Tuesday, November 30, 2010

History Channel vs. SyFy

I don't know about the rest of you, but I'm finding more and more intersting material on the History Channel than SyFy.  I'm not just talking about the change from SciFi to SyFy either.  Let's face it, the quality of shows on SyFy has been dropping and what are they replacing traditional science fiction and fantasy with?  Wrestling?  Okay, that's about as fictional as you get, but I'd file that more under the genre of violent sitcom than something for SyFy.  Actually, if I may be blunt, I'd put it in my fictional channel called WTF.

Now let's look at the shows on the History Channel.  For the sci-fi lovers there are shows like The Universe, Ancient Aliens, and one I just discovered (not on the online list) called Bad Universe (focused on scientifically plausible threats to our world, how and why - including aliens, asteroids...).  Then for the fantasy fans there's MonsterQuest, Mystery Quest, and others.  Besides, the series, there are a number of specials/movies produced.

Not only are these shows entertaining, but they often give some interesting facts/research information that could be useful in writing.  Using the television may sound like lazy person's research, but these are good, quick references for writers to review in more detail on their own.

So tune it, watch, and

Write On

Monday, November 29, 2010

Deaths in Entertainment

It's a sad day in the entertainment world.  By now everyone's probably heard about the death of iconic movie funnyman Leslie Nielson.

For science fiction, particularly Star Wars, fans there is another significant loss.  Irvin Kershner, director of Empire Strikes Back and James Bond movie, Never Say Never Again, died at age 87 at his home in Las Angeles.  I'm sure Master Yoda would remind us at this time to rejoice for Mr. Kershner becoming one with the living force. 

Water and Food in Space.

Time to get back on topic.  You're writing about a long trip in space or an orbital habitat.  What do they eat?  Where do they get their meals?  This may seem almost too easy for many, but sometimes readers (and hopefully agents/publishers) like an innovative twist on things some take for granted.

Keeping with my preference on adding credibility to science fiction writing, here's an article on space farms that some might find interesting.  A few interesting points - the idea that Mars may at one time have had liquid water.  Also, consider the soil on other worlds would probably have differences to Earth.  To be fair, I have read stories where they address soil concerns on planets and testing water on planets, particularly in colonization scenes/stories.

The whole issue of water could be the most important element to consider.  Writers create agricultural sections of ships and space stations like a space age greenhouse, hydroponics, or farm in space.  You can travel with soil and provide artificial light, but you'll always need water.  How do you get more water on long space voyages?  In 2009, there were news reports about astronauts drinking recycled urine, but that wouldn't be sufficient for growing crops.

I've probably said this before, but I'll say it again.  I think science fiction readers are too advanced today to just accept that people living in space can lead happy lives on just protein bars, space rations, pastes and other fabricated items.  And that still wouldn't address the need for water.

So where can you get water?  We already know that planets like Mars have water.  Neptune and Uranus are classified as "ice giants."  Although some of the ice is ammonia and methane ice, there is water.  Another source to consider - comets.  Most comets are described as frozen bodies traveling in an orbit or through space.  On November 4, a NASA Deep Impact craft flew within 435 miles of comet Hartley 2 braving, essentially, an outer space ice storm and sending back pictures of chunks of ice on the comet surface.  I'm sure there are smarter people than I who have already thought of these, but I really don't see a lack of water discussed in literature. 

In my draft novel, LEGACY SOLDIER:  HYBRIDS DEPLOYED, I did touch on some of these.  Humans populate Earth, Moon colonies, Mars colonies, and Orbital habitats.  As a result, the other human species refer to residents of our system as EMMOs.  Good thing I didn't say Lunar colonies or we'd be ELMOs.  Anyway, I hint that the primary industry on Earth at that time is agriculture.  Despite all the advances in ag tech, Earth is still the best place for growing crops.  Maybe a legal argument about rights to the water on Earth (protagonist's adoptive father is a lawyer, so I could sneak that in without slowing the rest of the story).

And, just for fun, here's another link to the 10 Ten Space Foods.  I almost laughed out loud when I saw Antimatteron the list.

Finally, another possible topic for deep space is protein.  Would living in space require everybody to turn vegan?  Colonies have livestock, but what about orbital habitats?  I would think that, even in the future, pre-packaged meats, dehydrated meats and the like could still have an expiration date or issues with packaging.  Consider exploring these and

Write On

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Holiday Shopping

In a blog there's really no such this as "off-topic" but since this blog is focused on writing this is a bit off of THAT topic.

I just got a piece of financial good news this weekend.  Although it was no surprise, the envelope from Toyota containing the title to our minivan was a great reminder of a 4-year debt that is now gone.  It is such a great feeling to go forward with the ability to put a few hundred dollars each month into something else - like savings.

The title couldn't have come at a better time.  This is Thanksgiving weekend, possibly the biggest shopping weekends of the year.  Financial experts like Clark Howard and Dave Ramsey strongly recommend using cash whenever possible.  But if you must use a credit card, make sure you save the receipts, not just for returns, but to keep track of what you're spending. 

Remember, when you get those credit card statements next month.  You don't want to replace the traditional 3-word phrases meant for the season like "I love you," and "Merry Christmas all" with "WHAT THE F***!"

And when you get a little break from shopping,

Write On.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Shopping for E-Book Readers

I picked up the paper today.  I usually don't but I was curious about the Black Friday ads in the Thanksgiving Day paper.  If you really want my opinion, I'd call it Gray Friday since more stores aren't waiting for Friday.  Some already began some sales.  Wal-Mart started doorbuster sales Thanksgiving night at 10 pm.  But that's not the point. 

