Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Wednesday, Science Day

Like many good geeks, I regularly visit several sciencey sites or follow them on Twitter. Like any good Tweep, I get linked random articles that other people found interesting. Like any good blogger, I save the coolest stuff I find for days when I'm not inspired to write a full-out post.

So, without further ado, I present … SCIENCE! And speculation on its uses as applied to fiction.

Spacequakes: Otherwise known as a reverberating planetary magnetic field. Obviously, the ones around Earth (the ones we've detected) aren't big enough to destroy us, but that doesn't mean they can't 1) be weaponized, 2) be used as a power source, or 3) destroy sensitive space-faring equipment. After all, some of the proposed spaceship engines make use of magnets that have to be tuned very finely to be useful. Also, we don't know how spacequakes work on other planets.

Water-purifying teabags: One of the better uses of nanotech that I've seen. This is immediately applicable the world over, but I see this really coming into its own in a post-apocalyptic environment.

They've invented a tractor beam! Well, a small one, at least. And they've proposed phasers. I don't need to say anything else for you to know how awesome that is. Do I?

Moon garden: A Moon colony is going to need to grow food, but the growing conditions are horrible up there (so I hear). Therefore, we'll need to figure out which species or breeds will cope before we ship them up there. We now have a greenhouse that is doing exactly this.

Flexible computers: I also don't need to add anything to explain how awesome that is, but I'll do it anyway. Computers that roll up and fit in your pocket. Computers that double as clothing or bracelets. Computers that wrap around surfaces, warp to contours, and take any shape you want them to. Anything can be a computer, which means more data, more applications of data, and a technology boom. I can't wait!

That's it for today. Hope the links inspire!

Friday, September 24, 2010

My Recent Achievements

1) First and foremost, the draft I've been working on since forever is finished, as of 4 this morning. I eventually gave up on line edits, though I probably shouldn't have. I hit all the really crucial words except for -ing, and then decided that most of the -ings were probably going to stay because a lot of the crucial words had as well. 

Current stats are: 322 pages, approximately 77,000 words, and 25 chapters. A little short, I know, but I'm hoping my betas will point out places where I can add to the text, and failing that, that being 3000 words off the lowest advised word count I've found won't kill an agent search, when the time comes. I've been moaning a little about this (sorry, Twitter), but really, I'm not terribly worried and know it's not that big a deal.

2) I'm officially a year older. I spent my birthday editing, until it was time to go to dinner, and then came home and edited some more. It was a good day. I made good progress. Also, I got gifts. 

The objects in the tub are in fact cheesecakes. Mini cheesecakes made in a muffin tin. There were four of them, but … I mentioned they're cheesecakes, right? This above photo's also missing the gifts I got at dinner.

 And this is what was in the packages. From top to bottom:

  • Maple fudge
  • An Artificial Night, by Seanan McGuire 
  • The Science of Discworld II: The Globe, by Terry Pratchett and others
  • The Science of Discworld I, by Terry Pratchett and others
  • a gift card to HMV
  • Blameless, by Gail Carriger
  • The Sweet Scent of Blood, by Suzanne McLeod
  • Vanished, by Kat Richardson
  • Unseen Academicals, by Terry Pratchett
  • Supernatural, season 5
  • Moonshine, by Alaya Johnson
  • Mistwood, by Leah Cypess
  • maple tea

All in all, a very good haul this year. I estimate that's about two months' worth of reading material, though they won't all be done by the end of November. There are other books I also want to get through soon, and I like to cleanse my palate between fantasies, generally. I've started An Artificial Night.

3) I'm going to a convention next weekend. The theme is steampunk, though it's not a steampunk con, and I want to get in the spirit by dressing up. I have about two-thirds of an outfit cobbled together from my wardrobe, but I need boots or otherwise-Victorian shoes and I'm having a hard time finding any that fit me. My feet and ankles are ganging up, I swear. So I don't know what I'm going to do about that, except check thrift stores again next week. (No way am I spending $100+ on shoes just for this.)

How's everyone else been? Anything exciting going on in your lives?

Monday, September 13, 2010

Brief Hiatus

Late last month I made a vow to myself: I would get the current draft of my WIP finished by my birthday. Even though my birthday is imminent, I think I can still maybe manage this if I push myself.

However, I don't think I can manage it if I'm blogging in the meantime. So I'm taking a break, and if all goes well, I'll be back in a couple weeks, massively excited that the danged thing is done! (You have no idea how long this draft has taken. No, you really don't.)

