Writing


Science fiction can be generally divided into two camps: soft and hard. (There are good Wikipedia articles on both, and this post isn’t really about the concepts, but I’ll still give short summaries. Specifically, these summaries will indicate my own thoughts on the subject and the angle from which I am approaching this topic.)

Soft sci-fi deals more with the “fiction” aspect, relegating science to a distant second, third or whatever place. The science here is probably not going to be as thoroughly researched, if at all, and similarly will not be explained, except with an off-hand phrase tossed in at the last moment.

Had sci-fi deals with, or has a special focus, on the science behind the story. The science is either pivotal to the plot or is thoroughly researched and is (or, at least attempting to be) accurate.

I am more a fan of hard sci-fi. I like my science to be consistent and logical. Nothing ruins a story quite like bad science, as Hollywood has been kind enough to demonstrate. That’s not to say that I don’t read or enjoy soft sci-fi. “Replay” is certainly soft, in the sense that no explanation at all is given for the underlying phenomenon. The same goes for S.M. Stirling’s “Conquistador” and “Island in the Sea of Time”. (Nevermind the fact that I didn’t really care for those books, which was unrelated to them being soft sci-fi, but was rather caused by them being identical, long and boring books.) “Jumper” and its related books are also particularly soft (especially “Reflex”, which begins with the absurd assumption that “jumping” is contagious!), yet I love them dearly.

Still, I prefer something more grounded in science, and usually something possible. Yes, I realize there’s a bit of a contradiction in claiming an affinity for possible science-fiction, but that’s what I have. Let me explain.

Consider Clarke’s “Rendezvous with Rama”. The spaceship imagined in the novel is entirely possible, if not with our current state of technology then with some technology. Similarly, “2001: A Space Odyssey” presents space travel and the AI constructs (HAL and the Monolith) that are entirely possible. (In both novels Clarke took leaps in the conclusion, with inertia-less travel of “Rama” and the StarChild of “2001”, but these are minor instances and are still possible, albeit with technology we have not yet discovered. And, of course, we have not yet shown that any of this is impossible…)

Similarly, Stross’ “Accelerando” series of short stories is deeply rooted in current or around-the-corner science. Which is what draws me to (as well as terrifies me about) the series. And, just like Clarke, Stross takes a small leap in imagining a galactic router in orbit around a brown dwarf. And, once again, we have not shown that this is something that is impossible.

Niven’s Known Space works are also someting that I would consider “possible”, though he does take more leaps, such as with teleportation technology (not FTL, since it does operate at the speed of light), the near-indestructible General Products hulls (described as a single molecule bounded with energy fields) and the scrith material that makes up Ringworld (umm, sufficiently advanced technology?). All of these I can accept since (a) the technology presented is self-consistent, (b) is not a deus ex machina and (c) the technology may be possible.

So, after that huge lead-in, what do I want to say? Simply this: I can’t plot soft sci-fi. Here I am, sitting around with oodles of time on my hands, attempting to think of a short story to write, and I can’t seem to come up with anything that’s not based on real (or around-the-corner) technology. Gah! It’s frustrating! Every idea I come up with, every what-if scenario, I dismiss it immediately if I can see no way for it to be possible. And that’s really not the spirit of writing sci-fi, now is it? One shouldn’t keep coming up with ways to foil a story, to put holes in their own concepts, to consistently, time after time find ways that something just won’t work. The spirit of sci-fi is one of possibility. The eternal question of what-if is invariably answered (by actual authors, not by this hack) with a resounding “hell yeah”. The concepts are pushed upon the reader with an authoritative voice, one that almost resounds from the heavens, as if spoken by Zeus himself, and firmly convinces the reader that what they have just glimpsed is not a fantasy but a reality.

Oh well, c’est la vie. Back to “Cryptonomicon”.

Currently listening to The Seed (2.0) by The Roots.

