Sunday, March 31, 2024

Borrowed from the Internet (and Possibly Edited)

If it looks like a duck, 
acts like a duck, 
quacks like a duck, 

denies it’s a duck, 

demands you prove it's a duck, 

accuses you of being a duck, 

says your dog is a duck, 

and your neighbor's cat is a duck 


It's still a duck. 

Thursday, March 28, 2024

Wonderfall Part 2

Last week I talked a little about the Wonderfall in the Singapore Airport, a generated digital waterfall, and how it related to a scene from my novelette, Farewell Andromeda. 

(If you missed that post you can check it out by clicking here.)

It turns out that there's a lot more to the wonder at Terminal 2 than just Wonderfall, so just as an addendum, I'm adding this video with some of the other wildly imaginative and entertaining sights and sounds. 

Hope you enjoy it!

Monday, March 25, 2024

Commercials are Destroying Visual Media (Thank Heaven For Books!)

So, yeah. My rant blog title says it all. 

If someone asked me for a word that is the opposite of "entertainment," my answer would have to be "commercials."

There's nothing like watching a great show, and just when you get to the really tense, climatic, edge-of-your-seat moment...the TV cuts away to an ad for fried chicken, or a solution to remove ear wax, or one of those strange Consumer Cellular plugs. Mood destroyed. 

I wonder if the retailers realize just how angry they make the viewer. Like to the point of screaming, "I'm never buying your stupid product. Never! Never! Never! Do you hear me?" Or is that just me? Yeah, there's a reason HBO is my favorite channel. 

But it's not just television. Even videos at the online video sites whose-names-we-shall-not-speak have fallen into the commercialism sea of doom. You know how they operate. Like sticking ads right in the middle of the content you're trying to view. Or as an annoying prologue. You know what they tell us authors about writing annoying prologues? Don't do it! Well, I guess they didn't get that urgent memo. 

Even pay-to-view type channels--you know, the ones you pay good money to watch so you can avoid commercials--have commercials now. "But wait," they cry. "We only show a few!" Umm. I think they're missing the point. And when was the last time you paid 15 bucks and change to see a motion picture, and then had to sit through 30 minutes of Previews of Coming Attractions?

It's all an evil plot, I tell you. 

The surprising thing is that retailers actually believe consumers want to hear about their lovely products, rather than acknowledge that their outrageously expensive ads are nothing more than an excuse for viewers to take a bathroom break or pop some popcorn so we can return to the show we actually want to watch. Or, alternatively, we record the show so we can watch later and fast forward through the commercials. Although some of them have caught on to that tactic, and disabled the fast forward for some recordings, because they just know you never meant to skip through their wonderful ads. 

But yes, thank goodness we have BOOKS. Readers have the rare privilege of controlling their entertainment experience (for the most part -- real life will occasionally intrude, but that's still better than having to sit through a cartoon-mercial about a backed up gut or a new deodorant that works...well, everywhere!). Readers can decide where and when they want to pause the experience and where and when they want to pick up the story again, all without being lambasted with ads to buy whitening toothpaste or invisible hearing aids. (I honestly don't know if it happens with audiobooks because I don't, listen to them. You tell me.)

You'd think books would be much more popular entertainment as commercialism attempts to usurp the lion's share of our viewing time in other media. But that doesn't seem to be happening. In fact, in a Test Prep Insight national survey conducted in January 2024, the results indicated that 48.5% of respondents said they hadn't read a book in over a year. (Horrors!)

Hmm. Maybe I should change my tagline from Escape to the Stars to Escape the Commercials! 

(Yes. I'm kidding.) 

 Note that this post contains no ads. <grin>

Friday, March 22, 2024

Who's Ready for House of the Dragons Season 2?

It's not exactly sci-fi, but close enough for this fan. House of the Dragon Season 2 is expected to air on June 16th on HBO after a two year absence, and I, for one, couldn't be more excited to see what unfolds as the legendary (in Jon Snow's time) Dance of the Dragons is about to unfold--the unprecedented bloody, and fiery!-- war between members of House Targaryen and their dragons. 

