Tag Archives: Cyan

340. Federated Space Service

Regular readers will note that posts now come later in the day.

A week ago today, Cyan was delivered to those who preordered from Amazon, and went on regular sale. If you’ve read past the opening segment, you know that the explorers who returned to Earth found it greatly changed.

From Cyan: All seemed well, on the surface, but something profound was happening to the people of Earth. They were waking up to reality. When interstellar exploration had begun, few had taken it seriously. Now the process was flushed with success, and that success carried the seeds of its own downfall.

Suddenly, all over Earth, people who had been indifferent to space travel, except to mutter about a waste of resources, became truly aware of what was happening. And they didn’t like it. In the vague common mind of the beast, numbers began to move in slow, painful calculations.

A few thousand colonists; billions of the rest of us.

They — the rich, the powerful, the smart, the educated, the lucky — they will go to the stars and walk the green valleys of paradise. We — the downtrodden, the ordinary, the workers, the plodders, the ones who really make things happen, the ones who always get screwed — in short, you and me. We will stay behind.

In the general elections of 2103, and in a hundred scattered elections and revolutions in 2104, the people of Earth turned on their leaders and said with a loud voice that the spacers who brought in the ore from the belt, and the workers of L-5, and especially those who were finding new worlds, were no longer heroic friends but dangerous enemies. They would no longer be given freedom to do as they pleased, but would be harnessed to the common good.

This was the Earth Darwin returned to in 2105. When Tasmeen signaled Ganymede Station, she received a taped reply.

“Welcome home, Darwin. You will find the language of this year somewhat different from when you left. When the Dog Star returned in 2088, we found that it would be best to train comtechs in the jargon of your departure year, and that is the reason for this tape.

“The biggest change you will have to be ready for is that NASA no longer exists … because after the general elections of 2103 the people of North America decided to combine all space efforts into one military organization. You are all now members of the Federated Space Service.”

Tasmeen said, “I have a bad feeling about this.”

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In point of fact, on our world, the war between NASA and the Air Force began on October 1. 1958, the day NASA came into existence and began to encroach on Air Force prerogatives. We’ll look at some of those early battles this week.

334. Making Videos for Cyan

I know from visiting your websites, that a lot, maybe most, of you either are or want to be writers. I’ve talked about some of the mechanics of that, especially in posts 133 and 134. During the last month, I’ve learned some more about how books are marketed in the age of the internet. I’ve had to make videos.

That proved harder than I thought it would, partly because of technology. Don’t think I’m a Luddite – I’ve been a computer nut since 1986 – but I don’t own a video camera. i don’t have kids to record as they grow, and I have no interest is seeing myself moving about on the computer screen.

Most of those who make videos to promote their books do so on their smart phones. I don’t have a smart phone. It is my firm belief that Alexander Graham Bell was an emissary of the Devil. I communicate the way God intended, by email, where I can correct my mistakes before I push send.

I finally used the camera built into my Mac. It makes a shaky, Skype-like picture, but that works well enough if you hold still and go into talking-head mode.

I didn’t want to ramble, so I wrote a script and tried out some videos. They stank (that’s the grammatically correct word that morphed into stunk about twenty years ago). It turns out that a glib, casual, conversational tone takes a hell of a lot of rewrites. I should have remembered that. I had to learn it two years ago when I wrote my first posts. I don’t mean numbers 1, 2, 3 . . .. I mean the ones you never saw because I trash-canned them.

Writing two masters theses and a bunch of novels did not prepare me to write posts. I had to learn a whole new, casual style. This month I learned that written-casual is not the same as spoken-casual — even if it is written as a script before it is spoken. It took quite a few tries to make the transition.

Eventually I made three videos for Brian at EDGE and he will put them on Youtube. They are an introduction to Cyan, the story of why I wrote Cyan, and a reading from Cyan. The first is already up; click here.

I’ve also tacked on the script I used in the Introduction to Cyan.

