Writing No-Go List

Writing No-Go List

Hey folks. For starters, I want to emphasize that the following is an attempt at satire. It was inspired by a skit I recently saw on the Baroness Von Sketch Show (good show, btw!) about a writing class where they are hoping to avoid the usual cliches. It got me thinking about sci-fi cliches, and what I would tell a writing class if I were in charge.

I would love to teach such a class and someday. And so I would consider the following list canon if anyone were to actually look to me for writing advice.

Continue reading “Writing No-Go List”

How Science Journalism Helped Me Become a Better Sci-Fi Writer

How Science Journalism Helped Me Become a Better Sci-Fi Writer

The following is an article that I recently published with Universe Today. And since it concerns my recently-published novels, I felt absolutely obliged to share it here. Enjoy!

Hello all. I hope our readers don’t mind that I’m taking a bit of a diversion here today to engage in a little shameless self-promotion. Basically, I wanted to talk about my recently-published novel – The Jovian Manifesto. This book is the sequel to The Cronian Incident, which was published last year (and was a little  shamelessly promoted at the time).

Continue reading “How Science Journalism Helped Me Become a Better Sci-Fi Writer”

Ten Day Book Challenge: Day Five

Ten Day Book Challenge: Day Five

Okay, I admit it. I’ve been completely derelict when it comes to this challenge. But I hope to amend that by finishing it things up and acknowledging all the books that have inspired me in the past.

Okay, so as usual, here are the rules of this challenge:

  • Thank whoever nominated you with big, bold print. If they have a blog, link to the post where you got tagged there.
  • Explain the rules.
  • Post the cover of a book that was influential on you or that you love dearly.
  • Explain why it was so influential to you.
  • Tag someone else to do the challenge, and let them know they’ve been tagged.

Thanks once again to RAMI UNGAR for the nomination, and you can find him at ramiungarthewriter.com. And for this latest entry, I would like to select the Singularity-themed sci-fi classic Accelerando, by Charles Stross.

Have you ever read a book that felt it came along at exactly the right time? Or one that spoke to you and your particular interests at the time? Well, this was one such book for me. Rather than being a single story, this book is actually a collection of shorts that Stross wrote during the early 2000s, but which were all connected by a common theme. Essentially, the six shorts tell the story of three generations of the Macx family, and take place before, during and after the Technological Singularity.

What I loved about this book is how it takes a look at the near-future and how the accelerated pace of technological innovation will make life very interesting (and complicated). It also speaks about several key innovations that are expected, ranging from AI, additive manufacturing (3-D printing), nanotechnology, neural uploads, and commercial space travel.

Looking at the more distant future, it shows how these trends will lead to a breakneck pace of change that will leave most of humanity struggling to remain human. It also throws is some truly interesting and entertaining bits about extra-terrestrial intelligence, a possible answer to the Fermi Paradox, and humanity’s long-term destiny among the stars.

Basically, this book covered all the bases that I was voraciously trying to learn about at the time for the sake of my own writing. It made predictions, both realistic and fantastical, that just spoke to me. And what especially impressed was the way that Stross, writing these stories at a least decade prior to me reading them, predicted so many trends that were slowly coming true. As such, I consider this book to be both inspirational and quintessential to my more recent education as a science fiction writer.

Next up, I nominate Joachim Boaz and his blog, Science Fiction and Other Suspect Ruminations!

The Ten Day Book Challenge: Day Two

The Ten Day Book Challenge: Day Two

Hello again, all. First, please forgive my tardiness in posting this. It’s been a busy weekend and an even busier year! I shall try to catch up over the next few days, though I can’t imagine life is going to get any less busy in the near future. Even so, I got plenty more books to talk about that have had a profound effect on me and influenced my decision to become a writer.

But first, here are the rules of this challenge again!

  • Thank whoever nominated you with big, bold print. If they have a blog, link to the post where you got tagged there.
  • Explain the rules.
  • Post the cover of a book that was influential on you or that you love dearly.
  • Explain why it was so influential to you.
  • Tag someone else to do the challenge, and let them know they’ve been tagged.

Again, I would like to thank RAMI UNGAR for the nomination, and you can find him at ramiungarthewriter.com. And for day two of the challenge, I would like to select the book that taught people to take science fiction seriously – Dune!

dune

Much like Lord of the Rings, this timeless classic was one I learned about growing up, but didn’t get around to reading until my 20s. And just like with LOTR, once I did read it, I could see why its influence has been so pervasive. While Frank Herbert wrote many science fiction novels during his lifetime, none have had the same impact as the first installment in his six-book Dune series. And while I myself read all six twice, the first book is arguably the best.

