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Playing In Someone Else’s Sandbox (Part 3)(game tie-ins) March 2, 2014

Posted by bobv451 in business, e-books, fantasy, sci-fi, science fiction, sense of wonder, space, writing.
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Worlds don’t need to be created when writing stories in well-developed properties like Magic: The Gathering, MechWarrior and other RPGs since the history for such is already extensive. The trick becomes fitting a new story into an established world.

With Magic, the cards call the stories. I did a short story, “Festival of Sorrow,” for the anthology Distant Planes. The idea was to develop a story with characters that fit into the universe that, excuse the pun, played on the card. At the time I played Magic and loved the look of the Festival card. The story built around not a celebration but a warrior’s need for revenge–only to have the revenge stolen away by his foe’s untimely death. All this made for a story I still like a lot.

I also did a Magic novel, Dark Legacy,and this was more open-ended. Fantasy, exploration and the main character wondering why she lacked the charisma of a lesser rover. It turned out to be as much a story of fame and what this means as it did derring-do.

One of the more curious things that somehow happens and is beyond my explaining came to the fore with a MechWarrior book, Ruins of Power. Nothing went right with it, I put in 20 hour days to meet the deadline because of constant changes, and one day out the editor wanted a different ending. On schedule, I delivered a book well over the 90,000 words contacted–and got it edited down for length through such things as losing my dedication and buildup material. Still, the book wasn’t bad and fit into the BattleTech universe. However, it is my worst reviewed book on Amazon and, strangely, one of my best selling. This comes down to fame or fortune. I suppose fortune wins out since that pays the bills.

Finding the right characters that fit into an established universe makes these books sing and dance. I’ve done stories for Warhammer, Pathfinder, Vor: The Maelstrom and Crimson Skies and the trick is, as in any story, putting the character into a dangerous position. The difference is doing it in context with a wide and detailed background established by not only the game developers but the fans. It can be tricky. It is also a lot of fun.

Here is the most recent of such travels into an RPG/gaming universe.

Fate of the Kinunir, a Traveller tie-in novel

Fate of the Kinunir, a Traveller tie-in novel


Looking Into the Future From the Past April 21, 2012

Posted by bobv451 in conventions, history, inventions, nostalgia, science, space.
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It’s hard for me to believe the Seattle World’s Fair opened on this day in 1962. My dad was a big fan of such fairs, for some reason, and one of the few family vacations that didn’t also touch on visiting relatives got us moving northward from El Paso.

For my part, I was in hog heaven. LBJ opened the NASA exhibit but who cared about petty politicians? Wernher von Braun was there, too. A real superstar in my eyes, but we couldn’t get in to see the talks. Doubt my dad would have been all that interested, since he didn’t share my enthusiasm for things outer spacial.

According to this article, JFK wasn’t at the closing ceremony because of the Cuban Missile Crisis. Who knew?

The article also goes on at great length about how the fair theme was overpopulation and how we were going to nuke ourselves into oblivion. I don’t remember a bit of that, though considering that JFK was trying to keep the Russkies from doing that very thing, perhaps I should have paid more attention.

I remember the weird vending machines that kicked out hamburgers in cellophane wrappers (gee, just like the ones I buy at Costco, only they come in big boxes and not from vending machines). Never a big one of trinkets, I still got a glass sculpture of the Space Needle. Alas, I have no idea where the 6″ glass structure is. Too many moves since then doomed it, I fear.

This is the first time I ever saw color TV. KOMO had a live broadcast, their afternoon guy and a basset hound. Comparing the TV picture with the real thing was a revelation. The basset hound really wasn’t purple. That was a little disappointing. Riding the monorail was fun but not the transportation system of the future they made it out to be. Last time I was in Seattle was 1989 and rode the monorail for old time’s sake. Wasn’t the future of transportation then, either.

I remember the cube buildings and, of course, the Space Needle. In ’62 didn’t eat there because of the cost, though we did ride to the observation deck and look around. In ’89 did eat there and the view was great and the food mediocre (unlike the Calgary Tower where both view and food were superb). And nowhere was there a hint of Jessica Alba sitting on the outside.

The AT&T/Bell Labs display. I got shunted aside when I was chosen to show how much faster touchtone phone dialing was compared to rotary. And yes, I was the perfect choice and was *much* faster on the buttons. But the guy pushing this innovation didn’t appreciate my comment that the central switching system still took the same length of time to put the call through since it was mechanical, especially since he shoved a microphone in my face when he asked what I thought and hundreds of people heard.

An excursion around town to the Archway Bookstore was a revelation. El Paso didn’t have bookstores, per se. Newsstands and department stores, but an entire store of nothing but books? In the basement of the Archway was about every Ace Double ever. Or so I thought. I must have spent close to $3 on books! (A princely sum for me then) Apparently this store is long gone.

