Sciencing Fiction Be Hard

I like my science fiction accurate. I mean, Star Trek is fantasy, Star Wars is a space opera, and Firefly is a space western. The Expanse, with a couple of exceptions (and excepting the protomolecule and all that jazz), is pretty accurate. That’s what I look for.

So…last week, my critique group was working on two characters in a lunar lava tube with limited suit oxygen. “But there are oxygen candles,” geeknerd me said. But chemistry, but physics, But real rocket engineers in the critique group.

To the internet I go, trying to figure out how heavy a candle needed to be to provide oxygen for one person for eight hours. and what would be the gas volume for oxygen and how would a space suit accommodate the extra pressure. To say nothing of heat production… Sometimes there are bunny trails, sometimes there are rabbit holes, and sometimes…dragon lairs. Oh, and don’t bother Chat-GPT: to the same prompt, I got two different answers:
1. Asked the same prompt and got two answers. “…The amount of oxygen…[is] around 1 to 2 pounds of oxygen per hour…,” and
2. “The total amount [is]…in the range of tens to hundreds of liters per hour…”

In other words, GIGO, one the first computer acronyms that I learned so many years ago.

Watching a Randal Munroe interview was cathartic. Fractal science questioning and answering are what he lives for. (And, also, harassing Commander Hadfield about how a T-Rex would fly on top of an apparent 737s.) Buy his books! What If 2 is brilliant!

Randall’s got more time than I to turn BTUs into thermal conductivity for surface regolith on the Lunar South Pole and how long the tether from the candle to the spike on the surface could be before the cable melted. The solution to all the above? Write out the oxygen candles and have the characters’ situations be more dire. It’s good to be a god. The surviving characters will thank me.

Cartoon Copyright (C) Randall Munroe,, used according to site guidelines.

Trigger Warning: Trigger Warnings

When Sophie’s Choice was released, I went with a date to see it. I didn’t check reviews; I just heard about a great actress. I spent the last half of the movie sobbing and scared the bejeezus out of my date (especially since I had to drive her home). My mother had told me that story, in gory detail, from her multiple personal experiences with the Nazi “selektion” at Auschwitz. Cue “triggering.”

At the last ArmadilloCon, there was a spirited set of discussions, on and off-panel, regarding trigger warnings. Even with the book title “The Property of Blood, ” the author was urged to use a trigger warning for violence.

As someone who’s lived with PTSD for most of their lives and has had the cinematic Vietnam vet flashback, I don’t see it this way. Caveat Emptor needs to be a much finer, more granular warning, if at all. What triggers one person may be fine for another. And where’s the limit? Do we warn if there are giant spiders in the novel? What if there’s non-consensual, non-sexual touching? The echo of trauma from a bully’s beating can be very painful for some readers, but how does one alert the public?

What Ilona said, mostly. But also, if there’s a large amount of specific violence such as anti-<abuse> that’s not on the title or dust jacket, it’s probably not a big deal to add a warning on the back cover just to give a heads-up. My $0.02, IMHO, YMMV.

ArmadillonCon 46 Approacheth!

I’ll be at the Austin-based con this weekend. There’s an amazing panoply of panels and events that are amazing. You can register on-line, and it’s reasonably priced. There’s no ComicCon hype and not much cosplay, but there are many Austin and area authors in the SF, F, Horror, and even a little MM space.

Dogs, Tricks, New. Damnit!

I’m a recalcitrant writer when it comes to technology, which is funny considering I’ve been neck-deep in emerging technologies for, um, four decades?

It took me over ten years to slide from Word to Scrivener. I still think it’s got a clunky UI, complex more than necessary. But when writing 90k-150k novels spanning many chapters, it made sense. “Compiling” the manuscript to Word or other formats is an excruciating pain in the ass. But here I am.

Grammarly has been around for years, and I’ve scoffed at using such a crutch. But, lured by claims linking it to AI technology (a whole other post, but let’s not go there now), I signed up for the free version.

I’ve paid the $120/year subscription after spending 2 hours taking a story I deemed finished and being marketed through its wringer. I. Am. Humbled. Not bad: 50 or so corrections for 6,300 words. I didn’t accept about a fifth of the suggestions; they were inappropriate for the dialog or tone I was looking for. However, when I looked at the corrections I made in one of my writing groups and read their feedback on my scenes, it was clear that, had I run them through this tool, I’d have far more effective critiquing.

So I’ve got a new trick, one that’ll help my writing sit up and beg.

On Measurements

A Pork Sandwich MeteorIn fantasy, describing quantities can be challenging — way beyond the metric/imperial wars uselessly raging for many decades (especially crazy when designing interstellar craft based on using both systems). A Yorkshire friend of mine once said that, in the original tongue, counting there was “one, two, three, four, five…many.”

I have a novel manuscript that featured counting due to a differently advanced culture. Fingers are good measures for humans (better than barleycorns, royal (?) strides, or other “standards”). The difficulty was in scaling. Sure, ten is two hands. And twenty is either “arms and legs” or four hands. Fifty? A hand of two hands? It didn’t scale without changing some kind of measurement standard.

It was odd to see the post from the Jerusalem Post (now devolved to be the UK’s Sun or New York’s Post intelligence level), measuring a meteor to the size of a premierly non-Kosher food item. In a media venue that slavishly caters to the American Evangelical, and Israeli right-wing and ultra-Orthodox factions, they choose this measure.

But really, how big is a “pork sandwich?” Are we talking white bread with crusts removed? A bagel (why not go all the way on culinary blasphemy)? A Subway not-quite-16″ sub? Is it measured by area? Length?

