Getting ready for festivities


Yesterday I had a minor baptism of fire regarding Christmas trees. On Friday, Angie and I were outside our local supermarket discussing buying a tree for Christmas. Angie was fretting about one shedding needles all over the place, and I was just letting her concerns just bounce off me. One of the locals noticed our dilemma, stopped by and was pretty disparaging about the quality of Supermarket trees. “Go see Mike’s place.” He advised, referring to Mike Gogo’s sawmill and Christmas tree farm on Nanaimo Lakes Road.
“Sure, I know where that is.” I said naively. So off we went.

Drove round to the sawmill to be greeted with a “Looking for a Christmas tree?” from the man himself, followed by “Follow me.” As he drove his car out of the Sawmill yard. So we followed to the sign where it says ‘Office’.
“Okay. How does it work?” We asked after the usual British Columbian small talk was exchanged.
“Take this saw. Go pick your tree. Twenty five dollars.” Said one of Mike’s girls, handing me a yellow twenty four inch bow saw. I left Angie at the office to pay our twenty five bucks while I went hunting the twenty plus acre site for a suitable sized tree.

After about twenty five minutes and several false alarm, plus a lot of tripping and muted anglo-saxon over frosty ground, I found a tree that would serve our purpose. At a gnats over eight feet high, it looked just the ticket. Trimming away enough of the straggly lower boughs, I took ten minutes to fell the nine year old fir with the little hand saw. Then fifteen minutes carrying my sixty pound plus trophy back to our car, where my wife announced that she hadn’t been able to pay as Mike only took cash, and she hadn’t brought any. After a moments chagrin and embarrassment, we asked if we could put the tree aside and pick it up when we paid on Saturday. “No problem.” Was the reply.

On Saturday morning, Joanna, my younger Stepdaughter drove us over to the Christmas tree farm, where the tree was christened ‘Douglas’ (Don’t ask) and cargo strapped onto her cars roof rack for transport home. No prizes for guessing who was given the task of clearing most of the bugs off the tree and erecting said item. So, here it is. with me smiling. Sorry about the smile. I’m not very good at them. Always think I look like a grinning idiot.

Will catch up with Twitter and Facebook too in a while. Providing I’m not running Christmas errands. At present all my major projects are on hold as the ‘important’ things like the festive season take precedence. Although ‘The Odd Machine’ should be accepted for Amazon, Barnes and Noble and the iBookstore fairly shortly if my latest ‘fix’ for the project works (See previous post). Once that’s done, I can pitch back into working on the promised ‘Cerberus’ Novellas and final volume of the Stars trilogy.

In addition, my issues with online readings have been resolved. My cameras data card required reformatting, as the little tinker was throwing up memory controller data errors when downloading onto my venerable desktop. This little frustration was probably down to memory fragments from repeated downloads clogging up my SD card. After formatting, all is functional again.

As soon as I can finish a reading without too many fluffs and interruptions, I’ll post a couple on Youtube and embed them on a blog page.

An issue with Lulu.com


If there were any logic in the world, my novella, ‘The Odd Machine‘ would already be on Amazon, iBookstore and Barnes & Noble.

At the current count, I’ve had a distribution message bounced back at me in three separate emails at eight day intervals for the following reasons;

“Given author(s), title or subtitle don’t match your files” – Yes they do. The fields exactly match the selected author profile.

“There’s a subtitle on your cover that needs to be added to your metadata.” – Sorry, but no, unless Lulu.com’s conversion process is incomplete, I’ve filled in all the fields available to me.

“Please add “A Novella” from your cover to your metadata.” – Why was this information not forthcoming in the first email?

My manuscript file conversion completes perfectly every time, and no error messages ever come back at that stage. It’s the 4-5 day lag that is getting overly frustrating. I am currently approaching the end of my EVA tether, and Lulu appear to have shut down all support apart from a pro forma guide and the discussion forums. Replying to their ‘error’ email address throws up a ‘message undeliverable’ report.

Currently not very impressed.

UPDATE: For those suffering the same issue, I think I have an answer. Check ‘file’ then ‘properties’ before uploading your text file, especially if using a Lulu.com document template. If the ‘collar and cuffs match’ all should be well. Am kicking myself for not cracking it sooner.

