Tag Archives: science fiction

651. Beyond the Toyshop Window

It’s classic, the scene of Tiny Tim and his sister looking through the toy shop window while waiting for Bob Cratchit. The world is cold behind them, but inside it a wonderland for children.

You’ll find this in most movie versions of A Christmas Carol. There is even a scene early in Tim Allen’s Santa Clause which is quick homage, with elves hidden among the children. I don’t think that scene ever appeared in the book. I’m not going to swear to it. I’ve read the book many times, and I don’t have time now to prove it to myself, but I’m pretty sure.

The first time I saw that scene in the 1970 movie musical Scrooge, it hit me hard. I wanted to know what else was going on in that toy shop. I wanted to know who ran it, and who made the toys. They couldn’t have been made by the silly proprietor in the movie. Their maker had to have a story to tell — or a story for me to tell.

I was particularly taken by the toy strong man, who eventually appears in critical scenes in Like Clockwork.

So . . . I wanted the builder to be highly intelligent and troubled. I named him Snap early on, with no idea why; then I had to scramble for a reason later in the process. I decided he should be a clock maker; now, why was he making toys instead? He had been cast out, of course, but from where and by whom? I had no idea when I started writing.

I wrote the first chapter and it fell out like water from a tap, including the name of the toy shop, which became the name of the book. Like Clockwork would start out as the story of a toymaker in a clockwork world. It smelled like steampunk, but I found out later that it was a pure time travel story.

At the end of the first chapter Snap turned around and there stood Balfour.

Robert Louis Balfour Stevenson is one of my favorite authors, and Kidnapped, the story of David Balfour, ranks right up there with A Wizard of Earthsea and The Old Man and the Sea as one of my three favorite books. As soon as my Balfour appeared unexpectedly on that London street, I knew that he was an avatar of RLS, but I made sure Balfour himself didn’t know it for quite a while.

Do you want to know where Like Clockwork came from? Other than from an image out of the movie Scrooge, and a lifetime of living, imaginatively, in Dickensian London, the answer is — out of left field. It has been a long time since a book has so completely written itself, chapter by chapter, line by line, with little foreknowledge on my part.

There is an exception to that. The ending came early and largely complete, but filling in the parts between was largely sans outline, sans planning, and sans any kind of reason. That may be part of why I like it so well.

Then Chapter 26, titled 62 – 54 = 9, which was the seventh chapter in my screwed up table of contents, fell out onto the screen. The opening sentence read, “Hemmings was a computer.” I didn’t see him coming at all. I just thought I needed a Babbage to balance the Great Clock. I had no idea how much it and Hemmings were going to take over.

It’s been fun. Throughout the novel there are little pieces of cultural reference and homages, sometimes humorous and almost always hidden. Scrooge himself is almost completely absent, except in feel, until near the end of the novel when he appears briefly in a cameo under an assumed name.


Now that Snap had taken Pakrat with him, and Eve had sent a message that she would be gone today, Pilar was left alone with Lithbeth. She bundled her into a jacket, locked the toy store behind them, and set out to shop. They wandered the streets as if on holiday, talking with the cart vendors, and occasionally buying potatoes or onions. Lithbeth’s eyes were everywhere; she was almost never on the streets in the middle of the day, and things looked different in the strong, filtered light.

Through the grimy windows of an ancient building, Lithbeth saw a small man on a high stool, pen in hand, marking something in a thick ledger. His quick, bright eyes caught her as she passed, and he sent her a smile. She waved back, but then the Ogre came.

He was no larger than the other man, but powerful in his anger. He began to berate the clerk, and Lithbeth turned her face away.

Pilar put a hand on Lithbeth’s shoulder and said, “It’s best not to look into that window. It only makes old Countinghouse treat his clerk even worse than usual.”

“Why does he do that?”

Pilar shook her head. “Some men are like that,” she said. “A master can make his servant’s life a joy or a misery even in small things.”

“Snap would never do that.”

“No, he would not,” Pilar said, and felt a brief moment of peace. Snap would never do that.


