Worlds & Time

Sunday, December 31, 2006

Snow & Expansion

So, aparently the only thing that's different when you're snowed in with a broken neck is that there are other people around. We got two feet of snow here in the last two days, which is more than my family can remember since we've moved to our new house (10 years ago, give or take).

My brother, my uncle and a friend were coming back from a ski trip in Colorado, and couldn't make it to Albuquerque, so they stopped here instead. Yesterday they couldn't even get out of the driveway, so they were stuck here.

Except for the complete lack of cable and internet, it might as well have been another Friday/Saturday for me. We watched the Incredibles, Hero (with Jet Li) and played some psuedo-poker because none of us knew the rules very well. Later, we went out in the snow and I dumped a shovel of snow onto my uncle's friend Neil. Dinner was good, and I stayed up late.

In serious injury news, I'm feeling a lot better. My neck is still sore, but it almost never hurts. I can't run, but I feel like I should be able to do things again.

Incidentally, here's a follow up to yesterday's (backdated) post:

I've resigned myself to an eventual split, but what do I actually see happening to America in reality? Nothing.

Nothing at all.

We'll keep trading congress and the presidency between a left faction and a right faction for years. Occasionally we'll learn to hate someone enough that the other side will win big for a few years but we won't actually see a President or congress that is willing to step away from the center line for fear of being voted out.

Science fiction has an interesting solution to this: expansion. One of the things that I believe kept the early United States so stable was expansion into new terrain. Eventually we broke down into the civil war, but that was after the "brackets" were firmly in place. The country is getting smaller and smaller, and loosing your personal space is going to make anyone upset.

I've mentioned before that Hawking says that we're going to have to expand to other planets in order to survive as a species, and two posts ago I mentioned that in my books humans have the ability to expand out into space.

Ignoring the very real problem of terraforming, if you have the entire universe to search, you'll most likely come across a few planets that are ready for human habitation. A few seeds, a few cows and sheep, and it'll be like a new western frontier.

The people that are going to be the first to expand out aren't going to be astronomers and scientists, it's going to be the people that are in such desperate circumstances that they figure that a new planet can't possibly be worse than where they already are. Joss Whedon's Firefly suggests that the two languages that survive are going to be English and Chinese, but I think he made a mistake when he suggested that it was going to be American English.

I think that it's going to be British English, with a distinct eastern Indian accent.

Of course, the Americans will probably end up controlling the first few settled planets (or the Chinese will, if America collapses), but India has the people and the rate of expansion to eventually fill those planets, and then move on to more.

American ingenuity is a nice concept, but I suspect that most American Christians aren't going to want to go anywhere off-planet just in case Jesus comes looking for them. As far as I know, Hinduism doesn't have the same restrictions. Life is life, be it on Earth or on Alpha Centauri V.

After all, India does have a rising population of English speaking engineers and programmers. I think that it's entirely possible that Kaylee should have a bindi.

As an afterthought, Muslims aren't going to want to go off planet either. A pilgrimage between planets is going to be that much harder than a pilgrimage between continents. I don't see any problem with Jews, Buddhists or Hindus exploring space, although I'm sure there are a few sects out there of each that are going to remain tied down.

Anyway, with expansion to the stars, once again the social pressure on the population is reduced. The Puritans have set out for planet Plymouth, and all of the criminals can be plunked down on planet Australia. Hermits can have entire snowy continents to themselves instead of needing to resort to mail bombs. Second sons can own go claim their own land.

Expansion produces and interesting social dynamic, and I think that it's one that we've almost forgotten about.

Labels: , , ,

Saturday, December 30, 2006


Due to an internet outage caused by the snow, this post was backdated a day to reflect when it was actually written.

I'm not biased against "conservatives;" I've just given up on tolerance toward them. Consider yourself warned.

Oddly enough, government structure over time remains basically the same. We'd like to believe that the U.S. today is so different than the governments five hundred or a thousand or two thousand years ago, but it isn't.

There's a certain change that happens in governments over time. Decay. People don't become more and more happy with their governments; they become less and less satisfied until finally it becomes an intolerable burden and there is a revolt.

Democracy is not immune to that sort of entropy. It's proven more resistant than a Theocracy or a Monarchy, but slowly and surely the U.S. is falling apart. The ideals that we were based on are not the ideals of the founding fathers. This isn't a partisan rant either. We "liberals" endorse things that the founders would hold abhorrent. Gay rights, for one, and feminism for another, both of which I believe are valid changes. I'm sure that there are more, but I can't think of any off the top of my head. Still, any moral slide is a part of this breakdown, whether I agree with it or not.

This "red state vs. blue state" mentality isn't purely fiction. There are real differences between the rural and metropolitan counties that are driving us apart. If I had to speculate, I would have to say that in the next hundred years there will be multiple countries where the U.S. is today. Probably three of them and the lines will look remarkably like the map of "Jesusland" and the "United States of Canada."

Let me take a moment to think about that breakup for a moment.

On the West side you'll have California, Oregon and Washington, which will primarily partner with Japan and control trade in the Pacific as well as dominate the technology sector. In the East you'll have another country focused around New York City that may try to become another neutral state like Switzerland or even consider allying with the European Union. This state will still house the huge financial markets, and will probably continue to be wealthy and prosperous as long as they can resist the inevitable terrorism from religious states.

Unfortunately, this eastern state will share a border with the newest religious state, the Confederated States of Christ. The capitol city will be Colorado Springs, and it will include everything from Florida up north into Minnesota and west over to Idaho. It will have about one hundred million people, and it will have a constitutional government that acknowledges both the Ten Commandments and their Lord and Savior Jesus Christ (finally!).

Of course, the Confederated States of Christ will have some serious internal problems. The federal NYC and Microsoftland will have problems too, but CSC will face three serious challenges.

