Monday, March 24, 2014

Sharing My Writing Process--An Experiment


I'm participating in a science experiment of sorts--I'm sharing links to and from other blogs with the frank intent to see if that gets more people interested in my story ideas and my writing. :) (Kat Heckenbach, a fine writer and friend, (www.katheckenbach.com) persuaded me to partake in this event--her site is worth a look.)

The content of this link-sharing experiment is to discuss the process of my writing. What am I working on as a writer? How do I define myself?

I have a huge backlog of story ideas I'd like to write, many but not all of which are discussed somewhere on this blog. I'm currently actively writing a fantasy novel called The Bond of the Sword, with the ambition of being to fantasy like what Starship Troopers or The Forever War are to military science fiction. The ideas behind the story draw on some of my personal observations about warfare from my own service in Iraq and Afghanistan. 

I'm also writing a novella called "Medieval Mars" that imagines a future terraformed Mars falling back technologically into something like the Middle Ages. Think epic scenery in a battle set on Olympus Mons, the tallest mountain of any currently known in the entire universe... I also have committed myself to continuing some past projects, to revamping The Crystal Portal and writing sequels for it and continuing Avenir Eclectia. And more, including expansion of a zombie apocalypse story (Zombie Doc) into a novel.

My genre, consciously Christian-themed speculative fiction (science fiction, fantasy, and horror), is a fairly small field, but is actually much larger than I knew. I'm promoting myself as the "idea man" among my peers and it does indeed seem my story concepts generally tend to be more original and diverse. So far though, those who are fans of the ideas themselves are only drawn to a small degree to my writing up of my ideas. I'd start thinking I'm perhaps not a good writer, but all of the reviews of my written works have been positive, in some cases VERY positive, except for one reader who contacted me privately because she found the ending of Unknown Biologic to be too much of a downer (but still thought the story was well-written).

I write what I do because it interests me. I feel like I'm exploring territory that no one or very few have gone into before. I like that--it's like discovery of an exotic capital of a never-before visited country. :)

As for the manner of my writing process, I'm afraid that the bright light of new ideas tends to distract me from actually completing anything concerning old ideas. Which is not exactly contributing to my commercial success... But I do find to have a deadline and having made a commitment to be highly motivational to actual writing (I say this as I'm writing the blog post I committed to Kat to write over a week ago for the 24th of March at 4 AM on the 24th itself...ahem...).

Friends of mine who write in Christian fiction, most in my spec fic sub-genre, have agreed to pick up the thread of this blog concept next week (March 31, 2014) on their own blogs. Please check out their interesting works and musings below (whom I've listed in no particular order):

Celesta Thiessen writes science fiction and fantasy from Steinbach, Manitoba, Canada, where she is a founding member of the writers group, Prairie Tales. 

Janice L. Dick is a Canadian writer of historical fiction written from a Christian worldview. She also writes contemporary fiction, book reviews and blogs, as well as doing some editing and occasional speaking. 

Keanan Brand is an author and editor who writes fantasy and space opera (a sub-genre of science fiction), and whatever else strikes his fancy, but when it comes to editing, he's self-described as the curmudgeonly sort. (Just sayin’.)

L. S. King is a science fiction writer who has taught writing online and authored a column for new writers. She was an editor of several e-zines and co-founded Ray Gun Revival. Her short stories and books are available through Loriendil's Dreamland. 

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

The Scientific Historian's Experimental Time Laboratory

Reading a book on historical methodologies, I noticed the inherent problem with making history scientific lies in the fact that history is not truly repeatable. Certain patterns repeat of course, but historical events are by definition a one-time affair.

Imagine a future historian with a time machine. Of course going back in a time machine to observe history has been the stuff of many stories, but imagine this future historian is more interested in the why behind past events. So he conducts changes in the timeline to see what happens as a result, making time in effect his experimental laboratory.

So, for example, say this historian takes on the question, "Was the transformation of the Roman Republic into the Roman Empire an inevitable consequence of a number events (such as increasing paralysis in the Roman senate)? Or was it because of the unique genius of Julius Caesar?" Historians of our day can read the evidence and make reasoned guesses, but this future historian can go back in time, assassinate Caesar while he is still in Gaul, and then move forward in this altered timeline to see if the Empire forms itself anyway. And if so, how.

Obviously a story featuring such historical methodology would presume that destiny is not fixed and the past could be changed, possibly through an application of quantum multiverse theory. Go back into your own past and change it, you have not eliminated your knowledge of what happened as would seem to be logically so--you have simply shifted out of your quantum multiverse into a different one, where a different set of quantum splits occurred, your own memories intact.

Probably a single historian would not be enough to carry out this task. More like an entire History Department, or an entire university would be engaged in repeatable and thus scientifically observable historiography. Once the "historical experiment" had been performed and the results noted, the above mentioned history professor could go back to before Caesar was assassinated for experimental purposes, stop the assassination, and return the timeline to normal.

As a story setting, this idea becomes much more interesting if something goes horribly wrong. Perhaps Napoleon or Ivan the Terrible capture the time machine and show an intuitive grasp of how it works and how to use it to dominate the world. Or perhaps, more subtly, the professor or team of historians the story focuses on gets lost in time somehow, having made changes they can no longer keep track of, now on a quest to set the timeline right--which of course has been done in science fiction many times before (setting the timeline right) most notably in the TV series Quantum Leap, though also Dr. Who at times and other books and shows have done this. Though I don't know of any who did so from the point of view of a history department trying to create "scientific history" through deliberate timeline changes.

What if a change in history was so subtle the historians could not trace how they had made it? Back to the example above, they kill Julius Caesar, the Roman Empire forms anyway, so they go back in time to restore Caesar's life, which they successfully do--but suddenly this restored man decides not to become emperor. And Rome remains a republic. And the historians, try as they might cannot figure out where they had gone wrong, not at all. Or else they discover they changed something they considered to be of no consequence that turned out to be huge, based on The Butterfly Effect (which is also the subject of a number of science fiction time travel stories)...

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Friday, March 7, 2014

The Schizomancer

Imagine that the origin of psychological disorders is usually brain chemistry, as we are told. (Yes, this does involve at least a bit of imagination, since less is in fact known about the brain that most people realize.) Of course, plenty of people with such disorders went untreated in medieval or ancient times. Some would be seen as demon possessed or touched by the gods. Or simply very strange.

But imagine a world of fantasy, where the laws of nature are altered so that performing magic is a genuine possibility, where wizards and sorcerers abound. Yet the human beings in this world are still human beings, with the same human weaknesses of humans we know. Some of them with brain chemistry imbalances, including schizophrenia. Imagine a wizard or other practitioner of magic who is schizophrenic.

A snippet from Wikipedia defines some of the symptoms of schizophrenia as follows:

Positive symptoms are those that most individuals do not normally experience but are present in people with schizophrenia. They can include delusions, disordered thoughts and speech, and tactileauditoryvisualolfactory and gustatory hallucinations, typically regarded as manifestations of psychosis. Hallucinations are also typically related to the content of the delusional theme.

What would distinguish a "schizomancer"? Perhaps the ability to take the delusions and hallucinations that he or she has and make them real for everyone around him or her. Or perhaps instead of schizomancers having the power to generate hallucinations and delusions they themselves experience, perhaps their very presence would cause people around them to experience their own delusions, to in effect become schizophrenic themselves. Or perhaps the effect could be deliberate for a schizomancer who is more self aware--he or she could make it so people taste or touch or hear or smell or see whatever she wants them to see. Such a wizard could even make it so people would taste the sense of touch or see smells or have other completely unexpected forms of synesthesia, or other distortions relating to time, space, and distance. It would be interesting to describe such magical power in action.

If magic is conceived of in a fantasy story as requiring discipline and study, schizophrenia certainly would not help someone obtain magical mastery. But since schizophrenia often starts at puberty or early adulthood, one could imagine a child prodigy in magical arts...who begins to slip as adulthood approaches. Perhaps in a world of magic, there would be spells to counterbalance brain chemistry just as we have pills to counterbalance it in our world of technology. But perhaps schizomancers would not see they have a problem. They would resist treatment, with all of the force of magic they could generate.

Perhaps a schizomancer could be a singular individual, perhaps a tragic villain of a story. (Or perhaps not so tragic.) Villainy seems a natural match for a skill that destroys the minds or perceptions of others. But perhaps it would be more interesting and more challenging to write the schizomancer as the hero of a fantasy tale, one struggling not only with an external enemy, but also with his or her own inner demons, who have the terrifying habit of making themselves literally appear...

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Sunday, March 2, 2014

The Ministry of Knowledge: Authorized Thoughts Only

An Army Reserve colleague/University of Texas student mentioned to me how great it would be if you could download knowledge directly into the brain, the way Neo learns martial arts in The Matrix. I pointed out to him (thanks for the inspiration, Walter Ellison), that such an ability to learn would not necessarily be an unmitigated good. For example, what if someone downloaded the knowledge of making explosives and used it to blow people up? Or poisons, computer viruses, safecracking techniques, etc?

So let's follow this idea out to where it builds a science fiction story setting: Say the technology to download information directly into the brain exists in a future time. Yet some of knowledge that potentially could be instantly learned is deemed dangerous (justly so). So imagine a government agency is created with the authority to make sure that brain downloads only contain data suitable for the person receiving that information.

We'll call that agency "The Ministry of Knowledge." In a world that's an extension of our own, you'd immediately have a black market in unauthorized learning, including things like child sacrifice methods all the way up to atomic weapons. Imagine the Ministry of Knowledge (MOK) at first tries to crack down on this trend through a realization that only people who know about the black market will buy from it. So new downloads of general information, which quickly become the primary means people use to learn, make no mention of any such black market--this done with the best of intentions, of course.

This measure does not prove to be enough to shut down the illegal market. Too many people know about it and communicate the information to one another, bypassing the "knowledge blockade." So soon the MOK discovers a technological fix for that--they develop the ability to alter knowledge in a human mind after it has already been input through accessing an unexpected feature of the download mechanism.

The Ministry of Knowledge eventually slips into the role of the masters of a dystopian society in which they have the ability to overwrite what anyone knows, with the result of controlling thoughts, so that only authorized ideas are ever even known about. And if someone should discover an unauthorized truth by accident, it's only a matter of time before a MOK that monitors all the brain data of every human being will wipe the information clean.

What if the process didn't work for certain brain disorders? Or only worked in part for some people? What if a tiny handful of individuals began to gradually learn the truth, while the vast majority literally could never know it...

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