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Hi. Welcome to my world, or at least to one of them. I’ve always been a fan of near future novels of exploration. There are so many things about traveling at sub-light speed that make for a great story.

Besides, it won’t be long until scientists have charted the actual planets around all the nearby stars. Then we won’t be able to make up our own planets.

Put those ideas together and you have Cyan, which is the name of me newest novel and the name of the planet that it takes place on.

In the year 2080 a crew of five men and five women, scientists all, set out for Procyon where they find a planet that stands straight up in orbit, with bands of unvarying climates. About 45 degrees north, is paradise.

But paradise with teeth — virgin, wild, beautiful, but very dangerous. Keir, our crewleader’s task is to keep his fellow explorers alive. He’s good at his job, but on a planet crowded with predators, that may not be enough.

For these scientists from vastly overcrowded earth, after years confined within the starship, the beauty and emptiness of Cyan is intoxicating.

They have one year to decide if Cyan is suitable for colonists, and it turns out to be perfect. But then one of the scientists picks up a flaked stone. This is not a natural occurrence. Someone, or some thing, has made it.

The explorers have discovered the Cyl.

The Cyl are a stone age group. They look nothing like man and their intelligence is low, but they are about to become much more. Evolution moves quickly under Procyon’s intense radiation, and the Cyl are poised to make the leap to full intelligence.

Earth needs Cyan to ease its massive population, and the Cyl need to be left alone to find their own destiny. Lines are drawn among the explorers and the resolution of the problem threatens to tear them apart.

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When you get your copy of Cyan, you will see that this introduction actually only covers the first fifth of the novel. Giving a full summary would have made the video far too long.

331. Solitaire for Ten

Cyan is now available for pre-order through Amazon, with the eBook arriving April 17th. Meanwhile, I plan to repeat a few year old-posts that were designed to stir the blood of would-be readers just before an earlier release date that didn’t happen. This is one of them.

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In the novel Cyan, the starship Darwin carries ten explorers at relativistic speeds to explore the Procyon system.

Ten explorers, eleven light years from Earth. As the only humans on the entire planet Cyan, the death of any one is sure to send shock waves reverberating through the group.

Keir Delacroix, groundside leader of the explorers tried to put this into perspective upon the death of one of his colleagues. You will note a deleted name, to avoid a spoiler.

It seems to me that funerals are for the living, for saying things that we already know, to put life and death in perspective and find some comfort.

“We are alone here. We are more alone than any other humans have ever been. When one of us hurts, we all hurt. When one of us dies, a piece of the whole dies. We must be very careful with one another, because we are all we have.

“We come from an Earth that is overflowing with people. One death there is nothing. Had **** stayed behind, and died, no one would have noticed. Here, that death puts our whole world out of balance. And that is why we are on Cyan — to find a world where individual lives can be valuable again. At least, that is why I am here. Not as a scientist; not even as an explorer; but as a man searching for a place where humanity can find its soul again.

Death is a hungry beast, seldom satisfied with just one victim. And exploring a new planet is no safe endeavor.

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When pioneers arrived on the east coast of North America, the forest they faced was vast. It was later said that a squirrel could travel from the Atlantic to the Mississippi without ever having to touch the ground. That forest is no more.

When Heinlein’s pioneers reached the stars, flaming laser axes in hand, they wrought similar destruction. Today’s reader would not accept that.

I wrote Cyan as an exercise in seeing, not what could happen, but what probably would happen, in near-term stellar exploration. That includes both the pressures for colonization from an overcrowded Earth, and a knowledge of the ecological disasters which need to be avoided.

The explorers on Cyan are careful in their daily actions and in planning for future colonization, but they are not prepared to find a truly half-human species. Viki Johanssen, crew anthropologist, demands that Cyan be placed off limits to colonization, for their sake. Keir disagrees, and colonization plans go forward.

Viki is faced with a decision. What if she stayed behind when the Darwin returned, to study these creatures while they were still pristine, before human colonists come in? What would you do, if you knew that mankind’s only chance to study this half-human species was now, even at the expense of becoming the only person on an entire planet, certainly for decades, perhaps forever?

