Sean asked me to design a contest for our wonderful and attractive readers — something that would reward the winner with a free print copy of their choice between print copies of The Beam: Season One or The Beam: Season Two when it’s released May 1.
This is what I came up with. That’s right; I wrote a full damn post for a contest. Let it never be said that I phone things in.
As I write this, I’m just finishing up the second season of what is now officially Realm & Sands’s largest work: The Beam. And … WOW. If you enjoyed Season One, you’re going to lose it for Season Two.
I absolutely love The Beam. I love all of our stuff, but the world offered by The Beam (not to mention the mind-fucking things we can do in a world filled with nano-bots and an omnipresent, hyperconnected AI-and-nanobot-rich version of the Internet) is off the hook. Writing The Beam ticks all of my boxes. It’s the ultimate what-if playground.
As Sean and I write, we’re investigating what our actual present implies about humanity’s future. Readers tell us that what’s most intriguing is the inevitability of our world. For me (perhaps troublingly, given the whole “inevitable” issue) The Beam asks one question more than any other: Just because we can do something … should we?
I could go on and on, but let’s just say that if you like Realm & Sands (or either of us individually) and haven’t read The Beam, you’re missing our most ambitious work. Fortunately, there are ways to solve that problem. You can start reading The Beam now with the first episode of Season One, which is free here, or you can go ahead and grab the entire first season for 20% off as part of the sale we’re running in lead-up to Season Two’s release. (Not to sound all salesman-like, but you should grab it now because the discount is temporary. And you know you can trust us to write something awesome anyway, right?)
Anyway, I’ve been delving a lot into Season One stuff as we finish up Season Two, and I wrote this list of my favorite things from Season One as I got all giddy and creation-crazed. These are the things we needed to sync up with … then exceed … in Season Two.
By the way, most of what follows are reasonably spoiler free, and only the last three items in the list contain even minor spoilers. So you can fairly safely read most of it even if you’ve yet to read The Beam, but you also can’t yell at me if you think I spoiled something, seeing as I just gave that disclaimer and because my lawyers say so.
Now pay attention, Beam fans, because here’s where the contest comes in.
Read my list below.
Enjoy and get all excited for Season Two. (This step is mandatory.)
Then, being careful not to spoil things yourself, tell me YOUR favorite moments in the comments.
A week from now, Sean and I will pick our favorite from your responses, and send you a phat print version of Season Two (or Season One if you prefer) when it’s ready.
Okay. Get your nanobots ready, and keep reading. Here are my top ten moments and scenes, in no particular order.
#1: Doc Discovers Technology That’s Way, Way, Way Too Advanced
The Beam actually existed before I got my hands on it. Sean and another writer had written a complete season, and as I began writing, I did so with the knowledge that I was, in a way, recapitulating someone else’s work. As a result, I was walking on eggshells, torn between wanting to write my own version of the story and pay due respect to the original.
The first option was the correct one, of course, but I needed permission. I had to see the series take on its own life before I could trust it … and this was the first scene where that started to happen.
Basically — and this isn’t a spoiler, as it’s a backbone upon which so much else is later placed — Thomas “Doc” Stahl is a dealer in biological upgrades that people use to add extra functionality to their own bodies, in conjunction with the Beam network. He covers the spectrum of buyers, from the poorest people to the wealthiest. Or so he thinks.
Sean’s story beats called for me to send Doc into Xenia Labs, where he’s mistaken for the sort of high-end dealer that Doc didn’t realize existed. He’s shown technology he’s never seen — technology apparently reserved for the very richest people in the North American Union. It’s supposed to be a secret … and once Doc knows and the Xenia folks learn his true identity … well, let’s just say he’s got a problem.
This scene surprised me. I have a biology and genetics background, it came out and started waving its flag as Doc was shown true-to-life replacement limbs, told about mind and memory uploading capabilities, and more. It allowed me to take ownership of a series that was started by another for the first time.
#2: The Enterprise vs. Directorate Parties
This isn’t a scene, but learning about the politics of The Beam told us both what the story would really be about.
In brief, the NAU in 2097 is divided between two parties, and every six years (in an election-like event known as Shift), citizens can choose which party they’d like to belong to, with no take-backs until the next Shift.
The Directorate is very socialist, with all services provided and a fixed income paid. The Enterprise is pure capitalist, where members either succeed on their own (with no cap on income) or fail (without a safety net).
