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Time Is Not On Your Side June 18, 2017

Posted by bobv451 in business, death, e-books, ideas, money, sci-fi, science fiction, serial fiction, Uncategorized, VIPub, westerns, writing.
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Tick. Tick. Tock. Cuckoo clock chimes. The weights descend and you are out of time. All a writer (or any of us) has is time. That’s the commodity to hoard and covet and use to its fullest extent.

I come up with a never-ending flood of ideas. That’s not a problem of “What next?” When I get down to writing, there’s not a writer’s block to be seen. No problemo. What is harder is choosing among the ideas to work on next because there is so little time and triage has to be done.

Looking back on 40+ years of writing, I mostly wouldn’t change things, but maybe, perhaps, kinda, one tactic stands out that should have been modified. Writing series books (ie, Jake Logan, Trailsman, Nick Carter) is fun and it paid a lot of bills. But none of those books is mine. I can’t put up new ebook editions or take them down or do anything. They belong to the publisher and are forever deadwood to me. Filling some of the time spent writing so many with my own work would have been a smarter move. I know writers of prodigious output who own almost no titles of their own–they did too many work-for-hires. As a result they have only a handful of titles under their control, ie, to make money now as opposed to when it was written.

Write what you need to stay alive. It’s tough out there and always has been. But do as much of your own as you can. It’s yours and there is never enough time to do “just one more.” Time’s arrow will pierce you and once gone from the quiver, time cannot be recovered.

In case you want some sf about relativity….

A: The Clone Ranger February 9, 2014

Posted by bobv451 in business, death, ideas, sci-fi, science, science fiction, sense of wonder, serial fiction, writing.
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Q: What goes hi ho, Silver, Silver, Silver?

My dreams tend to be pretty worthless for thinking up plots or characters. A while back when I had trouble sleeping, I tried melatonin. This worked wonderfully well getting me to sleep but it gave me the most vivid–and boring–dreams ever. The vibrant colors came through unmatched by any other dream, but the sequence itself tended to be unthrilling, boring stuff like waiting in line at the supermarket. That was it. Just standing in line.

Recently I had a bout of dreams about clones. Who knows why? Something about the dream theme set my conscious brain to thinking in terms of sf stories (none of this was in the dream itself–that all came later). The variants on Heinlein’s “All You Zombies” are obvious but the moral considerations (and legal ramifications) are what boiled up in my head.

If you have sex with your own clone, is this masturbation? If you kill your own clone, is that suicide? (The truly scary ending on The Prestige is a take on this) If clones are considered separate entities, what does this do to DNA solutions for crimes? How do you prove it wasn’t you but your clone that did the crime? Could a clever criminal use his clone as an alibi for actually committing a crime? If you create your own clone for the express purpose of a sex crime (on the clone), who is the victim and who is the perpetrator? Is this even a crime? Could therapy for a serial killer be killing his own clones rather than other people? What are the ethics involved of trying risky medical treatments on clones to find the proper one for the “original?”

Cloning certainly eliminates the need for estate planning. Just will your clone your fortune. Skip a few hundred years into the future. Would all the wealth be consolidated in the hands of a few clones?

I need to get to work on a science fiction book. Not dealing with clones, not exactly (could a clone be used as a surrogate to serve a prison sentence?)

Merry Mayan Apocalypse December 20, 2012

Posted by bobv451 in business, death, End of the World, history, sci-fi, sense of wonder.
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Tomorrow, as I write this, the 5125 year Long Count Mayan calendar runs out. I personally think their next page with future 5125 years on it was lost. Or maybe got banned because it was a pinup calendar with sexy pictures of jaguars cavorting with Mayan maidens.

I have some fun with this and zombie apocalypses and so on, but too many people (even if it is just one, it is too many) take this seriously. Or at least use it for their own benefits, such as this sex hunt in NY.

Maybe not so bad? Will there be a population spike 9 months from now as after power blackouts? I doubt it. Like so much of this, just people scrambling for their 15 min of fame. (Doesn’t that 15 min come with some sort of inflation COLA? It’s *still* only 15 minutes. Unfair! We need a gummint commission to investigate the lack of increase.)

This hoohaw isn’t something making just occidentals crazy. Orientals can share it, too. China? Yup.

Serbia and France are seeing a rise in tourism to sacred mountains.

