Tag Archives: Cyan

514. Space Force

As a die-hard space fan you might think I would like Trump’s Space Force idea, but I’m too much wedded to reality. This is just another publicity stunt, although there is a real history behind it.

The Russians had an independent Space Force from 1992 to 1997, and again from 2001 to 2011. Then they gave it up and made it a sub-set of the Russian air force. That’s not as sexy, but it makes more sense. It is also the way we have things organized here in the United States.

The poor Air Force! They have made a career out of trying to make space their domain, only to be slapped in the face by bureaucracy. Do you remember project MISS? No? Nobody else does either. MISS (Man In Space Soonest) was a plan to put a man in a capsule and shoot him into space on top of a converted ICBM. Now does it sound familiar? It was an Air Force project that was handed over to NASA and became Project Mercury.

The Air Force followed up with project Dyna Soar, which would have put a winged vehicle on top of a rocket. It was cancelled because the money was needed for NASA. At the top of the post that is an artist’s impression of Dyna Soar landing at Edwards AFB after a mission.

Then the Air Force designed the Manned Orbital Laboratory, a black program which would have been America’s first space station. Cancelled; this time not by bureaucracy, but because of unexpected advances in unmanned satellites which made it obsolete before it flew.

The Air Force did provide input into the design of the Space Shuttle, and got to do some black missions. What were they? Beats me; they were secret.

The Air Force had a hand in several post-shuttle projects which never went to completion and finally got their own space ship in the X-37b. Sadly, it was unmanned.

As you can see, I’ve been writing a lot about all this. If you click on these four links, you will have a thumbnail history of NASA vs. the Air Force in a battle for space.

Now Trump wants to take space away from the Air Force altogether, but don’t blame him. He probably knows less about this than I do, and I am just an amateur enthusiast. Maybe he should click four times.

Enough of the latest publicity stunt. In Cyan, my explorers coming back from the Procyon system also faced a conflict that had been going on between NASA and a military space force while they were away. Here’s a quote:

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.”

Yeah, Tasmeen. Me, too.

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500. Heinlein’s Harems

Heinlein did not invent group sex, but he tried to take out a patent on it.

               (Disclaimer: I made that up about the patent. It’s called hyperbole, the use of exaggerations and untrue statements for effect. The difference between hyperbole and lying is that in hyperbole, you don’t expect anyone to believe you.
               If you offer exaggerated or untrue statements with the style, cadence, and straight face of hyperbole, but you expect to be believed, that’s lying disguised as hyperbole. You may have seen this happen recently. At least one of our leaders makes it public policy.)

The world first became aware of Heinlein’s preoccupation with group sex in 1961 with his novel Stranger in a Strange Land. I didn’t buy in; I couldn’t accept the underlying idea. A successful family of multiple males and females didn’t seem likely. Most 1+1 marriages fail, and a lot of the ones which don’t fail, should fail. The idea of a whole passel of people living together in one big happy sexual family without exploding from the stresses generated strained my willing suspension of disbelief.

Hippies tried it a few years later. It was a lot of fun for the alpha personalities, but not so much for the shy ones who just went along with the idea. Communes tended to fall apart quickly.

Kings often have multiple women. In the orient, they called them harems. In the west, they called them mistresses. But any family of the 1+n style can’t be very successful. It will always result in one tired guy and a lot of women feeling blue and lonely.

Heinlein multiplied his multi-person families throughout the rest of his career, and to be fair, he did once portray such a family falling apart in the novel Friday.

Let me paint you a picture.  Start with a bunch of naked people. The men are okay looking and the women are beautiful. No exceptions on that issue. They are all young; that part is easy enough since they are all Howards and therefore semi-immortal. Put them in a luxurious lounge, with self-aware computers attending to their every whim. Now let the sex begin — but it doesn’t. Instead, we get endless, interminable, unquenchable talking about sex.

I read Stranger in high school. Three years later, in college, The Harrad Experiment was all the rage. It was about a school which encouraged its students to experiment with free love (as it was called in that era). My roommate read it and complained, “They don’t do it; they just talk about it.” I can’t verify that statement. It sounded so much like Stranger that I gave it a miss.

               (Disclaimer: Heinlein is one of my favorite authors. I re-read him more often than anyone but Zelazny. On the subject of sex, however, he sees the smiles and ignores the strains. For him, the cup is neither half-full nor half-empty. It is overflowing. It’s a nice idea, but it strains my credulity.)

