Sunday, 1 December 2013

Brock Eastman - Writing along the same lines

So while I was ordering a book to give our boys at Christmas (namely the fifth in Sigmund Brouwer's excellent Robot Wars) I found this other writer penning science fiction novels for young adults.

Believe it or not, we're a rare breed.

Fantasy for kids, yeah, cyberspace is loaded with it. So are the bookshelves of most big bookshops. You can find it by the truck load wherever you look. Dragons, swords, enchanted forests. Vampires, zombies, silly green aliens, even the time-travelling antics of 21st century kids and their dogs (well... I made up the part about the dog, but I'm fairly certain you'd find such a story out there).

But stories involving technological futures, plausible science, and lotsa action that make you think about real life? Nine times out of ten, you come up with almost nothing.

So if you're interested in finding some good reading for young adults, children with reading ages about 10+, and you want a series of out-of-breath action stories packed with thought and depth, then go and look at Brock Eastman's novels.

That's all from me now. Late. Must sleep.

Thursday, 21 November 2013

The Count Who Never Was - A NaNoWriMo Thing

While I was racing to write the first 50,000 words of the sequel to The Calling, I stopped and realised that this piece of story was too long. It's where Extreme Count Sessalian tells a story about his origins. I cut it out and rewrote it. That's an art that I haven't been very good at, but the result fit in much better.

Still, here's the original, because I still like it! Hope you do too. Sessalian is becoming one of my favourite new characters. And as for old Tylingale... have you ever met him in real life? I think I have.

Then Sessalian grinned. "I have just the thing. Little anecdote from way back, just after I'd fled my home city of Ea-Karitk. The revolution, you see. At least they called it a revolution, but to be true to fact, it was a conspiracy to tear down all law and order and seize control of what remained after the chaos. Still don't know exactly who was behind it. Half of my extended family was killed or imprisoned, and most of the rest must have fled, like me. But news reports accused some cousins of being involved in the conspiracy. I didn't believe it for a moment.
"My Procurer-Chief, a wise old syen we called Urix, escaped with me and had the Civilia Council's yacht warming up nicely on the apron. We boarded it just as the mob of rioters reached the dock.
"Ahh! I can still see the fires burning out of control across the garden-domes of Rejanus district when we lifted straight through the air-curtain and into the cold vacuum. We drifted like a falling leaf away from the city which was my home. Beyond was the grey-green planet which Ea-Karitk was orbiting at the time. I wept. It is a beautiful place, still, my city: Eight great domed forest-towns spinning majestically around a hub." He stopped and peered at his boots. "Funny thing, though. When we sold the yacht at Venyule a year later, the selling price amounted to exactly the back pay I was owed from the Rejanus Civilia office. Plus interest. I split it two ways with Urix.
"But the actual anecdote comes from just after that. I was feeling a bit low about everything as I skulked around the social scene on Venyule. Then I happened to bump into another exile, the cousin of my father's aunt, an old coot named Mendizza Tylingale. White hair like lightning bolts, staring eyes reddened by drink and lack of sleep, clothes disorderly, and speech like a bad actor who speaks loudly to make up for lack of talent. But we knew each other well enough for him to invite me to a dinner party in a rented ballroom. 'Many old friends,' he told me. I was delighted.
"Truth was, Tylingale was missing a wheel. Like a fusion drive starved of hydrogen. A bit simple. But a big heart. Somehow he'd got sucked into this thing without realising what it was all about.
"We joined the party, grabbed drinks and circulated for a while. I tried to ignore a few aggressive stares. One man asked Tylingale right out why he'd brought me along, as if I was from the enemy camp. Tylingale just gave the man a puzzled stared until he turned away.
"Then a big man began a speech from the front. At first I agreed. It was all about taking back what was ours, reclaiming Ea-Karitk for its true citizens, and so on. I thought it odd that he didn't moan and wail about the recent rioting and destruction. Then he made some scathing remarks about the recently-removed rulers and how we would do so much better without them. This was too much for me. I raised my voice - and I have quite a loud voice when I have a mind - to ask how the blazes he proposed to govern without the system of Counts and Countesses.
"Sudden sound of three hundred people sucking in their breath and holding it. Every eye drilled into me. Somebody muttered, 'Oh no, not him! Who invited Sess?'
"It suddenly occurred to me that I should take an unplanned vacation far, far away, beginning that instant. I had stumbled into a gathering of the conspirators who had destroyed my home and my family. But as I stared back at the crowd I recognised some faces. My cousin. My nephew. An official from the Rejanus Civilia office.
"Not being able to contain my outrage, I denounced each and every one of them in great depth and vivid detail, listing their crimes. Their faces were a portrait in shock, horror, then rage. I had just reached the peak of my ravings when dear old Mendizza Tylingale clapped his big, sweaty hand over my mouth and apologised most humbly - and most loudly - for me. 'This dear, dear man has had too much to drink. And surely that's no crime?' he trumpeted. On he rambled, making only a fractured kind of sense, until most were looking at him, and I backed away. Thankfully most of the people had still a great deal of the old Ea-Karitk in them and didn't touch me as I shuffled to the door. The man at the front was trying to interrupt old Tylingale, but to no avail. When I finally crept from the door, Tylingale reached the climax of his meandering but passionate monologue, and the whole ballroom erupted in applause.
"That was the day I vowed that I would devote my life to some noble cause, if it might possibly lead to justice for the crooks who stole our city away from us. It's been a few years of wandering, but here I am."
Ahh... I have a confession to make. I just checked the word count on this and the one I'm using so far - the second version is twice as long as the first! What can I do?