For starters, the story involved one of the richest, most-inspired and most-detailed universes ever created in the history science fiction. Based on the concept of a galactic empire where politics, the economy and all social norms are essentially combination of the futuristic and medieval, the setting of Dune would go on to inspire Lucas’ Star Wars universe, not to mention countless other franchises that combine sci-fi with fantasy. What’s more, many of the planets in the novel have been formally adopted by the International Astronomical Union (IAU) as place names for features on the Moon and Saturn’s largest moon, Titan.

But it was the complex interweaving of real history, religion, environmentalism, resource dependency, and cultural and social commentary that blew me away and has ensured that this book is likely to be included in any top ten lists of science fiction books that you can find – not to mention one of the top ten books people pretend to have read. And to round it all out, it has a very deep plot that examines the enduring mystery of prophets and messiahs in human history, and the paradox of prescience. As Frank Herbert himself wrote, “to know the future is to become trapped by it.”

I could go on and on, but I’ve already reviewed this book more than once and don’t want to spoil it for anyone who hasn’t read it yet. And if you’re one of those people who haven’t, get on it!

And now it’s time for me to nominate someone new. And so I call upon Lady Muse herself, Khaalidah Mohammed Ali!

Almost Done!

Almost Done!

Hey all! I have more in the way of novel-writing news. For starters, The Cronian Incident is now just a few chapters short of completion. After over a year of writing, editing, and back and forth with my prospective-publisher, the novel is just about finished. All told, it is now 31 chapters long and just over 85,000 words in length. I anticipate it will be about 100,000 by the time its finished, though I have been known to exceed estimates in the past!

And as per my agreement with my publisher, I have begun working on its sequel. Apparently, publishers like to know the people they sign have more books in them. And they prefer to release sequels within a few months of the first book, to ensure that any buzz they generate with the first release can be capitalized on. Lucky for me I had plans for a second and third novel before my publisher and I started talking, not to mention some spin offs.

So here’s the commercial description for the proposed sequel (i.e. what you’d read on the back of the dust jacket), as well as a rundown on some other ideas I’m working on:

The Jovian Manifesto:

The Solar System is in the midst of a crisis. In the Jovian and Cronian systems, the populations are up in arms, thanks to an inflammatory document that has appeared on the local nets. Known as “The Jovian Manifesto”, this document details how a powerful faction in the Inner Solar System conspired to seize control over the moons of Callisto and Titan and forcibly alter them. Behind the leak is a mysterious personality known only as Clio, who is threatening to release all the details unless the guilty parties come forward.

Back on Venus, a former analyst named Valéria Gallego is called before the Solar Assembly to investigate the Manifesto and its author. In this, she is assisted by Kadera, an infiltration specialist who can get in and out of any location in the Solar System. If they can determine its authenticity, perhaps they can prevent open conflict. But if not, the Inner Worlds may have no choice but to send armed forces to the Outer Worlds to ensure peace and stability.

Meanwhile, a string of violent acts has threatened to bring things ever closer to the brink. For Gallego and all those who are seeking the truth, time is running out…

Luna Invictus:

Now this is a book that doesn’t come with a commercial description, just a general one. But it is set in the same universe as The Cronian Incident and The Jovian Manifesto. Here’s what I am thinking. Basically, I wanted to do a story set on the Moon, ca. the 22nd century, when the Moon is now effectively colonized,,,

Between the European Space Agency (ESA), NASA, the Russians (Roscosmos), India (the ISRO), and China (CNSA), the lunar surface now has multiple permanent settlements. Whereas the ESA and NASA have established themselves at the southern polar region – in a domed settlement in the Shackleton Crater – and the Chinese have established a colony in the northern polar region, the Russians and Indians have claimed the mid-latitudes, where stable lava tubes have allowed for the creation of underground cities.

And on the “Dark Side” of the Moon – that is to say, the side looking away from Earth – are a series of installations known as the Unrestricted Zones. It is here that all kinds of weird research, development and experiments take place. Nanotechnology, biotechnology, quantum computing, and man-machine interface – anything goes in these places! Ever since the explosion in learning that took place during the previous century, places all over Earth and the Moon have become dedicated to pursuing technological progress and integration without restriction.

And it is here that a young man named Frankling Houte is seeking to go. Years ago, his sister – named Constant Houte – chose to undergo a procedure where her organic brain would be augmented by merging it with quantum components. But after all contact ceased, he is determined to find her and return her home. But whereas Franklin fancies himself a brave rescuer, it is his sister who will come to save him.

Transverse:

This story will take place entirely in a generation ship that is making its way towards the nearby star system. Within the confines of this self-contained world, thousands of humans have committed to waiting and working for generations as their massive ship – the Traverse Velocity, which in astronomical terms refers to the speed at which a star moves perpendicular to our line of sight – transports them to an Earth-like world outside of our Solar System.