Only the Mayas seem unconcerned
. Fancy that. Can they be sued for causing such a furor worldwide?

If you believe we’re all doooomed, okay. As I write this, it is Dec 21 in Australia and they are doing just fine. Maybe better than the US but that’s another story entirely.

But if you are looking for some mighty fine reading post-apocalyptic fun, I have discounted sf titles on my store starting on Dec 21 and lasting a few days only.

Wishing you a nice eternity. And a cheery Saturday.

Book #1 Weapons of Chaos

Book #1 Weapons of Chaos

Durability September 30, 2012

Posted by bobv451 in death, e-books, End of the World, fantasy, gummint, history, ideas, movies, sci-fi, writing.
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Everything gets creakier as time passes. Maybe even time does. Is there an entropy affecting time as well as entropic time? Questions best left for the theorists. What is in the balliwick of writers, though, is the longevity of our work.

Fantasy is perhaps easiest since the world is entirely made up, with rules and laws and elements unique to that world. Passage of time in “our” world, developments of science and technology and geography and nations means nothing. Middle Earth has a permanence simply because it has no foot in the door of our world.

Science fiction is different. A hard science book is likely to be obsolete, outpaced by actual scientific discovery, before it is published. And the question arises whether a sf story (or a story that was sf) in earlier times but which has been outstripped by the surge of reality, is still sf. Is a story about the first man into space still sf since that event has happened in reality and it wasn’t done as in the story?

In a way, sweeping space opera stands a better chance of avoiding this issue. Smash galaxies together rather than be the first man to reach the moon. Even items that might have seemed laughable in early space opera, if the idea is audacious enough, can prove enduring. Doc Smith’s intertialess drive wasn’t about the Higgs boson. Maybe it was the Higgs anti-boson. But avoiding being too specific keeps the notion in play. Sorta.

Near future sf is hardest of all to write. I did a novel a few years back about RFID chips in clothing monitoring what everyone did (because lawsuits prevented the gummint from implanting the chips in the humans themselves). Now there are 69 companies manufacturing spy drones–for use by civilian police forces. RFIDs are already obsolete for this purpose. Cameras most places become cameras everywhere in the sky 24/7. The FBI is putting together a facial recognition database and the reason you aren’t allowed to smile on passport photos or drivers’ licenses is that smiling makes for harder recognition. Thank about that and try not to show fear.

The 1984 scenario is not being forced on us–half the US population wants it. To stay safe. I highly recommend the movie, The Lives of Others. And I want to see Barbara The days of the Stasi in East Germany are becoming the present in America. So we can stay safe.

But put fancy spy stuff into an sf book and it is likely to be laughably obsolete in a very short time. Concentrate on the characters, and durability might come your way.

I leave you with this from the ’60s.

The Black Hole Passes September 8, 2012

Posted by bobv451 in business, conventions, death, hobby, movies & TV, New Mexico, nostalgia, science, sense of wonder.

No, that’s not a typo. I’m not referring to Campbell’s The Black Star Passes but to the Black Hole surplus store in Los Alamos. The Black Hole was a compendium of junk and history, useable tech equipment and stuff I’m not sure anyone knew what it did.

The owner, Ed Grothus, died some time ago and was mostly anti-nuke, pro who knows what, who bought lots of surplus equipment at the Los Alamos lab and sold them. On one trip there, Gordon Garb laughingly asked for a 50kw oil bath capacitor–they had 3 on the shelf. I had less luck hunting for keyboards with the function keys down the left side–all their IBM keyboards predated fn keys. Stacks of Beta tapes (including the entire Prisoner series!). Dual trace oscilloscopes, miles of wire and coax, gadgets nobody knew what they were good for other than asking, “What’s that thing? It looks awesome, but…”

Entropy sets in, even in such backwaters of New Mexico. Alas, Hawking was right and black holes do evaporate.

A bit of irony is the closing coincides with a mini-Maker Fair here in Abq. Gordon is maybe going to come for that, which is A Good Thing since he missed Bubonicon this year.

I have been busy tidying up a lot of writing chores. More on them later. Got a short story to do ASAP, then…lots more stuff. But some of it is actually seeing the light of day this year. (And there are still prizes for the trivia contest available…hurry hurry hurry, time’s almost up!)

I leave you with the establishing shot for The Black Hole.

