gridlore: Old manual typewriter with a blank sheet of paper inserted. (Writing)
2017-10-04 02:13 pm
Entry tags:

Atomic Batteries to Power, Turbines to Speed...

I am surrounded by books on writing that are gathering dust, waiting to be read. Books on creating plots, types of plots, how to create, how to edit, how space travel works, how bodies get injured and how to turn pro.

All sitting there waiting. With National Novel Writing Month fast approaching, I need to get serious and focus my mind of getting ready and working hard on my preparation for the task of getting 50,000 coherent words in place in 31 days. That's about 1,600 words a day without fail. A daunting task indeed.

But one that's important to me. It has been 17 years since GURPS Traveller: Ground Forces hit the shelves. I want that feeling again. I want to hold something I created in my hands and take people to a world that lives only in my head. I want to entertain people.

I want to write.

Admittedly, I'm a complete failure at the Larry Niven School of Being a Successful Science-Fiction Writer. I wasn't born rich and I didn't start young. But Grandma Moses didn't start painting until she was in her late 70s, so I have no excuse. The words are in me, somewhere, I just have to find the way to get them out.

Fantasies of winning the Hugo aside, I'm realistic about this novel of mine. Odds are, it will sell maybe a few hundred copies. People will hopefully like it and maybe want a sequel. The probability is that my book will fall into the vast abyss of self-published SF and exist only as a base of the Amazon sales pyramid, coming in at 3,658,108 in Science Fiction this week!

Seriously, if I make enough money for a Chili's and movie night with Kirsten, I'll be satisfied. Look for me sitting behind a pile of trade paperbacks at Baycon!

But somewhere in the locked corner of my heart where my dreams still hold out, I hold the slightest flame of hope that Task Force Khanda (I've changed the name) will be *good* in that special way. That I'll have written a really good Space Opera. That it will be noticed. That a real publisher might pay for the rights. That I might be an author in name as well as intention.

Why now? Because it is time for me to start moving again. I'm at a point where I'm maintaining my health. I'm not getting better. I am painfully aware that I have a limited time to leave a mark on the planet. I have no kids except for a possible son who would be pushing 30 at this point and has never attempted to make contact. I've done no great thing to get me into the history books. There will never be a statue of me in the park for pigeons to poop on. Ground Forces is out of print. I'm searching for both validation and a legacy, and I have a story to tell.

Starting now the work begins. I'm going to get the ship lists together, crew them, sit down with my stellar atlas to plot the moves of the several squadrons and ships involved, and outline the three major plot lines I'm planning on, with all the complications.

I have the tools. Libre Office is my word processor of choice, I have Grammarly to catch my mistakes, Scrivener for plot whiteboarding and editing, and Dragon speech recognition if I just want to cut out the keyboard and try speaking a chapter or scene. That should be faster in getting thoughts out, although it will mean a lot of cleaning up, as Dragon sometimes gets things wrong. Still, It's worth a shot.

For those not up on this project, I'm taking the actions of the German Imperial Navy's Far East Squadron in WWI and transferring it to deep space. The feel is going to be claustrophobic in the ships while a chess game is played between the two commanders. Travel using the faster than light drives is hard on people and electrical equipment, and ships can only enter or level hyperspace when the local gravity is above a certain level. So the chase is going to be guessing where the fugitive fleet is going, while the runners try to trick their pursuers.

A couple of big fights, lots of tension on the ships, and a few surprises. And I'm not a big fan of happy endings in war stories. I just have to make it happen. I may be asking for people to comment on chapters as I go. If you'd be interested in both picking apart my grammar as well as commenting on the flow of the story, let me know.
gridlore: Old manual typewriter with a blank sheet of paper inserted. (Writing)
2017-09-26 04:43 pm
Entry tags:

When you get an idea, WRITE IT!

I swear this first scene of the warehouse fight just popped into my head. The rest followed just as quickly.

____


I pressed my back against the wall of the crumbling warehouse, standing in the waist-high brown weeds and holding my pistol chest high, just waiting. From long experience, I knew that around the corner was a two-door loading dock, choked with weeds and the roll-up doors long since pillaged. My zen told me there were two Norteño soldiers advancing up the ramp.

My zen. It's what the Army called "Enhanced Battlefield Awareness" when they plugged me and a few hundred other Airborne Rangers back during the Rio Plata War, back before everything went to shit. I hear, see, even detect smells better than the average human. Even have a kind of ESP from all the data I can collect. The downside is blinding headaches, vivid nightmares, and suicidal urges.

You get what you pay for, I guess, and I paid nothing for these upgrades. These two guys stalking me are good. They know that I've taken out the other four members of their scouting group, and are being cautious. Carefully I squat down and grab a chunk of concrete lying in the dirt. There's a window above me that goes into the old office of this place. I slept there once or twice when times got hard. Feeling where the Norteños are, I toss the rock through the broken window and begin moving.

Did I mention I was also gifted with an Enhanced Neural Response System? Means I'm fast as hell when I need to be. I come around the corner and I'm already aiming. Target One has heard the rock hit the garbage on the upper floor and is starting to look upwards. I squeeze the trigger and I'm so amped I can almost see the bullet crawling towards his chest. Before it hits I'm onto Target Two, who was looking to the side, sweeping the open area of the parking lot with his rifle.

Both shots hit. Two takes a headshot and drops like his strings got cut. One is still breathing and looks like he might start screaming for his mama in a second. Can't have that. I carry a knife just for this sort of situation. I quietly finish One off, then have to stifle my own screams as my ENRS shuts down. Overdriving your body like that has its own price, pure agony as your nerves scream at you for a minute. They used to give us drugs to stop that reaction. The drugs are long gone.