In Jon Snow's time in Game of Thrones, this battle is but a piece of history, though a very large piece. It's not until near the end of the Game of Thrones series that we discover--quite to this fan's complete shock--that Jon is, indeed, of Targaryen blood and the true heir to the Targaryen throne. And that puts both him and the only known heir (not to mention his lover--and his aunt) Daenyris Targaryen on very shaky ground. Going back in time to explore this era and this war is probably something every true Game of Thrones fan is excited to explore. 

Here's a brief trailer to House of the Dragon Season 2.

For those who want "More, Please!" here's a much longer fan commentary that is every bit as hooky and more forthcoming with details. I need to add a caveat there will be spoilers, but most of this history is already known to some degree of detail from the Game of Thrones series anyway, which happens generations later. Enjoy! (About 13 minutes in length.)

Not yet a fan? If you think you'd love an Epic Fantasy that even a sci-fi devotee relishes, you might want to check out this series -- or actually series of series. But be warned, it's an HBO production so no holds are barred. It's extremely violent, sometimes disturbing and has many sex sequences of every persuasion, but if you can handle the dark side (or fast forward through those scenes), it's a completely fascinating world with amazing complex characters, spectacular spectacles, jaw-dropping scenery and exquisitely drawn history. It has the depth of world-building that every sci-fi author or fan should absolutely savor. This is no comic book kingdom. 

Your comments are always welcome.

Monday, March 18, 2024

Digital Waterfall - Shades of Farewell Andromeda

Just had to share this. It's a digital waterfall ("Wonderfall") in Singapore's Changi Airport Terminal 2.

In Farewell Andromeda, a similar generated waterfall is featured (see the excerpt below). Though the quaint fall is located in a restaurant on a distant space station and is a bit less chaotic than Singapore Airport's Wonderfall, it's definitely along the same lines. Come see for yourself...

Farewell Andromeda

Deep space charter pilot Tiharra Bell has recently arrived and is on layover at Andromeda Station, a deep space x-tourism spot on the far edge of the Milky Way Galaxy. Located in its business and entertainment section is a restaurant that offers a very unique atmosphere.

Walking through the entrance into the restaurant turned out to be more than my senses had bargained for. To the right of an elegant mahogany reception desk, a waterfall blundered over a rocky cliff high above and freefell through misty rainbows into an aquamarine pool. The only hint that the entire scene was generated rather than tactile was the noise level of the falls being curbed to a murmur instead of a conversation-nullifying roar.

The overlay of huge, split-leaved foliage—also generated—framed the pool and screened the tables beyond. A sensual bouquet wafted on a moist breeze: the sweet-spice of jasmine and monkeypod blooms laced with high-content oxygen. Projected butterflies fluttered by in the brilliant rays of artificial sunshine that pierced the deep emerald shadows. Hidden air controllers simulated soft jungle breezes that played on my skin.

“Table for one?” A hostess intruded into my awe-induced trance.

About Farewell Andromeda

Fresh off a painful jilting, the last thing deep space pilot Tiharra Bell needs is another romance, and certainly not with famous astronomer, Dr. Dane. Yet when she learns “Donner" has a heartbreaking secret, she’s soon willing to risk life and career to alter his fate.

Farewell Andromeda is a novelette -- a short read that packs a punch and delivers a satisfying romantic twist in a way that only science fiction can dish up. It's available in ebook format on Amazon

Friday, March 15, 2024

Politics and Fiction - Doing a Double Take

In yesterday's blog titled "Please Keep Your Politics Out of my Fiction! Oh, Wait..." I explained my complete disdain as a reader for fiction stories that incorporate current political biases. In giving this further thought, I should add a disclaimer that I'm referring to books that are blatant statements about current politics or politically-fueled stands, and not solid sci-fi with a fresh approach to the future. 

