Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Target one annihilated

Back in September, I set myself some writing targets for the rest of the year.

I'm pleased to say that my first target - 100% critiqued by the end of November - has been achieved. It is now the end of November, and the last chapter finished in the queue yesterday.

It was touch and go, though.

The sci-fi queue in Critique Circle is usually pretty quiet, and all year there has been virtually no waiting time. At any one time, I've usually had one chapter in review and one waiting in the queue. As soon as that review cycle finishes my waiting chapter goes into review, and I then queue up another one confident that it will make it into the following week's batch. That way, I can get a chapter a week critiqued.

Sometimes I'd have more chapters ready, and I might queue up two or three at a time to come out in consecutive weeks, but it gets increasingly expensive to post chapters the more you've already got lined up.

Anywhooo...I was steaming along readying my final few submissions, when all of a sudden I saw the queue going crazy. I'd never seen so many submissions waiting in the wings, and my final chapter now looked like it wasn't going to appear until December!

Well, right at the last minute, their batching algorithm must have decided to take the larger queue into account and my submission just sneaked into the period I'd been aiming for, so all was well.

So, now I seem to have no excuses for not cracking on with those dreaded revisions...


Sunday, November 27, 2011

Belated awards

I have a couple of awards that I've been holding on to for a few weeks now. Bad Botanist!

First off, Gary's owner, Penny the Jack Russell and Modest Internet Star, at Klahanie handed me the Friendly Blogger Award. I am honoured to be considered a friend by such a fine canine blogger.

Then, Saloma at About Amish passed on the Tell Me About Yourself tag. Saloma gives fascinating insights about her life amongst the Amish people of Ohio.

Thank you Gary/Penny and Saloma.

Now, according to the rules of that second things about myself:

1. I don't have a favourite food. There are lots of things I like, but it depends far too much on the mood of the moment.

2. I only started creative writing a few years ago. Before then, the whole idea was utterly alien to me. If you'd told me ten years ago that I would one day be seriously seeking representation for a completed novel, I'd have laughed at you.

3. If I do finally get a book published, the idea of *takes deep breath and screws up face* me with deep dread bordering on paralytic terror.

4. Despite its logic and rigour, I believe that mathematics is an art, not a science. Few sights, words, or pieces of music can rival the sheer beauty of an elegantly-expressed proof or concept. Furthermore, I believe that the pursuit of mathematics is an adventure of discovery rather than creation. The deep linkages between one branch of mathematics and another, the truths and theorems, have always been there like diamonds deep underground waiting to be uncovered. The creative element we bring is in the lenses through which we choose to view the mathematical landscape. I know many people will vehemently disagree with me on these beliefs.

5. I am a cat person. I know we have a menagerie, but the other animals all belong to other family members. Cats are the only animals I would be likely to have as pets for myself.

6. I am highly "face blind". If I meet you for the first time, there's not a hope in hell that I'll recognise you again the following day. I will have a strong sense that I should know you, but it takes several meetings, preferably in a variety of settings, before I could see you in the street and be confident that I knew who you were. Even then, my chances of putting a name to the face are remote until I get to know you well.

7. I love blogging awards but I dread the act of passing them on. It always feels like two close friends asking me to tell which one is my "best" friend, and that for every one I nominate, there's many fine blogger friends that I feel I have slighted by omission.

So, this time I'm ducking the problem and issuing an open invitation: anyone who follows me, and who either feels friendly or who wants to talk about themselves, please claim one of these awards. Please leave a comment with a link back to your blog so we know who you are.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Shayla's world

In my last post, I skimmed through some of the deep history behind the story in Ghosts of Innocence. This time I'm talking about some of the physical landscape at the time of the story.

Mine is bigger than yours

When comparing one interstellar empire with another, census officials and financial lizards talk about things like populations, manufacturing capacity, and gross domestic product. However, most ordinary emperors just count how many inhabited systems they own.

In the early days of interstellar expansion, people counted inhabited worlds, meaning those where there was an established human presence.

This measure gave rise to problems and ambiguities. Alongside the primary world, do you count all the moons with permanent bases? Some of them were nothing more than observation posts manned by a handful of staff, clearly not worth counting, but others were larger than some planetary colonies. What about those planets with no surface populations, but with a thriving flock of orbiting bases? What about the large mining populations spread thinly through an ore-rich asteroid belt? Exactly what constitutes a "world" was becoming a nightmare of arbitrary and meaningless definitions.

And you thought Pluto had it rough!

An inhabited system is defined simply as a star system containing a self-supporting permanent population. This measure makes no mention of how the population is distributed or housed, so avoids many of the problems of earlier definitions. The "self-supporting" qualification has some more specific definitions attached, but essentially ensures that the system has enough critical mass of population and resources to be significant in political terms.

Deep space and politics...

In Shayla's time, an official census recorded 523 inhabited systems.

These were spread unevenly through a disc of space roughly two thousand light years across and five hundred light years thick. This is a tiny fraction of the galaxy, which is a hundred thousand light years across.

