Not with a bang

Playing with world-building snippets for my Restoration stories again…


The end of world was a global event, but it wasn’t an end. It wasn’t an event. It was a process, a slow collapse that only looks inevitable in retrospect. It was never seen as apocalypse even when cities burned and missiles flew. Perspective is tricky, and denial is a powerful force. If globalism was the theme of the twentieth century, the lesson of the twenty-first was that connections can transmit chaos as easily as commerce .

During the span of decades comprising the Revision Years, governments toppled and economies disintegrated, businesses failed and took governments with them, social and political institutions crumbled and billions perished. Bastions of political stability were eroded by surrounding conflicts, and alliances proved as deadly as enmity.  No place on the planet went untouched by the upheaval.

Some sciences progress by leaps and bounds in times of conflict, but others cannot be maintained in chaotic environments. Most modern technologies rely on complex supply chains and  require engineering support that cannot be maintained in war zones. Many of the 21st century’s advances in materials sciences,  nanotechnology, genetics, biologic pharmaceuticals and other sciences  got lost during Revision. Projects were abandoned, data was destroyed by electromagnetic pulses,  and critical private records were erased or locked into forms no longer accessible by surviving equipment.

The handful of years encompassed by the name “The Revision Period,” will have an impact on human understanding of the universe for centuries to come.

 

 

Breaking the future: chip rot

In the future history of my Restoration stories, the United States (and the rest of the world) is in the midst of new Renaissance. To have a Renaissance–a rebirth into enlightenment–there must first be darkness. Here’s an overview and a closer look at one of the destructive elements I used to break the world.

(PS: I don’t know why my worldbuild stuff comes out in a boring, pseudo-academic writing style, but it does. Every time. #Sorrynotsorry)


The true costs of the Revision Years won’t be tallied for generations. Countless biological, chemical, and nuclear weapons were created and released worldwide during those years. On top of those self-inflicted damages, natural diseases arose in the seething poisoned wreckage left after riots, uprisings, and insurrections.

Somewhere in that polluted patchwork landscape chip rot was born, and it is not hyperbole to say its birth was nearly the death of modern civilization.

First off, what chip rot isn’t: it isn’t a single-source problem. It isn’t one plague. It is many. The demon’s name is Legion, and that is why to date, more than forty years after its first catastrophic appearance, researchers are only beginning to successfully combat its root causes.

The name is a  designation assigned early on,  while it was erroneously thought to be a terrorist nanoweapon. Like many inaccurate designations (see “patient Zero” for the AIDS epidemic) it was catchy enough to stick in cultural memory long after its inaccuracy was exposed. Multiple groups claimed responsibility, but none of those claims held up under scrutiny–and the scrutiny was intense.

It’s easy to understand why early conclusions pointed to a manufactured or engineered contagion.  While the damage spread in ways that mimicked a virulent disease, the results made no biologic sense. And if someone did design a weapon to destroy modern civilization, it would probably look like chip rot.

Timing saved the world. If the initial disaster had hit a few years earlier, technological advances might have been erased along with much of the infra-structure required to rebuild it.  But chip rot appeared after the Global Restoration Conference. For all the havoc it wreaked and all the research shelved  in the wake of its appearance,  the crisis it caused was the making of many a fledgling government. It was exactly the kind of crisis citizens  could rally to fight together.

In that first incarnation, the organic frameworks used for common components throughout the electronics industry literally rotted away.  Another early chip rot plague targeted metal alloy materials, oxidizing and eroding disk storage and tape collections as well as processors themselves. Priceless decades of information dissolved overnight. A third wave went after materials commonly used in optical data transmission.

Computers were affected of course, but communications systems fell silent too, and power grids went down and stayed down for months when multiple units critical to the intricately-balanced  distribution systems lost their electronic minds. At its first appearance, hysteria and speculation added to the difficulty of addressing the issue. The silicon scares and the aluminum riots, for example, all did irreparable damage in their own right.

But ingenuity won the day–ingenuity, inspired guesswork, and  profligate use of component stockpiles to keep research going ahead of the destructive curve.

Detection marked the first breakthrough, a victory won even as the sophisticated laboratory microscopes used to locate and identify the contagion were lost. From there, the development of chemical identification tools and strict epidemiological protocols allowed for prevention and then containment. Humanity’s overall technological baseline slipped back decades– a century or more in many areas–but the foundation systems under the electronics had been built to last. Brute force engineering solutions were seldom pretty or maximally efficient, but they could keep the lights on and the water flowing.

