Thursday, March 28, 2013

Fractal Standard Time Update, Part I

Today I'd like to report that what started out five months ago as a collection of twelve short stories with large time gaps between the stories has turned into something more. How much more depends on how the current editing process continues to unfold, but it certainly looks like this book has turned into at least a novella. This happened by accident since I once had plans to release a handful of the short stories out onto Amazon before releasing the whole book. As I've continued to edit the stories, however, they have insisted on "growing" together and towards each other if that makes sense.

Although my technique for creating novels usually follows a much different path, I'm also letting this book run in the direction it wants to go. Here's what makes this so unusual: depending on how things go, I might...just might...turn this into part one of a trilogy.

So...what's this book about?

There are a lot of themes coming together in this book, but here's the short list: Mars, robotics, nanotechnology, and in a limited sense, fractals. The Mars aspect will be obvious as nine of the twelve stories take place there (the first three are on Earth). The robotics angle grows throughout the book and the nanotech themes come to life in the last four stories. The fractal ideas are more subtle and will be found in the structures of the book. I say "structures" as opposed to "structure" because although there is one large narrative arc to the book, there are multiple other arcs within groups of stories and even within the stories themselves. I've tried to align those arcs with one another, but this has proved to be far more difficult than I ever anticipated. The original goal was to write a book that could be chopped up into multiple pieces yet still essentially retain the same story.

Some of the story titles will be, "Racing the Anvil Crawlers", "The Peddler", "The Nanobot Sandbox", and "The Mines of Mars, Part II". Oh, and here's the opening line from the lead story, "Tales From the Front":

Gordyn and Alyssa held hands together in the cockpit for yet another last time.

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Yet Another Corridors Update, Part I

Some brief book news science fiction short story collection finally has a cover. Although the cover is not completely done, it's far enough along where I should be able to release the book via Amazon around the middle of May.

The collection is diverse and will contain fourteen stories...some of which have already been made available on Amazon over the past few weeks. Some of the themes will include mechanical insects, transhumanism, a novel-writing computer, two cadets who battle it out inside a simulator that projects their thoughts on giant screens, and a character "sentenced" to work at an intergalactic Bible factory. There are a bunch of other stories that didn't make the cut but some day might get reworked enough to end up in a book.

One of the key stories from this collection, however, is The Mines of Mars, Part I. It's a story about a part-time smuggler, Kyrk, who reluctantly gets pulled into a mini-refugee crisis at a nearby Martian settlement. For a few more weeks, it will be available at Amazon here. There is a Mines of Mars, Part II, but it won't make its appearance until the next book is completed, which is Fractal Standard Time. That book is in the editing stage right now and should be done within the next month. I plan on releasing that book sometime in June.

As usual, I'll also run a giveaway or two (or three) over at Goodreads as soon as the paperback versions become available.

Friday, March 22, 2013

To Program Matter

If you had the ability to "program" matter, what would you create?

Surprisingly, several research projects exist to program matter as if it were an extension of a computer program. Although the hardware and software have a ways to go before they can match up with some of the visionary videos I've seen, it's a field that is growing right alongside research into nanotechnology. A couple of different names have appeared over the last few years in an attempt to define this idea: claytronics and programmable matter.

According to the Carnegie Mellon University website, claytronics "combines modular robotics, systems nanotechnology and computer science to create the dynamic, 3-Dimensional display of electronic information." Wikipedia describes programmable matter as matter having "the ability to change its physical properties (shape, density, moduli, conductivity, optical properties, etc.) in a programmable fashion, based upon user input or autonomous sensing."

Lots of science fiction shows and movies over the years have given us hints of what this might look like in the future. For example, the T-1000 in the movie Terminator 2 might be a good illustration of this idea in action. Although that particular movie used lots of special effects, I predict there will come a day when even the field of special effects partially merge with research in the field programmable matter.

Special effects in movies, games, and animation typically requires the manipulation of lots of information (presented in the form of graphics). What viewers/players don't see is all the mathematics that occurs in the computers or render farms that generate these images. As technology continues to evolve, the effects are becoming more realistic over time and tend to involve a greater number of calculations. These calculations involve lots of physics and math. Effects such as hair, skin, human motion, creatures, vehicles and even landscapes are taking on greater realism as a result.

Looking ahead, though, many of the videos I've seen on this topic address great ideas such as using programmable matter to create tangible 3-D models that could be used in board meetings or presentations. Some have even gone so far as to show the models changing form instantly in response to the presenter's controller as a means of illustrating a product prototype.

That's creative and practical, but it's doubtful the innovation would stop there. Imagine owning a vehicle that could change form or color on command (cloaking, anyone?). I saw a video that demonstrated what this might look like, along with furniture that could change form. Perhaps one day it will be possible to have clothing change form instead of having it wear out and be tossed in the garbage.

It won't stop there, however. Some will take their newfound programming ability to dangerous places and bring about situations no one is equipped to face. Will discussions occur in advance of such developments in order to try and foresee and prepare for those days which are probably fast approaching? Maybe. Some say that's what science fiction is really all about.

Saturday, March 16, 2013

Random Tech Bits

In October 2014, one of two things will happen on Mars: either it will witness an impressive flyby of newly discovered comet C/2013-A1 or it will get hit by it. The chances of it getting hit are low, but over the next few months scientists should get a better handle on its trajectory. Estimates of the size of the comet are anywhere between two and thirty miles across...which could leave an impact crater of twenty to over three hundred miles in diameter and throw an enormous amount of rock and dust into the atmosphere.

One has to wonder how big of a rock it would take to knock the planet out of orbit.

Here is a website where you can order your own custom 4-ton mech robot for just over $1 million.

In other news...coming to a set of eyeglasses near you: augmented reality. There is a lot of research being done in this space. More on this in a later post.

Now, assuming the comet doesn't hit and smash everything to pieces, I wonder what would happen if we could bring some of these technologies to Mars?

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Letting Go

At a certain point a writer needs to stop overthinking a novel and just let it go. Such is the case with my current project, "Fractal Standard Time".

In my relentless pursuit of perfection (however imperfect of a pursuit that may be), I've come to realize that I may never get this book to work out exactly the way I envisioned it six months ago. The interactions between the characters and their individual stories, as well as trying to tell the larger tale of what it might be like to settle on Mars is complicated enough. But trying to get all of the details "just right" is getting overbearing to the point that it may never get done.

That's typically the point where it's best to back up and re-evaluate things or let it go. In the world of building software, there exists a concept called "function creep", where more and more features get added on, until the project potentially implodes under its own weight. Instead of focusing on a few features and getting them to work right, the developers and/or project managers focus on anything and everything so that in the end everything ends up being done in a half-baked manner.

The same goes for a novel. The more you pack into it, the more it grows and the more the overall story can suffer. I'm running into that now. So, in the interest of getting this book done before the year is up, I'm going to edit it for what it is today, instead of trying to make anything and everything in the book into a fractal. The lessons I've learned will be carried forward into the next novel which I hope to get done by the end of the year, too.