The first one is Utah and Nevada. Utah has the Mormons, who aren't real Christians and therefore shouldn't be full citizens. Nevada will be a suburb of Las Vegas and will survive mostly off sinful gambling. The CSC will have considered letting Microsoft land annex the territory of those states, but that would mean giving up the buffer zone between their precious capitol city and the dangerous hippy liberals. So Las Vegas will have to go, and the Mormons either need to be converted or put on a reservation. A nuke and a police action will probably take care of that, but the Mormons will probably end up with a small autonomous state somewhere in there. Perhaps one that has legalized gambling. I'm not sure.

The second one is that it will be perpetually at war. Unlike the hippy Microsoftlanders or the sissy NYCers, the CSC will have the brave foresight to have declared a war on Islam. Not one limited by the satanic Geneva Convention but a full fledged war to the death, mutual annihilation be damned. That means closed borders, and even though the CSC will provide a majority of North America's food, it will have problems with trade and commerce. People will starve to death in the NYC suburbs, or at least have to pay through their nose for corn and beef, and relations between the two countries will deteriorate.

The CSC's third problem is going to be internal. Do you have a Christmas Tree? You'd better. And it had better be as big and as brilliantly lit as you can afford. After all, without pride in your national religion the Mohammedans will win, and you don't want them to win, do you?

So you had better attend Church ever Sunday. And Wednesday too, just to be on the safe side. And maybe on Friday or Saturday. If people don't think you're a True Christian they might become suspicious and call the Department of Homeland Religion and report you.

While I'm taking stereotypes too far, let's look at Microsoftland and federal NYC. NYC is suffering from an acute growth problem due to the numerous gay marriages that have resulted in a birth rate drop. Most NYCers are well educated, older, and in poor health due to being unable stop watching television if their lives depended on it. Still, they'll have a stable government and they'll have a lot of money to play around with, considering all the Jews controlling the stock market and all of the gays controlling the fashion and art industries.

Microsoftland will be having a marital crisis. Or several. Perhaps multiple ones on the same time. Having finally lost their media edge to Bollywood, the main industry of California has become short term marriages. Skynet and caffeine related deaths will be common, but of all the countries from the former United States, Mircosoftland will be the most stable, because no one really wants to anger Gates of Borg.

The scary thing about saying all this, is that I can see everything except the last two paragraphs happening. Most of the country is trending toward an inclusion of religion in government, less personal responsibility in favor of more government control, and acute xenophobia.

Let's face it, and country that includes California is going to work fine in any sense that matters, and NYC might as well be it's own country already. It already legislates itself like it is. Washington might as well be on the moon for all they care.

That's enough on Microsoftland, federal NYC and CSC for now.

Where was I? Ah, right, the blue state vs. red state mentality. Blue states are metropolitan, and red states are rural. Even today, a white Christian in a rural area is probably going to be in a majority position, and he's going to know it. He's going to see himself represented on the school board, the city council and in the U.S. House. On the flip side of that, if you live in NYC, you'll probably live next to a neighborhood of people that are distinctly not you, be they Jews, Asians, Italians or just queers.

If you don't have a voting bloc capable of enforcing your will, that breeds tolerance. You don't know if the cop responding will be one of them or one of you, so you even if two men are making out in the street so you'd better let them be. After a few days, when they don't break down the door, you may even learn to live with all of them, even if they speak different languages, eat things you wouldn't touch, or go to that church with minarets down the street from yours.

Abortions? In the country, you need those kids to survive and provide you with a loyal customer base in the future. In the city, those crowded schools and overflowing foster care systems belie the idea that there will be homes for all of those extra kids. Better for them not to exist in the first place than to be put into a hopeless situation. That wealthy couple from the ranch may want kids enough to adopt, but there aren't enough of those for the city.

In all of this, there is a distinct difference in the way that people think and view the world. True, it's prejudiced on both sides, but it's still intrinsic to the way that people live their lives.

I've led too far astray on the main point: this difference in viewpoint is pulling us apart. If you call it "The War of Northern Aggression" you also will agree with me when I say that it wasn't just about slavery. One of those other reasons (as I understand it) is that Lincoln was elected without a single southern state. Almost like how Bush was elected without a single Northeastern state in 2000 and 2004. There is a split in the way that we view ourselves that simply cannot be reconciled.

To me, this is a novel way for a country to decay. Usually when a state decays to the point that it's falling apart, it's because one side has all of the power and has begun abusing that power, oppressing a lower class.

For the United States, that hasn't happened at all. The liberals aren't oppressed; we just have a different set of verbs. In fact, many of the people on top are liberals. Clooney and Soros and Stewart spring to mind. The Bushes have had a dynasty, but the liberals are going to try for a Clinton dynasty. Dynasties are horrible, liberal or conservative, but they're certainly an obvious symbol that neither side is oppressed.

Still, everyone is unhappy with the way our government works. There isn't a Reagan on the horizon that can get more than 51% of the majority vote. No matter who the Republicans nominate, I'm voting for the other guy, and no matter who the Democrats nominate, the proverbial Bush supporting redneck is voting for the conservative guy. Obama isn't going to solve that problem, nor is McCain.

Without that political messiah, we're headed for a nasty divorce.

Incidentally, technology has drastically changed revolution. I don't own a gun and don't ever plan to own one, but I support the Second Amendment (both fanatically and half heartedly). I understand the right of the individual to own a gun for self protection, but I don't think that anyone should own their own F-15 fighter or even a personal nuke.

The problem is, the government does own that sort of thing, and if the government sees its own citizens as a threat, it won't hesitate to use those weapons against that threat.

That sounds dire, and it is. The weapons of mass murder that technology has given rise too have a hair trigger, and so do the people that we've bred to wield them. Obviously, it's not just nukes and fighter jets. High powered machine guns are a threat to a stable society. Which is why most people have agreed to ban them and the NRA has fought to allow them. This is the proverbial two-edged sword.

Violence seems to be one of the requisites for change, but we've suppressed violence so well with our technology that we've suppressed social change as well.

