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Catching Bombs

On the day job – as a software tester – we refer to those derailing incidents that leave what you’d planned to do in ashes as “bombs”. Possibly because they bomb your plans and schedule to hell and gone.

I’ve been juggling the bloody things for way too long.

This, of course, is a big part of a writer’s art, throwing bombs at the hero and forcing him, her, or it to juggle them while continuing to protag and generally get on with the plot. I can say from experience that if you get too enthusiastic about tossing bombs at the poor sod, you’ll break him. Or her. Or it.

The progression goes much the same regardless of whether it happening to Manly the Hero on the Great Quest of Whatsis or Joe Schmoe going about his perfectly ordinary life as a mailman. Or me. If the background stress level isn’t too high, the first bomb gets handled pretty much without blinking. If there’s a second one before the first one is fully dealt with, there’s some grumbling, but it will still be handled.

It’s after you’ve got either three or more bombs exploding all over your schedule (whether metaphorically or literally), or a constant succession of bombs so that you never quite manage to catch up after handling them that things get… interesting.

That’s when Our Hero – or me – starts lurching irregularly from crisis to crisis. It’s when normal commitments fall away as the poor sap – or me – starts to cut back on anything that’s not essential. Gradually the person getting hit with all the bombs stops caring and just does the bare minimum to make it through to the next one. And eventually, they give up altogether.

Exactly what the progression looks like depends a lot on the person involved. Some get aggressive. Other withdraw. I get sleepy.

While I know I’m far from the worst off, the current set of bombs include the Bugger-cat’s cancer – he’s improving, but we’re still talking 500-ish in medication per month plus about 300 in vet bills. It’s worth it to have a healthier Bugger-cat, but I’m not all that sure where it’s coming from, so that one’s kind of a rolling bombardment at the moment. Work’s in the process of a merger, so there’s a lot of chaos, confusion, and bombs flying. My health is mostly okay, although the whole female at that time of life deal is a pain in the backside.

That lot combined with being narcoleptic is quite enough to run me out of spoons. I’m looking longingly at the vacation time I’ve scheduled over Christmas/New Year, and I’m thinking I’ll probably be just about recovered from the bone-deep tired by the time I have to go back to work.

Such is life. I keep reminding myself it could be worse (and when your hero hits that point, for crying out loud give the poor sod a bit of a break and finish the book with a nice satisfying victory over the enemy. Your readers won’t thank you for driving said hero to whining).

10 Comments Post a comment
  1. I foresee exhaustion being a familiar companion for a while myself, but I can’t help but think ‘this is just to build stamina.’

    Persistence, resilience and sheer stubborn can make for a hero … or a damned dangerous villain, now that I think about it.

    December 6, 2018
    • Draven #

      well, i hope your exhaustion pays off, lets say that

      December 6, 2018
    • Mark #

      Agree – think of how many of Moriarty’s plots Sherlock Holmes foiled. Or for that matter, The Master’s by Doctor Who.

      December 6, 2018
  2. Mike Houst #

    BP meds cause me three sets of problems: a tendency to nod off at very bad moments, as in micro sleeps while driving; greying out if I stand up too fast; and a good 15% hit on athletic performance, especially when fencing in tournaments.

    Haven’t read about a single protagonist who even takes medications (besides an occasional aspirin or ibuprofen), much less has to deal with side effects.

    December 6, 2018
    • Over the course of the _Mitford_ books by Jan Karon, the main character develops diabetes. Some of the plot points revolve around his taking his insulin and watching his diet…or not. But that, and one YA book about a girl who develops diabetes, are the only ones that come to mind.

      December 6, 2018
    • Mark #

      closest case I can recall is Thomas Covenant’s having to be constantly careful to not cut himself due to his Leprosy.

      No medication was available to him in the Land.

      December 6, 2018
      • Mike Houst #

        And Covenant really seemed to be using the leprosy (or actually the nerve damage) as an excuse for his (mis-)behavior, not the effects or side effects of medication, or absence thereof.

        What I find hard to understand is why Donaldson used leprosy as Covenant’s crutch (Lord Foul’s Bane published in 1977), as the first effective treatment for the disease became available in the 1940s, with significantly improved drugs in the 1950s, ’60s and ’70s. Indeed, the 3 drug cocktail used to cure leprosy has been recommended by WHO since 1981, has no known bacterial resistance to them (yet); and only takes 6 months to complete the cure.

        On the other hand, I do understand that in the early Covenant stories, The Land actually seems to be all in Covenant’s head, and it’s his own hang ups that are generating his psychic form of leprosy to manifest, not the actual disease. With the later books, where he seems to drag other people into his madness, it becomes much harder to rationalize the mechanism of how that happens; so much so that I eventually lost interest in anything else written by Donaldson.

        December 7, 2018
    • I gather that this group did not read much sf from the Sixties, Seventies, or Eighties. There have been plenty of protagonists on drugs.

      December 6, 2018
    • BobtheRegisterredFool #

      I was just at the Grrrl Power webcomic. Sydney Scoville. (Adderall)

      Miles Vorkosaigon.

      Some of the characters in Mad Mike’s Long Time Till Now.

      So, even if you exclude recreational stuff like in Akira, still some medical uses.

      December 7, 2018
  3. Generally one does not see this type of thing in fiction because it is too much like Real Life.

    After the second or third derailment my patience as a reader and my suspension of disbelief becomes strained. Usually because I’m reading to -escape- my own fifth or sixth derailment of the week.

    I’m a big fan of desperate plans that work, in fiction. Macgyver is fun because the gum-and-hairpin trick defuses the nuclear weapon. We all know in real life the hairpin will break.

    December 7, 2018

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