Sunday, March 30, 2008

Putting Things In Perspective

Hit the play button (right facing triangle) above. Makes you feel very, very small, doesn't it?

A Brief Discussion of Genetics and Sci-Fi

Spartezda, one of my co-bloggers over on The Toasted Scimitar, has posted a couple of thought-provoking articles concerning genetics in Fantasy. You might want to take a peek:

This raises an important point for Sci-Fi (and my particular crossover-sub-genre, Sci Fi Rom). Even though you may write Fantasy, which includes non-scientific elements like magic spells and powers, there should be a genetic basis for character traits, or at least a logical genetic foundation for these traits. Genetics can create some wondeful premise ideas (as illustrated by the musings of those who commented on her articles, myself included).

I think this topic is even more important for Sci-Fi since even soft Sci-Fi should be based in part on science, or at least on applying liberal imagination to basic science. *smiles* Genetics is such a diverse, controversial and fascinating topic. It has potential far beyond the typical "breeding of a super race" and believe me, after years of trying to breed a Thoroughbred superhorse, I have received a very expensive education in the fickleness of genetics toward any such grandiose plans.

What excited me most is the concept of recessive genes in Sci-Fi or Fantasy. Instead of trying to produce a super-race, maybe someone would try to conceal specific genes linked to special powers or traits for several generations--perhaps to hide them from a repressive ruler or occupying force by outlawing the crossing of two individuals carrying the associated recessive genes--and then recreate them years, decades, or even centuries later through selective breeding of those still harboring these recessive traits in their genetic makeup. Hide in plain sight taken to a whole new level.

For me, genetics has always been a fascinating topic, and one not explored to it fullest value in either Sci-Fi or Fantasy. One of the amazing things about genetics is that there are so many variables involved in the outcome, no one can predict (at least at this point in time) what the sum of the total in the offspring of any two individuals might be. It's been proven that even so-called exact copies--clones--are not exact copies. Differences in external factors such as nutrition, temperature, etc. can make even genetic duplicates very different individual from the original. (The clone of champion barrel racer "Scamper" is a case in point. The clone didn't even have the same markings as the original Scamper.)

Friday, March 21, 2008

The Price of Technology

I've been reading recent accounts of the rather freaky tendencies of some of our technology to "go nova"--unexpected occurances of spontaneous combustion, sometimes while in use.

And that got me thinking... (because, you know, I'm a writer and almost everything gets me thinking along some plot line direction)

Why don't we see more of this in Science Fiction? Almost always the technology works perfectly. Where's the hiccups? Where's the planned obsolesense that happens right at a critical time? To put it in familiar terminology: Where's the lemons?

In Fantasy, there must always be a cost for having magical abilities, always a price to pay, a counter for every effect. Why isn't there more of this in Sci Fi? Why doesn't technology come with these twisty little trade-offs? The extent of troubles seem to involve damage from space battles and/or crashes, but what about the Apollo 13 factor? Maybe the ship just wasn't built right. Some unknown wiring problem in the tank stirrers could send your Xtanna Magnum Fighter into implosion mode just as the nasty Venturkion swarm has a lock on your ship. Those dang Xt contractors, cutting corners again!

Although Star Trek, Star Wars, Firefly and all the other major Sci-Fi institutions included various problems with the machinery from time-to-time, few dealt with a continuous on-going systems glitches, vessel recalls, or the fact that sometime on their five-year missions or repeated brushes with enemy fleets, their shiny, high-tech vessels just might--I dunno--need an oil change?

I must think more on this for some of my upcoming projects. Serenity's startling tendency to shed buffer panels should not be an isolated incident, it should be more the norm.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Have I Got a Surprise for You...

I have to thank co-blogger Sparky from Toasted Scimitar for putting me on the trail of this one. There is a Firefly (unofficial) fanfic novel by Steven Brust available on the web for free download. Yes, you heard me right. Free! And its offered in several formats including Word doc and Adobe pdf file. Steven Brust's home page says it was just released in February 08.

Being the monster Browncoat that I am, I had to post this link for all the Firefly fanatics out there who may not have yet heard of it.

I'm not offering a review at this time, as I've only had time to blaze through a couple of chapters, but I did feel the characters and dialogue very consistant with the original Joss Whedon creations. There are a few punctuation errors and the like, but nothing major (at least in the first couple of chapters). This novel has been released under creatives commons license, which states, in part, that you are free to "share, copy, display and perform" the work as long as the work is properly attributed (THANK YOU, STEVEN BRUST!!!), not used for commercial purposes and not altered, transformed or built upon.

So, here it is. Shiny! Keep flyin'.