For example, The Expanse television series (based on the book series by the James S.A. Corey writing team) portrayed a creatively-imagined 2200s with present day social issues extrapolated into a troubled future -- minus the soapbox. Or the original Star Wars trilogy which portrayed the age-old battle of Good vs. Evil (or Light vs. Dark) in a higher tech setting also steered clear of current political social statements. (Not so much the more recent sequels, unfortunately.) 

But my diatribe in the last post was coming from a reader. As an author, the more thought I put into it, the more I realized there's a kicker to my "no politics in fiction" bent.

In order to write a compelling story, there have to be basic elements of good, evil and often, those ambiguous gray areas that fall in between. When I write characters, they have to act and think in ways that are true to themselves and their situation. They are forced to make choices which some readers (and even I, as the author) may or may not agree with, but if I've done my job well as an author, readers will be able to relate to the character's choices even if they wouldn't make the same decisions themselves. 

So I have to concede that avoiding politics to any degree is impossible when writing fiction, even though it's not intentionally crafted to be "current political commentary in sheeps' clothing" and even when the last thing I create a story to do is to pound home any sort of social statement about our times. (What's the fun in that?)

In examining my work, these are just a few situations that arise in current and future novels that affect characters and are essential to plot but are not intended to mimic today's social struggles, politics or controversial science or make any statements about said issues, pro or con. It's only about the character's choices and a reflection of the societies they live in, which is to say, not ours.

(In alphabetical order)

  • Actions taken "for the greater good"
  • AI enabled technology and repercussions on the human race
  • Alien abduction
  • Androids used as servants
  • Apocalyptic war or threats of
  • Assassination for political reasons
  • Basic human rights, the presence or absence of
  • Biological androids
  • Connecting the human brain to technology
  • Environmental catastrophe
  • Environmental extremism
  • Erasing/altering historical facts
  • Fear of hypodermic needles
  • Human slavery
  • Oppressing human rights
  • "Racism" but only as it applies to human subspecies (Speciesism?)
  • Right to choose
  • Secret societies
  • Shadow governments
  • Technologically altering behavior

Not every reader who reads one of my books is going to have the benefit of reading this multi-part blog, so I decided maybe what I need to do is craft a disclaimer for each of my future novels to summarize some of what I've stated in these two Politics and Fiction related blogs.

Here's an early draft of that possible statement extrapolated from some of my statements above. It will probably go through a good many revisions.


Author's Disclaimer

This is purely a work of fiction that takes place in an imagined future. 

In order to write a compelling story, basic elements of good, evil and often, those ambiguous gray areas that fall in between must be present. The characters always act and think in ways that are true to themselves and their situation. They are forced or compelled to make choices which some readers (and even I, the author) may not agree with, but those decisions are right for the character in their fictional world.

In light of this, plot elements may at times parallel social issues that are hot topics in the present, but this work was never intended to make statements or take a stand about current political issues. I believe the purpose of a good story is to allow a reader to escape into another realm. 

For this reason, I hope that readers can cast off the here and now and Escape to the Stars. Enjoy this adventure fueled by "what if..." and never "what should be."  

Thank you for reading my work. 



As always, your thoughts and comments are welcome. Thank you for reading my blog. 

Wednesday, March 13, 2024

Please Keep Your Politics Out of my Fiction! Oh, Wait...

I'm tugging on my Reader Cap today for a bit of a rant about one of my major pet peeves as a reader.

Yup. Sorry. Sometimes you just gotta vent. 

I realize everyone's mileage may vary and there may be some who don't view this as an issue, but I've talked with and seen the comments from enough readers to know it's becoming a pretty major factor in the Readers' Pet Peeves column. 

I can recall a time, not even a dozen years ago, when politics and political issues weren't such major topics among writers and authors. I clearly remember the days when the last thing anyone cared about was what an author's political stand was, and which side of the political equation they supported or leaned toward. No one cared. It was a trivial matter. It just didn't make a difference.

