let’s make it a good one…

Astral is my first effort at a sci fi novel since high school. I don’t have any of the scripts or books I wrote then with one exception and while the retained short story is not The Eye of Argon it isn’t The Time Machine by any stretch.

As noted previously, my science fiction preference requires space travel. But what about the rest of the world(s) in which the story takes place? We’re quite unlikely to invent any propulsion system that could make reaching exoplanets feasible without seeing advances in other scientific and technological fields. By the time any visit to α Centauri is made, it seems probable that we might also have taken a significantly more active role in our own evolution.

Astral won’t be a big bucket into which I’ll pour all the science that appeals to me. However, the characters in the novel will consider many  machines yet to be dreamt of to be common, everyday things. Part of the world-building has to include a fairly thorough understanding of the societal repercussions of fictional innovations. What will it mean if we can travel faster than light and have mastered manipulation of the genome?

Opinion of human civilization 500 years ago can range widely. Should our emphasis be on the artistic achievements of Leonardo da Vinci and Michelangelo or on the rise and impact of Imperialism? Is it more important to note the wars and plagues or the contributions of Martin Luther and Galileo Galilei? In 500 more years what will be the state of art and thought? Human nature may never change, despite our technological sophistication.

By the time audiences first took seats in the Globe Theatre in London and other people were excavating Pompeii near modern Naples, what humanity was and probably would always be was already on full display – fully developed. The fact that Shakespeare and Vesuvius still interest us may prove this point.

There will be more than a few exceptionally dark, perhaps ugly moments in Astral. Tonight I’ve been pondering which aspects of the characters who inhabit one human colony find beautiful and how they find it in their lives.

Any moment in time is both great and horrible if viewed from a wide enough point of view. What sort of future we create and whatever tales we tell about it depend – as it always has – on what perspective we adopt.

Imagine


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The Return of Strangely Beautiful!

Good People,

Permit me to (re)introduce you to a very important book. If an earlier addition of Strangely Beautiful is on your shelf, you’re in for the special treat of new content. If you’ve not had the pleasure of reading this tale, you are invited to make a purchase of it today. Once it arrives, I’m certain you will enjoy the time spent with Leanna Renee Hieber’s finely crafted and much beloved characters.

SBcard

The unique and original creation – Percy Parker – features in this work by a true pioneer in Gothic & Gaslamp fantasy. Miss Parker is, in a sense, an outcast from birth but who among us hasn’t felt the same way some point in our lives? She and Alexi Rychman take center stage, surrounded by mystery and almost Poe-like goings-on.

If you’re a fan of such film and television series as Crimson Peak, Ripper Street, and Penny Dreadful than Strangely Beautiful must adorn your attention and library.

You can read more here.


This post is, of course, utterly share-able.

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on your marks…

The ouroboros can represent the cyclical or even the infinite. I wonder though – does the snake ever think to itself, “It seemed like a good idea when I got started.”

There is a mythical account of punishment imposed upon the immortal soul of Sisyphus, king of Ephyra. His torment in Hades was to perpetually move a large stone to a hilltop only to have it roll back down after each attempt. When I was first taught this story I remember asking, “Why doesn’t he just stop?” I was told that such things were part of the nature of Hell. I thought, “Well, that’s stupid.”

The tale may serves as a lesson on the dangers of obstinacy or in how to discern a no-win situation before too many resources have been lost. The moral of this particular story is also warning about hubris and other character flaws.

During the research for and early writing of A Song Heard in the Future there have been three problems for which I’ve been seeking solutions: 1) In ancient Greece, the practice of slavery was not only ubiquitous – none of the city-states could imagine a world without slaves. They were considered a necessary part of society, 2) the more loathsome custom of infanticide of the unwanted also seems to have been prevalent, and 3) the treatment of women had them treated as all but indistinguishable from cattle.

In Song, I have been attempting to make the characters more real and accessible. One mechanism has been the removal of monsters where possible. For example, it seems very likely that the fabled Chimera was not a beast with three heads but a pirate ship. Another part of the process has been to build a synthesis of the often contradictory plot threads in the shared universe (or common agora) of the mythological canon. Could a certain graceful spinner have been married Chiron before being present when Teiresias gained the gift of prophecy?

Any true hero would make the three significant injustices his or her cause to end and right. Heroes have to be more than marginally better than the society that produced them. In a purely fantasy setting (such as Clash of the Titans or Hercules) writers may ignore these issues.

As an author, I cannot in good conscience write a story in a setting that has these and other problems without said story being about proper address. With due respect to the tail-devouring snake, I won’t be giving up on Teiresias; there’s too much potential, too strong a message in the telling. I’m determined. The collective journey of heroes is, as it turns out, a staggered start. As my definition of a hero is somewhat strict, and perhaps superhuman, the song will have to be heard in the future.

