Mirror, mirror…

Authors frequently make the claim they are able to hear their characters speaking – about their own motivations and the world into which they find themselves planted. This is usually not meant to indicate the actual lines of dialog that may appear in the fiction although that can certainly result.

The longer an author, and hopefully any reader, spends involved with the story the more the characters begin to behave like real people. They inform the author precisely who they are as if conversations or interviews with them had actually taken place. If resisted, the writer runs the risk of presenting them merely as puppets.

While world-building and developing some of the science for Astral (working title), many of the intended characters have begun having arguments with each other in a non-dialog manner. The political situation that has grown out of the “realities” of FTL travel and genetic engineering has resulted in the citizens of Dalim entrenching themselves as opposite camps. I have to admit a bit of surprise at this. No author with whom I’ve ever talked mentioned this aspect of character talk.

Flight of the Pegasus

The Flight of the Pegasus

A novel set against the backdrop of human colonization of a few score exoplanets needs details about ships and speed. While developing Astral I’ve consulted a few people who are more adept than I about mathematics, astrophysics, and CAD programs. Chris Newstead and his MOLIMI team are adept and amiable collaborators in helping me envision spaceships. The Flight of the Pegasus is not their work. Stay tuned for that. I’ve no doubt it will impress. Similarly, Roger Sorensen and Ben Adams have been providing assistance with a range of sciences frequently found in sci fi.

World-building in science fiction may involve knowing the star system one has selected has two suns and that the characters living on a planet there would cast two shadows. Letting the characters be more than shadows themselves means more than giving them a backstory and description. I don’t have images for the characters as yet but I know what they think when they look in the mirror.

orbits

The distances traveled and methods for the trip are not as important as really listening to a character’s tales of woe and joy upon reaching the destination. Speculation about future innovations and inventions matters far less than understanding a character’s perspective on their life and plans for living it — and hopefully well regardless of an author’s ideas about any obstacles.

It is part of the writer’s job to obstruct his or her characters. That’s what makes any story interesting. But muting those characters and/or depriving them of the thoughts and skills they claim to have is a disservice to them and a mistake in presenting their saga.

Jules Henri Poincaré was a true polymath of the Victorian–Edwardian era and one of the fathers of special relativity and chaos theory. He has become a new hero of a sort as I’ve been working on Astral.

Dr. Poincaré has been quoted as having said, “If nature were not beautiful, it would not be worth knowing, and if nature were not worth knowing, life would not be worth living.” I’ve adopted a comparable point of view about what I must allow for my characters.

 


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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


ѱφ

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.


 

💡

Meanwhile, Fortius…

Civil War.jpg

By the numbers, with five on Team Red and six on Team Blue, one might be tempted to predict Captain America’s side [Blue] will win. That said, evaluating each individual character and collectively by the sides chosen shows more actual superpowers in Iron Man’s faction [Red].

Marvel sometimes rates its characters in six categories of a Power Grid:

  • Intelligence
  • Stength
  • Speed
  • Durability
  • Energy Projection
  • Fighting Skills

These are measured on scales from 1 to 7, with 2 considered the score for the normal person – regardless of category. Red is more powerful in all but the last rating. Tony Stark’s stance in Civil War and those who support it are – in total – almost a third again better than the First Avenger and his troops. Advantage: Red Team!

Given the leadership and tactical advantages Steve Rogers can be presumed to possess, his side will almost certainly have the better strategy (without actually determining a way to avoid a physical conflict). Advantage: Blue Team!

The most powerful single heroes in the fight are Vision for Red and Scarlet Witch for Blue. The synthezoid delivered the coup de grâce against Ultron via the Mind Gem and therefore, if used against any member of the opposing side, would be more than sufficient. As the mutant’s powers have been portrayed in the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU), the only member of Stark’s faction that might be immune is Vision.

The respective powers of these two both count as Energy Projection and they are  equivalent according to the Power Grid in that aspect. Logically, the fight should boil down to just them and, with regard to every other rating, Vision is superior. Victory: Red Team!

But…

Joss Whedon is well-known as a geek. This includes playing Dungeons & Dragons – so we can guess that he’s experienced in overcoming the numbers on any character sheet to triumph. He’s also not stranger to chance influencing the outcome; he’s probably rolled his fair share of Natural 20s. Maybe losing side before the third act will get unexpected help from Spider-man in some way (making him the Random Encounter).

In addition, although I’ve never played D&D with Mr. Whedon, he will twist the rules as much as serves the story – and maybe a little more. Even taking that into consideration, there are a few things I doubt he’ll avoid.

Expect to see most of the following…

  • The MCU’s two newest, Ant-Man and Black Panther, will make trouble for each other – demonstrating what they’re capable of in a “fresh” way.
  • The two women will engage is some manner of one-on-one conflict and it will probably be more or less a draw. The audience probably expects this but it’s been done to death.
  • Some moment of brotherhood between two of the three characters of African descent is likely and, if handled well, could enhance the story.
  • Hawkeye will last longer than he should given the odds and any form of sense.
  • There will be a nod to Scarlet Witch and Vision potentially having a relationship at some future point, if the film parallels the comics that is.

Mr. Whedon has written many actual comic books, including the first 24 issues of Astonishing X-Men. (It’s ironic he can’t use those characters in the film.) We know from his body of work that he features and favors the underdog. Buffy, its extended franchise, and Firefly/Serenity (i.e., almost his entire oeuvre) all demonstrate that he’ll kill a beloved character.

