Where Do Sci-Fi Writers Get Their Ideas? Part III

EEven if you are not a writer, this is perhaps one of the most inspirational TED Talks I have ever watched (Anne Madden).  It should make you think, something our media is trying to suppress.

I encourage every writer of sci-fi to watch and absorb.  Listen and let your creativity loose, let it be the muse over your shoulder, pushing you to write that sci-fi great.  I have, with my previous novellas (November Seedand From Europa With Love), both works inspired by my own research, as a former Marine Biologist, and having absorbed snippets from TED, Wired, Space.com, ZME Science  or from posts by my fellow G+’ers (you guys and gals rock!)

 

Anne’s talk is bursting with hard sci-fi nibbles for a writer, such as: ‘A human devised solution‘ or ‘vaccinations for fear‘ or ‘beer made from wasps‘,  her concepts come rapidly and I had to watch this talk a couple of times, hitting pause often to write down some ideas in my file, Book Of Ideas (every writer needs a file like this).

Finding ideas to write about is simple: The real universe exists within itself, as you will hear, but every writer of sci-fi, including myself, feels trapped sometimes, that every sci-fi plot has already been written.  Maybe this is why we are seeing iteration after iteration of the same thing; just how many alien species can there be who has one primary objective and that is to kick Humanity’s ass?  To break out of this monocular view, Anne says one thing that can turn us from this view:  ‘Most of the life around us remains unknown‘  I love this statement.   It is the one statement a writer of sci-fi should strip away and use as a mantra and be that break-away writer, typing out the next best seller.

Some of my own ideas that came from listening to this talk:

  • Anne states, ‘One cell is not a powerful alchemist,’ but a Novemdecillion (10 to the 60th) of them working together, are.   Using the immortal template of  Don LaFontaine, “In A World, under the dictatorship of a government controlled bacteria, where the true thought police of humanity, live within…”  Think of what your protagonist could do against that?
  • What about a lab geek on a spinner (space station) who the crew loves and adores, because he or she can make exotic flavored beers from bacteria found on alien worlds, to break the monotony of their long hauls through space.  But the beer that tastes like the finest wine, a silky smooth texture has hidden attributes (which I will leave it up to you what those attributes are… think along Anne’s line of, unknown.).
  • Or about a military deep-ops team on a planet, whose adversary is so ruthless that it strikes fear into even the most insane, psychotic, toughest bad-asses Earth could produce, but taking a mere pill that ‘vaccinates against fear’, albeit for only 1/2 hour, allows them to proceed.  This is enough for you to create a scene so nerve-racking for your reader, because time is running out for a few due to someone losing the bottle of pills …… 
  • In my current work in progress (Silversides), I dropped in a subplot (inspired by a TED Talk) of the backstory of my protagonist’s mother, Haruka Matsui, who plays a minor introductory part and who created a medical breakthrough, bioSketchers, for humanity’s final halt of natural selection, where controlling one’s DNA is just a cocktail away.  My concept for this backstory has it’s roots in a TED talk, where the researcher was racing toward a final one-two punch of curing aids… But what if something we are on the cusp of eradicating is also the key that unlocks everything (aka, bioSketchers)?  Although this is a very small chapter in Silversides, I know I’m coming back to it, where Haruka’s story and the story of bioSketchers will be told.

 

Cover

Photo - Mark Hurn

Photo – Mark Hurn

COVER

Diagraphy: 2046.06.18:

I come from a lineage of great surfers dating back to the 21st century on Earth. My name is MoonDoggie, a name one of my French ancestors had given to her first born son, a name that could not be repeated for ten generations; so that would be, me.

I was no one special until a botTOG, named Hurn, rec’d a clip of me free falling down the face of Phaedra 18-C. It was on a dare and I was attempting a slide-in backside on a hotMELT.  But things didn’t go as planned and I had separated from the hotMELT and did a slomo vertical 360 but managed to get it all back together as if I had planned it that way.   Hurn’s clip made me famous as faraway as Sagittarius-Carina and I was splashed onto the cover of sineWAVE.  These days, I can’t hit a break where someone or something doesn’t yell out, “Hey MoonDoggie! I dare you….” And that’s when the shit happens. And it’s weird shit.

