Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Trilogy Giveaway

For those who are interested, I'm running a giveaway over on Goodreads for all three books of the Chronopticus Trilogy (Fractal Standard Time, Ionotatron, Chronopticus Rising). The giveaway is for paperbacks and will run until mid-December.

Details here.

Monday, October 20, 2014

Rowing Home

"For a true writer each book should be a new beginning where he tries again for something that is beyond attainment. He should always try for something that has never been done or that others have tried and failed. Then sometimes, with great luck, he will succeed. How simple the writing of literature would be if it were only necessary to write in another way what has been well written. It is because we have had such great writers in the past that a writer is driven far out past where he can go, out to where no one can help him." - Ernest Hemingway

For some reason this quote (from Hemingway's Nobel Prize speech) has always made me think of the book, The Old Man and the Sea. In the book, a Cuban fisherman rows way out beyond where most of the other fisherman go, and in turn ends up rowing home with the catch of a lifetime. Near home, the fish gets torn to pieces by sharks, but the memories remain.

Although many commentaries over the years have tried to find deeper allegories in the novella, the one allegory I never hear about is the act of writing. For example, the fisherman could be seen as the writer, the story could be the fish, and the voyage home could be the process of editing or dealing with critics.

In light of that, the last line of the quote above takes on a different meaning. Like fishing, sometimes writing a unique novel involves traveling "further out" into waters that are not as familiar. It may also mean that it is more difficult or even impossible to get assistance if the idea is too unique.

With every novel (and some short stories) I've written, I've often attempted to "row out" beyond where anyone else is at, for better or for worse. I'm not sure why I do this, but this is also the case for the Chronopticus Chronicles trilogy. Only time will tell if I even came close to succeeding what I originally envisioned. The final book in the series has proved to be the most difficult to complete due to its complexity, themes, and many other factors. In some ways it is one of the most complicated books I have ever written, and getting the ending chapters "right" is proving to be very difficult.

Whatever the finished product looks like, I know it will still fall short of my expectations despite my best efforts. Soon, however, the boat will be in dock again, and the "catch" unloaded. In the end, I hope somebody gets something out of it and that it doesn't become "garbage waiting to go out with the tide".

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Writing a Series - Lessons Learned

As I wind down the process of writing my first ever novel series (technically one short story collection plus two novels), I've come to the point where I can start assessing what worked and what went wrong with the process. This series, as I've mentioned before, grew out of a short story found in Corridors, titled, "The Mines of Mars". There were enough intriguing ideas in there that I thought it would be worth it to expand on them. Little did I know that after completing Fractal Standard Time, those ideas would keep on expanding until I came up with a narrative arc that would work in a series.

Each book in the series has presented its own set of challenges despite all the progress I've made over the years in my novel-writing process. Ionotatron was written during a very difficult time, and it was a miracle that I even got it done. Chronopticus Rising was written during an even more difficult period.

The third book also highlighted the need to build a solid "series bible", which is basically a document that keeps track of characters, settings, and events for the entire series. Although I have kept a series bible throughout this process, it more or less consists of a lot of looseleaf notebook pages, diagrams, and charts. Those pages include character histories, a history of the settlement of Mars, maps of the settlements throughout the years, diagrams of various vehicles and creatures, and maps of the main prison complex. This type of document is crucial to building believable worlds that have a logical consistency throughout the series. Down the road it might be better to put things into a database.

Also, the first dozen chapters of Chronopticus Rising were difficult to edit in the beginning. A major problem that popped up in the first draft was that the main character was too passive. Considering the tension and the events at the end of Ionotatron, some of his actions didn't make sense in retrospect. Those issues have been corrected now, but it just goes to show you there is always something new to learn despite the best preparation.

In some ways, I feel like I hit about 85% of what I wanted to accomplish in this series, and hopefully with the next one, I'll accomplish more of the goals I have in mind. Theoretically, I could keep expanding upon the various characters' stories in this series, but we'll see what happens.

What's next? After Chronopticus Rising is released (probably late November at this point), I will put up a short story titled, "Fermat's Last Theorem of Robotics". This will be followed early next year by a standalone novel, Race the Sky, which is about a stormchaser crossing paths with a cult researcher. After that, maybe I'll start in on another novel series.