Destroying Brussels


Despite the title of this post, I actually like Brussels as a city, and have fond memories of visiting friends who used to live there (Hi Ralph & Sheena).

In the late 21st Century of the ‘Stars’ trilogy, I’ve used the city for a more sinister purpose. Brussels becomes the headquarters of the Gaian European Republic, a thoroughly unpleasant bunch of oligarchs. A superficially theocratic republic where dissidents are routinely murdered for parts of their brains which form the processing cores for the Gaians war machines. Where people’s remains are cultured and rendered to form ‘Go-Quarn’, a Tofu like substance given to citizens as part of a ‘healthy vegetarian diet’. They were great fun to write. Even more fun to destroy.

This is the great thing about writing science fiction on the grand scale. You can have a great deal of fun simply blowing things (Places, Cities, even whole planets) up. Although in the imaginary future of the ‘Stars’ trilogy, the Gaians see democracy as a primary threat, and spend a great deal of time trying to wipe out said dangerous creed. So it could be argued that the Gaians got what was coming to them.

Visual aids


Not a good day so far. Writing is again at the zero level because I’m busy running around doing other people’s errands. Small things being blown up out of all proportion, and being dumped in my lap. Like it’s my fault they were broken in the first place.

Still. One must persevere in these situations.

I’m beginning to understand why movies cost so much to make. My own first dozen attempts at doing readings for a simple YouTube vid are so full of slurring, fluffs and swearing that I’m beginning to doubt whether English is my first language or not. This is puzzling, because at Drama School, sight reading was at the top of my skill set. There’s also the issue that any vid I make approaching a Gig in file size overloads my little cameras memory controller, and the file will not download. Although considering the standard my sight reading has sunk to, I’m currently thanking goodness for the delete key. There is no way I’m inflicting that on an unsuspecting world. Even for the sheer comedy value.

Distractions


Hardly any writing output for the past few days. Too many distractions. That, and a feeling of having been kicked in the side. I think I must have pulled a muscle shifting logs. All I know is that it hurts enough to interfere with my breathing. Being ill on Tuesday didn’t help, the feeling of being bunged up and hardly being able to see out of my left eye. Every time I coughed was like being punched in the ribs. Still a little creaky.

Began Thursday with long, rambling conversation with Angie about psychology and what I call ‘behavioural response loops’ which many substitute for real thought and awareness. The way a loss of conscious thought whole days (and for some, lives) can disappear into a kind of mental fog without significant action. Days plagued by unnecessary trivia caused by people who ‘forgot’. The feeling of being stalled because others haven’t done their bit. Nothing that can’t be fixed, of course, but nothing that shouldn’t have been broken in the first place. This has been the defining characteristic of the past week.

Daughter is currently going through one of her noisy phases, breaking into raucous song when I would rather have quiet to work. There are also passports to be renewed and a thousand other things getting in the way of sustained effort on the manuscript front. Especially on the run up to Christmas. I’ve never been much of a ‘festive’ person, and while I don’t mind doing grown up stuff, tend to baulk at being expected to get all happy clappy at the behest of others. It’s not something that sits well with me. Too artificial, too forced. Partying for the sake of it was something I left behind at seventeen.

To break the creative impasse, I’ve been doing readings to camera to put up on YouTube. Not bad, but I’d never noticed before that I have a slight stammer. Not much, just the odd stumble over some simple words and phrases, but despite my drama training my verbal glitch shows up whenever I try to read a little too quickly. Thinking about it, I’ve never been all that comfortable in my own skin, and tend to do much better when I read ‘In Character’. Perhaps I need to develop a ‘reader’ character and let him take over when I want to speak in public.

Friday night we took the evening off to go and see ‘Puss in Boots‘ at the movies. A good chuckle raised me out of my immediate fugue state, and as such I can thoroughly recommend the film. The cat specific and ‘fairytale’ gags are pretty good, the DreamWorks animation superb as always, and the 3D exceptional. Worth seeing twice. One for the DVD collection.