To give some perspective on what this means for travelers, the fastest ship would take about two months to cross from one border of human space to the other.

Of course, inhabited systems account for only a tiny fraction of stars in this region of space. The common convention, other than for navigational charts, is for maps to show only inhabited systems and to ignore the vast numbers of stars in between.

Just over half of these systems were under the control of six Grand Families, either directly ruled, or through long-standing allegiances. The Family Skamensis was the strongest with 83 systems. The Family dom Calvino were the paupers at the table with a puny 27.

The remaining systems were independent, or owed only transient allegiance.

With these six power-hungry sharks in the pool, independence was difficult and precarious. Some worlds were strong enough, either individually or by banding together, to keep the Grand Families at bay. At the other extreme, many "outworlds" on the periphery of civilization were too small and remote to be worth subduing.

A privileged few, the Freeworlds, maintained their neutrality by treaty. Freeworlds usually had a dedicated purpose, or charter, and established themselves as highly specialized centers of excellence for academics, artists, or artisans.

The Families were prepared to honor the Freeworlds' independent status in return for the strictly impartial value that these worlds brought to all of humanity.

It is no coincidence that Freeworlds also typically lacked natural resources worth fighting over.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

A sense of history

Ghosts of Innocence is nearing the end of it's round of critiques - the penultimate chapter is in the queue right now - so it will soon be time to get serious about revisions.

I don't like revising at the best of times, and I've spent so long in critique mode that the thought of going back and working all that feedback into the story is daunting.

So I thought it might help me get in the mood if I talked a bit about Shayla's world.

This is the far-future setting for Ghosts of Innocence, and The Ashes of Home.

Deep time...

Events take place roughly fifteen thousand years in the future.

A thousand years from our twenty-first century lives, humanity developed practical interstellar travel. Not a moment too soon, the first ships left a climate-ravaged and polluted Earth behind and began looking for new homes.

Within a few decades, the expanding search found planets suitable for colonisation. Not yet truly habitable, they were at least rocky worlds with atmospheres, liquid water, and in stable orbits in their stars' "Goldilocks zones."

The fledgling colonies made extensive use of geoengineering techniques that had been refined over the centuries in desperate attempts to keep Earth itself habitable. Decades of patient terraforming bore fruit three hundred years after the departure of the first interstellar explorers, when the first colonists were finally able to walk freely under alien skies.

Moderately peaceful expansion continued for another four millennia.

But by then, many early colonies had grown strong enough to rival Earth itself, and began to exert not only independence from an increasingly fragile central rule, but desires to establish their own multi-system mini empires.

Good old human nature reasserted itself, and the spreading civilisation disintegrated into a thousand years of vicious conflict. Terraforming was slow and cripplingly expensive, so truly habitable worlds were prized targets. Many worlds lost contact and degenerated to a pre-industrial state. Many perished, unable yet to sustain themselves. Only a few kept both the technological knowledge and the industrial capacity to build starships.

Starfaring society re-grew from these centres, which eventually hosted the ruling Grand Families. The world of Magentis lay in a region relatively rich in habitable planets, and was always the most powerful. Its ruling family established itself as a dominant and stable force over the next eight thousand years.

I have tried to bring this sense of history into Ghosts of Innocence. The scenes in the Imperial Palace especially touch on layers of antiquity, of new rubbing up against ancient.

I drew heavily on the impressions and atmosphere of places like London, and Oxford University. All the pomp and traditions of the British monarchy. The grime and mechanical heat of the London underground. The soaring cathedral spaces of medieval architecture. The stone staircases of an Oxford college, steps worn into smooth undulations through centuries of use.

All these influenced my thoughts as I wrote those scenes. I have tried to convey something that can only be felt by someone who has spent time surrounded by buildings that were around when America was discovered.

It is worth noting that at no time did the Earthly explorers discover native life on any planets they visited. All people, plants, and animals, can trace their lineage back to Earthly origins.

Ironically, by Shayla's time Earth itself was nothing more than a little-known legend. Earth's dwindling resources were spent with the effort of supporting those early colonies. Its location was lost in the disintegration and rebirth of interstellar civilisation. Its people have likely regressed to primitive, non-technological cultures if they survived at all. It is out there still, waiting to be rediscovered, just another failed world from before The Collapse.

This is why the book only mentions people. No alien species, no beings with three eyes, green skin, or tentacles. And no mention of Earth.

Sunday, November 13, 2011


I'm sure I'm not alone in saying I hate telemarketing. So this little gem made my day.

Please have a look, and enjoy! But remember to return for the rest of this post, because there's a serious point to be made here.

I said I hate telemarketing, not I hate telemarketers. There is a difference.

As some of the commenters on the baby video pointed out, telemarketers are doing a thankless job, and are only trying to earn a living.

I understand that.

My beef isn't with the individuals involved, although I have to say that everyone has choices in how they live their lives, and it is still a choice whether or not to enter into a business that I believe to be fundamentally immoral.

My rant is against the whole principle of telemarketing.

