Friday, February 28, 2014

Flash Fiction Challenge: No Rain

Most Fridays, Chuck Wendig has a flash fiction challenge. This week's was the Random Song Challenge. You were supposed to go to Pandora, put your playlist on shuffle, whatever, and the first song that came up, that title was the story you would write. Mine was Blind Melon's "No Rain", which I haven't really done crazy things like edit or whatever. So be aware, this is mostly a first draft, and at slightly less than 1000 words (the limit). You can read it with or without listening to the song; the song itself didn't really affect the story much.

Nukes and Space, Space and Nukes

So had an interesting article on research being done towards meteor detection systems, and how to mitigate that threat for Earth. As one can expect, nuclear bombs are a proposed (and perhaps plausible) solution. The notion is that, depending on the size of the asteroid, a nuclear explosion could either fragment the asteroid into harmless (or far less harmful) bits, or it could knock it off course. It would be delivered via a Hypervelocity Asteroid Intercept Vehicle (HAIV), which could theoretically punch a hold in the asteroid, then deliver the nuke, which could have greater destructive force due to the insertion (I guess Operation Plowshare was good for something, right?)

Plowshare Sedan Crater, via Wikipedia
 Asteroid detection is another concern, however, especially in the light of last year's meteoric explosion over Chelyabinsk, Russia, which nobody saw coming. Similarly, the Tunguska Event in 1908 (also in Russia) is also (I think) thought to have been a meteorite.

in 2015, the ATLAS (Asteroid Terrestrial-Impact Last Alert System) is expected to be online, with warnings ranging from a day to three weeks. In a strange mirror, the sizes of asteroid impacts, like nuclear ones, are also measured in megatons (the above linked site calls a "city killer" 5 megatons, and a "county killer" 100 megatons (like the Tsar Bomba).

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Where Schooling Failed Me

I'm not one to typically take potshots at American public school systems (though I'm not going to begin to touch Common Core here).  I can really only speak from my own experience with it, which was fraught with frustration. D for diploma, right kids?

Actually, for the most part, I was a C student. That actually includes college. My major (psychology) was not the best fit for me, and I didn't realize it soon enough to be able to change. College is expensive, y'all, and there was no way I was going to be able to go for a 5th year. And oh yeah, my college of choice's credits were notoriously untransferable, so I wasn't going to be able to go somewhere else to finish either.

But I digress.

My interest in science with a capital S is recent, to say in the least. The highest level of science I completed in high school was Chemistry, and I don't much remember it, other than as a tremendous yawn fest. My highest level of math completed in high school was Trigonometry, and that was taken voluntarily and a tremendous mistake; my math requirements were fulfilled, and it's not like I was interested in math. I just didn't have much in the way of electives.

But math was typically taught to me in this manner: On Monday, say, we went over the weekend's homework and had a lesson about it. On Monday night, we were supposed to read the next chapter, which presented the next equations (or whatever) we were tackling; we were then to do those problems, which we would go over Tuesday. And so on. See the problem? I couldn't teach myself math, and couldn't do the homework, as I wasn't taught how to do those problems prior to leaving school. So I stopped doing homework, as it was clearly designed to ruin my life.

Now with science, I would've had to get to physics in order to hit the topics I'm interested in: nukes and space (though some of it could conceivably have been covered in Chemistry, it was not, to my recollection). But you didn't get to Physics without going through Chemistry first, and I didn't take Chemistry 'til my senior year (I didn't take Biology with a lab, initially, so wasted a year and then had to take lab Biology to fulfill graduation requirements. Oh, my guidance councilors did me so many favors).

So, because I wasn't "good" at math and science, I was never able to be in advanced English courses. English was where I really shone, as you might guess. I read at a fifth grade level in second or third grade (I don't remember), and sure, I was in college prep classes, but not AP. Even college prep was sometimes too slow for me (though no less full of busywork homework....) I tended to read the books assigned to my class, and then books I saw written on boards for other classes. That's how I met Lord of the Flies and The Great Gatsby; my classes didn't read them, but other classes did.