Luck and inspiration has saved months of research and the purchase of several reference books from being in vain. I recalled a conversation I’d had with a friend about sociology and human nature. We’d concluded that very few notions (construed as race cars) ever leave the track. What resulted was an epiphany about a how I might craft an unexpected new tack on a cult sci-fi setting that’s long been a favorite of mine. Even more pleasing – the value of my work on Song can be included without much revision at all.

Many novelists and editors alike will tell you that crafting a story is about the choices made. Prioritization of one novel over another is not giving up. Simmering one while another’s on the boil is part of the process. An illustrator I am privileged to know once gave me good advice: the best outline for a story leaves the audience with no plot-holes to point to and no questions unresolved.

me-ta

I’m very confident that the new idea will be enjoyable to write and to read. I’m equally certain I will solve the problems mentioned above and be able to return to the novel set in ancient Greece. One has and will inspire the other.


 

💡

sententiae antiquae…

An admission of a bias in thinking due to the near-total immersion in Ancient Greek mythology and philosophy must be made. There is the concept of (Abraham) Maslow’s hammer, “I suppose it is tempting, if the only tool you have is a hammer, to treat everything as if it were a nail.”

Recently, the question arose in two parts of whether writers in this modern zeitgeist are consciously using elements of the philosophy of Plato (et alia) in their works of fiction. Parallels seem strongly evident; are they always intentional? Are the tropes of ancient thought strong and pervasive enough that even those who are not aware of their origins – or seeking them out – are almost destined to use them?

George Lucas is known to have based Star Wars on his study of Joseph Campbell’s work, which was in turn a summary of many others, Plato included. Similarly, Lana and Andy Wachowski may have based their Matrix (at least, in part) on Plato’s Allegory of the Cave.

IDEA

The reimagining of Battlestar Galactica (2003-2012) probably could not avoid using Greek myth as source material with many of the characters named after the Olympians. BSG also paralleled Ecclesiastes 1:9 and Peter Pan when Six and President Laura Roslin (among several others) presented variations of “All of this has happened before, and it all will happen again.” The verse in the Bible goes on to postulate “…and there is no new thing under the Sun.” – an idea about which I’ve previously railed.

The past week’s musing has given me a series of ideas that may cause me to adjust my perspective for A Song Heard in the Future, my novel-in-progress set 3.5 millennia ago.

Some scholars of myth believe that Teiresias was a well-known character before he was written into the tragedies of nearly all kings of Thebes, including the trilogy of Oedipus’ life. Of the dozen or so tales that include Teiresias and still exist only a small percentage of them could be said to feature him as the main character.

Hesiod is said to have written about the famous seer almost 2700 years ago but that story has been lost. At roughly the same time Homer also included Teiresias but as a shade in the Asphodel Meadows neighborhood of Hades. The intent in Song is giving Teiresias back the lost story of his life.

If an author’s themes are preordained, if there truly is nothing new, the task at hand is to make the best of it. To craft the best from it. If Song is reimagined based on last week, there’s a very good chance the book will be better. Oddly, it will also take a few steps closer to the reason for researching Teiresias in the first place. Psychic abilities have always fascinated me whether they exist or not. (And I blame Spock for it.)

A leap to someone in Ancient Greece who could see the future seems obvious but the road was not quite that direct. During my middle school years, I sometimes would construct fantasy timelines of reincarnations I might have had. My birthday was in mid-December of 1964; who died earlier that year that I might have been? And who just prior to their date of death? And so on… This fabrication of an uninterrupted line of past lives would extend as far as my knowledge of history would permit.

Something very like this led to Teiresias but I allowed the tracking and musing to move into legend and then myth, as records grew less authoritative. To my mind, the jury is still out on the details of reincarnation. I’m not sure we can be certain who we may once have been. Here the innumerable ex-Cleopatras have to be discounted.

In psychical research there is a term “anomalous cognition” that is meant to describe having knowledge without learning it. The best example of this may be the understanding some aspect of a dream without the establishing that would be required if the same plot were presented in fiction. Psychic studies go beyond that point but it means knowledge without a source or explanation. There had to be a word for the idea that we can retain knowledge from past lives, if any.

In the field of psychology (if I have this right), anomalous cognition is used to describe specific exaggerated reactions. As both science and paranormal research employ AC and with neither usage hitting the nail on the head, there had to be a more precise word. With all due respect to reverse dictionaries, they nearly always far short. Finding a new word is simple. Read more. Talk to smart people. Finding an extant but unknown word that precisely fits a specific concept is not so easy.

