Friday, May 18, 2012

Excerpt from The Immortality Game

One of the trickiest aspects of writing is to get across important details without lecturing the reader. Amateur writers tend to put far too much exposition into their stories. I did it myself when I first began, but I learned quickly from the blogosphere and changed my ways. I cut out all of my exposition and found more subtle ways to seed in bits and pieces here and there where it made logical sense.

I try not to do any overt exposition within the first few chapters. It's still not good to do it much later on, but at least when you have already captured the reader's attention you have earned the right to get away with a little bit of it.

Below is the chapter of my WIP that gives the most exposition, but it isn't too early in the book and I try to make it flow. Most of the book is a fast-paced thriller, so this chapter represents a break for the reader, a chance to catch his or her breath. I hope you will let me know where I go wrong!

Tyoma is a Russian scientist, part of a team that has been working on a top secret government military project for several decades. The military is more than a little unhappy that their massive amount of funding is not providing quicker solutions.


“Over here, Gosha.  Come on!”  Tyoma beckoned to the steel-plated chimp that hung by one hand from the jungle gym in the corner of the lounge.  “Come meet the general.”

Gosha tilted his head to one side and stared back and forth between Tyoma and General Andreykin.

“He won’t come,” Tyoma said.  “He only does for Volodya.  Shows how bad his taste is.”

“Do you always criticize your colleagues behind their backs?” said the general, a tall man completely devoid of hair but for bushy gray eyebrows and long lashes.

“Only Volodya,” Tyoma said, “and I criticize him plenty to his face, I’ll have you know.”

The general didn’t look amused.  “It’s no wonder this project never makes progress if your team can’t get along.”

Tyoma grinned.  “We’ve made plenty of progress,  General, even with Volodya in the group.  I like to think it shows how--”

“I don’t like you, Dr. Komarov.  This is a serious project, and you are never serious.  Why did Dr. Aseev leave you here to meet me?”

Tyoma put an injured expression on his face.  “Ah, but you are my very favorite general.  I am distressed that you...”  The stony look on Andreykin’s face told Tyoma he was pushing his luck.  He waved his hand toward the chimp.  “Look, General, one of our recent successes.”

“A monkey.”

“A chimpanzee.”

“We’re not spending billions of rubles to create toy robots, Doctor.”

“Oh, but it’s no robot.  Watch the way it behaves.  It’s too realistic.  Have you ever seen a robot that didn’t behave like a robot?”  Tyoma jumped from his chair and reached out to scratch Gosha behind his ears.  The chimp’s lips pursed and tried to kiss Tyoma’s wrist.  “Gosha here was our first full success of capturing the data from a chimp’s mind and layering it onto a digital interface that allows it to mimic a real brain.”

General Andreykin squinted his eyes at Tyoma.  “Don’t blather at me.  How does this relate to my needs?”

“You want super-soldiers.  We can capture the minds of your very best men and reuse them in robot bodies...or eventually in clones of human bodies.”

“Clones.  Human bodies.  That’s what I need.  When can you show me that?”

“General,” Tyoma said.  “Can you imagine how difficult it is to conduct tests on human subjects?  We can’t reconstitute an adult mind within an adolescent body, so we are forced to wait until a clone body reaches full maturity before we can even conduct a test.  And there are the questions, of course, of what to do with partial successes.  Would you have us dispose of a nearly complete human?  When does it become murder?  Forget that--what about a full success?  Any problem with having a duplicate of a living person running about?  How will that work?”

The general waved a hand dismissively.  “It’s only soldiers I need.  They’ll belong to the army.”

“You going to supply us with test subjects?”

“What are all those crèches for that we funded?  Haven’t you been aging clones already?”

“Absolutely, General.  We’ve been working on perfecting the cloning process.  It’s a different matter altogether to actually give the clones a mind.  We need DNA and mind dumps from some of your men.”

Andreykin rose from his seat and towered over Tyoma.  “That’s not a problem.  What is a problem is that General Potkin lost his job due to lack of progress here.  I don’t intend to lose mine.  I want to see real progress, Doctor.”

“You know, General,” Tyoma said, “there are cures for baldness now.”

“You are not funny, little man.”

“General, let’s go down and visit the crèches.  I’ll explain our progress on that part of the project.  Then I have something else that is fully ready.  I think you’ll like it very much.”

Tyoma led the grim-faced general to the grav tube, which whisked them down to the third basement level.  The lights flicked on to show an enormous room, antiseptically clean, about half the size of a football pitch.  Rows of crèches lined the floor like huge silver and glass coffins.  The room smelled strongly of glass cleaner.

Neither man spoke as they approached the nearest crèche.  Tyoma could never help but marvel at the features of each clone, no matter how many times he visited.  The first crèche contained what looked like a naked teenage version of his friend Kostya, though hairless and with much smoother skin.