Because it's part of my job, I search them. Two very nice M34 6.5mm battle rifles and about 150 rounds of ammo. Those join the pair of rifles and ammo stock I took off two of the other members of this patrol. One has a bag of cold tamales. Without a second thought, I devour the entire bag. The other price of being that fast is you need more food, which is a liability when the enemy controls almost all the remaining farmland. I've learned to like fish and rice, two things we can get ourselves.

I had to get back, night was coming soon and the night belongs to the feral dog packs and the equally feral packs of humans who are struggling to survive. Wrapping the captured gear for easier transport (after claiming one of the rifles for myself, of course), I struck north, coming up the rough roadbed of 580 with the oily waters of the bigger and better Bay lapping over the drowned buildings of Old Oakland. An hour walk and I spotted the watch fires, young men barely out of their teens trusted to maintain the borders. They knew me - everyone knew me - and let me pass.

"Lord Mayor at the Claremont?" I asked as I passed through the makeshift barricade.

"Where else?" the kid replied with a shrug. He was armed with an old sport crossbow. Even in the ruins of Oakland, there weren't enough guns and ammo to go around. I thought for a second about teaching the kid a lesson about respect and giving correct answers, but I was tired, still hungry, and my legs were still shrieking in pain.

Eventually, I made my way to the sprawling City Hall. It was once a luxury hotel and spa, but how long since anyone has gone on a vacation? I've forgotten. After a brief argument with the guards over the guns I was carrying (they wanted to take them "for safekeeping" which meant they'd never be seen again), I was admitted to the Lord Mayor's presence.

In a world facing famine, he managed to be obese. He called himself "Lord Mayor" because he liked the title. He was really just another strongman squatting in the ruins, but he kept the food coming and the violence down. We could have done a lot worse. He rose from his throne and lumbered towards me.

"Ranger Man! We were getting worried about you, haven't seen you for days!"

I managed a smile. He liked it when people smiled. "Got tangled up with a Norteño scouting group near Hayward. Took me a couple of days to finish them." I dropped the bundle of guns and ammo on the floor. "Took that from them, pretty good gear." I looked him in the eyes, smile gone. "I'm keeping this rifle and two loaded magazines."

The Lord Mayor just laughed. "Of course, Ranger Man! You are my best scout, and the guys you train are the second best! Sit, eat! It's crab season, and we even traded for some garlic." That sounded too good. I abandoned all pretense of manners and plopped myself down on some cushions. One of the Lord Mayor's numerous serving girls brought me a plate with a mountain of crab meat on it and a glass of some cheap red wine. She crouched next to me, in case I needed something. The Lord Mayor was going on about negotiations with the San Francisco Island Confederation over our mutual problems with the Norteños and piracy on the San Joaquin Channel. I wasn't interested.

The mostly-naked girl stared at me as I ate, furtively glancing at where the Lord Mayor was still talking and laughing on his seat of power. "I . . . I heard that you remember," she said in a hushed voice. "I mean before the collapse, I mean, back when this was a city and San Francisco wasn't a bunch of islands. Is that true?"

My mouth was full of really good crab, so I just nodded yes.

"My goodness!" she almost squeaked before controlling her voice again. "May I ask how old you are?"

I swallowed and stared her in the eyes. "Calendar is messed up, but I suspect I'm 77 years old."

She gasped loudly and made a show of taking my empty wine glass for a refill. The Lord Mayor noticed the motion and drunkenly shouted "My Ranger Man! Don't know what I'd do without him!" as the crowd of sycophants cheered.

I bowed my head in acknowledgment of his compliment, but my thoughts were dark. You’re going to learn soon enough. I'm not immortal; the Army couldn't do that for me. I may be the last man in America who remembers civilization. And après moi, le déluge.
gridlore: Doug looking off camera with a grin (Default)
2017-09-25 07:30 pm
Entry tags:

If I had wanted ice cream . . .

Had an annoyance this morning. I'm finally getting back to my writing group. The fall session started in late August, but I would have missed two of four sessions due to Burning Man, so why pay for that? So I was ready and eager to get back to having to explain things to my fellow writers who know nothing about science-fiction.

A ritual I've developed is hitting the McDonald's drive-thru for breakfast. I love their sausage biscuits with egg, and I get a milk to go with it. I do this because making breakfast myself requires spoons that I'll need later. Plus, yummy biscuits.

I should have known there was a problem when the line was at a dead stop. But I had given myself plenty of time, and I wanted my sandwich! So I crept the truck up to the order box. Where I gave my exceedingly simple order in a clearly enunciated voice. "Sausage Biscuit with Egg, and a milk, please."

All I get is an "OK, second window" and nothing on the order screen. This was a little disturbing, but the screen has been out for a while. And my order is dead fucking simple.

Still creeping. I have the window down and I don't care who hears me mangle Turn the Page Finally get to the window, with my formally comfortable time cushion deflating rapidly.

The young lady asks me for an amount way over what I know my order costs, even with tax. When I question this, she reads back my order as "Egg McMuffin meal . . ." I stop her right there. Where the hell does one get "Egg McMuffin" from "Sausage Biscuit with Egg"? She gets the correct order up, and after wandering aimlessly for three minutes hands me my order. Stopping only long enough to check it was my order, and not a BigMac or a half-eaten donut from across the street, I raced (as well as one can race on streets with a 25mph speed limit) to school, devouring my precious food all the way. I figured I'd just slam the milk in the parking lot. I'm an old truck driver, many times I've eaten a meal in stages in three different places.