My Own Kind of Freedom
A Firefly Novel by Steven Brust

Monday, March 17, 2008

My Wanderings on the Net

In doing research for my Sci-Fi Rom novels, I often come across some interesting articles. Here are a few from last week.

Astronauts...Boxers or Briefs (It's research. Really!)

Mars Groundwater

Spaceline Training

The End is...Far?

New Landmark...

3,000 hits

Gosh, didn't we hit 2,500 just the other day?
Thanks for setting your nav-sats for
Spacefreighters Lounge.
Have a Billins on the house.

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Military Ranks and Insignia (and Other Trivia)

I thought I'd share one of my often-referenced sites on military ranks, insignias and abbreviations (Army does their shorthand differently than the other branches). This also shows lateral reference, i.e. an Army captain is not the same as a Navy captain. In fact, all the Navy (and Coast Guard) ranks are different than the others. It includes warrant officers, as well. For enlisted ranks see: Enlisted Ensignia Link. You may want to print a copy for your permanent reference materials.

Here's a little tidbit. At the top of the page, you'll see a series of links for W1, W2...O3, O4, etc. These are designation for rank. For instance, if someone says, "He's an O4 (oh four), they mean he's a Lieutenant Colonel (or Commander if Navy or Coast Guard). E1, E2, E3, etc. are enlisted ranks. O1, O2, O3 are commissioned officer ranks. W1, W2, etc. indicated warrant officer ranks. Using this jargon is good detail if your novels involve members of the military.

More trivia. A "full bird" is a colonel and designates a higher rank than a lieutenant colonel, though both are informally called "colonel." ("Full bird" refers to the eagle rank insignia for colonel.) A butter bar is a 2nd Lieutenant (newly commissioned officer), so dubbed for the single gold bar rank insignia.

It's interesting that a major outranks a lieutenant, but a lieutenant general outranks a major general.

You've heard a group of Army members say "Huah!" (or Hooah or Hwa!) That stands for Heard, Understood, Acknowledged. (Army has an acronym for everything.) It's generally used as an exclamation of support or enthusiasm for a statement made. Used in a sarcastic tone, it can also have a different meaning. (Head Up A**)

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

The Trouble With Muses

*gives nod to Lisa Shearin for "borrowing" most of the title of her third Raine Benares series book (The Trouble With Demons, for the uninitiated.)*

So the IPs (my tag for my Indispensible Peers--Barbara, Dawn and Arlene) were having a chat about how our muses tend to ambush us with brilliant scenes or patches of dialogue in the worst possible places. Middle of the night? Oh yeah, all the time. Two spots that I always seem to get caught unprepared are in my car, whizzing along on my way to work, or in the shower, dripping wet and without a pad of paper and pen with waterproof ink in sight. It's almost like our muses enjoy playing these practical jokes. (Hark! Is that the sound of Muse cackling I hear?)

So while I was lamenting the infamous "car ambush" and "shower ambush" scenarios, Dawn came up with a real gem that I just have to share.

Shower ambush. Better than a toilet ambush.
"Hey honey," the husband says. "Why is there writing all over the toilet paper?"
"No, no, no. Don't use that. It's chapter 12."

ROFL! Oh yes, I can so relate.

OK, speaking of muses, my "article" muse seems to have taken a hike, but I promised some sci-fi related posts and I will be back later to get that done.

Stay tuned. :)

Monday, March 10, 2008

I, Moth

Sometimes amazing and scary things are dreamed up in the name of science. Take, for instance, the technology that in the near future may allow something as small as a moth (or bee, butterfly, or beetle) to carry video cameras for the purpose of surveillance.

Though the applications for real life are sobering, in a Big Brother sort of way, this is muse rocket fuel for writers of Sci-Fi.

See the link and article below from Switched for more info.

Tiny Camera Implants Turning Insects Into Spies
Posted Mar 9th 2008 9:02AM by Evan Shamoon

According to this week's New Scientist, the future of spying may rest in the hands (or legs) of insects and rodents. In an attempt to build the ultimate super(small)spy, moths, beetles, rats, pigeons and sharks have been installed with electrodes, batteries, and even video cameras. "[A moth] may look like an innocent visitor, irresistibly drawn to the light in your room, but it could actually be a spy -- one of a new generation of cyborg insects with implants wired into their nerves to allow remote control of their movement.

"These mechanized animals (read: cyborgs) have plenty of advantages over traditional robots. Sharks, moths and rats, for example, have an amazing sense of smell that allows them to detect the faintest traces of chemicals. And if humans can figure out how to hide the controls within the creature's bodies ... well, they would become perfect spy.

Man, the future is gonna be awesome(ly apocalyptic and scary).