Same as last year, the days/weeks leading up to the NaNoWriMo event are once again entirely devoid of blog posts. That’s because any spare time I may have had in the the two or three weeks leading up November were mainly taken up by plotting. Same as last year, I’m working on a sci-fi story. This time, though, it’s based on a short story I wrote during the summer. It’s the same underlying concept/problem, but completely different set of characters (one of whom is named after a friend’s newborn kid) and a different resolution.

As opposed to last year, when I spent a lot of time on the concept behind the story and no time at all on actually plotting out the flow, this year I’ve jotted down the summaries of all the scenes, ahead of time. So now all I have to do is allot the required number of days per scene (about 2.5) and the story feels like it’s writing itself. It’s a much less stressful and more enjoyable NaNo experience than last year’s. And hey, I’m already at 10,000 words. I missed a day last week due to excessive alcohol intake (Trivia Tuesday, you understand) but aside from that I’ve been writing regularly, every day, about 1.6 thousand words, the required amount for me to coast through November and have 50 thousand words by December.

Speaking of alcohol intake, I’m considering not having less booze than normal, as I’ve found that writing while intoxicated just doesn’t cut it for me. At that point, I’d rather be listening to Pink Floyd, Led Zeppelin or playing GTA: IV. Not exactly a good writing atmosphere.

And speaking of music (yes, this post is taking on a very tangential motif, but what the hell do I care?!), I’ve recently discovered Led Zeppelin and I gotta say: shit, I’ve been missing out! “Ramble On” is one of the best songs I have ever heard. Period. (Have you noticed that it starts out kinda like The Guess Who’s “No Sugar Tonight/New Mother Nature”? It’s weird, but I constantly think I’m going to hear “no sugar tonight” just as the song breaks into obvious Led Zeppelin.)

Sadly, I don’t expect to be writing much here until way after NaNo is over. This post itself is being written in between lunch and watching “Back to the Future: Part 2”. After that, probably going to head out to a coffee shop to get the day’s allotment of sci-fi written up.

This week at work is a bit hectic: all of my bugs have to be fixed by Friday/Monday. (It’s technically supposed to be Friday, but if I get them in my Monday then all’s good.) So that brings us to a bit of a dilemma. For the past half a year or so I haven’t been working on weekends. At all. Yeah, a huge achievement, considering that before that, for the past two years, I’ve been at work every single weekend.

So, here’s the dilemma: this weekend I’ve got scheduled a writing session, a fair amount of Lego Batman, the new Mass Effect expansion pack, the new Batman game, programming my ray tracer (of course). A packed weekend to be sure. But then, if I don’t get my bugs finished off by Friday, that means that all the plans go right out the window. Sigh.

More on the individual things I’ve got planned for the weekend:

  • An ex-coworker is organizing a writing session. For some of us it’s about planning for the next NaNoWriMo, for me it’s about just practicing writing short stories.
  • I’ve been playing Lego Batman for the past two weeks and it’s really a lot of fun, even for a silly kid’s game. And for a silly kid’s game, there are some interesting puzzles in the game. It’s taking a while to get everything there.
    lego-batman
  • A new expansion has been released for Mass Effect. It’s only 5$, so I don’t expect to spend a lot of time on it, but it’ll still be something new to experience. Can’t wait!
    mass_effect
  • The new Batman game, Arkham Asylum, is really quite amazing. I tried out the demo just an hour ago and I’m very impressed. From the looks of it, there’s a large amount of stealth – sneaking up on unsuspecting enemies and ambushing them while hanging upside down – as well as pure kick-ass fighting.
    batman-arkham-asylum
  • I’ve been doing quite a bit of coding on my ray tracer application, and this weekend should be no different: I’m trying to optimize the application so it’s viable to add interesting effects and construct complex scenes. ATM, it takes anywhere between 4 and 35 minutes to render a single pig (3D pig-shaped object consisting of 7,000 polygons). That’s way too damn slow, even considering that the rendering is occurring on a dinky old laptop and in managed code. So I’m implementing some accelerators, like k-d trees, lazy initialization and caching some frequently-accessed data.
    computer-ray-tracing

