There was an expression my father always used: “Nihil liberum est.” My dad was big on Latin, and it means, “Nothing Is Free.” But if the attached video does not quite do the job and you need to understand what the cost of data might look like in a dark future, read the Sci-Fi trilogy by Peter Watts: The Rifters Series.
It is quite easy for a Sci-Fi author to make their aliens very human-like (guilty of charged– as in my upcoming novel, Silversides); trying to write a story where they are nothing like humans creates a lot more work for the author, even if that alien does not have a speaking part.
Both of my novellas (November Seed & From Europa With Love) have aliens that are not human-like and have no dialogue, so to make these stories credible, the biology has to be right. It helped me immensely that in my former life I was a Marine Biologist–I had been studying alien life forms my entire life it seems and it is not by coincidence that in both my novellas the alien life forms are marine in nature.
But if you are new to writing Sci-Fi and do not have a background in Marine Biology, there are countless videos like this excellent BBC short from the BBC Ideas section to start you on your way.
So where does a new writer of Sci-Fi get started with understanding alien life? Below are some good short video to get you on your way. maybe, just maybe will will find out in our lifetime when we can get a probe below the surface of Europa to explore its thermal vents…. but then again, maybe we do not want to go three. Europa seems to be a focus for NASA and other scientists as a first strike for alien hunting. And why not? t was mine in From Europa With love.
In the Sunday (5/12/2019) NYT Obituary was homage paid to Llewellya W. Hillis (1930 – 2019) — a Canadian-American trailblazer for women in the field of Science and a rock star to me for her extensive contribution in Marine Biology with a specialty in macro-algae… yes… seaweed. Her bio is too impressive to cover here but I could tell from the obituary she had a favorite, Halimeda. I know what you’re thinking… how can someone get excited about seaweed?
Halimeda falls into a group of macro-algae, that have a calcareous infrastructure for the algae to grow on. My guess is that Llewelyn was surprised by the depth at which this species grew (50 m +) during her research in the nuclear crater of the Enewetak Atoll, in the southern Marshall Islands, where she was one of the first, and a woman, to dive this research site. It was her research that linked this species as a major contribution in the ecology of reef building.
But what caught my eye in her obituary, was her link to William Randolph Taylor, who wrote the Bible of Seaweeds, ‘Marine Algae of the Northeastern Coast of North America.’ At the time, in 1978, as a student of Marine Biology with a specialty in Marine Algae, I purchased my own copy for a small fortune— a must if you were serious. To my surprise, I pulled my copy from the shelf and saw a great thank you by Taylor for Llewellya’s significant contribution in the making of this reference manual, which has served me well over the years with its saltwater stained pages from hours upon hours in the field.
It should be of no surprise that my latest novel under wraps, Silversides, has countless references to seaweed, from the opening scene, to the flora on an alien planet, to my characters names being a derivative of various genus of seaweeds, and my protagonist, a girl, named, Nori.
When a person of influence dies, you feel a part of you has been torn away, but the influence that lies beneath becomes yours.
Thank you Llewellya H. Willis, for being the needle of my compass.
Before every surf session I warm up on the beach. It keeps me loose and responsive when I hit the water. I’m about to go through a final full edit of my upcoming novel Silversides and below was my warm up exercise. (This short has nothing to do with the novel Silversides)
A first-person Sci-Fi detective named Stasch, titled A Time to Krill
Primal. It was the first word that came to mind when I entered the building, but it was the smell of sour tapioca and human waste that hit me square in the face. It seems that everything we do, for the sake of hygiene, is designed to mask this smell, but Natural Selection is an unrelenting force and this scent stays with us; humanity’s true signature. I’m convinced it was our key to survival because no predator wanted any part of us and moved onto better smelling prey. I mean why is it that a day old kitten or puppy has enough sense to walk away from its own feces but a human baby would be happy to remain in a pile of it until removed? HA! I never lose this argument at a club, talk’n to the ladies with their designer scents, Eau de CRISPR, but then again they see me as an asshole and leave before I can close the argument. It’s what I need to do in my business. No one wants to hire a nice guy in what I do.
Stepping back outside I took in some fresh air and held my breath before reentering the conservatory (what a joke) then waded through the tide of human husks shuffling under the flickering lights of spent ballasts, their opened smocks and stained thighs as disturbing as seeing their arms curled up before them like human krill. They were staring beyond me, their mouths turned down and opened, sucking in on the pain, the intravenous bots at their sides like lamprey.
