Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Dead Waters is out!


Today is the day to dive in! Dead Waters by Anton Strout is out. These books are hilarious, kind of Jim Butcher Lite. Who wouldn't want to work for the DEA? Not the drug enforcement agency, silly the Department of Extraordinary Affairs. They put the "fun" in underfunded.

I've really enjoyed the Simon Canderous books and Dead Waters is a good one to start with.

In my final analysis, I think Strout is made of funny juice.

Paul Genesse
Author of Revenge of the Little Match Girl
in Terribly Twisted Tales from DAW Books

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Plotstorming From Character

Plotstorming from Character

Notes for my presentation at Life, The Universe, and Everything 2011

I gave a 50 minute presentation at LTUE at BYU on creating plots from the creation of a character. It was standing room only and I think it went extremely well. Below you’ll find my notes and such. These don’t do great justice to the presentation, but they help a little.

Plotstorming from Character: In some cases the plot of a book drives the characters. However, characters that instead drive the plot can make for a more compelling story. We’ll focus on how to grow your plot from your main character.

Characters are the most important element in fiction. We don’t remember the plots of our favorite novels that well, but we remember the characters.

Writers who are good at plot write good books. Writers who are good at characterization have great careers.

Read Mike Stackpoles books and his “Secrets” newsletters.
Kij Johnson is an amazing teacher as well.

Read James N. Frey’s book, How to Write A Damn Good Novel. He discusses character a lot and how characters are not Homo Sapiens, but are Homo Fictus.
Not quite real, but more exaggerated in some way.

When writing a story or novel, start with a character.

Specifically, start with a name. Use phone books, baby name books, online resources, or my favorite book, People’s Names by Holly Ingram.

Then think of three special/positive things about your character.
Now think of three negative things about your character.
This step alone with create a lot of plot.

{Here’s a quick summary of what we discussed)
Our character, Olivia (Livey) is six years old, but she’s a genius, a musical prodigy who plays the guitar and many instruments. She’s in 4th grade, and the 10 year olds (4 years older than her) pick on her a lot and she has no friends. She is also not great at social interactions, but her master plan is to take over the class—her father suggested that she seek out the biggest kid in the class and beat them up. This will allow her to take over. Of course it goes badly and the biggest kid breaks her hand—with Livey’s guitar! (Also, Livey may be allergic to magic). Also, her mom, tells her to buck up and not worry about being picked on. No support from Mom and a stupid dad!

The goal is to beat the crap out of your character through the story, mercilessly. And then do it again. And again. Create empathy. Give them a big problem.

Write a bio from the characters point of view in their voice. Lie. Hide the scary things they can’t face. But at the bottom, write the truth.

Make a bible for each main character. Physical stats, history, age, family information and whatever else you can think of.

Remember, strong characters make decisions. They move the story and are not leaves in the wind. They decide where to go and what to do, and their decisions cause terrible things to happen to them, or cause other problems to be created.

To help figure out who your character really is figure out their true personality by using the 4 Temperaments and the Myers-Briggs personality test. Go to www.keirsey.com to learn more. The four are: Guardian, Artisan, Idealist, Rational.

(AJ Budrys, Scott Meredith)
Seven-element story structure:

1. Character in a
2. Context with a
3. Conflict
4. Tries to solve,
5. but fails until it reaches a (escalating cycle, until things are as bad as they can possibly be)
6. Climax, when she succeeds or fails
7. Resolves, (dénouement or validation)

The three basic stories of James Gunn, Robert Heinlein, and others:
1. Boy Meets Girl (Romeo and Juliet)
2. The Man Who Learned Better (Gran Turino)
3. The Clever Little Tailor (Indiana Jones)

Six Fundamental Conflicts of Aristotle:
1. Man against man
2. Man against nature
3. Man against himself
4. Man against society
5. Man against god
6. Man against machine

Six fundamental story types of Damon Knight
1. The story of resolution (the hero has a problem and solves it)
2. The story of revelation (something hidden is revealed)
3. The trick ending story (surprising twist)
4. The story of decision (ends in a decision, not necessarily action
5. The story of explanation (explains a mystery)
6. The story of solution (solves a puzzle)