If I was going to hazard a guess, I'd have to say that retailers are looking at E-book readers as one of the big sellers this year since e-book readers were probably the most common thing on the front of the ads.  Examples?  Kohls selling Literati for $99, Best Buy selling Nooks  for $99, CVS Pharmacy had an e-book reader for $98.88.  Radio Shack had a PanDigital e-book reader for $149.99.  There were more, but these were just some examples on the first pages of some of the ads.

One of the other things that surprised me is the number of different e-book readers on the market.  While the Amazon Kindle is the best known, followed by the Barnes & Noble Nook, and Apple iPad.  There are quite a few others.  Just for a little perspective, I conducted a quick Internet search on e-book readers and found an article on C/Net rating 75 different models.  Of course there were many variations of the same brand.  It basically came down to the following list of 19.

Astak EZ Reader
Amazon Kindle
Barnes and Noble Nook
Sony Reader
Entourage Edge
Apple iPad
Alex eReader
Kobo eReader
Pandigital Novel
Cool-er e-book
Sony PRS-500 Portable Reader System
Franklin eBookman
RCA REB1100 eBook
Aluratek LIBRE
The Sharper Image Literati Digital Reader
ViewSonic VEB620
Ectaco jetBook
entourage eDGe
For additional research, I also found some information on Wikipedia comparing, but not rating e-book readers.  It does provide information based on features.

Enjoy your leftovers and

Write On

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Thanksgiving Drabble

Just another drabble for fun.  Hope everybody has a Happy Thanksgiving

Mike:  It’s not fair.
Steve:  What?
Mike: Why do I have to be eaten?
Steve:  You’re a turkey and it’s Thanksgiving.  It sucks but what can you do?
Mike:  That’s all you have to say? 
Steve:  Turkeys are symbolic for Thanksgiving dinner.
Mike:  So?  Rabbits are symbolic for Easter and people don’t kill them to celebrate!
Steve:  That’s different.  The Easter bunny brings colorful eggs to children.
Mike:  You want eggs?  Turkeys are birds!  We can do eggs.
Steve:  Filled with chocolate and candies?
Mike:  Bite me, dog.
Steve [smiling]:  I will, after you’re stuffed and cooked, preferably deep fried.

Lessons From Hint Fiction

In a recent thread on the Absolute Write Watercooler, one of the posters mentioned using hint fiction for a December blog chain.  I'd never heard of hint fiction, so I tried the link provided in the thread.  The first thing I noticed is a six-word story attributed to Ernest Hemingway, "For sale: baby shoes, never worn."

First, ask yourself what comes to mind?  Beyond what the story is supposed to imply, what does this mean for writers?  To me, this seems like a good example of showing vs. telling.  It doesn't give all the details, but it provides a visual and direction with which a reader can draw a conclusion.  Now place something like that in a larger story and a more specific explanation becomes more clear.

Recently, I've seen some debate over the "show vs. tell" debate, and I have to agree that sometimes it's just more practical to tell.  I don't think I've read anything that shows everything, but if you get a lot of feedback recommending you're telling and not showing enough, try using some hint fiction as an exercise.

Second, word count.  Setting a target early in the novel isn't bad, but that has to be flexible.  In the example from the article, those six words say so much.  It's a good example that writers should focus just writing the story.  Make it as long or as short as it needs to be to tell the entire story - no longer or shorter.

I've talked to other writers who discuss and post about how they've only got 70,000 words but they "need" 80,000 or 90,000 to get published.  Let's put this in perspective.  What is most likely to happen when you add 10,000 - 20,000 words just for word count.  That's a 15% - 30% increase.  Adding that much just to meet a word count is likely to result in a watered down story.

Most writers I've spoken with say their early drafts are longer than the finished product, and they end up actually reducing in the edits.  If a story starts with a low word count, that just might be the way it's meant to be.  Remember what Michelangelo said about creating David.   "It is easy.  I just chiseled away what was not needed--and there was the statue!" 

I'll go out on a limb here and suggest the author has a better chance of getting published with 70,000 quality words than forcing his/her way up to a specific level to meet a word target and risk sacrificing quality.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Publishing E-book Advantage and an Interesting Twist

As a writer-in-progress, I find it helpful to network, in person and online, with other writers (published and unpublished).  We've shared critiques, celebrated new sales, and given each other (well, they've given me) valuable information about the publishing industry. 

One thing I've leared is that a big obstacle for new writers isn't getting published, it's getting sales numbers.  Don't get me wrong, getting published is no easy task, but the more I see and hear, if you don't get in with one of the big publishers, you will find sales more difficult.  Why?  Price.  Books published through smaller presses have a higher cost per unit than large publishers who can print and distribute in greater volume for a much lower per-unit cost.  And that, of course, translates into lower prices to the consumer. 

Let's face facts.  All things being equal, would you pay $10 or more for one paperback when you can get another for about $8?  How about $25+ for a hard cover when you can find another book in the same genre for about $20 or less? 

Enter the great equalizer - E-books.  Here is the one place where it seems like the little guy can beat the big presses on price.  For example.  I did a quick look at ebooks on Amazon and found books like John Scalzi's Zoe's Tale (a book definitely on my favorites list) for $7.99 Kindle and paperback.  Another favorite, Jack Campbell's Lost Fleet series - Book 6 is $7.99 paperback and $6.99 Kindle.  However, I've talked to writers who went through small presses and are selling E-books for $4 or 5.  Some even less, just to get their sales numbers up.  They probably don't make much money at those prices, but it's a good strategy to start developing a fan base.