When I wrote Cyan, two kinds of multi-person families showed up. Saloman Curran was the product of a ring family. That appears first in Chapter Six, Stranded on Earth [3] in the odd way that book is laid out. Ring families were a disaster for adults and children alike, and their structure goes a long way toward explaining why our villain was so villainous.

The ten explorers who set out on their multi-year journey to Procyon were a family of another kind, and one that worked out fairly well. They were young, healthy men and women, cut off from contact with any other humans, and stimulated by the excitement and danger of exploration. Sex was sure to happen anyway, so NASA made sure they were compatible during training. Read between the lines of that statement. I didn’t set the situation up for titillation; I was working out what I thought might actually happen. Once the explorers returned to Earth, the ten-some did not last. It had existed due to a particular situation, which was not likely to be repeated.

               (Disclaimer: Yes, I know this was supposed to be the future, yet the explorers are all apparently hetero. I started Cyan in the early eighties for that audience. If I were writing it today, I would have to change some things, but it’s really too late now.)

Heinlein was trying to shake up a moribund society, and make it look at what might happen. I was trying, a generation later, to figure out what probably would happen.

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Briefly, back to hyperbole as humor. Once in a meeting, I said with a straight face that, “Only stupid people exaggerate. Smart people use hyperbole.” Most of my friends just looked at me (that happened a lot). The one friend who got it, roared.

Yes, I know. It isn’t funny in cold print. It’s all a matter of timing.

497. A Tangled Web

Last July fourth weekend I went to Westercon and received a gift. While observing a panel, I got the inspiration for a novel. I started it as soon as I got home and finished it in October, which is fast for me. It became The Cost of Empire, my first steampunk novel, and you just got a chance to see the opening pages spread out over the last two weeks.

I call it steampunk, and it deserves that description, but it could as well be called alternative history since it does not have the sense of complete weirdness that many steampunk novels possess. Soon afterward, I began another steampunk novel called Like Clockwork. It is completely different in tone. If you want weird, we’ve got weird in this one.

I placed part of a chapter in a post, but that particular excerpt is almost domestic in tone. Not weird at all.

I’ve been working on Like Clockwork since about November and I am only about 40,000 words in. I have no idea how long it is going to be. I know the set-up and development, and I’ve already written the last few chapters. I just don’t know how many more words it will take to get from where I am to where I am going. Or exactly how I’m going to get there.

If I were teaching a class in how to write a novel, this would get me fired. Nothing I ever write takes a straight path, but this is the most tangled web I’ve yet woven.

Cyan has a fairly large cast of characters, but the novel centers around Keir Delacroix. There are sections of the novel where other characters step up and have their moment, but Keir is the sun around which everyone else orbits. That makes things easy for the reader.

Cyan takes a century (global) or about thirty years (subjective) to occur, but everything proceeds in a linear fashion. There are flashbacks, but not too many. Mostly we get to see things as they happen, which minimizes explanations, although there are a couple of dense pages right at the outset.

Events begin on Cyan, move back to Earth, then end on Cyan again, but the reader goes along for the ride, so there is no confusion.

In The Cost of Empire, Daniel/David James (one person, but he changes names part way through the book as part of a masquerade) is even more firmly the center of the story. He is our eyes and ears; there is only one short paragraph where the reader knows something that he doesn’t.

The action begins in England, moves to Trinidad, moves back to England, then crosses Europe and the Middle East and ends up in India. Like Cyan, it takes in a lot of territory, but the reader takes the trip with David, so he/she never gets lost.

My newest novel Like Clockwork has at least six major characters (so far) and a couple more nearly as important, all of whom have about equal time on stage. That stage is restricted to a portion of London in the year — well, I can’t really explain when things happen. Figuring out when is sort of the point of the novel.

At the beginning, the reader doesn’t know where or when she/he is; just that it is London, or sort-of London, and a strange London at that. The characters in the book know more than the reader knows, but they don’t know much either. The reader and the characters have to figure everything out as they go along together, and the storyline shifts from one character to another with every short chapter.

In a way, it is like a mystery novel, with clues in abundance, but without a villain. There is a prime mover, but he is in deep, deep background and — sorry, that would be a spoiler as well.