I want to live in a stable society, but when it comes down to it, I don't think that Texas and the Bushes are part of my country. I suspect that the people on the other side of that line see me as part of the country. Above, when I mentioned that the government won't hesitate to use lethal means against a threat, this duality is what I'm talking about.

I'm prepared to just walk away, if that could accomplish change peacefully. To declare the U.S. as it currently stands a failure at unity and start something new, but most people on both sides disagree with me and will continue to disagree until something radicalizes them.

Violence radicalizes like little else.

I'm sorry to say that. I love the U.S. because it will always have been my home as a child. But as an adult, I know that what this country is isn't best for me or best for the people who say "liberal" like it's a dirty word.

Labels: , ,

Thursday, December 28, 2006

Out & Around

Over the last couple of days I've been able to get out a little bit. I was hoping that I could go back to work for Christmas because I know that noone wants to work on Christmas, and most of the people that I work for are Catholic. I was hoping that I could go in for four hours so that someone could stay home.

That turned out to be overly optimistic. I couldn't get a ride, and there were some other problems.

Instead we went out to the buffet at the Eldorado, which is a big fancy hotel downtown. We did this instead of exchanging presents, becuase it's fairly expensive. It was okay, although I didn't eat nearly as much as I should have. Everything was so rich that I just couldn't pack it away. The Sea Bass with polenta just melted in my mouth. Everything else was good. For desert I had a piano sculpted out of dark chocolate, with a white chocolate keyboard and filled with custard and berries.

The problem is, I don't know if I want to be with my family. I mentioned that I like the family idea of the holiday, but my mother has pulled away from me, more than I've pulled away from here, and my little brother is just gone. If I wasn't related to him, I wouldn't have any reason to talk to him at all.

It's a bitter question, and I don't know the answer. That tends to make me sort of angry and defensive, and I tend to take it out on my family. When I'm on my own, when I'm with friends, I almost never get like that, maybe because I know that at least it's my choices that have brought me there.

I met Steve and Andrea this week after Christmas. I've known Steve for a fairly goo amount of time online. More than a year probably, and he's been a moderater with me for a couple of months. They were nice enough to drive me around, and offered me the front seat of their truck so I didn't have to climb around in the back of their truck.

This is the first time that I've had a chance to actually play tourguide for actual Catholics, which is sort of cool because Santa Fe is fairly religious, and a couple of the cool sites to see are churches.

So, they came by on Tuesday, and then today as well. We spent more time at my work than we should have, in retrospect. Of course, none of my co-workers recognized me. I could pass them and wave and they still wouldn't know that it was me. The strangest thing is that some random person in a shop that's seen me twice recognizes me but my co-workers didn't.

We should have hit up more of the museums, and probably done Canyon Rd. as well. If you're going to spend two days in Santa Fe, spending some time on Canyon Rd. is a good idea. Instead we hit a sale at the Nambé Factory.

On their way out of town today they dropped me off so that I could get fitted for a tux for Elliot's wedding, so now I'm all set for that.

It's so nice to be getting out a little bit, even though I'm exhausted afterward.

Labels: , ,

Wednesday, December 27, 2006


This is a sci-fi rant, so if you get easily bored by that sort of thing, be warned.

Realistic space travel is boring. I've been reading the Rama series by Clarke and Lee, which deals with very fast but not faster than light (hereafter referred to as FTL) travel. One of the consequences of this is that in order to fit the journey into the life of the main characters, the distances are relatively minor (less than twenty light years) and the characters tend to sleep large chunks of their lives away.

For a character that gets to experience the thrill of orbiting a star other than the sun, she gets to loose a good thirty years of her life to do it.

So, if I want my characters to experience that thrill but don't want to have them die of old age I really only have a couple of options. Make them immortal or introduce FTL travel.

There are three kinds of FTL. The first one is actually moving faster than light moves relative to a couple of stars or planets. The cultural reference for this is Star Trek's warp drive (or Star Wars' blissfully unexplainable hyperspace drive). The second one is wormholes or gateways, an Einstein-Rosen bridge, if you wish. Obviously Stargate (and Stargate SG-1, and Stargate Atlantis) are references for this kind of travel. The final type of FTL is d-jumping, ignoring the space between two points and moving from here to there instantaneously. This is actually more common in literary science-fiction, but the recent Battlestar Galactica uses this kind of device.

When I created my own science fiction world, I knew I wanted FTL, so I had to pick at least one of these types of travel. As a rabid fanboy of science fiction, the choice wasn't hard. I wanted all of them. Obviously, my versions aren't the same as in the shows that I point out above, but all of them have unique drawbacks and benefits, and if you're going to write the rules, you may as well write them to make yourself happy.

The first kind of drive I usually refer to as an FTL drive. Unfortunately, Einstein has proven that physical objects in our universe aren't going to travel this way unless you've got a spare universe lying around to power the drive.

That's not an insurmountable problem. It turns out that if you simply bend space-time around the outside of a spaceship, you can move as fast as you want without all that nasty relativity. No slowing down, no infinite energy, no speed limits . . . theoretically. That's the proposal of the Alcubierre metric, anyway.

In our real world, bending space-time is something of a problem. We don't know how to do it, especially without using large amounts of matter that tend to get in the way. In my fictional world, bending space-time is not really a problem (that's a plot point, so we'll just leave it at that for now. If you're interested in how it's accomplished in my work, help me get published and read it for yourself).

So, I have my first kind of space travel. I need to give it some properties though, to make it more useful to my series and to make it specific to me. The first thing I'm going to do is describe what it looks like: white, gray, and then black. If you're riding inside the bubble, light will be streaming from the front, which causes a bright light (and massive radiation). On the sides, the light is bouncing off of nothing, but is not getting any input so it appears gray. Behind, light is falling out of the bubble into your wake, so it will appear black. No blurred stars, no rainbows. Maybe a little bit of blue to account for the Doppler blueshift.