The location of that world is up for grabs at the moment, mainly because new discoveries are being made all the time. Did you hear about the latest exoplanet discovery, located about 39 light years away and already said to be the “best place to look for signs of life beyond the Solar System”? Between that and new findings that claims how previous discoveries are not likely to be habitable after all, I’ve decided to leave the destination blank until I actually start writing it!

But of course, no story would be complete without some intrigue and big ol’ inciting event! And the way I see it, things begin to go awry when the Captain and crew get notification that one of the passengers has awakened from cryosleep prematurely and disappeared into the ship. Shortly thereafter, one of the crew is found dead in what appears to be a sabotage attempt gone wrong. A ship-wide search begins to find the culprit while the atmosphere quickly devolves into one of paranoia and suspicion.

To make matter worse, the crew becomes aware of another ship that is threatening to catch up and overtake them. It seems that another faction from the Solar System, which was also intent on settling (insert exoplanet here) is now trying to get their ahead of them. What began as a journey to a new world, characterized by hopes and dreams, has become a race to lay claim to a planet. And it appears that the planet may have inhabitants of its own, ones which are not interested in welcoming the intruders.

Updates, Complications, and the Ongoing Struggle to get S#%* Done!

Updates, Complications, and the Ongoing Struggle to get S#%* Done!

Hey everybody. I know that these days, I have a tendency to post only occasional updates on my blog these days. Hopefully that is something that will change in the near future. But one of the upsides of this is that I always have plenty of news to share when I DO post.

Speaking of which, a LOT has happened in the past few months. For one, I’ve been sick January, which means that I’ve been sick for about seven weeks straight now. This has to be the longest bout of flu that I’ve ever suffered from. And I tell ya, it really sucks! An upside to this is the fact that I’ve severely curtailed my alcohol and sugar consumption. This has been great for my health, though I’ve also missed a lot of exercise because I’ve been too tired and stuffy to train or hit the gym. Life always seems to make you compromise, huh?

Next, on January 21st, I had some really good news. After months of back and forth with my prospective publisher (Tickety Boo Press), I finally got a chance to have a face-to-face with the acquiring editor. Well, it was on Skype, but that counts these days! After talking about edits, he said that the company would like to sign me for a three book deal and a short story! However, about a week later, the same man sent out a mass email saying he quit the press over creative differences. This meant that guys like me (who had not signed a contract yet) needed to scramble to make sure we still had a deal.

Luckily, I managed to talk to the senior editor over at Tickety Boo and learned that I still had a spot in their 2017 catalog. Unfortunately, I still had to forward this man the latest copy of the five chapter treatment of my manuscript and wait for his thoughts on it. After weeks of waiting, he informed me the other day that they had a new acquiring editor for their SF division, so I now had someone who I could contact and who would be able to promptly get back to me.

On that same front, I am almost finished the manuscript for The Cronian Incident. After a lot of revising, merging, snipping and editing, I now have a 30+ chapter story that should be about 90,000 words once its all done. Just a few chapters to go, and I can begin making final edits and revisions before sending the whole thing off to the publisher. That is a huge relief, I tell you! After working this idea in my head for over a year, it feels good to finally be getting it all down on paper.

Let’s see… other news. Oh yeah, in the past few months, I also got do so something really cool for my job. This consisted of my participating in NASA call-in briefing, which I did on two occasions. The first occasion took place early in January, when NASA was announcing their latest Discovery missions. One is known as the Lucy mission, which will examine Jupiter’s Trojan asteroids to learn more about the formation of the early Solar System. The other, known as Psyche, will be exploring an asteroid in the Main Belt that is made entirely of metal. It is believed that this is actually the core remnant of a Mars-sized planet that lost its mantle after colliding with other massive objects.

Psyche proposal.jpg

The fun part happened during the phone-in portion, where we got to ask the Principal Investigators of each mission questions. Since I had written about the Psyche mission in the past, I decided to nut-up and ask a question. It took me some time to come up with something I thought was half-way intelligent, but finally called in. It came to me when she said that the mission could help shed light on how metallic cores  generated planetary magnetic fields (which is the current scientific consensus).

Addressing Psyche’s PI, Lindy Elkins-Tanton, I asked if studying this core’s magnetic environment could help teach us why Mars lost its magnetic field billions of years ago. Since this caused it to lose its atmosphere, thus becoming a cold, desiccated world which no longer could support rivers, lakes and oceans, learning more about how cores generate magnetic fields could help us to locate habitable worlds in the future.

She acknowledged that it was a good question, and that she really wasn’t sure. But she said they hoped that their study of Psyche could help shed light on questions like this in the future and they would have to see what they found. Suffice it to say, I was very pleased with myself! Rather than laughing at me or answering in such a way that told me that my question was brain-dead, she seemed genuinely impressed with the question and hoped that they could answer it some day.