I will still be updating Twitter because, well, I might be a little addicted…

Friday, September 10, 2010

Musings on Tradition

1. the handing down of statements, beliefs, legends, customs, information, etc., from generation to generation, esp. by word of mouth or by practice: a story that has come down to us by popular tradition.
2. something that is handed down: the traditions of the Eskimos.
3. a long-established or inherited way of thinking or acting: The rebellious students wanted to break with tradition.
4. a continuing pattern of culture beliefs or practices.

I love traditions. I love how customs are handed down, how they change over time, how they mix with each other, how they build on each other until you get this big, overarching, awe-inspiring body of work (i.e., the classical music tradition, the artistic tradition). I have a healthy respect for and appreciation of other cultures and their traditions. I want to make that clear, because I'm about to go on a bit of a rant.

See, I have two problems with tradition. The first is that at some point, traditions continue "because we've always done them", not because they have a specific meaning or purpose. Once the meaning is lost, I don't see much point to traditions except to provide people with stability and routine. I think even that's iffy when the tradition is something like the running of the bulls, which can be incredibly dangerous, even lethal. The attitude that "we've always done this" engenders lazy thinking and keeps people stuck in the past, in my opinion. It's used to keep new ideas quiet, unremarked, and discredited.

My second problem is something I encountered in Europe. Specifically, it's something I learned about via a great-uncle and via my father, who translated for the great-uncle and expanded on what he was getting at. It's the idea that the only way to move forward in a specific field is be aware of and educated in the whole of the tradition surrounding the field.

The example that I came across in Europe was art. The great-uncle insisted that the only good art, the only real art, was the stuff created by people familiar with what artists had been doing for the last 2000-odd years. You had to study the past, then create art that was identical to the previous generation's, except for one or two little details. Art builds on itself, in increments. People like the Cubists, Dadaists, and Post-Modernists, or artists who create art without having studied art history even informally, are not artists and not worthy of attention. 

I'm pretty sure this attitude occurs in every creative field. I know it happens with writing—people who want new writers to build on the work of older ones. Writers of literary fiction need MFAs or least BAs in creative writing. Anything else would result in second-rate commercial fiction. You can't possibly write science fiction if you're not familiar with Wells, Verne, Asimov, Clarke, Triptree, le Guin, Butler, Sterling, Gibson, Card, and any number of others. Or you can, but you shouldn't be, because it'll suck. 

I beg to differ. I've got nothing against studying past masters and the history of your field. It's useful to know the tropes, know how things have changed, and get ideas for where you want to take your own work. I definitely recommend knowing at least a little bit about your genre (or style of art, or building type, or whatever) before you jump into creation. But I don't think you need to know everything, and I think there's a point at which education blocks creativity. It's possible to know so much you can't create good art anymore. Heck, it's probably also possible to create good art, genius art, without ever having seen a book or painting in your life.

What do you think? Where's the balance? How much should an incoming/aspiring writer know about their field/genre? How heavily do they have to read in it? Is someone like me (BA not in English or writing, hasn't read the masters but familiar with the general history, decently read in speculative fiction) qualified to add to the fantasy or science fiction traditions?* Can art be created in a vacuum?

*These questions do not reflect insecurities on my part. I'm certain I can make it with the knowledge I have, and the knowledge I'll acquire as I age.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Non-Fiction to Inspire Great SF (Mary Roach Edition)

Caution: Today's post is NSFW if anyone's reading over your shoulder, or if you watch the video.

Today I want to talk about some books. They are by Mary Roach, and they are brilliant.

Roach is an investigative journalist with comic leanings and a tendency to enjoy her research far too much. She's asked astronauts about urination problems and has researched Victorian contraception devices. She describes e-mail exchanges with researchers where they've simply stopped responding to her. Her books are told in a factual, accessible, witty style, but not one that's for the overly squeamish.

I did say she got too into things sometimes.

Anyway, I'm not singing her praises for nothing. Yes, they're good books, but they're also good launching points for story ideas, if you have the right mindset.

Roach's first book, Stiff, is all about cadavers. When a crash test dummy just won't cut it, automotive tests use cadavers. When morticians and plastic surgeons need hands-on training, they use cadavers. There are chapters on organ donation, forensic research, crucifixion, and burial options.

This is useful reading for anyone writing about vampires, zombies, or murders. Also, there's a section on head transplants.

Spook tackles, you guessed it, scientific inquiries into the paranormal. People have attempted to determine the weights of souls, the best ways to fabricate ethereal phenomena, and the accuracy of clairvoyance. There are researchers looking into ways to make the brain think there's a ghost or a holy visitation.

This is useful reading for anyone writing about ghosts, angels, psychics, and visions.

Book three, Bonk, covers the myths, debunking, experiments, and actual knowledge about human sexuality. Kinsey features prominently. So do research dildos, Victorian gynecologists, animal orgasm, and the various ways to create an artificial erection. This is the first book of hers I read, and is probably my favourite for that reason only.