I'm also going to propose that the way these FTL drives work creates the imbalance in space-time creates an acceleration. So, as you start out from a specific point, each second you travel you are traveling faster than until they collapse the bubble and you find yourself stopped again. The practical upshot of this is as you near the end of any journey you'll be going many times faster than near the beginning.

I'm going to say that the edges of the field act as barriers. In Star Trek shields are a kind of projected forcefield. In my universe, your shields are a product of your engines. Ships with huge drives have more powerful shields. Since I know that I'm going to need radiation protection (see two paragraphs up), I'm going to pair everything so that most spaceships shield passengers from radiation while they travel. A captain could decide not to do this and his ship would be much faster, but his crew would roast from the radiation.

Fourth, I'm going to say that ships in this sort of field are essentially in their own universe. That means that a ship can sit in orbit around a planet without worrying about falling into the atmosphere because gravity flows around the edges of the space-time effect and not through it. That means that if a spaceship enters the Earth's atmosphere, it will be more affected by the wind than the gravity, and will be able to hover without countering the acceleration of gravity. On the other hand, ships will be able to merge these fields so that they can exist relative to each other (otherwise I wouldn't be able to have ships dock with each other).

Finally, I'm going to play with the way I describe the FTL field when it's not a bubble. There are some cool ideas involving the way a non-bubble space-time distortion can create acceleration directly that are basic to the way I work physics, which could lead to special kinds of weapons and artificial gravity. Most useful if I ever decide to have my books made into movies.

The second type of travel is the wormhole. Now, real Einstein-Rosen bridges use singularities, but I've already mentioned that bending and molding space-time are integral to my plot so we'll use the same device here.

My "gates" will be places where space-time have been bent so that two points of space touch each other. Now let me differentiate my gates from other fiction.

First, my gates would not be shiny, blue and two dimensional. Space is three dimensional, and my gates will be as well. In that respect, and open gate will be more like a big huge donut than a puddle. If you're looking directly at one, you can mistake it for a circle, but from the perspective of someone standing on the side watching someone pass through it, it will obviously be three dimensional.

Second, the power requirements for holding open a hole in the universe are going to be quite large. I'm going to pretend that this amount of power is significantly greater than is needed for a FTL drive, and it increases exponentially the farther that you go.

So, gates will be primarily be limited to a planetary surface, and used by people to travel. Big spaceship and industrial uses will be much too expensive to be feasible. It also means that most people will ride trams of some kind through gates because holding them open longer than necessary will be wasteful. No forty minutes for my gates, the average open time will be around ten seconds.

So it will be convenient for traveling twenty light years for a business lunch, but not for moving or colonizing another planet. Further, if you want to travel far, going through multiple gates will be less power intensive than going the whole way at once, so these trams will run like trains stopping at train stations.

Ah, right, final thing, you don't need equipment at both ends. It helps if you do have equipment at both ends, but it's not required. No one way trips either. Everything is back and forth, although normally they won't be open long enough for this to be an issue.

The final kind of traveling is teleporting. Instead of disintegrating someone and reassembling them somewhere else, I'm going to say that my final method of travel bundles all the particles together in their current configuration and construction through another kind of space, which I'll call hyperspace for all sorts of nostalgic reasons rather than actual semblance to the majority of depictions of hyperspace.

Once again, the fundamental physics of my universe have to do with bending space, so here's how were going to describe making a hyperspace jump. First, you'll need a static FTL bubble. Normally, these retain a connection of some kind to the regular universe, but now you'll ramp up the power and give the edges a kick. Instead of just bending space-time, you're going to break it. Now, you'll really be in a universe of your own, and the hyperspace drive will give you a kick along a half dozen dimensions that we normally can't access from our fixed 3-D + time perspective.

Now, to plan a course along six completely new dimensions and end up where you want is going to be monstrously complicated. Right now I'll skip over my idea about how you'll need multiple calculations for different paths through equally likely but randomly differentiated dimensions and just say that to calculate one path will be insane enough. This will allow me to limit the people I want from hyperspace travel because so few will be able to figure out the calculations.

There are a couple of good points to this sort of travel. The first is that it doesn't take any time to someone observing you. You disappear from one place and the same moment you appear in your new position. The second is that you can transport entire ships this way. In fact, you must have a ship to travel this way, to create an FTL bubble around you before you kick into hyperspace. The third is that you can go any distance at all in any direction. Normally this will be bounded to known space so that you don't end your trip in the middle of a star, but this will also allow humans to travel as far as they wish, even to the ends of the universe as long as they are careful.

This method has drawbacks as well. The first is the problem with the math mentioned above. The second is that once again, you're going to need a great deal of power. Also, I think that as it is, it's too cheesy, so I'm going to add the limitations that if you use it too close to a star or planet you have to account for gravity somehow or you'll get spattered over a trillion miles and that you can't hyperspace jump into any solid object or you blow up. That means that you'll have to spend some time getting out of the solar system before you can use it, and you'll have to be careful where you go.

For a second, let's consider what this looks like. At the beginning from the outside, you'll see a bubble form, but it will quickly disappear. When it appears, the bubble will re-enter from hyperspace. The bubble will be traveling very quickly, faster than light, and it will accelerate any random particles out in a perfectly spherical shockwave from where you end up. So you'll get a bright flash at the destination when your ship shows up.

I'm also going to say that even though it doesn't appear to take time, to the people on the ship time will still pass while you'll traveling along these other dimensions. So, if you hyperspace jump from Earth to . . . anywhere else, it will seem like it takes an hour, even if though it really doesn't. To be nice, I'll say that if you calculate it correctly, you can shorten or lengthen the time you spend in hyperspace which can be very helpful.

Since this is all so complicated, I'm going to say that in my universe it's still complicated and then make the hyperspace drive insanely, prohibitively expensive to all but the richest people.