Thursday, March 6, 2008

Take a Number: My Muse is in Hyperdrive

What I'm Reading: Jim Butcher's DEAD BEAT and Jenna Black's THE DEVIL INSIDE. (I couldn't pick one, so I'm reading both.)

What I'm Critiquing: Nothing at present, but I have a long To Do list.

What I'm Writing: *takes deep breath*
I had a vague story idea take glorious shape this morning in the form of the first seven chapters (well, ok, in notes form anyway) of my novel and with what I think will be a killer hook. This is another Science Fiction Romance but it ventures more into Fantasy territory, like Draxis. This one is set solely on Earth, however.

Then, Draxis and Planets have been having their little sword duels for attention in my head. Both are demanding attention...yesterday.

OK, so that makes....six projects? *counts on fingers* Well, actually....

P2PC: Book 1 (finished and being marketed), Book 2 (partially written); May become a series.
Draxis: Book 1 (nearly finished but requires major editing), Book 2, Book 3
Planets (finished but requires major editing)
Time (new story)
Chimera (nearly finished but requires a gut and edit)

Make that seven novel projects in the foreseeable future. I also have a few ideas for shorts. These should easily take me through the end of 2009. :) I love being a writer. My muse never fails to keep me busy and entertained.

I'll have some interesting Sci-Fi 101 stuff to post later this week.

A Course I'd Love to Take

This course description was "borrowed" from the University of California Berkeley, Department of History website:

103S.002 - The Final Frontier: Science and Fiction in Twentieth-Century America

...Susan Marie Groppi received her Ph.D. in History from the University of California, Berkeley in 2006. Her research focuses on the life sciences in the United States, and particularly the influences of institutional structures on the development of science. She has an ongoing interest in the relationship between science and society as expressed in popular culture.

Science fiction has been called the mythology of the scientific age, a mirror of the modern Zeitgeist, and the only literary form capable of capturing the human experience in this highly technological age. Any statement so broadly constructed almost necessarily contains elements of both truth and hyperbole, and these statements are no exception, but the fact remains that science fiction is, at its heart, a literary (and cinematic) form that deals directly with the relationship between science and society.

In this course, we will be using science fiction as the framework for an examination of the interactions between science, technology, society, and culture in twentieth century America. In the process, students will develop close reading and critical analysis skills related to the use of fictional and cultural resources as historical sources. Course readings will be drawn from both fiction and nonfiction, and students will be required to undertake individual research and writing projects during the course of the semester.

Tuesday, March 4, 2008

My Favorite Photos With a Sci-Fi Theme: #1

#1 The Whirlpool Galaxy

I look at this photo and the words of the late, great Carl Sagan immediately come to mind..."Billions and billions of stars." When I see this image I am in awe of the massive spiral arms, the myriad suns and worlds it contains, and the immensity of space embraced by this gorgeous galaxy.

Monday, March 3, 2008

My Favorite Photos With a Sci-Fi Theme: #2

#2 The Sombrero Galaxy

Galaxies come in a variety of shapes and sizes, not always the familiar spiral-armed swirl. The Sombrero Galaxy is one of my favorite non-conformists. Looking at this image and thinking of the light years of space this galaxy spans is truly mind-boogling. The glowing center is mysterious and grand.

Sunday, March 2, 2008

Sunday Morning

What I'm reading: I'm debating whether to start DEAD BEAT from Jim Butcher's Dresden Files series, THE BLACK SHEEP AND THE PRINCESS by Donna Kaufman, or DEVIL INSIDE by Jenna Black. All were Dawn's suggestions and one was a Christmas gift.

What I'm writing: I'm wrestling the P2PC Synopsis alligator. Such a struggle to cram this ambitious plot into a coherent summary, but I know it will get there with more work. It's also a given that some agent/editor will require one. (I've avoided that sitch, so far.)

What I'm critiqueing: Other people's queries. Call it a study project. :)

Over on Toasted Scimitar, I wrote an article about the Amazon Kindle--the new electronic paper reader. I'm very intrigued with this concept since finding time to read is always a task, and yet I often end up stuck somewhere without a book when I could be entertaining myself and making great use of my time. Like yesterday, waiting for David at the optical shop while he ordered multiple pairs of eyeglasses. Gah! Boredom set in. Big time. *smacks forehead* I coulda hadda Kindle!

OK, back to housework and wrestling alligators.

Saturday, March 1, 2008

My Favorite Photos With a Sci-Fi Theme: #3

#3 The Orion Nebula

If the name sounds familiar, that's probably because Star Trek: The Wrath of Kahn made this space phenomenon famous with a battle scene that took place in its midst.