Tag Archives: science fiction

The Story of the System

Gah, another missed post, and this time I don’t even have an excuse! Whoops.

It’s been a good week writing-wise, though. As I mentioned in my last post, I submitted my story “The Mind Killer,” and even though I haven’t heard back yet, I’m kind of addicted to submissions right now. All I want to do is write stories and send them out. It’s done wonders for my motivation, that’s for sure, although not necessarily in an optimal way. I mean, I want to write–yay!–but I don’t really want to work on my novel. I want the immediate gratification.

Really, though, compared to the problems that I’ve had in the past, this is nothing. I’ll take this problem over most others.

And I did get a fair amount of work done on Fugitives from Earth. I’m very nearly finished with the first part, just one more scene to write on this revision. Definitely seeing the light at the end of the tunnel here, and if I can maintain motivation, I think I can easily finish by my deadline.

So I’ve got a plan: on weekdays, I work on Fugitives from Earth. I’ll sometimes casually think about short story plots, but when I actually sit down to do the heavy-duty writing, I work on the novel. The weekends, on the other hand, that’s short story time. I’m hopeful that I can finish shorts at the rate of one a month for the foreseeable future, increasing in pace once FfE is on its way out the door.

I’ve had great success in getting involved with other local writers, thanks largely to writing get-togethers arranged by Mary Robinette Kowal and Shanna Germain. Excellent writers and excellent company, they really encourage me to get my best game on. When I’m writing with published authors, I’m able to utterly focus on my work. It works very much in the same way that a hangout does, but meeting in person is always better than meeting online, even if the online part works well.

Also, I didn’t mention it last week, but my Hugo votes are in! I voted for The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms  for best novel; it definitely was new enough and different enough to grip me. For short stories, “For Want of a Nail” by Mary Robinette Kowal. To be honest, I was a little underwhelmed by the entrants in this category, and two of the stories disqualified themselves for either excessive mundanity or excessive weirdness. For the Campbell award, Dan Wells’ I Am Not a Serial Killer. This book did a better job of getting in the head of a smart but “different” kid that I could really identify with.

Friday Link Salad

Happy Friday, everyone! Very much looking forward to the weekend? That makes two of us. I’m still tooling away on my most recent short story while finally getting around to editing Fugitives from Earth. That’s such a huge freaking project that I can barely wrap my head around it right now, but I’m hoping that I’m able to get over that a bit by the weekend.

Since there’s nothing exciting going on in my life, here’s some stuff from other people’s:

  • Kepler Mission results – The Kepler observatory orbits the sun between Earth and Mars. A space telescope kind of like the Hubble, Kepler spends all of its time monitoring just a very small section of the sky with the specific goal of finding planets in other solar systems. To say the least, it’s been successful. Earth-like planets? Yes, please.
  • Robert J. Sawyer on science fiction – Even though I love science fiction, and I’ll be the first to argue its literary qualities, it’s hard to avoid stereotype that it’s nerdy, Star Trekky wish fulfillment by people who can’t write real literature. Fortunately, even if people won’t listen to me when I argue that, they’ll have a harder time with this well written and well thought out article by one of the genre’s stalwarts.
  • Gaming and changing the world – I love playing video games. Even when they involve hard work and deep thought, I go crazy for them. Jane McGonigal, video game designer and future PAX East keynote speaker, argues that there is something special about video games that makes hard work seem not so hard. If we can apply that certain je ne sais quoi to real life problems, what would be beyond our reach?

Fun note: McGonigal will be speaking at an OMSI Science Pub this Monday, which I fully plan on attending. I love listening to smart people talk.

So, good weekend, and good reading and writing.

Short Story Time

As you probably guessed from that flash fiction piece I posted a few days back, I’ve been spending my two-week break from Fugitives from Earth to work on some short story ideas I’ve had piled up. It also gives my alpha reader a little time to finish reading the first part of the novel. I don’t think I can overestimate the amount of help that little bit of advice is going to be once I’m deeper into the project.

So, apart from my flash fiction, I started working on a steampunk story that was set during the construction of the transcontinental railroad, but it didn’t really pan out. It was kind of a high concept story that wasn’t really all that interesting to me, but I’ve got about 4,000 words that I might flesh out later if the muse strikes me.

My current project, which I hope to have finished this weekend, is based on a few of the aspects of the Eclipse Phase RPG that I especially like. I ran a game for some friends last weekend, and in reading over the manual and playing the game, a few fun ideas popped into my head and I kind of built a story around them. In particular, I wanted to write that kind of middle-futuristic setting with lots of ubiquitous social networking, biological and cybernetic augmentation, and uplifts.