How times have changed.

Today, everyone seems to have a very strong opinion on politics and world views, and authors, being communicators, can be especially vocal. Problem is, some of them don't confine their personal statements to social media and personal expression, and insist on stamping their views all over the books they write, a product they sell to readers as entertainment. Some even go so far as to push their politics in the newsletters they send out to those interested in their work. Yeah, that's an instant click on the unsubscribe button for me.

So here's my take...which you can take or leave at your discretion.

In my experience most readers don't want to hear an author's views expressed via what should be a well-crafted story but which has been unabashedly converted into a politically-fueled soapbox. This reader included. No. Thank. You.

From polls and commentary I've seen, I believe the majority of readers feel the same. They read fiction to escape the teeth-gritting turmoil of everyday life and have no desire to be constantly reminded of the hot mess our society is becoming. I read for escapism. I read to enjoy being whisked away to an imaginative fictional world that is usually set in a distant time. Turn a story set in the future into a mouthpiece for the dystopian present and it's an instant DNF for me. And that's whether I agree with those views or not. 

Here's the low down. If I want political opinions I can watch the news, or any morning talk show, or read politically-centered non-fiction books, or just sign on to any social media platform. I'm not looking to read about current issues in a story that's supposedly set in a different time and place. As I said, my whole point in picking up a book is to escape the here and now, at least for a little while.  

So please...let fiction be fiction.  

But all that said, as I wrapped up this blog, I realized there's a caveat. Completely avoiding the allusion to real life political or social topics in fiction, especially science fiction, is just plain unavoidable. And sometimes a reader might interpret the elements of some stories as political commentary, even though that wasn't at all the intent of the writer.

That's the "Oh, Wait..." part of today's blog title which I'm going to explore in my next post. I'll try to come back and add the link once it's posted. 

Thanks for reading. I'd love to hear your thoughts or comments below, whether you agree or disagree. 

Monday, March 11, 2024

Cognitive Dissonance - What is it and What does it have to do with Writing?

Recently, I stumbled on an article about cognitive dissonance and immediately thought, "I've got to write a blog about that." 

What is it? It's humans' ability to hold two contrary beliefs at the same time and the mental discomfort that arises with holding contrary beliefs, or even more specifically, from learning new information which contradicts a deeply held belief. 

Wikipedia describes it this way: 

In the field of psychology, cognitive dissonance is the perception of contradictory information and the mental toll of it. Relevant items of information include a person's actions, feelings, ideas, belifs [sic], values, and things in the environment. Cognitive dissonance is typically experienced as pyschological [sic] stress when persons participate in an action that goes against one or more of those things.

[The inserted '[sic]' notations are mine. The Wiki info apparently hadn't been well proofed.] 

Cognitive dissonance also sometimes comes into play for authors. In fact, for many works, it's essential. It's something ALL writers must face to some degree, in particular when giving voice to a villain. And even, sometimes, a hero. 

This Blog comes with a Trigger Warning!
Controversial content ahead dealing with an unsettling topic which some may find disturbing. If you become offended, upset or squeamish by the discussion of the darker aspects of human nature, please stop reading here.

To explore this topic more fully, I need to take a closer look at one of the most difficult and challenging aspects I ever had to deal with in penning a novel. (Actually two difficult aspects, but I'll get to that.)

Writers have to put themselves in the bad guy's head ("guy" is used loosely here and throughout the post - of course villains can be any gender). They have to have the ability to reach a mental state where they can effectively relate what the villain believes, what motivates him, and how he justifies his actions while making it understandable and meaningful for the reader. Even when it's something deeply upsetting and repulsive to explore, they have to be capable of relating the villain's mindset (perspective, justification, etc.) to the reader. Villains need to be real and have emotions and motivations that feel real.

And that can put an author in a very dark and questionable place.