The Black Hole

LZ-129 The Flames Are Shooting 500 Feet Into the Air May 6, 2012

Posted by bobv451 in death, history, sense of wonder, zeppelin.
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Victories seem more difficult to celebrate in the USA than disasters. Today in 1937 the Hindenburg caught fire and burned, with the loss of 36 lives, including one ground crewman. One reason this is so spectacular goes to how difficult it was to film news events then. Having the necessary equipment on hand required some time to set up the camera and an experienced camera operator. It wasn’t until 1978 that videocameras became common enough that another actual air disaster (this one killing 144) was captured on film/tape.

Now, of course, try to find someone who doesn’t have a smartphone with video capabilities to record air atrocities.

As you know, I am a fan of dirigibles and have been aloft in both a blimp and a zeppelin. On occasion I check out stories of flying. A marvelous fictional account is Max Allan Collins’ The Hindenburg Murders, complete with schematics.

In the movies there is always the Michael York/Elke Sommer thriller Zeppelin and Hindenburg, starring one of my favorite actors, Geogre C. Scott.

I never saw the made for TV movie with the hyperbolic title Hindenburg:Titanic of the Skies and might count myself lucky for having missed it.

Want more about the Hindenburg? Here’s a nice place to read up.

I leave you with some of the most stirring unscripted news commentary of the past century.

Not Just Another Dead Teenager Movie April 17, 2012

Posted by bobv451 in death, fantasy, movies, movies & TV, sci-fi, science fiction, sense of wonder.
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Cabin in the Woods is certainly more than that. I saw the trailer and thought it had some small, itty-bitty twist. Wrongo. I’m not going to spoil anything here, so read on, stalwart souls.

Joss Whedon has taken a lot of ideas from his other series and mixed them together here. There’s some Dollhouse and definitely some Buffy tossed in with Cube and any number of dead teenager movies. By that I mean the predictable cast of characters being knocked off one by one. “We’re safer if we stay together, so let’s split up so the machete-wielding maniac in the hockey mask can kill us one by one.” That plot has been used repeatedly. Only Whedon tells us why in this movie, and it makes sense.

Other than the nifty ending which is not the one you’d expect anywhere along the way (and the scene where a guy is impaled by a unicorn–or maybe the flesh eating merman who has a blood blowhole in the middle of his back), Whedon makes use of every trope imaginable. But he explains them so they are reasonable and makes fun of them and has some nifty characters.

What impressed me was the technique in the movie. Every time you are sure the characters are out of danger or know what’s going on, Whedon ups the ante. More death, more blood, unexpected twists. But I sorta wish, along with a character in the movie, there’d been more of the flesh eating merman. That’s a critter not seen before. Whedon is a master of pacing and playing on the “shock factor” (which means you jump, even if you know the scare scene is coming up–for me, that was the way I went through Jaws. Predictable scare scenes and they were still enough to make me yelp.). What makes Cabin different is the mixing of genres. It’s a dead teenager movie with the blonde slut, jock, geek, stoner and virgin, but they fight back. They are meant to be pawns and rise above the chessboard. But it is also an sf movie. And a horror movie. And the final scene is something else entirely.

The movie was caught up in the MGM bankruptcy so spent two years on the shelf. Glad it escaped.

I am still leery about The Avengers. Too many heroes spoil the broth. After seeing this one, though, Whedon might surprise me pleasantly there, too.

The Death Calculus March 25, 2012

Posted by bobv451 in death, gummint, ideas, writing.

Pay no attention to gummint projections. Check what is being done by people with money on the line. I came across an interesting article that is just filled with stfnal ideas, yet was about the life insurance business.

Life insurance has always been a curious proposition to me. You buy the policy, betting you are going to die. The company takes the bet that you’re not going to die. In a crazy way, this seems backwards to me, but that’s the way it works (and is why Social Security is doomed–it is set up the way I’d do it–giving benefits until death rather than paying on death). Insurance companies make a lot of money if they don’t have to pay off, so their actuaries are state-of-the-art down with determining life expectancies. If we were immortal, the only death insurance would be for accidental death (sort of like insuring a 20 yr old). How much money could an insurance company make off a vampire? Over centuries?

But the older you get the less likely an insurance company ought to want to issue a life policy. Makes sense. They are more likely to pay out on an 80 yr old, hence lose money. But the business is changing to reflect increased life spans. And this isn’t chump change on the line. It is a $27 trillion business.