The baggage that comes with notoriety has been mounting, so much so that my traveling buds are few and I don’t blame them; there’s a circus of bots chasing me these days, hoping to land the next cover and galactic stream.  They’re as reckless as the razor scarabs you’d find at Noah’s Cove on Xeries; don’t open your mouth or they’ll find their way in and punch out your chest. My late friend, Oyen, had found that out the hard way.  These days I travel solo.

So here I am on Cyan-B, having used the last remaining koins earned from that clip to get me here, bouncing my way through a couple of tokamak gateways, then knowing a guy who knew a dude running calibrations on a neckerCube who got me the last jump all the way back to the Orion Spur. The dude had also provided me some bogus metaProfs to use as chaff just before the last jump to throw off any botTOGs shadowing me.  Guess it worked, not a one in sight.

It looks like Twig’s forecast had been spot on, the surf looks awesome, and as far as I know it’s the first time anyone has ever been here.  I didn’t find out why until after I landed and read through the hyperLogs; turns out there’s a large amplitude dark matter wave just outside Joule, the binary star system I’m in, and my chances of successfully having gotten through that without being ripped to pieces, was like… well… one out of every 3.14.  Lucky, lucky, lucky me.  I must be down to five lives now. Getting out in one piece might drop me to four.

 

There’s a feeling only surfers get when coming across a virgin break and here I am… staring out at one. The fact is, I’ve never surfed in water; I mean Earth-like water, H2O with a salinity of 33 ppm. But this is why I had dragged an oldie from Earth, a 5.8 FocusFlex, quad-fin, V2 by DaveySky. This stick had been handed down through the generations and hasn’t been used since it was custom carved for the first MoonDoggie back in 2017.  And there are very specific conditions to be met prior to its use:

  • White powdery sands [check]
  • Turquoise water [check]
  • Suns overhead without a cloud in the sky (ok, the kit mentions just one sun) [check]
  • Surface water and air temperature holding at or above 80F [check]
  • Shoulder to head-high right point-break [check]
  • Light offshore breeze [check]

I’m using it.

It actually felt good with the suns on my back and my feet buried into the sand as I read through the manual, which had all sorts of crazy vids associated with it, like: paddling, posture, duck-dives, pop-ups, drop-ins, cut-backs, aerials, etiquette, you name it.  This should be a space-walk for me.

Step One: Attach leash.  Running down the beach with a leash around my ankle ( a crazy relic of the past)  was constantly tripping me.  Why they used these things remains a mystery.  I mean, isn’t that why magPads were invented?  

Step Two: Get Stocked.  Reaching the water I shouted out at the top of my lungs, “I’m Stoked!” Whatever that means, but apparently it was a phrase my ancestors had used before hitting the waves. I’m glad no one was around to hear me, but who cares, the only person here, is me.  

Step Three: Enter water.  It felt weird to be in contact with water, and the board shorts that came with the kit look and feel ridiculous on me.

I have followed all the instructions, all the way down to using the sex wax of the deck.  Sex wax?

Seek out and have fun with Nature,’ were the last words written in the kit.  So who is this Nature?

After performing my first successful duck-dive, watching the barrel roll over me, I surfaced and felt the heat of rotors raking me from above.

“Hey wormhole!  Watch it!”

Hovering above me was a girl on a slat wearing full skins and a lens.  

Shit! Where did she come from?

I could tell from the tilt of her head that behind the lens she was giving me a look.  She throttled up, the spray blinding me momentarily.  When I could finally see, it was too late.  I got pummeled by the next wave in the set.

By the time I got out beyond the break, my arms were spent and the girl had already caught the next two sets. So much for virgin break.  I was anxious to catch a wave, but waited patiently just like the kit had instructed me to do. I was to ‘chill’ here for a time, letting the first set roll beneath me, a gift to Nature. This Nature was starting to piss me off.  

Never having ridden an oldie before, the biggest hurdle was perspective.  I was not comfortable being so near the surface, let alone in the surface. How could anyone see what was coming? The kit instructed me to look for a dark blue line on the horizon, indicating an outside set was coming in. Seriously? But there it was, a dark blue line appearing on the outside. I kept paddling until I could see the set rolling in.  I’ll be damned… It was a huge set..  Now I was instructed to sit up on the board–a bit wobbly– and rotate toward the beach.  As the wave neared, I was to grab the tip of the board, lean back and push it down under me, then let it pop back up and forward, giving a nice boost into the wave. Slick. That actually worked and I wondered if I could do the same on my hotMELT? I kept my back arched, like the kit instructed, cupped my hands and stroked alternately until momentum took over.  Dude, that was awesome and I knew the rest would be easy as I popped up and dropped….. in…. on the girl with the slat, knocking her off into the water, the leash around my ankle yanking us up into the wave as the ceiling pitched us over, my ribs hitting down hard on the board. We were in a tangle but I managed to reach down and grab her by the waist then followed the leash to the surface after the wave had passed.  Ah…. that’s where the leash comes in. Smart. She was coughing hard and sucking in air as the next wave closed out on top of us, then once again by the third wave in case we hadn’t received enough punishment from the first two. When I came up, she was floating face down with her lens off but still within reach.  I rolled her up and onto my board, enough so I could peel back her skins and breath air into her. Finally she spit up into my mouth, sucked in and coughed up more water, but by then we were near enough to shore for me to stand. I lifted her over my shoulder, the leash dragging my board onto the beach where I dropped down onto my knees and rolled her out onto the sand.  I made sure she was still breathing before I collapsed onto my back.  My hair was matted over my eyes and my eyes were caked with sand.  I had sand in places I didn’t know sand could get into.  But the worse was hearing and feeling the sand crunching in my teeth, sending electric chills down my spine. If that wasn’t bad enough, that’s when the punches started.

“YOU PLASMA SCUM!” she screamed in rhythm to her punches “ARE YOU MISSING SOME BITS?”

She momentarily stopped and was looking out over the cove for her slat.  WHERE IS IT?  WHERE’S MY SLAT?”

I didn’t have time to answer the first question before more punches followed, punches that I could hardly see coming. If it wasn’t for her state of weakness it could have been a lot worse, but I managed to grab hold of her wrists and keep her still, until she straddled me and drove her knee up into my groin. These board shorts are for shit. Fortunately the pain was so intense my forehead shot up into her temple and that was the last thing I could remember.

We came to around at the same time. She was rubbing the side of her head with her hair and face plastered with sand.  I sat up with my arms propped up in back of me.

“Are you, Nature, by any chance?” I asked.

She gave me a sideways look.  “No you warp…” she replied. “Are you, Stoked?”

Where Do Sci-Fi Writers Get Their Ideas? Part I

GroveBar

I was chill’n at one of my favorite places tucked away in Port Salerno, FL called the Grove Dock Bar & Cafe.  In fact, this exact longitude and latitude was the inspiration for the sequel to my upcoming sci-fi (Silversides) and where Chapter one starts in the year 2026.  This place is a BYOF (bring your own Food)… You provide the food, they provide the drinks.  Kind of tells ya how local and tucked away it is.GroveBar_2

A place where the view and ambiance normalizes the playing field for people of all social and economic circles– where at the end of the day we’re just people of the same planet all enjoying the same thing… a great conversation surrounded by simplest of things.

GroveBar_3I had brought an artist friend here for the first time last year and he fell in love with it, although, he sat down right in front of the mermaid holding up the roof and when he looked up he laughed, then said, “Kind of intimidating.”  He was 80 at the time but still managed to jump over the door into my ’62 Austin Healey Sprite when I picked him up. He scared the shit out of me, “Guy! Whoa… what are you doing?  I can’t even do that.”

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I always wanted to do that,” he smiled.  “Promise we can come back.”    When this el Niño takes a break and it warms up in southern FL, I will fulfill that promise to Guy.

So what inspires me for a story line?  I suppose the simplest of things.  For Silversides, it was this bar.  I came home one day and pounded out a complete chapter of what I thought it would be like here in 2026 with not a clue of what would follow. Five hundred pages later and 20 light years away, the first draft is done and editing is moving along nicely.  For November Seed, it was a common reed called Phragmites that launches all their seeds during the first cold snap in November. A private holiday for me.  Writing From Europa With Love, the inspiration was from a stunning image I saw on the internet of Jupiter’s moon Europa and a contest dare to write about it.  Inspiration comes from anywhere and everywhere, you just need to look deep enough for it and not skim the surface.  When I hear writers say, ‘don’t know what to write about’, that drives me crazy.  I have five novels started with five more ideas waiting after that.

Here is a perfect example of something anyone can write about.  Watch this fantastic mini-documentary and learn what inspired the creator.  Then transport yourself to some remote outpost on a dust-blown rock of a moon where intra-stellar wars were fought and the moon was declared too dangerous for humans to colonize because of undocumented arsenals left behind.   And your protagonist finds herself here, clearing a plot for she and her fusion powered robotic dog to spend the only remaining time she has left.  In a place no one will come looking for her, and if they do, only she knows where all the nasty stuff lies.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Why role-playing is good for writers (costumes optional)

Starcraft Medic by Kim Yong SuYou see this type of writing, often, in new writers, like myself.

He was afraid to look up at her, but when he did, he was surprised at how easy that was.

 Yikes! Is right.  That was written without the experience of it.

You can improve your writing dramatically when you learn to role-play.   So put the laptop or keyboard to the side and stand up. Get into your character’s head and look down at your feet.   Now pretend he or she is standing in front of you. Lift your head.

How were you standing?  What did you see?  What were you feeling? Was it something like…

He was afraid to look up, his gloves placed neatly by his side, his focus on the single blueberry shaped stone that rolled beneath his boot.

 Now look up, idiot, before she leaves, he told himself.

She was slight, with thin ankles disappearing beneath the cuffs of her EVA that, like her eyes, were a pale blue. To his surprise, her parted smile made him feel, at ease. There, that wasn’t so bad. Now say something…

 “Hey…” he said without thinking… There, you said it… his shyness slipping further away…

Ok, so aside from the wordiness, you now see and feel what your character is experiencing and you conveyed that to your readers.  Trim it. Print it.

I often do this when I don’t quite feel the writing is expressing what I want it to. For anyone watching me, I might look a bit crazy, typing away then suddenly stop… get up and walk to the other side of the room, relax, shake out my arms, turn around and start to walk back, as if my character is entering the scene. Try doing that at a Starbucks… LOL. I write at home these days…  Eventually, you will need to do less of this as the writing improves. But there are always times you should express this type of role-playing, no matter how good you think you are.

I am in the editing phase of a sci-fi novel which takes place twenty light years away in the solar system of Gliese 581, specifically on 581 g, a planet in tidal lock orbit around its sun—a red dwarf, dimmer than our own. I had always been a bit leery of my expression of the lighting, trying to get across what being on the surface of Gliese 581 g would be like. Sure, pictures help, but how do I experience that?  Do I try writing in the dark or wear sunglasses?

Pluto_Surface_light_2It was not until I read a post on www.io9 about an artist rendering of what it would be like to sit on Pluto and see what one might see—our sun a pinpoint in the distance. One of the replies to the post questioned the artist’s licensing of how much light there would be. Instead of knocking the artist’s judgment, that clever person did some research and found a NASA site, called Pluto Time.

Pluto_Timewhere you plug in your location and it tells you what time of day you should go outside to see exactly what the brightest part of a day on Pluto would look like. So I did. I plugged in my location (NYC) and it spit out that my optimal viewing time would be 6:54 PM on September 24th, 2015.  This type of role-playing I think will provide the needed perspective in my editing.  It does not have to mimic exactly, but I hope to have an experience to recall what that was like, pretending to be on Gliese 581 g.

PlutoLightSo, as my Amazon Echo announced my alarm at exactly 6:54 PM, I stepped outside my city apartment and had a look and walk around.  Not bad.  I could see easily and it was a beautiful evening sky, everything seemed to have this softness to it, an attribute I had not considered.   I cannot stress how valuable this experience was for me, as I now trail behind my characters, following them on their trek and seeing what they are seeing. Costumes, optional.

SpectralTypeFor any AstroProgrammers out there reading this, it would be great to take the Pluto-Time model and expand it for other star-types, etc.  For example:  You select from a series of dropdown menus a star type and distance away, and it asks for you to enter in your location and it spits out what time of day to go outside, which closely resembles what the lighting might be like. 😉

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Using wattpad’s visual feedback.

