It takes an insane amount of time to get your first novel published, when you're just starting out.
I wrote the novel that finally appeared as "Singularity Sky" between 1995 and 1998 (hey, I had a day job); it eventually came out in early 2003, and was lapped part way by my next-but-one novel, "The Atrocity Archive" (which was serialized in an obscure Scottish magazine called "Spectrum SF" from 2001-02).
In 1997, after a decade of failure to launch in the UK, I sat down, took stock of everything I'd learned from my mistakes, and resolved not to do that again. I came up with a master plan and resolved to give it for five years before giving up and throwing in the towel. Rule #1 was, "sell into the American market" (because if you want to write fiction for a living it's a good idea to focus on the biggest market). And Rule #2 was, "write novels, in different sub-genres (because you can't tell in advance which will sell), and make sure each one can be the first book in a series (because you want to be able to follow up whichever sells)". Of course, I didn't expect everything to sell, leaving me juggling about three series' ...
However. Back in 1997/8 I was still learning how to do this thing. And after I finished the third draft of "Festival of Fools" (aka "Singularity Sky") I kept going for another 45,000 words, working on a sequel titled "Iron Sunrise", until sanity (and the business plan) asserted themselves.
Very little of the original material in "Iron Sunrise" made its way into the final published book (which was mostly written in 2001-02). Here's why ...
The original first half of "Iron Sunrise" contained numerous items not present in the final published book. In fact, when I picked it up again in 2001, with the goal of turning it into a working sequel to the newly-sold "Singularity Sky", I found only about 30% of the original material was usable.
Stuff that went on the cutting-room floor included the entire sub-plot about the Final Structures left behind on Earth by the Eschaton (gates or wormholes leading ... somewhere else), the exploration team waiting for one to open so that they could go through them, and of course Fred.
Fred, Wednesday's talking cat sidekick and comic relief.
Non-human sidekicks have a long history in SF, for obvious reasons; there's a whole sub-genre of companion-animal fantasy (most recently skewered mercilessly by Elizabeth Bear and Sarah Monette in A Companion to Wolves). In the Eschaton universe there's a somewhat more clear-headed rationale for the existence of smarter-than-normal animals; they're tools, engineered for a purpose.
In the case of Fred the Cat: vermin are a really bad thing to have on a space colony, such as the one Wednesday grows up on in "Iron Sunrise". They chew wiring, potentially causing hideous equipment failures. So it's a good idea to have a self-sustaining vermin control program. It's a waste of human resources to spend working lives on rodent control, especially when cats are available off-the-shelf — but you don't want unmodified cats on a space station, either: you want cats with boosted linguistic abilities and opposable thumbs, so that they can read the warning signs, flush the toilets, and drag their prey to the correct recycling point rather than leaving them to rot in situ. Unfortunately, a sub-culture of semi-intelligent feral cats is also something you don't want on board a space colony ...
Alas, I was already working on "Accelerando" by this time. "Accelerando" features an AI who has discovered it's easier to manipulate humans if it uses a furry critter as a sock-puppet; but alas, early feedback showed that about 90% of readers were mentally filing Aineko under "talking cat", not "scarily manipulative AI". There is a rule in the field, that if you use the same trick twice in a row you'll get pigeon-holed as "the [trick] guy". And there was no way I was going to let myself be filed under "talking cat dude". So Fred had to go. Leaving this fragment behind (along with the pregnant phrase, "put down the fishing rod, back away from the aquarium, and nobody needs to get hurt"):
In the early hours of the night after the party Wednesday lay on her mattress, trying to sleep. Her head hurt: it felt like someone'd left a window open inside her skull, flushing a cold steppe wind through it to clear away the drug-induced cobwebs. She found it difficult to drop off: it was always a bummer when you came swimming back up from thick-headed giggling idiocy. You wondered how you could have been such a fool; the only compensation was that it doesn't matter. The only witnesses were the other D-zone dipsies.
She'd bubbled home in silence and gone straight into the bathroom: stripped off the ragged black dress -- soiled in places, stripped of romance, just a tatter of black fabric -- dropped it in the recycling bin. Facing the mirror she deprogrammed the smart pigments in her face with a light pen; swollen red lips faded to pale pink, small blood vessels opened and flooded her cheeks with warmth. Finally the ink-black membranes around her eyes turned hangover red and began to itch furiously. She still felt dirty, greasy from the heat and stink and idiocy of the party: but she'd shower in the morning. The important thing was to sleep behind her own face, not the vamping giggling party-stranger who'd made a fool of her imaginary self, even though she hadn't managed to fuck like the bunny Alice had invited her to be.
She yawned and stared at herself in the mirror. How did people cope with the embarrassment thing before they could change faces? She wondered. Frustration, mortification, and sex. She yawned again. Morris and Indica had taken Jeremy on a weekend trip to Carter B, to gawp at the sights there: she had the apartment to herself for a day or two now. Go to sleep, Wednesday.