In Enterprise, you either win big or die trying. In the Directorate, you shake your head at the nuts in Enterprise, accept a mediocre but secure living, and never have to worry.
In our world, parties are headed by dual presidents, but the presidents don’t matter nearly as much as the media darlings who act as the parties’ faces: Directorate Czar of Internal Satisfaction Isaac Ryan and his brother Micah, Enterprise’s Director of Capital Protection. The power struggle between the brothers and their parties quickly became one of The Beam’s central plots.
As I was exploring Micah and Isaac’s exploits, I emailed Sean and said something like, “Is it a problem that this story seems to be much more about people than technology?” Because, see, I hadn’t written sci-fi before. I’d read plenty, and the thing everyone remembers is the technology.
No, they don’t. Not for the best sci-fi. Stories that have all sorts of gizmos but wooden characters bore us. Stories about people engage us.
Sean told me not to sweat it. The story being rich with character and politics crystalized its reality. Because no matter how much time passes, people will stay people … and never stop scheming.
#3 Kai Kicks Some Ass
Kai Dreyfus is an elite escort with a sideline as a professional assassin. She’s augmented out the wazoo, sporting retinal cameras, seductive pheromone generators, and a sophisticated artificial intelligence algorithm that makes sure she’s always delivering what her customers want and need most.
We knew Kai would be tough when she was conceived, but what surprised me was how engaging Kai turned out to be. Although she’s technically a prostitute (something that isn’t vilified in 2097), she most certainly isn’t a whore. Kai does what she wants, and lines her desires with her income opportunities. She’s funny and fiercely loyal. And holy shit can she kick ass.
There’s a scene early-on in Season One where Kai is cornered by tech savants known as “Beamers” who come at her not only two at a time, but with high-powered weapons. I won’t blow the scene for you if you’ve not read it, but suffice to say that I, as the first-draft writer, had no idea how Kai was going to extricate herself. The way she does is … well … the only word is awesome. It makes you believe in Girl Power. Then Kai keeps you believing again and again after that.
Kai quickly became one of our favorite characters. She also, in a way, sparked a spin-off.
#4: The Birth of The Future of Sex and Plugged
You may already know that Sean and I work with (produce is a fair word) an erotica author named Lexi Maxxwell (link somewhat NSFW). We’d already co-written a sitcom (Adult Video) with Lexi, with us wireframing and writing the comedy and Lexi adding extremely dirty sex scenes. So when we began asking author friends to write their own, non-essential stories in the Beam world, Lexi’s topic was predictable.
She wanted to write a Kai story, given Kai’s profession, but we told her no. Our rule for “Beam world” stories is that while they should enhance the experience of the world for Beam readers, they must not be required. Canon characters (like Kai) were off-limits. But Lexi could write about the sex industry that Kai represented, and did. Sean and I, unable to keep our big noses out of Lexi’s business and intolerant of free time, hopped in and flat-out collaborated with her on FOS.
We won’t go into detail about FOS here, because you can read Lexi’s introductory post about it here, on her blog. (In fact, you can read the entire first book in the series for free on her blog here.) While The Future of Sex is in no way required for Beam continuity (it would be unfair to ask readers who may not be into sex-heavy stuff to wade through it), it is much more sci-fi than erotica, and adds a hell of a lot to our world. You’ll love it if such things don’t weird you out. (Oh, and for you skittish dudes out there: remember that Lexi, not us, wrote the sticky parts. And by the way, Lexi is hot.)
The other sideline project — again noting that I’ve cheated here and am not strictly talking about stuff in The Beam: Season One — was a Malcolm Gladwell style book called Plugged: How Hyperconnectivity and The Beam Changed the Way We Think. We consider Plugged to be the unofficial “Beam Season 1.5,” and wrote it from the perspective of a fictional future author in order to answer questions we ourselves had while writing Season One. Again, you don’t need to read Plugged to mine full enjoyment from The Beam, but we think you’d like it a lot. If you’ve left us a review for Beam Season One (or have read it and are willing to), we’ll give you Plugged for free here.
#5 Natasha and Isaac Ryan Fight … and Fight … and Fight
Fights are bar-none my favorite things to write. Maybe it’s because the lines come quickly when emotions are high, or maybe it’s because conflict is the engine that drives stories. Maybe it’s because in writing fights, I get to be more clever than I am in real life, putting biting words in the mouth of another that I myself would never say.