Metrics_AHere is a good visual tip on how your W.I.P is being received. It’s a great way to see where you might have some stalling in your storyline and where the peaks and valleys are. I am going to use this from now on.

I am using WattPad.com as a proving ground. There is great readership here and the feedback is always helpful and constructive. When you post your work, you can view the metrics of that work. I am finding it helpful to know where to place chapter breaks or what sections I might need to inject a bit of excitement or build character. If you see your readership drop significantly after the first part, you know you need to do one of a few things: Start out running, or become a better writer (LOL).Metrics_C

Here is an example of a short story I wrote, called “From Europa with love.” I divided the story into five parts to see how the sections were being received. The feedback was awesome and exactly what I would have predicted. You will notice that readership starts to wane after Part 3 (but by then I already had a good following to this short). This feedback was so informative to me, because part 4 is where the storyline shifts and part 3 sets up for that. The graph was spot on to what I would have expected. I think I need to go back into part 3 and set a few more hooks.  I will definitely use this methodology for my novel.

Metrics_B

I’m a believer.

New techniques for discovering planets, like our own.

For those of us writing about distant planets, the question always comes up, how real is this going to be for my readers?  I am faced with this exact question in my current work and I want it to be as plausible as I can make it.  So after watching this fantastic lecture by Sara Seager, I now have some real science to weave into my WIP.

Surfing 1/3 the speed of light on the crest of a black hole

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Here is another Tech Tip for the hard core sci-fi writer to make your space travel, plausible.  And don’t forget, you need the ability to slow down, so using the concept, you can sail into the solar wind.

http://www.bbc.com/news/science-environment-31556326

You can read the full abstract in Science Magazine.

http://m.sciencemag.org/content/347/6224/860

Improve your writing with technology

IvonaOne of the best ways to measure your writing skill is to hear your own work read out loud.  Unfortunately, when we, as the writer, attempt to do this our writing sounds terrific—we’re bias.  You really need a third party and I found one—Amy. (http://www.ivona.com/)

I live in New York City and on my way to work one morning, I assisted a blind man onto the M79, which is a cross-town bus.  I sat next to him and asked where he was heading and offered my assistance.  He was on his way to the Apple Store on 5th Ave.  As a technologist, that got my attention.  I asked why?  It turned out he was having problems with his iPad and wanted to get there early before the crowds—this was around 6:20 AM, and now, he had my full attention.  I asked him what problems he was experiencing, what he uses his iPad for and how.  He told me the iPad has some great text-to-speech technology, but it was not working correctly.

A technology I thought would be cumbersome for someone blind was everything but that. He was quite tech savvy and the iPad was a window to the world, just like it was for myself.  After spending the morning with this gentleman,  I now think we, the seeing-prepared, are held to a disadvantage.   He was making full use of the inherent features of the iPad, much more so than myself, and here I was, a technologist. His iPad would announced what keys he was touching, alert him of incoming messages and read aloud his email, texting and web page content after a search. His eBooks were read aloud and the navigation of the streets in NY directed him to his destinations (You have arrived at your destination). He could hear documents sent to him as well as transcribe documents he sent. He used the on-board microphone and voice commands to navigate around the web. I accompanied him to the Apple Store that morning.  I needed to find out more about the technology.  During my ride with him, I am not sure which impressed me more: the technology or his ability to make it through the grid of NYC on his own.  It’s a challenge, for anyone.

How ironic.  It was a blind man who opened my eyes that morning.  When I returned home that evening, I explored the technology of my Samsung Galaxy Pro 10.1 tablet as well as my S3 smartphone.  I forced myself to use the voice-commands to launch applications, set tickler reminders, navigate web sites and use the voice-to-text for crafting emails, text messages.   Since that time, I have upgraded both my phone and tablet to the Galaxy S5 and Galaxy Pro Tablet 12.2 (respectively).  I use GoogleNow (creepy good). After that day, I realized that having sight makes one blind to some of this technology.  Our eyes have actually dumbed us down a bit.

Now familiar with a lot of the text-to-voice and voice-to-text capabilities, I was still missing was a true text-to-speech engine (outside of Google’s built-in voice navigation). Searching the web and Google Play for other people’s experiences, I settled on Ivona for my text-to-speech engine.  This is not to say that Ivona is the best engine out there, but it is free, so that’s a good start.  With Ivona, you need to add in a persona—the voice interface.  I chose “Amy.  Her sultry, sophisticated British accent is perfect since the protagonist in the Sci-Fi I am working on (Silversides) is female.