There’s also a music lesson to book. Perhaps a session of almost reducing some poor guitar teacher to tears at my lack of talent might help.

These past few days have taught me that some days you just to write off as too much trouble to get your head down properly.

Nuclear Fusion and Starship design – a few thoughts -Part 2


Having nailed my colours to the mast with regards to my fictional version of Nuclear Fusion, I’d like to continue digging my literary grave with a few thoughts on faster than light travel and Starship construction.

Current thinking seems to favour the ‘space warp’ / wormhole method of sidestepping ‘normal’ space times limitations as documented in the writings and theories of Albert Einstein and others.

Now as far as travel through such portals is concerned, my own thinking is in total concurrence. The only way of transcending the speed of light is via some other dimension or set of dimensions, like the theoretical realms of sub space or hyperspace. Where my view diverges from many of the concepts on offer is in the areas of field dynamics and thus starship design, and here I would like to offer the following thoughts, structured as postulates.

Postulate 1; Such a ‘Starship Drive’ would require power in the Gigawatt, Terawatt, and possibly even the Petawatt range, from a Nuclear Fusion reaction.

Postulate 2; Such a starship could only travel through the realms of sub or hyperspace in a heavily magnetically shielded ‘warp’. Unshielded media, signals or ordinary matter, even if they could enter such a realm, such as by a ‘Stargate’ type device would immediately become disorganised and lose cohesion. Perhaps explosively so. This would rule out any form of Teleportation of unprotected matter.

Postulate 3; Star ship design would have to be governed by the field dynamics of an electromagnetic field. Using this paradigm, the most efficient shape for a starship would be perfectly globular or cylindrical to provide a medium to establish a tight magnetic circuit close to the hull. At least field densities sufficient to allow a transition to a different set of space time dimensions.

In my fictional universe, Starship design favours blank cylinders with no windows, only camera and radar displays to show the outside. Also sub space, at least to our eyes, would be effectively invisible, as our eyes and senses are limited to the wavelengths of the visible electromagnetic spectrum, which might not be valid in a sub or hyperspace type transition. We would have no means of directly viewing such a set of dimensions, except being able to view the inside of a magnetic field boundary, which I describe as a uniform silky black.

My reasoning is thus; whilst all the external bits and pieces bolted on look very pretty, Starships of the “Enterprise” or irregular hull shapes would likely require too much energy, and the field shape would contain too many irregularities for the magnetic field to properly protect and enable translation between transitional space time and normal space time. A smooth and regular field shape is more desirable and easier to maintain than one that is all odd angles.

This issue is addressed in The ‘Sky full of Stars’, where a flaw in field dynamics design results in ‘Quantum foam‘ damage to the hull of the ‘Vancouver’ (A transport starship), nearly results in disaster for Paul Stovek and Lan Yue.

Quantum foam being microscopic vortices of subspace that momentarily exist in the wake of a subspace field collapse during transition to ‘normal’ space. The end result is transforming solid material into a porous sponge like lattice of hull material. In the case of the narrative, a titanium alloy. Such is my fictional interpretation of current thinking, anyway.

Nuclear Fusion and Starship design – a few thoughts – part 1


I’ve been re-reading ‘The Sky Full of Stars‘ again, trying to poke holes (well, more holes than necessary) in the narrative, and thought I might blog a few explanatory notes behind my vision of the technology. Today’s subject is Nuclear Fusion as a means for providing the energy for a Starship Drive. This is nothing new. Fusion as a literary device has a long and venerable history. Nuclear Fusion, and the wealth of energy it could theoretically deliver is a goal (currently) beyond the dreams of Physicists.

Real world Nuclear Fusion ‘in the wild’ occurs when a sufficient mass of hydrogen atoms are sufficiently compressed to create the fireball that becomes a star. ‘Star nurseries‘, where this process has been observed are a well known astronomical phenomenon. It is also observable in H-Bombs, which are a relatively crude means of getting hydrogen to fuse in sufficient quantities for a multi-megaton yield explosive device.

With Fusion, the first trick seems to be to get plasma at sufficient heat, pressure and density into a single point to initiate a self sustaining reaction. The second is getting usable power out of such a reactor without melting the entire installation. Such is the potential violence from the theoretical energy release.