This is the one least skewed towards speculative fiction writers, but great reading for anyone interested in human sexuality (and then some).

For a taste of the book, there's a video below.

Packing for Mars is Roach's latest book, released not that long ago. It is, of course, the most recent one I've read. It explains why we haven't reached Mars yet, why NASA's budgets are so high, why space food has such a bad rap, and how a space shuttle toilet functions. Every human step along the path to Mars is chronicled, along with those of some monkeys, dogs, and chimps, and it's rather eye-opening. Some of the things they worried about in the early days of NASA….

This is highly recommended reading for anyone writing space-based science fiction, especially those whose worlds don't have anti-gravity. I'm serious—every page or two, there's a new idea for a story.

Now, naturally, these books shouldn't be the end of your research, just the launching point. When you read these books, make notes, then do more research. Look up the people she cites. Try to find the studies, the articles, and the books. Then stop reading and write some awesome fiction!

If you want a taste of Mary Roach's style, she's guest-posted on BoingBoing, and I'd be remiss if I didn't include her TED talk. It's NSFW, though. Obviously, if you read the title of it.

Monday, September 6, 2010

Random Thoughts on a Rainy Monday

Since I don't have time to write the long, involved post that'll probably show up Wednesday, I thought I'd share some thoughts that aren't quite long enough for a full post of their own.
  1. In an alternate universe, I'm a jazz singer. I love the songs, especially the light and catchy ones. I love singing them far more than I love singing every other genre. They get stuck in my head.
  2. Apparently I write decent and amusing haikus. I think I kind of knew this already, but it still pleases me.
  3. The fabulous N.R. Wick kindly betaed the first 50 pages of my manuscript. I'm saving the in-text comments for my day off tomorrow, but I read the editorial "letter" she sent, and I think I might be okay with this betaing thing. At least, when I hit the "hey, no fair, not true!" portions, I then immediately thought either, "She's got a point" or "I'll see what my other betas say after they read it."
  4. Possibly my coolness with betaing is because I've already gotten and assimilated some pretty harsh crit from my dad*.
  5. Good Lord, it's already September!
  6. Whenever I visit with my parents, Mom gives me random articles of clothing.
  7. This weekend, I was linked to this post, which linked to this article. I read them, of course, and came away with the sense that, for me at this stage in my life, writing comedy comes naturally. I wouldn't say I'm a prodigy. I just got an early start, reading comic fiction, watching comic shows and films, and making people laugh because that way they'd like me.
* who write and edits for a not-quite-living, and therefore is qualified to criticize my writing.

Friday, September 3, 2010

Character Haikus

Late last night/early this morning I found out about the Haiku Blogfest. It's a cool idea, and I love a challenge. Can I write haikus about my plot and characters? … I guess you'll have to tell me.

Note: out of slightly irrational paranoia I can't get over, I'm not naming my characters, just giving their roles in the story.

Breakers (the working title):

A man gets powers,
resists spandex. He fears cops.
It's a comedy.


That didn't happen.
How long can I hide? Lie? Run?
I'll succeed. I must.

Sidekick One:

Tech-savvy in heels,
she takes no crap, knows what's best.
People are stupid.


Some idiot's out
there attacking people. I
can stop—He's me? Ha!

There. I, of course, didn't do all the characters. I just picked my favourites. (If a girl can't play favourites with her characters, when can she?) And the character haikus simplify things a little, but that's a factor of the haiku format. Hope you enjoy!

* Not to be confused with the antagonist or the bad guys. Yes, this actually works.**
** I think.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Tom Lehrer Is Geeky

I have loved Tom Lehrer since before I knew who he was. One of my high school science teachers played us "The Elements Song" in an attempt to get us excited about chemistry, and I'd run across "Masochism Tango" and "Poisoning Pigeons in the Park" on several occasions. And then I bought a CD, and then I discovers clips on his shows on Youtube, and … well. Ze rrrest, eet vas heestory.

For those of you not in the know, Tom Lehrer was a Harvard mathematician-turned-comic musician, best known for the songs put out in the 1950s and 1960s. He's known for somewhat simplistic songs that satirize the pop culture, politics, and attitudes of the day. I think his songs are as current today as they were was then, which is both a tribute to him and a sad comment on how little's really changed in the last fifty years.

I'm not sure whether it's the satire, the music, or the inherent geekiness of so many of his songs that's truly hooked me, but as all good fans do, I occasionally try to hook others. As I am doing now.

Don't believe me about his geekiness? Listening to his songs will up your geek cred (kind of like Monty Python) and his songs, of course, tend to run to geeky topics. For instance:

And of course, who could forget "The Elements Song"? Not me!

Are you hooked yet?