Posted by: holdenlee | October 30, 2014

I am writing a novel in November.

It’s official: I am participating in NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month). Here is a rough synopsis of my novel:

Money and power are useful insofar as they can change the software of society.” So wrote Ernest Oclo, an engineer-turned-programmer-turned-social theoretician, who established Functional, the first corporation-city-state. Functional –  the “control room of the world,” the producer of all the world’s algorithms – is a programmer’s dream world, where access and information is free, where everything that people created – from videogames to skyscrapers – are as modular, reusable, reconstructible as Oclos [Legos]. After Oclo, many corporations secede from a collapsing central government. Others follow their lead: those with money, those with a dream, those with loud voices all try their hands at social engineering, at creating their version of the perfect city. Each city has its own breed of people, brought up with a carefully designed culture to espouse points of view that are Babel-esque in their differences.

Linus, an orphan who grows up in Functional, and a student at Abstraction University, desires nothing more than to “contribute his little Oclos to the masterpiece of humanity” within the bubble of Functional. But change is coming. After a missionary-like trip to the Non-Programming World, he starts to see the signs: how Functional is closing up to outsiders; how the students, formerly interested in “funness,” are talking politics; how the different Programming cities are vying for power. Ernest Oclo, the original founder, has disappeared. A secret society (secrecy is unheard of in Functional!) has invited him into its ranks.

Linus’s mysterious and rich friend Zeo invites him on a trip around the world, to tour a hundred different cities. Restless, Linus accepts. Midway through the trip, however, Zeo is murdered and Linus is framed. He is labeled a Dysfunctional and prohibited from returning. Unable to return, Linus continues on the voyage that Zeo planned – though with the difficulties of having no money and his Interface confiscated. As he travels, he listens to the non-programmers are whispering about “oppression” and “rebellion,” starts to uncovers the clues behind the murder and the Society, and tries desperately to find a way to return to his beloved city and spread the alarm.

I’ve been frantically planning the story the past few days on this googledoc – which I’m making publicly commentable because I want all the feedback I can get. See the googledoc for details – there are separate pages for world, character, and plot; I’ve also listed themes I want to explore, books that inspired me, and things I need to do.

Some thoughts.

  • Why this topic? (1) I really like SF that explores different ways of thinking in depth, my favorite being Neal Stephenson’s Anathem. (2) There are a bunch of things I like about CS: I learned functional programming over the summer (will have to see how much Haskell references I can smuggle in), am reading Stephen Levy’s Hackers (I love the “Hacker ethic”), and want to build a world with that kind of culture and mindset. (So in a way, think Anathem with programmers instead of mathematicians. No way I can match that but I’d sure like to try.)
  • Why NaNoWriMo? Learn through trial by fire, anyone? I take forever to get something written, often waiting for a perfect idea that doesn’t come. I start writing things that turn into longer things and don’t get finished. This will not be an option if I want to “win” NaNoWriMo – I’ll have to not think (too much), and just write.
  • Science fiction… I love SF but am not good at writing the genre. Things I write can seem too… tame, close to the boring world of today. I’ll have to get imaginative pretty fast.
  • The NaNoWriMo community is amazing. Having a challenging common goal – write 50000 worlds in 30 days – really pulls people together and spurs meaningful interaction. For the sake of your novel, anything goes – people ask the craziest questions (Quora is a petting zoo by comparison). (The refdesk and the adoption forum are easy places to spend a lot of time perusing…)
  • Priorities: The planning I’ve been doing is also more sophisticated than anything I’ve done in advance of a piece but it’s falling far short of what I need. I have a rough setup and the bones of a plot. I need to write character sketches, come up with a history, and do more research. (Lots of places say that character is more important than plot.)
  • Give me comments. Given the 100+ hours I’ll be spending on this, your comment may make waves.
  • Especially all the CS/programming people out there: I need your input in particular! Everything from “you are doing this absolutely wrong” to “here’s a programming joke you should include!” In particular, I want to have their language resemble a programming language in some way. (Comment here, or in the googledoc, or the thread here:


  1. […] is a chapter of the novel I was trying to write last November. The novel fell apart, but this is one part I really liked (and is seasonally appropriate!), so I […]

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