Creating a controlled superheated plasma has been achieved many times before, including actual incidences of fusion, but only sporadically. Part of the problem seems to be in the plasma streams themselves, which tend to ‘arc’ to earth quite readily like lightning bolts. Stopping the plasma behaving in this fashion is heavy on power input, because even with heavy duty superconductors, the amount of electricity needed for the required electromagnetic containment field outstrips any output many times over. Focussing a super powerful laser at a single pellet of hydrogen isotope has also been tried.

The only current means of achieving even partially controlled Nuclear Fusion require huge amounts of energy to spark off a reaction. This is the current reality of nuclear fusion technology. Unless some new fusion milestone has been passed recently, and skipped merrily under my radar.

In my fictional world, I have a vision of a controllable nuclear fusion reaction as a hybrid between the ‘Wiffleball’ or Polywell (WB-6, 7, 8 After the theoretical work of Robert Bussard, later Richard Nebel) and the more ‘conventional’ Tokamak based designs (ITER etc). A critical point of fusing hydrogen atoms (Forgetting the technicalities surrounding Isotopes of Hydrogen for the moment) is developed by focussing a number of plasma streams into a ‘pinch point’ at which the conditions for a fusion reaction become possible.

One of the phenomena that may make this vision possible is the ability of plasma to ‘self organise’ into helices if a sufficient charge of electric current is passed through the plasma itself (See this result from the RFP Experiment, Padova Italy in 2009). Thus reducing the propensity of the heated plasma to arc to the nearest earth. What I propose is arranging several lower power Tokamak type toroids on edge so they form a kind of ring doughnut shape with a pinch point in the centre, where all the plasma streams converge in a narrow central core; charging the plasma so it forms helices, then synchronising the helical plasma streams to create one or a series of hot spots where sustainable heat, pressure and plasma density for continuous and controllable nuclear fusion may be created.

Getting any power out, of course might prove a little tricky. Although a charged particle stream from a Fusion reaction should be enough to induce electrical current via a series of coil windings or discharge points, as well as some form of rapid heat transfer mechanism to create steam to drive an electricity generating turbine. Preventing those melting might prove an issue, but those are mere technicalities.

At the moment my conjecture is purely a literary device, rather like the use of the hypothetical realm of ‘subspace’ for faster than light travel, or ‘space warp’. Yet like so many literary devices, perhaps my version might give a real world physicist a second thought, which in turn might go some way to provide a workable solution for the dream of almost limitless energy. With Fusion, there is always the constant feeling that we are on the cusp of something great and powerful. Yet like so many other other inventions, like heavier than air powered flight and the mass mobility of the automobile, there are one or two missing pieces in the jigsaw before we have the whole picture.

Readings, a study in frustration


One of the things I’m trying to put together is readings of my work to go up on Youtube, and embed back to this blog. I have a nice little camera with enough capacity to take decent quality video’s. I have a tripod, and a place to sit.

My problem is my household; despite repeated requests for some quiet to read aloud, I’m beset by a dog who whines and snuffles for attention every time I open my mouth and he’s not the focus of my every motion. My wife and stepdaughter have a habit of demanding my attention immediately, now, right this second, no matter what I’m doing, no matter where I am. With an unerring sense of bad timing, the doorbell rings with callers. The phone goes with some blasted autodialled nonsense trying to sell me stuff I don’t and will never want, or a call to my wife. It’s not so much the interruptions to what I see as vital market preparation activity. It’s the lack of privacy and personal space that grates.

Under these circumstances, any videoed readings tend to get interrupted, frequently. Short of hiring time at a professional studio, I don’t know what to do. Nevertheless; I shall persevere. One of us has got to give in, knuckle under, surrender, break, fracture, shatter, eventually. Who knows, in the words of the old folk tale; the Horse may learn to sing.

Cerberus novella


Have been looking through my story notes and partial manuscripts for my ‘Cerberus’ series of Novels / Novellas. One of the thoughts occurs to me that perhaps it might be better if I kept the story length down to 20,000 – 30,000 words. At present I’m looking at throwing a couple out into the eBook market place at about $1-2.99 each. A serialisation. Like Stephen King originally did with the ‘Green Mile’.

