and back again…

Visualization can get sometimes get in the way of manifestation. I had started to develop a map of a hypothetical planet in orbit around the larger star in the Alpha Fornacis binary system, a location in Astral. What does the story need from such a map?

While I was in high school Ralph Bakshi’s animated version of The Lord of the Rings was released. Some educators including my English teacher seized the opportunity to introduce a classic of modern literature. There is, of course, the famous map of Middle-Earth of which there are now countless variations. Pauline Baynes, trained as a cartographer during World War II while a volunteer with the Ministry of Defence, did the original work.

J. R. R. Tolkien was very impressed by Miss Baynes’ talent though some of his friends suggested that her work reduced his “to a commentary on the drawings”. He viewed her mapmaking as presenting a “collateral theme” and introduced her to C. S. Lewis. Some of how we view Narnia is still influenced by her imagination.

Maps tell stories just as novels do. If used in conjunction they must help tell the same story. Does it help show how long and/or arduous a physical journey is? Are there warnings about potential dangers along the way? Is the map equivalent to a trail of breadcrumbs away from Rosina Leckermaul or a length of thread leading back to Ariadne? Proper use of a map helps shape the narrative and defines the characters.

Don’t get me wrong; I’m very pro-map. One of the things I’ll catch myself wondering when I pick up a science fiction or fantasy novel, “I hope there’s a map.” As a fan of fiction I think I rather expect a nice, fancy map. But why map α For Aa?

Building an illustration of the network of Earth’s five dozen future colony worlds helped establish the sociopolitical environment of Astral. The concerns and attitudes of the major characters grew out of my understanding of how humans had spread into interstellar space. Part of the motive of the murderer stems from the star map.

In a setting where terraforming is somewhat commonplace – and the character of any given planet can therefore be changed to suit settlers – there’s less need to map the planet’s surface. Moving from future city’s public transit station to another seems far less important to map out when some of the characters have already traveled more than 20 light-years before the story begins.

I’ve done animations of rotating fictional worlds before but I’d forgotten how time-consuming that can be. From time to time now I will have to ask myself, “What does this contribute to the story?”, which is a polite way of asking, “Are you wasting your time on this detail?”

Dalim-planet-anim

This afternoon I remembered something I’d made eight years ago. In Astral, the locations that matter are those along the way in pursuit of the murderer and where justice may be meted out. Less spinning globe and more floor plan, then. And I won’t need to sketch out any rooms; real buildings are everywhere as a menu of locations.

Hotel scene

From preschool on, we’re told that imagination is a virtue. It is, in fact, the first tool of any artist whether with images or words – unless you happen to be one of those lucky people for whom a blank page or canvas is a Muse in itself. In order to invite and guide a reader to explore any new world, the author must be a diligent scout first. A writer of any sort owes those who may follow his or her lead not to be distracted along the first trail blazed.

From the end of May 1985 to the day before Halloween of 1992 (first on HBO and then shown by USA Network), each episode of The Ray Bradbury Theatre began with the author’s description of himself as a pack rat of things that helped him dream stories into being. The introduction concluded with Mr. Bradbury saying, “And the trip? Exactly one half exhilaration, exactly one half terror.”

If a map helps along the way it is a valuable tool. If not it’s another item of clutter.


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faites attention à le prelude…

Procrastination is the only thing we can do that we don’t put off to a later moment. Lack of action or progress is immune to that particular bad habit. Theories about why we delay generally distill to fewer than ten reasons. As this pertains to writing there are four essential factors.

• Will [___] be good enough?

There’s really only one way to find out. This is the virtue of making an effort. This element of procrastination has three main branches: A] Perfectionism, B] “Do I have the skill/talent to do this?”, and C] “Will anyone else find this interesting?”

Writing may not always result in gold but it does always count as practice. Don’t worry about an audience until the work is finished.

• As cool as I think [___] is, how do I know I still will x months from now?

I tend to rely on the notion that an actually good idea will return in due time. They’re never really forgotten and will have been refined (by the subconscious) during a hiatus. To a certain extent this is precisely the backburner on which A Song Heard in the Future sits.

For reasons that I assume are obvious my sense of heroism and patriotism tends to peak near mid-Summer. If a lull in writing hits then, I’ll harness my own emotion to explore what might cause characters to derive a sense of satisfaction – national pride or otherwise.

Though I don’t find myself subject to Winter doldrums many people on whom I rely as sounding boards do. If this causes a snag in inspiration or refining, I’ll spend snowy days pondering new locations.

If we learn something new everyday we can apply ourselves anew to a work-in-progress on a daily basis.

• I’m too busy for [___].

Arthur Golden worked on Memoirs of a Geisha for six years, research and writing included. J. R. R. Tolkien worked on The Lord of the Rings in several phases and over more than a decade. Pauses are justified and to be expected; they can be useful. What matters is returning to the effort.

• I’ll never be able to do as well as [___] again.

In all honesty the likelihood that any author (myself included) will produce a work that will sit next to the work of Ursula Le Guin, Octavia Butler, or Madeleine L’Engle is probably rather low. If any work-in-progress stands such a chance, how can there be any justification for not devoting every feasible waking moment to its completion?

