Monday, July 29, 2019

Swearing and SFR

If you write sci-fi romance, soon or later you'll have to decide: "To swear or not to swear." Swearing is such an ingrained part of our culture now (for better or worse) that's it's hard to make a highly dramatic, tension-filled, or shocking scene work if it doesn't incorporate some form of an oath. But when writing stories set in the future or alternate universes (et al) it's something an author may need to devote some thought to.

I just read this article on several archaic swear words -- 10 Old Swears You'll Want to Bring Back. It was quite entertaining. The author thought some of these phrases might be fun to re-integrate back into modern speech. Here's a sampling:

Arfarfan'arf  (really!) Victorian slang for a drunk. An "arf" is a half pint of alcohol, so if he or she is an arfaran'arf, they've had way too many drinks.

Bed-swerver  - From Shakespearean literature, meaning cuckold or unfaithful. (I dunno. For me, the phrase summons a mental image of someone in a bed careening down a steep road. But maybe it's just me.)

Fustilarian - Also Shakespearean, from Henry IV, an adjective meaning low or common

Swounds - it's medieval and actually stands for "God's wounds"

Thunderation - Evolved from damnation and tarnation, the meaning is equal to "hell!" or "damn!"

Those are just a few, but if you want to read some of the more *ahem* colorful references, follow the link.

Though I'm not sure all of those terms would work in modern day, I used a form of one of the above in a novel -- "Thunderin'" instead of Thunderation. It's actually a Newfie term, or slang spoken by those who hail from the Newfoundland area of Canada. (Also, T'underin', according to my source). 

I had a character who was originally born in Newfoundland and went to space as a resident of Yellowknife, Northwest Territory, Canada, use it as part of his speech. He says the word as an exclamation or combines with other words for a more emphatic statement (such as "What the thunderin' hell?")

Adding swear words in Sci-Fi can be fun or even poignant, especially if the words are given a particular meaning in the story or significance to the character. Much of our iconic Science Fiction used particular phrases as a form of cursing, including frak, a futuristic term for another four-letter word used in Battlestar Galactica

Firefly gave us gorram as well as several colorful Chinese/Cantonese-inspired curses.

Farscape used frell and dren as their futuristic alternatives to some of our brief present-day terms.

I couldn't think of an instance of swearing in Star Wars, but upon doing a little research I discovered that some of the related books included the terms fierfek (supposedly from Jabba the Hutt's world) and sithspawn, which was a Corellian term, with a meaning that's probably clear to Star Wars fans. Spawn of sith. 

Then there are the more amusing phrases like Mork's shazbot!, which probably has no real meaning other than pure entertainment. 

Clearly the use (or non-use) of swear words and the frequency is up to the author, but IMHO it's important to keep the relevancy in line with the tone and flavor of the story. Amusing terms along the lines of shazbot! might work in a humorous sci-fi tale, but in a more dramatic piece they could stand out as silly or out-of-place or the dread 'trying too hard to sound sci-fi.' Still, how a particular word fits the story is ultimately the judgment of each individual writer...and each individual reader.

When it comes to swearing, I try to tread lightly, but there are several phrases throughout my series that are considered oaths. Here's an abridged Inherited Stars Series glossary of swear words and oaths.

blue devil - an exclamation, "What the blue devil are you doing?" is like we would say "What the devil..."

blue hades - a bad hell where the blue devils hail from. See also "sixth hell"

Empora's Hades - is like saying "deep dark hell." The characters often use hades alone, but Empora was a legend and adding her name to the mix makes any "hades!" a particularly bad one.

fug - what a very common modern swear word (more politely shown as f***) evolves into in 1500 years.

gigadam (one that seems pretty popular with and amusing to readers) translates to "damn to the nth degree"

Gods of Gellen - see below

Haley's Crest - a perilous area of space that spacefarers adopted as an oath. Sometimes shortened to just "Crest"

heo - both a curse and an insult, from the Purmian language, meaning 'gutless eunuch.'

peitchau - another Purmian curse, literally meaning 'Yele-damned' which is a very powerful form of damning in the Purmian culture. 

rifted - a reference to treacherous dark nebula known as Bradley's Rift. Means the same as 'blasted' or 'bloody.'

sixth hell - a particularly nasty level of hell

As to the note above, the "Gods of Gellen" is a phrase with an ancient reference that has lost it's context and meaning, like some of those old oaths from the referenced article above. Or at least, it's lost it's meaning for most of those in the 36th century (when the series takes place).

But that particular brand of curse opens a can of worms between two of the characters in my upcoming story, SpyDog, which will be part of the Pets in Space® 4 anthology to be released on October 8th. 

It creates a bit of high drama when one of the characters spits it out it in an offhand way, like we might say, well...swounds!...and is then challenged by his companion for uttering it. 

After learning the true root of the term, his journey takes an unexpected turn. [Can you say 'foreshadowing.'

Have you read (or written) any new swear words that are tailored to a particular story or universe? Any that you found especially amusing, or hard hitting? Please tell us more in comments below.

And let me just mention again (because I don't want anyone to miss out on this very fun #FREEBIE) that there's a sampler of Pets in Space® 4 available. It's packed with story snippets, original works and even artwork by the authors. Just click the link below to grab a copy.

