Martin Baker’s Version Thirteen

Written by Martin Baker

 Martin is an author, screenwriter and script editor. His latest novel, Version Thirteen, is just launched by Unbound. Version Thirteen is the second in the Spendlove trilogy set against the crisis in global capitalism, launched in 2013. The early stages of screen adaptation in Hollywood are in hand. See the video here.
 

I have a story to tell you. That’s the simplest and the most exciting thing (or it should be) about fiction – the story.

 And already there’s a twist. This tale is really three – or at least it comes in three parts. The first revolves around the plot of a new novel, Version Thirteen, the second book in the Samuel Spendlove trilogy. I’m mulling and fine-tuning the narrative right now ahead of publication in early summer. The second story is a little more technical, and involves the process of publishing, which is original, exciting and actively includes the readers. The third is the tale of the promotion and development of the book in Hollywood, where producers are desperately eager for good movie material. Which sort of brings me back to the beginning: What these producers are after is a good story.

The story

This novel must stand on its own, as all novels must. But as the second of three books, Version Thirteen must make sense in the context of the first, Meltdown, and drive us forward to the challenges facing our hero in the as-yet-untitled book number three.

In a Hollywood development meeting about Meltdown I once wittered on about the story for a quarter of an hour, only to have it reduced for me by a glossy Santa Monica agent as: “The Firm meets Wall Street meets The Bourne Identity.”

Ouch.

A bit reductive, but the guy certainly got to the point. So, here goes: In Hollywood’s brutal shorthand, Version Thirteen could be described as Lord of the Rings (the ultimate McGuffin drives all around it totally crazy) meets Ice Station Zebra (struggle of geo-political importance in desolate isolation) meets The Bourne Legacy (vital secret embedded in the action hero’s mind), via A Beautiful Mind (power and satisfaction achieved through intellectual acuity).

But – thank goodness - it’s not a movie. Version Thirteen is a novel, a full-length, immersive read.

 

  

But – thank goodness - it’s not a movie. Version Thirteen is a novel, a full-length, immersive read.

So: Version Thirteen is a revolutionary new drilling device. Its propeller-screw technology will extract 40 per cent more oil from existing oil fields. With no new plant equipment needed, the oil reserves of the planet are almost magically increased. This technology is worth trillions.

But there’s a problem. The propeller-screws play on Bernoulli’s principle (dealing with what happens to liquids when “work” is done on them). Version Thirteen effectively invalidates an important existing conventional military technology – supercavitating torpedoes and submarines. These missiles and crafts can travel at hundreds of knots beneath the oceans in their own self-perpetuating bubble, a vacuum created by the supercavitation effect – the result of a screw-propeller of a certain shape rotating rapidly in a fluid. The new technology will cause the supercavitating bubbles to implode – so the torpedoes and the submarines will self-destruct around this technology (it’s a kind of techno-Kryptonite to supercavitation’s Superman). To be clear, the drilling technology is fictional. But supercavitation is real.

Everybody wants Version Thirteen, but for different reasons. The US wants it to get cheaper energy and to destroy the supercavitation weapons technology. Russia has a significant lead in this area of conventional weapons manufacture. The Russians want to own the technology exclusively, and then suppress it. Expensive oil suits Russia, as the world’s biggest producer. And, of course, Russia has been selling supercavitating weaponry to Iran since the 1980s – a market worth billions. They do so through the usual channels – multi-millionaire arms dealers operating in a secret, international, inter-governmental market. The international arms dealers want V13 more than anyone – and will use every industrial and political connection they have to get it, and suppress it.

Ex-academic Samuel Spendlove, the hero of Meltdown, goes to the funeral of old family friend and Oxford University mentor Dr Peter Kempis. But the funeral’s in Moscow – Kempis wasn’t just a Spook but a double agent, working for Russia.

Samuel’s much in demand – he has a photographic memory that he used to good effect to defeat Khan, a massively powerful financial Master of the Universe in Paris a few years before (in Meltdown). Samuel is targeted at the funeral by Russia’s only female oligarch, a dark, sexy woman of a certain age – the Black Widow. She asks him to vet the super-secret technology for her – and to transcribe the sheets of technology from memory. Samuel refuses at first, but agrees when asked to do it for purely ethical reasons by the Black Widow’s sensationally beautiful, feisty eco-warrior daughter, Ksenia.

Samuel does as he is asked, transcribes the technology – but then finds himself embroiled in a huge geo-political struggle: the CIA, Russian police, the Black Widow’s own hugely powerful corporation, media mogul William Barton and his old adversary, Khan (the powers behind the industrial and governmental battles, again, as in Meltdown), are all involved in a brutal struggle to capture and control the V13 technology.

To write any more would be to give the game away.

Right now, I’m mulling back-story, pondering how much of the lives and motives of Samuel’s deeply unreliable mentors, enemies and father-figures to insinuate into the main narrative. It all has to sit against geo-political misfeasance, arms dealing, military heroism, neurotic terrorist hitmen, gangster-capitalist skullduggery, and blatantly (and, yes, pleasingly) bad behaviour in Moscow nightclubs.

 

The publishing process

My new publishers, Unbound, have given me a few weeks to revise the manuscript. My editor, John Mitchinson, isn’t just a charismatic publisher, he’s one of us. He reads for pleasure.

But what’s truly exceptional about Unbound’s process is the alignment of the interests of author, publisher and reader. The internet has in effect revivified the Elizabethan publishing model. As they used to back then, readers band together and subscribe to have a writer’s work published. They then have their names published in a roll of honour at the back of the book. In Elizabethan times, financial capital was at a premium. Today, anyone can self-publish on Amazon. It’s social capital that has scarcity value.

Unbound runs authors’ evenings and other events that allow us as writers to enthuse readers and communicate our passion for our work. And when enough people buy in and subscribe, the book is printed and distributed. The events are huge fun, and the list of fellow authors makes for humbling reading: Terry Jones of Monty Python fame, the brilliant and prolific Julie Birchill, Tibor Fischer, and many other published writers and luminaries from the worlds of acting and television.

Tinsel Town

Part of the Unbound process lends itself well to developing a novel into a movie. Unbound made a rather brilliant expositional video of V13, only marginally spoiled by the rantings of the author.

Hollywood’s nine-word description of Meltdown’s 100,000-word narrative tells you all you need to know about attention spans in Tinsel Town. When it comes to reading actual, full-length books, with a complex plot and involving characters, most Hollywood producers are totally lost. They claim to be desperate for a good story, but your average Hollywood hack wouldn’t recognize a good story even if it accosted them in a back-alley on a dark night and demanded money.

Thanks partly to the video, and to the fact that I’ve learned from bitter experience in developing the first novel (see the first instalment of this blog), V13 is out there now. And a deal? Well, a deal is imminent, apparently. Horses’ heads are being placed in appropriate beds as we speak. Once something is signed, I’ll let you all know.

Meanwhile, please do check out the Unbound website, and please put your names on the roll of honour.

Meltdown: http://www.martinfdbaker.co.uk

Blog: http://v13inhollywood.tumblr.com/

Unbound: http://unbound.co.uk/

Frame Grabs ©  Unbound

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Martin Baker



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