One Thing Done (For Now.) The Article Has Been Submitted!

I’ve just submitted my article for review. What a great feeling! I have no doubt that if it is picked up, there will be a great deal more work to do, but for now I feel content that I have done my part to advance the state of the world by one little step. For now, though, I will sit back, enjoy the peace for a night before getting stuck right into the thick again to keep moving my other projects forward. As you’ll recall, there was a kids book with a bunch of unsavory orks that I had to relegate to a dark corner of my office for the past several months.

No rest for the wicked!

 

Academic Writing: That Feeling You Get When…

I did it! I’ve completed my paper! It’s so exciting to reach a culmination in one’s work. It feels like you are at the top of the world. Well, almost. As you may recall, I’ve been tackling a profound issue as a side initiative at work. A few years ago, I became interested in concepts relating to the technologies that are being developed that may be directly  integrated with our bodies and help us perform more effectively than we otherwise would be able to. You’ll probably already have heard about cybernetics, and gene therapy, so it should be no surprise that very smart people are working on making the stuff of science fiction reality.

I am looking at a very specific subset of  this technology and its ethical implications. In the process of exploring the topic, I’ve had the opportunity to share ideas with some of the leading minds in the field, which has been a great experience. I feel I’ve even helped develop some new ideas that should help move the field forward.

And this is where I get back to the “almost done” part of this entry. It doesn’t matter how great a paper is, until it gets published in a peer-reviewed journal, it doesn’t mean very much. I’ve found the journal I want to submit it to, but now have to modify seventy-plus references to comply with a text format that is slightly different from what I had been using. Strangely, this seems more daunting a task than the months I’ve spent reading into the topic, digesting the ideas and writing the manuscript. Yet, it must be done if I am to submit the paper.

The devil is in the details!

On toddlers and the spontaneous generation of novel vocabulary

Toddlers are an author’s best friend. If you’re ever stuck in a rut and need some help, pay close attention to a kid trying to grapple with the intricacies of learning a spoken language. They will inevitably toss in extra vowels and consonants, clip words short, duplicate sections, or improvise sounds that are more manageable for their developing mind-lip interface.

I think every parent has had the pleasure of being called “Mapa” or “Pama” at some point or other. My boy is fascinated by crocodiles thanks to Dora the Explorer. He trundles around the living room yelling “Crokoli, crokoli!” and roaring his head off. Today, my kid invented a novel mashup of ketchup and mustard. “Kestard, moustchup!” I’m not quite certain why he was going on about condiments, since it wasn’t mealtime, but his little mind was bubbling away trying to figure things out. I keep my ear trained to his vocal experiments, and from time to time can come away with a wonderful nugget that will serve as the setting, character, or event for a future story.

This may not be too useful a feature for non-fiction authors. In fact, such re-interpretations of any language is probably going to lead to deleterious effects on your writing by osmotic transference so having kids is probably not a great career move. Thankfully, mine will doubtless continue to enhance my efforts to produce engaging works of fantasy and science-fiction.

Thanks kiddo!

Rummaging through old memories – how The Genius Crucible’s cover was born

Nissigoboro and Nala

Nissigoboro and Nala

Many years ago, my parents lived in Papua New Guinea (PNG). I will not go into detail the reasons for which they were there, but suffice to say that my head was filled at a young age with stories of exotic jungles, villages of rugged tribesmen, and exhausting scientific expeditions through some of the world’s most rugged terrain.

My parents took a few memorable pictures. Back in the 70’s, film was expensive and hard to store adequately in the humid jungle. Since they could only carry so much, only a few pictures remain of their treks. My father had turned some into slides that he used during classroom presentations to his students. Thankfully, a few years ago he made the effort to scan those slides. I now have a selection of the images stored for posterity. They are beautiful and open a window of insight on a world that had remained largely untouched by the progress of history. I will share some of these images here from time to time.

The first to make its appearance is a photo of Nissigoboro and his son, Nala. Nala served as my father’s interpreter in the Karimui, a remote district in PNG. They worked together for several years over many expeditions, developing a close friendship. My brother and I were fortunate enough to meet Nala back in the ’80s when we accompanied our father on his last expedition to the island’s jungles.

It was therefore fitting for the pair to figure prominently on the cover of The Genius Crucible, since they are inspirations for some of the book’s major characters. Thanks to the magic of digitization and a little help from photoshop, a forty year old picture became a central component for a science fiction book dealing with many cutting edge artificial intelligence and environmental issues. Does it work? I’ll let you be the judge.

The Genius Crucible (available at Amazon.com)

Follow @GeniusCrucible if you are interested in science, the environment, artificial intelligence, and the disappearance of genius.

Sketching – Nasty Grunt

A nasty grunt.

A nasty grunt.