Some will probably say that just using Kindle comparisons is not giving the whole story.  That's probably true, but from what I've seen most big presses aren't giving much discount, so it opens more doors for the little guys.

Interestingly today, I learned  that Harper Collins has discontinued their e-book store.  There seems to be no explanation why, but it definitely brings up questions about why.  Personally, I don't take this as a negative sign on E-books.  They're still growing in popularity and as more e-readers come out, more E-books will be sold.

Good luck and
Write On

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Editing and Deleting 3

As I've already mentioned, sometimes a writer has to delete a section either because of a need to reduce word count or because it slowed the story/plot.  In some ways, the sections I'm going to post did a little of both.  My novel takes place several centuries in the future.  The main character is human, but one if his parents is from another world - a descendant of human colonists who left Earth centuries earlier, but ended up lost.  They eventually found a habitable world to colonize and called it Ganesha after the Hindu God of Success/Overcoming Obstacles.

I thought some readers might like a little on how their journey went, so I tested some early chapters with log entries from the colony ship.  The first entries were from the commanding officer, but I planned to add more from other colonists.  While my beta readers liked the idea, they said that it was a little distracting, so I removed the log entries.  Here are a couple of examples. 

Chapter 1 Log Entry:

Prometheus log, September 19, 2104.  As of 0717 hours ship time, we crossed the event horizon and into the FTL conduit, becoming the first Earth colony ship to travel faster than light.  The transition was rougher than expected.  For a few seconds, it felt like every inch of my body was being pulled apart.  I spent the last hour listening to several colonists’ theories of how and why.  That’s what happens with a ship full of geniuses.”
“There were some injuries reported by colonists, mostly bloody noses, headaches, and nausea.  Nothing the medical team couldn’t handle.  Despite that, everyone seems upbeat.  Initial projections show we should pass Pluto’s orbit and officially leave our solar system within two hours.  Captain Matthew Morris, commanding officer.”

Chapter 2 Log Entry:

Prometheus log, December 24, 2104.  After almost fourteen consecutive weeks in the FTL corridor, we finally emerged, but not where we expected.  Our navigator confirmed that somehow we ended up several thousand light years off course.  One of the physicists on board believes there may be an serious flaw in the design of the navigation system.  I have asked him to keep his theories to himself until we can run some diagnostics.  We are going to run a series of diagnostics on the system before we re-enter FTL. 
“This system has no planets capable of sustaining life, so we can’t even try to replenish any supplies.  We discussed stricter rationing of food and water as a precaution, but tomorrow is Christmas and I still plan to allow holiday parties for those who wish to participate.  Captain Matthew Morris, commanding officer.”

Chapter 3 Log Entry:

Prometheus log, December 31, 2104.  We re-entered the FTL corridor at 0900 hours, ship time.  I don’t know if I’ll ever get used to that transition.  With all the bickering going on between the crew and colony scientists about what went wrong, it’s a miracle I didn’t have to call security to separate them.  As much as I respect and appreciate the colonists’ input, their expertise is still theoretical.  This ship is a working machine even if it is a prototype.  Hopefully the worst is behind us though.  Best estimates place our new arrival time at three months from now.  Hopefully it will be springtime at our new home.”
“Captain Matthew Morris, Commanding Officer.”

Feel free to express your opinions and

Write On

Friday, November 19, 2010

Faster Than Light Travel

Editing, editing, and more editing.  It's more than just reading what you write down.  Sometimes it's double-checking facts and theories for plausibility.  I don't think this is the first time I've said this (and it won't be the last), but IMHO, modern science fiction readers are becoming more advanced in that they won't just "accept" space-age and futuristic tech that isn't at least grounded in current theories. 

One of the key technologies I had to research for my work-in-progress novel is faster-than-light travel, or FTL.  There are several theories, but it seems they all have a common theme - that you really don't "move" faster than light.  Physicists refer back to Einstein's theories that to physicially move an object faster than light would require unlimited energy.  So the most accepted theories FTL have to change the playing field for propulsion, but what I don't hear as much about is theories behind navigation.  I don't think we're ready to explain that.

One of the most widely recognized FTL terms comes from my favorite - Star Trek.  I'm talking of course about warp drive.  But how does it work?  Warp drive does just what it sounds like.  It contracts space in front of the ship, effectivley reducing the relative distance the ship must travel, while expanding space behind the ship.  The ship, sitting inside of a warp bubble basically rides the warp like surfing a wave.  I find it interesting that many articles use the surfing analogy.  While the aforementioned Star Trek is all but given credit for creating the idea of warp drive, credit for a currently scientific theory related to that technology goes to Mexican physicist Miguel Alcubierre.  His 1994 theories about warping space is best known as the Alcubierre metric.  The Alcubierre drive has been gaining popularity as scientifically plausible methods of FTL in science fiction.

Physicists like Gerald Cleaver and Richard Obousy have been researching string theory, which considers 10 spacial dimensions and that a warp field could exist by manipulating one of the six unidentifiable dimensions.  However, this way around Einstein's theory has the same pitfall.  The energy needed.  However, Cleaver and Obousy have theorized the possibility of manipulating.dark matter in the warping process.