And if it’s really that good, and you don’t write it, do you really want to see someone treat nearly the same material and do it badly?

Additionally, there are plenty of authors who are famous for a single book. Sylvia Plath wrote only one novel. Harper Lee, until very recently had a single book to her credit. In Plath’s case, she wrote poetry; work on a novel can be done between other writing. With regard to Lee’s “sequel”, it is now known to have been an early draft of her more famous work.

The answer to each of the above is the same: Recommit. Allow yourself to be compelled. Welcome it and your demanding Muse. Neglect of their role as psychopomp for your dream projects only makes them more relentless and subversive in their prompting.

Note: Two other potential factors are not considered here: A] “I don’t know where to start/what comes next?” and B] True depression. In the first case, do consult your muse and in the second, please consult a physician.

A Venn diagram – more commonly called “those overlapping circles” – illustrate how distinct aspects of a situation combine to create variations. When one is completely enclosed by another it describes relationships like “While all squares are rectangles not all rectangles are squares.”

Venn-stuff

Though I’ve never seen it done, they could also be used as a checklist to circumvent procrastination. In converse, addressing each factor outlined above make the Venn approach a process of elimination rather than permutation

It may seem ironic to post here about procrastination when Astral is not yet finished. When not musing here work on the far future, detective novel is and has been in progress. Venn-in-reverse is offered here as a reminder to myself not to worry, not to fear. The mission and message are cause enough to continually recommit. For the most part, I’ve only been taking breaks to sculpt, attend/vend at shows and conventions, and note ideas to address – yes, later.

Let the Muse court you. She’ll bring you flowers.


🌷

Perilous by pelorus…

I wouldn’t be the first to describe the difference between hard and soft science fiction. In fact, Tor provides a quite reasonable guide.

From the advent of sci-fi there have been at least two camps. In general, Jules Verne suggested the grand adventures technology might make possible while H. G. Wells and Mary Shelley offered cautions about the potential consequences.

Roughly a century later, the voyages of the USS Enterprise might have begun nearer to Verne. The final frontier gradually became less about exploration of a boundless sea and more an unending series of tensions played out upon it. If not Wells’ territory, certainly near the neutral zone.

How much attention is paid prevailing scientific theories depends on balancing the needs of the story. The world-building for Astral has been to provide an understanding of the hardship the characters have faced before the story begins. The action takes place on a world quite distant from Earth so part of this process has been devising reasonable rules and repercussions for faster-than-light (FTL) travel.

In soft sci-fi FTL simply works at the often literal press of a button. How long the trip may take, what fuel is used, and some understanding of what laws of physics are being broken and how never enter the picture. As the genre approaches the other extreme, nothing superluminal (neither travel nor communications) happens; light not only has a speed limit but it’s one that’s part of the definition of the universe. In between there are warps, jumps, and hyperspace – and that’s where Astral sits presently – on a scale from 1 to 10, somewhere near 5.

NASA is exploring the possibilities of EM Drive and, while decidedly thrilling, the realities of that are now firmly in the realm of scientific speculation rather than speculative fiction. On the other side of the coin, hyperspace will be forever associated with the Star Wars franchise – at least in the mind of this author.

Making something sound like science can give rise to La Forge syndrome:

“The phase inducers are connected to the emitter array. The override is completely gone and the pattern buffer’s been locked into a continuous diagnostic cycle.”

I’m not a mathematician and I don’t want to run the risk of actually getting some critical math completely wrong. Similarly, I’m not ready to plant a flag and reclaim luminiferous aether in the name of voyages extraordinaire. Some time was spent in study of certain theories of Henri Poincaré and Hendrik Lorentz. While this did not result in a formula it pointed (perhaps tangentially) to answers I can use.

The characters would not be making hops of several light-years in less than the blink of an eye. The farther the actual distance traveled it would still take longer. In Astral a trip from Earth to δ Pavonis would take between two weeks and nine months depending on the equivalent of a warp factor or calculations from a navicomputer. These durations compare to a single Atlantic crossing by steamship at the dawn of the Victorian era or three such journeys under sail combined during the mid-1700s, respectively. A hop of even one light-year would depend on finding a shorter distance than Euclidean geometry would permit.

Ultimately there’s no actual need within the story to know the precise settings of any phase inducers. In the original Star Trek series, the set designers put the label “GNDN” in several places. When asked what this stood for they replied, “Goes nowhere, does nothing.” This in-joke can also serve as a warning to a writer. When it can’t serve the story it can’t be included.

People don’t usually talk about travel unless something goes wrong. Otherwise, a long car trip is reduced in the telling to roads taken and noteworthy sights along the way. With all of this in mind the only reality of FTL travel that matters is what impact they may have on the characters who undertake a crossing.

Astral Space

Non-Euclidean geometry, in strictly mathematical terms, does not equate to things Lovecraft. But while traveling along any weird topology suggested by an extradimensional, self-intersecting manifold what might be seen if looking out a portal? What do the characters think it means? Does it shape their point of view without twisting it to madness?

The navigation of Astral may be in Verne’s spirit but the story winds up at the intersection of Wells and Shelley.