One aspect in the anchor novel of the Inherited Stars Universe caused me a great deal of mental angst and bouts of emotion that ranged from gut-wrenching disgust to extreme sympathy and sadness for what some of the characters were subjected to and threatened with. 

This also caused me to question if I shouldn't steer clear of this element entirely. Take a safer route. It's a tough one to explore even in a blog post, and caused me to question my instincts, because I knew it was going to put some readers off from even finishing the book. 

But I decided, for the integrity of the storytelling, it was essential to stay the course. 

Let me delve into the specifics as much as possible, while avoiding major spoilers. In order to make the villains, uh...habits...workable, I had to have one of their leaders explain to a hero why his subspecies evolved into cannibals, and it had to make sense to readers -- as skin-crawling as the subject may be. The Ithians had a dark history and an evolution to cannibalism that had to make sense to me as the writer before I could even begin to convey their culture (not justify it, mind you) via the story line. 

But why cannibals? Why even go there?

Here's the background. I based the Ithian empire, in part, on ancient Rome. Rome was a great culture of poets, writers, philosophers, builders, scientists, and craftsmen, with a strong and disciplined military, who enjoyed a lavish lifestyle rich in culture and the arts. But on weekends they went to the coliseum to cheer on bloody and horrific spectacles of human and animal carnage. It was all for sport, in their empire. The juxtaposition of refinement and savagery is still a little hard to accept or even understand, but it was a fixed and accepted part of their society.

I had to make my Ithian Alliance worse. Much worse. Forcing humans to fight each other or wild beasts as gladiators just wasn't bad enough. (Not to mention it's been done-to-death in science fiction.) The culture of Ithis had to be just as enlightened and enriched as the Roman Empire was in its day, but it also had to have a much, much darker side. But why had their culture evolved in such a disgusting and horrifying way? That was my struggle with cognitive dissonance as I created a history and traditions that allowed them to justify their actions.
But there's a caveat. What happens to the Ithian Alliance as a result of their horrendous mistreatment of other subspecies -- as bad as that was -- was also gut-wrenching but in a very different way. They lost something truly precious to them, as a means of rendering them defenseless. Did the ends justify the means? That's left an open-ended question. 

Certain members of the "hero" side of the equation believed there was only one way to restore basic human rights to the known galaxy, without instigating a conventional galaxy-wide war that would kill millions, if not billions. The Ithian Alliance had become so dominant, oppressive and heartless to the rest of the known galaxy, that the inhumanity they forced on others had to be clearly drawn in the story  before they could be dealt so devastating a blow in the story arc. In order to deal with monsters, the good guys had to become monsters themselves in the actions they took to end the horrors perpetuated by the Alliance. But in spite of the unmitigated oppression and callousness of the villains' society, I still had struggles writing those passages and even had readers and reviewers ask, "Wow! Should they have done that?"

That was the flip side of the coin. I had to be able to explain the thoughts and motivations behind the "good guys" extreme actions -- as well as the "bad guys" -- and why they took the steps they did, when they did, and how they did it. 

Cognitive dissonance to the max on both sides of the equation.

As the author, some of the situations described in Inherit the Stars and related books still bother me. I still sometimes feel a certain uneasiness about where I took the story. But that doesn't mean I don't think it was the right call. Call it a danger of the occupation, but cognitive dissonance as it applies to writing, is an integral but uncomfortable part of the writing process.

I welcome your thoughts and comments below. 

Wednesday, March 6, 2024

Truth is Stranger than Fiction? What if DEDspace is Real?

Sometimes the fiction we imagine can actually start to look like truth.

I recently came across this site while randomly surfing the web, and immediately thought, "Aha! So my fictional DEDspace [Dark Energy Dimension Space] that certain advanced ships in my Inherited Stars series employ to "gallop about the universe" might actually be a thing!"

I kinda have to love it when some of my wilder fictional ideas later turn out to not be so very wild after all.