Of course, like Scrooge, Countinghouse has to have his come-to-Jesus moment. It comes on almost the last page of the novel.


Dickens stopped dead in the street. The old scarecrow Countinghouse stopped likewise, and cringed at the sight of him, feeling a premonition of things to come.

“Who are you?” Dickens asked, in a voice firm with purpose.

“Countinghouse, not that it’s any of your business.”

“It is my business. Mankind is my business, but you in particular are my business. And you only call yourself Countinghouse because you have forgotten your name.”

“If I have forgotten it, let it remain forgotten.”

“There has been enough of forgetting. It is time to remember. You and I have much business together.”


Poor old codger, people just won’t leave him alone.

649. Sorta Lost, Sorta Not

I started this as a note to myself on November 25, but it morphed into something else.

I have been writing Dreamsinger since July, following my usual foolish technique of jumping in with both feet and stomping around until things start to take shape. I knew the basic outline of the novel, but finding secondary characters to carry it on and portraying the culture without narrative dumps has been a bit difficult.

At this point, Dreamsinger is something of a tangle. There are about 25-30 thousand words of good writing, but things are misarranged (deranged?). It doesn’t properly hang together yet.

Richeal is part of the problem. I know you don’t know who she is, but let that stand; explaining her would force this into two posts, and I’m not ready for that yet.

I have avoided Richeal and pushed her into the background, despite the fact that she is a main character. She could be the big time villain; better still she could be the well-meaning and ruthless seeker after the wrong star, somewhat like Curran. I have finally chosen the latter, and that means I need much more of her, much earlier.

Dreamsinger now begins with the prolog and Antrim’s initial response to a suicide. That much works well. We still need to see and come to value Antrim before anybody else takes the stage, because we will see the story primarily through his eyes. However, Richeal is his primary adversary and should be present and a major force by the very next scene. I will do that, but it will require rearranging the sequence of a dozen smaller scenes.

My underlying error is the failed idea that the culture of the spacebounds is of small interest, and the culture of the planetbounds should be the novel’s main focus. I have been trying to present the spacebounds in as few words as possible in order to get on to the meat of the story. It turns out, that is the wrong way to go about it.

The reason Dreamsinger has gone adrift is the same reason that I’m living in the foothills today.  I hate crowding and I hate cities. I want to get down onto the planet Stormking where I will feel comfortable as quickly as I can. That would make the act of writing more pleasant for me, but the story would suffer.

The hyper-city, Home Station, is the culmination of an escape from Earth and the starting point for everything else. If I want to write this novel, instead of an Andre Norton style struggle in the wilderness, I have to follow its internal reality and suppress my distaste. Otherwise I need to write a different novel.

I have to write about a place I would hate, from the viewpoint of a character who finds it quite normal, and who has no real idea of how artificial it is.

Antrim needs to eventually be able to see the plight of the exiles on Stormking from an understanding and sympathetic viewpoint. To build that character, I have to build the history, culture, and physical layout of Home Station, along with the personalities of those who formed him and those who are trying to turn him into something else. Thirty thousand words hasn’t done it yet, because they aren’t quite the right words. Yet.

Close, but not close enough. Yet.

This all comes down to the author’s experiences and values. I say the author’s experiences instead of my experiences because it is also true of you, you authors and would-be authors out there in the blogosphere reading these words.

Home Station, like the overcrowded Earth in the middle section of Cyan, comes from the nine months I spent on the south side of Chicago. You may live there and love it for all I know, but for me it was a hell of claustrophobic fear, trapped inside a tiny apartment, cut off from the nature that I love, and surrounded by a place where bodies showed up on the streets every night. The University of Chicago itself was a joy; everything else was horrid. I got the MA I went for and couldn’t leave fast enough.

On the other hand I find Stormking relatively easy for me to portray. I grew up in a land of powerful winds, extended droughts, dust, heat, cold, and tornadoes. I worked outside every winter in sub-zero cold and every summer in sweltering, humid heat, all before anyone had air conditioning and central furnaces. I loved it, except sometimes in the worst of winter, and it all seemed perfectly natural.

