Scribbler’s Saga #98 – Slippery Ideas

Posted: February 10, 2020 in Uncategorized

A familiar scene leading to…

© 2020 G.N. Jacobs

“No idea completely survives first contact with the page.”

…this and away we go!

With the usual paraphrase apologies to Helmut von Moltke the Elder, ideas seem sometimes a slippery as the war plans discussed by the Prussian Field Marshal. I’ll give a few examples.

There I am in my favorite comic book store on a Sunday when my friend behind the counter isn’t still in shock over a destroyed engine (long story). For this day’s session, the conversation turns to all things Star Wars. My friend expresses his ticked off that many customers seem to think he should be first in line for Episode 9 and then the related tangents spiral outwards…

Somewhere in the discussion of many related things in Star Wars-Land the destruction of, count ‘em, two Death Stars before the dreaded Galactic Empire even gets to strut around intimidating poor hapless planets into accepting an entirely extractive governing arrangement is asserted to represent total financial disaster. Segments of this nerd fight can include death claims on the part of the families of technicians housed on the Death Star. Mike Myers generally covered this in outtakes from Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery – “Where’s Smitty? Ever since he took that new job at Dr. Evil’s secret base, we haven’t seen him. Oh, really, the base was just reported destroyed? That’s so sad! Let’s raise one for Smitty!”

This version of the discussion gets quite involved where my friend reaches into parts of the Internet I hadn’t even thought to go. An economics blog where there lies an estimate of just the steel cost pegged at about thirteen times the current GDP of the whole planet…just the steel. Comment included the cost of cleaning up both Yavin 4 and Endor would represent costs likely to bankrupt even the EPA’s Superfund program…a few times over, I think.

It was a true conversation in the sense that the debris field segment was sparked by me saying that my since abandoned fan fiction (I knew I needed to wait out Episode 9 before continuing) involved Luke taking Rey into the Yavin 4 debris field to go on scavenger hunt for a hurting kyber crystal in need of a Jedi willing to take in what is essentially a stray shelter cat. I’m envisioning the field as the SF equivalent of the Somme Battlefield that the French Government just evacuated instead of sending in EOD.

Razor sharp fragments moving at random orbital velocities. Residual radiation from destroyed reactor piles. Jedi are supposed to undergo graduation trials; seems to me that giving your padawan a spacesuit and throwing them out the airlock in order to find a kyber crystal crying out in the Force for a warm home and saucer of milk counts…in spades. My friend reminded me that dangerous to clean up is also expensive.

There was more to the discussion, of course. The part where it almost becomes a geek fight – “would the Empire actually pay claims as an evil polity run by Sith?” The comic book store lawyering on both sides is highly entertaining and shouldn’t be missed, but I digress…

All of this mess swirls around in my head to give me my first really weird idea of the week…playfully take the piss out of the franchise by writing a script that starts with the destruction of the trademark-safe version of the Death Star. Parodies of Star Wars still play out like the original and I need a McGuffin. Tapping finger to head results in – “I got it! The hero needs to find the galactic bitcoin database that holds enough stored digital currency that will convert into the local denomination that will save the galaxy from bankruptcy!”

So far so good, quest McGuffin checked off the to do list. I start screwing around with the world building allowing me to acknowledge that few concepts happen whole cloth all at once. I thought the script would fit in well with other SF projects of mine that have a set pseudo-physics to them where it’s convenient to have humans and other sentient people spread out through several galaxies where a trick of hyperspace makes it easier to make a phone call between galaxies than to go there. It increases the threat of financial ruin, because neighboring galaxies might loan the Empire money by intergalactic wire transfer and like when the Psychlo home planet went bye-bye these loans are now – GASP! – unsecured.

Another preexisting idea, an insurance adjuster in space with a ship starting out on a planet of windswept grassy plains. Basically, Han Solo with the job of reviewing interstellar disasters and wrecks to determine how much the insurance company will pay out, part investigator and part actuary. And now we get to the first slippery idea of which there will be more as the process goes further.

Does an epic about finding the magic galactic bitcoin drive actually need an insurance adjuster as the hero? Yes, it’s a job that sort of intersects with the superficially modern concerns about international finance and the hell it must be to lose the drive with your bitcoin keys. But the story begins after the trademark-safe Death Star goes – BLAMMO!

The vile but still looks good in the union-mandated postage stamp dress Galactic Empress has already been told by her advisors, toadies and other yes-beings that pretty much all of the local insurance carriers are declaring bankruptcy and getting out of Dodge on intergalactic sleeper ships to avoid paying claims. This hypothetical hero’s work as insurance adjuster is done before the lights fade on the title scroll. I’m not saying I can’t make it work, but suddenly maybe I need a slightly different job for Han Solo…

Enter the Interstellar Business Scout. If business can be conducted at interstellar and intergalactic distances using the in-story equivalent of a long-distance phone call, someone has to go check out the opportunity first hand and report back. For example, are there really functioning spice mines on Kessel? Has anyone audited the books for said same spice mine? The skills that answer these questions are also the skills that understand how the magic bitcoin box interacts with the depleted currencies of the suddenly impoverished Imperial Galaxy. Give him/her a ship and little bit of unconventional swagger to fit with a character archetype that still has to be in the movie and I have my hero…I think.

The magic bitcoin box, second cousin to the codebreaker box from Sneakers, also tweaks the world building. In order to assume an archive of easily convertible digital currency, I chose to assume a precursor civilization that collected cash and helped create the intergalactic banking system. And suddenly when I’m ready to write the title scroll (the only thing on paper so far), I get to drop in a satirical homage to the blue words that appear before Star Wars – THIRD GALAXY TO THE LEFT. WHENEVER. – instead of – A GALAXY FAR, FAR AWAY AND A LONG, LONG TIME AGO.

Thinking about magic bitcoin boxes leads to this slight change in thinking, at least some of the assets that will right the ship in the Imperial Galaxy have to be physical. People are always going to be people and value physical assets. It runs contrary to my experience that a digital currency can be completely digital (why I refuse to invest in bitcoin). We might not still peg the Dollar to the gold held at Fort Knox and the New York Federal Reserve Bank, but they are still assets to borrow against. This leads to some of the data on the bitcoin box leading to untapped reserves of many different strategic minerals: lost gold mines, platinum ingots buried under the ruined structures of Coruscant…these threads are movies in of themselves.

To recap, I slightly changed my hero and my world building to fit the narrative that slowly forms in my head as I keep thinking about the Interstellar Business Scout that goes looking for a magic box with which to restore financial stability to support the fragile peace brought by the Restored Republic. Will it change further? Should I find some other character to be the insurance adjuster (Princess Leia?)?

I’m betting it will, especially since I buried a huge lead…I really want to resurrect a fan fiction script I wrote for The Return of the Jedi. But does a movie that I absolutely know trades on the dangerous treasure hunt motifs of say The Deep or Treasure Island even belong in the same neighborhood as Return of the Jedi? We shall see when I find time to write the pig.

Anyway, the point of this post is to get you to embrace the fact that ideas are slippery where pulling one thread changes X and the other thread has far reaching consequences requiring changing that really important scene in the First Act. And on and on…

I’ll close with the postscript that I’m fully away that making the movie about intergalactic finance dangerously flirts with this truth I learned from Steve Martin’s movie Bowfinger – “Write what you know…unless it’s about accounting, which is boring.” Trick of the trade Number Five, the magic bitcoin box handles all of the boring financial stuff while the characters run around the galaxy shooting trademark-safe Imperial Stormtroopers. With that, the post is over…go home!

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