Whatever the reason, we fell in love with Natasha and Isaac immediately because although we understand why they are how they are, we just can’t bring ourselves to like or respect them. Isaac is spineless. Natasha is spoiled and domineering. In fact, a few people told us in reviews that they couldn’t bring themselves to like Natasha. That meant we’d done our jobs, because she’s reprehensible.
Still, these two bickering marrieds (rich, beautiful, and eternally young despite being in their eighties with a half-century of matrimonial baggage behind them) are sympathetic in their own way, once you get below their skin. They’re terrible now, but Sean and I knew they weren’t always so jaded. Once upon a time, they loved each other enough to come together. And once upon a time, Natasha sung her heart out to earn her fame — no matter how much she phones in her stardom today.
We said before that people will never stop being people, and that politics will never stop being politics. The Ryans let us keep poking those coals, because marriage has politics, too … and wait until you see how such personal matters spill into the fore in Season Two.
#6: Noah West’s Meeting with Ben Stone
In one of the flashbacks, Noah meets for the first time with Ben Stone, CEO of Evercrunch, a Dropbox-style firm that Noah ends up schooling on its business. I love this scene for a few reasons.
For one, it tells us a lot about Noah West’s backstory — Noah being an iconic character throughout the rest of the series and formerly without a point-of-view chapter of his own. We learned why Noah was how he was, and we got to like him. We grew to respect him for his insights.
If you’re still finding it odd that we talk about our characters as if they were real people, let me repeat it: we’re barely ahead of our readers on the story curve. The whole world (including us) knew that Noah was the genius behind The Beam, but we didn’t know how he’d formed his first ideas, what made The Beam different, or anything about how it worked. Until this scene, The Beam was simply “a network,” or perhaps “a highly connected version of the Internet.”
After eavesdropping on Noah’s conversation with Stone, we began to form even more bridges between our current world and The Beam. That was important. The Beam is a work of science fiction, not fantasy — and that means that while we could invent our own miracles, we would always need to explore the ways in which we could move from where we are today to where we will be. Much of our storytelling moves forward, from 2097 on. But the underpinning moves in the other direction, slowly filling the years between now and then.
#7: Doc and Omar Go To Starbucks
This scene was fun, but I’m choosing it because it represents a whole class of scenes and mentions that occur throughout Seasons One and Two.
In our opinion, a common science fiction mistake is to burn the world before building a new one. In extremely distant tales like Gene Wolfe’s The Book of the New Sun, this strategy makes sense. But come on, folks … are we really supposed to believe that in a mere 83 years, nothing of what we know today will have survived? We’ll all be floating around galleys full of buttons and switches with labels like “jettison the quizblorg” and “zotz!”, and we’ll all watch nothing but movies made by robots?
We don’t buy it. This is the corporate age, and while certain iconic elements of today will vanish, many will stay. We chose Starbucks. It’s not your grandmother’s Starbucks (and we delighted in writing the holographic attendants pushing expensive coffee-at-home products on a weary Doc), but it’s motherfucking Starbucks, all right.
Side note: If you’re looking for a good read and have already bought everything we have (but only if you’ve done that) check out Jennifer Government by Max Barry if for no other reason than the hilarious way it treats the future rise of corporations.
#8: Stephen York’s Diary
THIS SECTION CONTAINS MINOR SPOILERS.
After Leah finds a mysterious book, the section that follows contains a bunch of dated excerpts from that book. Sean and I agree that this section forms the beating heart of Season One … which is interesting, because we had no idea even how to handle it when the idea came up.
Sean originally gave me an outline, beat by beat, for the diary. I WTF’d all over them. How the hell was I supposed to write a diary? And why would anyone care? But what happened, as I explored, was that I got to unfold The Beam’s life history — as well as one of its intimate creators, whose opinions about his creation are ambivalent at best.
What many readers don’t realize is that for some writers — present company most certainly included — much of the world is unknown before it’s written. Details form before our eyes as if by magic. The diary is so central for us because we learned as much writing it as our readers did reading. It was in that section that the term “Crossbrace” — the first version of The Beam, launched in the 40s — was conceived and named. We learned what the world outside the NAU lattice thought of The Beam.
