Preliminary news of a new SF novel from the 80s

In the 70s and early 80s, a friend of mine found himself living in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico, after college. Before he was (apparently) murdered by a vengeful former lover who was (apparently) a member of a crime family, he wrote a science-fiction novel. It’s got rich imperious Americans voyaging through the solar system on a luxurious cruise ship, crafty Mexicans who pilot a dilapidated spacecraft and pretend to be priests when it’s useful, a heroine of sorts who’s young and smart and pretty and stuck-up but somewhat likable anyway, a secret society, a ghost, terrorists, and a character from a Stendhal novel—plus, among other grace notes, an unmanned space probe sent back with improvements by an unknown alien civilization. I’ve got the novel. Wanna read it?

That’s my provisional pitch for a project I’ve been pursuing off and on—mainly off until recently—for a number of years. A typescript of the novel, which is called The Scheherezade Incident, was among my friend’s effects that were returned to his family. After talking about doing something with it for ages, I finally got a scan of the typescript from my friend’s older brother and have been transferring the material into a Scrivener file. For those of you who don’t know, Scrivener is a text-processing program that’s excellent for any kind of writing project longer than a few paragraphs or pages. Once I finish this stage, I can go back through and touch up a few things and write an introduction, and then the serious fun begins: the mad elaborate rigmarole of looking for a publisher, or looking for an agent, or offering extracts to acquaintances who might know a publisher or an agent, or more likely all of those things, possibly followed by publishing the novel as an ebook. Assuming this actually leads to a book of some sort, next will come the, um, interesting challenge of marketing a novel whose author is no longer making public appearances.

But first I have to finish this stage. A manager I once worked for declared that she liked to hire lazy people, because they’ll figure out the easiest and quickest way to get the job done. It’s hard to believe she was right about that (and yet she’s the one who had the management job), but in the case of my friend, whose name is Duncan Becker, and the scanned typescript of his novel, I’ve tried to be the sort of clever person that woman had in mind. After typing a bit of the text into Scrivener and finding I didn’t like it—too slow and mistake-prone—I decided to OCR the scanned text instead. Optical character recognition has been around for decades; it basically means you give a computer a page of your typing and it turns it into electronic form. OCR is now a built-in feature of Adobe Acrobat, and I used it to turn the entire 450-page scan into a single Microsoft Word file, from which I figured I could just copy and paste into Scrivener. Not so fast—the pages of the OCR output turned out to range between relatively clean and pretty garbled, and the easy, clever, lazy process I had imagined turns out to require a lot of corrections. Simple example: every single quotation mark and apostrophe has to be replaced. Add in some basic copyediting and note making and it’s been slow and tedious work. But I’m eager to get through it, and this year I’ve been putting in a little time on it most days, which is sometimes what I’ve been doing instead of writing blog posts. As of today I’ve reached page 409, so the end is in sight.

Contrary to the offer at the end of my pitch, I’m not willing to show Duncan’s novel to anyone yet. The copyright belongs to his brother and sister, and while they approve of what I’m doing, I shouldn’t share any of the text until we’ve made a licensing agreement. You’re welcome to comment on the pitch, though. As for Duncan, he’s a story himself. But that’ll have to come later.

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