There are 53,000 Americans age 100 (or older!) compared with only 2,300 in 1950. That’s a 2200% increase vs only a doubling of the general population. This is why companies are willing to give a 78-yr-old woman a $20million life insurance policy (The Hartford, 2010–premium $1m a year). They figure she will live another 14.5 years because she has already outlived the “danger marker” of heart disease.

Even with stuff like coronary disease, it’s possible to get life insurance. In 1995 no company would touch you. Now they figure such things are repairable. In a way this is comforting to know that insurance companies are willing to bet you’re going to live even with serious health problems (so they can take your premium). These are better numbers than the gummint issues–those are for political consumption, not hard cash decisions but ones based on fairy gold and garnering votes.

How many ways will this inching toward immortality affect our society? Therein lies a lot of sf stories.

This Is The End, My Only Friend… February 29, 2012

Posted by bobv451 in death, e-books, ideas, movies & TV, VIPub, writing.
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So sang Jim Morrison. For him it was pretty close, but in fiction you, as writer, should have *lots* of ends. One for each story you write. I addressed the need for a strong hook a couple days ago.

Now we get to the nether region of your writing. The end. You’ve wowed the reader with your title, put such a powerful hook in that first sentence/paragraph everyone reading it has to find out what’s going on, then you have the huge middle of the book, and finally, the end. The conclusion. The part that will keep readers thinking about your story for a long time.

I have pretty much come to hate Steven Spielberg’s endings because he doesn’t have confidence enough in his story to put *one* conclusion. He keeps tacking them on, one after another until you collapse from outrage, fatigue or laughing at such indecision. (Take a look at what might have been a classic tale in Kubrick’s hands, AI, and see what Spielberg did to it with the endless endings).

After all, you’ve invested the time to write a book, and a considerable outlay of effort it is, too. You wanted to say something. You want the reader to come away with some memory, some feeling, some call to action. You owe it to yourself to have that slambang end. Even better, the reader wants it, too, after surviving 80k or 100k words of all the harrowing perils your protagonist had gone through.

When you are initially plotting the book, you often jump around, pick a wonderful character, have a scene that has to be put in…and usually you come up with the end before anything else. From here, you can backward construct the book to reach this point.

Ending with a zinger line is hard (“here is the race that shall rule the sevagram”) Leaving with an emotional conclusion is easier. “Barker stepped into the saddle and turned his mare’s face toward the edge of town where Ruth waited for him. He hoped to hell he would know what to tell her before he got home.” Or one I like from Mask of the Sun: It didn’t pay to reach too fast for gold.

What is harder when it comes to endings are novels in a series. The book has to have a satisfactory ending but leave a cliffhanger for the next book. More on this later. I leave you by coming full circle with the title

A Simple Change In History February 15, 2012

Posted by bobv451 in death, history, ideas, science.

It’s great to have friends who come up with nifty ideas. Scott & Pat have actually done research on this and it sounds plausible. Pat goes to garage sales and managed to get a lead crystal decanter worth several hundred bucks for only a few, but should she use it since it is lead crystal (from the turn of the last century)?

Turns out it might be pretty bad if she did. The lead leaches out of the glass fairly rapidly when the decanter is filled with something mildly acidic. Like wine. Which is what you would likely put in a wine decanter. But how much? Scott found that concentrations would be 50,000 micrograms in a few weeks (and the edge of oops for lead in drink is around 50 micrograms). So you could get quite an overdose…from just one glass of wine from that decanter.

As Scott pointed out, the aristocracy most likely to use such a fine piece of artwork would fill it, possibly close the house for a few months, then return. And drink highly contaminated wine.

Worse, the Romans used lead to “sweeten” sour wine, a practice later vintners followed.

What are the symptoms of lead poisoning? When you think about British aristocracy, well, it’s like a checklist.
High blood pressure
Declines in mental functioning
Pain, numbness or tingling of the extremities
Muscular weakness
Abdominal pain
Memory loss
Mood disorders
Reduced sperm count, abnormal sperm
Miscarriage or premature birth in pregnant women

In addition, it can cause a condition very similar to gout.

The aristocracy methodically poisoned itself over the years, likely drinking more wine to cure their hangover symptoms which could well have been due to lead poisoning.

If the aristocracy had not been susceptible to lead poisoning, they might still be top dogs. How’s that for an alt history idea?