Find parking, put up my Gimp Placard, and grab my milk. I twist the cap open and get a refreshing mouthful of . . . nothing. That, and my lips are very cold. The milk they handed me was frozen solid. It was a rock. Frustrated, I grabbed a few swallows from a water fountain and headed in for the group.

Which was terrific as ever. Good to see everyone again after the extended summer break, and see what people were working on. This group lasts two hours, 1000-1200 hours, and it was a warm day here in Santa Clara. We even stayed late to allow one more story to be read. The milk jug was still solid.

Back over to McD's, where the manager was appalled. She quickly checked the unit where milk and the like are stored and swore in a language that was both beautiful and venomous. She was pissed. I've seen this woman, always clad in the best hijab that manages to compliment the uniform of the day, running the morning shift like a pro. She takes pride in her work. She quickly refunded my money, and I was on my way.

But seriously, the problem with the frozen milk aside (which is a training issue, someone forgot to reset the temperature controls) my real complaint was with the young lady who took my order. She failed to offer a greeting, failed to confirm my order, failed to tell me my total, and I never got a thank you. This location is hiring a lot of new people, but someone that inexperienced should not be running breakfast rush by herself. I can only imagine how many errors ahead of me were the cause of the glacial movement of the line.

I know I've never worked fast food, but I have worked jobs where getting and relaying accurate information is vital to success. I've been a dispatcher, carried messages from contractors to my warehouse manager and sales staff, and, oh yeah, learned to call in artillery and air strikes! You do not want to say Sausage Biscuit with Egg and have them hear Egg McMuffin in that last one!

And it really isn't like this is my only option. Within a short drive, there is a Jack in the Box, a Burger King, and if I want to go nuts, I can sit down at Denny's. I hate to sound like That Customer, but they are in a fight to keep my money in their tills.

Oh, well. At least I got my biscuit.
gridlore: Old manual typewriter with a blank sheet of paper inserted. (Writing)
2017-09-22 02:50 pm

The Ganaraajy Arjun (Task Force Singh)

Beginning to gear up for the marathon slog that is NaNoWriMo. I'm doing a lot of background work, material that probably won't be in the book, but is essential for building a story in a setting that makes sense. To that end, I'm detailing the government and culture of the state that controls Task Force Singh. The main change is I'm getting away from Star Empires, because what a tired out trope that is!

The Beta Hydri system was settled roughly 300 years before the book's starting date, by way of a huge colonization effort headed by India. The effects of climate change and the ravages of the Warpox epidemic (a weaponized form of smallpox released in the 2060s by an unidentified group) was leading to mass famine. Volunteers from across southern Asia begged to be included in the mission. All told, over 5 million refugees were packed into colony ships and sent out.

The rigorous conditions on the poorly-maintained ships heading to their new home, named Arjuna after a mythical hero from Indian folklore, led to the creation of a strict hierarchy and a strong work ethic. Shelters needed to be dug and fitted out, vast hydroponic farms put into operation, and a million other details worked out. The colony thrived with an isolated oligarchy running things.

Power has concentrated in the hands of the Jagirdar; landed nobles who ruled through sheer economic power. The Jagirdar were the captains of industry and governors of the vast warrens of worker housing. A strong patron-client system grew as the Jagir houses provided for and protected the workers in their territories, while the lower class agreed to support their patrons nearly without question. As the colony grew to exploit both the resources of Beta Hydri and those of nearby stars, conflict among the Jagir houses grew to near warfare. Finally, the leading houses came to an agreement to form a new government based on wealth, a plutocracy with some nods to a representative government.

Today, the Ganaraajy Arjun (Republic of Arjun) controls sixteen star systems besides the home system of Beta Hydri. The government is headed by a Prime Minister. This official wields wide executive and judicial powers but holds his office at the pleasure of the Gomed Hol, the legislative body made up of Jagirdar representatives. Earning one of the 250 seats in the Onyx Hall is simple: you bid for it. Powerful families will place a dozen or more of their clients and relatives in Gomed Hol to further family interests. A seat is held until a challenge is made for it by an interested party.

The people are represented in the Samsad (Parliament), which is based on population. Currently, the Samsad seats 573 voting members and numerous non-voting observers from the colonies. The Samsad is where legislation is proposed and passed, although the Gomed Hol can veto any bill with a simple majority vote. This has led to legislative gridlock and blocked any attempt at reform.

Members of the Samsad are elected from regional councils, which are elected by the people. One of the greatest issues on Arjuna is the growing demand for direct representation and more regional power. The Samsad is considered too remote, with each member speaking for an average of 3 million citizens.
The Prime Minister is charged with appointing officers to the various ministerial posts and running the day to day operations of the state and government. Prime Ministers are usually chosen by the party with the majority in the Samsad, or by coalition vote. Prime Ministers remain in office at the pleasure of the Gomed Hol or until his party falls out of the majority and a new Prime Minister is called for.

There are several unofficial political parties in the Republic and many small factional groups. The major players are:

  • The Expansionists. They support a strong central government and expanding the Republic. Currently, they hold a slim majority in the Samsad with strong support in the Gomed Hol.

  • The Traditionalists. A conservative, religious party dedicated to returning to old Hindu ways and promoting religious unification under one faith. The more radical members want a return to the caste system. They are partners with the Expansionists in the current government.

  • The Unionists. Their main platform is full membership in the Republic and full citizenship for those living on those worlds designated as colonies and ruled by appointed governors.