So, my phone number is in the phone book. I pay for my account, and my purpose in publishing my number is so that I can be reached by people who have legitimate business with me. This means, people I have chosen to deal with in some form or another.

It is not, and should never be interpreted as, an open invitation for you to try to exploit me.

That is what telemarketing is about. Exploitation.

My rant is against the idea that every individual on earth only exists as a potential consumer of your products, and that you have some God-given right to invade my life in whatever way you can in order to sell things to me. I find that particular tenet of free market capitalism to be abhorrent and offensive.

That is why I enjoy seeing telemarketers pranked. Not because I have anything against the individuals, but because I would dearly like to see consumer power render the telemarketing approach ineffective and ultimately consigned to history. The more people resist telemarketers, waste their time, refuse to reward them with sales, the less attractive it will be as a marketing strategy.

For myself, my approach is to say that I have a policy of never doing business with people who've chosen to approach me in this manner. In other words, your unsolicited and unwanted phone call, rather than gaining a sale, has forever lost a potential future customer for your employer. That is my small contribution to the war against telemarketing.

BTW - If you like rather more serious "get the f*** off my line and don't ever call again" telemarketer pranking, a guy called Tom Mabe has perfected the art of dealing with telemarketers. Examples of his approach can be found here and here.

Monday, November 7, 2011

Practice makes perfect...eventually

We're still a long way from perfect, but this weekend we went through the process to winterize our trailer for the third time, and we are at least improving.

We've been waiting for a good opportunity, because we are now into November, and this...
...could be just around the corner, as the folks out on the east coast already know.

First time around, two years ago, it was all new to us. The owner's booklet had a pages-long checklist of things to do to systematically drain all the water out of the system and flush it through with antifreeze. We went slowly, double- and triple-checking each step to understand what was happening and confirm that it made sense.

We had to find the right tools, and we spent ages searching for all the drain plugs and valves. We got completely flummoxed when it came to draw up the antifreeze. Nothing was working right, and we almost resorted to dismantling the water pump in an effort to work out what the instructions were talking about. After hours of frustration, we discovered a valve hidden away under the sink and out of sight unless you stuck your head right into the cupboard. Bingo.

That first time took all day, and a terrible toll on our nerves.

Last year, we started off with more confidence, then couldn't remember where we'd put the tube that we'd bought the year before to attach to the draw-up pipe under the trailer. We searched the trailer, searched the garage, searched the house. Finally, slumped in my office taking a break, I spotted it up on a shelf hiding in plain view.

That took all day too.

This year, we remembered where all the valves were, and where we'd left the tools and other bits. It took just two hours start to finish, including getting the cover on. Most of the time was spent waiting for various pipes to drain fully.

Note for next year...plan on doing it in stages - a few minutes work then go off for half an hour to do something else.

Friday, November 4, 2011

Don't flip the Bozo bit

Can anyone out there make any sense of the above statement?

When I first saw it, I couldn't even work out how to parse it grammatically, let alone extract meaning from it. I kept asking myself, "Who did the Bozo bite?"

And yet, from the time I first saw it and had it explained, this rather cryptic sentence has been the mainstay of my approach to professional relationships, and it has served me well.

History lesson

I was introduced to this phrase many years ago, at a computer conference. A speaker was giving a talk entitled "How to deliver great software on time." On the screen behind him was a list of rules, which he spoke to most eloquently. In the middle of the list, amongst a number of things that I could at least pretend to understand, was this mysterious phrase.

Don't flip the Bozo bit.

The Enlightenment

When he came to explain this rule, it all made sense. "Bozo", he explained for the benefit of his mostly British audience, was a clown in America. The "bit" referred to a concept in electronics and computing, where circuit boards often have rows of tiny switches, or data records have sets of binary "flags" or "bits." Each one can be flipped "on" or "off" to denote a state or property of the circuit or data.

The concept of the phrase was to imagine each of us has such a set of "bits" in our heads. One of them is the "Bozo bit." Flip that into an "on" position and it means that the person is henceforth flagged as a Bozo, a clown. Someone not to be taken seriously.

This is a setting that you can choose to set on or off in other people.

The Lesson

The lesson is simple. Don't do it. Don't flip that Bozo bit in other people's minds. Don't assume the other person is stupid.

Everyone has reasons to talking or acting the way they do. Just because you don't understand it doesn't mean it's wrong. They may even be mistaken, but possibly for honest reasons.

If you take something you don't understand as a cue to regard that person as stupid, you do both them and you a disservice. You have effectively ruled them out as a useful contributor to any future discussions. It hurts them, it hurts you, it hurts all future team interactions.

Don't do it.

Don't flip the Bozo bit.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

The harder side of parenting

Consoling upset children.

One of our guinea pigs died last night. Ali checked on the animals as usual just before bedtime and made the discovery.

So, we had to break the news this morning.

We have no idea what happened. Megan gave them all a cuddle when the kids went to bed, so something happened in the intervening two hours or so. Who knows? We've had this one over three years, so the kids have got very attached to her. Her sister seems to be missing her too.
Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...