Wednesday, October 30, 2019

"Steel Frame"

Andrew Skinner grew up in South Africa’s coal-mining heartland, amidst orange dust and giant machinery. He now works as an archaeologist and anthropologist, interested in folklore, rain-making arts, and resistance; but the machines aren’t done with him yet.

Skinner applied the Page 69 Test to Steel Frame, his first novel, and reported the following:
From page 69:
I’m not special. I made lower-middle in boot-camp, and sure as hell didn’t set any records, but this is one thing I’ve always been good at. While the others had to dose to find connection, had to tug and fight and dig their spurs, I’ve never had trouble sharing the inside of my head.

It feels like coming home.

The Juno watches my systems unfold themselves across the net, open and vulnerable. It reaches for one connection; a little camera in the join between visor and helmet. The machine doesn’t touch anything else.

A small light flashes green in the corner of my eye. New connection established, says my visor. Streaming to remote device.

The Juno is very still.

The other fist unwinds. The shell touches its face, rolls fingers around the empty spaces where eyes should be. It feels the pits and scars on its hull, and finds the fresh weld in the middle of its chest. It’s just a little thicker than my thumb, and still silver, not even painted over yet.


I am broken.

I’ve never seen a shell do that. Damage assessments, yes, more times than I’d like to count, but they’re always clinical and robotic. Hardware abstractions testing to see where functionality begins and ends.

This is something else.

There is a hole. It touches the railgun-wound. Here.

“Let me fill it.”
I’m really lucky that this test calls for page 69, and not, say, one or two in either direction. In Steel Frame, page 69 is first contact – the first time the main character, Rook, really meets the machine (shell) she’ll be piloting during the story. A machine called Juno.

She’s looking over it, noticing the small wound where a high-velocity weapon killed the last operator (that the flight crew hasn’t even bothered to paint over yet), and all of the scrapes and dents and cuts from its decades of service.

Juno is damaged again, just before this part of the story, the lenses in its six eyes cracked or destroyed. Rook meets it thrashing around in its hangar, blind and out of control; lost, and still mourning the loss of the last operator.

As you’ll see in other parts of the book as well, Rook doesn’t hesitate to throw herself into the glare. She walks toward it, offering a connection to the camera mounted to her helmet, so that the machine can see what has become of itself.

This is their first connection, and sets the grounding for their relationship in the rest of the story; this is one lost and damaged thing meeting another. And seeing a part of themselves in the other.
Read more about Steel Frame; follow Andrew Skinner on Twitter.

My Book, The Movie: Steel Frame.

--Marshal Zeringue