  • The Democracy Now Party. They demand the dismantling of the current state and full suffrage and free elections under a new constitution. They hold a small number of seats, but are quite vocal and vote as a solid bloc. They tend to support the Unionists, but the latter seems to be embarrassed by the antics of Democracy Now supporters. This faction has been linked to terrorism in the past.

  • The Consolidationists. Bitter foes of the Expansionists, they advocate spending precious Rupees on building infrastructure and improvements in the territories already controlled by the state and improving the lot of the citizenry.

  • The Isolationists. They fight defense spending and expansion tooth and nail. Once the strongest voice in the Samsad, they've lost dozens of seats over the years and are now a distant third after the Expansionists and the Unionists with almost no support in the Onyx Hall. Natural allies of the Consolidation Party, they break on several issues, so a true union seems impossible.


As I said, almost none of this will show up directly in the book, but it will help me build characters and tensions inside the task force. And if I get to a second book, I can see it being a more political novel focusing on the aftermath of the war shaking out in the defeated Ganaraajy Arjun.
gridlore: Old manual typewriter with a blank sheet of paper inserted. (Writing)
2017-06-12 05:22 pm
Entry tags:

What Dreams May Come

It's not often that I wake up and remember what it is I've been dreaming, but today was an exception. I frankly had a bad night's sleep, caused mainly by some stomach upset and my legs being their usual awful selves. So I was a bit surprised when I woke up around 0645 with a vivid image of a dream still with me.

Having lost too many good ideas to procrastination, I got dressed and headed out to my computer. I was under a bit of a deadline, as I had an appointment for my regular blood work and after that my writing group, so I had to be out the door by 0830 at the absolute latest.

Even though I'm not at all a fast or accurate typist, and my spelling leaves much to be desired, I was able to flesh out the image in my head into a short, but serviceable, story. Printed it out for the writing group (I did have another piece, a long, pretty much complete story that we didn't get to this week. I'll be reading that one next Monday) and stuffed it in the portfolio and out the door.

My good seemed to be holding. I was the only car in the McDonald's drive-thru, there was an adorable baby at the lab, and everyone loved what I had written. Then I found I had locked my keys in the truck and things went a bit downhill. But I hope you enjoy this thing that has sprung from my head.

The Modern Cassandra

Working in San Francisco has many benefits, one of those being exposure to all sorts of lunatics. At least that's what I thought as I emerged from the depths of the Montgomery Street BART station on that June morning.

He was standing on a wooden crate, with a beatific smile and shiny eyes framed by what we used to call "Jesusbro-fro" back in college. What caught me eye was the silver jacket he was wearing, it looked like the cheesy space jacket we all wanted as kids. Seeing the growing crowd emerging from the station, he began to speak.

"Friends, please hear me out. I know I sound crazy, but I have just returned from . . . the future! And I leave for there tomorrow. Hard to believe, I know, but please hear me out, for I must warn you of something terrible. But first, here's Dave with sports." He subtly shifted his manner and spoke with the rhythm of a long-time broadcaster. For a lunatic, this guy was good.

"Thank you, Dave. Tonight, the Warriors will beat the Cavaliers 108-92, taking the NBA Finals in five games." That got a small cheer from to commuters passing by. "In July, the Giants will go on a record-smashing winning streak, take the NL West and sweep the Yankees to win the World Series. Finally, The 49ers will have a chance to make the playoffs as the Wild Card, but fall just short, finishing the season 9-7. Sadly, that's all the sports news left. Now that I've established my bonafides . . ."

At that point, I had gotten my coffee and muffin from the street cart and was hurrying up the street to my office. So I missed the rest of his rant. Once settled in at my desk, I took a moment to write the guy's predictions down.

That night, the Warriors beat the Cavs 108-92.

Then the Giants won 26 straight games in July. By the time the World Series rolled around, I wasn't even watching the games, I was too busy trying to find the man who had made the predictions. A friend got me access to surveillance camera footage of the plaza at Montgomery Street. There he was, ranting away. He spoke for about ten minutes after I left the scene, looked around, and dejectedly went down the stairs into the Muni/BART station. Those cameras showed him entering a station restroom and never leaving.

By the time the 49ers faltered during a late drive in Week 17 and finished the season 9-7, I was a wreck. The words "all the sports news left" haunted me. I even hired lip readers to try to figure out what he was saying and spent thousands on ads trying to contact anyone who might have heard more of his message.

In legend, Cassandra was cursed to know the future and have no one believe her. This man's curse was to know the future and have no one listen.
gridlore: Old manual typewriter with a blank sheet of paper inserted. (Writing)
2017-06-04 05:36 pm

I'm a Complete Tool

I find myself struggling with the central driving force for my planned novel. The research is going fine, and I have the plot roughed out . . . to be honest, I have three plots worked out. Well, two and a half, as one ends rather suddenly early in the book.

But I'm digging for the emotional hooks to bring my characters to life. I know that Battle Captain Singh (I've changed his rank, as after reading the Ancillary Justice series, I think "Fleet Captain" would be seen as derivative if not out-right copying. Besides, this gives me a chance to add a little more detail to the Arjuni Deep Space Fleet. Officers in command slots are ranked as Captain with what class of vessel they are qualified to command. Escort Captain, Frigate Captain, Cruiser Captain, and Battle Captain. When they are not in command roles, those ranks are Lieutenant, Senior Lieutenant, Captain-Lieutenant, and Flag Lieutenant.

I just did a little world building right here. Go me.