Fantasy and Science Fiction Plot Types per James Gunn
1. Far traveling
2. The wonders of science
3. Humanity/the individual and the machine
4. Progress
5. The individual and society
6. Humanity/the individual
7. War
8. Cataclysm
9. Humanity/the individual and the environment
10. Superpowers
11. Superman/superwoman
12. Humanity/the individual and the alien
13. Humanity/the individual and religion spirituality
14. Miscellaneous glimpses of the future and past

1. Far traveling
2. The quest
3. Strange powers
4. People and the powerful/omnipotent other
5. People and or animals
6. People and magic (or other unscientific sciences)
7. The individual and society
8. Wonders we can touch
9. Good vs. Evil
10. Balance
11. Questioning reality

Friday, February 18, 2011

Time Travel, Parallel Universes, and Quantum Physics


I suggested an interesting panel for LTUE 2011, Time Travel, Parallel Universes, and Quantum Physics. I did the panel once before at Gen Con Indy in 2010 and before that I ended up contacting a very brilliant and educated friend of mine, Dave Myers and asking him to give me his take on the subject of quantum physics. Below you'll find Dave's fascinating email, plus the panel description and some notes.

Gen Con Indy Writers Symposium Panel on August 5, 2010 at 11:00 AM at the Hyatt Hotel

Time Travel, Parallel Universes, and Quantum Physics: In a parallel universe somewhere, you've already attended this session and know all about how wave theory, super-strings, quantum entanglement, and things like noetics bear on frequent sci-fi concepts like time travel and mirror Earths, but since you're not in that universe and the handy Gen Con map doesn't show you how to get to it, you might want to attend this panel and get some insight into actual physics . . . or just enough gobbledy-gook to make your next story sound credible even though it’s quite fantastic. Remember, in some universe, you are bound to be a well-known, well-paid, best-selling author, adored by fans, critics, and even your mother-in-law. Why not make this universe be that universe?

Interesting quotes:

Science does not know its debt to imagination. ~Ralph Waldo Emerson

The saddest aspect of life right now is that science gathers knowledge faster than society gathers wisdom. ~Isaac Asimov There is something fascinating about science. One gets such wholesale returns of conjecture out of such a trifling investment of fact. ~Mark Twain As far as the laws of mathematics refer to reality, they are not certain, and as far as they are certain, they do not refer to reality. ~ Albert Einstein -

Notes from Dave Myers:

Quantum Mechanics are used along the same lines as Magic is in the realms of Fantasy. They are presented with broad hazy strokes of overlapping colors. This prevents the reader from focusing too closely on any particular concept and therefore uncovering the shallow depths to which the author actually comprehends the concepts. While this may seem harsh I should state that Quantum Mechanics are such a difficult concept to grasp in their entirety that there are only a dozen people in the last century that are credited with major discoveries in the field. I spent close to two years studying a Quantum Mechanics curriculum written by one of the most prestigious technical colleges in the world and I would consider myself a neophyte at best. Before delving too deeply into Quantum Mechanics I would recommend that the student already have a firm grasp of Calculus, Classic Mechanics and be able to comfortably apply Schrödinger’s Equation to various wavefunction calculations. However, for use as an author I think far less knowledge is required to accurately portray the concepts embraced so haphazardly in modern Science Fiction. Below I will outline some of the common themes and explain how they mesh with modern scientific theory. Important concepts to consider with close to and faster than light travel: Kinetic energy and its affect on bodies travelling at the speed of light: A spec of meteorite, weighing 1 gram travelling at the speed of light would have the same kinetic energy as a bomb over 10 times the size of the First nuclear weapon ever detonated here on Earth. Now consider the mass of a spaceship travelling at the speed of light. Were it to impact a planet it could conceivably do enough damage to end all life and alter the planets axis or orbit. The common description of safety for travelling at this speed is a deflector shield; but the energy required to deflect a 1 kg piece of space junk while travelling the speed of light is > 100 times the power output of every Civilian Nuclear reactor operating in the world today. Now this is a simplification since to convert kinetic energy to power requires an element of time, I assumed the enaction of the power over a second which is actually a much, much longer time than you would have to deflect an object at this speed. The concept of the ability to draw this sort of power in a fraction of a millisecond makes the power source exponentially higher; as in 108 higher.