Now I remember. The other reason for rewriting it was that the action in this first draft - a whole culture getting violently overthrown - resembles other parts of the story too much and I wanted to make it different. Variety is the spice of life.

Tuesday, 19 November 2013

Life on a Wave

Time for another excerpt from what I'm writing. In this one, Captain Eskemant reveals his origins and describes life on his home planet, Wave, and the beginning of the disturbances that would change his life forever:

Tornwade of clan Wushesh was born and raised among the nomadic sea people. On the surface of Wave there are a few thousand small islands with a total area of only 10,000 square kilometres or so, mostly clumped in a vague crescent in the tropics. The remainder is restless ocean, save for the polar ice caps.

One group of islands, nestled in shallower water, forms a shield against most of the ocean storms, and it was here that the Weshesh built their water farms. Every year, after the tropical rains had passed, they’d sail their homeboats into the wide expanse of calm water they called the Ring. The islands surrounding them supported a few fruit trees and bushes, but the people of the clan distrusted the land and always felt uneasy there.

Tornwade learned to mend the kelp-rope cages, dive to cultivate the kelp beds below, and prune the floating strumweed mats that had wandered into the Ring to feed and bud off new mats. By the end of the season they’d have enough dried kelp heads to feed themselves on their long travels when the fishing was poor, they’d hope to have harvested enough greyhead and dumbol fish to sell at the Platform, and the strumweed would provide them with the raw material for cloth, and enough fresh water for another few months.

He watched his grandmothers and aunts salting away enough dumbols to use as bait for the deep-sea fishing season, and he’d sit with his brothers and sisters twisting kelp-rope during the warm, quiet evenings while father repaired the homeboat to make ready for the trip to the northern waters. The stars twinkled into life, shyly, and the shushing of the surf over the shallows came invisibly to them. The warm, sweaty air of the day was lifting, cooling, and a pleasant breeze would blow in their faces.

The Platform was the mobile sea-town where the sea peoples traded with the Outsiders. It housed a few stores and offices, all gathered around a central landing apron for an orbital shuttle. Not many of our clans would touch most of the trade goods on offer. We had our ways and we were happy. Medicines, though – we could extract our own antiseptic, anti-inflammatories and pain killers from the sea life, but for much else we traded fish for better health. And steel blades, and wire, sometimes. Other clans, who weren’t so conservative in their ways, bought outboard motors and harvested methane from the strumweed to power them. We all had small methane-powered stoves to keep warm in the northern winter nights. But they also wore Outsider clothes, listened to Outsider music and even ate the processed food the rest of us found so alien. Some got drunk on Outsider booze and wasted away to nothing or fell off their boats in the middle of the night. They hungered after the gadgets for sale on the Platform: navigation aids, two-way radios, clocks, small boxes with glowing screens and so on. We just laughed at them. Who needed it?

A few clans began to settle on the deserted islands, away from the waves which rocked us to sleep each night. They built huts and discovered the problems of sewage, parasites and vermin. Many grew sick. Cholera was common.

The trouble began when Tornwade had almost reached the age of adulthood. He was looking forward to building his own homeboat and setting out to explore the Fringed Islands in the distant east with two friends. They'd hunt the giant barking eels that lived in the deeps but occasionally emerged on deserted beaches to mate and nest. After that he was expected to find a wife and settle down.

The clan homeboats swept into the Ring in little groups at the start of the kelping season. People were busy furling their sails and dropping their anchors and didn’t notice the new shape on the skyline until one small girl on the homeboat nearest that of Tornwade’s family let out a delighted cry. "Look, a big net-needle in the sky!"

