Friday, January 19, 2018

Liner Notes 2

Some background information on my story Poor Losers (on the Patreon) and The Event (on this blog).

Liner Notes 2: Poor Losers

There are a couple of ways of looking at this. Quite a few of the stories in the first half of the run are about getting someone to actually talk to the Deep Patrol in one way or another. This is a minor note in Partial City Diplomacy – the Grindlord won’t listen so Gunn looks for allies elsewhere. Here it comes to the fore; if the patrollers won’t play the game, the government of Diss won’t give them a hearing. Of course this makes no sense, but simply turning up and declaring what you’re doing doesn’t mean you’ll be taken at face value.

Secondly I raise the stakes, even while lowering the risks. Why are the Deep Patrol out here? They’re looking for threats. And if they find them, things will get nasty. I also foreshadow the Secret History of the Deep Patrol which is revealed in a later story.

Our heroes getting trapped in a game is a fairly classic adventure story plot. Often a gladiator type affair, Star Trek has done it, Dr Who has done it, Tron, Saw, Jumanji... ah I could be here all day. Is it uninteresting here because it’s not deadly? This is a question I come back to when we find out about life and death in the Deep Patrol.

We also get an introduction to the crew and what happens next to Ella. I meant to have a full meet-the-crew scene in Partial City Diplomacy but Gunn’s entire motivation was to rescue them, which kept him away from them, and then the ending happened very fast, so there was no room for it. Hence here, where they all get a chance to say and do something. They at least sketch their role and their character out in this story.

Dr Perky’s Refreshing Beverage came about in this way: I wanted someone to be team accountant, because you may be having swashbuckling adventures fighting space pirates and rescuing galactic princesses, but someone has to pay the bills. This lead me to consider the economics of the gameplayers of Diss, a topic I swiftly decided to gloss over. The simplest way to deal with the problems of currency exchange between the Patrol and an uncontacted society was to have someone else cover their costs. Riffing off current sports, I made up a sponsor as a placeholder; when I came back for the second draft it made me laugh so much I had to leave it in.

There is no Dr Pinky, and even if there were, they don’t have any products for sale.

Gunn’s game is Canasta, mostly because it’s funnier to have something slightly unfashionable than if it was a well known wagering game.

Liner Note 2a: The Event

The Event is the prelude, or perhaps the overture, to The Wavefront, the phenomenon that created my space opera playground. I probably got the name Minerva from A World of Difference by Harry Turtledove where it is his alternate Mars.

My Minerva is not Mars however. It’s Earth’s twin, a planet clearly, yet mysteriously linked to Earth. Where has it been? When did it diverge? What are the links? And of course, Why...

I don’t answer any of those questions in this series. Sorry about that.

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Tuesday, January 16, 2018

Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them

(I first saw this film in 2017 so this is not part of my 2018 list; as such this "review" is idiosyncratic even for me.)

One of the most interesting, charming, and also frustrating elements of the Harry Potter films was that they would include iconic scenes from the books that were strictly unnecessary to the stripped back plots of the films. (Occasionally they were unnecessary in thee books especially some of the longer, later ones). Fantastic Beasts doesn't have that problem so everything in it is there because the filmmakers want it to be. So what do they want?

They want a lot of the titular Fantastic Beasts, these forming the main elements of Newt's plot for the first two thirds of the film, as well as making the majority of the action sequences and instigating or solving most of the problems. They want a love story. Maybe two! They want to look at the relationship between No-majs and Wizards. They want to look at 1920s New York quite a bit, though it's more backdrop and style than front and centre. They want to show us our heroes, (mostly) powerful wizards but not the chosen ones, coming up against (arguably) the greatest wizard in the world. And they want to show us what happens when you bottle up magic and don't let it out (SPOILERS: It's Bad.)

Anyway I liked it; coherent, fast paced, lots of beasts.

Friday, January 12, 2018

The Event

More space opera shenanigans! This time 850 words that answer a question that close readers of the Deep Patrol stories might have; namely...

What Was The Event?

Some call The Event the end of human history; others the start of it. The Event was, amongst other things, first contact with one or more alien species. In any case, in early 2042 the planet Minerva made its appearance in the Solar System. As might be expected this caused some panic, several religious revivals, a revolution in Albania, and the various space-going nations to grudgingly co-operate in sending expeditions to the body.

The planet was of approximately Earth-size and although in a wider orbit, thick coverings of clouds and a strong greenhouse effect made it close to the same temperature. Spectrometers showed free oxygen in the atmosphere. With partial views of the green land masses and the radio signals emitting from the surface it was clear that it was life-bearing.

Most of the radio signals were coded and incomprehensible. Some seemed to be in unknown languages. A handful could be understood; children’s stories in Latin, numbers in Proto-Indo-European, music with classical Chinese lyrics.