But I'm struggling with how to create the drama in the two opposing forces and multiple ships. These are naval forces at war. For the Arjuni, they are running from a colony that cannot be defended and are trying to aid in the war effort by raiding merchant shipping in a cluster that should be lightly defended. The UN squadron has been dispatched to hunt them down. So right there is the main tension. It's a grand game mixing chess and Battleship. Two commanders trying to out think each other. I'm going to try to portray the stress of each emergence into real space, the desperate need to make repairs quickly, and every present knowledge that it has to come to battle at some point.

But along the way, I want to develop tensions based on crew interactions. Even the senior officers aren't always going to be on the same page. Some will doubt the mission, or the crew, or their ships. A few might be cowards, or utterly incompetent but in command because of family ties. The Arjuni force was basically at the ass-end of nowhere, so it is hardly the prime assignment. Meanwhile, the UN fleet is staffed by drafted starmen with minimal training and no real patriotic drive to excel. They live in terror of their brutal petty officers and the Political Affairs Officer and his spies. Some will take pride in having a positive identity for the first time. Others will mutiny at the first opportunity. It is led by an officer who picked the wrong side in a succession fight and has paid for it by being denied advancement. The Navy is all he knows, so he stayed. He sees this command as a chance at redemption.

There, more worldbuilding! I can do this in my sleep! It might be easier that way!

But at Baycon, I attended an intimate panel (seriously, there were ten seats in the room around a table) where I learned how to use the Tarot's Major Arcana to flesh out characters quickly. You can use the suites if you like, but that just muddles things. It's a simple layout that covers the past, present, future, motivations, fears, and a couple of other things. It's great in that it takes the foundation work out of building a character and instead gives you something to build on, creating unique characters for writing or gaming.

When it comes to designing anything, whether a character for D&D or a setting for a story, I use all the tools I can grab. My brain took a shot to the language center, so anything that can help me flesh things out is great. Any tool that helps me with my spelling and grammar is a gift from the Gods of Writing. I feel no shame in submitting my odder sentences to a website that diagrams sentences. Anyone else remember doing that in school? There are websites that do it for you, so you can see where you are screwing up.

So using one of my Tarot decks (I own both the Rider-Waite deck and a Thoth deck) I a going to designate a day when I print out a list of characters, draw cards for them, and note the results. This way, when that character needs to appear, I'll know more about them, and be able to weave them into the story.

At least until the characters begin telling me what they are going to be doing. I hate it when they do that.
gridlore: One of the penguins from "Madagascar," captioned "It's all some kind of whacked-out conspiracy." (Penguin - Conspiracy)
2017-05-08 04:48 pm
Entry tags:

I Weep for Editors Now

For a couple of years now I've going to a writing "class" offered by Santa Clara Adult Education. I put class in quotes because the format is more of a writing group, with people reading their works as the rest read along, and then offering comments and suggestions.

It's been amazingly good for me, both in terms of my mental health and in encouraging me to write on a more regular basis. Each session is four weeks, meeting on Monday mornings, with 4-5 sessions a year. There is a core of regulars who come to class after class, some for years. I've made good friends there, and I'm especially proud to call Rafael my friend. He's a 94-year-old retired US Marine who served in WWII, Korea, and Vietnam. Never once loaded a weapon, as the Marines realized very early that he could type and had been taking accounting classes. He's an incredible writer, and we have to keep him away from the women, as he remains an incurable flirt.

I am the youngest in the class by at least a decade. Which I don't mind at all, I love listening to the others' stories and memories. I like that my best friend in class is a fellow writer of fantasy and really value the feedback I get from them.

Then there's Ralph. Oh, dear Halford, there's Ralph.

Ralph is a nice enough guy, a retired engineer (like several people in the group) who wants to write fiction. However, there's a slight problem. He can't write to save his life. I wish I was kidding about this, but his work is just jaw dropping.

First of all, he writes like he's still writing engineering papers. Everything is stiff and formal, overloaded with technical details. In a series of stories he wrote about two women rowing across the Atlantic, he detailed every single building they passed while rowing down the East River towards the sea. No emotion about setting out on the trip, no description of the smell of the water, the weather, the sound of the oars in their docks . . . just a monotonous list of places. He does that all the time.

Then there are his characters. Think of the worst-acted movie you've ever seen. That's how his characters speak. Stange declarative sentences that pop out of nowhere, spoken with no emotion. No emotional reactions at all. In his latest masterpiece, a man with his family at the Santa Monica Pier realizes that the Big One is imminent, and races to reach the Mt. Wilson Observatory. At no time in this story do any of the adults question this action. Nor do any of the children react to suddenly pulled from a fun day at the beach in the traditional childish way. No one objects when a near stranger joins them.

It drives me crazy.

But today took the cake. I literally had to keep myself from screaming or writing "YOU ARE A HACK!" in giant letters across his latest. Because in today's installment, the characters, at the conveniently abandoned Mt. Wilson facility, having found the fully equipped arms locker found at all the best observatories, decide to take target practice. Just as two Evil Dudes on horses ride up. Remember, this was happening as target practice was underway. Evil Dudes seem to think that all the gun shots were signs that the people there were easy pickings. Two dead Evil Dudes and a rescued boy.

But afterward, we were confused about how long the Swiss Family Woebegone had been up there. "Oh, several months." Was Ralph's reply.

Several months. Let that roll around your head. He was writing about a quake and tsunami that devastated the Los Angeles basin. WHERE THE FUCK DID HE THINK THE REST OF THE COUNTRY HAD GONE? There would have been National Guard, FEMA, Red Cross, mutual support from fire departments across the state, aid coming in from Mexico. . . he just thought that a big earthquake in L.A. would be ignored.

Niven and Pournelle did it better, dude, and their end of the world novel was a racist, misogynistic mess.