Will be trying to follow Vonneguts eight rules for writing fiction:

  1. Use the time of a total stranger in such a way that he or she will not feel the time was wasted.
  2. Give the reader at least one character he or she can root for.
  3. Every character should want something, even if it is only a glass of water.
  4. Every sentence must do one of two things — reveal character or advance the action.
  5. Start as close to the end as possible.
  6. Be a sadist. Now matter how sweet and innocent your leading characters, make awful things happen to them — in order that the reader may see what they are made of.
  7. Write to please just one person. If you open a window and make love to the world, so to speak, your story will get pneumonia.
  8. Give your readers as much information as possible as soon as possible. To heck with suspense. Readers should have such complete understanding of what is going on, where and why, that they could finish the story themselves, should cockroaches eat the last few pages.

Well, maybe I might play a bit fast and loose with rule 8.  A little suspense is no bad thing, and there’s nothing like a cliffhanger to spur the reader along.

Exile


I’ve been an admirer of Steve Knightleys songs for some time, but this one brought me up short. Listening to the lyrics touches me on so many levels. A sense of something lost beyond reach of time and space. A feeling of a life moved on and bereft of the feelings anchoring it. A hollow darkness where something, I’m not sure what, used to be.

Carried by the flow of Steve’s words I am transported to my South Warwickshire roots. Rain on my face, and chill air catching the back of my throat. Long, solitary walks on grey English country days. Coast path walking around Cornwall with rain driving through my clothing and the wild wicked surf a slipped footstep away. Bare feet on deliciously early morning dew wet turf. Slanted morning sunlight through trees, golden light in my eyes, and a sense of being touched in the very soul by something with no voice. A massive catalogue of memory accessed with the keys of pointless longing. The sad, hopeless knowledge that these moments are part of something that no longer exists.

A beautiful, evocative song for the exiled. Because I know there is no going home, for home is neither the place, and no longer where I left it.

Update: I’ve been thinking about this, and the thought has occurred that if I was very, incredibly lucky and some Producer person took a real liking to my work and wanted to make a movie of it; as in the case of ‘Steel’, Richard Matheson’s 1956 short story behind the hit movie ‘Real Steel‘. The people I’d insist on doing at least some of the music would be Steve Knightley and Show of Hands. ‘Exile’ hits a nerve with a particular sequence from ‘Sky Full of Stars‘ and oddly enough the tone of isolation felt by my lead character in ‘The Odd Machine‘.

Return of the ‘Penny Dreadful’


Back in the 19th, and early 20th century, there was a type of cheap sensationalist fiction called the ‘Penny Dreadful‘. Serialised fiction which is echoed in the less literary ‘Graphic Novels’ of today. Of late I’ve found myself thinking that there’s a gap in the market as far as eBooks are concerned.

Having considered the matter, there’s always been a market for such material, from Romance to Thriller, from Supernatural to Science Fiction. It’s called ‘pulp’, and there was once a modest living to be made from it.

Now I’ll be the first to concede that I’m no towering intellect. I’m a working stiff with an occasionally elegant turn of phrase. Yet even I can see echoes of the Victorian past and mass literacy that rode on the back of such reading material in the growing market for independently published eBooks.

There are those high-minded individuals who sniff at such poor literary fare, disparaging anything which does not live up to their personal ideals. For my own part; I think this attitude is counter productive to mass literacy, and expecting everyone to prefer Dickens or Orwell rather misses the point. The idea of the ‘pulp’ end of the market should be to provide a springboard to get the less literate actually reading. Providing a set of low rungs on the literacy ladder that the less motivated or able can readily clamber onto. Although I personally draw my own line at tales of Vampires and Zombies. Just never seen the appeal.

The truly great thing about the new eBook market is that no-one sees you hanging around the e-comic book store and makes sniffy comments about age, intellect, or darker associations. There’s no-one in online book stores to pass judgement on the contents of your eReader. It’s incredibly cheap, democratic, and there’s nobody telling you what to read. I think it would be a crime against mass literacy if we let the narrow tastes of the high minded dictate who reads what.