Enjoy! And have a great week.

Friday, July 26, 2019


The big news in the romance writing world this week is the Romance Writers of America® national conference going on now in New York City. Although the event may not attract as many authors, agents, publishers and hangers-on as in the days when traditional publishing ruled (or maybe it has—romance just keeps growing!), it is sure to be a glittery, exciting week for both newbies and veterans alike.

Sadly, the last ever Golden Heart® Finalists will celebrate their nominations in the contest for unpublished manuscripts. And this year’s class of RITA® nominees will wait to hear who has won the award for best romance novel (or novella) in each of several categories after the judging process drew controversy over a lack of fairness, objectivity and diversity.

For those of us who are members of RWA® but are unable to attend, the news out of the conference has already been stunning. The Board of Directors has announced changes for next year’s RITA® contest reflecting the broad, sometimes heated, discussions held within the membership concerning RITA® judging this year. The rule changes can be read here.

What they show is that, for once, the RWA® leadership appears to have taken the outcry from its membership to heart. RITA® entrants will no longer be required to be first-round judges in the contest. Instead, the pool of those eligible to judge the first round of the contest will be expanded to all General RWA members, Associate Writer RWA members, non-member RITA entrants, current or former booksellers and librarians, and romance reviewers with an interest in, and knowledge of, the romance genre. Anyone of those eligible who is interested in serving as a judge must fill out a Judge Volunteer Questionnaire, then, if selected, must complete special judge training. (Italics mine.)

I never received an answer to my email to the Board on what should be done to fix RITA®, but it seems someone did read it (or something like it). Training for judges was my Number One suggestion, so I’m over the moon about this.

The contest will remain limited to 1200 entries, but individual authors will be limited to one entry in the first seven days. After that time, if there is still room, an author can submit no more than one additional entry at a higher entry fee. (That is, for a total of two entries.) This new rule will give more authors a chance to enter, widening and, hopefully, diversifying the base of entries.

I won’t be entering RITA® in 2020. I’m way too far behind in my writing to produce a book by the end of 2019 due to the focus on production and promo in my turn to self-publishing for my earlier books. But I will be judging under the new rules. I actually look forward to it.

However, I have some advice for those who may have misgivings. This past weekend I attended the 40th Annual Isshinryu Hall of Fame Tournament and Awards Banquet in Gatlinburg, Tennessee, where my karate teacher, Renchi Ray Blazer, received the prestigious Instructor of the Year Award. I had already decided I wouldn’t judge in the tournament, despite being eligible at fourth-degree black belt rank. I hadn’t been in the dojo (gym) for four years, and I figured it wouldn’t be fair to the competitors. When I heard some of the new rules for sparring, it turns out I was right to decide to sit this one out. I didn’t agree with some of the changes designed to make our traditional style more “competitive” with mixed martial arts. Times had passed me by—better for me to keep my “old-school” thoughts to myself. After all, there were at least 100 black belts of my rank and above to serve as judges.

Perhaps a bit of that same kind of soul-searching is required with the new RITA® judging rules. Not everyone will be comfortable with what’s taught in the training, for example, or even with the idea of training at all. If the new judging rules can’t be embraced whole-heartedly, maybe it’s best to sit this one out as a judge. With a bigger pool of eligible judges to draw from, others will be eager to take on the task. 

And let’s see how far these changes can take us toward a better future.

Cheers, Donna

Thursday, July 25, 2019

How the planets formed

I confess I'm a fan of Masterchef. This years' contestants have been great and I've enjoyed the episodes. Except… I channel-surf when the ads are on, quite often flicking to old episodes of Spicks and Specs (a music trivia show) or the food network.

Then, while I was channel-surfing three weeks ago on a Sunday night, I came across The Planets, hosted by Britain's rock star astrophysicist, Professor Brian Cox. From then on, Sunday nights became watching The Planets, with a quick flick now and then to see how Masterchef was getting along.

If you haven't seen this series – do. It's chock full of the all the new things scientists have learned from unmanned missions to all the planets in the last decade or so. Water on Mercury and on asteroids, why Mars lost its atmosphere, what turned Venus into a death trap. And last Sunday, it was Jupiter's turn. What was particularly interesting about this episode is that Prof Cox ventured into cosmology and discussed the formation of the solar system.

When I was at school the conventional wisdom (at least for kids) was that the planets formed from a cloud of material surrounding the new-born Sun. The four rocky planets (Mercury, Venus, Earth, and Mars) were formed first from the heavier material closest to the sun. The lighter gases escaped further out and formed the gas giants (Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, and Neptune). Back then Pluto was still a planet but even then it was something of an anomaly.

Public interest in space exploration waned quickly after the first Moon landing. Not too many people tuned into the pictures from the last manned mission in 1972. Funding or space exploration collapsed. For many years the best information we had came from the Voyager flights, launched in 1977. But more recently we have data from planetary explorers like Cassini-Huygens, Galileo, Juno, Dawn, and others. So we know more about the outer planets and – most importantly – because of Kepler's search for exo-planets, we know a lot more about what solar systems look like.