He's no better reading your stuff. He misses the obvious and gets diverted by pointless details. I can't begin to calculate how much time has been wasted explaining to Ralph things that were in the work to begin with. As an example, I wrote a piece about our visit last year to the Museum of the Ancient Orient in Istanbul. I included how pleased I was to find a relief of Teshub. I gave his entire history, explaining how the storm god of the Hurrians moved west into Lydia and Greece, becoming Zeus along the way, and giving us the idea of God as a man sitting on a cloud.

Ralph's first comment? "This thing about Teshub, I feel I'd need to know who he is to appreciate it." I almost killed him.

He is the only thing about the group I don't like, and I can tolerate him. But I needed to get this rant out.
gridlore: Old manual typewriter with a blank sheet of paper inserted. (Writing)
2017-03-31 07:34 pm

All Hail the Samrat!

OK, some changes and expansions of the setting for Task Force Singh. I'm still building the state my main protagonist comes from (there are actually two protagonists in opposition to each other, but this is the guy I thought up first.)

The Beta Hydi system was settled roughly 300 years before the book's starting date by way of a huge colonization effort headed by India. The effects of climate change and the ravages of the Warpox epidemic was leading to mass famine. Volunteers from across southern Asia begged to be included in the mission. All told, over 5 million refugees were packed into colony ships and sent out.

The rigorous conditions on their new home, named Arjuna after a mythical hero, led to the creation of a strict hierarchy and a strong work ethic. Shelters needed to be dug and fitted out, vast hydroponic farms put into operation, and a million other details worked out. The colony thrived with an isolated oligarchy running things. For the Traveller players reading this, it was a Feudal Technocracy.

Power has concentrated in the hands of the Jagirdar; landed nobles who ruled through sheer economic power. The Jagirdar were the captains of industry and operators of the vast warrens of worker housing. As the colony grew to exploit both the resources of Beta Hydri and those of nearby stars, conflict among the Jagir houses grew to near warfare. To end this, the houses agree to elect a dictator and form a constitutional monarchy.

Today, the Arjun Samarjy (Arjun Empire) controls eight star systems besides the home system. The ruler, the Samrat (Emperor) has full executive power. Technically, the assembly of Jagirdar elects the Samrat; in reality the ruling Samrat appoints his eldest child at birth and the nobles approve it.

The Jagirdar meets as an upper house of the government, known as the Gomed Hol (Oynx Hall) for the chamber they meet in. The Gomed Hol serves mainly as an advisory body, producing little legislation, as its members tend to be busy seeing to their own holdings.

The people are represented in the Samsad (Parliament) which is based on population. Currently the Samsad seats 573 voting members and numerous non-voting observers from the colonies. Members of the Samsad are elected from regional councils, which are elected by the people. One of the greatest issues on Arjuna is the growing demand for direct representation and more regional power. The Samsad is considered to remote, with each member speaking for an average of 3 million citizens. The Samsad is where legislation is introduced, debated, and passed. The state operates on a theory of implied royal assent. When a bill passes the Samsad, it is held for three days after the Samrat has been informed of the bill's passage. After that thime, the bill is law. The Samrat has the power to veto any bill. This power is almost never used.

The Samrat is the head of state. The head of the government is his Chancellor, a post selected by the Samrat himself. The Oynx Hall has the power to refuse to allow the Samrat's choice for office, but it takes a super-majority and has only been invoked twice. The Chancellor is charged with appointing officers to the various ministerial posts and running the day to day operations of the state and government. Chancellors are usually chosen by the party with the majority in the Samsad, or by coalition vote. The Samrat is usually quietly consulted as well. Chancellors remain in office at the pleasure of the Samrat or until his party falls out of the majority and a new Chancellor is called for.

There are several parties in the Empire. The major players are:

The Imperial Expansionists. They support a strong central government and expanding the Imperial holdings. Currently hold a slim majority in the Samsad.

The Traditionalists. A conservative, religious party dedicated to returning to old Hindu ways and promoting religious unification under one faith. The more radical members want a return to the caste system. They are partners with the Expansionists in the current government.

The Unionists. Their main platform is full membership in the empire and full citizenship for those living on the colony worlds.

The Democracy Now Party. They demand the dismantling of the imperial state and full suffrage and free elections under a new constitution. The hold a small number of seats, but are quite vocal and vote as a solid bloc.

The Consolidationists. Bitter foes of the Expansionists, they advocate spending precious Rupees on building infrastructure and improvements in the territories already controlled by the state, and improving the lot of the citizenry.

The Isolationists. The fight defense spending and expansion tooth and nail. Once the strongest voice in the Samsad, they've lost dozens of seats over the years and are now a distant third after the Imperial Expansionists and the Unionists. Natural allies of the Consolidation Party, they break on several issues so a true union seems impossible,

More to come.
gridlore: Doug looking off camera with a grin (Default)
2017-03-28 06:24 pm

The Naming of Ships is a Serious Matter

Naming things, characters, places, even entire stories, has always been the bane of my creative existence. If I were an artist working in a visual medium, you'd see a lot of "Landscape No. 12" and "Unfinished Portrait of a Chihuahua No. 3" hanging on gallery walls. It's just part of my existence.

A big part of the problem is that I've always had trouble remembering names. For as long as I can remember this has been the case. Unless that name was presented to me daily over a period of months, it would slip away. This even goes for things like schools I attended. So, faced with the need to name things for the novel, I try to take the easy route so I can focus on the important things like the plot and the tension caused by the game of blind chess the two commanders will be playing over dozens of star systems.