Most other created universes primarily use one of these systems, but most of them incorporate a secondary system as secondary. Star Trek uses a warp drive, but they also have transporters which function as a kind of teleporter. Stargate introduced a warp drive and a teleportation system in addition to the gates in later seasons. Simmons' Hyperion universe moved from gates and FTL drives to teleportation. The game Homeworld has a FTL system that functions as a cross between a gateway and a teleporter.

For those that use just one method of FTL, there are dozens and dozens of examples. Card's later Ender books eventually include teleportation. May's Galactic Milieu, Asimov's Norby series, and Brin's Earthclan use teleportation as well, if I recall correctly. Niven's known space uses FTL. Cowboy Bebop uses gateways. Herbert's Dune universe uses teleportation, although the mechanism described is closer to my description of gates.

Why would I go for all three of these instead of just one or two? Because there is a certain elegance in the interplay between all of those different kinds of drives. My book isn't about how space travel affects humans, that topic has been done to death. My book is about the way humans deal with the intrinsic human nature when that nature has become unrecognizable. Man vs. Self.

Humans have reached this amazing state where we are pushing the limits of our universe, but where our questions of self have become nearly impossible to answer. If the boundaries of your self are pushed further, by giving you god-like abilities and by removing the essentials of your personality and by breaking down individuality and without a shred more self control, what happens to you?

And, as a sci-fi geek, I get to put this in the middle of a space battle, weapons blazing as ships drop out of FTL. Cool.

Labels: , ,

Saturday, December 23, 2006

No Christmas

So, I realized sometime today that I didn't know when Christmas was, as in I had no idea how many days away it was. I had to check a calender to see what todays date was and then I had to check to see when Christmas was (yes, I know how moronic that is. The date had just slipped my mind for some reason).

I've been a strong atheist for probably a bit more than a year now, and before that I was determinedly agnostic for the better part of my life.

My mother is a bad Catholic and only my father knows what my father believes, and we've always celebrated Christmas, and most years we celebrate at least one night of Hannukah, and/or Winter Solstice, and/or New Years.

This year though, things are a bit different. We're not exchanging presents this year, for one. That makes it easy for me, because since I broke my neck I don't have much money or the ability to do arts and crafts. Instead, we're going to drive into town and each a fancy brunch at a hotel.

And, everyone's worried about my brother, who's a Marine reservist that will be shipping back to Iraq in January.

Altogether, it doesn't feel like a holiday season. Everything feels not much different than mid-February. I don't see holiday displays because I'm not out and about, and I'm not worried about Christmas because I don't have to plan for it. I'll just sit at home until brunch. All the decorations are in my mom's place, and she doesn't have as many as usual because one of her dogs decided to start eating ornaments after six years of ignoring the tree.

I may be an atheist, but I like Christmas and the holiday season. I have to admit that it's nice to have the family around, and to get and give presents, and all the charitable and good will stuff that doesn't need a silly religious reason. The placement of Christmas, as a solstice celebration makes that fairly obvious.

I don't know, but without that feeling, I feel sort of alone and drifting. I mean, I've had problems with my family for years now, and the only reason I'm interacting with them on a constant basis is because I need their help with my broken neck. Since getting together isn't something special, and the holiday mood obviously missed me, I'm sort of worried about lashing out due to the dreariness of the whole thing.

Everyone's gone as well, and thats in even a more lonely place. Good Friend 1 called me a few days ago (or sometime. I loose track of when things happen as I don't have reference points). I actually had something I'd meant to give him for a while, but he's going to Florida for nearly a month.

Good Friend 2 didn't even say anything before he left. I was hoping he'd call or something, and I thought I dropped him an email, but I haven't heard from him. Stopped by his Myspace and someone mentioned that he'd left for a long trip to South America.

All this loneliness is also puzzling me because I know I'll see friends soon. I'll probably see rigs in a few days, and I'll see Elliot and maybe J. in January when I fly out to New York.

Still, everything's empty. I don't like that feeling.

Labels: , , , ,

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

The Plan

I’ve been having some problems recently because most of the things that I want to write about in this blog involve my book or my short stories. One of the suggestions that I’ve heard from published authors is to try to get editors interested in your ideas, but while I feel safe posting about my sex life, I don’t feel so safe talking about my ideas. I’ve lived them back and forth for almost ten years now, and if they’re stolen, I’d be beside myself.

So I’ve decided to talk about “the plan” instead.

I don’t know what the general idea the most people have of selling a book is. I assume that most people want to leave that job to their publisher, and that must sicken some publishers. Most of the authors that I’ve contacted recently are fairly reclusive, or at the very least isolated.

Of the major fiction authors today, I can think of only a few that are well known enough to merit media attention. Salman Rushdie is the big one, and is probably one of the most well known authors on Earth. His fame was based on the massive controversy that he created. J.K. Rowling is the next one, with her heartwarming story of selling the Harry Potter series.

The third one I can think of is Robert Jordan. I realize that this is a personal bias because I like his books, but due to his health problems he’s opened up to his fans more than most authors I can think of. If I had to be honest, I’d probably say that Stephen King is third, but I personally know almost nothing about him.

If I was an agent, or even a publisher, I’d have to be upset at this reclusive behavior. Media attention is money, and few of the big fiction writers are getting the sort of media attention that their non-fiction counterparts are.

There has to be a willingness to expose oneself. As much as I hate to hold Kevin Federline up as an example of anything positive, he has played his media attention better than I think anyone would have imagined he could. With absolutely no skill and fairly little charisma he’s made himself relatively successful in the music world. He sells a few records, he has a couple of media appearances and he gets his own reality TV special.

Of course, that’s with no skill, and nothing to back up the media attention, but I have to say that I think that attention is important. If you can get a slot on the Daily Show, take it.

That’s all in the future. In order to not be Kevin Federline I have to avoid two traps: marrying Britney Spears and having some skill to back up media attention.

So, let’s start at the beginning.