It was still darkside shift-time and she was lying awake, frustrated and annoyed with herself for not making a move on Vinnie or one of the other shutdown cases, for not wanting to make a move on one of them, when she heard a quiet clattering noise. If she'd been asleep she probably wouldn't have woken up: but she was on her own, and a sudden nervous thrill of fear ran through her. Herman? She thought, but as usual there was no reply. (It was almost a personal prayer, this constant appeal to an absent deity. Or maybe a phantom itch, like the irritation from an amputated limb. Sometimes she wondered if she'd ever learn to do without the memory of him.) Clattering in the next room: someone was in there, someone noisy.
She was on her feet before she quite realised what was happening. There was a wooden baseball club thing she made in a crafts class, learning to use a lathe on real synthetic wood -- she took it, silently but sure in the darkness of her own room. Who's there? Her chest felt tight and her guts bubbled loose. Someone was in the kitchen.
She quietly pulled her bedroom door open and tip-toed out into the passage. The kitchen was next door, opening off the same curving corridor as the rest of the apartment. No light. The door was shut: tensing, she glanced over her shoulder. A fright-memory of those dreadful dogs sent a shiver of fear right through her, but she steeled herself to deal with it: she was been trained not to lie huddled under the covers by a subtle and ingenious teacher, trained without even realising it. She yanked the door open with one hand and palmed the light switch, bringing the club up --
-- And a very large tabby cat looked guiltily at her from the food preparation surface. The cat had a long, well-groomed coat, large paws, and a slightly bulbous forehead; he wore a waistcoat, pockets bulging with small power-tools. In one remarkably humanoid hand, he held a can opener. In the other hand, he clutched a brightly coloured tin with a cartoon picture of a grinning fish on the label.
"Who the fuck are you and what are you doing here?" she demanded, glaring.
"Through hole in roof. I'm a cat, me." He clutched the tin protectively. "Food? Eat!"
The ceiling air duct gaped open: the contents of a drawer lay scattered on the floor below. Wednesday took it all in with a glance. The cat burglars had been getting dangerously smart, stealing survival tools and blinding surveillance cameras -- but they were still cats. The beast was probably frightened half out of his mind: she outmassed him ten to one. "You won't get far with that tin," she warned.
The cat put it down between his hind legs and clutched the can opener in both hands. "Food! Mine! Escape-fear-pounce-jump!" When he became agitated his stream of consciousness sprayed everywhere: his ears folded flat and his tail began to puff up. Then he glanced up at the hole in the ceiling. Morris and Indica couldn't afford a good neighbourhood; the cubic they lived in was under point eight gees and it was nearly two metres straight up to the roof.
His expression was so worried that Wednesday couldn't hold it in any longer: she laughed aloud. When she stopped the cat was glaring at her aggrievedly. "What you've got there is a tin of spaghetti shapes. Want to tell me what you're doing here?"
"Food -- " He glanced away and licked at the back of one furry hand. "Not me. Was some other cat." Lick lick lick. "Didn't do it. Not see me. Jump-escape."
While the cat was in denial, a thought occurred to Wednesday. "Someone sent you, didn't they? Who was it? Tell me and I'll get you some real food. Good food, not like that."
"Me hungry." The cat glanced down at the tin between its feet. She could almost see the gear wheels whirring busily between its ears. "Food?"
"First tell me who sent you," she repeated.
"Boy," said the cat reluctantly. He held up the tin opener. "Feed me!"
"What did the boy tell you to do?" demanded Wednesday.
The cat reached into its harness, produced a small black bead: an eyebug of some description. "Put in shower," he said. His voice was throaty but not deep, like a human child with laryngitis. "Go back, jump-escape, boy feed me. I'm a good cat!" He paused, then picked up the tin. "Food now?"
"Not that tin." She put down the baseball bat, opened a cupboard door. More tins. Jeremy had discovered the kitchen's ice-cream making attachment the other week, and busily explored its potential in conjunction with the grocery tube service: tofu and aniseed, banana and spinach, haggis and chocolate. Indica noticed and stopped him before he got to the threatened coup de grace -- cranberry and tuna-flavoured lemon sorbet. As punishment she'd forced him to read aloud the traditional recipe for haggis. (First take a sheep's stomach and lungs ...) "Here." Wednesday found what she was looking for.
"Meat?" the cat asked suspiciously.
"Give me the can opener," she said. For a wonder, the cat passed it to her. You could never tell with a cat: they were just smart enough to think everyone else was dumber than them. Wordlessly she wrapped the can opener around the lid and gave it a brief squeeze. The lid lifted free and she passed the container to the cat, who emitted a deep grumbling noise and took it in both hands. "Fork's in the draw below you," she said before he could dig his face in. "This boy. Was he fat?"
"Eating. Go 'way." The cat chewed as he talked, dripping fragments of fake fish flakes all over the worktop. Wednesday's stomach grumbled. The cat burped and stopped eating for a moment. "Fat boy," he said. "Me smart cat." With a can of ersatz tuna in his hands and an electric screwdriver in his belt he was a lord of infinite space. Rrrrr. Pig boy. Eat pig?" One ear twitched.
"I don't think so," Wednesday said drily. She picked up the bug and scrutinized it. "Hmm. Remember to put the duct cover back before you leave," she said and, closing and locking the kitchen door, went back to bed.