Friday, October 10, 2014

Is Sin a Fractal?

In the upcoming novel, Chronopticus Rising, an imprisoned mathematician asks a peculiar question: "Is sin a fractal?" Although no character ever really answers the question, it is an idea that has come up a few times during the process of writing of this trilogy.

First, let's define a fractal. Webster's defines it as "any of various extremely irregular curves or shapes for which any suitably chosen part is similar in shape to a given larger or smaller part when magnified or reduced to the same size." Wikipedia states, "A fractal is a natural phenomenon or a mathematical set that exhibits a repeating pattern that displays at every scale. If the replication is exactly the same at every scale, it is called a self-similar pattern."

Now, for a definition of sin. Again, from Webster's: sin is "an offense against religious or moral law" or a "transgression of the law of God". So consider this verse from James 2:10 which reads, "For whosoever shall keep the whole law, and yet offend in one point, he is guilty of all." (KJV) In other words, no matter how small the offense against God's Law, it puts one in the category of a lawbreaker. A similar concept is echoed in Romans 3:23, which states, "For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God." (KJV)

Along these lines, James 4:1 makes this curious statement: "From whence come wars and fightings among you? Come they not hence, even of your lusts that war in your members?" (KJV). Or, as the NIV states, "What causes fights and quarrels among you? Don’t they come from your desires that battle within you?" In other words, the external battles are often a reflection of what is going on internally. It isn't hard to imagine that if you scale this concept up, nation can turn against nation without a lot of effort.

Maybe an alternative question to ask is this: is the Law a fractal? Take, for example, the Ten Commandments or the Law in general. Jesus said the Law could be summed by two simple statements. Matthew 22:37-40 (KJV) reads, "Jesus said unto him, "Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind. This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself. On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets."" If you work your way through Leviticus and Deuteronomy and look through the ceremonial, civil, and moral laws listed there, they all seem to reflect what Jesus said...despite their thoroughness.

Now, I don't pretend to have an answer for these questions, but it does make for some challenging fiction. And, as a writer, that's the most interesting kind of fiction to write.

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Random Tech Bits

A roundup of some relevant tech/space news headlines and a book update...

Comet 2013_A1 (aka Siding Spring) will be passing by Mars on October 19th, 2014. Originally, it looked as if the comet might smash into the planet, but now it appears it will just be a close call. Should be interesting to see what the pictures come back from the flyby.

In other Mars news, the Mars Orbiter Mission, launched by India, dropped into orbit around Mars recently. Some early pictures can be found here, and if you are interested, here is a site that has weather updates for the Red Planet.

Back here on Earth, someone flew a drone recently over the new futuristic Apple headquarters being built out in California. Due to be completed in 2016, from the air it looks like a giant doughnut (or a spaceship) that will have underground parking, an orchard, bikes for employee use, and R&D facilities.

In other news, on the nanoscale, researchers have created a "one dimensional crystal". I'm not sure what the practical applications of that are yet, but I guess we'll all find out someday.

And lastly, Chronopticus Rising is still undergoing edits. It should be available either in late November or early December. I should also have another short story available sometime in December with more novels to follow in the new year.

Friday, September 19, 2014

Define Eden

If there is a central question to the upcoming novel, Chronopticus Rising, it is this: how does one define "Eden"? Is the definition Biblical, secular, or does it vary from person to person? If a group of people come together and propose to build that "Eden", do they realize that sometimes their definitions do not line up with one another? Can they work together to achieve their common goal or will they tear themselves apart in the process?

Numerous times throughout the Chronopticus trilogy the subject of "Eden" comes up and many of the finer details of what it means to build a new "Eden" on another planet will be revealed in the last book of the series. Yet there is also a deeper theme at work here: how far is each side willing to go in order to achieve their utopian goals?

Wikipedia defines a utopia as "a community or society possessing highly desirable or near perfect qualities." How does one define "highly desirable" or "near perfect"? Aren't those definitions inherently relative?

Webster's dictionary defines utopia as "a place of ideal perfection especially in laws, government, and social conditions." Another definition states, "an impractical scheme for social improvement." For the word "Eden" it states, "paradise" or "the garden where according to the account in Genesis Adam and Eve first lived" or "a place of pristine or abundant natural beauty."