It looked to everyone as though the Outsiders had built a slender mast of some kind on one of the larger islands that circled the Ring. Over the following days the clan discovered it was a transmitter built next to a complex of some sort. The people there weren't at all friendly and drove off Tornwade and the others who'd gone to find out what was going on.

The clan adults talked about it. Almost everyone felt robbed, felt that these coarse foreigners had invaded their home, even though none of the clan wanted to live on an island. But they didn't see any lasting damage the construction would bring.

Thursday, 14 November 2013

Excerpt from the sequel

Did you know that November is NaNoWriMo? National Novel Writing Month. Thousands of writers around the world dash madly into writing a new novel, aiming to write 50,000 words during one month. It's not impossible! I've reached about 17,000 after a late start. Here's an excerpt in which some of the Tellarine Squadron are passing the time by telling their stories.

Count Sessalian Emindile looked up at Valin for a long moment, with a blank stare that chilled Valin's heart momentarily. The man's seen things that would leave me a nervous wreck, Valin realised.
Then Sessalian grinned. "I have just the thing. A little anecdote from way back, when I was forced to flee my home city of Ea-Karitk.
"Ea-Karitk is probably nothing like what you imagine when I say it's a city. Picture a bright jewel spinning in space. Eight great curved plates are sewn side-by-side and joined into an octagonal hoop. In the centre, light from the AM plant is reflected along the hub and down to the plates, or townships, according to time of day. One end of the hub holds the electromagnetic shield array and matter scoops, and the other holds the AM plant which powers the propulsion unit.
"Having said all that, the real city is not a matter of engineering, but a community of citizens living, working, eating and drinking, and occasionally performing lavish plays in which they express their pity for people who don't live in Ea-Karitk. And my district, Rejanus the Green, is renowned for its amateur dramatic societies. And for its apartment blocks which refuse to stop growing until they reach the inside of the great array of domes that covers the township. Building up instead of out meant that we have much more room for lawns and parkland, fairgrounds and bandstands. The citizens of Rejanus make good artists, musicians, architects and civic leaders. They're also remarkably relaxed. They lead balanced lives and don't feel the need to argue or criticise the neighbours - except when it's somebody in the apartment above yours whose chamber orchestra rehearses in their lounge late at night. Or someone whose pet velvetoe messes in the hallway at dawn each day. Such disputes are common.

"I chose my apartment for its location above one of our largest parks, through which you can stroll for an hour without treading the same path twice. I was twenty-two stories up, more than halfway to the dome. I could sit on my balcony in the evenings and gaze up at the other townships as the light on them grew or faded. Each township keeps a different time zone, you see. Some would be hosts of twinkling lights, some would shine brilliantly in daylight, which lit our streets and plazas in our night."

Saturday, 26 October 2013

Everybody's Exploring Space These Days!

It's a happening thing. So many companies and organisations are opening up, developing their own spaceflight programs, building the hardware out of sheet metal in their garage, or networking with people to spread their vision of colonising the Moon or Mars or even further afield. You can go online and help to discover planets orbiting other stars; you can chat with the volunteer colonists at Mars One; you can sign up to be an astronaut. No doubt there's a lot I've missed, because there's just so much happening!

By the way, the Book Signing Show at Chapters went very well. I met lots of friends, and the pack of boys seemed to enjoy it all, including the Win-A-Book quiz (well done Noah!) and the Choose-Your-Adventure story.
Wanna-be-Chris-Hadfield: Singing a snippet from 'A Space Oddity'

So here's my list, which I will update from time to time on the page listed in the margin on this site. Let me know in the Comments if you find more good ones.

Some Internet Links Relating To The Exploration and Settlement of Outer Space

Planet-Hunting Online:

Developers of spacecraft:
Reaction Engines - developers of Skylon
SpaceX - a successful private space company
100 Year Starship - developing a starship in the next 100 years
Studies for propellant depot in Low Earth Orbit
Private Danish team developing manned space program in garage
Another homemade space program

A number of organisations and companies interested in lunar expeditions:
Golden Spike
Moon Express
Shackleton Energy Company
A paper by Boeing

Space Tourism ventures:

Asteroid Mining ventures:
Deep Space Industries

Colonisation of Mars and elsewhere:
The Mars Society
The Space Settlement Initiative
Flashline Mars Arctic Research Station

Space Law and miscellaneous
Text of the U.N. Outer Space Treaty (1951)
Property rights in space - article
Proposal for a U.S. Space Guard
American citizen makes claim on asteroid - article
International Institute of Space Law - statement

Wednesday, 23 October 2013

Well, I never! DIY Space Rockets!