If only I could squeeze in a few other things, like dim sum, reading (haven’t been reading for a while now), getting mildly drunk, watching a movie, watching a movie while getting mildly drunk, etc. Ah, wishful thinking. Ooh, maybe Labor Day weekend. 🙂

Big Lebowski

First off, this post started as an idea/resolution. I wanted to write between three and five thousand words, partly to see if I could and partly to keep writing. So I was contemplating what to write about. And the idea that appealed most to me was one that I couldn’t really make into a sci-fi story. Which is what I wanted to do. But the idea I had was too complex, would have required too much explanation for a short story. So, I decided to write three to five thousand words of non-fi. Here’s hoping I can pull it off.

Rest of the post is after the jump.

(more…)

The post is after the jump.

(more…)

I haven’t posted in a while. That’s an understatement, sure. I haven’t posted in five months. I can give a few reasons, like work, NaNoWriMo, work, laziness, work, lack of material, work, Japan trip, work, etc. And I’ll give those reasons (as well as a bit of an explanation for each of them) below, but they’re not real reasons. Sure, they’re “reasons”, technically, but they’re not the reasons I haven’t been posting. There’s no reason for that. I just haven’t been. If you want a reason, you’ve come to the wrong place. On the other hand, if you want some random rambling, a possible religion rant, a crappy attempt at a sci-fi novel and some minor notes about a 2.5 week-trip through Japan… well, keep on reading. The first part of this extended post is just after the jump.

(more…)

I got myself a Magic 8-Ball two weeks and have been having quite a… ball with it. Horrific pun fully intended. …anyway. I’m quite lazy. Hell, I wrote an AI script that writes blogs for me, that’s how lazy I am. And the thing is the smartest bot ever, capable of penning Pulitzer-worthy blogs, but does anyone notice? No! Does anyone care? Of course not! I’m stuck in this dump, writing entries for an idiot with too much time and no life. All he ever does is work work work. Ooh, look at me, I work at Microsoft, I have to neglect my ‘side’ projects. Asshole.

Ahem. Anyway. So he― I mean, I got myself a Magic 8-Ball, but the whole thing about shaking it got so damn boring. So I hooked it up to some motors, posed a webcam over it and automated the whole shebang. It’s very simple now: I write up a list of questions, push a button, go to make myself a sandwich and by the time I’m back, all the questions are answered. I even programmed the system to note when the 8-Ball throws out one of those idiotic “ask again” signs and doesn’t mark the question as answered, but comes back to it after all the others have been asked. It’s really quite an ingenious thing. So, there I am, eating a sandwich and examining the output. And I see a strange pattern: the freaking 8-Ball is spot on! It’s always right! I ask if it’ll rain in 28 minutes, it says ‘yes’, and lo and behold it pours! It’s really working! It tells the future!

What would you do in such a situation? Ask if you’ll meet the love of your life in the next year/month/week/hour? Bah, you’re an idiot! Stop thinking so small! What did I do, you ask? Well, isn’t it obvious? I hooked my blogging AI up to it. The AI is already connected to a vast array of online research tools: dictionaries, thesauruses, encyclopedias, Wikipedia, MSDN (supporting my employer, you understand), CNN, BBC, whatever the hell else it wants and I approve. It asked for Playboy and People a few weeks ago. Of course I wouldn’t allow such trash on my computer, I only let him use the Playboy feed. So, anyway, with most of the non-pornographic internet backing it up (Playboy is to pornography as Hershey’s is to chocolate: if you’re looking for the real thing, keep on walking, Jack) the AI is asking the 8-Ball an unending queue of 20-Questions. About the future. It’s not an easy task to paint an accurate picture of the next decade, particularly when the answers are binary, but he’s pretty far along. He’s already got the major events down and is now concentrating on the small details. Last I checked, he was going for the third week of March, 2013. He’s got the initials of the next-next President of the United States. I don’t particularly care about the 2012 election, though. Or the 2008, aside from having my suspicions confirmed: America elects an old, white, religious male. Surprise!