Just yesterday, while exploring Plato’s ideas, I discovered the word anamnesis. This is precisely what I find fascinating in anomalous cognition while not preferring the term. What you knew in a past life is something your education may serve to remind you of that past knowledge.

Plato suggested that we are reincarnated based on what we know. Ultimately, aisa (“αἶσα” meaning “destiny”) doesn’t matter in our thinking and work. It is how we think and work that remains our own.

Maybe there is nothing new under the Sun. When Song is published, however, I’ll invite you to curl up against a tree and read it in sunlight. If it surprises you – that may disprove predestination. If not, welcome back.


Citius, Altius, and away…

When I was very young my great grandmother told me, “If you want to be something – first admire it.”

In some way, shape, or form that statement of simple truth has stuck with me ever since. It informs who I hope to be as a person and is part of how I construct characters. To a certain extent, it is part of my reaction to other people and to the work of other authors. All of these situations raise the question: “What is being held up to be admired here?” It is rarely far from top-of-mind.

This may also be why I have never quite been able to count athletes and rock stars as true heroes. Their accomplishments can certainly be admired but it seems likely that any record can be surpassed with diligence, proper training, and a bit of luck.

If being admirable is at least part of the definition of a hero, doesn’t that begin with their code of behavior or conduct? A set of binding principles that contribute positively to the quality of the individual in question seems a better yardstick than the applause of a stadium of fans. Being admirable on the basis of such faculties is an essential part of true heroism. They don’t have to be perfect. In real life that’s impossible and in a novel it damages the story.

The heroism of Superman is characterized by his “never ending battle for truth, justice, and the American way.” Officer Alex Murphy, better known as RoboCop, initially operates with three explicit directives: 1) Serve the public trust, 2) Protect the innocent, and 3) Uphold the law. The number of traits need not be limited to three. A short list does, however, make any potential hero more comprehensible and accessible.

In addition to The Code, a would-be hero must choose to do good. Many heroes make this choice regardless of whether anyone will ever know. They are not motivated by a reward. The achievements of a hero must also be above and beyond the simple good society encourages from all of us. The average good is not heroic; it’s expected after all. A hero must exceed the achievement of good that the average person might accomplish regardless of determination, acquired expertise, or good fortune.

Heroes – in life and fiction both – should inspire us whether we can replicate their feats or not. We should honor them when they help us toward being the best human we can possibly be and then reset the scale to try for more. Heroism is an ideal. It should perpetually be out of reach and eternally pursued.

Our heroes are the embodiment of our aspirations and hopes, our desire to believe that we are capable of facing anything and against all odds. We dream of ourselves as willing to act in defense of our ideals no matter the cost.

In the film Iron Giant (1999), a young boy by the name of Hogarth Hughes tells the robot, “You are who you choose to be.”

superman

I think that strongly echoes my great grandmother’s advice.

In Elizabeth (1998), Sir Francis Walsingham tells his Queen, “All men need something greater than themselves to look up to and worship. They must be able to touch the divine here on earth.”

This is, in essence, the point but not necessarily from above or outside – but from what is worthy of our admiration and awe.

Doing good is not enough.

STADR

 


Graecum est; non legitur

Letters are fascinating. Why shouldn’t we find them so? Their shapes afford us a sense of order if not actual orthodoxy and by them – along with the sounds they represent – we attempt to make ourselves known. Letters are even how we identify ourselves.

As writing systems are essential to our having a recorded history, letters are as old as time. In his last fable, Hyginus states, “The Parcae – Clotho, Lachesis, and Atropos invented seven Greek letters.”

ΑΒΗΙΟΤΥ

The novel I’ve set in mythological Greece won’t be written in Ancient or Modern Greek but I have been making an effort to get the character names and certain terms correct. Effort at being thorough and accurate has often taken me to the area where fascinating letters become tricky things — in combination they invite pronunciation, spelling, and meaning.

During my formal education the pronunciation key in any dictionary made use of diacritical marks. Later the International Phonetic Alphabet (IPA) became the key of choice. Though there is an online English-to-IPA translator, I’ve yet to find one that works in reverse. I still have to compare IPA vowels to a diacritical chart.

dia v ipa

In addition to the story of Teiresias, another novel in development takes place chiefly in WWII-era Great Britain. This setting brings up an entirely new set of permutations of expression and a few slightly different vowels.

While on his third visit to England and attempting, among other things, to have Pennsylvania made a Royal Colony rather than a proprietary province, Benjamin Franklin devised A Scheme for a new Alphabet and a Reformed Mode of Spelling.