The fairgrounds is undoubtedly far different from 1989 and vastly so from 1962, but memory of seeing von Braun, the bold architecture (which style burned itself by 1970) and the idea of the future all appealed. (Another World’s Fair I went to, this one in New Orleans, had the most depressing exhibits of massive water valves and pictures of hydro plants ever–their theme was “water.” That trip was fun for reasons other than the fair.)

The Unseen World Around Us April 12, 2012

Posted by bobv451 in dinosaurs, geocaching, history, ideas, New Mexico, outlaws, science, science fiction, sense of wonder, space, UFOs, writing.
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As you probably know by now, I am fascinated with the idea we go through life and see only a tiny fraction of it. This drew me to geocaching where most people go right by a cache and never know. This is a simple thing. The world–nature–is vastly more intriguing with its diversity and how new things pop up all the time, things we simply have not been attentive enough to see before.

In NM there are cemeteries all over the place, but who is buried int hem? Some terrible outlaw who never achieved the status of Billy the Kid or Blackjack Ketchum? Or just plain folks, putting in their time, working sunrise to sunset and then…dying. Unnoticed, or perhaps noticed only for a very short while by a very few people?

New discoveries in NM caverns possibly give us more powerful antibiotics. Who woulda thunk it? Back in 1986 the Lechuguilla Cave was discovered. It’s the 7th longest cave in the world and the deepest in the continental US. And antibiotic resistant bacteria have been found in it.

Which brings up the point, what antibiotics? Turns out these may be brand new ones. What else may be found here? It is near Roswell. Could those crafty UFOnauts be hiding down there, knowing it is the deepest point they could reach without digging? Are those antibiotics potentially from Out There, brought to Earth by the 1947 saucer crash? Or perhaps your ideas run more to thriller. If there is a bacterium, can it be used as a terror weapon? Only the antibiotic from the cave can save us?

More than 1200 new species of plants and animals have been found in the Amazon since 2000. What might James Cameron find diving into the Marianas Trench? That’s a long way down and hitherto unexplored.

Panspermia might be a way of repopulating lost species on earth. Comets and asteroid impacts can blast away huge chunks of earth (imagine finding those dinosaurs from ’40s and ’50s pulp stories on other planets!) And then return it.

So much of nature out there, unseen.

Barsoom! March 7, 2012

Posted by bobv451 in business, e-books, fantasy, movies, movies & TV, nostalgia, science fiction, sense of wonder, space, Texas, Wild West.

Saw the 3D version of John Carter last night and enjoyed it a lot. There are few movies that need 3D, but ones with huge vistas and gaggles of cgi attacking armies nudge into that category. I’m not sure it’s exactly necessary, though, and if you saw only the 2D version you wouldn’t be disappointed. (I won’t even mention the truly deplorable Princess of Mars since John Carter is light years better)

The tharks are incredible. Wonderful thought behind how a 4-armed goober would act and move. They seemed skinnier than I pictured them but Barsoom, after all, has a lighter gravity and that’s why John Carter can leap tall buildings, etc. But, perish the thought, Dejah Thoris was well endowed and not the least bit undernourished looking. (The actress, Lynn Collins, had a weird accent, but IMDB said she was born in Texas, classically trained in NYC and lives in London). My one complaint about her role was that, unlike ERB’s description in the books, she didn’t go around nearly nekkid enough.

The voice talent for the tharks was a known quantity in Thomas Hayden Church and Willem Defoe while the onscreen live action actors were, to me at least since I don’t watch Friday Night Lights, unknown. Oddly, Taylor Kitsch (what an unfortunate name) who played John Carter is a Canadian who plays a Marfa high school football player on tv?

The dog critter Woola was fun and the airships definitely unusual, though Roy Krenkel sorta formed my images of them in the Ace editions back in the ’60s. The white apes are nothing like I envisioned them, but in a way this was a throwaway scene.

The plot is pure pulp but one great improvement over the books was how the Therns were pictured. The writers worked them into the story, indeed made them the driving evil force, and gave us something better than astral projection for John Carter to get to Barsoom. Very clever, very well done, especially for the payoff at the end.

A lot of interest in Barsoom-esque stuff out there now. Stephen D Sullivan has his Elf Princess of Mars and a book I did a cover blurb for is Nathan Long’s Jane Carver of Waar, a most enjoyable book..