This being said, we have theorized with calculation that it would take an infinite amount of energy to accelerate an object with intrinsic mass to the speed of light. This is due to the Lorentz factor which was derived from a Dutch Physicist who’s formulation later would provide some structure for mass-energy equivalence, or the infamous E=MC2 . This has later been tested in particle acceleration. In testing scientists were able to accelerate a particle to 99.99% the speed of light; however, no matter how much additional power they invested they could not achieve light speed.

Also, it is theorized that if an object were to travel faster than light it would create a violation of Causality as the object would move outside the normal time axis, essentially going backwards through space-time and creating potential paradoxes.

FTL travel ignores everything we know about space-time continuity and relative physics, and yet it is still used with abandon in various forms of fiction. I have to believe this is just ignorance, not intentional undermining of the Science community.

So, if FTL travel isn’t feasible, what are the options?

The easy answer is Einstein-Rosen Bridges. In 1935 Einstein and Rosen co-authored a paper that described the potential for a warp in space time that would allow a bridge from two essentially flat regions of space-time regardless of distance apart. They theorized that a tunnel like opening could join the two for a very short period of time. Travel through these tunnels would be impossible due to the shortness of duration, however it has been postulated that highly advanced civilization would have the technology to hold these bridges open long enough to use them for travel. These Einstein-Rosen bridges are commonly referred to as wormholes. Wormhole traverse could allow time travel, but to do so would either open up an alternative reality or you would have to subscribe to a true complete unified theory by which all of our actions past, present and future are governed. This theory of lack of free will is the most probable, but rarely used in fiction.

Books that succeeded in using Quantum Mechanics well are:

Dune by Frank Herbert – an excellent take on wormhole travel. The spacing guild navigators are augmented to the point of prescience by ingesting the spice Melange. This allows them to safely navigate the treacherous Einstein-Rosen bridges without encountering a singularity. Timescape by Greg Benford - a Great portrayal of what a research physicist does as well as some interesting concepts on "realistic" time travel. The Schrodinger's Cat Trilogy by Robert Anton Wilson – A series of books written largely about the same characters in three separate parallel Universes. Very good use of Quantum Mechanics as they are understood today. You have to read all three to truly appreciate the series. -The Universe Next Door -The Trick Top Hat -The Homing Pigeons

Next Topic:

Reactors. Assuming we are still using a fission reactor there are the issues with Ionizing Radiation. Ionizing Radiation comes in 5 main forms. Aplha, Beta, Gamma, X-Ray and Neutron.

We can disregard X-rays as they are not normally produced from fission. The four other forms have to be dealt with via shielding. This shielding works on a couple principals, but mainly the goal is to attenuate the energy of the radiation reducing it to a non-ionizing forms. Alpha and beta can be stopped with a layer of paper. Gamma requires a high density material like lead. Nuetron need to be slowed to a thermal state or absorbed into a material that will not result in the formation of another radioactive isotope. Water having hydrogen atoms in abundance is a great Neutron moderator as the atomic mass of a Nuetron and Hydrogen atom are essentially equal. Imagine a pool ball hitting another, equal and opposite reaction causes transferrence and dispersal of energy. All of these are forms of Radiation. Only Alpha and Beta can be stopped with protective clothing. Every movie and book that I see that has the characters don their radiation suits to go in and work on the active reactor shows the lack of understanding of radiation. The suits are supposed to protect from contamination. Contamination is nothing more than the radioactive particles that are releasing these forms of ionizing radiation. Radioactive dust, mostly microscopic if you will.

Dave Myers graduated with honors from nuclear engineering school in the Navy in 1994 and spent the better part of 7 years monitoring nuclear reactors on both Los Angeles and Trident class submarines with a specialization in radiochemistry. He has worked the last 9 years in the Semiconductor field as head of operations for a prominent OEM. When he's not working with materials far inferior to Unobtanium he enjoys hanging out with his lovely wife Suzzanne, and riding super-charged motorcycles at speeds that he wishes approached the speed of light.

Thank you all for reading,

Paul Genesse Author of The Golden Cord www.paulgenesse.com