And they don't look much like ours.

Kepler has found a whole bunch of 'super earths', rocky planets much larger than our home. Scientists have also found lots of gas giants as big as Jupiter whipping around their stars in close orbits, nothing like the configuration of our system, with rocky planets innermost.

So why does our solar system look the way it does?

Professor Cox explained that Jupiter formed at about the same time as the Sun. In some other universe it probably went on to become another star, forming a binary system. There are heaps of them out there. But while Jupiter has two-and-a-half times more mass than every other object in the solar system combined – planets, moons, asteroids - [1] it's not enough to start nuclear fusion. However, Jupiter's presence dictated how the rest of the planets formed the way they did. At one time in its history Jupiter moved toward the sun, coming closer than the asteroid belt and into Mars's orbit. As it did so, it sort of vacuumed up matter in its orbit, leaving less material to be amalgamated into a planet. That's why Mars is so much smaller than Earth and Venus. What dragged Jupiter out again to its present orbit was the development of Saturn, which set up a resonance with Jupiter. The larger planet orbits the sun twice in the time it takes Saturn to orbit once.

These days Jupiter's vast gravitational field protects the inner planets from debris coming in from the Oort cloud or outside the solar system, but millions of years ago, the planet's close encounter with a large asteroid deflected its path, sending the giant rock hurtling through the inner solar system where it collided with a young planet Earth. In fact, that probably happened many times with smaller asteroids – but the big one wiped out the dinosaurs.

I love this stuff. It proves that science is never static. As they learn more about the universe scientists need to revise their hypotheses so they fit the new facts. So much has changed, even in my lifetime.
Maybe sometime, somewhere, we'll find that elusive hint of life on another planet. Won't that be wonderful?

Monday, July 22, 2019

Moon Landing 50th Anniversary Celebration: 10 Things You Didn't Know

As a follow-up to the landmark date we observed on Saturday and my blog last week about the Apollo 11 50th Anniversary: What Was So Great About it Anyway?, I'm going to close out my blog observances with some surprising Moon Landing trivia.

Photo credit NASA
Looking Back on History
10 Things You Might Not Know About the First Moon Landing

Number 10.

The astronauts discovered the Moon has an odor -- and it doesn't smell like green cheese. The smell of Moon dust was described "burnt gunpowder." Oddly enough, once sample were back on Earth and its oxygen rich environmental, the Moon dust had no odor!

Number 9.
Photo Credit NASA

The American Flag didn't cooperative. The lunar surface was harder than expected and the astronauts fought to embed the pole's base deep enough that the flag wouldn't fall over--a scene they wanted to avoid broadcasting on global television! After many long minutes they got the telescoping pole buried enough for the flag to stand upright, and snapped that historic photo of the astronaut's salute. But when the Lunar Module's ascent stage blasted off to carry the astronauts back to the Command Module, Buzz Aldrin observed the blast knocking the flag over.

Number 8.

Why was Neil Armstrong the first to step on the Moon? Both Aldrin and Armstrong enthusiastically lobbied NASA officials for the honor, but the deciding factor was quite simple. The design of the Lunar Module determined the order. Neil Armstrong, as mission commander, was closest to the hatch and had to exit first.

Number 7.

Buzz Aldrin got his nickname because his little sister couldn't properly pronounce "brother," instead calling him "buzzer." The nickname took and the entire family soon was calling him "Buzz." His real name was Edwin Aldrin, Jr., but he legally changed his name to Buzz in 1988.

Number 6.

The maiden name of the mother of Buzz Aldrin was Marion Moon.

Photo Credit NASA
Number 5.

Astronaut Jim Lovell, of Apollo 13 fame, was Neil Armstrong's backup.

Number 4.

The official Apollo 11 patch which was designed by astronaut Michael Collins doesn't bear the astronauts' names, as does every other mission patch. The reason is that NASA wanted the patch to represent everyone who had worked so hard to make the landing a reality and the mission a success.

Number 3.

NASA turned down Buzz Aldrin's initial application to become an astronaut. Not one to give up, he reapplied and was later included among the third group of astronauts to be accepted in 1963. (If at first you don't succeed...)

Photo credit NASA
Number 2.

Astronaut Michael Collins, who remained behind in the Command Module orbiting the Moon, was the first human in history to be totally cut off from Earth and human civilization. During his 22 hours of solitude, he wrote, "I am alone, now, truly alone, and absolutely isolated from any known life. I am it." His experience inspired a song written by Ian Anderson of the band Jethro Tull for the Benefit album. The title is "For Michael Collins, Jeffrey and Me."

...and the Number 1 thing you may not have known about the Moon landing...

The mission and the lives of the two pioneering astronauts was saved by a...pen? As Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin prepared to return home, they discovered a crucial circuit breaker was broken, leaving them without a way to ignite the engines to launch the ascent vehicle! NASA's mission control tried to work out a solution, but Buzz Aldrin eventually decided to try his own fix. He forced a felt tip pen into the breaker. It worked! And that's why there are not two long-dead astronauts stranded on the surface of the Moon today. 

I hope you've enjoyed this Apollo 11 50th Anniversary series.

Have a wonderful week!