When I approached reception the waist-on-up android behind the glowing countertop was happy to great me, its hands folded neatly, the wig plopped on top neither male nor female in style.
“My name is Mauri. May I help you?” it said.
It was an outdated androgynous model made during the height of PC-tarianism and at least a decade old, its lips slightly out of sync with the synth box buried within.
“My name is Stasch. I got a tXT from a…” and I rolled my wrist to glance at the pane on my sleeve. “From a Milo Kee-van-is-tov, I said trying to pronounce it phonetically?”
The android gazed through me searching its DAT. “I’m sorry. We do not seem to have a guest here by that name.”
“Maybe Milo isn’t a guest.” I responded. “Maybe Milo works here.”
The android seemed to freeze as if stuck in a processing loop. “Ah yes. Milo Kivanastov. SubOS Custodian. He no longer works for us.”
“Check again. I received a stream from here, from Milo, early this morning…” glancing again at the pane, “at 04:32 to be exact.”
Another freeze, longer this time. I couldn’t help but look up to mirrored wall beyond the android as if someone were at the controls.
“Milo’s contract ended with us at 06:00 this morning.”
“How convenient. You mean he was terminated.” I added.
“We try to avoid the phrase, terminated, here at the Lodge,” the android replied with a loving smile and tilt of the head right on queue.
“Can you tell me the SubOS outfit Milo worked for? I would like to apply for the vacancy,” I said knowing that if I asked where I could find Milo I would get a canned response of privacy protection. Which is crap. Nothing is private anymore.
“I do apologize, Mr. Stasch, but our CIS appears to be offline at the moment. Routine maintenance. Please try back later.”
“Never mind. I’ll run my own scrub on Milo,” I answered smartly with a wink to the mirror. My talk was shit, but I might as well make the string-puller sweat for a minute or two. My scrub search on Milo would turn up everything about Milo, but without Milo there would be no payment. I should have dropped this contract right then and there but I had nothing else going on and something bothered me about this one. There was no human activity around me other than the damaged trolling the halls and the android behind the counter was concealing, not something androids are known for.
I dropped a vCard to the android and left. Let’s see who tugs on my line.
Figuring Milo ran the night stack and was a bit of a scumbag I walked the nearby streets looking for shitholes he might frequent. If I were Milo, I’d want some coffee and a vape and I found one called the Wanda Inn–bamboo shades drawn down tightly with a tilted flickering pink LED OPEN sign in the window. The door handle was sticky and a synthetic gong announced my entrance when I stepped inside. It was beyond dim as if night itself had not yet awakened and the air was crisp against my throat. Behind the empty counter was a stocky woman, I think, whose arms were almost as big as my own but not as pretty. I placed my hands on the countertop where they could be seen.
“You must be Wanda.” I said in a raspy voice.
“You want coffee, fuckhead?” said Wanda with a raised chin and deep voice, which convinced me she was a he.
“As dark as the lighting in here,” I answered.
Wanda turned and grabbed a mug from the shelf and blew into it to rid the dust then poured a viscous stream of blackness to the brim and sloshed the mug onto the counter in front of me, the burnt smell of chicory an assault on my senses. I hate chicory.
“Thanks. But not for the coffee,” I said and tapped on my pane to transfer two-hundred DASH to the address chalked onto the mirror behind Wanda and waited until Wanda’s wallet chirped and he looked down to see the transfer. “You ever serve a guy in here by the name of Milo?” I asked. “That would be a yes or no.” and I leaned in a little closer. “But a No and the next two-hundred DASH never reaches you. However, an answer of YES and you need to tell me something I can use.” I then whispered in my best Hollywood DeepOps voice, “But if the information turns out to be shit, I will be back to kick your ass. And I mean that literally. I will sneak up and give you a swift kick in the ass and disappear before you can get up. You will get pissed-off, but with no one in sight you will move on. And then a week or so goes by, maybe at a bodega, CryptoTeller or charging station, I give you another swift kick, a little harder this time, and you stay down a little longer because something feels broken. And this goes on and on until you start to look for me everywhere you go. Trust me, no sane person wants that. Is that understood, Wanda Bergen of 8518 NE Banyan Street? You live just around the corner from here, right? Dirty white stucco duplex, top right corner? Blue awnings, one of which is a little ripped?”