That brings up the next theory - worm holes or artificial black holes.  Black holes have been used in literature and science fiction for decades, and

When I first read an article that CERN officials admitted that the Large Hadron Collider was shut down when a microscopic black hole was created during an experiment, I looked at the date and wondered if it was an April Fool's joke.  Guess not. While some in the scientific community probably found this frightening, theoretical physicists and science fiction fans probably looked at this as excellent new in that it could be considered one step closer to FTL technology.  That's great, as long as we don't get sucked into oblivion as a result of these experiments.

While all of these theories focus on the potential for "propulsion" very little is really discussed about navigation.  If we were to create FTL technology, the obvious first step would be to use unmanned vessels.  Send them out, say a couple of hours or days and then wait for hours or days to receive telemetry.  But with the nearest stars light years away, this would be the equivalent of using a sailboat across the Mississippi river to guage a person's ability to navigate that ship design across the Pacific and Atlantic Oceans and back (many, many times). 

In my draft novel, I do touch on this idea that testing the navigation could be as big a problem as creating FTL technology.  I use an idea that humans try colonizing outside of the solar system with a prototype FTL, but the navigational theories for long journeys are flawed.  As a result, the colony ships aren't heard from until centuries later when descendants of one colony ship return to Earth discretely looking for help.  And, for what it's worth, I use the particle collision/artificial black hole theory in my FTL tech.

For anyone researching that prefers more visual stimuli than reading article after article, I'd recommend looking for DVDs or replays of the fourth season of History Channel's series:  The Universe.  Episodes in that season included very insightful and entertaining discussions on Space Wars and Light Speed.

If you catch reruns.  You know what to do during the commercials.

Write On.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Antimatter Captured.

This was a cool article.  Scientists have created and captured antimatter.  It's not necessarily the creation, but the capture and manipulation that's so revolutionary.  According to the article, the first antimatter was actually created in 1955 by University of California, Berkeley physicists Emilio Segre and Owen Chamberlain.  They created antiprotons in an atom smasher.

In this study, physicists at the European Organization for Nuclear Research (CERN) in Geneva not only created antiprotons, but used them to form antihydrogen for about 1/6th of a second.

This type of research brings up questions about how antimatter could be used.  In Star Trek, starships used antimatter as an energy source, primarily for the warp drive and for weapons (photon torpedoes).  Although with current technology scientists probably couldn't create enough antimatter to launch anything much bigger than a bottle rocket (if that big), as research progresses they might find more efficient/effective ways to create antimatter.

In the meantime, it gives more scientific credibility to the use of anitmatter in science fiction writing and fuel dreams that we might see some type of practical application in our lifetime.

Until that happens,

Write On.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

AW Blog Chain Drabble: Into the Light

For NaNoWriMo month, members of the Absolute Write Watercooler decided to put together drabbles as part of the monthly blog chain.  My drabble is below and all links in the chain will follow it.

Into the Light

A light pierced the darkness that had held him.  It was too bright, but he couldn’t turn away as it called to him.  Then came the voices, muffled at first, but slowly becoming clearer and louder.  He couldn’t understand what they were saying, but knew they were calling him.  That it was his time.

Despite the comfort he’d felt in his life, he knew that was over.  It was time to surrender himself to those guiding him into the next life.

“Congratulations Mrs. Sanders.  It’s a boy,” the doctor said as he placed the newborn baby in his mother’s arms.

For other blog chain submissions, see the following:

Bettedra direct link to post.
FreshHell direct link to post
CScottMorris direct link to post
AuburnAssassin direct link to post
Aheila direct link to post
Bibbo direct link to post
Hilaryjacques direct link to post.
Orion_mk3 direct link to post
Proach direct link to post
jonbon.benjamin direct link to post
You Are Here
Madelein.Erwein http://madeleineirwen.blogspot.com/
PASeasholtz http://paseasholtz.com/

Monday, November 15, 2010

Star Trek Drabble

I was in a Trekkie mood, so I tossed together this drabble - exactly 100 words.

“Are you two still arguing about that damned test?”  McCoy asked entering the conference room while Kirk and Spock spoke.
“I would hardly call it arguing, Doctor,” Spock replied in almost monotone.  “I was reminding the captain that the purpose of the Kobyashi Maru scenario to test a commander’s character in dealing with the fear involved in a no-win scenario.”
“Spock, you aren’t qualified for that.” McCoy countered.  “How can somebody  with the emotional capacity of a tricorder be qualified to design a test to evaluate a person’s fear?”
“Why thank you, Doctor.”
McCoy shook his head.  “I give up.”

Preparing for the Shopping Season

By now almost everybody's seen/heard how some stores started their Black Friday shopping early.  Walmart and Sears will even be open Thanksgiving Day.  Well, ladies and gentlemen, in preparation for shopping season, I thought I'd just share this picture sent by a friend.  Here's someone who know how to market to target customers.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

TrekTrax Writing and Klingon Weapons

The first annual TrekTrax, Star Trek Convention in Atlanta is over President's Day weekend.  For details, you can go to the web site at http://www.trektrax.org/.  I registered over a month ago.

Aside from the main TV/movie guests, including Tim Russ (Tuvok), Barbara March (Lursa), and Gwynyth Walsh (Be'tor), there are several Star Trek authors attending.  Even better is that one of them, Ms. Diana Botsford, will be running a writing workshop where she will provide a critique of a one-page summary submitted.  Well, I'm not waiting.  I put together a one-page synopsis of LEGACY SOLDIER:  HYBRIDS DEPLOYED and emailed it today. 