There are several tools at my disposal. For example, there are dozens of great websites that generate names for you from any number of cultures and races, real and fictional. Using one geared to naming conventions of the Indian subcontinent has allowed me to name both my protagonist, his wife, and a few other characters of note. Other crew names are more generic Indian. I don't worry too much about mixing northern and southern names, as these people have been living on a different planet for centuries. Things have most likely gotten blurred and mixed in that time.

Other non-Indian names are needed. Both for the characters who are part of Task Force Singh and for the opposing forces. As the main opposing force is a UN flotilla, I can draw inspiration from pretty much the whole spectrum of human names. My main antagonist, for example, is a Zulu. I can use several generators to quickly name the critical characters and even the minor ones and the spear-carriers with ease. A few of my favorite name sites even allow you to select how odd you want the name to be. Very helpful.

The system Task Force Singh is going to be trying to reach is a failing set of Chinese-settled worlds, so I'll need to do research on Cantonese naming conventions. I'm trying to get it right. They are in a situation analogous to the threat faced by the Ottoman Empire in terms of the Russians, so I may make that threat a Manchurian interstellar state that is also facing instability, and wants the traditional shirt, victorious war to prop their government.

Finally, last year when we were fund-raising for the Istanbul trip, we promised to Tuckerize people who pledged at a certain level. I still have that list, and those names will be used, never fear.

Personal names are pretty easy, so long as you do the research to make sure you're getting the naming conventions for each language right. Things, however, open a whole new can of worms. Take ships.

Ships are kind of important in a military science-fiction novel about a tense set of fleet actions. Sadly, the Indian Navy doesn't really have the kind of names I could steal. More research is needed. Searching on Hindu legends and gods, I find Vajra. Vajra is a Sanskrit word meaning both thunderbolt and diamond. Additionally, it is a weapon worn in battle which is used as a ritual object to symbolize both the properties of a diamond (indestructibility) and a thunderbolt (irresistible force). Perfect for the first of a new class of battleship! Which gives me the theme for the rest of the fleet, heroes and legends.

For the UN force, I've already identified the battleships as the Continent-class. Starting with Earth's continental masses, later builds would use land forms from UN-controlled worlds. I've also made it clear that a class of heavy missile cruiser is named for large cities. I can follow the naming conventions of the US and Royal Navy here for convenience.

Now worlds. Doing Beta Hydri was pretty easy. The first three worlds, small and unusable, I wanted to have whimsical names. So I cam up with Mongoose, Cobra, and Rat, all eternally chasing each other. For the others, I picked great leaders and martyrs of the Indian independence movement. So far, so good.

But I wanted something special for the main world. I picked the Hindi translation of "New Home" as a placeholder. I'm still mentally working out how this place was settled, so the name might reflect a challenge of or hardships. Given how I described it, I might look to see if there is a famous system of canals in India to name the planet after. But what ever happens, New Home is probably changing.

Lucky for me, most of the action will take place in systems with little or no population, so I'm good there. Fewer planets to name.
gridlore: Old manual typewriter with a blank sheet of paper inserted. (Writing)
2017-03-23 04:43 pm

Some more characters.

We meet my hero, two brothers who will be a big part of the "below decks" plot, and a truly evil (to snot-nosed midshipmen, anyway) Crown Warrant Officer.

"The ship should be shaking."

The comment wasn't supposed to be overheard, Aman Singh realized. It had come in one of those rare moments on the Vajra's bridge where everyone had paused for breath at the same moment. Smiling, turned his command couch to face his very junior aide.

"Shaking as the guns roar out bolts of lightning to pummel the fierce space pirates? As the heroic captain -- that would be me I suppose -- rallies his crew with a stirring speech while waving his laser cutlass around?" Aman chuckled. "Sorry, Lieutenant Metz. I read those same books when I was younger. The reality is that if the Vajra is shaking, we have some very serious problems."

Aman glanced down at the repeater mounted on the left arm of his couch. Their target, an ancient freighter refitted as a target drone was on it's last legs after getting pounded by the big grasers for more than two hours. Time to finish this exercise. With a little change in plans he thought as he stroked his beard.

Aman touched the all-hands button on his display. "Attention. For the remainder of the exercise, Sublieutenant Metz has command. Captain Singh out." Unbuckling his restraints, Aman stood and offered the command position to the shocked young officer. Aman noted that whereas the lad had been pink with embarrassment a few seconds ago, he was now an alarming shade of white.

"There's nothing to it, Brendan," Aman said quietly as he helped with the straps, "pick one turret to finish the target off, listen to the targeting crews, and give the order to fire. You did this in the Academy simulators, you can do it now."

Even though Metz was taller than his captain by a double handful of centimeters, he seemed to shrink in the couch. Then, swallowing hard, he spoke up. "Turrets one and three, cease fire. Turret two, continuous fire until further notice." Confirmations quickly showed up on the command screens. "Helm, please keep turret two in optimal firing position. Guns, range to target?"

Commander Kapur, obviously amused by being addressed in such a familiar way by a man twenty years his junior, replied in a perfectly professional tone. "Captain, range is just over six light seconds. Targeting in the main tank." The holographic display in the center of the bridge went from showing the general tactical situation to a detailed look at the target, still driving to reach the hyper limit. Ahead of the target drone was a multi-hued teardrop showing where the ship was likely to be when the graser bursts reached the vicinity. At the center, stretching from the rear tip to near the middle was the cool green of highest probability. Around that as yellow fading to red as the targeting computer and the human operators evaluated what their opponent was capable of in terms of maneuver and acceleration.

