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.
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.
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.
From the impact, the sky had lit up so bright we could see clearly down the street with its neatly parked cars, perfectly aligned like the teeth of a zipper. But no one was out and no lights came on in any of the homes; our neighbors had all moved to the underground.
When we go we want to taste the air and see the sun going down and not have the taste of someone else’s exhale lingering in our mouths or staring up at a filament, waiting for it to extinguish and be left alone in darkness with only our fear leaning in. The underground was not for us, but I suppose for those who have chosen to stay below, there is something to be said for not knowing or seeing the end coming.
For us above, we enjoy free rein of the big box stores and the design outlets to get all the lumber, tools, and furniture needed to build a roof deck on our flat… something I had always wanted to do for my family but never had the funds to do it. It’s bittersweet under these circumstances, but our roof deck rocks. We have a full working tiki-bar and a well stocked drinks cupboard up here with unobstructed views of the sunsets. And the sunsets have been magnificent lately, even knowing the colors are fed by the ash of every living thing that was incinerated from an impact.
We have allowed our fifteen-year-old daughter, Louise, to drink alcohol along with us, enjoying these last days together as a family. Tonight’s concoction of a drink is a Commet-Kaze, but instead of Triple Sec we used Orange Curaçao– stuff we could never afford but is now readily available at the off-license… free of charge of course. Honestly, I hope the end comes soon because we are running out of clever drink names. My youngest, Alec, is a space nut. When we had a family vote to stay above or go under, he was the most vocal of staying above; he wanted to see what was coming. For the record, it was unanimous, we all wanted to stay above. A weird lot we are.
Ever since the announcement that Earth would pass directly into a catastrophic asteroid storm, spelling out the end for us all, Alec has been glued to his kit of computers and monitors lined up on the dining table. Seated upon his newly acquired oversized luxury office chair with his feet dangling, he has been tracking everything coming in; it’s like having the ESA in our sitting room. He has informed us that the impact we just saw was an 8 on the Torino Scale with a low MT potential… whatever that means. He said if it had been a 9 we would have been okay but we would have had to remain inside for a while, but if it had been a 10, well, that would have been a bit of a damp squib.
Louise has been on a mission every day now, looking for pet stores to liberate or following the barking or meowing of dogs and cats left abandoned in their homes. When we find them, we open the doors, cages and pet food. We even take the freshwater fish to a freshwater canal or pond and take the saltwater fish to the sea, but we need to check in with Alec before going there in case an 8 or 9 hits off the coast creating a tsunami.
My wife, Jenny, has been a rock through all this. Me, well, when you have loved someone for eighteen years, every day as much as the first, someone you would instinctively put your own life before theirs… well… I can’t think about that right now. It’s been a long day. We’re off to bed.
We were awakened by the alarms from Alec’s monitoring alerts, Jenny and I still in a tangle with the lingering scent of our lovemaking around us. We knew the drill. If this was going to be the one to take us out, we wanted to be together through to the end. Jenny would gather up Louise, as I headed down the steps to the sitting room to find Alec inches away from the monitors, the screen data reflecting off his specs as he nibbled away on a biscuit from Marks & Sparks. Now that we were directly in the path of the storm, Alec has been sleeping here on the couch under a litany of graphs and hand drawn eclipses of near misses and impacts, looking for the one that will do us in. He never had a passion for sport or music and had always been a bit of a loner with his technical books and sci-fi pulp fiction, but this makes him happy, happier than I have ever seen him. So be it. The kit he put together came from the Apple Store and smaller bits and PC shops down the block. I’m not sure of what his kit does, but he seems to know of inbounds before anyone in his circle of plusers does. Lucky us.
“Alec. What does your crystal ball show?” I said coming up behind him, making sure to slide my slippers on the floorboards so as not to startle him.
“Daddy, you should see this one. It’s big. A 10 with a high MT.” he said not turning away from the screens.
I stooped over his shoulder, trying to see what he was seeing, but all I could make out was a ball of multicolored elastics knowing somewhere beneath it all was Earth.
“Hmmmm….” was the most meaningful response I could come up with.
“This is the one,” he said without the slightest doubt and proud that his forecasts have always proved to be spot on.
I palmed the mop of his hair, thankful he got the hair gene from his mum. “Let’s get up on the roof then,” and I helped him into his pullover hoodie with the phrase, Waiting For The Asteroid, written in front.
“I’m very proud of you, Alec.” I said reaching down to zip him up, tucking the hoodie around his ears to keep out the chill. When we got to the roof, Jenny had the mushroom heaters going and a hot tea for me in hand. We sat close together on the outdoor furniture, our overly fluffy slippers up on the ottomans while passing the tin of peanut butter shortbreads, from Luigi Zuck. This was our routine; no one should have to go out without the finest shortbreads at hand.