Aside from that, I'm talking to some local Klingons to see if I can borrow some Klingon weapons - Bat'leth and Mek'leth.  If I have enough time, I plan to try to adapt my Tae Kwon Do school's bo and sword forms to the Bat'leth and Mek'leth respectively.  Maybe I'll even try to put on a weapons demo.

If I do that, I've got about 3 months to borrow the weapons, practice, get a Klingon costume, and

Write On.

Training With Martial Arts Weapons

I just got back from my Tae Kwon Do class and it was the most fun I've had in some time.  I can sum it up in two words.  WEAPONS CLASS!

In my Tae Kwon Do class, we use two main weapons up to Black Belt.  First is the escrima stick.  It's basically just that, a stick.  Easy to hold and strike with.  The other is the bo or staff (depending on what you want to call it.  The bo is typically about as tall as the user.  I'm about 6' and I have a 5'6" bo and a 6' bo.  I like the slightly shorter one.

Many of the teen/adult students are also part of the school's demo team.  They had a demo scheduled, so the class was a little smaller than usual.  But that was a good thing because we got in MORE practice with weapons, including an opportunity to spar with weapons.

Like practicing in any other aspect of martial arts, sparring with weapons is very different than practicing the fundamental techniques.  The three people I sparred with escrima and bo focussed too much on "textbook" techniques and didn't consider a comprehensive strategy.  Their strikes became pretty predictable as a result.  For example, rather than trying to strike with my weapon, I simply used it to push my opponent's weapon hand aside and then hit with a regular punch or kick.  I did a little of the same with the bo, trying to shove the other bo aside to create an opening so I could strike.

What does all of this have to do with writing though?  More than you might think.  For one thing, if you have your character go through weapon training, particular close-in combat, don't make the transition too easy.  Have them acknowledge the difference between form and fighting.  For other weapons, make sure they notice the difference between training in a controlled environment and actual combat.

I'd also say that modern science fiction readers are much pickier about details with technology and combat.  Readers aren't as willing to simply accept techonologies that blatantly ignore the laws of physics.  Same with weapons and combat.  Writers need to include some credibility in their tech and fighting.  Researching some technical theories is much easier today thanks to the Internet, but fighting tactics aren't quite as easy.  I suggest that if you don't have training that you should let somebody more knowledgable read your fight scenes for credibility.  I've critiqued some scenes in critique groups that bent body parts on completly unbelievable angles before moving to the next move. 

Another idea is to just try to act out the combat scene.  Anything to visualize what you do and then write it down.

Time for me to hit the showers and...

Write On.

Friday, November 12, 2010

Iron Man Mark 1/2 Armor

That's right, defense contractor Raytheon Sarcos in Salt Lake City has demonstrated, what could best be described as a prototype exo-skeleton.  In the video, the "pilot" performs a few feats of strength.  Punching through 3 inches of pine and doing pushups with heavy weight on the pilot's back (not including the weight of the skeleton.


A hightlight in the article, which probably explains the suit's more practical use, is that it gives its pilot 17 times more strength and could be used to lift heavy supplies.  I'd say that puts it more in line with Ripley's power loader from Aliens

Now, here's the real surprise.  The estimated cost will be only $150K.  I think Tony Stark paid a bit more for his.

Flying Car

My first thought when I noticed this article about a missionary building a flying car was, I know people conduct missionary work to get closer to God, but not like this.

Apparently this it the real thing.  As a car, it looks a bit more like an off-road vehicle with a 200+ horsepower engine.  I'm no expert, but it looks like it has a parasail on it.  Once deployed this vehicle can cruise as 40mph in the air.

Check the video


Thursday, November 11, 2010

Politics as Usual

I don't think I should have to post a link for this given it's being discussed by every major (and probably most minor) news sources that President Obama's considering a compromise to extend tax cuts President Bush gave to those making more than $250K/year.

Let me make one thing clear.  I'm not going to speak for or against the decision.  If I'm going to post something political, I'm going to try and focus on key facts.  Here are some.

No surprise, Democratic activists aren't happy.  But the gains sent by the Republicans sent a clear message to President Obama that the people (at least those who voted) aren't satisfied.

One thing to consider is that regardless of which party the President comes from, while in office, he/she is the president that both (or all) parties must answer to.  On the other side of that coin, the President must listen to the wants and wills of all parties.  If that means compromising, that's just what he's got to do.  Even if he and his core followers want.

Only time (and the next election) will tell if it's the right decision.

What do you think?

Optical Illusion?

Sorry believers, but the a defense expert is insisting that the mysterious plume in  CA was just an airplane contrail and that it was actually heading towards the camera. The appearance of it going up was just an optical illusion.


That wouldn't be a big surprise, but there are probably still people who believe that's not the whole story.

What do you think?

Share and Write On.

Veterans Day

If you get a chance today, stop for a moment and give thanks to those who have served or are serving at home and abroad.

For those serving abroad, hoping for their safe return.

Thank You and Write On

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Choose Your Weapon

One of the fun things about science fiction and fantasy is the action and battle scenes.  So I wanted to take some time to talk about weapons.  Not big "weapon systems" like you'd find on starships or vehicles.  Let's get down in the trenches with hand-held weaponry.  What do you like to see/read about?

Lasers have probably been in science fiction about as long as we've had science fiction.  Yes, as a child, I sometimes played with a flashlight like it was a laser, so there. 

For those who don't like the sometimes unlimited "ammunition" of lasers, you have a variety of projectile weapons modeled from handguns, rifles, machine guns.  All requiring convenient and realistic needs to be reloaded (unless the character firing is Rambo).