Within hours of their arrival messages were beamed back and forth. Interplanetary communication is difficult without dedicated equipment; with a babble of a hundred different stations in a score of languages trying to compete with each other it was chaos.

Some stations were nonsense, strings of words bereft of meaning. Some were messages of welcome, invitations to visit. Some were warnings to leave the new planet alone. Others attempted to ask questions, many of which made no sense, or answered Earth questions in strange ways. One began to broadcast a hymn to Minerva that never quite repeated itself despite eternally chanting in Latin; it was this that eventually named the planet.

Probes were dispatched, and manned spaceflights were increased in both number and size. Expeditions were planned and several competing space stations were launched. Telescopes were constructed on the ground, in orbit and on the moon.

All this was thrown into confusion when six weeks after arriving Minerva launched several spaceships. Most put constellations of satellites in orbit. A set of huge spaceplanes from the Northern polar continent began to construct a space station and then an interplanetary vehicle of their own.
The various Earth space organisations re-doubled their efforts. Probes were launched by the dozen. A manned mission was brought forward, and eight more begun. When the giant Minervan spaceship – called variously Lux, Nemesis I, and Flower of the Dawn by different radio stations – was unexpectedly launched towards Mars the main emotion felt was consternation followed by the question – what had we missed there?

The first pictures of the Minervan surface were those broadcast by the planet’s inhabitants. They showed humans; tall, slim, narrow-faced humans. Latin speakers, dressed in hoods and robes. They told a variety of histories.

That humans came originally from Minerva and been transplanted to Earth. That humans came from Earth and had been transplanted to Minerva. That Minervans were Atlanteans who had developed space travel and flown to Minerva. That Minerva had always been here and Earth was the newcomer. That the eldest Minervans had been born in the reign of Septimus Severus and had walked to Minerva. That Minerva was future Earth, brought back in the hour of need.

A race of spider-like beings also sent television pictures. They had only one message. Be ready. Something is coming.

As probes began to arrive in Minerva orbit experts assured people that this was all to be expected. The transmissions from Earth were just as confusing to the Minervans. Scientists trying to exchange information and corporations the same (though with different motives). Governments and quasi-governments making diplomatic overtures. Churches and other bodies looking to convert or educate the Minervans. Our usual transmissions – news and documentaries of course, but also entertainment and fiction. And odder groups, with their own agendas, such as the Pi Society who were sending each digit of the number to the newly arrived planet.

(It was clear that Minervans were already familiar with Pi, even using the same Greek letter for it.)
The first probes had a high failure rate; the fastest used aerobraking to make orbit or land, risky even if it weren’t taking place light minutes away on a planet that had been detected mere weeks before they launched. One was shot down; several ended up in oceans or seas. Orbital ones did better for the short period before Minervans arrived to investigate them.

Every question the probes answered raised more. It was confirmed that there were humans and other earth-like animals and plants on Minerva, but their origin was unknown. The Minervans themselves had plenty of theories. There was also non-earth-like life, including at least two species that displayed a technological civilisation, one clearly in advance of anything Earth could accomplish. Meanwhile, across an invisible border, humans ploughed fields with oxen and armed their troops with flintlocks.
The manned missions – to Minerva, Mars and the Moon – promised answers. Privately experts admitted that even with thousands of years of research many aspects of Earth still remained a mystery. How then could the newly arrived Minerva be explained?

The explanation, such as it was, arrived soon after when the Wavefront made its appearance.

(The Deep Patrol stories Partial City Diplomacy and Poor Losers can be downloaded for free from my Patreon which supported this post.)

Tuesday, January 09, 2018

Words That The Spellchecker Did Not Recognise But I Nevertheless Used

These words were unrecognised by my spellchecker; all come from a single novel manuscript.

Liverpudlian *

* In fact I had originally spelled it "Liverpuddlian" for which I can only apologise.

Monday, January 08, 2018

I Watch TV: The Miniaturist

This historical mystery drama (based on a novel) was shown in 2 parts between Christmas and New Year on the BBC. The story of Nella Oortman, a woman in the 17th Century Netherlands who marries a rich Amsterdam merchant and finds herself caught up in a variety of mysterious events, many revolving about the miniature house she has been given for a wedding present.

As it happened we had an Amsterdammer as a house guest and she pointed out that although the historical detail was fair, it was also the all the cliches of 17th Century Amsterdam. The obsession with sugar, presenting onseself at the window to prove no one has anything to hide, she marries so her family can get money to fix the dike, herring and beer for breakfast etc. As we got deeper into the story characters began to have their own motives and personalities, yet their concerns did not always fit well with the historical roles they were also filling.

In the end The Miniaturist refuses to commit to it's mysteries; the explanation given for how the titular artisan can make tiny items that reveal and even fortell events in the house is (deliberately) unsatisfying. A curiosity rather than a necessity.