Would you choose to stay behind?

328. Still not a Frog or a Kangaroo

220px-Litoria_tyleri    220px-RedRoo

Cyan is now available for pre-order through Amazon, with the eBook arriving April 17th. Meanwhile, I plan to repeat a few year old-posts that were designed to stir the blood of would-be readers just before an earlier release date that didn’t happen. This is one of them.

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Flashback: 1963, riding in a car, reading an article, probably by Arthur C. Clarke, on why humans should go into space. A little fish, swimming in shallow water, said to his father, “Why don’t we go up on the land and see what we can find?” The father fish responded, “Why would you want to do that?”

I read the passage out loud, but no one was interested, so I relapsed into nerdy silence.

Years later I found that the now accepted theory is that fish in shallow waters, accustomed to using their fins against the sea bottom, began to use them to navigate mud flats at low tide as mud skippers still do in mangrove swamps today. Legs evolved from fins.

It didn’t happen this way on Cyan. (This is a follow-on to posts 320 and 321. If you missed them, we’ll wait for you to read them. Done? Good.)

On the planet Cyan, hundreds of millions of years ago, primitive chordates developed a split vertebral column, which resulted in twin tails. When they moved onto land, their tiny front steering fins were never used for locomotion and their twin tails (they had no back fins) became legs.

As Gus Lienhoff said when he dissected the first one Cyanian creature the explorers had collected:

Look, no pelvis. Look at this complex of bones. Some are fused, some flex, and these four are cantilevered. And look up here; no scapulae, just three extra thick, specialized vertebrae. Tiny front legs, powerful back legs with twice as many joints as you would expect, and absolutely no hint of a tail. Not even anything like a coccyx. A truly tailless, truly hopping biped. I wouldn’t have believed such a thing was possible.

Not a frog, not a kangaroo.

Frogs are quadrupeds with overdeveloped hind legs, like rabbits. They have a vestigial tail, like a human coccyx. If you look at a frog’s skeleton, it looks a bit like a massively deformed human. They can leap, but they also walk.

Kangaroos have a five-legged gait when walking. They lift up on a tripod made of small front legs and a powerful tail to shift their massive hind legs forward. Then they stand balanced on their hind legs while moving their forelegs and tail forward. 3 – 2 – 3 – 2, etc. When they run, they depend on their tail for balance, just as some dinosaurs used a massive tail to keep their foreparts from tipping forward.

Cyanian bipeds, from the simplest to the most complex are hoppers. They all have short, grasping forelimbs; not quite T-rex hands, perhaps, but too weak to knuckle walk, as apes do. They can move miles with grace and speed, but moving inches puts them into a condition of stumbling clumsiness. There are tree dwelling tailless bipeds on Cyan; how they navigate is a mystery I didn’t get around to investigating.

When a trio of Cyl (intelligent Cyanian creatures created through recombinant DNA – its a long story) first enter a human habitat . . .

They were awkward inside the dome where the furnishings of the place made a maze for them to negotiate. As bounders, they were creatures of the unobstructed open plain. This human habitation was utterly foreign to them, not because of the steel from which it was made, or the interlocking triangles of its geodesic construction, but because it was cluttered. How could one hope to move about in it?

I explained all this to the artist who did the cover for Cyan. I also sent a crude sketch of what I had in mind, with many disclaimers about my (non)skills as an artist. The resulting cover shows a Cyl slightly different from my vision, but better. That’s what good SF cover artists do. However, it is an upper body portrait, so the secret of bipedal tailless hopping remains unresolved.

If I really want to know how it works – and I do – I would have to construct a skeletal robot and see how he moves. But there is no way I’m going to have that much free time anywhere in my near future. I have too many other books to write.

321. Home Grown Ecosystems (2)

Cyan is now available for pre-order through Amazon, with the eBook arriving April 17th. Meanwhile, I plan to repeat a few year old-posts that were designed to stir the blood of would-be readers just before an earlier release date that didn’t happen.