I feel like home schooling would have been great for me in my high school years. That kind of self directed study (maybe unschooling is the actual term I needed?) may have brought me to my current interests and goals much faster. I feel as though I've learned far more on my own, after high school and after college, then I did during school. I also feel like the Internet has really fostered my learning and personal education, which is funny, because it seems to allow other people to have become very stupid indeed (I've seen articles on it. Was it Newsweek? Time?)

What do you think? How was school for you?

Monday, February 24, 2014

Coming down the pike

Since I'm deliberately keeping eyes off The Last Song , I've had to occupy my writing brain in other ways. Oh, I've still got thoughts regarding what changes and additions I should make to The Last Song, but I'm keeping it in a separate file just on my desktop, while the novel itself is tucked away in its appropriate folder. For instance, I want to make it a lot less portal, as I think it will be interesting to the tone of the story, to have that question: is this just the main character's perception, or is he actually in another world? Is he straddling a divide? Is he just fucking nuts? On drugs?

(and my last sentence just made me think of Ginsberg's "Howl" [specifically the line "with dreams, with drugs, with waking nightmares"], which if you haven't read you ought to. Even if you don't like poetry, as I typically do not.)

(similarly, I DEFINITELY have not looked at Learn to Howl [or its unfinished sequel] which is still with Angry Robot, and I have not heard a peep about. Judging from the tracking thread on Absolute Write, they have been getting back to people, but their open sub brought in 500 submissions. That's a lot to make it through, in addition to a regular workload. So patience, patience.)

But anyway, as my story fodder/historic space/current events style posts might tell you, I'm thinking about space scifi. Chronologically, the book I've started (chapter one is being pecked at!) is the second in the "series", but I don't really intend to do a series as such. Books related to one another on the same near-future spacefaring chronology, but not books that specifically follow the same characters in their deeds of derring-do. I'm trying very hard to make my space people realistic; these are people who are leaving earth within the next 100 years, and I want the tech and the culture to make sense. I want it to be a logical continuation of the scientists and pilots and such we have today, because there's only so much people change. Currently, I have no intention of adding aliens. I don't think I intend to add additional speculative elements, such as werewolves in space. That might be too much. And vampires in space....well, we know about Dracula 2000.

So I've been doing fun things like watching live streamed launches when I catch wind of them in time, and playing on the NASA web site (there's so much there!), and reading about space missions and pilots and things, and watching movies (Europa Report was pretty good, Oblivion was neat, haven't watched Elysium or Apollo 18 yet). The prior science fiction I've written hasn't been all that "hard", and certainly hasn't been novel length. So all of this is new and interesting for me, and exciting. I want to re-read The Moon is a Harsh Mistress, and The Martian Chronicles, and read what new things people have come out with (I have Corey's Leviathan Wakes on my coffee table right now). I've always loved science fiction, and my dad did as well, so it's nice to revisit the old and investigate the new, and compare their similarities and differences and try to see where I fit into the mix.

Friday, February 21, 2014

Takes a licking...

I occasionally read opinions like this one, which feel we no longer "need" a Doomsday Clock.

And then I read articles like this one, about Soviet-era nuclear waste (including subs!) that will potentially be released into new sea currents due to climate change (I blogged briefly about that here).

And then I read about how trucks of waste are, apparently, regularly stolen in Mexico. This is medical waste, so Cobalt 60. If you open the containment box, the resulting dose would kill you in 3 days, according to many of the interviews I read. When they found the most recent one (that I knew of), the box was open.

Or how the Carlsbad, New Mexico Energy Waste Isolation Plant has all kinds of false positives on their radiation alarms, and may have a real one this time. 

Or in Fukushima, where they've just had the worst spill in 6 months, wherein 100 tons of irradiated water has leaked from containment. That's right; in addition to the original nuclear accident, rated at a 7 (the same as Chernobyl, for those following at home) , they also had a spill in August which received its own separate rating of a 3. I really wish people would stop believing Tepco when they say they'll handle it and step in with some actual effective oversight. Because California isn't going to fall off; it's going to glow. That and the rest of the Pacific.