Here's a link to the online article I found that was posted on February 1, 2024: 

Quanta Magazine:  In a 'Dark Dimension,' Physicists Search for the Universe's Missing Matter

Apparently, scientists are now starting to explore the hypothesis that Dark Energy and Dark Matter may exist in their own dimension. (Um. Yeah. Exactly! LOL) That may be one way of accounting for approximately 96% of the universe -- the matter and energy that must be out there in order to keep galaxies from coming apart at the seams, but to date hasn't been observable or proven to exist except through mathematics. 

So I have two words to sum up my thoughts on this new discovery. Cool beans! 

To be sure, I didn't get into some of the vastly complex particulars outlined in the article in my books. After all, I write fiction, not scientific papers. I provide an imagined framework for how my advanced ships navigate this DEDspace -- and what the consequences are -- without going into all the quantum mechanics and string theory details. My job as a writer of sci-fi is to entertain and open up an imaginative world to readers, not bore them to tears with pages and pages of scientific explanation. 

As the old adage goes, you don't need to know all the details of how a television works just to sit back and enjoy the show.

To explain how my fictional DEDspace worked without diving in to too much of the nittygritty, I wrote a blog back in June of 2016 (almost eight years ago) titled: 

What is this DEDspace of Which You Speak?

The highlights of that blog are below, or you can read the post in it's entirety by clicking the title link just above (it also discusses the futility of traveling around our galaxy -- or even to the nearest star --  with our current technology and the price that must be paid to access my fictional DEDspace).


Even with the star-hopping that their decidedly advanced technology can manage, allowing them to travel system-to-system in a matter of days and span a number of systems inside a couple of weeks, we're talking months of travel to reach the outlier points of the Milky Way, which is one of their destinations in both stories. And that just wouldn't work. I had to find some form of "Galaxy Express" transit.

And Dark Energy provided that magic carpet.

You see, scientists aren't even sure what Dark Energy is just yet. Only that, in theory, it must exist in order for the universe to work, along with Dark Matter. We can't see it. We can't sense it. We only know that, mathematically, there's something dark and mysterious out there, and it accounts for nearly 68% of the actual universe. Dark Matter makes up an additional 28%.

Nearly ninety-six percent of the universe may be Dark Energy and Dark Matter!

That's a whole lot of something that's nothing!

In order for galaxies to not spin apart, there has to be something they call Dark Matter that accounts for the mass and the gravity that holds it all together, and in order for observations from deep space (which also means deep time) to make sense, there also has to be something stretching the universe apart--and they dubbed that Dark Energy. In tandem, Dark Energy and Dark Matter create the theoretical dynamics that might explain how the universe functions as it does when normal mathematics say it shouldn't function at all. (I'm paraphrasing here.)

When I started researching Dark Energy, the theory that made the most sense to me is that Dark Energy actually exists in another unknown dimension. Okay, I can get my head around that. (And better yet, my muse seemed to latch onto the idea big time.) I'd read theories that some scientists believe there could be up to nine dimensions--though trapped in our mortal bodies, we're only programmed to function within three--height, width, depth. Or maybe four, if you consider time a dimension onto itself.

So Dark Energy may form another dimension--one that we could actually enter if we found a way and a means to access it. And in doing so, we might be able to span huge distances in space by slipping the surly bonds of 3D. But...there's also Dark Matter, which some scientists believe might even provide a galaxy-wide transport system. Other experts are exploring the idea that Dark Energy and Dark Matter are connected. (In my universe, they are, and the combined phenomena is simply referred to as DEDspace, meaning Dark Energy Dimension space.)

Fifteen hundred years in our future, a man named Zaviar Mennelsohn did (or will) discover a way to access DEDspace. Or at least, he will in The Inherited Stars universe.


If you have any thoughts or comments about DEDspace, please let me know below. 

Thanks for tuning in. Hope you dock again soon.