I remember travelling by train in England along a route which I'd normally driven. The difference was marked - you see the countryside and town from a startlingly different angle. It's not as blatant as the wow-factor in flying over your hometown for the first time, I know.

I experienced something comparable, though, while doing a little background research for this Chapters book-signing event (see last post). Looking into the many and varied efforts people are putting into private space travel ventures is like old-style barn dancing - who will be your partner next time around? And the next? I looked again at SpaceX on Wikipedia (bless their cyber-socks) and clicked on a link that said 'private spaceflight'. Way down the bottom of that page under the exciting 'External Links' section I found two intriguing companies called 'Starchaser Industries' and 'Astrobotic'. Who could resist finding out about names like that? Starchaser is building its own rocket to launch two people up to 100,000 feet - that's about 30 km - not quite 'real' space which is 100 km, but still impressive. Here's what it looks like:
Thunderbirds Are GO!
And they're recruiting astronauts to fil the navigator's seat! Need I mention that it's based in the UK, in Cheshire to be exact, where they make such good cheese.

Sadly, Astrobotic's page didn't load. Oh - wait a sec - I tried again and here's a picture of one of their planetary exploration rovers.
Anyway, you get the idea. I spent a few other web crawls finding out about the advantages of orbital tethers, LEO refuelling depots, the Outer Space Treaty of 1951 and its ramifications for private space investors, and the Mars Society. It's all out there. Isn't it wonderful that so many people are taking the initiative? My favourite of the week is the Danish engineer who is building Denmark's first manned space program in his (rather large) garage, along with some buddies. They're called Copenhagen Suborbitals. Look!

Shiny rocket cones! I like! This is the liquid oxygen tank.
I'll be adding a whole list of similar links after the book signing. See you then.

Saturday, 5 October 2013

Book Signing - And More

After an impressive pause, the local branch of Chapters has made some shelf space for The Calling. I delivered 15 copies on Thursday. On the evening of Friday October 25th there will be a book signing show, including a picture show I'm planning.

Since the book's intended readership is from 8 up to teenagers, I'll be talking about the science in science fiction - artificial gravity, orbits, the Solar System and so on - as well as introducing the book and the main one or two characters. A special feature will be a picture story where members of the audience will choose what happens next! Then there will be time for questions and (if I'm on the ball) answers.

If you're in Thunder Bay, perhaps I'll see you there! It starts at 7 pm (and not the 7.30pm I mistakenly posted here originally!).

Here's the Facebook event page link.

Wednesday, 13 March 2013

What's A Website To You?

Have you ever found a totally neat website? Some are full of jiggery, dancing graphics, or eye-pleasing images, smart features; some feature links to all sorts of interesting places, and some are so well written you can't click away until you've scrolled right to the bottom. Maybe you read that text and you come face-to-face with another human being and their thoughts so beautiful, or outlandish, or provoking. And a very few have all of the above.

I confess that this here page hasn't got there yet. Yours truly has been sucked away into a strange massively-offline-multi-player-game-universe called "Real Life" in which you have to get something called a "job" in order to earn a reward called "money". You can then swap this money for all sorts of power-ups and inventory items. I've recently slid back down a short greased ladder to the stage of again searching for one of these "jobs". Not complaining, just saying. So anyway, it takes up my time, this "Real Life". Maybe you're playing it too.

But what do you look for in a good Young Adult or Pre-Teen website devoted to a science fiction novel like The Calling? Have you gone for a ride in my 'Valin's Log' site and checked out the different pages? (See the sidebar to the left and click.) Do you have any suggestions for what you'd like to see there?

So far, I've aimed to make 'Valin's Log' an extension to the story itself, a filling-in of the background universe. 'Killian's Story' is a seedling of an idea to make a Choose-Your-Own-Adventure; if I notice a lot of traffic there I will invest time in expanding the story.

So log in and leave a comment. I haven't seen many comments here yet... but traffic on the site is slowly growing. Give me some feedback and I'll have a better idea where to go with 'Valin's Log'.

Monday, 11 March 2013

Tips for parents!

A big hello to all parents of The Calling's readers. This blog is really, honestly, about science fiction for kids, but, well, sometimes truth is stranger than fiction. So this post's an exception.

Recently I received an email from a lady who writes helpful articles on the subject of how to find childcare when you want or need to go out. The following article is about encouraging your children to behave well in restaurants. The real-life bloopers and catastrophes that drive someone to write on this subject I will leave to your imaginations - or perhaps it's happened to you! Here's the link.