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.


Paradox need not apply…

Ordinarily, this blog updates once a weekon Monday. I didn’t think it was fair to stretch The Three Laws of Magic over most of April. Next week’s post may be delayed by a day or two.

The supposition that the Earth might be spherical was being examined at least 2,500 years ago. It took 80% of that time for circumnavigation of the planet to become possible. It is now commonplace. If satellites in orbit are included, it’s a constant. Nevertheless, there are still people who believe the Earth is flat.

Despite some progress, some of which includes true high points in thought, our oblate spheroid planet still harbors a discouraging spectrum of prejudice. In 1941, some American leaders believed that the Japanese were too inferior to Caucasians to have successfully attacked Pearl Harbor. Clearly, they’d have required the help of the Germans. That was nearly 75 years ago – but embarrassingly recent.

Religious and gender-based prejudice is not new. Laws that attempt to control the behavior of “The Other” have existed since there have been laws. The timeline for one side being brutal to another side – of any stance or argument – is incredibly long. Do we have to share a world with luddites and bigots? Probably. And I will probably (and ironically) continue to look down on them. There is, however, no excuse for We as the Whole to give up trying. The weakest link in our enlightenment chain might always be our education system. Good enough is not good enough.

All this to introduce the Third Law of Magic. If you’ve recently been following this blog you know the First Law is that “Magic is a personal force”. At the most basic level, that means that magic begins with a single person’s energy. The Second Law is that “All magic is permanent.” Multiple layers of permanent magics may have a range of results.

Magic becomes a force unto itself.

Laws of MagicNone of this is supposed to be science and this musing of mine is background material for most of my fiction. That said, we do have it within our power – with care and consideration – to improve our thinking. It may be true that ill-conceived notions are cars that never leave the racetrack. Accepting it as a truth makes it a foregone conclusion.

There have been a few novels I’ve read and slowed my reading pace when there were just a few pages remaining. When a good story is about to present a hopefully good ending, I like to savor right up to “The End”.

I’d like that to be more readily possible in the non-fiction section of the Corpus Humanum. As I mentioned in this blog on Feb. 2, “…centuries without proof of a hypothesis is not proof of the antithesis.” The word “impossible” should be reserved for violations of the Laws of Physics.

Please consider yourself invited to Comment, Like, and/or Share.

Exorcising the Geist from the Zeit…

Depending on who it is speaking – the world is in poor shape. The cynic in me sees too many politicians seeking to sow fear and harvest votes. Similarly, the objective of advertising could be seen as the manufacture of a sense of need or want. These are symptoms. Pointing to them in cynicism does not mean I agree about the state of things. If one isn’t careful, however, the provocation to apathy based on futility could really grow discouraging.

I refuse to believe there’s nothing that can be done and no one to do it anyway. I reject ennui. It just doesn’t have to be that way.

Some years ago I praised a good friend for being on his best behavior as a general stance. I observed that many people are rarely on comparable footing – unless called to it specifically. Part of my hope in writing A Song Heard in the Future is that it may be seen as an invitation in the present. Perhaps if there is a more frequent call to being better the reminder might result in more evidence of good, including from myself.

The meme of “Keep Calm…” and innumerable and often frivolous permutations, and despite the commercialization, stems from good advice. The British Ministry of Information produced the original and actually motivational poster in the summer of 1939, in preparation for WWII: “Keep Calm and Carry On”.

Philosophically speaking, may we expect a better destiny by looking to inspire and inform? I would not presume to know the path. I can’t actually draw the actual map from here to “there”. But it seems logical that it involves beginning to turn away from doomsayers. While writing about Teiresias, I couldn’t have his prophecies be entirely of gloom and doom. Nor could his life and times be completely tragic. My motto has for a long time been, “The only raw material needed to manufacture hope is time.” The novel’s main character may prove to be of similar outlook.

I’ve long been leery of people who claim to know all of the answers. That’s not what I’m claiming here or in the novel. The first answer – the first step – is all I’ll point to right now. We have to expect better. That is one way to encourage better.

MediterraneanForgive me for not including a map to a better future. Unlike Teiresias, I cannot see it. This map represents many of his travels in my book and some of the paths followed by his three daughters.

“Five feet out that door is the real world…”

Teiresias-JanusSince I remembered Teiresias from grade school lessons about Greek and Roman mythology, I rather assumed he was a famous seer. In some recent conversations, it turns out he’s not that famous. I find the character fascinating because he stands in so many thresholds at once – between mortal and divine, sighted and blinded, male and female, and the present and possible futures. If Odysseus’ visit to Hades is included, the liminality of this world and the Underworld is added.

And for a persona so involved with seeing the future and curses of the gods, it seems odd that none of the stories about him (or her – as “Teireseia” in the novel I’m writing, A Song Heard in the Future) directly involve the Fates. It seems a glaring omission, to be honest.

Chorus: Who then is the helmsman of Ananke (Necessity)?

Prometheus: The three-shaped Fates and mindful Erinyes (Furies).

Chorus: Can it be that Zeus has less power than they do?

Prometheus: Yes, in that even he cannot escape what is foretold.

Aeschylus, Prometheus Bound

Writing is not just telling a story. The act of crafting a novel is a process of making decisions. Two of the largest choices, particularly when it involves research, are “Do I include this and, if so, how?” along with “What does this mean in context of the book I want to present?”

In showing the journeys made by Teiresias, there’s a journey for me. I think that may be part of my renewed fascination for the seer and all of his thresholds. In a recent conversation I said, “Each person lives only one day at a time.”