The most successful sci-fi novels that I know of currently is Ender’s Game by Orson Scott Card, and the most successful fantasy novels that I know of (by a living author) are Rowling’s Harry Potter series followed by the Wheel of Time novels by Robert Jordan.

There are aspects to all three of those works that engender so much popularity with people. In his essay “Creating the Innocent Killer” John Kessel talks about the methods that Card uses to create a character that can be both a genocide and a sinless Christ figure. My own novel starts with characters older than Ender, but Kessel’s premise about the mechanism for producing empathy is still valid and useful as a basis for provoking empathy.

I am, after all, handing at least one of my characters that proverbial nuclear weapon for his high school.

Rowling and Jordan’s contribution is something more subtle. Kessel talks about how a reader’s identification with the childhood persecution creates the insinuation that such persecution is a sign of being “specially gifted.” While Ender’s abilities are fundamentally within the realm of human possibility, Rowling’s wizards and Jordan’s channelers are god-like.

The wizards live in a world of wonder, where ordinary objects are so much more than ordinary and even school children have powers beyond the ken of normal humans. Channelers have similar powers.

Interestingly though, both Harry Potter and Rand are not completely unique in their respective universes. They are not the only people with unusual abilities, and while Rand may be “the most powerful” they play the role of the “first among equals.” There are enough others that share the magical powers that they eventually become a faceless mass.

And, as a reader invited to identify with Harry and Rand, I can insert myself into that faceless mass and draw my own characters in the world that Jordan and Rowling have pioneered. Both universes lend themselves to fanfic and speculation, and that’s one of the reasons that both have become so popular.

Ender fanfic is not that popular. There is no legion that you can slip yourself into. They’re good works, but the characters are so specific that it’s hard to slip yourself in amongst them.

Dungeons & Dragons is another example of this. Dragonlance novels sell well, apparently, and the entire premise is that you can slip yourself easily into the entire world. Similarly, the tabletop games have become wider games, MMORPGs like World of Warcraft. There have been games based on the Wheel of Time, Star Wars, and an upcoming one based on Firefly.

Marketing the world so that it can be popular seems as important to me as marketing the specific novel.

Speaking of the novel though, aside from the Daily Show, which directly reaches the segment of the population that you’re trying to market to, there are other ways to reach out to readers of that generation. A book tour mostly of colleges, for instance, and appealing to the generation that is going to grow out of Harry Potter just as the last book in that series is published.

For myself, I’d probably have to finish the first three books in the nine book series that I have planned before starting a book tour. Those books are already planned, of course. With some actual inclination to work on them, I’d guess that the first one would take me about fourteen months to finish, and the next two would take another twelve months after that.

My primary universe, the Endless Light one, is not the only thing that I want to do. I’d like to try a couple of different things, from straight fantasy to scripting out a pop sci-fi movie, and maybe even scripting out another chapter Marvel’s Phoenix Saga as well.

There’s a religion text swimming around in my head as well. That’s going to be an interesting one, if I can ever get it out.

I could even use a different name for that one. If (when) people figure out that I’m writing both science fiction and religion that could cause a couple of conflicts which would actually work in my favor.

After all, any publicity is good publicity.

Anyway, that’s a bit of the plan. It doesn’t cover being published because I’ve already pretty much found out that being published is impossible. But ignoring that impossible obstacle, that’s what I want to do with it.

Labels: , , ,

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

The Problem of Libraries

Dan Simmons' agent asked me for the questions for one of my interviews a few days back. That means nothing, because even once they've seen the questions, there still isn't any guarantee that he'll answer them.

Even so, a request for the questions is something somewhat nice because it means that the agent is actually considering taking the interview to him. She already knew that I wasn't a "real" media source, and I'm assuming that she wasn't going to waste her time if she didn't have to.

The questions look similar, but they are specific to the author to whom they're sent. That's why, for the most part, I'm only sending requests to authors that I've read, because I try to use my knowledge of their works in the interview.

Dan Simmons had a couple of other interviews, so one of the things that I did was read through the other interviews before formulating the questions I asked him. Of course, I'm not perfect and I ended up having to send a clarification within ten minutes because there was an interview that I'd skipped that asked two of the same questions that I'd sent his agent.

That isn't really the thing that I'm writing this blog about. In this interview, Simmons offered a response to one of the most controversial topics in media today: Internet Copyright Infringement. (dun dun dun.)

He says that the battle is just beginning, and that the outcome looks good for writers. His example used the sci-fi writer Harlan Ellison, who apparently is suing the pants off every person on earth that downloads one of books illegally (He’s the sci-fi world’s Metallica). Obviously, I consider myself a writer, so this should be good news me, but I find myself chilled at his words.

The simple reason that this leaves me cold is that he's phrasing the struggle of copyright in terms of a battle between his side (writers) and the "other side" (readers). There can be no camaraderie in war. If you're not with him, you're against him, and it took me a while to figure out that while I may be an aspiring writer, I'm also a reader. I have to figure out what side I'm on.

Now don't get me wrong, I have never downloaded a novel to read and I have no plans to ever do that, either. I like my books tangible and permanent and the main reason I moved back home instead of into an apartment was the ability to have my own library of books gathered together on real bookshelves.

I completely understand why Simmons calls downloaders thieves. He's upset that he's not being paid when people read his words, and since he makes his living off his books he's completely right to be ticked at that.

However, I find that I have a problem with his logic: The problem of libraries.

Now that I've introduced the main point of this post, I'm going to ignore it for a moment and give you a history lesson through my half-remembered personal perspective.

Way back in the day when the internet was first getting started (i.e. before the foundation of either Google or Amazon) there was this idea that the internet was going to be a place that was based on the free exchange of information. The supposed difference between Hackers and Crackers is the based on that idea. Hackers are people that enter computers and find and use information because they believe they should have the right to know everything, while Crackers are the people that maliciously destroy both computer systems and the information that they hold. If you watch the movie "Hackers" there is a small bit from the Hackers' Manifesto that pursues this idea.