Like Clockwork is also a book length clinic in how to explain a situation without resorting to a narrative dump.  It’s been a lot of fun so far. Now if I can just figure out what the hell is going on, I’ll get this thing finished.

495. Everybody, Two Jobs

Everything about Cyan was designed to give a picture of what might actually happen in the early days of extra-solar exploration. No ray guns, no hovercraft of the Marty McFly type, but hovercraft in the sense of ground-effect machines instead. Some of the technology I chose to give my people was not too far advanced over what we have here, early in the millennium. Why? Because if you are light years from home, you want your gear to work. It is not particularly important that it be up to date, but it needs to be indestructible. (see 253. Handgun Accuracy)

They walked a lot on Cyan. Feet don’t need new batteries.

In real exploration, you can’t expect everybody to survive. That means that you don’t want just one medic, or pilot. Someone has to be ready to step up in case of tragedy, and that needs to be planned in advance.

Which brings us to today . . . I mentioned last week that I have been cleaning out a house I used to live in. Today (May 11, actually, since I write these things ahead) I found an old ms. of Cyan with some notes I hadn’t seen in years.

I wrote the first half of Cyan on a typewriter. Go google it; it’s a crude instrument from ancient days. You actually had to spell words right without spell check, and if you lost something, it stayed lost.

That is why I am posting this now. I had intended to talk about this during the run-up to the publication of Cyan, but I didn’t want to trust my memory for details. Now I have the details right in front of me on a sheet of paper I typed up decades ago.

Except for Keir, everybody on the roster of the starship Darwin had a specialty, and one or more back-up specialties. Here is the list, alphabetically.

        Stephan Andrax    captain (spaceside) – astrophysicist
        Debra Bruner        microbiologist – astronomer – medic
        Petra Crowley       geologist – soils scientist
        Keir Delacroix       groundside crew leader – generalist
        Viki Johanssen      anthropologist – paleontologist
        Gus Leinhoff         zoologist – biochemist – medic
        Leia Polanyi          paleontologist – geologist
        Ramananda Rao  meteorologist – cartographer – geologist
        Tasmeen Rao       first officer (spaceside) – pilot (starship and landing craft) – engineer
        Uke Tomiki           botanist – biochemist – medic

In fact, only weeks into their exploration, a tragedy forces two of the crew to take on the job of one who has died, with unforeseen consequences. You know what I’m talking about, or you will as soon as you download Cyan from Amazon.

In the original iteration of Cyan, the expedition was from a united Earth with crew members from many nations. Stephan and Viki were Scandinavian, Petra was Greek, Keir was French, Gus was German, Debra and Leia were American, Ram and Tasmeen were from Trinidad, and Uke was Japanese. That hopeful future died along the way. In the world that Cyan eventually came to represent, the ever voracious United States, following a world wide financial crisis, gobbled up Canada, Mexico and the Caribbean. The crew members were now all from the United States of North America, but with their various ethnic backgrounds intact.

I like the idea of a peaceful, united world, but even when I began Cyan, America looked hungry. Today — well let’s not open that can of worms. Let’s just say that the less than peaceful Earth that ended up in the novel Cyan represents another attempt at realism.

Serial History

Over the years, those who have been with me from the start have seen a lot of fiction appear in Serial. Newcomers may be surprised at the list which follows, here and over the next two days. The level in the well of unpublished work is dropping, and I have been agonizing for about six months on what to do next. I’ll tell you what I’ve decided as soon as I decide.

Cyan doesn’t belong here. You can buy it at Amazon, — and why haven’t you? — so there is no point in serializing it. A Fond Farewell to Dying won’t work either since the novella version, mentioned below, was already presented. Besides, it is still available used, although somewhat hard to find.

Since I began Serial, I have published my few short stories, and my poetry has been scattered about A Writing Life. I have one additional short story which is under construction and another which was written for an upcoming anthology, but nothing is available to publish here now.

I have non-fiction on science fiction relating to my appearance at Westercon 34 in Backfile, and relating to Westercon 70 scattered throughout May and June of 2017, in both AWL and Serial. Go to Westercon in the top menu for links.

Five pieces of long fiction, from 30 to 130 posts each, have been serialized here, starting with the novella To Go Not Gently, from Galaxy. TGNG consisted of the first third, slightly modified, of my then novel-in-progress A Fond Farewell to Dying. John J. Pierce of Galaxy magazine bought the novella version, but he didn’t like the name and suggested To Go Not Gently. I presented it in Serial, then transferred a more readable form to Backfile where you can still find it.

more tomorrow

Shut the Door, Martha!

