(We’re in for another round of Variant Bonus Features! I’m blogging about three chapters every Monday, Wednesday and Friday until Feedback is released, October 2nd. These blogs will be FULL OF SPOILERS, but they’ll only spoil Variant—they won’t ruin any of your fun in reading Feedback.) THESE BONUS FEATURES ARE WRITTEN ASSUMING YOU’VE READ THE ENTIRE BOOK, NOT JUST THE CHAPTERS MENTIONED. YOU’VE BEEN WARNED.
–The line “So who can name all the Harry Potter books?” used to be the lead-in for a big scene that was kind of a Spanish Inquisition of pop culture. It was a fun scene, but it really slowed down the pacing for this section, and ultimately it was cut. It made more sense that the pop culture programming problem would be simply corrected and all the androids would be updated, which would render an inquisition like that moot.
Also: do you notice Curtis’s responses to the “pop culture problem”? He seems to be thinking about it deeply, and he’s the one who gets pissed off when someone asks about the Harry Potter books. This can be interpreted as nothing significant, or it can be interpreted that Curtis is pondering previous conversations with Carrie, who would not have known pop culture. I have my thoughts, but I’ll let you speculate as to whether he’s suspicious of her.
–The scene where Isaiah is trying to negotiate with the school was heavily influenced by a class I’d taken in business school. (If you remember, I wrote this just six months after finished my MBA.) There’s a principle in negotiation called BATNA, or Best Alternative To a Negotiated Agreement. Before you ever go into a negotiation, you should be aware of your BATNA, and base your willingness to compromise on how good or bad your BATNA is. In this situation, the students have a terrible BATNA: their best alternative to a negotiated agreement is an escape attempt. The school knows this, and Oakland and Benson intrinsically know it (though they don’t know the terminology). This puts all the negotiating power in the hands of the school, essentially making Isaiah’s attempt futile.
–In the first draft of the book, the school calls for a paintball game, and it’s out in the forest where Havoc and the Variants make a truce and call for an escape. Also: you know the android animals? Two wolves came and attacked Rosa and killed her for breaking the bribed contracted with the school. This all got cut.
–I’ve read a few reviews where people complain that the students are using paintball guns here as weapons (just using regular paint, not some kind of frozen ammo or marbles or something). To answer that I’ll merely post this picture I got off the internet.
Paintball games are always regulated–you have to get your gun’s air pressure measured and adjusted before the game begins, because overly-pressurized paintballs can break skin, put out an eye, break teeth, or even kill (if you get hit just right in the larynx. Yes, paintball guns aren’t perfect weapons, but if you had a choice between a paintball gun and nothing, the paintball gun could be a great weapon–especially for stalling or detering your target.
–I particularly like that even until the very end, Isaiah’s arguments still kinda make sense. He’s more out-of-control now, more frenzied, but even as he’s holding the gun on Curtis he still firmly believes he’s right, and that he can still put a stop to Havoc and the Variants’ deathwish.
–Rocking the pine to get back over the wall is again a throwback to my old boy scouting days. We once got about seven guys on an enormous dead tree–each one of us holding a rope tied up high–and rocked it back and forth for twenty minutes until it came down. Then we had a bonfire. We were pretty great scouts.
–The reason I gave Benson a three-pronged rake is because I was once hit in the hand with a three-pronged rake, when I was five-ish, by my idiot brother, Dan Wells. We had a great idea that I swing my shovel at him and he swings his rake at me, and I don’t know what was supposed to happen. I ended up with a bandaged mess of a hand. Ugh. Kids.
–There was a draft, somewhere in the middle, where there were guard robots who were weird mutant killing machines–with big sledgehammer arms and such. This version only lasted a very short time before I realized that the enemies needed to come from within the student population itself. It’s much creepier for an almost unarmed middle-aged woman to be standing at the fence, guarding it by herself, than to have big thug robots with her–and it’s creepier to watch people you thought were friends turn on you.
–Joel used to be named something else, but I changed the name to Joel in honor of one of my coworkers, Joel Hiller. That Benson kills Joel in one of the most gruesome killings of the book is just icing on the cake.
–I love the revelation that Maxfield wasn’t testing the humans; it was testing the robots. As one of my friends, book reviewer Steve Diamond, pointed out to me: it really turns a lot of YA tropes on their head, because YA books are always about “YOU are the special one” or “The magic is in YOU”! In Variant, none of the humans are special. They’re decidedly unspecial. They’re less than lab rats. As someone says in Feedback, they’re just props.
The Full List of Bonus Features: