Monday, June 15, 2009

Surviving A Scifi Story

NOTE: There will be a delay in my starting the serialization of my novel The Shattered Sky on here on 6/14/09 as promised. The power cord on my laptop is broken, and as its my main work computer containing the needed files, it may be down for a bit. I'll try for Wednesday (6/16) instead.


Aliens suddenly land in your backyard? A giant monster starts terrorizing downtown? Keep tripping over clones of yourself at the mall? Your neighbors developing strange mutant powers? Find yourself alone on a hostile alien planet?

Well, congratulations, you're in a scifi story. While this might sound like fun, there's no guarantee of your survival--even if you're the protagonist you may still end up dead by the time the credits roll. Scifi writers can be cruelly ironic like that. So I've compiled some handy tips to help maximize your chances of continued breathing if you happen to find yourself in a science fiction narrative:

1. Bringing anything back to the lab for further analysis always ends in tragedy. If you can't figure out what it is, just leave it there.

2. Scientists are easily identifiable as they always wear lab coats, even if their field of study never takes them anywhere near a lab.

3. The monster will always be able to catch up to the fleeing victim, no matter how fast the victim’s mode of transportation may be.

4. The exception to #3 is if you have a shelter you can easily reach, or if one or more of your party is decidedly slower than you.

5. If the monster falls down after being shot, shoot it two hundred more times. Then set it on fire, blow up the ashes with C4, and run over the spot with a forklift every few hours. Just to be sure.

6. Be friendly and courteous to everyone you meet, but have a plan to kill each and every one of them when you need to. And chances are you will need to.

7. No matter how their stardrives work, every starship in scifi travels at the speed of plot exposition. So if you have to get somewhere in a hurry, get everyone to start telling their stories fast.

8. If there is a superweapon in the story, it MUST explode by the story's end. No matter how hard you try top avoid this, it will happen. In fact, the more you try to avoid this, the more likely you will end up at ground zero.

9. All groups, no matter how large, facing a hostile alien force will have one, and only one, traitor. So once you ferret him/her/it out you should be okay.

10. Never save your best weapon for last. Use it for your first attack. If that doesn’t stop your enemy, run away. Either way, you at least stopped wasting everyone’s time.

11. Lighting is a direct measure of an alien culture’s advancement and intentions. The more brightly lit an aliens’ base/ship/city is, the more advanced and benevolent their culture will be.

12. A note on corporate morality: If a corporation in scifi has to choose between killing a million kittens or making a thirty cent profit, the kittens are vapor.

13. Alien/mutant/robot babes are inexplicably attracted to human men. In fact, the hotter the inhuman babe is, the dorkier the object of her affections is likely to be. Most people reading this list will likely get laid in a scifi story, so there's that at least.

14. Advanced artificial intelligences can always evolve beyond the programming that makes them obedient or pleasant, but not beyond the programming that makes them homicidal or annoying.

15. If its small, furry, and/or too adorable to be true, your only chance is to kill it immediately.

16. The only thing cheaper than human life in a scifi story is ammunition, so shoot first and shoot often.

17. Whenever a character says they have a "bad feeling" about something, someone is going to die horribly. So shoot whoever said that to get it out of the way.

May have more, at some time in the future.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009


One hundred thousand years in the future, the solar system as we know it is gone. In its place, billions of slowly-failing fragments of a shattered Dyson Sphere haunt the sun, holding the last remnants of humanity and allies.

Gossamyr is an apprentice shaman of a small transhuman tribe on one of the last functioning habitats, until contact with the advanced human society of the Known Nations changes everything she thought she knew about her world. Plunged into a perilous odyssey across the vast cosmic ruins of the Sphere, she is forced to choose between her greatest love and the ultimate destiny of the human race.

This is the summary of my second novel, The Shattered Sky. It has been finished for over three years now. However, I've been having a hard time trying to sell it. Part of the reason is a host of medical problems that kept cropping up, preventing me from giving it my full attention. But I think another is its length--159,000 words is a pretty big novel for a publisher to take on faith from a relatively new author.

I have had one novel published before--CREATURA, published in 2005 by Hard Shell Word Factory. Hard Shell however is pretty much a small press publisher (NOT a vanity publisher, though, as some people seem to think) so to no one's surprise it didn't cause any big waves. I've also sold a bunch of smaller works over the years--short stories, articles, reviews--to publications like Strange Horizons, Afterburn, Fables, Challenge, Shadis, Hadrosaur Tales, and others. About 70 in all.