Within the talk it was meant as a reference to how much one person can do in 24 hours and within reason. It isn’t fair to measure one person by one day’s work and another by that of a decade. But in this post it means that each day can be a journey – even when it is a slice of the experience of someone who can see the future.

Janus was the Roman god of Start and Change. He was also the deity of doorways. It does not seem that there was a Greek equivalent. I am beginning to wonder if it shouldn’t have been Teiresias.

Tracing a Path…

Researching Greek mythology has worked better for me having adopted the view that the entire record is of a “shared fiction universe”. The best known stories from Pandora to Aeneas – and everyone in between – exist as amalgamations of many ancient tellings. Not every detail is identical when comparisons are made. There are certain contradictions, given multiple accounts, that are impossible to reconcile.

The best example may be what happens when trying to establish the route of the Argonauts and duration of their travels. No fewer than five chroniclers of Jason’s journey draw widely different lines on the map between Colchis and Iolcus. If the trip was ever made, there can only have been one return trip. At least four maps are wrong.

Pindar and Hecataeus can’t be right because the world isn’t actually shaped as they thought it was. (One cannot sail from the Caspian Sea around the Arabian Peninsula to the source of the Nile.) The route chosen by Timaeus could be right but the surviving heroes would have taken years to return, not mere months. There is quite a bit of portaging involved in the path Apollonius of Rhodes prefers – including over the Alps. Helping drag a penteconter over a mountain pass is low on my to do list.

How a tale is told and what choices the author makes depend on intent. But they also reveal assumptions by the author and the zeitgeist in which he or she writes. When the world was small and known, exploration was not a virtue and therefore wasn’t an activity heroes got up to.

Henriette Mertz postulated that the Argonauts’ adventures took place largely in the Americas and suggests a Western Civilization emphasis. She moves Colchis from the Southern Caucasus to western Bolivia, South America, making it a metaphor of Tiwanaku.

In A Song Heard in the Future, two of the major characters about whom I’m writing do become Argonauts. One is a daughter of Teiresias and the other is a man who plays a very important – if symbolic – role toward the end of the Heroic Age.

I cannot say I’m completely aware of what may be my own biases. Nor would I be able to assess to what extent I think in terms of the zeitgeist. I’m as eager to find out as I hope future readers may be. The exploration of self may unavoidably be part of writing any novel (whether I draw a map or not). I hope that can mean writing a book is an invitation.

At the Crossroads…


Let me introduce you to Telixaus Brood. It is a member of my newest creation – Pandora’s Pets, which debuted at TempleCon this past weekend. Each of these small spirits is designed to help with a specific worry so their host can focus on a decision. They do not wear their own emotion but rather that with which they hope to alleviate.

The sell starting at $15, plus shipping costs, when applicable. And apparently, they eat more than just your cares.

The TempleCon organizers presented their 10th event – fittingly themed “Crossroads” – and the second that I’ve attended. The staff and volunteers certainly count among the best organized and supportive of their respective brood. From pre-registration to loading out, every member of the TempleCon crew with whom I interacted was clearly dedicated to making an enjoyable event. They are helpful and professional in each detail and at every turn. One asked me what brought me to TempleCon and I answered (for 2014) that I have traveled nearly every geek avenue they showcase as part of their programming, from goth to steampunk to historical fiction to gaming – though not necessarily in that order.

And my involvement with TempleCon this year – my first as a presenter and vendor – was due entirely to introductions and encouragements made by Leanna Renee Hieber. Among the wide range of scheduled attractions was a reading by Ms. Hieber of her first hardcover novel, The Eterna Files, which officially releases tomorrow. Our collaborative writing has not yet been published but Pandora’s Pets do represent one intersection of our creative approaches. The Pets and I are truly all gratitude for her work and support.

Tomorrow (February 10) is the last day to order a signed personalized copy from WORD.

The great spirits of unworldly artist Kelley Hensing, exemplary sutler Major Salisbury, and itinerant lecturer Mark Donnelly further enhanced the excursion.

Thank you, Lauren, for permission to use your photograph.

…et lux in tenebris lucet…

There are at least three things it seems most folk know about Teiresias and might logically expect to find treated in any novel about him:

1. Hera and Zeus asked which gender enjoyed sex more.
2. Striking a snake could result in a change in gender.
3. Blindness was imposed as penalty.

Regarding the 1ˢᵗ item – in the argument between the Queen and King of Olympus, the central question grew to me to seem too adolescent (if not actually juvenile) for deities to ask. In what may be the most well-known version of the story (in Bibliotheca by Pseudo-Apollodorus), Teiresias is purported to have replied, “Of ten parts a man enjoys one only.”

First of all, how could any author know? The audience must accept that answer for the sake of the story. In Ancient Greece, given the status of women, the point was not to empower or honor women. Besides, I would like to think, my Teiresias is more wise and clever than that. He might have more to say.

As to the 2ⁿᵈ – it seemed wise to interview women, both natural-born and trans, about how they experience a wide range of life and living. What was shared and resulting discoveries have been fascinating to me. Along with two books not previously mentioned in this blog, and in combination with years of listening to and observation of humans in their native environment, I think I’ve been able to craft a more comprehensive answer for Teiresias to provide for Jove and Juno.


Gender and the Interpretation of Classical Myth by Lillian E. Doherty
The Experiences of Tiresias: The Feminine and the Greek Man by Nicole Loraux

On the 3ʳᵈ – I’m not going to reveal the nature of the penalty of blindness before the release of A Song Heard in the Future.