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Continuing our look at the creation of an ecology for Cyan. If you missed yesterday’s post, you might want to go there first.

We can take grasses and weeds for granted. Let’s give our trees multiple trunks bound together, like a strangler fig without its victim, and that should be enough. We need something like insects. We’ll call them Chitropods – chitro sounds like chitin, and pod means foot, so our reader will infer an exoskeleton without any further work on our part. Continuing the idea of inference, if we call the flying creatures who eat the chitropods pouchbats, the reader will draw a better picture in his mind that we could on paper.

The number of legs is important to Terrestrial arthropods, but lets bypass that by giving all our chitropods many legs, but with only one joint each where it meets the body. Now they have a rolling gait “like caterpillars on crutches”. Humor helps keep description from limping along. (Sorry, couldn’t resist!)

These are throw-away inventions. They could have been applied to any ecosystem and they are not systemically related to each other. They alone would be good enough for almost any SF novel, but not for one about scientists teasing out the essence of their planet.

Here we need a key differentiation, from early in evolution, from which a thousand lesser differences can be derived. Here it is for Cyan. Early in the development of chordate life, the vertebral column doubled at the posterior, giving the Cyanian version of fish twin tails. That changed everything. I’ll explain more fully later in a separate post.

On Cyan, the classes are Pseudo-pisces, Amphibia, and Inturbia. No reptiles, no birds, no mammals, no dinosaurs. The Amphibia are cold blooded. Inturbia are inefficiently warm blooded. The term Inturbia should imply “internal body temperature un-perturbed by external changes”. Not every reader will get that, but we need to reward our best readers by not spelling out everything.

There are a thousand other details, but for that, you will just have to download the book when it comes out July 5th.

***

I do have one more thing to share. I wouldn’t bother you, but since you’re reading a post about the backstage secrets of writing science fiction, I can assume that we are all nerds together here .

Inturbia have live birth. Cyanian amphibs have to return to water to lay their eggs, except for one group, the Sphaeralvids, who produce globewombs.

(Globewombs were) the closest thing to an amniote egg that Cyan’s fauna had developed – a transparent, leathery sac extruded by a Sphaeralvid mother and filled with a clear fluid like seawater. Into this she deposited fertile ova, then defecated. Then she separated from the globewomb and left it cached in the crotch of a tree, high up where it would receive full sunlight. On a bright day millions of these globewombs glinted in the treetops.

Algae from the Sphaeralvid mother’s bowels converted the feces into biomass and the Sphaeralvid nymphs fed off the algae.  When the feces were gone, the globewomb walls would break down, leaving the now sizeable nymphs free to face Cyan on their own.

Neat, huh? The globewombs are glinting in the treetops from the first day planetside. By the time the explorers understand what they are, the reader will have been wondering for some time. Globewombs don’t contribute anything to the plot, but since these are scientists trying to tease out the ecology of Cyan, we need some concrete examples of their work. Globewombs provide that.

They make me want to be there when they make the discovery – but that’s why I wrote the book.

320. Home Grown Ecosystems (1)

Cyan is now available for pre-order through Amazon, with the eBook arriving April 17th. Meanwhile, I plan to repeat a few year old-posts that were designed to stir the blood of would-be readers just before an earlier release date that didn’t happen.

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Over in Backfile, you will find an eleven part document called How to Build a Culture, inspired by Poul Anderson’s How to Build a Planet.

I could also write a paper called How to Build an Ecosystem, but who needs to read all that. A couple of posts here should cover the subject, without boredom or overload.

The fact is, simply peppering your planet with a few well chosen and deeply odd critters is enough in most cases. Andre Norton did it all the time, and it worked for her. The frawns and yoris on Arzor are simply transmogrified bighorn sheep and alligators, but so what? They provide plot points and local color, and that is all that is asked of them. Marion Zimmer Bradley gave us a mammalian snake, a hyper-weasel, and an intelligent dinosaur who sent out pheromone soaked calling cards in Hunters of the Red Moon. What more could you want?