The premise of any phonetic structure – beyond illustrating pronunciation – is that knowing how a word sounds is the same as knowing how to spell it. Dr. Franklin removed c, j, q, w, x, and y. Six new letters were introduced. The rules are not included here but many websites provide them.

Franklin letters

It seems unlikely that Franklin’s scheme could have replaced the alphabet; it would have meant having to relearn to read and write for those who already knew. Dr. Franklin did give permission to another to try.

“As an independent nation, our honor requires us to have a system of our own, in language as well as government. Great Britain, whose children we are, and whose language we speak, should no longer be our standard…” — Noah Webster

Both men became more involved with The American War of Independence. Spelling and use of certain words were deliberately – and apparently irrevocably – changed. The British-import alphabet thankfully remained.

When not writing or involved with other arts and history, I sometimes explore the world of conlanging – a documentary about which was directed by a friend of mine – Britton Watkins. Conlanging is the pursuit of developing new languages and/or alphabets, usually for the sake of fiction.

Examples include languages of Tolkien’s elves and of Roddenberry’s aliens (developers include Dorothy Jones Heydt, Mark R. Gardner, and Marc Okrand). Mr. Watkins has also produced a very thorough and beautiful font for writing in Vulcan. The best-known real world conlang may be Esperanto, created by L. L. Zamenhof and offered with high hopes as “an easy-to-learn, politically neutral language”.

I hesitate to say that most conlangers use the IPA while developing their new languages but many do. This is particularly true of most of the dozen or so who’ve attempted a Circular Gallifreyan font. Exceptions include the systems by Loren Sherman and Rachel Sutherland, respectively. Their alphabets are the most commonly used by fandom.

Hexagon

All this to say — we may not have been looking at the symbols of the Time Lords from quite the right vantage point. Every letter – real or imaginary – is two-dimensional. Given time and relative dimensions in space, Gallifreyan letters may not be flat shapes; I don’t think it’s Circular at all. For the sake of art and of curiosity, I am developing a new system and will likely produce a font and/or Photoshop Brush Set. The guide will include IPA and diacritical alike.

revolve


鬼劃符

3rd Quadrant, Sector 8023

If it hadn’t been for the blizzard this post would have been a few days earlier and would have predicted Steven Moffat leaving his position as showrunner of Doctor Who. For some weeks, he had been discussing when he’d know it was time to go. This changed to news of his “actively seeking” his replacement early this month. There was other data but – as this post can no longer prove prescience – it is hoped you’ll enjoy a slightly different Doctor Who-related story.

In mid-September of last year, while attending a new convention, I was asked to be a guest panelist for a Doctor Who discussion. I am leaving anonymous those who invited me to participate as a courtesy due to the nature of this story. They’ll be getting private messages about this post and can certainly chime in when they see this and if they so wish.

One of the questions posed in two parts to the audience for a show-of-hands response was: “How many like the new Doctor (Peter Capaldi)?”

The reaction was mixed and one who raised her hand to express a negative opinion was probably in her very early teens. The moderator asked her specifically why she was opposed to the 12th Doctor.

She informed us that she’d heard there was a policy that the Doctor was supposed to be getting younger. Apparently she believed Gallifreyans experience the equivalent of aging backwards – incrementally – with each regeneration. Given that Christopher Eccleston is 7 years older than David Tennant, who is 11 years older than Matt Smith, it seems she was expecting an incarnation portrayed by an actor in his (or her) early 20s or even younger.

This would certainly mean the Doctor’s and her own age would more or less match up with the 13th.

One of the lines Mr. Capaldi has delivered while playing the part was: “Clara, I’m not your boyfriend.” There’s no evidence that the girl in the audience wanted a younger actor in the role to facilitate a crush. More of her comments made it seem more likely she wanted to see the Doctor as a kind of playmate, though.

My heart went out to the girl in the audience then and still does to some extent. How does one correct a misapprehension about BBC policy, or showrunner intent, or Doctor Who canon without stepping on a dream? Isn’t one of the features of DW how easily it engages our imagination?

With Mr. Moffat’s departure the only installment of DW in 2016 will be the next Christmas special. The new companion series “Class” doesn’t start filming until Spring and won’t air until next year either. The target demographic for Class would seem to be much closer to the age of the girl at the panel. I hope she finds her peer in it.

I could say I hate waiting (because I do). I could say I’m happy to see Moffat’s tenure end (as I am). But I think this year-plus gap in Doctor Who affords all of us fresh territory in the imagination it invites – the Girl in the Audience included.

I’ve already been inspired; there’s a new art project inspired by these and other thoughts.

Gallifrey Page

Let’s see where this goes. Or, in other words, stay tuned.


 

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