“Ah,” said General Andreykin, with the first smile Tyoma had ever seen on the man’s face. “It’s Dr. Sakaev, yes?”

“Yes.  This row here contains six of his clones, each a year apart in age.  This one will be ready to test in around four more years.”

“How can they look so healthy?  I would think lying in these boxes for years would produce little more than pasty corpses.”

Tyoma slid a finger along one of the tubes that ran through the glass and into the clone’s right arm.  “The miracles of modern medicine, General.  Each of us has billions of nanobots doing anything from preventing colds and other diseases to scar repair to...”  He raised his eyes to the general’s bald dome.  “...preventing baldness.”

“I like being bald, Dr. Komarov.”

“I’m sure.  Anyhow, we have our own special nanobots here.  We’ve spent decades coming up with new ones for all the problems we’ve encountered.  We need them for muscle development, bones, lungs, basically anything that would typically atrophy if unexercised.  The brain was the toughest.  It gets almost no stimulation, yet it’s critical that it develop properly.  We’ve perfected it with chimp clones, and we think we are ready with humans now.”

General Andreykin walked to a new row of crèches.  “Who is this?  I can’t place him.”

“That was Dr. Anatoly Vorobyev.  He was our psychology expert, but he died three years ago.”

“Why do you keep his clones then?  I want to get started on my soldiers.  We don’t need to waste space on him.”

“It’s not a waste, General.  If anything, he’ll be the most important least from a moral perspective.  We intend to try him first.  We have some successful mind scans for him.  If we do manage to successfully reconstitute him, we won’t face the issue of having two of him in existence.”

“Why no women?  Surely there are female scientists every bit as brilliant as any of you?”

“Naturally.  We had two women on the project initially, and another we added later.  They all dropped out due to disagreements over the morality of what we were trying to accomplish.  Not to say that only women have moral qualms about this stuff.  We lost a splendid male neurologist also.”

“Why clones of your own people?  It should be my soldiers in here.”

“The project cannot succeed without many tests.”

“I’m not stupid, Doctor.  But, why not use my soldiers for your tests?”

“We can start soon, General.  I asked you already for some DNA and mind scans from your chosen soldiers.”

“I’ll send some men over.  Scan them and use them in these bodies.  I need--”

“General, we can’t use them with these.  The rejection rate is very high unless we layer the mind into a body made from the same DNA.  It’s too costly to have so many failures during the testing phase.”

The general threw up a hand.  “This is too slow.  These take what?  Eighteen, twenty years to grow?  I need my soldiers now!”

“This is but one of the projects we are doing for you, General,” Tyoma said, holding his palms up.  “We’re working on speeding up the aging process for the clones to make this one workable, but we have other projects that will bring more immediate results.  Remember, I said we have one ready now?  How about I show you?”

“Here?” the general said.  “Where is it?”

Tyoma fished a data card from his pocket and held it up.  “Right here.”

The general reached to take the card, but Tyoma withdrew it and snapped it into his own slot.  “General, you will receive a connection request to your wireless.  It’s the only way to see how this works.”

General Andreykin frowned.  “What do you mean?  No one uses wireless with strangers.  It’s too dangerous.”

Tyoma gave what he hoped was a calming smile.  “We’ve all heard that, General, but have you ever actually known anyone to have their wireless compromised?  This program runs off of our protected wireless here at this facility only, and its range is purposely limited.  You are perfectly safe.”

The general stared, scowling, at Tyoma for a full minute before thrusting a finger in Tyoma’s face.  “My people know I am here.  Nothing better happen to me.”

“You’ll be fine,” Tyoma said, and sent the handshake request to the general’s slot.

The general jerked in surprise as he saw what Tyoma was already looking at.  A soldier in full combat uniform stood at parade rest only a meter away.

“Oh,” the general said.  “It’s like those porn programs so many are using these days.  How does a fake soldier help me?”

The soldier came to attention and saluted.  “Permission to speak, General?”


“Sir, I am a virtual squad leader.  My mind was scanned from one of the very best combat NCOs from the Moldovan front.  I get visual cues from each member of my squad, so I am able to assess any situation and use my experience to pass orders to my men.”

“General,” Tyoma said.  “Headquarters would never admit it publicly, but you and I both know the primary cause of problems at the front is bad leadership at the squad level.  We don’t have nearly enough good NCOs.  This program ensures you have the very best squad leaders at all times for all troops.”

General Andreykin nodded slowly.  “I can see some use for this.  But, what if the soldier carrying the card is killed?  It’ll throw the squad into disarray.”

Tyoma waved a hand as if shooing away a fly.  “I used this just to demonstrate the program.  In the field each squad would carry a bomb-proof transmitter.  It has an effective range of up to a hundred meters.  More than enough for anything the squad leader needs to do.”