Now I have to live inside the mind of Antrim, for whom the claustrophobic Home Station seems right and natural, and for whom Stormking will be a near-killing shock to mind and body. I have to create, then live with, someone whose reactions are the complete opposite of my own.

Weird how things work out. Oh well, no one ever said writing would be easy.

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.

645. Lassiter Triumphant

Sometime in the eighties as part of Cyan, I wrote the story of Lassiter, discoverer of Lassiter’s anomaly, destroyer of the final vestiges of Einstein’s version of the universe, and inventor of the space drive that powered all the starships in the novel. He was quite a character, and soooo not a hero that he was fun to write about.

Unfortunately Lassiter’s story took up too much space in a novel that was already verging on excessively complex, so I reduced the explanation of his space drive to 236 words on pages 64 and 65, and left the man himself out altogether.

I had already made this cut long before I retired from teaching and used OCR to get the half-completed paper Cyan manuscript into the computer. Somewhere in the dozens of boxes from the pre-computer half of my career, Lassiter remains. It would be nearly impossible to find him this late in the game.

There are a lot of paragraphs, pages, and chapters like that, irretrievable in the outer world, but still resident in the dust bin of my mind. I enjoy rummaging around there and experiencing them again, even though you can’t see them.

Now that I am writing Dreamsinger, I have a chance to resurrect Lassiter from memory, and this is the attempt. If things go well, I will finally be able to commit him to print within the novel. If not, at least you get to meet him here.


Lassiter was a funny looking guy who loved women, and had more success with them than you would have thought possible. He had a big nose, big ears and a receding hairline. He was five feet eight and skinny, but he had a big personality.

His pursuit of women was not predatory, but he always wanted more. As soon as he had enticed one woman into his bed, he was ready to look for another.

Lassiter was also a fine engineer, and in his work he was as steady as he was unsteady with women.

If he had been less of an engineer, he would never have been able to develop a whole new way of looking at the universe. If he had been less horny, he would never have worked as hard at chasing fame.

#          #          #

Lassiter collaborated with an established ghost writer to produce his biography, which they called A Man of Gravity. It was not humility that kept him from writing it himself. Lassiter had no humility. It’s just easier to get away with bragging if you say “He did this . . .” instead of saying “I did this . . .”. For example:

Lassiter was fuming when he barged into Linda Volstone’s office. She was the vice-administrator of the Lunaire Pile, the Morris reactor which provided power for the entire Lunar colony. Lassiter was the senior engineer at the project, and he was a frustrated man.

“Lin,” he said, “you’ve got to do something about Dahlgreth.”

Volstone was slender with night-black hair. She had shared Lassiter’s bed two — no three — women ago, and she still had a weakness for him. She said, “What is Dogbreath up to now?”

Dahlgreth was not a popular administrator.

Lassiter said, “He still won’t let me publish.”

from A Man of Gravity, page 27

In fact, it is doubtful that this exchange ever took place. The real story was about a diligent engineer who discovered an overage in the power output of his reactor, and could not explain it. It was only a fraction of a percent, but it haunted him. It was real; it should not have been there; there were no errors in his instruments nor in his calculations. Something was happening that Einstein’s equations could not account for.

After a much research, he concluded that reduced gravity was the reason. Nothing in any theory supported him, and he was all but laughed out of physics, but the fact remained that no reactor on Earth showed the overage, but Lunaire did and the Chinese reactor on the back side of the moon did.

He published his findings and ran into a wall of opposition. Einstein had been under siege for more than three decades — but by theoretical physicists, not by some upstart engineer who had a few facts and a theory, but did not have fifty pages of unreadable mathematics to back him up.

A lesser man would have crumbled. So would a greater man, but Lassiter was motivated by something normal physicists would not have understood. He wanted fame. More than that, he wanted to be so rich and famous (and the rich part was extremely important) that women all over the world would throw themselves at his feet.