Wanda’s voice was suddenly an octave higher and a little more compliant, but it was probably the promise of the additional two hundred DASH that made him talk.
“Yes… Milo did come in almost every morning… a little after six.”
I raised my brow for Wanda to continue.
“He worked the night shift at the River Lake Lodge. You know… God’s waiting room, two blocks up from here?”
“Was he here this morning?“
No.” Wanda replied. His mouth suddenly dry and he poured a half beer from the tap and took a quick sip, waxing a foam mustache and a lick clean of the tongue.
“Did he ever talk shop with you?” I asked.
“Only that the inmates… I mean the guests,” he said as if I were PC concerned, “were basket cases and once in awhile he would… you know?…. “ Wanda said taking another sip and a lick.
I raised my brow again. Wanda was a quick study.
“You know…. the pretty ones,” he said with a forced smile.
I understood Wanda’s meaning, but that was not what I was after. “Did he ever tell you anything about the place itself or the people running it?
“Not that I–”
I slammed my fist on the countertop, startling not only Wanda, but also the detritus hibernating in the booths behind me. “Think Wanda. Was there anything Milo said that made you curious? Anything such as activity happening after hours, strange people coming or going… shipments in or out, missing guests?…. That kind of thing!” I felt like I was getting nowhere so with one hand I opened my vest slightly to reveal the stock of my Russian made tecNIK while my other hand ran my down my face for whatever reason people do that other than it feels right to do it out of frustration.
Wanda took another slug. He was visibly shaken and just where I wanted him.
“Well…. he had this hidden chair between some cabinets just off the lobby in a camera dead spot and told me about a conversation he overheard about something called Triplex.”
Another raise of the brow.
“Ah.. I never heard of Triplex.”
“Did he say he knew who was doing the talking?”
“No. Other than the tin can sitting at the desk he never met anyone who worked there. They worked in another part of the building he had no access to.”
”Did he ever tell you what was going on in that area?”
“No… I don’t think so. He said the tin can warned him that if he ever tried to gain access he would be terminated. The tin-can creeped him out and he needed the job.“
I transferred another two hundred DASH to his account and left.
The sun was making its way over the canyon tops, shrouded in blue haze from the constant fires—La blue as we call it. I hopped onto my bike and headed home to just below the ruin of scaffolding where the Hollywood sign once stood. I have lived here as long as I can remember and where my famous grandparents lived before me. I was told this area used to be desirable, where the hillsides were rimed with swank and out-of-sight priced homes of former stars and movie moguls. But when appSTAR made directors and producers out of everyone and their avatars became the new stars, their human likenesses were reduced to ribbon cutting and signing autographs and could no longer afford to live here. Well that and a few large quakes……
TO BE CONTINUED AT SOME POINT.
It is hard to believe that five years ago, on this date in a NYC coffee shop on the upper east side, I started my writing career. You can see other frustrated writers around me, but this cozy place became the catalyst for putting pen to paper, or in my case, fingers to keypad. Since then, my debut novellas, November Seed & From Europa With Love, continue to have steady daily downloads on Amazon and the fan base, spread over eight countries, is still growing. So thanks to all who support and push me onwards.
For the past few years I have been working on a full-length novel called Silversides which takes place on Gliese 581 g. As a new writer, I discovered why only the most seasoned writers leave the planet to tell a story and why most extraterrestrials come to Earth to kick our ass… because when you leave the planet you have to invent everything. Along the way, I have written out weak characters and developed new ones, dragging along Kulcin who is the protagonist in, From Europa With Love. Writing is a process of one step forward, two back but I have made some great plot changes with refined twists and developed a new ending the reader will not see coming. Finally I can see the light at the end of the editing tunnel having received great feedback from Betabooks.co
I do not follow a linear path and have several other novels in the treatment stage that I am equally excited about, such as: HUM, Suicides Of Spring and Glycerine to name a few. Recently, I have joined forces with a fellow writer (G+’er) to compile a list of shorts we have written and put out onto various sites, such as: Offworlders.com (my favorite), Wattpad (where one of my shorts made it into their premiere eZine, TEVUN KRUS).and other author/reader sites. But it is G+ that has taught me to be a better writer because of the invaluable advice and knowledge learned and shared by such super cool folks.