As far as reading is concerned, we all have to start somewhere, and we all have different tastes and comfort zones.

I will be presenting my own contribution before Christmas. One ten thousand word serialised eBook a month; and if demand is good, perhaps more often.

Some notes on eBook formatting


Just had a story rejected as an eBook over formatting issues. Easily resolved, but a thoroughgoing pain to have to go over and redo work you thought you’d completed a month ago.

The trick seems to be that my specific eBook publisher needs the source document to have the story spilt into specific segments, like chapters. Now I find cutting up a story like this a bit limiting sometimes, as chapters can get in the way of a narrative flow by cutting it into distinct chunks. For some narratives they work, but for others, not. I find they tend to slow the flow of a story down too much, especially if you’re dealing with multiple related story lines.

For my Novella, ‘The Odd Machine‘ which is out as an eBook, I had to chop the story into fourteen distinct ‘chunks’ to satisfy the eBook criteria, with the factual story notes as a fifteenth section. As someone who can read at over twelve hundred words a minute when the mood takes him, I find chapters in this format are often too short and detract from the pleasure of reading.

When formatting, the simple rules to follow seem to be these,
Firstly; ensure that all indented paragraphs have no extra tabs in them. Always use the ‘Paragraph format’ tool with the ‘first line’ option selected. If you can get away with it, don’t use tabs in your manuscript at all.
Secondly; in the MSS file, the eBook title should be in ‘Heading 1’
Thirdly; the chapter headings should be in ‘Heading 2’ and any subsections in ‘Heading 3’. Anything else doesn’t seem to work.

Following these simple rules should ensure that your eBook gets out into the marketplace without any unwarranted and annoying formatting related delays.

Cerberus


Am doing a first proof on a partial MSS I last worked on five years ago. I like it, but even I can see why the project ground to a halt though. The plot is too weak. The story runs out of steam at around the 45,000 word mark. Paints a great picture of a post-anarchy South London though.

My major issue is that in spite of there being enough detail, drama, sex and violence in the narrative, there are too many loose ends. No definite direction. Apart from that its very well written and has lots to maintain reader interest, including some quite elegant character quirks. Despite that, the MSS is in need of a revamp to get the story successfully from A to Z.

I think that apart from a jailbreak, the storyline tells little of my lead characters motivations and objectives. That is the projects main weakness. He’s swept along by events and doesn’t really take control of his destiny. He’s a great Deus ex machina, but needs a little something extra. In the words of Hitchcock, a Macguffin.

Aside from that, a little extra thought will make ‘Shifting States’ ready for market. Fifteen thousand words and a cliffhanger ending, perhaps. Four to six weeks work in between putting the last volume of the Stars Trilogy together, and beginning work on Earth’s Night.

Literary festival?


At a neighbours birthday party last night I got talking to a neighbour of mine (Kenn Joubert) who writes historical fiction (Even won an award for it), and we fell to discussing the issues surrounding self published works. Issues like the difficulties associated with getting your product to market. Most of them to do with distribution. Problems like Book shops being highly reluctant to stock non mainstream books except on terms that significantly reduce author royalties. Some who won’t even talk to self published authors, as though self publishing was some kind of communicable disease.

One of the ideas we bounced around was a regular series of Literary events for local self publish authors, purely on a co-operative basis. Nanaimo is a tourist stopover for Cruise ships, and the thought occurs that perhaps if we synchronised our events with cruise ship arrivals we might act firstly as a point of sale for member self publishers, secondly as an attraction for those cruise ship passengers who are looking for something to read where they can guarantee to talk to an author.

While the idea is all very nebulous at the moment, I can actually see it working; providing we get the mechanics of who does what agreed, and everyone sticks to their part of the ship. A downtown location would work best to make travel easier for visitors. A deal done with a local hotel, something that provides a focus for visitors. Like the Hay-on-Wye festival in the UK. Perhaps something coupled with a regular web presence. Rather than hiding our collective laurels under a bush, perhaps with a little goodwill such a concept can be made to work, and not cost us a fortune.

Take a walk on the dark side of Science Fiction ©

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