“See it!” Alec said jumping up and almost losing his glasses.
It started as a white dash in the night, elongating and brightening as it raced toward us.
“It’s traveling at 24.360 Kilometers per second,” Alec said. He moved to the edge of the deck, leaning over with his hands on the rail, then looked back at us with a child’s innocence.
I reached over and pat Jenny on the knee. “He’s right about this one.” And stood up to join my son at the railing, my arm draped around his tiny shoulders, pulling him tight. I was proud of him and he knew it. Jenny led Louise to the railing, standing beside me as I reached for her hand and felt the wedding ring I had slipped onto her finger eighteen years ago. We looked up at the dash in the sky, its cobalt blue tail under a gown of white forming a cone. It was beautiful, I had to admit, like a slow moving shuttlecock entering the atmosphere. Then from the tip of the cone, the object projected outward, a second stage, plunging into the lower atmosphere and growing brighter, affording us a clear look down the entire block of flats as if it were daybreak.
“Shades down everyone.” And I helped Alec with his before my own. It was bright, even through the welding goggles we were wearing. I knew Jenny was looking over at me and I turned to see her smile beneath the dark lenses.
“Don’t think you’re getting your back scratched, tonight,” she said as a statement of relief.
I laughed. “It’s been wonderful, Jen.” and I leaned in for a kiss, her head tilting to the side, her lips slightly parted and I knew her love for me and I for her would never dim. As we kissed, we drew in Alec and Louise. There is something to be said for the human spirit, something that feels it will never extinguish, even where it can’t exist.
Author’s Note: This third short was inspired by a fellow G+’er, Mark Lynch (Lynchy), who lives in London and posted a beautiful sunset of his street. It moved me and I knew the story to come with it belonged here. Thanks Mark for the image and please extend a thanks to your lovely wife for the ‘squib’ reference… I’m still laughing……
What a perfect title for a Sci-fi… “The Great Filter”
On a research note, this topic is what drives us to explore. Has any species of the universe ever punched a hole through The Great Filter? Is the Great Filter a stopgap for us… for any species preventing us/them from infecting the cosmos? I recently read a novelette by Rann Murray called, Ascension. In this hard sci-fi, Murray hits upon this exact topic; that maybe the stopgap is in of itself a living entity.
I am always looking for ways to become a better writer, through immersion, and this is a perfect example. I have been surfing my entire life, so I have first-hand experience with this feeling, but I can see this tech being used in so many ways, for so many things that I have no experience with. How cool would it be to space-walk?
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.
If the game of golf has been said, ‘as being a beautiful walk, interrupted.’ then the isomerism can be said about surfing the internet ‘as being a walk beautifully interrupted.’
I was conducting research for my Work In Progress (Silversides) and found a wiki post that was exactly what I was looking for (artificial gills), but something was off; I was reading a post taking place in the future and It freaked me out. I looked up at the URL and saw I was on a site called wikia (future). Wow! This was so cool and my mind was racing–so weird because my yahoo horoscope for the day(Gemini) predicted this would happen.
I had all these ideas pitching by me, so many it was like trying to grab at dandelion seeds in a breeze, where reaching toward them provided their evasiveness and at the end of it, I was left with nothing in my hands and only ideas.
So here is how I see this spectacular site useful to sci-fi writers: 1) Research for your sci-fi writing; 2) A one-stop-site to park new terms, ideas & concepts for sci-fi writers to create the future by using, in their works, this library–why invent terms if a good one already exists; 3) Like wiki, your posts can be the forward or a snippet of your story (making sure it adheres to the guidelines and does not read like a self-promotional ad), yet promotes your work; 4) That the concept of this site would make for a great sci-fi itself, where a destitute protagonist stumbles across a URL somewhere between the intra and dark net of tomorrow’s news (modern take on the protagonist finding a newspaper of tomorrow’s news, with a twist–this automata is self-aware).
I’m sure you all can add to this–I need to get these ideas spinning through my head down on digital before my muse steps over the threshold of my consciousness.
I had just finished writing a sci-fi serial on OffWorlders.com called, Kulcin’s Law, where most of the story takes place in Jupiter’s realm, with several flights in and out of Europa’s orbit. I missed a bit of detail that would have been a nice morsel to the hard core readers and that was a simple line taking into account the ship’s roll on approach.
This gif taught me a lesson, that even though I can’t go there, my mind can. Don’t miss the little stuff.
Click on this animated GIF of Saturn and see what I am referring to.
One 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….
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.