Monday, August 30, 2010

Chapter 18 Excerpt!

I have gone with anatomists to witness dissections of corpses. Some men gaze upon the inner organs and hidden places beneath our skin and see a beautiful puzzle, but the dead meat and jellied guts I saw on the dissection table were obscene and horrible in my eyes. Had I some magic, I would erase those bloody images from my memory and unlearn whatever lessons I learned from them. If a man seeks the truth, he must be prepared to discover that the cosmos is both beauty and ugliness, both birth and corruption.

It took me nearly an hour to light a fire in the room upstairs at Uraniborg. I used a few blank sheets of paper I had with me for tinder and carefully stewarded the flames, feeding the stove with sticks of kindling Voltemont and Cornelius had made until the fire lived on its own and took the chair legs and other wood piled by the stove. I had time to think, time to wonder what was true.

No great man is infallible. Ptolemy the Greek imagined a cosmos centered around the Earth, with heavenly wanderers swimming about us, all rotating beneath the glorious roof of Heaven. The entire universe traced a majestic course that encircled us with the glory of God. Ptolemy imagined a universe of great beauty and simplicity, and what he imagined was not true.

Copernicus the Pole saw that the Earth doth move, orbiting the sun with the five planets. This was heretical speech, and indeed remains a heresy. It is the truth no priest will hear, but it is true: the sun is the center of the universe.

The noble Dane Tycho Brahe imagined a cosmos of great complexity, with sun, moon and planets wheeling about the Earth in eccentric spiral orbits, an inelegant and drunken dance over the face of the sky. When I first encountered Tycho’s theory I grew dizzy trying to picture it. There was so much motion, so many worlds spinning in Tycho’s vision, and it was but so much fantasy.


  1. Great writing.

    I'm currently reading (well, on pause while I break to read Mockingjay) Eco's book Foucault's Pendulum and your piece here reminds me of a number of the segments I've been reading recently...the exquisite attention to detail and the seamless way the reader is drawn into the narrator's thoughts about science, the universe and everything.

    Thanks for sharing. :)

  2. I read that particular Eco book about 15 years ago, so maybe it made an impression on me. My prose isn't as dense as Eco's, though. And my protagonist isn't as well-educated as his was!

  3. " inelegant and drunken dance over the face of the sky..."

    It seems liquor doth abound in your prose Mr. Bailey.

    Lovely, lovely.

  4. Anne: You are what you write. Or something. How's your logjam/block coming along? Have you tried writing backwards from the ending to where you are now? Sometimes that helps me. I sat down on Sunday afternoon and wrote a sentence or two about each scene I need in Act V. I wrote them each on a separate index card, and I'm able to shuffle them around and think about what I need to write, and make new ones and throw some out, and soon I'll have a sort of map of the last act and then I'll write it all out as quickly as I can. I'm aiming for a finished draft by the end of September. It suddenly seems possible.

    Write! Even if it's wrong!

  5. I really like the rhythm of this piece.

    Also, love this line for some reason: "Ptolemy imagined a universe of great beauty and simplicity, and what he imagined was not true".

  6. Lavanya: Thanks! I was trying to write something that moved slowly, because the chapters just before this one are pretty active. I just wanted the whole story to pause for a few minutes, to stop and think about things. Hopefully it doesn't pause for too long, putting the reader to sleep. The chapter builds gradually up to a high pitch and ends with drawn swords, so I think the reader will stick with me. We'll see.

  7. Nevets: It's always nice to use "dead meat and jellied guts" but I don't know if the metaphor works. But I'm past that bit, so it stands until revisions.

    I had to look up how many planets (not including Earth) they knew about in 1601. The history of science fascinates me.

  8. Funny you should mention the ending -- I wrote that almost three weeks ago, thinking it would be easier to finish the ms. Unfortunately, even though it's a great ending, the iconic imagery I wanted showed up and now I need to change the ending. Which is fine b/c it'll make the ending so much more.

    I know where I messed up; in the structure -- I put the first climax where it should go, but all my sub-plots need to be resolved and I'm finding they're not as easy to write as I once thought. I could go several different ways with each, it's just a matter of picking one and going with it. The final climax is on the last page with the new ending. BA-BOOM! Who said writing a book was easy?

    BTW, I did check my word count 67,080. You'd think the last 20k would be a cake walk considering I know what's supposed to happen.

    I know, I know, just write it down, even if it's crap.

  9. "You'd think the last 20k would be a cake walk considering I know what's supposed to happen."

    I am laughing out loud. "What's supposed to happen" is, for me at least, not specific enough; there are still all sorts of decisions to make. The closer I get to the end, the more options I seem to find for each character, instead of fewer. Which is really fucking annoying. You know what I mean, I'm sure.

  10. Oh I know exactly what you mean about fucking annoying. Literally. My two mc's werent't supposed to see each other again until after the ending and this morning they go and have sex! What the hell am I supposed to do now?

    Talk about more options. It may not screw up my ending but it pisses me off they get to have fun and leave me frustrated to figure out what to do with their damn plot line.

  11. I am no longer reading your excerpts because you're going to send me the whole book, right? Right? .....

    *dies waiting*

  12. Michelle: Yes, I am! Around Hallowe'en! Chill out.