If only we could read our pulp stories under the light from Barsoom’s twin moons…

Look to the (New Mexico) Skies! February 24, 2012

Posted by bobv451 in awards, business, history, New Mexico, space, writing.
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Last night I trundled on down to the NM Museum of Natural History to attend a talk on 100 years of space flight in New Mexico by author Loretta Hall.
She won a NM Book Award for her history of space exploration since 1930 and gave an entertaining presentation ranging from Robert Goddard to 2025 or so, when Virgin Galactic figures to break even on its space tourism.

Much of the talk was familiar, especially the pictures of early launches from White Sands. She touched on how Randall Lovelace was charged with testing the Mercury astronauts (and that the movie The Right Stuff was pretty accurate). What I had never heard before was Lovelace’s crazy notion that women ought to be in the program, too. One pilot named Jerrie Cobb tested out to within 2% of the top men. Five other women also qualified. So it ought to have been the Mercury 13, not the Mercury 7–except NASA wouldn’t accept women. The kicker was that the women weren’t jet test pilots.

One of the un-Mercury 6 has a ticket on Virgin Galactic. I hope she makes it (another interesting factoid–90% of everyone from 21-80 yrs old can qualify to be a space tourist. Think I could raise $200k on Kickstarter for a ticket? Loan me $200k till my (rocket)ship comes in?).

The entire space tourist trip will last about 2.5 hrs, with 90 minutes being a slow spiral upward to 50,000 ft to get above the turbulence. Another 6 minutes to apogee, perhaps 10 minutes of floating about and sightseeing, then descent a la space shuttle (ie, unpowered, like a falling brick) Hall said that maximum g-force would be 6g, which seems wildly high to me since the shuttle launch only had a max of around 3g. Instantaneous g-loading? A football player takes 80g instantaneous–repeatedly. So maybe 6 isn’t outrageous for a sudden stop?

NM has a great history from Goddard’s liquid fuel inventions to probably satellite launches from White Sands/Spaceport America in a few years. Ad astra!


February 23, 2012

Posted by bobv451 in business, New Mexico, science, science fiction, space.
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Water Worlds and Space Elevators

Lou passed along this about a water world around a red dwarf. Twenty times as massive as earth, the atmosphere has water, but in “super fluid” phase. Not sure what this means so will check it out to see. Maybe an entire planet of Kurt Vonnegut’s “Ice 9”?

But another item caught my eye. It looks as if Japan is committing to a space elevator by 2050. Alas, I will never see it work, but I have doubts about this technology and if I lived to be 200 might not live to see it work. Still, go for it! No idea where the earth base would be. One of the Pacific Islands, probably. Iwo Jima is a bit north since nearer the equator would work, but it would be good seeing something rising from Mt Suribachi in addition to an American flag. (This date, 1945)

As an exotic technology for cheap launches, I’d prefer something like a laser launch vehicle. (For both this and the space elevator, a tip of the space helmet to Jordin Kare.)

Tonight I’m likely going to a talk by Loretta Hall on the NM Spaceport and a NM perspective on the history of rocketry. (7-8:30, Natural History Museum, for you locals)

Today, 1962 February 20, 2012

Posted by bobv451 in history, science, space.
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Fifty years ago, America sneaked into space. John Glenn actually orbited the Earth. Hard to believe space tourism will duplicate what the prior two Americans did, at least as far as “going into space” altitudes. (I am discounting Ham’s flight, too. Ham is buried at the west end of the parking lot at the Alamogordo Space Museum. At least he didn’t die in orbit as did Laika back in ’57) We are lucky to still have an original Mercury astronaut around. The first man in orbit died in a Mig15 crash back in ’68, while we elected ours to the Senate to insure his mummification.

One of the major head scatchers of the 20th Century has to be the sudden decline of our space program. We reached the Moon, that was it (I can blame Nixon but Vietnam was also a big part of it). I find it hard to believe vision is missing, but it seems to be so. If I remember the story, one of the dogs the Russians sent into space was recovered, had pups and one was given to JFK. Wonder if there are offspring? And why does Eric Frank Russell’s story “Into Your Tent I’ll Creep” come to mind?

Congratulations to all who have gone into space. May another, albeit far future, generation join you in this achievement.

Blast Off For High Adventure… February 19, 2012

Posted by bobv451 in business, New Mexico, science, science fiction, sense of wonder, space, Texas.
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But probably not from New Mexico’s Spaceport America. The legislature mostly failed to do anything this year in its 30 day session, but what else is new? A lot of egregious oversights but getting bought off by lobbyists and not passing limited liability for the spaceport is going to cost us dearly.

There are six in the works, with Colorado getting into the foray.

I suspect the Texas spaceport might be financed by Jeff Bezos (go buy more of my stuff on Amazon so he can afford to build his own rocket–and I can afford to launch!) Check out the link to see what Texas did to provide launcher protection–which is what NM failed to do.