His biography did not say this, but everyone who really knew him understood.

He made himself famous by casting himself as the little guy that the establishment was afraid of. He built a brash persona, and then grew into it. He became the relentless voice of simple reason.

He gave interviews. He wrote op-eds. He was a favorite guest on talk shows. Everywhere he appeared he had the same message: the overage is there, lesser gravity is the only thing different, let’s outfit a probe and settle the matter.

The probe Dirac settled the matter. As it moved outward from the Sun, the output of its mini-pile grew. Measurements were made, conclusions were reached. It turned out that a larger portion of the reactor’s fuel was being turned into energy the further the probe moved outward from the Sun’s gravity. Somewhere beyond Uranus, the probe’s reactor could no longer handle the overage and it exploded. The nuclear fireball continued until every atom of the probe was consumed.

Once the metaphorical smoke cleared, it became apparent that anyone who could initiate a reaction beyond thirty-seven light minutes from the Sun would have a self-sustaining nuclear torch that would eat ice, asteroids, cosmic dust — anything.

Gravity was the only thing holding matter together. No one could explain why, but there it was. Start a hot enough fire, far enough from the sun, and Lassiter’s anomaly would bring about the total annihilation of matter.

It would provide a stardrive; not FTL, but good enough to allow starships to visit nearby stars. That brought enough fame to satisfy even Lassiter. And enough money. And enough women.

For the rest of his life, Lassiter basked in his accomplishment. Money poured in. Women adored him, or at least adored his money and fame. By the time he was ninety-seven, and still hanging on to life with apparent gusto, he was the second most famous man on Earth and the second richest, both following Saloman Curran.

When the nukes came down, his story ended with billions of other stories, but during his lifetime he lived driven by his gonads and never paid a price for it.


When I was young, probably in high school, I ran across the following observation:

If a race of intelligent beings evolved at the bottom of a sea of mercury, they would be unable to discover electricity because every build-up of charge would be immediately dissipated.

I don’t remember who said that, or what book I found it in. Actually, I have mentioned this before, and asked if anyone knows where it came from. Do you know? I’m still listening.

That observation stuck with me and is the basis for Lassiter’s anomaly. What used to be called weightlessness and is now called micro-gravity is not the absence of gravity, but a balancing act within a gravity well. When we reach the empty spaces between the stars, what will we find there that has always been masked by the gravity that defines our perceptions?

Lassiter’s anomaly? I doubt it, but who knows?

644. Annotated Nostalgia

A few mementos from a well
misspent childhood.

Here is your Christmas list for any young people in your life, assuming that you want to help them to move beyond Star Wars. This also assumes that they can get past the anachronisms that are inevitable in books which are about the future, but were written decades ago.

Some of these are great; others are painful to read if you have adult literary sensibilities, but won’t necessarily be painful for kids.

It is nearly certain that some modern kids will find these intolerably restricted to reality. It’s your call. I’m just providing the list I promised in post 642. And since a simple list would be useless, I am adding annotations.

Tom Swift — Various characters named Tom Swift have been around in multiple incarnations, so let’s sort out their checkered history.

From 1910 through 1941, TS the original made inventions and had adventures that are basically unreadable today. If you want to see for yourself, try kindle.

From 1954 through 1971, Tom Swift Jr., the original TS’s son, did the same thing. These are the ones you are most likely to see. They were my bread and butter before I discovered libraries, but now I find them painful to read, although the inventions themselves are still great.

From 1981 onward, there were fourth, fifth and sixth series, about which I know almost nothing.

Tom Corbett — Tom Corbett Space Cadet never came to the hobby shop where I bought my early books, but I got a copy just a few years ago to give it a try. I couldn’t summon the energy to get very far without the added impetus of nostalgia, but it seemed better written than TS, and the protagonists actually got out into space. You see them occasionally in used book stores. There is an additional tidbit below.

Rip Foster — This is a single book with multiple names and is a forgotten gem. None of the other books on this list come close to its quality. See A Forgotten Classic, which also has details on where to get it.

