Tag Archives: Jandrax

648. Limits of Accuracy

The Limits of Accuracy
in World Building

I’m sitting here on October 15th with half a dozen files open on my computer, calculator at the ready, and a page of scratched calculations. I’ve been world building again.

In full disclosure, my last math class was college calculus and I don’t remember much of that. I’m no astrophysicist. I know that because I bought a book on orbital mechanics in hopes of cribbing a few formulas to use in my writing. It didn’t take long to realize that I was out of my element.

My primary source of world building math has always been How to Build a Planet by Poul Anderson. I have kept a xerox copy on hand since I first used it while writing Jandrax back in the seventies of last century/millenium.

Don’t bother to google it. There are so many resources available for world building on the internet today that it gets pushed to a back page. I don’t use the new stuff myself; it looks like a black hole you could fall into and never escape. World building can easily eat up all the time available for writing. Besides, there is a limit to the accuracy we need.

When I set up the solar system around Sirius, a long time ago, I popped in a few inner planets, more or less following Bode’s discredited law, and set their distances after calculating i, luminosity, for the most important planet.

Sirius A, for the record, has about twice Sol’s mass and produces about 23 times its radiation. I calculated the distances from it to where there would be a luminosity of 75% of Earth’s, 100% of Earth’s, and 125% of Earth’s, then dropped Stormking into the middle of that range. That gave me an orbit roughly the equivalent of Jupiter’s, so I took the length of Jupiter’s year and called that the length of Stormking’s year.

That was good enough for then, but not now that I’m actually writing. I have political exiles on Stormking (which has a Uranian tilt) who have to walk for their lives, continuously, to stay in the middle of that planet’s temperature extremes. I have to know the real length of the year on a planet that distance from Sirius, to see how far I have to make them walk.

The exiles have to proceed southward for most of a half a year, rest for a few weeks, then turn north again, forever. It provides all kinds of plot possibilities, but I owe it to the reader to get my figures straight.

Sirius is a double star, and that other star provides complications I can only approximate. Since I began seriously contemplating returning to Dreamsinger, I came to realize that the perihelion of Sirius B would, on some orbits, coincide with Stormking’s position on its orbit in a way that would cause a superheated event. Big trouble for the exiles; great opportunities for the puppet master. (That would be me.) I can’t calculate how often this will happen or how severe it will be, given my skills, so that will be a hole in my accuracy.

I moved the orbit of Stormking out to the 75% luminosity distance of 828 million kilometers to make my exiles slightly more likely to survive, and calculated the year length (in Earth days) from that, using formulae I don’t totally understand, and came up with 4493 Earth days. That is fairly close to my ballpark estimate of 4335, which is Jupiter’s year in Earth days.

Why do all this? Partly it is because you have to consider your audience. If you try to write hard science fiction, set around known stars, a few of your readers will be scientists, and a much larger number will be people who wanted to be scientists, or at least love science. You have an obligation to them not to do something dumb.

Actually, a lot of science fiction writers are scientists or engineers, and can easily do the math I struggle with. I admire them, but I don’t feel inferior to them. I got here by a different route and I know things they don’t know. In all likelihood, you know things I don’t know. It all comes out even in the end, or at least even enough that we can all share the same fraternity of people who enjoy science fiction.

Careful world building is a rule of the game. You wouldn’t play chess with two white queens. You wouldn’t write a western where Wyatt Earp carries a luger instead of a Buntline special. You might, however, give Earp a luger if you were writing steampunk. Different games, different rules. If you take the science out of hard science fiction, all you have left is . . . basically nothing.

Nevertheless, there are limits. I am not good enough at calculating orbits to know for certain what Sirius B would do to my scenario, but I know what has to happen in the story, and by God that’s what is going to happen, no matter what physics says. You have to draw the line somewhere.

Now it you will excuse me, I have three other planets to calculate, so my people can follow reasonable orbits traveling between them. I wouldn’t want to embarrass myself.

You know, sometimes I do miss warp drive. Punch a button, and there you are at Vulcan. It would be so easy.

641. The Synapse Emerges 2

This concludes the post begun Monday.

The Cyan sequel, unnamed, has remained in the upper left corner of my brain all the time that I’ve been writing Dreamsinger. Dreamsinger is not a sequel to Cyan; it is sideways, starting at the same point and diverging into an empty corner of the Cyan/Jandrax universe.

Today (I’m writing both parts of this post on October 5, 2019) everything fell together. Hang on, this get’s complicated.

Humans have colonized the space around Sirius. The main population center is Home Station, in orbit of Stormking, a basically uninhabitable planet. Directed dreaming is used to keep the population happy and easy to control. (See 621 and 622.)

Okay, good enough, but how does this directed dreaming work? How can you create and store a dream, then implant it into a living brain? What technologies are involved, and how much do I have to tell the reader? I will certainly tell less than I know, but I have to have it well in hand to tell the story effectively.

REM sleep was discovered in 1953 and sleep studies were in all the science magazines I was reading through high school. Consequently, I already know more than people who came onto the scene after it had faded from prominence. Still, research is a writer’s best friend so I went to the local library, sorted through the books on dreams and dreaming, and dumped the ones which were astrology, self-help and wishful thinking.

In one book there was reference to a researcher sending visual images to a dreaming colleague. (See Our Dreaming Mind by Robert Van de Castle, pp. xxii and xxiii.) It seemed legitimate, and not believing anything is as futile as believing everything. Besides, I don’t have a Ph.D. reputation to uphold, so I decided to go with it. Now I have to explain it. Here’s a bit from the (very) rough draft of Dreamsinger.

     In the misty olden days of the twentieth century, Van de Castle demonstrated that thought images could be projected into a dreaming mind. That tiny bit of knowledge did not fit into the world as it was then understood, and was forgotten for nearly a hundred years. When it was discovered again, it pointed toward revolutionary changes in our understanding of the brain.
     Basil Kendrick demonstrated that events similar to brain to brain transmission seemed to occur continuously within the brain. He theorized that transmissions of information took place not only by synapses, but also by means of what he called K-waves, which were so short as to be undetectable and, incidentally, travelled faster than light.

K-waves, are you kidding? That sounds like something E. E. Smith would have used. Hang with me a while. The idea of telepathy taking place at FTL speeds goes back to Heinlein, and I always liked it. I needed some entrée into FTL, and this seemed like a good way to get it. As for the term K-waves, Kendrick named them after himself in order to get his name into the history books.

The name Kendrick came out of the air, and I was prepared to keep changing names until I found one that didn’t have a (K or B or D or whatever)-wave connected with it in the real world. As it happened, I got lucky on the first try.

I Googled. There are real K-waves, but they refer to long cycles in economics. I could ignore them. However, there is also a K-complex, so I checked that out.

Without getting into things that are above my pay grade, the K-complex is an EEG waveform associated with memory consolidation, which occurs during a non-dreaming stage of sleep. K-waves (imaginary) and the K-complex (real) are unrelated, but they won’t be when I get through writing Dreamsinger.

Now picture an old writer jumping for joy, just not as high. Things are coming together, or at least close enough to use.

They used to say, “Close only counts in horseshoes and hand grenades”. I would add, “. . . and in writing science fiction”. It is fiction, after all, and you have to at least go beyond our present knowledge, probably in a direction future reality will not support. I work hard at world building, but I’m not obsessive about it. (Reading these two posts, you might disagree.)

My Kendrick, on Earth just before colonists departed for Cyan and for Sirius, stirred up controversy with his theories and then the nukes came down. All his studies were in the massive databanks of the computers that went to Sirius and to Cyan. Under Sirius, they led to directed dreaming. On Cyan . . .?

Suddenly, I have a way of connecting the unconnected all over the place.

I already know that Louis Dumezil, who will later write the Monomythos, and “Frank”, who will invent the FTL drive, have met while waiting to go on the new Darwin expedition. Now I simply add one conversation. In a bull session during training Dumezil will tell “Frank” about K-waves, and their purported FTL speed. He will know this because his father (the religious fanatic, remember?) was a nut on telepathy. Dumezil will also tell his life story, which includes the white powder on the blue berries that lead to a psychedelic experience. (I wrote all this a couple of months ago in a short piece called Children of the Hollow Hills, which you haven’t seen.)

When “Frank” gets washed out of the trip on the Darwin by Debra and Beryl’s new research, he sets out to study the supposed connection of telepathy with FTL, but there are no known telepaths on Cyan. However, he finds the remnant of the cult Dumezil escaped, who are still sucking fungus powdered berries and talking mind to mind.

“Frank’s” study of telepathy, using the cultists as subjects, proves the FTL nature of K-waves. He also discovers K-waves are the actual carriers of all information inside the brain, as Kendrick suggested. The previously measured energies of the synapses are only a side effect, a sort of down-cycle echo of the true energies. “Frank” renames the K-waves as Synapse waves, and goes on to invent the FTL drive I used in Jandrax, and which will allow him to go exploring after all, bad genes notwithstanding.

He names it The Synapse, which I knew he had to because that was what I called it back in 1976.

Don’t you  love it when everything falls together?

Was intuition at play here? Maybe. Foreknowledge? Don’t be ridiculous. I think it was pure, dumb luck, augmented by self-training in grabbing anything good as it floats by, and letting nothing escape that might further the cause.

640. The Synapse Emerges 1

Life is weird, and strange things happen. It is almost enough to make you believe in a master plan, although it remains questionable whether that would be divine or diabolical. In any case, if there is a plan, it’s a hoot.

I’m going to tell you a story that began in January of 1976 and came full circle on October fifth, about a month ago. I have to warn you though, only old writers, new writers, or wannabe writers are likely to be be interested.

But really, who among you hasn’t either built a world, or wanted to?

In the fall of 1975, I sat down to prove or disprove my ability to churn out 40,000 to 50,000 words and call it a novel. By Christmas I had succeeded, although it wasn’t good enough to publish. Right after New Years, I set out to write a “real” novel, science fiction, with world building and everything. It was to be a lost colony book, so I had to get my people stranded, and that meant inventing an FTL drive. I took all of five minutes to do it.

     A sphere floating in space, silver against a backdrop of stars.
     The stars shift their colors, doppler down, out. The sphere hangs alone in darkness where here and there are concepts yet unborn. Six antennae project; it is not so much moved as displaced. First it is here, then it is there, but it never crosses the space between here and there . . . Synapse drive can cross the galaxy in a heartbeat.

from Jandrax

All done. I blew things up and left my people who-knew-where, and I didn’t have to think about that star drive again.

Synapse? It was just a word that came to mind, with no real connection to brain cells except that it seemed to imply something, without specifying what.

Beware of what you create, Dr. Frankenstein.

I wrote the novel Jandrax, and it was published. Picture a young author leaping with joy.

A few years later I started Cyan and had to invent a non-FTL star drive. (For more, check out the post coming November 20.) This time I put some thought into it so that it had some reasonable underpinnings. Lots of years passed and eventually Cyan was published, but I wasn’t through. I now had a world full of people I really liked, and some of them were young enough to continue exploring on the decrepit old starship Darwin.

The trouble was, I’d blown up the Earth, and I couldn’t count on it to recover for a long while. Someone had to write the Monomythos which had driven/would drive the plot in Jandrax, and someone had to invent the Synapse. I had to find them hidden among the population of Cyan, and I had to find motivations for both of them to do what I knew they had to do.

Writing prequels is like doing a time travel paradox story. He invented this, because he had to, because he used it on page 92 of a previously published book, that takes place in the new book’s future. See, time travel.

There was no problem with the Monomythos. I decided to have its writer be a rational young man who had grown up under the influence of a religious fanatic, either his father or a father figure. That’s right up my alley and the writing of it has been dribbling along recently on days when other writing is stalled.

In fact, the whole sequel to Cyan has been dribbling along in lots of pages of notes-to-self. Darwin is too old to push to previous accelerations, so the next journey will need cold sleep. No problem, there are 60,000 cold sleep units left over from Cyan’s colonization.

But that brings up something else.

I don’t know about you, but loose ends keep rolling around in my head long after I’ve moved on to other books. In Cyan, between 10 and 20 percent of the cold sleepers never woke up. Their bodies were fine, there was just nobody home. I had created that as an unexplained fact, but ever since then I’ve been wondering why things should work out that way. I decided to let Debra and Beryl figure it out in the sequel.

If you don’t know who Debra and Beryl are, for God’s sake go buy a copy of Cyan and read it. (LINK)

Using the computer’s file of DNA patterns from the 60,000 who set out from Earth, Debra and Beryl discover that a certain cluster of seemingly unrelated genes is present in all who died, and absent from all who lived. Further research is indicated, but it provides an absolute predictor of who will die in cold sleep.

One of the people (still unnamed, let’s just call him Frank for now) who is ready to depart on the new exploration finds that he has the deadly gene cluster and can’t go. When the Darwin departs without him, he is motivated to find an answer to faster than light travel.

All of this was worked out during the last six months, well before yesterday’s epiphany.

I’m only half way through this odd tale, and this post is already long enough, so I’ll to finish on Wednesday.

624. Jandrax Meets Trenco

When I occasionally borrow, I take from the best. Tidac Wyrd s’Marquart got the s’ in his name from Andre Norton’s Star Gate. That is a classic novel unrelated to the movie or the TV series. The Marquart part, his fathername, did not come from Shrek; I wrote Valley of the Menhir years before Shrek came along. I picked up the notion of “avert” while I was visiting Earthsea.

When I decided to make Stormking fit its name, I was looking straight at my memories of Trenco. Actually, I hinted at that four posts back when I called Stormking “a place of Trenconian extremes”.

Trenco is a planet where the liquid isn’t quite water, and it rains 47 feet every night. Yes, I said feet. The entire ecosystem is made up a creatures who must be born, grow, procreate, and die in one planetary day. Their offspring will do the same tomorrow, and it gets mighty fierce. If you want the real scoop, read chapter 10 of E. E. Smith’s Galactic Patrol.

Dreamsinger has the same underlying theme as Jandrax, the oasis and the desert. In Jandrax most of a group of stranded colonists choose to stay in a fortified village while the remainder become wanderers, following the melt, a moving band of springtime. The wanderers life is crude, but they manage to squeeze freedom and joy out of it.

In Dreamsinger, the oasis is the buttoned-down Home Station in orbit, reasonably pleasant, but dull and lacking in freedom. The desert is the planet Stormking where a Uranian tilt turns the exiles there into perpetual wanderers simply to survive.

Back in 2015, when Cyan was due for publication, I pulled up my notes for Dreamsinger and wrote a few thousand words. Now that I am fully engaged in completing the novel, I found that writing again, and discovered a forgotten prolog.

Gaugi, a young girl exile, is speaking, telling a small part of her story before things shift to Antrim’s viewpoint. It is unlikely that this bit — or Gaugi — will end up in the final novel, but it gives a quick peek at the hardships the exiles endure.

The wind was fierce, but the wind was always fierce. So am I so it doesn’t matter, but it was making it hard to see and that can be dangerous. Deadly. The kamrak rose up before any of us had a chance to be ready for it, or to get out of its way, dripping acid, teeth and fangs ready. We scattered like quail — whatever quail are. They always scatter in all the Earthstories, so we scattered like quail.

Mazie didn’t make it. She almost did, but she didn’t. She fell down, tripped over a tilticle just before she got far enough away that the kamrak wouldn’t reach her, and then it had her. I saw it. I stayed to watch. She didn’t die all at once. That was the worst part. It was the acid that got her. The kamrak had her clawed so he didn’t bother to use his fangs. She lived longer than she needed to, longer than she should have, longer that I wanted her to. And I watched. I didn’t want to, but Ma told me early to watch everything, to always learn what I could. It might keep me alive and it might make my life better. I don’t know how watching the kamrak dissolve Mazie, screaming all the time would make my life better, but I learned more about how a kamrak feeds and someday that may let me escape like Mazie didn’t. I don’t know. Ma said learn everything, but watching Mazie die like that wasn’t something I really wanted to learn.

In that same packet from 2015, there was this description given to Antrim just before he joins the downsiders, by a pilot who knew them well.

Antrim, these people are smarter than you are, tougher than you are, and there is no softness in them. We’ve been dumping exiles onto Stormking for a generation. The dumb ones died immediately; the smart ones survived and had smart children. Those children have spent their lives surviving a harsher environment than you can imagine, no matter how hard you’ve trained. If you underrate them, you’re dead.

Sounds like studying the exiles might be interesting — if Antrim survives.

621. Dream Culture

For the last month or so I have been fleshing out one corner of a universe that I began writing about decades ago. My first SF novel was Jandrax, a lost colony story. Cyan came later, filling in the backstory of that same universe. Dreamsinger, which I am writing now, continues the process.

If you have read my novel Cyan, you will remember that when Keir visited the asteroid belt to view the B&A coreship, he discovered that the beltmen were secretly preparing an expedition of their own. They feared the impending destruction of Earth, but had no interest in colonizing a new planet. They had come to prefer life in space.

In the Cyan and Jandrax universe, the exploratory expedition to the Sirian system had found that the planet occupying the Goldilocks position — the distance from Sirius with the same level of radiation as Earth — was taken by a planet with a Uranian inclination. That is, it was tilted onto its back like a sad tortoise, with first one pole and then the other pointed toward it’s star as it moved through its orbit.

With no habitable planet, it was likely that Sirius would never again be visited by man. This made it an ideal destination for the beltmen who wanted to live in space without interference from planetbounds.

When the Procyon colonization expedition departed for Cyan, the beltmen were nearly ready to leave for Sirius. Keir’s last message was of farewell and good luck to them.

The beltmen had to build their craft in secret with minimal resources. It was a crowded, spinning torus which held 2000 refugees from impending disaster. Under-funded and under-powered, it would take an eighty-seven year journey to reach Sirius, and a generation would die in transit.

During that long, slow, crowded journey, civility became essential to survival. The refugees evolved a system called directed dreaming.

Once each day, each person entered into a dream like state during which her/his body (not under his/her conscious control) underwent rigorous exercise, followed by dreams tailored to keep them civil.

This is how it all sounds in the rough draft:

The dreamers were hanging, heads encased in sensory deprivation helmets, in ten rows of ten. They had already gone through their exercises, contortions that had stretched and strained every muscle and left them all soaked in sweat. Now they settled into a deep, quiescent, unmoving sleep

It looked like a grotesque mass hanging, but that was an illusion since their weight was just sufficient to keep them from bouncing off the ceiling. Being suspended by their necks at this level of gravity did not even cause discomfort.

Now, one by one, they began to move. An arm shot out here, fingers gripped nothing over there, arms crossed over chests to hold something in, legs shot out to kick some threat away. Each one was now in his own directed dream. Carefully tailored images were fed into their brains and they reacted. Uncivil inhibitions were destroyed; fears were dredged up and alleviated; prejudices were wallowed in until they seemed foolish. Angers were expressed in dreams, so they could be suppressed in waking life.

Dream therapy was every person’s right and obligation. Dream therapy was the key to civility. Dream therapy kept them all sane and happy.

It took less than an hour and a half, and afterward every person was ready to go back to his life. Each one was exercised, refreshed in mind and body, cleansed and cleared of all angers and resentment. There was no more need to waste a third of your life in sleep.

Sleep had never really knitted up the raveled sleeve of care anyway, but directed dreaming did.

You understand that I am setting this up as something that seems like a good idea, but isn’t.

Once the refugees arrived at Sirius, they immediately undertook the building of a larger station to be their new home. Directed dreaming continued to lubricate the wheels of progress, but not everyone agreed with this new way of life. Those who could not conform were exiled to Stormking, which was a place of Trenconian extremes, and a death sentence for most of those transported there.

I had already outlined all of this while I was still writing Cyan. For the last month or so, I have been fleshing it out. We’ll see some of the new thinking on Wednesday.

610. Time and Time Again

I love my jobs, both writing novels and blogging. Every new blog I write opens me up to new knowledge, often arriving in replies from the people who have read them.

Blogger and regular reader Thomas Anderson of Schlock Value replied to last Monday’s post on decimal time. I gave him a quick answer and then went looking for information because he referred to  Swatch Internet Time, and I had never heard of it.

Swatch Internet Time turns out to be a top down system, while the one the colonists of Sirius use is bottom up. No, I’m not talking about oligarchs and the people. Swatch Internet Time took the day and divided it into 1000 parts called beats. The Sirian system takes a second and builds up a system of terms from there. It turns out SIT was all about erasing borders, including time zones, to turn the internet into one endless, borderless day. It was more political (and marketing) than scientific.  After all, no matter what you call a time system, it is still daylight in India when it is night time here in California, and vice versa. Still, it’s a fascinating idea that I had missed out on.

Fascinating, but . . . there was already a universal time called  UTC, or Zulu, or military time, wherein you simply convert your local time to Greenwich Time, while pretending that Greenwich is never on Daylight Savings Time.

Further research showed that decimal time is a notion that has been tried occasionally, starting with the French about the time they adopted the metric system. It has never worked out, probably because we already have a system that works, irrational though it is. Our system won’t work so well once we are on planets with different day lengths and year lengths. It certainly wouldn’t be optimum in non-planetary colonies.

When the issue of decimal time originally came up for me, Swatch Internet Time didn’t exist. The internet didn’t exist either. It was, as nearly as I can calculate, about 1980, as a follow-on to several other things that had occurred in the particular universe I was writing about at the time.

I invented the Standard Year in Jandrax in 1976 with absolutely no thought, and had to flesh it out later in Cyan. It depended on the notion that Muslim countries would eventually refuse to let a Christian calendar stand for all mankind, so goodbye to BC and AD. The solution to that problem, in Cyan, was to reset year zero to October 12, 1492, the day that began the age of discovery which would finally knit the world into a whole. See 25. Columbus, King of Explorers. As part of the restructuring, months and weeks were dropped, and days were identified by the number of days since the beginning of the year, as in the opening words of Cyan:

From the Log of the Starship Darwin, en route to the Procyon system, S.Y. 594, Day 167

Cyan itself had a very long day and year, and it had no seasons. A Cyanian year meant little to the colonists, so people measured their ages by Earth years. The term day came to mean from sunup to sunup, and the human daily cycle of sleep and waking became known as a sleep.

Even these people, born on Earth and newly arrived on Cyan, had to make changes in the terminology of time. The colonists around Sirius would be refugees, fleeing the breakup of Earth after the Cyanian colonists departure, and living in space colonies. They made bigger changes. See last Monday.

These things occur by accretion in the real world, and also in writing. After I wrote last Monday’s post, but before any of you saw it, I had already had to add one more term, det, because my people needed a time unit longer than a dae to use in their everydae (not a misspelling) conversations.

Since then I have also come to realize that I have to also have to be able to put events into a deep framework.