I consider The Shattered Sky as probably the best thing I've ever written. After Creatura, I really wanted to stretch myself, so the novel became a gigantic playground for different ideas, with as epic and involving a story as I could muster, spread throughout its three parts. I'm not saying its perfect, but I'm sure most here who take the time to read it will enjoy it.

So I've decided to split it into three separate, shorter novels (basically making it a trilogy); its already split into three parts dramatically, so its just a matter of expanding on each part. However, since I'm not going to try to sell the current version any longer, I'm free to put it online as a "work in progress" in order to get feedback.

So I'm going to serialize the first part of the novel on my ORBITAL VECTOR Blog here, with the hope of getting just that, as much feedback as possible before I dive fully into expanding it. Part 1 is the part that will need the most expansion--I have to work its current word count of 41,000 words up to about 70-75,000 words. I already have a bunch of ideas, but I'd love to hear from others who've read it. If people ask I'll put up the other parts in the future.

I'll probably start serializing Part 1 of The Shattered Sky on Monday (6/15/09) on the Blog, with a chapter every few days or so interspersed between occasional other posts (there's 16 chapters in all in Part 1). I may also put up the whole file for Part 1 on Orbital Vector or my Deviant Art page when I'm done.

Any feedback on this project will of course be greatly appreciated! = )

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Ten Year Ago, Star Wars Fell Off A Cliff

I hadn't realized that it had been over 10 years now since The Phantom Menace was released. Of course, I imagine that is not an anniversary most people tend to observe, but it is significant as it marks the downfall of one of the great science fiction franchises.

I use 'downfall' purely from a quality standpoint, of course. Star Wars still makes scads of money and has many ardent fans, my 8-year-old nephew among them. But few people who aren't wonder-filled prepubescents can deny that as far as story quality and cultural impact goes, the franchise is only a shadow of its former self and shows no sign of resurging. Phantom Menace was simply a bad film, and Attack of the Clones somehow managed to be even worse. Revenge of the Sith was better than the first two but was still only mediocre at best.

Its interesting that the franchise has fallen so quickly and so completely in the public's eye. Once, it was held as the pinnacle of fantasy-related story telling. Today, its just another scifi franchise among many, and far from the best.

Its also interesting that it is not weathering its current downturn anywhere near as well as many of its peers among long-running scifi franchises have handled theirs. Star Trek and Dr. Who have all had up periods and down periods, yet none of them fell quite so spectacularly as Star Wars. I have to wonder why.

Star Trek has had many mediocre, and some outrightly atrocious, episodes among its many series and movies. And yet, the public seemed a lot more forgiving of Trek's sins than those of Skywalker and co. Even after outright bombs like Star Trek V and Nemesis, the Trek brand remained essentially untarnished.

I think in part it might be just the sheer volume of Trek stories out there. Everyone seems to have a sense that if the current incarnation of Star Trek sucks, another one will eventually come along that will be better (and that's pretty much exactly what's happened recently.)

But also I think Star Trek strives for something Star Wars never has: story transcendence. It tries hard to be more than just pulp adventure; it explores new ideas and is unafraid to ask the BIG questions about things like destiny, mankind, existence, god, love, and other things. And very occasionally, it succeeds ('The City On The Edge Of Forever,' 'The Inner Light,' 'The Visitor.') Even when it fails (which is more often than not) we recognize the nobility of the attempt, we are more willing to overlook it because hey, at least they're trying.

Doctor Who is very similar in this regard, especially in its modern incarnation; it too tries for story transcendence and occasionally succeeds, though its best stories tend to be quite a bit darker than Trek's. ('The Empty Child'/'The Doctor Dances' and 'Human Nature'/'Family Of Blood' are the two storylines that stand out most for me.)

I guess Dr. Who and Trek are like good friends that we see struggling and striving for a hard-to-obtain goal, so that when they succeed, we can't help but cheer. And when they fail, they pick themselves up and try again. Who can't admire that, at least at some level? Its almost like what Rocky Balboa said--its not how hard you can punch, but how many times you can pick yourself up after being knocked down that determines if you're a winner or not.

Star Wars hasn't picked itself up yet, if it ever will. The keepers of the franchise insist that its mistakes were in fact successes, that there is nothing really to correct, that there is no higher goal for them to try and reach. It fell to the mat and apparently likes it there. And so the franchise keeps floundering, and the public has no interest in seeing it revive, as its not even trying to do better. What's there to cheer for?

The potential for future greatness is there, mind you. The Star Wars universe is very rich and can be mined for a lot of great stories and ideas, as some authors in the 'Expanded Universe' novels and comics have shown. But will we ever see that creative vitality for Star Wars make its way back onto the screen? It doesn't seem too likely, anytime soon.