The Heinlein Juveniles — Between 1947 and 1958 Heinlein wrote a dozen novels which were marketed as juveniles. I read the last ten. They are almost universally praised as the best in SF juveniles; I concur in that judgement. See 311. Boys at Work: Starman Jones.

Here is a double tidbit of trivia. The success of Heinlein’s juvenile Space Cadet helped Joseph Greene turn an unpublished radio script into the Tom Corbett Space Cadet series. Greene also later wrote the Dig Allen series, below.

Bullard of the Space Patrol — Copies of this book have been rare. I bought mine during the fifties at a stationary store that also sold a few odd books, but lost it over the years. Once I was an adult, I tried to find a replacement. After ten years I saw one copy in an antique store for a price I couldn’t afford, and ten years after that I found the copy I have now. In terms of quality, BotSP is second only to Rip Foster and ranks above the Heinleins. Although you are unlikely to see a copy in your local used bookstore, you can buy it used or on Kindle at Amazon. Finding lost treasures is much easier in the age of internet.

It isn’t technically a juvenile because of its adult protagonist, but I thought of it as one when I was young. I plan to write a full post on Bullard some time in the future.

Dig Allen — This series of six novels was published between 1959 and 1962. They are well written and well thought out, and I loved them as a kid. However you have to be prepared to accept that the heroes are going to find intelligent life everywhere in our solar system. Check at the very bottom of this post for more information.

Mike Mars — File these under blatant exploitation, but they were still a lot of fun. Published between 1961 and 1964, these books parallel the early manned space program. The premise is that there was a program called Quicksilver, using very young pilots, which did what Mercury did, but sooner and in secret. Anyone who thinks Area 51 houses dead aliens would have to love that.

Veteran SF writer Donald A. Wollheim was hired to knock these out (the first four came out in one year). They have something in common with Tom Swift Jr. in that half of each book is about the mission at hand and half is about chasing saboteurs and other baddies. Book five was my favorite because Mike got to fly the Dyna-Soar just before the real craft was cancelled.

Rocket Man and Starship through Space — If you find either of these, count yourself lucky. I read them in my high school library and have never seen another copy, despite decades of looking. They were written by G. Harry Stein under the pseudonym Lee Correy. They count as two of my all time favorites, despite the brainless ending of STS. See 194. Boys at Work: Lee Correy.

Rick Brant — I lived on Rick Brant when I was young, but it was a series based on then-contemporary cutting edge science, not SF of the future. As a consequence, it is extremely dated. As much as I would love to, I can’t recommend it for most modern kids, and their granddads already know about it. The Rick Brant series and the Rip Foster book were both written by Harold Goodwin under different pseudonyms.


If you are looking at this post for your own nostalgic reasons, I suggest that you drop in on this Tom Swift info site and wander around. There you will also find a link to a sub-site on Dig Allen. I would go there at once as it may disappear. It doesn’t seem to be current and parts of it are already inaccessible, but it is a treasure trove.

642. The Green Fields of Mars

European Space Agency

First a note on timing. My normal Wednesday post will be pushed forward to Thursday to coincide with the fiftieth anniversary of Apollo 12.

I was a bright kid in a very small school, so sometimes they cut me some slack. In 1964 I was allowed to take both junior and senior English because there wasn’t much left for me to take, and they knew I was such a nerd that all I would do with this unexpected freedom was study harder.

As a result, I took senior English a second time the following year, not because I needed it, but because what else were they going to do with me? That was the year I wrote a long paper on “The Probability of Life on Mars”, based on such things as the advancing and retreating color changes during the Martian year. The scientists speculated on tough, low growing plants; I suggested tall grasses, because the changes persisted despite all those dust storms.

Life was good.

Then NASA sent out all those probes and took all the fun out of the solar system. Suddenly Venus was not a swamp where dinosaurs might lurk and if you wanted to dream of running your feet through alien grasses you had to go on out to planets around other stars.

