Thursday, May 24, 2012

I See Red

I've been watching lots of Mars related videos as of late. These have included Mars Rising, Mars Dead or Alive, and numerous others. Mars Rising is a six-part series narrated by William Shatner that covers the technology, research, and problems with making a journey to the red planet. The series is well done, and covers such aspects as rocket technology, human psychology over long voyages (imagine living in a small enclosed space with several other astronauts for six way), to the potential issues with landing on the planet itself.

One of the other topics cover was terraforming, or the process of "converting" a planet from an unliveable place to one more like Earth. One of the intriguing ideas mentioned in the series was the idea of building hundreds of factories on Mars that would produce greenhouse gases (carbon dioxide) for decades on end in order to trigger a planetwide greenhouse effect.

There's a couple of issues with doing that, however. First, you'd have to transport all the factory material to the planet, land it all on the surface, and then set it up. Second, Mars' atmosphere is already full of carbon dioxide. Hmmm.

Whatever the case, it has been interesting to see where the research has been, where it is going, and all the throught going into the process. I'm starting to think, too, about setting some stories on the red planet, after having written a short story that will be likely be included in my next short story collection, Corridors (coming later this summer). The story is tenatively titled, "The Mines of Mars", and deals with a pirate who comes across some unusual cargo being transported via rail. What's been unusual, though, is that the story seems to want to mushroom into a full-blown novel, or at least several interlinked short stories.

It's also been instructive to now go back and look at some other Mars-related fiction I read years ago, such as Ray Bradbury's The Martian Chronicles. Ray has admitted in an interview that it wasn't so much meant to be a series of science fiction stories, but rather fantasy. This makes sense, given that Mars' daytime temperatures may never get above zero, and if the cold doesn't cause problems, there's always the dust storms or radiation from the sun.

Then there are the tornadoes. Narrow, towering, whirling columns of dust that grow to be as tall as Mt. Everest and as wide as a city block. The dust is finer than talcum powder and can build up huge electrical charges that could easily fry electronic equipment. Sometimes the storms have been beneficial, such as when they've cleaned the dust off the solar panels of the Mars rovers.

There are also signs of a great deal of water just below the surface of the planet. In addition, there are also exploratory discussions occuring about setting up settlements above and/or below the surface. Hopefully, we'll see some of these become reality in the coming years, but until then, it opens up a lot of possibilities in terms of fiction writing.

Thursday, May 17, 2012


Last year we planted some Brussels sprouts in the garden. They grew slowly, and by the end of the season they still had not yielded anything usable (they came close, though). So, we pretty much wrote off growing them ever again.

This spring, however, there came a surprise. After filling the garden with composted leaves in the fall, we swept away the debris to find two of the plants had survived the snow and cold. Strangely enough, the new shoots were growing out of the old, withered plants and have a great head start on the growing season.

I did some research and found that sprouts are one of the few vegetables that can survive a winter season, along with broccoli and kale. Although I'm not a fan of either of those vegetables it would be interesting to see them staying green in the midst of a blizzard.

Like the vegetable plants that survived the winter, writing can sometimes bring its own type of surprises. For example, a while back I talked about writing a bunch of stories and then letting them rest. I'm using this process again with another group of short stories (most of which will probably end up in my upcoming collection, Corridors).

Here's the surprise: some of this last group of short stories are now growing into novels. This is not something that was planned, but instead came out the organic nature of the writing stories for the fun of it. Who knows if there will be time to turn some of these into proper full-length books, but at least it is interesting to witness.

This is a process anyone can try that is involved in the creative arts. Although it may not work for everyone, it can lead to some interesting developments later on. For instance, musicians often have "jam sessions" and I've heard of several instances where full songs came out of such sessions.

Have you ever painted, drawn, played music, or written something for the fun of it and had an entire project develop out of it?

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Am I Being Too Subtle?

One of the interesting aspects about writing a book is how others perceive the end result. Sometimes as an author I like to have fun with story structure and other times I bury things in the text. I think, however, that a lot of times nobody picks up on it. 

In An Echo Through the Trees there is a reference to a painting created by a secondary character (Karen Krause) which she calls "Virtue". When she announces the name of the painting to a friend at an art fair, and then comments that nobody seems to be buying it, he replies, "The price is a bit high."

After I wrote that passage, I came to the realization that there was a double meaning to that specific part of the conversation, although the characters themselves weren't aware of it. It was sort of a comment on how many regard virtue as a great thing, but often give up on its pursuit because the cost really does get high after a certain point. In other ways, it was an indirect reference to Romans 3:23 which states, "...for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God."

In Theft at the Speed of Light, there are multiple references to songs (both Christian and secular) that occur in conjunction with the main character, Alex Poole, and the main antagonist, James Malloy. If you dig into lyrics of each of these song references, they more or less reflect where that character is at the point in their life. I guess it was my first (and maybe last) experimental attempt at adding a "soundtrack" to a book.

I didn't do it just for the sake of experimentation, however. It does tie into the fact that Malloy plays guitar. Also, in the scene where he is overlooking one of his own bank branches going up in smoke there is a subtle reference to the apocryphal story of how Nero supposedly fiddled while Rome burned. In reality, Nero may have started the fire himself, or at the very least took advantage of the situation for his own gain. What followed, of course, was more Christian persecution.

Like subtle references, however, there are also times when it is better to leave things out.

In one of my latest releases, Gathering the Wind, I purposely left out a great deal of weather related science. I was not trying to be ignorant about the subject. In fact, I actually read a great deal of science articles on a routine basis and even just finished listening to a college lecture series on nanotechnology. I left the information out in many places because the science of global climate change is still in flux.

For example, over the past several years there has been a signicant push towards developing more earth-friendly energy systems. There are some great leaps occuring right now in solar technology (due to nanotechnology no less) that may dramatically improve the efficiency of solar cells. Wind farms are also springing up all over America. Yet there was a story the other day about how wind farms themselves may be contributing to global warming.


So of course a few days later all sorts of counterarguments started appearing.

The list goes on and on, and I realized early on there was an inherent danger about putting such information in a book, especially if you want that book to have a shelf life of more than a couple of months. The goal of the book, however, was to examine what the Bible said about the subject. I was also cautious about trying to interpret various End Times passages because frankly, there are a lot of details that won't be known until that time is upon us.

Anyway, after watching several behind-the-scenes documentaries for various movies that have come out over the years, I get the impression that lots of artists do this type of thing, whether they are creating movies, composing music, painting, or writing books.

Even microchip designers have been known to get into the act by placing images onto printed circuit boards.