The general sighed.  “Look, this isn’t bad, but it’s small.  I need more, and I can’t wait twenty more years for it.”

Tyoma nodded.  “General, we have some other projects nearing completion that will amaze you.  I promise.  We also have an idea that we think President Shirov would like.”

“That sounds to me like you want to wheedle more money out of us.”

“It’s totally up to you, General.  We think the president will love the idea.”

The general twirled a finger to tell him to get on with it.

“We can win the space race.”

“Space race.  We have no space race.”

“China and the Western U.S. are racing to be the first to reach New Eden, as the Americans call it.  Their ships are ponderous and will take centuries to arrive.  We can build small and fast and beat them both.  New Eden can be ours.”

“What do we care?” General Andreykin said.  “Let the fools fight over a planet centuries away.  We’ll fight for this one.”

“Perhaps, perhaps.  But perhaps the president would feel differently?”

“If small and fast would work, why are the others only building huge ships?”

“Because they must send thousands of people.  They don’t have what we have, General.  We can send a ship with no living beings on it.  A far faster ship.  Once it arrives and scans the planet to ensure it truly is habitable, well then the auto crèches can kick off the cloning process.  When they are fully baked, we can inject the clones with copies of their own minds.  Instant colonists, General.”

“Sounds like a fantasy to me.”

“You saw Gosha the chimp.  We can already do it with robot bodies.  All we need is a few more years and we will be able to do it with human clones.”

“What good does it do us to win this race?  So we put a few Russian colonists on this far distant world.  Who cares?”

“We could arrive centuries before the others can get there, barring some amazing advance in propulsion technology.  If we carry enough different sets of DNA and mind chips, then we will have time to establish a sizeable colony there.  It would be no small accomplishment for Russia to be the first to claim a habitable world.”

The general looked skeptical.  “I’ll bring up the space idea with Minister Grischuk next time I see him.  If that’s all you have to show me for now, tell me what my guard stole from you.  I’m told it was two data cards.”

Tyoma paused to consider how to proceed.  “General, while the robbery itself was truly regrettable, what was taken will not harm us.  One card was a simple mind scan...of myself actually.  No one can use that, at least not without doing serious damage to themselves.  The other was one of our combat chips.  Like I said earlier, we are still working on perfecting those.”

“What does it do?”

Tyoma blew out his breath.  “Ah, it does so many things, General.  The idea is to transform any raw recruit into a fully ready soldier.  It provides all the data any soldier should know, identification and functionality of all weaponry, training sims on all martial arts, and so forth.  The user will see colored auras around anyone in a combat zone for instant differentiation of friends, foes, and unknowns.  The most useful bit, in our opinion, is what we call combat reflexes.  During high adrenaline situations the code all but takes over the soldier’s mind, feeding it data at such a high rate that time appears to slow down.  The soldier will literally experience combat as if everything is moving at about four-fifths time.  The program will project likely lines of fire, anticipate the movements of enemies...there’s so much involved I can only touch on all that it does.  It’s very exciting...but not fully ready for use.”

“One of these chips is out there?  If it falls into the hands of our--”

“No, General,” Tyoma said.  “The code is highly encrypted and protected.  No one could copy it, even if it were fully ready.  We’ll keep searching for the missing chips, but you shouldn’t worry too much about them.”

General Andreykin stared into Tyoma’s eyes for a long moment.  “At least you’ve stopped joking with me, Doctor.  I hope you are telling me everything.”

After the general took his leave, Tyoma put a group call through to Big Dima, Volodya, and Kostya on the wall screen.

“So?” said Volodya.  “Did it work?”

“I believe so,” Tyoma said.  “He allowed the wireless connection.  I can test my code to see if I can hack his firewall.  I’ll be shocked if I can’t.  Wireless simply can’t be protected the way Sentry code does with direct Web connections.”

“Good,” Volodya said.  “And the rest?”

“He didn’t seem much interested in the space idea, but he said he’d pass it along.”

“We need that extra funding,” said Big Dima.

“We’ll see,” Tyoma said.  “Let me go test my hack.  I’ll let you know if it works.”
“Then we’ll have him,” Kostya said.  “Even if he does learn the truth about the lost combat chip, we can protect ourselves.”


  1. Hey Ted,

    This is really good. I like that there are funny moments interspersed with the exposition. The premise seems very interesting. My only suggestion would be to figure out how to put half of that exposition into description rather than dialogue. About 90% of this chapter is dialogue, and that's about 40% too much. I only know this because dialogue info-dump is one of my biggest vices too. :) Sara is always telling me to cut the talking.

  2. I love the dialogue. You've made the accents of the speakers come through without even telling me that they had accents.