Or Iran, who thank God just agreed to terms for their nuclear talks. Terms to talk about, that is. The nuclear talks themselves have not yet happened.

Or North Korea, who's been excavating at their underground test site. And who does whatever the fuck they want, apparently. But we're talking about Doomsday Clock potential here, not basic human rights.

I'm fairly certain people don't think much about nuclear accidents; I tend to be the only one I know who's alarmed. I think, despite knowledge of nukes as a Thing That Exist, and Hiroshima and Nagasaki that exist as a Thing That Happened, people don't much think about the implications of nuclear war. Theoretically, the US and Russia are not going to fire at each other any time soon. But can other, newer nuclear powers can be relied upon? Depending on who's got their finger on the button, the whole world is in deep shit, and has been all along, ever since Trinity.  Ever since Russia's Tsar Bomba.

The world itself needs a conscience, in addition to individual countries. If the Doomsday Clock can accomplish that, then it needs to. And we need it.

Oh, and a late addition: Whistle-blower fired from Hanford Nuclear Site. Hanford is where some of the Plutonium for Fat Man was produced, if I remember aright. And Hanford continues to have problems with its safety, apparently. Because you don't have whistleblowers if somebody wasn't doing something wrong, typically. Hanford's waste is threatening to leak into the Columbia River, which I don't think I have to tell you is a big goddamn problem. This whistle blower? She's the second one to be fired in the last six months. Over safety concerns. 

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Accuracy and Science in Space Sci Fi

So there's this Tumblr, Things that Cost More Than Space Exploration written (curated?) by somebody who takes Tumblr as a medium seriously, which is pretty cool in and of itself. The examples given are also pretty cool.

I found the Tumblr at the same time I located and perused this non fiction book, Scientific American: Inventions from Outer Space: Everyday Uses for NASA Technology, by David Aaron Baker. It includes things like actual UV protection glasses lenses (I guess there's a gel layer or something? I've only skimmed it so far) and water purifiers (both particularly useful things in space, one would assume).

Coronal Loops in the active region of the sun, from NASA website

And speaking of NASA, I watched the movie Europa Report the other day. Apparently NASA (or maybe just one NASA scientist? I'm a little unclear) had input in the movie's development, trying to make the space travel as realistic as possible. I dug it, for the most part, with only a few nitpicky problems (WHY WOULD YOU TRIM SOMEBODY'S HAIR ON A SPACE SHIP?!). My demand for accuracy notwithstanding, I'm able to suspend my disbelief fairly well in the watching of movies, only revisiting them later and realizing my dissatisfaction with certain points. I'd seems I'd heard NASA has an interest in being involved with peoples' scifi, to help with accuracy and such (And perhaps get more attention in the public eye, so maybe they can get some more funding again....), and there is a crapload of information on the NASA website, from fact sheets on research centers to pictures taken by our various picture taking devices (Hubble, etc.) There's even a NASA Kids Club!

 I happened upon Europa Report as a "You might like this if you watched Event Horizon", and so of course, I've fond subsequent titles for if I liked Europa Report (Apollo 18, Moon).  But anyway, flaws aside, Europa Report does use some real science, and I felt it was well acted (though they did this thing where two of the male main characters were of a certain build and coloring, so I was constantly going "Wait, is it a crew of six? Is it five? Is the thriller part of this movie that there's a GHOST CREW MEMBER? Oh no, there's the sixth guy. Okay."

So now I kind of want a movie or book with a ghost crew member. Which might also have to do with having watched the anime Another, in which a specific third-year high school class would frequently develop a ghost classmate.

Monday, February 17, 2014

Should people want to be friends with your main character?

I almost phrased this "should people like your main character?", but what I mean isn't quite the same thing.

There are characters are like who are not people I would like to know. As a for-instance, Al Swearengen on Deadwood, played by Ian McShane, is my favorite character on the show. Is he a teddy bear I'd like to be best friends with? Hell no. He's a calculating saloon owner who runs whores, has a stranglehold on the dope that comes into Deadwood, and kills people who get in his way. But he's an amazing character. The perfection of the creature he is meant to be (until Season 3, but in general, I don't much like Season 3).

I've talked about this before, When Your Character Does Not Do Nice Things and really, I have the same character in mind while thinking these thinks. I'm also reading a book about publishing, which on one hand is a good thing to be doing, and on the other hand is a little irritating because I do not always agree with the author (who thinks Toni Morrison is difficult to read. I do not.)

It's difficult to have an anti hero, I guess. I can't think of many (or not while I"m writing this, anyway; I don't want to just Google it and cheat). Howard Roark from The Fountainhead, I'd suppose, though he is goal oriented, and those goals are not harmful to others. The people who oppose Howard Roark seem to do so for the sake of it, because he is not a member of the club, and he will not play their games. My most favorite moment in all of that book is when the newspaper man who's been dragging Howard Roark's name through the mud for almost the entirety of his career finds him alone, looking at his completed work in satisfaction. The newspaper man says (paraphrased, I believe, unless I've got it by rote memory and didn't know) "All right, Mr. Roark, now that nobody can hear us, I want you to let me have it. What do you really think of me?" Howard Roark looks at him and says "I don't think of you at all." Perfection.

So, whether you like my main character's decisions, his lifestyle, his tastes, you should want him to succeed. Right? Right. In The Last Song, much of what takes place during the action of the novel is because of Love. Or Need. Or Want. These things are all intertwined for we humans, I feel, and especially intertwined for who my main character is. And these things are a good motivation, a good reason for wanting to do something. So for all his flaws and foibles, for his addiction and his dirty mouth, I want you to want my guy there to win. You don't need to be his friend, but you should want him to win. Maybe I got it right; in a couple weeks I'll read it again, and enact the notes I've been ruminating upon in a separate file. We'll see.

Friday, February 14, 2014

Comp Titles

One of the particulars of query letters I've seized upon (or thought about a lot, anyway) is comparative titles.  You know, at the end there when you're like "MY BOOK is a contemporary fantasy, complete at 80k words. It would appeal to readers of Watership Down and Joseph Campbell's The Heroic Journey" (not a real sample). Or whatever. I've heard it's not a "requirement", but my understanding is its a good way to show you've read in your genre, have an audience in mind, etc. (these are the things I think about in lieu of "Dear Agent, I hope you lurve my book. Kisses! Me.")

When you invoke certain titles, I feel they're taken to mean something. If the only thing you can claim comparable is Alice in Wonderland, that better be some magnificent goddamn rabbit hole we're about to spelunk in, rife with poetics and symbols and absurdity. You must be aware of the shoes you are trying to fill, but you also must be aware of the other shoes in the closet. Using only Alice in Wonderland could suggest an ignorance of your genre, and who's writing and publishing in it today. Classics are classics for a reason, but when you want a professional to read your unpublished and shiny-as-you-can-make-it MS, you want to seem contemporarily adroit, I feel. A certain novice ignorance is to be expected, if this is your first time at the rodeo, but being a backwards Luddite is not. Nor is it desirable.

Even American Gods, at more than 10 years old, is too old (this is like ballet or child modeling). A great book, one of my favorites, oft lent and recommended, but another no go.

Lev Grossman's The Magicians is one I intend to try out, I think, when querying The Last Song. It's one of my more recent favorites,  along with its sequel The Magician King. My other title (I've also apparently decided there need to be two?) I'm not sure of yet, as I poke around and see what else is coming out, and what others have written. I haven't produce something SO UNIQUE IT'S TOTALLY INCOMPARABLE, but it's "unique enough" that careful thought is required. Though I guess when it comes to writing and publishing books, careful thought should be a requirement.

Thursday, February 13, 2014

Did you know about Query Tracker?

A quick note: If you're an author looking for an agent, did you know about Query Tracker? I didn't, not really.

It's free, first off.

You can just do an agent or publisher search. If you've got an author in mind, you can see who represents them. They have a forum. It'll keep track of your queries for you (and you can mark agents in your records there, as agents not to query, as rejected, etc. etc.). You can leave comments on agent pages so others know if they're a "no reply means no", etc.

I've only just signed up, and not ready to actually query yet. But it's really neat, and I wanted to make sure people knew! Have you used Query Tracker in your agent search? Do you have an agent, you lucky dog? ;)

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

I'd really like it to be spring now, 'kay?

Housemate: So watcha doing?
Friend: I was playing a TV show in my head, if you must know.

Friend: Do I smell peanut butter?
Fiancè: No, you're having a stroke?
Me: I gave the dog a Kong.
Friend: Oh. I might not mind a stroke if you just smelled peanut butter all the time.

Fiancè (while playing WoW): Your mother dresses you funny, Garrosh. You got picked on in the middle school playground, Garrosh.
Housemate: .....well that escalated quickly

Fiancè: How'd you cut yourself?
Me: As the other ladies and I were walking out of work, a knife wielding maniac came into the library. I figured I don't use my left hand much, so I sacrificed it and took him out.
Fiancè: What? No, you shoot a knife wielding maniac.
Me: Well we don't have guns at the library. Anyway, I might be on the news and everything.
Fiancè: So what did you really do?
Me: Cut myself with a pair of scissors.
Fiancè: WHAT?! Were you running with them at the time?
Me: No, but do you see why I liked the other story better?

Monday, February 10, 2014

Mining on the Moon

I thought this was a great article, and Very Pertinent to the Moon/Space fiction that I'm in the early planning stages of writing (hear that? I'm planning!) Mining the Moon: Plans Taking Off but Rules Lacking. The pertinent rule or "rules" here is from the 1967 Outer Space Treaty, wherein the signers agreed that the moon belonged to no nation (I'm sure this is a drastic oversimplification, but there you go). This is also the treaty that bars nuclear weapons and weapons of mass destruction from orbit, or installation on bodies such as the moon or a space station.

Picture of the moon from NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory web site

Friday, February 7, 2014

So I finished writing The Last Song

I'm not in the habit of writing "The End" on my manuscripts ("writing", seeing as how they're typically electronic), but if I was, I'd've written it on The Last Song over the weekend. It needs edits, I know it does, and some scenes might be a touch out of order. But overall, I'm pleased. I'm in that odd stage of exhalation. I'm writing something else (a short piece) and thinking about agents to send it to and checking my email manically for a message from Angry Robot Books telling me they want Learn to Howl or they don't.

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Spacing Out

I discussed my latest science fiction inspiration last week. Untitled as yet, though I do have a main character in mind. I haven't started writing yet, not really. I've got a file of collected sentence fragments; world building, I suppose. Of course, this is research for two space/scifi/moon novels at once. There's a lot of moons, did you know that? Ours, obviously. But

Much like how I intend all of my urban fantasy books to take place "in the same world", whether they're cognizant of if or not, I also intend for my space scifi to take place in its own world. I'm not entirely sure I want these two worlds to be the same. Werewolves in space may not be my thing, savvy? Or, it might be just what we need. Hrm. But I digress. I have to build the culture, and the history, of how my humanity has become spacefaring. I need to decide what's run of the mill for them, and what's out of the ordinary. So I need to build a timeline, and to build a timeline, I need to know what the "real" one is, from V2 rockets on up.

(the Apollo 17 Lunar Roving Vehicle)

Monday, February 3, 2014

Michael Flatley's Rhino Horn Stolen

This sounds like a joke. It is not. Apparently Michael Flatly (yup, Lord of the Dance himself) had a trophy rhino head in his house (in County Cork), and thieves broke in and sawed the horn off. It was on the wall in his "safari room", which makes me wonder what other trophies adorn the space. But apparently the horn was valued at $400,000 (which is more than a rhino's life, depending on the rhino)..