Unfortunately, Ivona does not allow one to open a document within its application directly, at least in the free application.  The only way is to cut and paste the text from my document into the Ivona applet.  That works great, but you can get lost quickly cutting and pasting text back and forth between your document and the Ivona applet. In addition, the Ivona applet does not like more than about two paragraphs at a time or it will overload the capability and do nothing.

To streamline this aspect, I used an additional application.  I looked at the list of compatible apps, recommended by Ivona, and selected Moon + reader Pro ($2.49).  I looked at the other free apps, read the reviews, but Moon +reader pro seemed to be the app of choice.  I made the right decision because Moon + reader Pro was able to identify both my DropBox and Google Drive folders, making adding documents to Moon + reader Pro’s bookshelf easy.

NOTE:  There is one drawback and that is Moon + reader Pro will not recognize .doc or .docx (WORD) format.  You first need to save your document into at least PDF format for Moon + reader to open into its built-in reader. This is easily accomplished with DropBox’s or Google Docs to convert doc or docx formatted files on the fly. You can open a .doc or .docx file through Moon + reader, but it will launch your default .docx application (in my case, Documents2Go), rendering the text-2-voice aspect out of the picture.

So I now use a combination of both practices.  When editing, I will cut and paste a paragraph from my Document2Go or Google Drive doc file directly into Ivona and play it back.  This allows me to edit until I perfect the read—then I paste it back into my Documents2Go editor and save it back to .docx.

NOTE:  Do not cut and paste too much into Ivona.  I found a paragraph is good.  There are two main drawbacks to loading text directly into Ivona: 1) Too much text takes time to process before it reads it back to you; 2) Every time you stop to edit, then resume, it jumps back to the beginning.

But if I want to hear what I have edited to date, I save to .pdf format, load it onto my Moon +reader Pro bookshelf and let Amy read the most spectacular novel ever written. Priceless.

As a product, I am impressed with the plethora of features of Moon + Pro.  I even downloaded a restaurant menu (PDF) and Amy read everything out loud to me, including the wine list—she’s not much of a drinker and she butchered the French wine names….   I think there is a way to correct pronunciation, but I have not explored that yet.

What you need to know about Moon + reader Pro on Android

The application is packed with features, but getting to those features without reading takes a bit of trial and error, with emphasis on thee error. As an example, I somehow dimed my screen setting within Moon + reader to where I could not see the screen.  I thought it was my tablet settings, but it only occurred when I opened a document within the Moon + reader.  I had to go on-line and learn that if you touch the middle of the document, it brings up the navigation bar.  I then had to go into a dark closet so I could see the screen.  Finding the setting to brighten the screen was buried, but I found the correction by swiping my finger up or down on the left side of the screen: brighten (up) dim (down).  You can also speed up or slow down the speech using finger touch sequences—you will want to learn them right at the start.

Adding files to your bookshelf and favorites is the next thing.  I suggest you do not conduct a search—way too many unrelated documents get loaded and you can only delete one document at a time.

Now that I have taken the time to understand the features of these two apps and how they work in concert with each other, I feel like I have gained sight.  It has helped me in my writing, significantly.  To hear your written words through the voice of someone else is your true editor.  Amy never criticizes my writing, only improves it.

I am using the free beta of Amy.  I think when the beta program ends, I can switch to another persona or outright buy one, but the price is steep ($125 – $250).  I have to admit, I fell in love with Jennifer, but can’t afford her.. just yet….

My writing platform (all links active below)

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NOTES: I have written and published my novella, November Seed (87 pages), and the first draft of Silversides , my Work In Progress (489 pages), entirely on a Samsung Galaxy tab 10.1 and more recently upgraded to a Galaxy Pro Tab 12.2, using android 4.4.4. For compiling my work into .mobi and .ePUB, I use Scrivener’s on an iMac. All eBook cover art was taken on a Galaxy S3 & S5 Android smartphone and using either the onboard photo editing or SnapSeed app for android for finalizing.