These factors in conjunction mean the underdog pack will almost certainly win but it will cost them at least one of their (our) favorites. Prediction 1: In Captain America: Civil War, Blue will win the day but the titular character will “die” just as he did in the comic book arc on which the film is based.

“Tahiti is a magical place.”

Since Agent Coulson’s death and return, that is a new euphemism for the comic book death trope. Prediction 2: The post-credits stinger(s) will show all of this is playing into the hands of Thanos and then remind us of Valhalla while hinting at Cap’s return from it.

Only uncle Ben is staying dead but that’s another franchise.


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.


 

δ³Σx²

 

 

 

 

On the plurality of worldviews…

The presentation of a heptad of must-see sights in all the world is at least 2,500 years old. Only a few of the actual lists survive; some are known only by reference made in other works. There is generally agreement on six of the seven wonders. The Colossus of Rhodes could not have included by Herodotus. The supposedly harbour-spanning statue was not built until 150 years after his death.

All of the sets of Seven Wonders of the World do agree on one other thing. Each suggested stop for itineraries was offered with the pragmatism of actually paying a visit. Islands in the sky (Aeolia) and divine palaces (Mt. Olympus) never made the cut.

If allowing for the inclusion of imaginary places, no one’s list can be expected to match another. My birthday was this week so I’m treating myself to my choice of the seven. Your results may vary.

Dream

  • The Dreaming

Starting in January of 1989 author Neil Gaiman, and a pageant of talented artists beginning with Sam Kieth, gave us a continuing (re)introduction to the realm of Morpheus. The Dreaming contains everything dreamt or that might be. One location within that is of particular note is Lucien’s Library. Like the features of the domain surrounding it, the books shelved here do not exist in the real world. They are yet to be written (presumably including my own works-in-progress); once completed they vanish from the Dreaming.

The original comic series ran for 75 issues. Roughly a year later, Derek Pearcy adapted the French game Magna Veritas. Steve Jackson Games published it under the name In Nomine. One supplement for this game offered dreamlands as the province of the Archangel Blandine.

  • Arda, The Realm, etc.

Even before the film adaptations of J. R. R. Tolkien’s The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings by Peter Jackson, artists were inspired to explore the legendarium of Middle-earth. The resulting work is just as inspiring, particularly when the subject is any place called home by the Elves. More than just an extended stay – living in Lothlórien or Imladris (better known as Rivendell) would be ideal.

  • The Wizarding World

If Hogwarts existed in reality, I doubt I’d enroll. (I’m probably more of a mutant than a mage.) However, I would certainly appreciate a tour the campus. Moving stairwells. Animated oil paintings. Interactive ghosts. The School of Witchcraft and Wizardry is a fascinating place. If venturing into the wider, though hidden, world of J. K. Rowling it would be fun to window shop Diagon Alley and maybe meet a dragon.

  • The Discworld

Landfall would not be necessary for the most stunning vista here. A few orbits and scads of photos would suffice. Terry Pratchett stated that the inspiration of Great A’Tuin was a summary of a myth he read at about the age of nine. The description of a flat land on the backs of elephants, themselves on the back of a giant turtle, he claimed was part of a book on astronomy.

The turtle in question is doubtless Akūpāra, the Unbounded, from Hindu literature. Similar beliefs appear in the lore of Native American nations, such as the Iroquois and Lenape.

  • The Etherium

When I was asked for a review of Treasure Planet (2002), I said it was the Disney film for which I’d waited my whole life. The novel on which it is based was, of course, an assignment but I enjoyed reading it. Tall ships and astronomy are mostly unrelated, life-long fascinations. How could a combination be bad?

This very concept was explored in Swords of the Swashbucklers (Marvel Comics, Oct. 1984; Epic Comics, Mar. 1985-Mar. 1987) and the Spelljammer campaign setting for Advanced Dungeons & Dragons (TSR, Nov. 1989-Aug. 1993). There is also a scene in The Adventures of Baron Munchausen (1988), in which some of the characters escape from captivity by climbing the crescent moon. All the while, constellations swim like living creatures in the background.

Which brings us to Montressor Spaceport in the Etherium (i.e., outer space). Watching a crescent moon turn from this…

The Moon

to the view below was one of the most exciting elements of the film for me.

Montressor

  • The United Federation of Planets

Within the territory patrolled by Starfleet, one might wish to vacation on the so-called “Shore Leave planet” or on the “pleasure planet” of Risa. It would be interesting to witness two stars merging into one (as in “Ship in a Bottle”) or an actual Dyson sphere (“Relics”).

Alternatively, this could be where I’d snark about J. J. Abrams as a custodian of the Star Trek universe and the destruction of Spock’s homeworld but I’ll simply gesture in that direction – going straight on to planetfall.

t'khasi

Vulcan is a place about which I’ve some strong opinions. If fact-finding could happen on a fictional planet, this would be a dream come true.

Tardis

  • The TARDIS

The Doctor’s description of where the TARDIS can go is a perfect summary.

All of time and space; everywhere and anywhere; every star that ever was. Where do you want to start?

Where?

A tour of the original Seven Wonders of the Ancient World ending with the Hanging Gardens of Babylon gift shop.