Weight would help, but I’m betting there’s no sandwich of any kind that would weigh what that meteor weighs, chondrite or otherwise.

Wolfram Alpha has a way to express whale weight in pineapples. It’d be fun to see force defined in terms of grand pianos falling from a number of floors. Or lift as a function of the number of chickens (trying to) take flight.
But pork-based measurements in this context goes beyond that absurdity and enters the realm of “are you kidding me?”

P.S. This blog took 47 knee twitches, a nosepick, and 2,460 keystrokes, less the backspace key.

Publishing & Reality… and Magic

My series, under a nom-de-plum, is finally back in process, after a bout of reality-induced depression and anxiety courtesy of religious fundamentalists in all branches of government. Oh, and nazis. They’re feeling empowered more and more. “This can only end in tears” — ancient parental saying. This was compounded by my having a discussion with a publicist who refused to work with me on the series because the owner is pro-life. (And apparently Jewish practices are anti-life, but I’ll let that one lie.)

So I’m close on the release date of the next book in that series, but having said it would be in “the fall of 2022,” that’s not a small bullseye target.

To restart my engine I returned to a novel I’d completed in first draft, shown to a couple of folks, and knew I needed to make many changes. It’s a YA fantasy novel, with a large world-building component (points a finger at Marshall Maresca’s thoughts and work on that topic).Getting magic right is tricky. Don’t know if I nailed it, but I’ll be reaching out to a few readers in the next couple of weeks.


Publicity for the Indie Author

The second book in my murder/mystery series is done except for incorporating my editor’s edits, and getting a cover finalized.I didn’t do any advertising; I wanted to see how the process worked until publishing. The answer was well and also that, without marketing, there’s just a stealth book out there.

So I’m on the search for someone or a firm to get the new book’s name and author recognition going. Talked with a possible publicist from the Jewish community, and have a contact in the Israeli publishing scene to see if I can get a Hebrew-language version of the books out there.

On more this-author’s-site-related side, I’m going back to the novel I’d like my agent to push. She needs a few things like a synopsis, summary, tag line(s), back cover blurb, and other all-related-but-different collateral. Also, another last reader to make sure nothing’s slipped past me.

I’ve got a few short stories in play, including one that’s already available for purchase: Shloshim. Yes, click that link, buy that story (I mean, it’s only $0.99!). That one might appear in Israel as a reprint, but we’ll see.

That’s all for now. I’m sure any publicist I hire will insist on my getting into a regular publishing schedule, both for this and my nom de plum’s sites. Stay tuned!

On the Writing of Romance Novels, and Plot Problems Therein

Wow, I’ve neglected the site for an entire year! Apologies. I published a suspense/murder-mystery novel under a nom de plum, with novel #2 at an editor with an artist teed up to create the cover. #3 is written and past first draft, and #4 is being written. That last one is a departure from the first three, with a focus on character relationships and the consequences brought on by the previous books. Book Three was hard to write–the saying that if an author doesn’t cry while writing it, readers won’t when reading it is true. And Book Four is where pieces get picked up.

That, in turn, brought me to looking at a trunk novel that I’d buried after writing myself to the point where characters and plot needed complications and messy feeling-type issues. Need I say I wrote this a long time ago? I described my issue to a developer while on Focusmate: “Someone hands you 20,000 lines of code and says ‘clean this program up: it’s supposed to be used to count spiders.’ Then you start looking at the code, and it plays music, and a great game a chess, all with cool graphics… but doesn’t count spiders. Now I have to ‘edit’ it to make it do that.” Okay, weird analogy.

Cover of book titled

Image from Wikipedia

My point is that it’s got good bones, this 20-year-old discarded 80k of writing. Interesting characters, great visuals, nice location. All the elements, but not enough plot points to make it a novel. A romance novel. A genre I’ve never written in. About a triad, becoming a quartet. While there’s tons of interesting (and sometimes contradictory) advice on creating a romance novel, (a) it feels more like ingredients and directions for making a very fiddly cake, and (b) it’s all focused on CIS het couples. The only poly novel I’ve read to this point, and one that piqued my personal interest, was Donald Kingsbury’s Courtship Rite.

My takeaway from a few hours searching is that, while LGBTQIA+ realities have (finally) moved more into the mainstream, “Romance,” at least as defined by literally dozens of coaching and writing sites, are still back in the 90s (except for the BDSM components for a little more spice). So, better armed, I’m looking for the “story arc” and “formulas” that do focus on the plurality that love can be.

Or maybe I should stick to SF and M/M? {sigh}

Manuscripts vs. Entropy

Lightning StrikeI’m prepping a manuscript (Last Run) for shopping, after a HUGE number of great changes suggested by the White Gold Wielders writers group here in Austin. Having one’s novel read and commented on in group format is a blessing I would hope for all my novels.

I fired up Scrivener, started making changes, moved from my laptop to my desktop, and Uncle Murphy struck. The result: A few dozen “recovered” files, blank scenes where once text resided. What’s been updated? What’s had changes? Between a Word copy used for the group discussion, a text comparison tool, and a lot of careful scrutiny of the recovered files, I was able to bring the manuscript back to wholeness, with only one scene flagged as “deleted right before the crash–” and therefore not an issue.

Save. Save again. Save yet more. One of the first things a writer learns is “keep a backup.” I have Dropbox, exports to Word, saved zip files of scrivener folder structures for major edits. And still, Murphy manages to get a word in edgewise. Or at least cost me three hours of quality time repairing, because things went splat at exactly the wrong time.