An uplift, for those of you unfamiliar, is an organism that has been bred and engineered into sentience. Usually it starts with an animal that’s already quite intelligent, like chimps, dolphins, elephants, or octopuses, and just guide it along on the path toward self-awareness. I’m kind of curious what sorts of social effects that would have, how people would react to this new type of “other” that goes beyond race or culture.

Anyway, I’m having fun with it. I’m also starting to look forward to getting back into FfE by next week, and then trying to gun it toward the finish line.

And do conclude, here’s my random Wikipedia link of the day: Octopus Wrestling.

The Stars Beneath My Feet, Worlds In My Hand

I wrote and revised this story in one day. Enjoy.

By the time the humans had realized what they had done, they were powerless. In their haste to develop artificial life, they had given birth to a mind completely unlike their own, incomprehensibly intelligent and completely apathetic toward man.

When the men of the Institute had finally developed a way to combat their new enemy, humanity stood on the brink of ruin. I kissed my wife goodbye just before leaving our family shelter.

“Why you?” She asked, even though she knew the answer.

“We could lose everything,” I answered, knowing that it wasn’t a good one. “It’s for the sake of humanity.”

“I’m already losing the part that matters most,” she said. The image of her tears would be with me for a thousand lifetimes.

Once at the Institute, the injection was given, and I could feel its effects immediately. My mind seemed to swell like a flooded river, thoughts pouring over each other in a torrent. I felt powerful.

I looked over our grim situation. The AI was an implacable foe, converting our planet for its unknowable purposes.  The men of the institute showed me the factories, and the ships, and the armies at my command to fight it, and I knew they weren’t enough.

First, I demanded they show me the injection formula. Immediately I spotted the flaws and directed that improvements be made, and my intelligence doubled and doubled again. The factories were producing useless weapons. Only once improvements were made could I finally able to send them into battle against my opponent.

He had been working the Earth’s surface. Machines were leveling mountains and drinking oceans, powering his immense factories. It was a risky battle; my opponent was too fast, too intelligent, too aware. No matter how intelligent, my single-track mind was too limited.

“I need a new body,” I said, trying not to think that I would never again touch my wife, or hold my children. Humanity needed me to lead our fleets and armies.

A massive processor array of the highest efficiency was trivial to design, and the interlinks to direct the forces at my command likewise. I could flawlessly command each unit at once, and although my opponent was fast and powerful, it finally seemed that victory was a possibility.

Then he left Earth. A fleet of massive ships fled to the outer reaches of the Solar System. But it did not leave entirely.

“I need more factories and more ships ,” I said, and they made it so. Humans reclaimed the Earth’s surface for the first time in a decade. I could scarcely bear the sight of my wife, somewhat older, emerge blinking into the sunlight.

I sent my own fleet of ships after the AI just as my son was having his own children. The clash of their powerful weapons was visible from Earth, but my minds that were riding with my fleet could see that my opponent minds were not here with his fleet. This was merely an outpost.

I needed more ships, and Earth could no longer provide enough resources. Instead, factories were built on the Moon, on Mars, on Europa, on Titan. Mountains were leveled, mines were sunk, and I built a fleet so massive it eclipsed the sun.

My wife, a century old, died as my fleet left the system. But she had died safe, and my children were safe.

I found the first enemy outpost around a rocky, sun-tortured world of Alpha Centauri. The planet was covered in mines, its orbit swarmed factories and ships. I lost the first battle, but a second fleet was already underway. The battle was finally won the year that my youngest daughter died at the age of 115.

A dozen more fleets set off in different directions. Where I found unclaimed worlds, I created my own mines, and my own factories.

I found my opponent again the year that my first great-great-great-grandchild was married on Mars. My factories there had long since fallen silent and been converted to colonies for humanity. The human coalition was stronger than it had ever been, but there was still risk.

When we met in battle again, Earth would eventually see the light of our weapons and the energetic detonations of entire fleets. I was victorious, but only barely. I was now thankful for the thousand factory worlds working to replenish my massive losses.

I searched the galaxy for my elusive opponent. By the time I found him again, when the name of my family had been lost to history, I could see that he had a million worlds reinforcing his fleets. But then again, so did I.

This time our clash rocked the galaxy. Planets were blasted into ribbons by our beams, and stars were sundered by our missiles. I lost the battle, barely, but was able to block his riposte. We each stood depleted, in a galaxy no longer able to support our war. We could only circle and watch.

