. But instead of magic, he uses science to raise the dead and put them to his bidding. Today, while I was laying on the couch having yet another flu-addled morning with the kiddos, I sketched out a spook on my iPad, then cleaned it up and added some more detail on the computer:


The idea here is that Jade is getting a look at one of these techno-zombies from a safe distance using her built-in VDS (visual display system.) I like the idea of these guys being faceless. Something about that makes them scarier.

Then again, you haven’t met Inari yet. I’m not going to spoil the surprise, but she’s sort of a super-spook who has several Noh masks that she wears, depending on the situation. Suffice it to say, a killing machine with a beautiful ceramic happy face with blood red lips is…creepy.

Anyway, the word Karakuri  comes from the Japanese word for “mechanism” (also sometimes “trick”) and is used in the phrase Karakuri ningyo, which are mechanized puppets that have been used in Japan for centuries. Like this:

Very cool, and a little bit unnerving. I’m not a Japanese scholar by any stretch, but I find their culture fascinating, and it allows me to add an exotic quality (plus: KATANAS!) to my story.  Not to mention, high-tech cyberpunk without Japanese influence is a disservice to the genre.

I am really looking forward to finishing the first draft of this book. I’m targeting March for completion, but we’ll see how things go.

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