On Earth, we would say something like February 12, 2019. On Cyan they use standard years and days for that, as in the quotation above. I decided that the colonists around Sirius would follow the standard year practice and set a certain dae as zero dae, then count forward. You could say:

Antrim was born on dae 348,278.

That is certainly clumsy for humans, but it is entirely suitable for computers which would be keeping all the records that far into a future world of ships and space stations.

To choose the zero dae, I will have to know how far in the future this story takes place. I haven’t decided yet, but once I figure that out, I’ll know how many daes ago they began to count time in daes.

There you go, simple. Clear as sunshine on a cloudless dae. Except in space, all daes are cloudless.

601. Home Court Advantage

Jandrax was the second novel I wrote, and the first that was published, back in the late seventies. You can still find it in used bookstores everywhere. If you were to read it, you would never know that I wrote it twice.

The first time through, I wrote it in first person. It didn’t work for me. I agonized a bit about what was wrong, then bit the bullet and rewrote it from start to finish in third person.

By the way, this was before computers . No cut and paste, no spell check. Just an electric typewriter and gallons of correction fluid — that thin white paint that came in a small bottle with built in brush, and was a lifesaver for poor typists.

Also, I cheated. Two chapters sounded just fine in first person, so I left them that way. One is a main character reminiscing about his childhood, and the other is another main character, alone in a boat, talking to himself as he undergoes experiences that may or may not be real.

I have written fifteen novels, and only that lost iteration of Jandrax was in first person. I could give you good plot-based reasons for that, but the reality is that I like the distance third person put between the author and the work. That may be a mistake.

Recently, I have been analyzing what makes books readable and re-readable, and that has led me to my favorite SF writers, Heinlein and Zelazny. For all their differences, they share a few authorial traits, including the fact that both are masters of first person.

Each author has a stock character that recurs with variations. For Heinlein, it is complicated by the fact that his stock character often comes as a matched pair. There is an older, seasoned man of the world, cynical, with no apparent respect for authority. He will, nevertheless, hurl himself into danger for his own people while pretending that he is doing it for selfish reasons. He reads like your crazy uncle. The matching character is a young smart-ass in training, studying up to become like the oldster. But don’t accuse him of that. He would punch you in the nose if you did. Or at least, threaten to.

Zelazny didn’t limit himself to one stock character, but he did have one that recurred frequently. He was part way between the halves of the paired Heinlein character. He was young, but fully formed. He had the attitude of a smart-ass college student, an upper class-man who had already learned the ropes. The kind who knew which professors had something worth listening to and which ones were dopes. (There are a lot of dopes in academia.) There was a brightness, a newness, about his attitude. He seemed to take nothing seriously on the surface, but underneath he took everything very seriously. And he expected the reader to see this for themselves.

In the Amber series, Merlin was such a character. Corwin was similar, but older and more damaged by time. His responsibilities had risen to the surface, and he got a lot less enjoyment out of life. Consequently the second half of the Amber series is a lot more fun to read (and re-read) than the first half.

Merlin and his clones, and the Heinlein character whatever gender or age he/she happened to be, are what every American youth pretends to be. And what American oldsters claim they once were.

All these characters speak directly to the reader, but not honestly. They hide their nobility under a guise of selfishness, but they expect the reader to know that it is all a sham. They speak in first person. They say “I”, not “he”, and it works.

One suspects that Heinlein and Zelazny — the actual people — said “I” a lot, too. As Harlan Ellison put it, “The thing every writer has to have is arrogance.” And by any definition, Heinlein and Zelazny were writers.

When a writer chooses first person, she/he is giving him/her-self a tremendous home court advantage. If his character if full of sadness and self-pity, there will be readers to say, “That’s just how I feel.” If his character appears to have no fear, there will be readers who share the same pretense.

If the character is a smart-ass, that’s even better. We all have those cutting remarks we don’t make, in order to keep peace with family and friends. We are all smart-asses under the skin.