When I wrote Cyan, I faced a different situation. My crew was set down on an alien planet for one year, with the task of coming to understand its weather, geology, and ecology in order to prepare for colonization. They were all scientists, so their actions and conversations called for a deeper understanding of their new world than any other kind of science fiction novel would have required. That challenge was half the fun.

When I began Cyan, I had been studying ecology for about twenty years, starting back when I had to explain what the word meant. I later came to understand the essence of Earth’s taxonomy in the most rigorous possible way – I had had to condense it to a level which middle school students could understand without dying of boredom.

Scientists should forgive the following chart and paragraph.taxon

Drop a salmon egg on the gunwale of your canoe and it will dry out in minutes. A chicken or turtle egg would survive the same treatment. This is the meaning of amniote egg (although there are other, competing meanings). Creatures who lack them, must lay their eggs in water. The rest of the chart should be clear, although simplified. For example, birds have scales on their legs as well as feathers elsewhere, and I skipped Dinosauria altogether.

Now pull up a chair and lets build Cyanian ecology. It needs to be wierd but recognizable – that’s the key to all science fiction invention. We also need restraint. You can only explain so much to your reader without losing them, and beyond a certain point, your backstory is wasted effort.

Come back tomorrow and we’ll dive more deeply into Cyanian ecology.

317. SF in the Wild

Cyan is now available for pre-order through Amazon, with the eBook arriving April 17th. Meanwhile, I plan to repeat a few year old-posts that were designed to stir the blood of would-be readers just before an earlier release date that didn’t happen.

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This post was originally number 128.          If you are what you eat, I used to be beefsteak, fried okra, and hominy. That comes from growing up in Oklahoma. I also lived outdoors most of the hours of every spring, summer, and fall day, and way too many hours of every winter day. That comes from growing up on a working farm.

If you are what you read, then I used to be an Andre Norton protagonist, at least in my imagination. Although I never met or corresponded with her, Andre Norton was something of a long distance mentor.

Alice Mary Norton legally changed her name to Andre Norton early on, in an era when being a woman was no help to a science fiction writer. I didn’t know that when I first read her; I thought Andre Norton was a man. Not that I thought about it much, but she didn’t write like a girl. Looking back, I see that she actually wrote like a person, but I wasn’t that sophisticated then.

One reason Norton got away with writing gender neutral fiction was that her characters spent most of their time alone. Even in their relationships with others of their own kind, they were loners, if not complete outcasts.

Star Man’s Son was the first Norton I read. In it, Fors spent all but a few pages on a quest away from his people; that was a pattern to which Norton frequently returned. I could easily identify with the solo quest while I spent endless hours alone on a tractor. The only variations in my daily life were whether I was pulling a disk or a hay rake, and which Norton novel was replaying in my head.

Every time Shann Lantee on Warlock, or Naill Renfro on Janus, or any of a dozen other young men found himself stranded alone, or nearly alone, on an alien world, I could look up from my tractor seat at the Oklahoma prairie and say, “Yup, been there.”

The best thing about Norton’s characters was that they didn’t whine about being alone. They liked it. So did I.

I didn’t live in a city until I went to college. I spent my adult life living in the suburbs of a reasonably small city, and taught school in a very small town. As soon as I could retire, I moved to a few acres in the foothills. I would move further out if I could afford it.

I was born not liking cities, and my opinion never changed. It should be no surprise that my first novel was about a hunter surviving alone in the woods, or that my first science fiction novel Jandrax was about a hundred or so humans stranded on an alien world.. My three fantasy novels have a rural and medieval feel. David Singer, in A Fond Farewell to Dying, is a mountain boy who has to go urban to get his life’s work done. And Cyan, due out soon, begins with ten explorers on an empty world, then continues with the story of the peopling that world by hyper-urbanized refugees from an overcrowded Earth.

You write what you’ve lived.