Sargassum, as seen here in the curl of the wave, drifts ashore when the winds are steady, rolling into massive piles along the littoral zone, crucial for the ecology of barrier islands. Is it coincidence or by grand design that it is washing ashore during a super moon, when the highest of tides will push it further up onto the beach, trapping the sand with it to build up our dunes? Here in FL, there is a strong conservation not to clean this up as other states do for the benefit of tourism. A mistake. Some folks see this as an annoyance, their tender virgin feet having to touch it on their way to the water.
But Sargassum serves such an important role in the nurturing of juvenile species of marine life, some who will spend their entire lifecycle within the floating mass known as the Sargassum Sea. Sargassum is one of my favorite seaweeds in the class Phaeophyceae. In fact, my upcoming novel, Silversides, has most of the characters named after a class of macroalgae: Phaedra, Rhodes, Kora, Cody and my protagonist, Nori. Kulcin (main antagonist) on the other hand comes from a previous work, From Europa With Love, and what an antagonist he is. Of all the characters, he refuses to let me write his dialogue. Stuborn….
Writers are taught, “Write about what you know.” But Sargassum? It does not always need to be a subject matter that you are an expert in. What it does require is for you to connect with your story in terms that you are an expert in. In my case, once I named my characters after classes of seaweed, I was able to connect with those characters like never before and my story came to life.
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.
This is exactly what I have been looking for in a the mask that my characters in the novel, Silversides, wear when they first land on Gliese 581 g to protect themselves against biologicals they yet do not have immunities for. It is so awesome to finally have a clear image, which makes writing a bit easier. The real science fiction is behind the concept of this mask, an artist’s rendition, of the research coming out of Denmark for a new material synthesized from cobalt to extract and store oxygen eliminating the need of oxygen tanks. Now back to editing….
Excerpt from Silversides: Chapter Five
Kulcn stepped out from the shuttle with the bleed of oxygen rushing past him, the last of Earth’s oxygen as it diffused into the alien atmosphere. He paused to read the input on his lens while surveying the landscape. Descending the ramp, the white microtiles of his suit and mask had turned a charcoal black, matching the color of the sand beneath his boots. The other Silversides followed, their suits fluxing from the bottom up as if they had walked into a pool of black ink. Here they stood on an alien world, a nightmare about to begin.
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.
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.
I 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.”
“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.
I have been an early supporter of the Lowline and finally donning my Kickstarter Tee shirt, I had the opportunity to visit the Lowline Lab down on Delancey & Essex. As I emerged from subway and walked the streets of this lower east side, it was not hard to imagine what the city must have been like years ago in this lost quadrant of time, with its polished grit and scattered markets of low rise buildings. I must admit, as a NY’er, we tend not to travel much from quadrant to quadrant–my own being Hell’s Kitchen. In a peculiar way, NY’ers mimic so many of the dystopian sci-fi societies we read about, siloed into self-contained communities reminiscent of Hugh Howey’s Wool series.
If you are not careful, you will breeze by the lab’s opening with its undressed foyer of concrete floors, black curtains and little else. I was greeted by a smiling volunteer handing out cookies and eagerly willing to answer questions about this fantastic project. There is a collection jar for donations, cool Lowiine stickers for my already crowed MacBook cover and pamphlets of the project. Then it was time to follow the exhibit where you step behind a curtain and read a few stationary billboards about the history of the site, the project, designers… and yes… contributors 😉
The technology is fantastically simple yet highly complex and elegant. It concentrates the light from above and shoots it down tubes where reflectors receive and disperse the light onto ceiling tiles that seem to be as organic as the plants they feed.
Don’t try to look into the light source from above–it is blinding and more powerful than any spotlight I have ever seen; so bright it seems powered in this dark space. Click on the image to the right for a better look as it enters from the ceiling. I was amazed at how much light showered onto the lab exhibit from one source. This technology should be used in every building in NYC. For about the first ten minutes, I observed the technology. It was as beautiful as it was technical, making sure to diffuse the light evenly yet spot certain areas to accent and showcase the living lab, making it easy to forget that these plants have not seen the outside in almost a year.
140 Essex Street
(between Rivington and Stanton Streets)
Lower East Side – New York City
Subway: J/M/F Essex Delancey Street
Saturday and Sunday
11am – 5pm
Free and Open to the Public
October 2015- March 2016