All three initial variants of chip rot were caused by prion-like molecules that bonded with their target material and disrupted other molecular bonds. To date those variants remain the hardest to protect against and to eradicate when outbreaks occur. Its origin has yet to be traced.The time elapsed between first reports and total collapse of affected systems was so short it seemed to spring up everywhere at once, but recent epidemiological  research has narrowed the field to “somewhere on the Pacific Rim in the northern hemisphere.”

The particles at fault could be transmitted by unwitting users, contaminated tools and cabling, even through close proximity over a long enough time. Draconian measures are required to contain the spread when chip rot crops up, and it still does, and will, until someone finds a way to attack and neutralize.

And those forms aren’t the only types of chip rot, only the first and worst. Regional outbreaks of component failure are an inescapable fact of modern life. Thirty eight different transmittable biologic contagions have been identified since Restoration.

Battling chip rot is just a cost of doing business, one more hazard of living in the electronic recovery. Software issues are still common too, so malicious programming  is a constant danger as well. Often forensic investigation must be done in conjunction with with technical analysis  to determine the cause of a given system failure.

Biologic solutions which would have been obvious a century ago were rejected for ages for reasons that had nothing to do with rationality. All the other plagues released during the Revision Years put biological manipulation and genetic modification  firmly into the unthinkable taboo category. Those fields of research are so tightly regulated and circumscribed with legal restrictions that the potential losses far outweighed the possible gains–until quite recently.



 

The plots of Controlled Descent, Flight Plan and Novices all touch on the effects chip rot would have on the tech base–from the cost-effectiveness of retail gadgetry  to the availability of air conditioning.  Since Flight Plan’s plot is the one most closely tied to chip rot, that’s the title I’ll plug today.

Flight Plan. Available in ebook, paperback and audio.

 

Solstice Snippet

Joining in the Round is a lighter, more personal story from my Restoration series. Since it takes place in part around the Winter Solstice, it’s my choice for this week’s snippet.



THE FARM DIDN’T LOOK its best in winter. The mountains were lost to sight, wrapped in dull, misty clouds, and the forest surrounding the pastures became a gloomy wall of bare black tree limbs and drooping wet evergreen boughs.

It was a dismal sight, but in Felicity’s opinion the warmth made up for the dreary view. The sky might be murky and the ground soggy, but the damp air felt positively balmy after the last few weeks of frigid Nebraska winds.

No tents huddled in the pastures for this revel. The weather was too unpredictable, and the attendance was low enough to house everyone in the lodge’s guest rooms and the twelve rustic cabins behind it. The creaking porch rockers held elders enjoying the fresh air and dogs who had been evicted from furniture indoors.

Felicity’s shouted greeting was met with a few desultory waves and a bark or two. She inhaled the heady scent of home, with its unique blend of greenery, drifting smoke and wet farm animals, and then she gave Carl a smile. “What do you think?”

Carl lifted each boot and lowered it in place, squishing mud into their clean treads. His bright blue winter coat was so new it still had creases, and it made a beautiful contrast with his hair, like sunshine and clear sky. He scowled at the lodge while he swung his weekend bag idly in one hand as if preparing to throw it at someone. Felicity cleared her throat. “Carl?”

He took a deep breath. “I’m too scared to think, and I hurt people when I feel vulnerable.”

“Not with me around, you won’t. I’ll slap you back fast if you cross the line from jerk to manipulator.” Wasn’t that the whole point of all the work we did, the last few weeks? “My brain is full of keywords and warning signs, remember?”

“There’s a fairly long stretch of spectrum between civilized behavior and slipping far enough into sociopathy to warrant a neurological ass-kicking.”

“Pulling out all the vocabulary stops and using expletives?” Felicity took his hand and gave his wrist a quick kiss. “You are fretting. Listen. Unless you get radically worked up, no one will even notice. Haven’t you paid any attention to my stories? This crowd thinks of barbed commentary and verbal beatings as casual conversation. Berating others is an art form.”

Carl exhaled on a chuckle. “This is a selling point?”



And yeah, if you like, you can buy it for Kindle here: mybook.to/JoiningRound

OR

you can get it together with its partner novella Turning the Work in the omnibus edition titled Weaving in the Ends. That’s available in multiple electronic formats. Start here:  books2read.com/u/47kr0j