This is unnumbered because it will be short — not so much a post, as a post script. In Serial today, Neil and Carmen finally make love but they do it off stage. I prefer that, most of the time.

Several reviewers of Cyan complained about the amount of sex in the novel. I don’t understand that. It was absolutely necessary to the story, since Cyan was a description of how the exploration of nearby extra-solar planets might actually happen. Given the isolation the explorers would endure, sex was a essential part of the mix.  Even then, most of the sex takes place off stage or nearly off stage.

This subject came up in a panel at Westercon. I was in the audience, not on stage. The question they were considering was, “When your characters have sex, do you shut the door?” Some did; some didn’t. No one asked me, but unless there is an overriding reason otherwise, I usually shut the door.

Even fictional people deserve some privacy.

451. The Blurb

Every writer hates blurbs. If the term blurb is unfamiliar to you, it refers to the written material on the outside of a paperback novel that ostensibly tells the reader what the story inside is  about. It is supposed to be a way for the reader to judge quickly whether or not to make a purchase.

However publishers have no intention of telling you why you shouldn’t buy one of their books, so looking for an accurate blurb is a bit like Diogenes looking for an honest man. Thomas Anderson of Schlock Value, whose quirky reviews I never miss, wages an ongoing war against dishonest blurbs.

Yesterday I ran across Robert Bloch’s The Opener of the Way in a used bookstore. I’m not a fan of Bloch, nor of horror, but I bought it because I had to have a copy of the back blurb. I’ve reproduced the top half of it in the scan above. The bottom half, in extreme fine print, says:

(Actually, the Opener of the Way is a first-rate collection of ten terrifying tales of horror and the macabre, including some of the finest ever written about Ancient Egyptian curses, vampires, pacts with the Devil and others. We hope you ‘enjoy’ them . . .)

The fine print was more honest than most and the top part was downright clever. It isn’t usually that way. For example, the blurb on the back of my first novel Jandrax says:

As a scout he’d tamed four planets — and more women than most men ever see . . .

Now in truth, there is only one sentence in the novel that mentions, in passing, that first-in scouts are famous for being rowdy when between assignments.

The back blurb on Jandrax is in three parts, each flamboyant in the style you would find on old westerns. Setting aside the gosh-wow tone, the first and third section are accurate enough in content, but that middle section makes Jandrax sound like astro-porn.

There are two problems with this. Anyone who buys the book expecting a sexy, racy delight, will be terribly disappointed. And anyone who wants a serious portrayal of how space exploration might actually look will probably turn away. Based on the phrase more women than most men ever see, I wouldn’t buy the book myself.

True cliché: You only get one chance to make a first impression. The blurb is where authors make their first impression, and if the publisher blows it, authors are the ones who suffer. 

My second novel A Fond Farewell to Dying has a front blurb that says (in all caps):

WHAT PRICE LIFE? SURRENDER YOUR BODY! GIVE UP YOUR SOUL!

Yech! Sorry folks, that also has nothing to do with the story inside. Neither does the angel blowing the last trump over four zombies in boxes, but bad cover art is a subject for another post. FFTD is about an atheist who tries to come up with a mechanical version of immortality, and succeeds without the universe taking revenge on him for hubris. The front cover, both art and blurb, gives a very different impression. In fact, I saw FFTD for sale on a spinner rack of Christian paperbacks in a supermarket. Someone there certainly got a surprise.

The back blurb was lengthy, given in three paragraphs. The first two were reasonably accurate, but the third was wildly misleading. That inaccuracy irritated me no end, but most blurbs are much worse. They often look like they were mixed up and placed on the wrong book.

I challenge you to take a handful of science fiction paperback novels which you have already read, look at the blurbs, and decide if they have anything to do with the novel as you remember it. If you get one match out of five tries you’ve probably won the jackpot.

Still, the opening statement in this post may be an overstatement. Perhaps every long-time writer used to hate blurbs would be more accurate. When Cyan was being prepared for publication, the folks at EDGE asked me to write my own blurb, and I have to admit that compressing a novel into a sentence or two is hard. I appreciated the chance, but now I have no one to blame.