Granted, the government won the terminology war, so today there is no real difference between the terms. Most people probably won't understand the idea of "Crackers" outside of a racial slur for white people, but think Hackers are invariably saboteurs.

That's why, when we first got the internet, there was porn freely available on it. Not that there isn't porn available online now, but it wasn't being sold so heavily back in the day. It was just there for the taking. I can still remember when that finally changed, and you started to have to buy "adult verification services" to get into what had previously been freely viewable sites.

And, even then, for a long time, people posted passwords to get through the filters. There are a couple of sites that still try to do this (I think, all the ones I know of are gone), but the places are too good at making money now, and they get them closed down.

I'm sure that free porn wasn't the idea of the original founders had of the internet, but I have to wonder if they didn't see the internet as some sort of open library. A place where you could check out any book on the shelves to better yourself from the comfort of your own college office (and eventually home).

Compare that to what the internet is now. Everything is sponsored. For example, I'm writing this blog in two places that work essentially the same way. Both want people to pay attention to me so that people will come and read what I have to say. When they come read what I have to say, they also are exposed to ads. The more ads they can show, the more money that they make. I'm not much more than a poorly paid content writer for Rubert Murdoch and Google.

In Simmons' Hyperion, there is a lot of freely available information, mostly characterized as AI living in the datasphere. What he fails to predict (and this is a failure of nearly all of the original cyberpunk that I've read) is the deep need for companies to control the economics of information in a way that is realistic.

Are his own books available for free in this future world of Hyperion?

What about Gibson’s Neuromancer, Williams’ Otherland and Dick’s short stories? Are their own works available in their literary futures for free?

There is, and will be, no treehouse in our real future. Every system must have an economy. That old idea of the internet with free porn is dead.

So, that brings us to the problem I see with libraries: I can check out Simmons' books for free.

America doesn't have it enshrined in the Constitution, but the government has always protected a right to access information. We force our children to go to school so that they can learn to read (even if they rarely use their access to the information that provides). Our government runs the radio waves and offers cheaper public universities so that you can get a degree even if your father didn’t go to Harvard. And it run libraries where I can steal Simmons' books for a week and then bring them back a week later for someone else to steal.

I'm sure that Simmons doesn't have a problem with libraries. He sees that they purchase a couple thousand copies every time he publishes a new book, and he's happy with that, even if eventually twice as many people have read the book than he is eventually paid for. I’ll even bet a dollar that he has, at some point in his life, had a library card himself.

Now, today in internet theft (Re: internet copyright violation), people still pay for copies of his work. Someone buys one of Mr. Simmons' books, scans it, and then distributes it to others at no cost. The only difference between a library check out and a downloaded copy of Ilium is that (due to the ease of disseminating the downloaded copy), Mr. Simmons will only get a thousandth of the cover price instead of a tenth for each person that reads his book.

The people that create these illegal online copies have made it too easy for people. They don't have to drive to the library, wait for it to be returned, or order it on interlibrary loan in order to read his books without paying him.

I'll still buy more Dan Simmons books in the future, even though I could easily download them, because I know that if I don't buy them he'll starve to death and there won't be any more forthcoming. It’s more than worth $30 for a hardback copy of Olympos to know that someday there will be more books of a similar quality.

I don't know if Mr. Simmons has realized that he shouldn't be fighting his readers. I hope so. We live in a world where fighting the people that pay your paycheck isn't a good idea.

I'm not saying that he shouldn't protect his copyright. He should, and if I'm ever published, then I will do the same. But he should also realize that "winning" copyright battles may look different than he imagines from the outside.

Ellison may indeed win every copyright battle he ever is involved in, and get thousands of dollars from it . . . but he might also develop a reputation for disrespecting his readers. I know after reading this, I’m not going to ever buy one of his books unless I read it at the library first.

PVP creator Scott Kurtz offered (and still offers, as far as I know) major newspapers his comic strip for free, upsetting the long time syndicated comic community. He can afford to create his comic full time based on the revenue he brings in creating content and publishing it for free on his website daily. The guys at Penny Arcade make an absolute mint and they only publish three times a week. Respect is currency to these operations. If Tycho started bitching about how he was going to sue the guys that used his art as backgrounds, he’d probably find himself with a substantially smaller readership.

I see something coming that, if he doesn’t like downloading, I suspect he’s going to hate: Online libraries.

In the UK you pay tax on televisions. I don't know if it's a monthly thing, or if it's a one time price when you buy the television, but it doesn't matter because that tax pays for content. In Canada, I've heard there's a tax for blank CDs because it's assumed that at least some of them will be used in burning shared or downloaded media.

The U.S. has to step up. Libraries are quaint and will still be around for generations, but they are no longer the bastions that hold the thought of our society any more. Besides, a national online library with e-books would be about as expensive as a branch library in Scranton, OH but could serve millions and millions more people.

They'll have to figure out some way to pay the authors. Cut them checks for the number of people that read their work, perhaps. Perhaps a straight fee for the ability to reproduce their work. I don't know. In the mean time, books won't go away. I will still be buying them for decades to come. Until Hawking succeeds, I have no reason to give up my library.

There are other things that I don’t know if Mr. Simmons has realized. Not every person that downloads his books would buy them in a store if they weren't available online. Further, some people who learn that he's a good writer downloading his books online may start buying his books. Exposure creates demand, and lonelygirl15 has proved that you can make lots of money offering things that you also offer for free.

Obviously, this has a lot to do with the way online music works as well. The problem is, once the music companies finally figured out how much a song costs online ($0.99) they lost a lot of their ability to claim that each illegal download cost them $300,000 in lost profit.

I'm not going to pretend that I'm entirely clean on the music front. I will say that with part of my remaining iTunes gift certificate, I'm going to buy music that I have already heard for free (on the radio, obviously). And, if I didn't have a gift certificate, I wouldn't be listening to it at all. It’s not worth it to spend my own money on something that I find as trivial as I find music.