This charming chap tumbled onto my electronic sketchbook a while ago. The sketch arose as part of a stream of consciousness exercise I was running on a page to help me come up with some ideas for a story. As I doodled on, the concept for my upcoming book took form in my mind. A little cross-disciplinary creativity can work wonders for generating ideas.

Cover illustration completed. That’s a set!

A snippet from the cover illustration

A snippet from the cover illustration

I am overjoyed! My final illustration, the book’s cover, has just made it in. That completes the illustration work for my book. It is wonderful to see things beginning to take shape. I’m now down to writing the last two chapters before getting into the heavy review and editing.

As much as those stages will be tough work, I’m still a little daunted at the prospect of laying out the book’s 60 or so pages. I am experimenting with iStudio Publisher in the hope that I can have more control than with Pages. The major problem I see so far is that it appears that I will have to insert each text page manually, which is looking like a tedious process. That should motivate me to look for the best way to optimize my workflow.

Keeping perspective – when orks fight

The young reader’s short novel I am working on right now is progressing nicely. I manage to get a a little writing in every day. This helps me keep my momentum up while letting ideas simmer and brew in the back of my mind for the next day’s typing. I rattled out the lines below as part of last night’s writing. They are still an early draft, but I am quite pleased with the pacing and growing tension.

“If I had a moment to think about it, I would have one last forlorn thought for my axe. Instead, I scoop up Grork’s sturdy steel shield as I dash past it. It was forged by the finest Steel Ork smiths of Krimlork. It isn’t pretty to look at, but is almost as tough as basilisk scale. It is also heavy, which is perfect for what I have to do next. I brace my shoulder firmly against it and duck my head low. Another step carries me into the creature’s side.

The impact rattles my tusks. It is like I have charged into the very mountain wall beyond the tent. After what feels like an eternity later, I hear the creature grunt from our collision, and we begin tumbling to the ground. Our trajectory takes us over my father’s cot. I briefly catch a look of complete surprise in his eyes as he glimpses both of us sailing over his bed space.

We land in a heap. I try to roll to my feet, but I get tripped up in my father’s things. The creature is much quicker than I am despite its enormous bulk. It springs upright and grabs a hold of my chest with a massive paw. It is also apparently much stronger than I. I struggle in vain as its vice-like grip begins to crush my throat and ribs. It rears its other mighty hand back, its fist clenched and ready to cave in my head. Despite the infamous thickness of our skulls, I suspect this beast will have no more difficulty squashing me into a pulp than it would a grape.”

I’ve always been one to see things from outside the box, so when I decided I’d write a fantasy-themed book, I approached things from a different direction. There are tons of stories out there that relate the epic accomplishments of the likes of dwarven, elvish, and human adventurers. I haven’t really found anything about the world as seen by orks. This is my attempt to populate that space, and generate a new set of adventures.

Writing a story is an endurance event

Persistence pays off, even for Orks.

There’s still a lot of work that has to get done, but as the illustrations roll in, and I close in on my draft’s last few chapters, I get a sense that persistence will pay off.

I plan to keep posting excerpts on a periodic basis. If you have any thoughts or comments, please let me know. I will incorporate any helpful feedback, making it a stronger, more legible offering.

Fusion drives – interplanetary science fiction takes one step closer to reality

NASA is developing revolutionary fusion drive

NASA is working on a fusion engine that has the potential to revolutionize interplanetary travel. For decades, science fiction has imagined the possibility of humanity reaching for the stars, propelled by the power released by mashing together atomic nuclei. As with so many other technological developments, I have little doubt that many of the scientists and engineers involved on this project had their the seed for this work planted in their youth while consuming mountains of stories about space pirates and green aliens hailing from unpronounceable planets.

This highlights two key issues:

1. Youth literacy is essential. There are so many great ideas out there that simply cannot be adequately covered in a movie, TV show, or computer game, that if kids don’t read, they will have a high likelihood of not being exposed to new ideas to pursue; and

2. Science fiction authors are going to have to stay on their toes. So many ideas that seemed to be possibilities only in the dim future are rapidly coming upon us. Authors will need to stay abreast a wide field of rapidly-evolving science so that they can come up with the next wave of weird and wonderful ideas with which to capture the next generation of scientists and engineers, providing them the drive to try to bring to reality whatever mind blowing concept they read about (or yes, even saw in a movie) when they were a kid.

