Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Trilogy Giveaway

For those who are interested, I'm running a giveaway over on Goodreads for all three books of the Chronopticus Trilogy (Fractal Standard Time, Ionotatron, Chronopticus Rising). The giveaway is for paperbacks and will run until mid-December.

Details here.

Monday, October 20, 2014

Rowing Home

"For a true writer each book should be a new beginning where he tries again for something that is beyond attainment. He should always try for something that has never been done or that others have tried and failed. Then sometimes, with great luck, he will succeed. How simple the writing of literature would be if it were only necessary to write in another way what has been well written. It is because we have had such great writers in the past that a writer is driven far out past where he can go, out to where no one can help him." - Ernest Hemingway

For some reason this quote (from Hemingway's Nobel Prize speech) has always made me think of the book, The Old Man and the Sea. In the book, a Cuban fisherman rows way out beyond where most of the other fisherman go, and in turn ends up rowing home with the catch of a lifetime. Near home, the fish gets torn to pieces by sharks, but the memories remain.

Although many commentaries over the years have tried to find deeper allegories in the novella, the one allegory I never hear about is the act of writing. For example, the fisherman could be seen as the writer, the story could be the fish, and the voyage home could be the process of editing or dealing with critics.

In light of that, the last line of the quote above takes on a different meaning. Like fishing, sometimes writing a unique novel involves traveling "further out" into waters that are not as familiar. It may also mean that it is more difficult or even impossible to get assistance if the idea is too unique.

With every novel (and some short stories) I've written, I've often attempted to "row out" beyond where anyone else is at, for better or for worse. I'm not sure why I do this, but this is also the case for the Chronopticus Chronicles trilogy. Only time will tell if I even came close to succeeding what I originally envisioned. The final book in the series has proved to be the most difficult to complete due to its complexity, themes, and many other factors. In some ways it is one of the most complicated books I have ever written, and getting the ending chapters "right" is proving to be very difficult.

Whatever the finished product looks like, I know it will still fall short of my expectations despite my best efforts. Soon, however, the boat will be in dock again, and the "catch" unloaded. In the end, I hope somebody gets something out of it and that it doesn't become "garbage waiting to go out with the tide".

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Writing a Series - Lessons Learned

As I wind down the process of writing my first ever novel series (technically one short story collection plus two novels), I've come to the point where I can start assessing what worked and what went wrong with the process. This series, as I've mentioned before, grew out of a short story found in Corridors, titled, "The Mines of Mars". There were enough intriguing ideas in there that I thought it would be worth it to expand on them. Little did I know that after completing Fractal Standard Time, those ideas would keep on expanding until I came up with a narrative arc that would work in a series.

Each book in the series has presented its own set of challenges despite all the progress I've made over the years in my novel-writing process. Ionotatron was written during a very difficult time, and it was a miracle that I even got it done. Chronopticus Rising was written during an even more difficult period.

The third book also highlighted the need to build a solid "series bible", which is basically a document that keeps track of characters, settings, and events for the entire series. Although I have kept a series bible throughout this process, it more or less consists of a lot of looseleaf notebook pages, diagrams, and charts. Those pages include character histories, a history of the settlement of Mars, maps of the settlements throughout the years, diagrams of various vehicles and creatures, and maps of the main prison complex. This type of document is crucial to building believable worlds that have a logical consistency throughout the series. Down the road it might be better to put things into a database.

Also, the first dozen chapters of Chronopticus Rising were difficult to edit in the beginning. A major problem that popped up in the first draft was that the main character was too passive. Considering the tension and the events at the end of Ionotatron, some of his actions didn't make sense in retrospect. Those issues have been corrected now, but it just goes to show you there is always something new to learn despite the best preparation.

In some ways, I feel like I hit about 85% of what I wanted to accomplish in this series, and hopefully with the next one, I'll accomplish more of the goals I have in mind. Theoretically, I could keep expanding upon the various characters' stories in this series, but we'll see what happens.

What's next? After Chronopticus Rising is released (probably late November at this point), I will put up a short story titled, "Fermat's Last Theorem of Robotics". This will be followed early next year by a standalone novel, Race the Sky, which is about a stormchaser crossing paths with a cult researcher. After that, maybe I'll start in on another novel series.

Friday, October 10, 2014

Is Sin a Fractal?

In the upcoming novel, Chronopticus Rising, an imprisoned mathematician asks a peculiar question: "Is sin a fractal?" Although no character ever really answers the question, it is an idea that has come up a few times during the process of writing of this trilogy.

First, let's define a fractal. Webster's defines it as "any of various extremely irregular curves or shapes for which any suitably chosen part is similar in shape to a given larger or smaller part when magnified or reduced to the same size." Wikipedia states, "A fractal is a natural phenomenon or a mathematical set that exhibits a repeating pattern that displays at every scale. If the replication is exactly the same at every scale, it is called a self-similar pattern."

Now, for a definition of sin. Again, from Webster's: sin is "an offense against religious or moral law" or a "transgression of the law of God". So consider this verse from James 2:10 which reads, "For whosoever shall keep the whole law, and yet offend in one point, he is guilty of all." (KJV) In other words, no matter how small the offense against God's Law, it puts one in the category of a lawbreaker. A similar concept is echoed in Romans 3:23, which states, "For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God." (KJV)

Along these lines, James 4:1 makes this curious statement: "From whence come wars and fightings among you? Come they not hence, even of your lusts that war in your members?" (KJV). Or, as the NIV states, "What causes fights and quarrels among you? Don’t they come from your desires that battle within you?" In other words, the external battles are often a reflection of what is going on internally. It isn't hard to imagine that if you scale this concept up, nation can turn against nation without a lot of effort.

Maybe an alternative question to ask is this: is the Law a fractal? Take, for example, the Ten Commandments or the Law in general. Jesus said the Law could be summed by two simple statements. Matthew 22:37-40 (KJV) reads, "Jesus said unto him, "Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind. This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself. On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets."" If you work your way through Leviticus and Deuteronomy and look through the ceremonial, civil, and moral laws listed there, they all seem to reflect what Jesus said...despite their thoroughness.

Now, I don't pretend to have an answer for these questions, but it does make for some challenging fiction. And, as a writer, that's the most interesting kind of fiction to write.

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Random Tech Bits

A roundup of some relevant tech/space news headlines and a book update...

Comet 2013_A1 (aka Siding Spring) will be passing by Mars on October 19th, 2014. Originally, it looked as if the comet might smash into the planet, but now it appears it will just be a close call. Should be interesting to see what the pictures come back from the flyby.

In other Mars news, the Mars Orbiter Mission, launched by India, dropped into orbit around Mars recently. Some early pictures can be found here, and if you are interested, here is a site that has weather updates for the Red Planet.

Back here on Earth, someone flew a drone recently over the new futuristic Apple headquarters being built out in California. Due to be completed in 2016, from the air it looks like a giant doughnut (or a spaceship) that will have underground parking, an orchard, bikes for employee use, and R&D facilities.

In other news, on the nanoscale, researchers have created a "one dimensional crystal". I'm not sure what the practical applications of that are yet, but I guess we'll all find out someday.

And lastly, Chronopticus Rising is still undergoing edits. It should be available either in late November or early December. I should also have another short story available sometime in December with more novels to follow in the new year.