But, anyhow, let’s skip the small stuff and focus on the important aspects of the future: in just under a year the United States will come under a widespread terrorist attack. There is good news, though, so don’t just dash off to buy a second Uzi. The terrorists are using art. Yes, art. We are under attack from art. Now, don’t start straining your unmyelinated neurons, might hurt yourself. I’ll explain everything.

Art is “an action, an object, or a collection of actions and objects created with the intention of transmitting emotions and/or ideas”. Simple definition, right? Some guy was feeling happy, wrote some symbols on a piece of paper, you looked at those symbols and felt happy: that’s art. Well, art terrorism is just that, only now it’s not happiness or sadness or whatever. No, now it’s slightly different. Here’s an example: the first known piece of terrorist art was painted onto a billboard on the side of a busy road; every person who saw the billboard had an irrational desire to kick his brother out of a car. It didn’t matter if the person didn’t have a brother, or the brother wasn’t in the car, or even if they weren’t driving, but were rather walking along the road: every person wanted to kick their brother out of a car upon seeing that particular picture. And quite a few did! A woman driving an SUV kicked her brother, who was in the passenger seat next to her, right out onto the road. Another incident occurred when two brothers were riding in the backseat of a car: one brother saw the advertisement first and attempted to kick his brother into oncoming traffic. One woman succeeded in kicking her brother out of the car, only to realize that he was the driver. Hilarity ensued.

Artistic terrorism didn’t stop there. Not even close to it. Some artistic terrorist replaced the DVD of an in-flight movie on a transatlantic flight with a DVD that passed onto the viewers a strong need to spit at others. The DVD got stuck on repeat mode and, upon arrival in London, two men and one woman were listed in critical condition as a result of extreme dehydration. Another terrorist plot was much less damaging: the walls of a conference room in a Fortune 500 company (I won’t say which one, but it rhymes with Wicrosoft) were painted a shade of yellow that is very hard to distinguish from their usual wall color and acts primarily on the subconscious level. In this case, the paint persuaded everyone present in a rather a large meeting that they were, on some level, pugs: the attendees turned around three times before sitting down, snored uncontrollably (even when wide awake) and found each other irresistibly cute and huggable.

One incident which caught my eye occurred at MoMA, the Museum of Modern Art in New York City. An exhibition by an until-then unknown artist drew nationwide news coverage when one of the pieces, a water-color painting, resulted in over three hundred divorces over the course of a week. Patrons were often heard exclaiming something along the lines of “that’s pretty good, but― I’m leaving you, Meredith, take the house, I don’t care anymore― the foreground colors produce quite a menacing effect.” The artist was questioned by the FBI but they concluded that he was merely a “loser hippy.” The mayor of New York City invited the artist to what he referred to as his “bachelor pad” after attending the exhibition with his now-ex-wife. I doubt that this was an act of terrorism.

I saved my favorite act of terrorism for last: a programming genius in Redmond, Washington, devised a devastating attack in the form of an easy to draw scribble. This scribble imparted in the observer a feeling of extreme happiness, a desire to share this joy with the world and, having shared, to fight back against a world incapable of accepting or understanding this wonderful gift. In short, every one who saw the scribble got the urge to draw it elsewhere and then went on a spree punching strangers, all the while humming a happy tune and smiling a Cheshire grin. The scribble went on to infect Seattle and neighboring towns, but stopped soon after, for lack of a high enough population density to sustain the reaction. It also didn’t help that the rains kept washing the scribble off most publicly-accessible areas that were effected.

The Magic 8-Ball also went on to make predictions about the second coming of Jesus and me having a life. You know, maybe this thing doesn’t actually work.

Next Page »