5_lineup_pia21422-png

The second call-in happened towards the end of February. My boss told me NASA had some huge news to announced of an exoplanet-hunting nature and gave me the job of calling in. So I did, and got to hear firsthand about the discovery of seven exoplanets around the same star – TRAPPIST-1 – and how three of them are not only comparable in size to Earth, but orbit within the star’s habitable zone.

Naturally, this was very exciting news! This time, rather than stick around for question period, I hung up almost immediately after the announcement was finished and began writing about it furiously. It was both fun and a real privilege to be the one to break this story for our publication. And the hits were pretty mad!

That’s about it, I think. It’s been a busy post-holiday wrap up. And now that we are getting into Spring, I am happily looking forward to a few things. And I hope to be able to convey some of them as they happen, rather than months after the fact! Thanks for reading 🙂

Cronian Incident – Part III Complete!

Cronian Incident – Part III Complete!

Hello, everyone. As usual, I feel obliged to share some good news of the milestone-hitting variety. As the title makes abundantly clear, I’ve completed the third part in my upcoming novel, The Cronian Incident. Yes, thanks to my somewhat less than tireless efforts over the course of the past few months, this story is now three-fourths complete, and officially stands at thirty chapters and 60,000 words in length. And it’s been quite the ride so far.

Since I stopped daydreaming about (and bothering people with) this idea and began putting words to paper, I have managed to bang out the better part of a story that involves our Solar System in the late 23rd century, colonization, terraforming, and the future of humanity. And in the course of this, I’ve had to create and detail settings for Mercury, Mars, and the Jovian moon Callisto, and fill in bits of pieces on culture, history and other assorted aspects of background to boot.

Much of this has to do with setting the tone of the late 23rd century. The way I see it, humanity has passed through two major cataclysms at this point, both of which took place in the 21st century. The first was the Climate Crisis, where all over the world, economies began to collapse as drought, crop failure, and warfare led to the displacement of millions of people.

Color-enhanced map of Mercury. Credit: NASA/JPL
Color-enhanced map of Mercury. Credit: NASA/JPL

The second occurred shortly thereafter, when all around the world, the technological progress that has been building up since the Paleolithic exploded in a quantum leap of learning and accelerated change. Within decades, the Climate Crises began to abate, and a new world characterized by runaway change began to take over. And at about the same time, a renewed Space Age set in as humans began to migrate to the Moon, to Mars, and beyond.

And after about a century and a half of all that, the human race has now colonized the majority of the Solar System. Between Mercury, Venus, the Moon, Mars, the Asteroid Belt, Jupiter’s moons, Saturn’s moons, and of course, Earth and its millions of orbital habitats, the human race now stands at a hefty 15 billion. And across this vast interplanetary dominion, a massive economy has taken root that is beyond scarcity and want.

But there are no shortages of intrigue thanks to the forces that have shaped this new age. While the inner Solar System is populated by people who have embraced the Singularity, transhumanism, posthumanism, and runaway progress, the outer Solar System has become a new home for people looking to escape this pace of life and maintain a simpler existence. And in time, the disappearance of one person will force everyone – be they in the inner or outer worlds – to sit up and take notice.

jupiter_moons
Jupiter’s larger (Galilean) moons, Callisot, Europa, Io and Ganymede. Credit: NASA

I tell you, it’s been tiring process, getting this far. And at one point, I did declare that I had OD’d on writing about setting and world building. I mean, how can you dedicate 20,000 words to detailing a place, making it as vivid as possible for the reader, and then just switch to another? Screw plot necessity, it’s like abandoning an idea half-way! And I still have the all important one – the Cronian moon Titan – to cover.

But I’d be lying if I said that it hasn’t also been fun and that it wouldn’t be so tiring if I weren’t’ completely emotionally invested in it. And (spoiler alert!) that is where things should be the most interesting. As is usually the case, Part I through III of this four-part story have been all about establishing character, background, a sense of space and place, and introducing the various elements that drive the plot.

But in Part IV, I will not only get to write about a particularly intriguing place – Titan; capital city Huygens; dense nitrogen-methane atmosphere; principle industries, methane and ammonia harvesting; principle activities, sailing on methane lakes and gliding in low-g, cruising for action in its Yellow Light District and political dissent – but I’ll also be getting into the real heart of the plot, the mystery of the disappearing Dr. Lee!

Callisto_base
A possible base on the surface of Callisto. Credit: NASA

In the coming months, I hope to have part IV, fully edited, and in a position to be published. While it remains unclear just what form that will take – the old submission to a publishing house route, or via an independent publisher – I know that some really amazing friends and colleagues will be there to cheer it on. Hell, some of them actually read this blog, for some reason. So if you’re reading this now, then I thank you for sticking with me thus far! 🙂