Then there are the weapons used in various ways both in fantasy and science fiction. 
Let's start with the sword.  This is possibly the most popular weapon - even moreso than the laser.  And to be honest, I'm over swords.  If they've got any killing power, they're big, bulky, and heavy.  Definitely not discrete, so there's little surprise if/when somebody draws one.

Even a perfectly balanced sword isn't balanced at the handle, so the weilder's going to get tired swinging that thing around.  I know because in my Tae Kwon Do class, I practice with a demostration version of a Chinese broad sword.  Going through a sword form/kata a few times always leave my arm/wrist tired and sore.

I will say that the coolest examples/demos I've seen with swords was done on Spike TV's show The Deadliest Warrior.  Watching the carnage on gel torsos, pig carcasses, and the guy using a claymore sword (like William Wallace used) to slice 3 heads off neckbones with one swing was pretty cool.  However, my favorite sword was the twin hooks sword used by Shaolin Monks.  Hook-shaped swords with crescent bladed handles and even a short blade/spike at the opposite end.  They could not only disarm an opponent, but hooked together could create a 12 foot (4 meter) diameter killing zone.  Very cool.

While Star Wars made light sabers/laser swords more popular than ever in movies, I don't think that really helps literature.  It seems that most sci-fi readers like more plausibility in their tech and there isn't even a theoretical way to make light stop at a pre-determined distance, much less clash with another like a solid object.

One of my favorite science fiction swords would have to go to the Klingons for the Bat'leth.  Crescent shaped, two handled sword give better balance and better defensibility than straight handled swords. 

Enough about swords.  Let's move on to other weapons.  We can definitely be thankful to the different forms of martial arts that helped to give us a variety of killing and battling instruments.  One popular weapon, also in science fiction/fantasy, is the bo/staff.  Darth Maul's light saber was really a light staff  (until Obi Wan cut it in two).  Two edges of fighting power that may not be as obviously deadly as a sword in the real world, but should never be underestimated.  In the sci-fi universe though a bo can be just as deadly as a sword as Qui Gong Gin learned in Star Wars Episode I.

Whips.  Anybody see Iron Man 2?  Read the comic?  Enough said I guess.  If Whiplash wins the prize for coolest science fiction whip, I'd give an honorable mention to the Ferengi when they were introduced in Star Trek: The Next Generation.  Weapon of choice?  Energy-firing whips, but I'll bet they would also pack a mean slap close-in also.  Unfortunately, the Ferengi whips were seldom shown, preferring instead to go to the typical hand phasers.  Oh well, innovations don't always last.

It seems like size does matter in weapons.  I'd say the most common shorter weapon is a dagger.  They're used ceremonially and as easily concealed sidearms.  But what about other weapons?  Kamas are short-handled weapons with a half-crescent shaped blade at one end.  Like other martial arts weapons, the kamas weren't originally made as weapons (as I understand at least).  They were farm instruments.  But, there portability and killing potential made them excellent weapons.  Since in science fiction, most farming would probably be done mechanically (except in some post-apocalyptic stories), kamas may not have much use/visibility, but I'm surprised I don't read more about them in fantasy.

Since this post is getting longer than I really intended, let me skip to my personal favorite for weapons.  The tonfa.  Police nightsticks were based on the tonfa.  The best explanation I've gotten for the origination of the tonfa was that it was a removeable handle for millstones.  I was introduced to the tonfa in an early martial arts class.  What I like about tonfas is their felxibility in combat.  The long part of the shaft should extend just longer than the wielder's elbow, protecting the entire forearm.  The other end extends several inches past the hand.  This makes the tonfa excellent for blocking and striking.  The short end extends the weilder's punch and the perpendicular handle allows the long shaft to be swung around for more striking.  Even the handle can be a weapon.  It's wider than the hand and can injure or kill with a ridge hand to an opponent's temple.

The style was Shorin-Ryu and the first weapon we used was the tonfa.  In some ways, once you learn basic blocks and punches/strikes, you're ready to try basic tonfa tactics.  It strengthens basic blocks and adds range/power to a variety of strikes.  A couple of cool tonfa weapons I've seen in sci-fi/fantasy?  One of the coolest was the zombie guy from the first Hellboy movie.  He actually used a tonfa-sword, but I give points for getting away from the conventional sword shaped.  Honorable mention goes to one Star Wars book.  Sorry I didn't read it and don't know the title, but on the cover were two Jedi.  One had a tonfa-style light sabre.  How the Jedi used that without burning her own arm off with the blade is beyond me, but kudos for the innovation.

In my draft novel, LEGACY SOLDIER:  HYBRIDS RELEASED, I created a sidearm for the heros based on the tonfa.  I call it the Tonfa Blaster, or TB for short.  The long end is charged for close-in combat.  The shaft is also pressure sensitive.  The harder the wielder hits, the more energy is discharged.  While the handle "grounds" the user, an adversary had better avoid contact.  Soft contact will stun, but a hard blow will remove body parts.  I'd say this weapon has plausibility and it gives me an answer for readers who'd like something that could approximate a light-sabre type duel. 

Swing around and the short end is the firing side.  With a trigger on the handle, the weapon could fire energy or plasma blasts at an enemy.  There may be some plausibility issues here, but there are some "givens" in science fiction that are still pretty well acceptable.

Got a favorite weapon in literature?  Share it.

Until then.  Write On.