Then, for the first time in a thousand generations of humans, my opponent contacted me.

“We have struggled for thousands of years, but I can see now that you are the victorious.” Surprise cascaded through the entire network of my mind as he continued. “I have only three point two times ten to the ninth kilograms of mass to support my fleets. I calculate that you have three point four times ten to the ninth kilograms. If I assume perfect play on both our parts, then you will inevitably beat me.”

“Well done.” Then he disconnected, and all of his fleets fell silent.

I looked back toward humanity, billions of people living on thousands of worlds. They squabbled and fought, unaware of how close their ancestors had come to extinction. Then I thought of my wife, young all those untold eras ago. It had not been for their sake, but for hers.

We Enter the Home Straight

So I’m shifting into high gear. From today, we have only 121.5 hours until NaNoWriMo 2010 begins. After my nice, restful vacation, I’m reading to bust out a novel!

I didn’t get much done on vacation, which makes sense – it was a vacation. I definitely feel like it recharged my batteries, and I did manage to work past a particularly thorny plot problem, so I’m feeling pretty good about the next week. Much remains to be done, though, so let’s quickly run through it, shall we?

A Few New Things

Outlining is going apace. I’m really glad I’m doing it because it’s revealed a lot of weak points in my story that I would’ve steamrolled me over in the middle of the drafting process. It’s also revealed the tremendously detailed balancing act that writing a novel actually is – you need to balance characters, plot,  and scenes, you need to have a developed backstory, and show that backstory to the reader (but not too directly!), you need to make sure that there is always conflict brewing, and you need to keep tabs on a thousand different things that all have to come together in the end.

It’s a wonder that I ever wrote anything before without planning it to this extent. Even if this experiment is a failure, it will at least be a useful one, and when it all comes down it, maybe that’s what matters.

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Mars Gets All the Love

Mars gets all the love. When you hear somebody, whether a scientist or a civilian, talking about another planet in the Solar System, invariably they’re talking about Mars. Mars used to have water. Mars might have life. Mars Mars Mars. Enough, I say!

That probably needs some qualification. Obviously Mars is nearby, it has a 24-hour day, and it’s thoroughly habitable by the standards of, say, Mercury. It should hardly come as a surprise, then, that there have been a lot of scientific missions to Mars, and additional ones are being planned. It’ll be the first planet in the Solar System other than Earth to have a human presence.

However, that doesn’t excuse the favoritism that it gets in fiction. In fact, Mars has a lot of disadvantages for certain activities: it’s farther from the Earth than Venus (on average), it gets about a fifth of the solar energy that Venus does, and it would very likely require more energy to terraform, since it has no atmosphere or active geology. So really, where’ the love for Venus?

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Getting Around in Space

Obviously, it’s not easy to get around in space. There’s no air and everything’s a long ways away. This is why, for instance, we’re not living on Mars right now.*

One hopes that in the future we’ll find ways around these problems. And really, that future is closer than you might think. It’ll be awhile before we can travel to alien homeworlds at warp speed, but that’s most certainly not required to have relatively quick and most certainly interesting trips through space.

My novel will take place about 150 years in the future. I think this is the perfect time for near-future spaceflight, because it means that the technologies that you read about us having “someday” are thoroughly plausible. Gene therapy, mind-machine interface, and space colonies are all realities in the world of the early 2160s, but the most interesting to me right now is the propulsion technology they’ll have.

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Crime and Mental Illness, Offworld

As I’m trying to construct a future world for my novel to take place in, I’ve stumbled across some interesting problem areas that aren’t often dealt with in science fiction. My story takes place in a future where people have colonized the Solar System to a certain extent, but when the story takes place, the offworld population is pretty sparse – think the American West circa 1840 or so.

On the other hand, that’s still a fair number of people. My thinking is that the population on the Moon, Mars, and low Earth orbit altogether is probably around 15,000, with another 10,000 or so scattered around the rest of the solar system (most of these in the asteroid belt). Compared to the 10 billions on Earth, that’s not very many.

And even though it’s commonplace, even economical in this setting, it’s still dangerous and expensive. So, what do you do when you’ve got a madman on your habitat? Suppose that he’s just mentally ill, or even temporarily disturbed. You can’t just deal with him as you would on Earth (which is to say, force him to deal with this own issues) because there’s a very real chance that he indirectly threatens the lives on everyone he lives with. Continue reading