It would be hard to argue, at least initially, that Mars is a place of "abundant natural beauty" or that things would be "near perfect". But what would a new Eden, apart from Earth, look like? Would it involve a society without hate or without crime? Would it be limited to a certain set of belief systems or have comprehensive education and health care for all? If a group of people could start over completely from scratch and build an entire civilization from the ground up would it still end up looking like life back on Earth despite their intentions? Would they ever achieve a coveted utopia?

Let's take a look at how the Bible describes Eden.

The word "Eden" is mentioned fourteen times in the Bible (in reference to the Garden, not a personal name). The most notable references are found in Genesis chapters two and three. In Genesis 2:8-9, it states, "And the Lord God planted a garden eastward in Eden; and there he put the man whom he had formed. And out of the ground made the Lord God to grow every tree that is pleasant to the sight, and good for food; the tree of life also in the midst of the garden, and the tree of knowledge of good and evil." (KJV)

Man was then directed to tend to the garden and in Genesis 2:17 God gives this command: "But of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, thou shalt not eat of it: for in the day that thou eatest thereof thou shalt surely die." After this, Adam names the animals and Eve is created. Then, along comes the serpent in chapter three: "Now the serpent was more subtil than any beast of the field which the Lord God had made. And he said unto the woman, "Yea, hath God said, Ye shall not eat of every tree of the garden?"" (Genesis 3:1, KJV)

Although that last verse could generate an entire book unto itself, from that point forward, along with both Adam and Eve giving into temptation, events in Eden go downhill rather quickly. By Genesis 3:23, Adam and Eve are exiled from the Garden never to enter again.

What is a scientific view of an ideal utopia or Eden? A casual survey of some prominent modern-day scientists may yield a wide range of results. For instance, would Michio Kaku, Eric Drexler, Ray Kurzweil, and others have a different view of the topic compared to the average population?

I think it is a key question to ask when starting a colony on another planet or even on the Moon. The resulting answers may startle a lot of people.

One last point: there are echoes of Eden imagery scattered throughout the first book in the trilogy, Fractal Standard Time. That Eden is both technological, societal, and physical. It even includes a fall ("The Great War"). Ionotatron traces the outcome of that fall and a general societal and technological descent into chaos. By the end of the third book, chaos turns to persecution and at the last moment, true resurrection.

Concurrently, the subject of envisioning and creating Eden will also take on a spiritual dimension. And that, in the end, is the ultimate theme that underpins everything else.

Friday, September 5, 2014

Mars at Midnight

The other day I described Chronopticus Rising as "the clock book". Another way to describe the novel is that it is the most dynamic of the three books, but it also has the brightest moments and the most upbeat ending. The larger theme, though, is that not everyone's definition of Eden (or Utopia) is the same. I'll address the Eden/Utopia issue in a subsequent post, but for now it's enough to say that there are several different visions of an ideal Utopia, depending on who you ask. The question then becomes: how devoted is each side in their attempts to achieve it? What are the consequences? And, in this book, how well do the colonists really know the founders of the settlements they live in?

In addition, like the other two books, there will also be more new technology introduced. This includes monowheels, tunneling dice, electronic bees, and a new generation of Sentinel machines. Oddly enough, there has been a few robot-related stories in the news as of late, with one company's plans to sell robots and another that is developing robots that can run. And here is a video of real-life monowheels, including a company that has built several different models. And here is an article about a burger-flipping robot that can crank out 360 burgers per hour.

Hopefully, one of the other distinctions of this novel will be the characters. Yes, these are many of the same characters that have existed throughout the series, but to some extent, not a lot has been revealed about who they are. Much of that will change because the third book is all about the characters identities and pasts being used against them as a means of exercising power. That said, like all other aspects of the writing craft, things such as character development will always be a "work in progress" for me.

On a side note, writing a series (for the first time) has also taught me a lot of things. I'm quickly realizing what works and what doesn't work, and that I need a better system for tracking characters, places, and events over huge timeframes. It's also difficult to determine whether to make books that can stand alone (but are still part of a series) or to create books that need to be read in a specific order. Factor in giveaways and it gets even more complicated. But I'll save some of those lessons for another post.