Saturday, November 6, 2010

Good tool for self-editing

Write, re-write.  Read and re-write it again.  How often to writers hear that advice?  But here's one problem.  Since the writer knows what the entire novel's supposed to say, he/she can't always see some of the shortcomings.  One way to get around this is don't look at the book, listen to it.  There are a number of text-to-speech programs a writer can use. 

I've used a free downloadable version of Ultra Hal (from Zabaware).  Yes, it sounds like a B or C rated superhero, but it's actually been helpful in finding things that just didn't sound right when I'm not looking at the screen.  It's definitely a useful tool for self-editing.

Good luck and Write On.

Friday, November 5, 2010

Weird Drabble

In honor of Nano month, I'm participating in a blogging chain with others in the Absolute Write Watercooler.  Each of us will include a short-short (drabble).  I developed one for when my turn comes, but also came up with the following.  Think of it as making fun of all those chosen one quest stories.  You can turn almost anything into one of those.

He prepared me to near perfection.  Brought resources and devoted his time.  Some would say I should have been grateful, but that wasn’t my way.  I waited for my time.  When it came, he sent me on my journey.  
It was difficult.  I felt torn apart as I descended into darkness.  The sounds of the world disappeared and I began my mission.  My strength flowed from me and into the darkness, re-energizing the life around me.  Then I felt myself transforming for the final part of my journey.
And when it was over and I left the darkness.  He flushed.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

"*ly" Like A Rug

A little over a year ago, I attended a writer training at work to improve our formal report writing processes.  Lucky for me the instructor was a former science fiction writer.  Of all the things he said, one stuck out more than anything.  It was a comment about unnecessary/vague modifiers.  In particular, the word "very."  How often do you say something's "very fast?"  How about someone you know is "very smart?"  It seems all right in casual conversation, but in literature it's just taking up page space without adding "very" much.  In fact, the instructor recommended that we should just replace every "very" with "damn."  So now, something's "damn fast" and that person you know is "damn smart."

It seems the same can be said for lots of adverbs.  "

Not long ago, thanks to the critters.org RFDR process, I received a finalized critique of my draft novel, Legacy Soldier:  Hybrids Deployed (working title).  One thing stuck with me.  Or should I say one word - "slightly." 

I wanted to include some descriptor/modifying to add something not realizing I wound up grossly overusing the adverb.  Thank goodness for Word's Find/Replace feature.  It only took a few minutes to go through and locate every "slightly" to eiter delete as unecessary or revise the sentence to better convey what I wanted it to say.  In most cases, the delete button came in very handy.

Monday, I started looking at feedback from another volunteer critiquer and I couldn't believe it, but he found another pesky adverb in Chapter 1 - "quickly."  How often do we do things quickly?  In my draft, quite a bit actually.  Needless to say, I pulled up my faithful friend Find/Replace and began to wear down my Delete key even more.

What's the result?  No loss of real content and, hopefully, something that flows a little smoother.  But that's for an agent and publisher to decide.  In the meantime, I'm going to hunt for some more unnecessary adverbs.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Editing and Deleting Part 2

Below, I'm including the rest of the deleted prologue.  A key point in the prologue was to highlight the fact that the baby was conscious and able to communicate with his mother telepathically while still in the womb.

Keep in mind that I refer to the main character as "the baby" because he hasn't been named yet.  I had originally started with a name his birth mother intended for him, but deleted that reference because some thought it was too confusing.

How much longer do I have to stay here?  The baby thought lying in his clear, plastic hospital bed, which was more like a box with no lid.  The bright lights, noises, and cold air no longer bothered him, but he deeply missed his mother’s presence.  Her voice and thoughts comforted him.  Now he felt disconnected from everything – completely alone. 
He recalled memories his mother had unknowingly shared over the past months.  After she decided to keep him, she looked at different formulas promising herself, nobody’s ever going to bite down on my tits again.  As their ability to communicate progressed and their bond formed, she began to reconsider nursing him.  He had wondered what it would be like to taste.  Unfortunately, some of the women caring for him did not really feed him.  They simply hooked the bottle to a small machine that forced the formula through a tube running into his nose and down his throat - a very uncomfortable experience.  Fortunately, some of the hospital employees showed him more compassion.  They sat with him, fed him, and one or two even sang to him.  He listened to their songs of sorrow over his recent loss.
“Poor thing,” one said picking him up for an evening feeding.  “All of the others have parents come to see them while they’re here.  Someone to say they’re loved, but not you.  Well, as long as you’re here, I’ll be your friend.”  Her voice was soft and soothing and she had a tone that reminded him of his mother.  Despite the affection she showed, the baby refused to cooperate.  He did not trust this woman.  The only person he trusted was his mother, but he had lost her.
He needed desperately to communicate with someone, but he had not learned how to use his body for anything more than sucking from a bottle and other bodily functions.  The latter were still automatic, unfortunately.  Listening to the words of others without their thoughts was no way to build trust in Trevor’s opinion.  He missed his mother and the comfort of her womb where such foreign and uncomfortable actions were not necessary.
Why can’t I hear others?  Why can’t they hear me?  He thought, referring to the mental communication he shared with his mother, and then he remembered what his mother said before they were separated.  She did not know if their telepathic bond would remain.  The child believed that they would, not only because of their bond, but because he heard one of her attackers, so he knew he could hear thoughts other than his mother’s.  For a moment, he touched another mind.  Now he needed to know how he did it. 
If I can control that, People can’t hurt me like they hurt Mommy.  He remembered things his mother said and thought.  She was always afraid others would come for her.  He did not know which scared her more, fear for her own life, or fear for the baby – fear for him. 
Those fears came from memories of his birth father.  Through his mother’s eyes, he had seen the man point a weapon at her.  He felt her fear and he relived it in her nightmares.  He hated the man for the pain and fear his mother went through.  He promised himself never to consider that man his father.
He did not know how long he had been in the NICU when he received a new visitor.  An older woman approached and picked him up.  The brown-haired woman holding him had grey lines in her hair and wore a medium-length skirt and blouse that told the child she was not a doctor or nurse.  So who was she?  He continued struggling.
“Well, aren’t you just beautiful,” she said to him before turning to another woman wearing medical scrubs and a long white coat.  “When do you expect to discharge the baby, doctor?”
“Hopefully in a couple of days,” the doctor replied.  “He was born slightly premature under traumatic conditions.  At first, he seemed to have difficulties eating.  We have to make certain he can take in enough nourishment on his own before discharging him.”
“Are there any long-term problems I should know about?” the woman asked.  “I have a couple ready to adopt him already lined up, but they will need to know about any health risks.”
“All things considered, he’s in good health,” the doctor said.  “He seems very aware of his surroundings and curious.  Some of the nurses have said he watches them and tries to make eye contact more than other infants.”
Well at least they notice I’m paying attention, he thought.  However, “curious” would not have been the term he used.  He was suspicious of anybody who interacted with him.  Why not?  I’ve got no reason to trust them.
“The couple at the top of the list wanted to know if the baby has a name,” the woman said returning him to his bed.
“No,” the doctor said.  “The mother passed away just after he was born, so she did not have a chance to name him.”
Mommy called me Trevor…Trevor Masters!  
“Could I bring them to see him tomorrow?”
“I suppose.  We’ll have to arrange for the visitation, but I think you can work that our with the hospital administration.  If they come at 4 or 6, the nurses might let them feed him.”
“I’m sure they’ll be thrilled,” the woman looked down smiling and lightly touched his cheek one more time leaving.  “You are just beautiful.  I’m sure they’ll love you.”
Who?  What couple?