We sowed many of the seeds that we (and by “we,” I mean “Sterling Gibson”) later explored in Plugged as a result of questions raised by the diary. We learned what may have happened to Noah West — and what, as Season Two draws to a close, we believe will happen next.
In our actual world, it is the events in people’s lives that create meaning. I think the reason the diary was so compelling to us was that through it, Stephen York became a real person, with real thoughts and desires and motivations and regrets. We’ll be writing fallout from what he wrote there for seasons to come.
#9: SerenityBlue’s 8-Year-Old Receptionist
THIS SECTION CONTAINS MINOR SPOILERS.
We weren’t sure who SerenityBlue would turn out to be (although thank God Sean let me change Serenity’s name; she appeared in the original, unpublished version of The Beam as “@SerenityBlue”), but we did know we wanted her to be mystical, intuitive, and a little angelic. If she was going to be around others, it seemed right that they should be children … and that those children should be the innocent embodiments of possibility that the Beam itself had somehow lost.
My first thought was that Leo and Leah should be greeted by someone as they entered Serenity’s school, and I figured it should be a student. Now in truth, that first kid is someone I know: my son, Austin. He’s not able to manipulate The Beam quite as well (though maybe when he’s in his 60s, he’ll find the knack), but all the mannerisms are there. Austin is a pacer. He walks and he talks, and for (currently) a 9-year old, he’s stunningly creative and outside-the-box. He’s an artist. And he was the kind of person I figure Serenity would definitely shepherd.
What I like about Serenity’s students is that they take amazing feats for granted — given that those feats are inside us all the time, and that we adults have been trained to forget. They see magic in the mundane and mundane in magic.
I won’t say much more about Serenity’s students here, but I will say that that lobby scene — where the simple boy creates a beach that’s more real than even the best Beam adepts could create — set serious machines in place that we anticipate beginning to manifest in Season 3 or 4.
#10: Nicolai Under Siege
THIS SECTION CONTAINS ** SOMEWHAT LARGER ** BUT MORE AWESOME SPOILERS.
I don’t recall the original story beat for this scene, but it was vague, the way I like it. It called for Nicolai to “somehow” elude the bandits who’d laid siege to his family’s mansion. Sean told me later that in the original version, Nicolai led the rabble around to the back, where they came face-to-face with a big cannon.
That’s kind of cool, but I think we can all agree that the specter of floating ministars made of liquid metal are much fucking cooler. (Side note: the Orion scenes were fun for a similar reason. I’m apparently gifted at dreaming up torture — enough that I made Sean’s wife sick reading it.)
We wanted to have fun with this scene, but we also wanted to establish a few things about Nicolai. For one, he’d once been wealthy. That gave his later station below Isaac some context, and told us a few things about Nicolai’s modesty and sense of duty. We wanted to establish that Nicolai was a stone-cold badass, despite his smooth, intellectual, Johnny Depp exterior. And despite Nicolai’s position in modern society, we wanted the reader to know that he’d paid his dues aplenty. You’re supposed to feel that while the Micahs and Isaacs may hold all the cards today, it would be the Nicolais who’d survive if the world returned to shit.
But the very, very best thing about this scene was something we’d never intended. I won’t go into detail because this is the biggest spoiler of all, but let’s just say that the revelation at the very end of Season One — the cliffhanger that may have made you loathe us while simultaneously salivating for Season Two — came about as a direct result of this flashback. I thought, “What if X?” Sean loved it, then we made it happen.
Oh, and just wait until you see how that cliffhanger resolves!
Okay, those are my top ten. What are yours?
Enter your favorite scenes below in the comments, but please keep your answers as spoiler-free as possible. If someone has already given your scene or if one of mine is your favorite, enter it anyway but tell us why it was awesome. Maybe you can articulate better than me or the other commenter. Style counts.
Oh, and you folks who haven’t yet finished The Beam, you probably shouldn’t read the comments. People will spoil things regardless of that last sentence because that’s how things go and we’re all excited.
A week from today, Sean and I will read through your comments, pick the one we like best, and will send you a print (and ebook) copy of The Beam: Season Two when it’s released on May 1, or Season One if you prefer that now.
It’s almost time for The Beam’s second season. So let’s hear it below!
Want to explore the world of The Beam before Season Two launches on May 1st? Get Season One now while it’s on sale for 20% off… or try it for free!