The Genius Crucible

available at Amazon.com

The Genius Crucible (available at Amazon.com)

A year ago, I was exposed to my first real experience editing a novel. I lovingly and patiently wrangled words and wrestled phrases into a greater level of cohesion for my father on his first outing,  The Genius Crucible. I discovered that this was in fact an enjoyable experience. Although I have been dealing with mountains of paperwork in my day job, there is certainly something special and delightful about using words to bring imagination to life rather than simply fuel the fires of bureaucracy. Here is a short excerpt for your reading pleasure:

CHAPTER ONE: 2015 Karimui, Papua New Guinea (PNG)

Snakes; God I hate snakes. Even a garden hose can scare me. I hold a strong contradiction when it comes to snakes. I inherently fear them. I startle when my subconscious mistakes an unnoticed stick along a trail. A primitive part of my mind thinks it’s a snake, but I also feel they are beautiful critters. I can only marvel at how they locomote, all so alien and exotic. It’s as if my conscious mind can admire snakes, but my subconscious mind is scared the hell of them.

My consciousness seems to identify a gnarled stick on the trail as a piece of art, an image of interest and wonder. My subconscious, though, notices it first, not as a stick, but as a Papuan death adder ready to expunge my existence. Such thoughts are inevitable when one marches through the jungle in the dark.

When the moon escaped from the clouds, I can see massive cumulous clouds rapidly building from the Papuan Gulf as they advance toward the Highlands like an army of huge siege towers electrified by Tesla1 himself. I hope the damn moon will stay out since the trail is covered with kunai and kangaroo grass. Although not tall, the slender and sharp leaves made a nice knee-high tunnel along the trail, perfectly suited to hiding snakes; big and dangerous ones, like Papuan pythons and taipans.

Why can’t they just have garter snakes in PNG? Aren’t they scary enough on a rainy night, in the middle of nowhere, with a dying headlamp?

I had never hiked on a New Guinea trail at night alone. The batteries of my headlamp are failing again and thoughts of snakes are exploding in my mind. This isn’t merely some kind of joke my brain is playing on me; snakes in New Guinea are a real threat. I wish my subconscious mind wouldn’t continually remind me of the string of possibilities lying below my next step because I wish to think about the big event. I met Nara today.

Stubborn fool; the people of Dibe village insisted that I stay the night since all sort of demons are out on rainy nights. Wawi, my translator, afraid of demons, refused to do this hike with me tonight. Negabo village is a long way off, but luckily, there are no big rivers to cross. Damn mossy logs for bridges.

Right now, everything is scary. Hell, this morning Wawi found a small but deadly black scorpion in my boot. How did he know to look in my boot? I have a doctoral degree, yet I’m an ignorant blockhead when it comes to this environment. The jungle is so beautiful, so ominous and aloof, and for the naive, so dangerous. The rainforest is like its snakes, its miraculous birds and in fact, its people. The jungle is mysterious and foreboding.

As I trudge on with all my senses set to high gain, I think: What the hell am I going to do when all my spare batteries are used up and my headlamp dies?

About a mile earlier, before the clouds started building, I shuffled under a casuarina tree, awakening a roosting mob of large fruit bats which, in unison, abruptly lifted en masse, reminiscent of a hat being removed from the head of the tree. The sudden burst of powerful wing beats from this swarm of great bats startled me. It was as if the giant Grendel had jumped out of the jungle. It appeared that they felt safe roosting as a horde.

Safe from what? I wonder. Is there something else I should be worried about this night besides snakes and falling into a ravine? A cassowary maybe?

I make no claim to be knowledgeable about tropical rainforests, but I do know enough that it wouldn’t be good for me to blunder off the trail and into the jungle itself. To the uneducated, the jungle is like the gaping black abyss at the outer edge of a coral reef or a dark alley in Bagdad. One wants to return quickly to the safety of the known.

Even at noon, if I wandered in more than six or eight feet, the fractal geometry of the vines, the massive buttressed trees and profuse understory would give me no clue as to a heading, a bearing. I would rapidly become disoriented by its great abundance. It’s all diffused light in there, no obvious sun, as a piss ant in a thick hairbrush. Even if I could climb into one of those giant trees, I could never get to the top to see anything anyway.

In the Karimui there’s nothing except dense tropical rainforest and a few highly scattered villages. My only hope would be to chance upon a randomly running trail, and that could take many days. My tropical quest is rapidly losing its appeal, and my mind keeps bringing up scary scenarios. But then again, I met Nara today. I met Nara.

Hearing the menacing roar of an approaching tropical downpour, a traveling waterfall, my eyelids tightened. Oh man, here comes the rain! This evening’s drenching. Great! To top it all, I’ll next be attacked by Indians.

The Seven Steps to the Perfect Story

Any author worth her or his salt has probably laid eyes on Joseph Campbell’s The Power of Myth and is familiar with the concepts relating to the The Hero’s Journey, which one should incidentally avoid using as an excuse for writing a poor story, or risk the wrath of Autotelic.

The CMA (http://www.the-cma.com/images/openmagazine/201210/seven-steps.png) has distilled the work into a brilliant infographic and tossed a few more tidbits in to optimize helfulness:

The Seven Steps to the Perfect Story

I love it! I just wish my printer could cleanly pump this graphic out so I could pin it up on my wall.