With Virgin Galactic only on the hook for a few offices rented in Las Cruces and not paying a dime so far to the state, chances look mighty good to me they will shift their attention to either Texas or Colorado. Rutan is building the White Knight out in California but going to the Mojave Desert for a launch lacks…class. It’s hot out there and miles from civilization. Space tourists (it said in the paper this morning that Victoria Principal is on the roster for the first Spaceport America launch–hope she can get a ticket elsewhere) are in it for a little adventure and a lot of bragging rights. Roughing it in real desert is nowhere near as brag-worthy as staying in a posh hotel and then launching. Sort of like comparing Magellan’s Trinidad to the Queen Mary (the trial lawyers would likely make the comparison to the Titanic…) Exploration, no, elegance and adventure, yes. The difference between naming the Magellanic Clouds and “merely” seeing them from space.

With the death of all space missions and NASA still sucking up the same amount of money for a lot fewer programs, private space is our salvation. Mine, at least, for seeing space travel. (The sf I read as a kid still burns brightly in my imagination).

If Nature Abhors a Vacuum Why is It So Hard to Send Manned Ships Into Space? February 12, 2012

Posted by bobv451 in death, gummint, New Mexico, science, sense of wonder, space.

It was with real sorrow I saw that NASA is forsaking the Mars exploration. In the words of this article, Mars lost.

No, we lost. If the race is to the stars, that is. If it is to become a third-world, second-rate country then we are certainly crossing the finish line.

The conjecture is that NASA figures Virgin Galactic, SpaceX and other private companies will do it. Fine, I’d say, but there is an incredible impediment skyward for that, at least in New Mexico. The trial lawyers have spent a reported $200k lobbying to kill a bill limiting liability at Spaceport America. IOW, they want to sue the place into oblivion at the first accident.

If you are smart enough to accumulate $200,000 for the ride and smart enough to go through the release form where it states in *three* places “you may die if…” and the form must be signed at least 24 hours prior to launch to give time to think it over, then I’d say you are well on your way to understanding the danger. Everyone dies. I’d love to go up in the Virgin Galactic launch vehicle to space, and if I had to die, there’s no way I’d prefer more. But that’s just me. If I had $200k, I’d pay for the privilege of maybe dying on my way to space. Color me DD Harriman. And if I didn’t augur in, then I’d have one hell of a story to tell for the rest of my life.

Word is that Virgin Galactic is pulling back a bit because of the lawyers. VG has sunk more money into offices and the like in Las Cruces but they haven’t yet ponied up a dime to the state for use of the spaceport. It might well be they pull out and go to the Mojave site or Wisconsin or wherever. The loss to them would be negligible at this point. To space tourism in NM, it would be a crushing blow if not a fatal one.

This isn’t to say Spaceport America would close. 90% of the facility schedule would still be A-OK to go as unmanned launches are lined up and waiting to blast off. But space tourism is, excuse the expression, the boost NM needs. Thanks for trying to kill it, ambulance chasers. And thanks, NASA, for killing our entire space program.

The Pressure Builds January 31, 2012

Posted by bobv451 in business, e-books, fantasy, geocaching, ideas, iPad, science fiction, space, westerns, writing.

I have just finished the rewrite on God of War 2 and have been doing a lot of westerns. That means, yes, it does, the pressure is growing within my fevered brain to turn to some science fiction. I did the short novel Gateway to Rust and Ruin, and this whetted my appetite for longer work. Reading Greg Benford’s article in Reason fueled the fire. (I grew up in El Paso festooned with V-2s along the road as decoration and von Braun’s vision was mine, too–still is. I don’t care if we get out to Mars and beyond a la “Man Who Sold the Moon” or if NASA grows a pair and actually does something again in manned space exploration. I just want it done.)

While not good water discipline, standing under the shower affords me a chance to just think. The rush of the water gives a white noise that drowns out the phone ringing, the cats meowing for food, traffic in the street and, probably the low level hum from the quantum foam in my brain. The signal rises and I can think of … stuff. I am working on a new sf novel and hope to have more about this in a week or two after I’ve had the chance to work out a more detailed synopsis.

I might have to go for a long walk or two or even go geocaching for the first time in ages to hone the ideas. (If I log a cache on Feb 29, I get a nifty logo on my geocaching account.) This is another way of letting the ideas sort of roil around, then go pop like popcorn in a microwave. A downside to working like this is that I have to remember what great ideas I’ve come up with…

…look, a squirrel!

Sorry about that. When ideas arrive, they aren’t necessarily permanent ones. Which is why I write down everything as soon as I can. But the iPad shorts out in the shower and paper gets so soggy.

I leave you with the cover on God of War 2.

God of War 2, coming in September