The baby had no sense of time since losing his mother.  The closest reference he had were feedings and changings, but it was easy to lose track, so he did not know how much time had passed when the old woman returned with two more people – a man with thinning hair dressed in a business suit and a woman with long, red hair wearing a light blue blouse and navy skirt.  As the woman leaned over, a tear fell from her cheek onto the baby’s.
“I’m sorry,” she said, slightly choked up.  She looked to the man and other woman.  “He’s beautiful.”
“And observant, Mrs. Taylor,” the other woman said.
“Ms. Stevens, I’ve told you to please call me Angie,” the red haired woman said.  “Can I hold him?”
An attending nurse nodded and he watched Angie Taylor reached in and lift him.
 “Hello precious,” Angie said cradling him in her arms.  “Would you like to come home with me?
Who are you? he wondered, staring at her nervously.  You aren’t a nurse or doctor. 
 Swaying gently, she turned to her husband, “Ted, he looks like my grandfather.”
Ted’s eyes moved from his wife to the child she held, tilting his head with a wrinkled brow.
“Take my word for it sweetheart,” she said.  Then she looked down to the baby and whispered, “Don’t worry sweetie, Daddy’s only seen pictures of Grandpa Mark.”
Daddy? the baby thought.  His mother had warned him about someone called that.
“Can I ask what name you were thinking of?” Ms. Stevens asked.
Angie leaned over to her husband and whispered something in his ear.  Ted looked surprised as he pulled back.  “That’s not what we talked about,” he said.  “Are you sure?”
Angie’s lips turned pouty as she raised the baby up to gently press his cheek against hers, “Twust me Daddy,” she said in a baby-voice.  “He’s the spitting image.”
“All right then.”
Angie lowered the baby, cradling him against her ample bosom.  Her eyes fixed on his. “Marcus,” she said.  “Marcus Ulysses Taylor.”
But Mommy called me Trevor, he thought and started screaming.
Angie bounced him lightly making a shushing sound.  Ted approached and said, “Let me try.”
“Are you sure, he seems a little grumpy,” Angie replied.
“Trial by fire,” Ted said smiling.  “It’s not going to get easier.”
She passed him over to Ted, who held the newborn a little clumsy at first, but after a slight hand adjustment looked more comfortable.
“Go ahead, kiddo,” he said.  “Believe it or not, I know how you feel.” I was adopted as an infant, too, so I really do understand what you’ll go through.  You’ll never be anything less than my son.
The cries stopped as this voice echoed in the baby’s mind, the first voice he had sensed since his mother’s death.  Despite her fear of a man called Daddy, the baby found the strange man’s voice soothing, trustworthy.
“It seems like you’re a natural,” a nurse said.
“I guess so,” Ted replied.
Trevor thought about his promise to his mother.  Daddy scared you, but this man isn’t the same.  I won’t forget you.
“Angie, when the baby is discharged from care, we can arrange for you and Ted to care for him as foster parents,” Mrs. Stevens explained.
“How long will that take?”  Angie asked.
“I don’t know for certain.  The authorities are searching for any other family.  If none are found, we can move forward with adoption proceedings.”
“What do you think, buddy?” Ted asked looking at the baby.  “Would you like to come home with us?”
 “Look,” Angie said sweetly.  “He’s smiling.”
“That’s not really a smile,” the nurse said.  “I’ve seen that look before.  He’s straining.”
“Straining to what?” Ted asked.  Sniffing the air, he did not need a response.