Watch This: If you like a bit of historical drama that looks good
Don't Watch This: If you prefer neat happy endings
And Also In Novel Forms of Justice: The punishment of being drowned by having a millstone tied to the neck was new to us

Friday, January 05, 2018

Poor Losers

Hello friends, I have a science fiction story for you to read. It is called Poor Losers and it is the second in the Chronicles of the Deep Patrol sequence[1]. Lieutenant Commander Tommy Gunn and his crew travel to a planet whose society is based on playing games and have to win just to make contact. It's your basic space opera dilemma; how hard is he willing to cheat to fulfil his objective?

You will note that this is on my Patreon so if you like it and can spare a dollar please subscribe. It's there as a pdf, mobi for Kindles and epub for other reading devices/apps. Let me know if you can't figure out how to deal with files so you can read it.

[1] Number one, a double size issue called Partial City Diplomacy is still available for the low, low price of £0.00 which is 0d in old money.

Thursday, January 04, 2018

I Read Books: The Smoky God

2018 Introduction

Speaking of the Hollow Earth as I was yesterday, in 2017 I read the book The Smoky God by Willis George Emerson, a "classic" "true" hollow earth story. Checking my notes I found I started to write it up, but never finished. Essentially it was not as interesting as I hoped.

I present my unfinished write-up of the start of the book. If you are interested in more it is out of copyright and available for free online, or if you think you won't enjoy it, you can read the very brief Wikipedia synopsis.

The Smoky God

So, The Smoky God, a 1908 "true" account of a voyage into the hollow earth.

I was excited by this and almost immediately disappointed. The author seeks to distance themselves from the facts of the narrative. He attempts to walk the line between saying that he does not believe it, yet he is writing down an accurate account of what was told to him by the Norwegian sailor Olaf Jansen.
I freely confess his statements admit of no rational analysis, but have to do with the profound mystery concerning the frozen North that for centuries has claimed the attention of scientists and laymen alike.

However much they are at variance with the cosmographical manuscripts of the past, these plain statements may be relied upon as a record of the things Olaf Jansen claims to have seen with his own eyes.
Have your cake or eat it mate, don't do both. "I think this is interesting and someone should probably go to the North Pole to look" is, I don't know. To be fair, no one had been to the North Pole to look[1] so in 1908 this is not an indefensible position.
A hundred times I have asked myself whether it is possible that the world's geography is incomplete, and that the startling narrative of Olaf Jansen is predicated upon demonstrable facts. The reader may be able to answer these queries to his own satisfaction, however far the chronicler of this narrative may be from having reached a conviction. Yet sometimes even I am at a loss to know whether I have been led away from an abstract truth by the ignes fatui of a clever superstition, or whether heretofore accepted facts are, after all, founded upon falsity.
After a bit more explanation that neither the author nor the eleven nations involved in exploring the Arctic know what's going on up there and a diversion into Plato talking about Apollo coming from a land beyond the North Wind, he then introduces us to Jansen, now ninety five, retired and living in Glendale, California. Jansen, "a believer in the ancient worship of Odin and Thor", is ill and wants to tell his story before he dies. He does so, and includes maps, drawings and notes.
"These," said he in conclusion, "I leave in your hands. If I can have your promise to give them to the world, I shall die happy, because I desire that people may know the truth, for then all mystery concerning the frozen Northland will be explained. There is no chance of your suffering the fate I suffered. They will not put you in irons, nor confine you in a mad-house, because you are not telling your own story, but mine, and I, thanks to the gods, Odin and Thor, will be in my grave, and so beyond the reach of disbelievers who would persecute."[2]
He dies. Our narrator then asks us to indulge him in one or two reflections. He lays out a set of theological, mystical, historical, scientific and analogical reasons to believe that the earth is hollow and has inhabited lands inside. In fact Jansen, a non-christian, says that it is the location of the Garden of Eden. The interior of the earth is lit and heated by "a mammoth ball of dull red fire" which is the source of magnetism and electricity and worshipped by the inhabitants as the titular "Smoky God" which they call "The Most High".

I'll come back to this[4], which is a giant pile of nonsense which asks some interesting questions. Eventually (and I mean that; the narrative skips back and forth between ideas and never uses two words when three will do) he promises to actually tell us what Jansen said. I can't wait.

[1] Although Olaf Jansen claimed to have so there you go.
[2] The possibility of being declared mad because of these outlandish beliefs, though possible, seems unlikely to me[3]; this is America where you can believe any old nonsense and become a pillar of the community.
[3] To correct past Neil on this, according to the text Jansen was indeed declared mad, partly so that a family member could steal his inheritance, so in the book at least it would be a legitimate fear.
[4] SPOILERS I don't. In brief see the shell theorem in which Isaac Newton no less proved that a classic "shell" type hollow world would not have people standing on the inside.