Category Archives: Take a Break!

My Novel Needs a Machete

Today is day three of my editing binge, and things are going…okay. When I took a long, hard look at my completed beat sheet, I discovered that the last third or so of my novel really isn’t that great. In fact, it’s almost tangibly worse than the first two thirds, so bad that I don’t think there’s anything for it but to strip it entirely and write in new stuff from scratch.

So I’ve come to accept that. To make a novel, you’ve got to break a few paragraphs. Gamely, I laid into trying to figure out what I wanted to actually have as my ending – there’s no time for shortcuts, like in my first draft. I need to know exactly what to put in there if I don’t want to have to do this again, and I don’t want to have to do this again.

What I’ve been discovering is that I took a heck of a lot of shortcuts my first time through. The whole “no plot, no problem” philosophy of NaNoWriMo is great as far as it goes, but it has definite problems – even when I knew that things weren’t working out, I still plowed ahead just to get the words on the page. Well, I’m not a complete neophyte anymore. I should’ve taken the extra time to look things over and actually decide how I wanted to proceed, maybe even discuss them with some other folks.

Well, lessons learned from next time. I’m still confident that I can make Fugitives from Earth, if not great, at least satisfactory. It’s my first time, after all – better to make the mistakes now.

Ah, time for some links:

  • Mars500 Mission Reaches the Red Planet
  • The brave folks of the Mars500 mission have locked themselves in a completely isolated “spaceship” in Moscow, where they will remain for about 500 days before “returning to Earth.” This was in 2010; just today they reached Martian orbit, and the lander with half the crew aboard is headed toward the Martian surface. Fun stuff – for more info, check out @mars500 on Twitter
  • Genetic Algorithm Car Evolution
  • This is possibly the most awesome thing I’ve seen in awhile. Starting with a random polygon and some wheels, this Flash program learns how to make the optimum car for any of several tracks using an evolutionary process. The cars that make it the furthest the fastest will “interbreed,” and the ones that don’t make it so far will “die out.” Add in a dash of mutation, and you have a surprisingly engaging demonstration of evolutionary processes.

I Have Built a Civilization

This is a little worldbuilding exercise for a roleplaying game I’m running next week. Worldbuilding tends to be my favorite part of planning stories, and it’s so easy to get caught up in placing all of the little pieces on my imaginary map that I strictly limit how much I let myself do. Being able to cut loose for a few days has been tremendously enjoyable.

This is incomplete and subject to change, but I felt like sharing it because I rather like how it turned out. There are also a few things that I would probably change if it wasn’t an RPG setting, but whatever. Bonus points if you can figure out which historical civilization it’s based on.

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A Couple of Very Reasonable Books

As promised, I finished Mission of Gravity. You know how in old Warner Brother’s cartoons, Wile E. Coyote would fly off the edge of a cliff, keep running, and then suddenly realize that there was no ground beneath him? It was kind of like that. I was literally halfway through the first paragraph of the author’s bio when I realized that the story was over, and I had to flip back a page or two to see where it had actually ended. Turns out I missed it because it never happened.

I’m not sure if it’s a “written in the 1950’s” thing, or the author trying to make sort of point, or what, but the story doesn’t so much “end” as “stop”. The entire plot of the book is that humans are largely unable to survive on the high-gravity world of Mesklin, and require the services of the natives in order to retrieve scientific data from a crashed rocket. Throughout the story, there were two big promises to the reader that kept getting made over and over again:

1) We were going to find out whether the rocket still existed, and whether it was worth the arduous trip to retrieve it and its data.
2) The main Mesklinite character is planning some sort of betrayal of the human characters.

That betrayal actually happens, but the humans reasonably realize that they need the Mesklinites help, and the Mesklinite request is so reasonable (education in basic science; they’re a medieval society) that the scene is almost over before it starts. Their request is granted; end of subplot. Reasonable. Not exciting.

As for the main plot, everything seems to be building up for a climax. After a difficult, painful journey by land and sea halfway across the planet, the rocket is finally in sight. Special care has to be taken in getting the data out because of the high gravity, but things seem to be going well. The end. Seriously. It’s implied that the data is safe and will be useful for the humans, but come on. Throw in a couple more pages of payoff. I was seriously disappointed, especially since the setting was interesting and the plot actually had some decent stakes. Then the ending just throws it all down the toilet.

The other book I’ve been “reading” (I actually listened to it in podcast form) is Captain’s Share by Nathan Lowell. It’s the story of a brand new merchant captain being assigned to the worst ship in his fleet, and his efforts to reform its crew. Although it’s pretty soft as science fiction goes, it had a pretty detailed look at the way that commercial space travel would work in its setting. I’m of two minds regarding the story – on the one hand, Lowell has an interesting writing style and gives great voice to his characters, but on the other hand, the novel had no plot.

Seriously. Characters move around and change, but there’s no narrative arc, no climax, no rising action even. It’s all just beginning with part of a middle but no end. Even worse, the characters, though interesting, were altogether way too reasonable (detecting a theme yet?). Captain Wong marches in, sees the sorry state his ship and crew are in, takes steps to fix it, and all of his steps work. By the end of the book his crew loves him and each other, and his ship is making lots of money. Ta da!

Which is too bad, because I enjoyed the book overall. You might even say that I enjoyed it in spite of its demonstrable faults, and in spite of them I’m not going to call it a bad book. After all, it entertained me, right? It entertained me enough to want to go back to the first book in the series, for that matter. I just wish that there was a little less sugar and a little more meat to the story.

Oh, and I read the young adult novel The City of Ember in about two hours. Not bad, fun setting, but it’s no The Hunger Games. The people were more reasonable, though.

Space, Our Destiny

Today at work I listened to an older episode of the excellent podcast Dr. Kiki’s Science Hour: “Marsifest Destiny.” I stole that title for this post, obviously, because it’s awesome. And the podcast was pretty awesome as well, featuring guest Dr. Robert Zubrin, author of The Case for Mars and founder of The Mars Society. In fact I had read parts of his book while doing research for Fugitives from Earth*, but I didn’t really know anything about him until I heard him speak.

Now he is my hero.

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A Lot of Random Things

I’ve changed the title of my work-in-progress. It used to be The Atlas Question, which I liked because, um, it had the name of a spaceship that was notable in the story. Then I listened to an interesting podcast of the subject of so-called “mating plumage” (the title and cover art of a book), and realized that it wasn’t really that good of a title. Your title and your book’s cover are like little tiny posters for your story, and if you want people’s eyes to stop on your book, then both had better be good.

Of course, I can’t control my book’s cover art unless I self-publish, and I can’t afford to spend hours doodling about on the title yet, but for now I have decided on a replacement that I like better, if not completely: Fugitives from Earth. It kind of sounds like an episode of The Outer Limits or a short story from the mid-1950s, but it’s more descriptive and at least raises a small question – if someone was banished from Earth, where would they go?

I also have a catchy little banner ad for it, right after the jump.

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