Now exoplanet research is taking away the nearby stars from the realm of the imagination, and dropping them one by one into the crucible of reality. A pox on all your probes!

There is a reason for this rush of nostalgia. I love science fiction and I have been writing it for decades, but nothing has given me half as much pleasure as the books about space exploration I read when I was young. The good ones, that is. I’m going to provide an annotated list on November 18. It will be too long to append to this post, and the post between will be taken up by the fiftieth anniversary of Apollo 12.

For years now, I’ve wanted to write some new space exploration juveniles/YAs, and I have worked out a few possible plots, but nothing seems to work for me. I also don’t see any good ones coming from anyone else. If you know of any, let me know.

I do see a lot of nostalgia. One fellow is writing a series of reimagined Tom Swifts, disguised as fan fiction for legal reasons. I won’t name him in hopes that he will continue to fly under the radar. I tried one and they aren’t bad.

George R. R. Martin and Gardner Dozios have produced a pair of anthologies of new stories in the old style called Old Mars and Old Venus. John Michael Greer and Zendexor have a similar anthology called Vintage Worlds. I won’t be reading them since I have long since lost my taste for short stories, but I don’t see anything similar in juveniles — except for the one mentioned above which the courts may remove any moment.

Anyway, nostalgia isn’t the path to take. Today’s kids aren’t yesterday’s kids, and nostalgia is for my generation. What we need is juvenile/YA space exploration literature as good as the best of the old, but modern in outlook.

In one sense, it is remarkable that we don’t have a hundred good space exploration juveniles each year. Even the best imaginations of the past could not begin to equal what NASA has actually discovered in the last decades.

Perhaps the best thing to do is evaluate what worked then, that doesn’t seem to work now. These are the things which come to mind.

Most of the older books I loved were written before space exploration was a reality; only a few were written as things were happening. The death of exploration in 1972 has to be part of the problem, since the space shuttle and ISS were basically just politics, not exploration, IMHO.

All of the young protagonists in those old books wanted to become adults in a futuristic world. The need to become an adult — or at least get out from under the thumb of adults — hasn’t gone away, but the futuristic world doesn’t seem as accessible or as exciting as it once did. Dystopia rules the day, but that won’t last. It never does.

Education isn’t helping. Kids now put together robot kits that are no more individualistic than their soda and vinegar volcanoes used to be. What joy is there in that? Robots used to be laughed at, but kids still made them out of cardboard boxes and goldfish bowls. Now they are prepackaged and shoved down kid’s throats in middle school.

In the old stories, there was intelligent life everywhere in the solar system, and it seemed like those young people couldn’t step out of their ships without finding a new or lost race. Now there may be bacteria under a dozen miles of ice.

The old spaceships worked. They got places quickly. They didn’t have to put up with the utter stupidity of trying to explore the solar system in craft depending on burning gasses, essentially no different chemically from your kitchen stove. See post 402. Nuclear Spacecraft.

I’m sure that someone is going to solve this conundrum and there will be good new space exploration juveniles/YAs for another generation. I’m equally sure that they won’t be written by old fogeys. The people who will write them are in their teens and twenties now, and I hope they hurry, because I want to read them.


My, my, how strange is life. I finished writing this post late afternoon of Oct. 7th. When I turned my computer on the following morning, the new EDGE newsletter was in the inbox. (EDGE published Cyan.) They were advertising a new book, The Rosetta Man by Claire McCague. It appeared to be a juvenile/YA. At least one of the quoted reviews said it had a “well crafted story, amazing hero’s and not one ‘bad’ word or adult activity!”

So I bought it and started in. It isn’t a juvenile/YA because the protagonist is an adult. That is a critical point that was simply assumed in the post above. It is good clean fun; it reminded me in that way of Michael Tierney’s To Rule the Sky. Either of these would be great for kids, but they aren’t juveniles. Perhaps we need a new category. Let’s call it IETCNHAAA, which stands for Innocent Enough to Cause No Heart Attacks Among Adults.

Then again, maybe not.

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.