Especially when I can go to Yahoo music and listen to the station I set up back when it was still a “Launchcast.” That’s a library of music that I can listen too basically for free, and I’m not breaking any laws.

So, Mr. Simmons can mourn the loss caused by people downloading his work and call them the ignorami, but I hope that I don't have the same illusions as a published author. Hopefully I'll gain enough readers that will pay among all the people that would otherwise never read my work at all.

In the mean time, I’m going to keep my library card handy.

Labels: , ,

Friday, December 15, 2006

Numbers Game

I must say, I really like the ads on Myspace. They're hot, nearly naked, and they specifically target me because my profile is clearly set to gay.

I just thought I'd mention that.

It almost makes me yearn for the days of my account. It's still there, of course. Since I never have many pictures of myself, it might even be one that's familiar. But I never really understood the point of having it. I never hooked up with anyone that mailed me on it. Sometimes, I'd look through the pictures of the hot guys but that was about it.

I heard a rumor somewhere that Fredrick Eklund was discovered on or similar site when they saw him with his shirt off and asked him if he wanted to do a movie. But to me that sounds almost apocraphal. Do men actually meet online if they're not married and in the closet?

I don't know, but it must, because Joe Phillips has a comic about it.

One of the things I really have to wonder about gay porn is: how is it that there's so much of it. I mean, there's massive, massive amounts of it out there. I should know. And about 30% of the time, the guys are just incredible muscle bound Abercrombie and Fitch models.

It's just amazing because none of these guys exist. They're not gay, anyway. I don't know what these producers say, but they must be the most convincing people on earth, because there are thousands of guys out there having sex on camera, gay or straight.

There are millions of heterosexuals in America. Hundreds of millions, actually. Probably around 294 Million. But there are only about 7 million gay people. Half are women, some are too old, and lots are too young. That can't leave very many gay men that aren't having sex on camera.

And more is produced every day.

I couldn't act in porn. I just don't have the body. I mean, I would act in porn if I did have the body, but I don't. But I wholeheartedly support the whole porn production process (except for gay for pay, which is cheating). I'd love to be a porn accountant some day. Or screenplay writer. or something like that.

So, if you ever need someone to script a three line intro to a twenty minute sexual encounter, let me know. Heck, gay or straight. If I can script children's plays, porn should be easy.

In the mean time, I'm going to be over here, absolutely fascinated by the fact that there are so many hot guys out there that agree with me: Getting naked on screen is apparently not a big deal.

Labels: ,

Thursday, December 14, 2006

What I've Been Doing

Aside from sitting here, I mean.

First, television and TotalFark, which are the two largest parts of my day. Obviously, for everyone other than me, this is the most boring part.

Next, making arrangements for the wedding, which is exciting to a few more people, but not many.

After that, I've been spending time on my message boards. I even went back to CF a little, even though I know a lot of truly evil people gather there. I know, I know, another boring one.

A subsection of that is the interviews. I've been emailing published authors asking them for interviews. So far, two have sent back actual interviews. If you want to read them, you can see them here:

Aside from Patricia C. Wrede and Steven Brust, I've sent requests to Michelle West, Dan Simmons, Mercedes Lackey, Sean Russell, T.A. Barron, and Salman Rushdie. I've had a few good responses expressing interest, a few people ignore me, and I've mortally offended at least one of them. Oh, and I should point out that list roughly corresponds to my favorite authors, with a few exceptions because not everyone has a listed email.

I've been trying to spend more time at too, which isn't going so hot, but if you know my user name there, you should look up some of my old posts. I used to be a vaguely interesting writer there. Good to know that spatula is the same. He, like Mason Wyler, is gorgeous but I'm not his type.

I've also been trying to get back into drawing. I finished one of the pieces that I was talking about a while ago, but it too me a lot longer than it should have, and I can't do it continuously because I can't look down at it. Stupid neck brace.

Finally, I've been writing. This morning I spent laughing (at what I don't remember, all I remember is laughing 'til I cried at something) but tonight I feel a little sick after seeing this and this. The first is a list of aspiring science fiction (SF) and fantasy (F) writers, and the second is Ms. Lackey's advice to aspiring writers.

I almost wish I believed in a God, so that I could pray to some higher power for the chance to be a writer. At this point, it seems impossible, and that pisses me off.

I'm not writing, expecting the money to be immediate, but I'm also not planning on being a slouch about it. I want to market my book. I want to do signings. I want create a brand name around my work. More than one, actually, and someday I might let those two brands collide and watch the fireworks and the sales rise.

And I have the ideas. I have the basic details, and I know that they're compelling enough to spawn a year of interest by typical Sci-Fi guys. I don't write fan fic. I have my own universes, and they don't require D&D archetypes.

But I also know that I'm not going anywhere.

I sometimes play the lotto. I never win anything, ever, at games of chance. Even dice roll against me a suspicious amount of the time. In today's world, finding an agent and a publisher is a lotto.

And good things don't just happen to me. Love life, professional life, or just ever.

That's hopelessness, darn it, and it's not going away anymore. It's clinging like wet dog fur, day after day, and I'm starting to get overwhelmed by the smell.

Update: Oops, I forgot one thing that I've done recently. I wrote a ten minute long children's play. Someone claiming to be raising money for an orphanage posted in one of the forums that I belong to and asked for help. I volenteered. They had very specific requirements (ages 3 to 5 and including a specifc cast of animated characters).

I couldn't think of a reason why they'd lie. I wrote it for 3 to 5 year olds, so I can't imagine that someone would want to plagerize it, and I don't really care about the orphan angle. I sent it in and they said they loved it and want to perform it.

Granted, this was all anonymous over the internet, so I don't know if that's actually happening or not but I guess if I wanted to I could claim to be a produced playwright. Still, writing a play about kidnapped puppies without using long words was a pretty bizarre job.

Labels: , , ,