Evidently pleased with what he had seen, Metz tried to nod knowingly before fumbling briefly with the communication panel. "Turret two, you may fire when ready." Aman shared a grin with his executive officer at the gunnery station. At least the boy's voice hadn't cracked.

--

"Well, did'ya hear that? Sounds like your brother has seized control of the ship!" Crown Warrant Officer Nigel Linnet cackled evilly. He always sounded evil, Midshipman Morgan Metz though gloomily. His Middie cruise was not nearly as fun as he hoped it would be. He continued staring at the Secondary Turret Control panel like it contained the secrets of the universe.

"Well now, since Captain Metz" another chuckle from the depths of hell "has given us the honor of blasting that junk pile into very small pieces, it seems only fair that I continue your education by giving you command." Linnet was now the model of formality. "Mr. Metz, what are your orders?"

Morgan sat speechless for a very long second. Before Linnet could begin one of his training speeches, Morgan remembered what to do. As he began to work, he remembered that he was supposed to explain what he was doing at every step.

"OK, targeting display is up. Based on previous data and range, I'm placing the shots here," he said, using a stylus to mark the desired target point, "and locking the guns on that." What next? Right! "Both chambers show good cans loaded, system primed, all boards green." He picked up the old fashioned hand microphone. "Clear the bay for firing." Down below, the gun crews moved to their shelters, signalling the control booth when everyone was clear.

Morgan reached up for the pistol-grip trigger above his head, pausing to look at the CWO. Linnett gave the bare hint of a nod. "Firing," Morgan said, and pulled the trigger hard.

Inside the turret, there was the slightest hint of a rumble as fusion explosions took place in both firing chambers. Inside each of the canisters, the tremendous energy released by the explosions was channeled and focused by precisely formed rods until most of the energy was in the form of gamma rays flying down the barrels, where the energy was compressed and focused even more by gravitic generators. An outside observer would have noticed a brief purple flash from the muzzles as the guns fired.

Six seconds later, the twin bolts reached the target hulk. Two blasts of 200 gigajoules each turned to heat when they impacted, ripping the already weakened ship apart even further. High temperature ceramics shattered, steel vaporized, and more of the ship's infrastructure was melted to slag.

"Good hit!" Linnett chortled. "Now we do it again, yes?" The gun crews were already making sure the next two cans were in place and safely sealed. Morgan ran through the procedure two more times, only needing to be reminded once to make sure the crews were clear, before getting the ceasefire from the bridge.

"You did good, Mr. Metz. We killed an enemy of the Coalition. Or at least pretended to do so." Morgan allowed himself a smile. "But next time," Linnett said thoughtfully, "next time I think I disable the targeting repeaters. Make you figure it by hand. That will be fun, yes?" Morgan groaned and buried his face in his hands. The man is evil. Pure evil. Over Linnett's laughter he could hear his brother standing the ship down from battle stations. Of course Brendan got to sit on the bridge and give orders. He was so lucky!

--

"Captain, we are secure from battle stations and have resumed Condition 3 cruising. No damage or injuries to report. Is there anything else, sir?" Brendan tried to keep from sounding like he was pleading. Thankfully, Captain Singh was in a merciful mood.

"That will be fine, Lieutenant. I have command. Good job, your first command and it was the Vajra! Now, if you will be so kind, I'm having a small dinner for senior staff, please make the arrangements and layout my undress uniform, Dismissed." Brendan acknowledged the orders and moved to the lift station as fast as he could without running. All he could think off as he pushed his way down the zero-g tube was his annoying little brother running Turret 2. Loading cans, pulling the trigger, and not having the entire command team plus the Captain staring at you while you worked. He was so lucky!
gridlore: Old manual typewriter with a blank sheet of paper inserted. (Writing)
2017-03-04 03:34 pm
Entry tags:

Prologue [750 words]

This is a possible prelude for Task Force Singh, and is based on something I read in one of the books recommended to me for my research. As part of her Diamond Jubilee, Queen Victoria witnessed a parading of the fleet, including the new class of battleships, off Portsmouth. I'm taking that and using it to introduce my main antagonist, the UN officer who will command the fleet hunting down Task Force Singh.

--

The view for the tour ship was stunning. Arrayed in perfect formation to celebrate the 50th year of the Secretary-General's reign was the heart of the United Nation's Peacekeeper fleet, led by the eleven Continent-class battleships. Captain 1st Rank Kosan Gwazi gripped the polished teak railing tightly, knuckles turning white as he fumed. One of those ships should have been his.

Beside him a bland little man was prattling on and on. "Oh, yes, the Continents. Aren't they something? We had no end of trouble with them at the Bureau of Heraldry and Lineage, let me tell you! More ships than names! So many meetings and arguments, I expect every member of the Assembly marched through my door at some point or the other. But I was firm, and brokered a compromise!"

Wonderful, thought Gwazi, award yourself a medal. He made a show of using the viewing controls to get a magnified view of the City of Ravenna, an upgraded missile cruiser that was nearby. But the bureaucrat just kept babbling his tales of red-tape heroism.

"Asia was the hardest part, can't simply name a ship Asia, we'd have riots. I was the one who suggested the deal, you know. rammed it through in a marathon session. It's why we have the Great Russia, the Siberia, the India, and the Indochina. Quite proud of that one, I must say!"

Thankfully, at that moment the bosun at the viewing room blew his whistle. The piercing notes stopped all conversations dead. With everyone silenced, he announced "Ladies and Gentleman, Her Grace Nicole Martin, the Secretary-General of the United Nations!" Bows and curtsies as the Secretary-General strode in, trailing aides and security like debris from a wounded ship. She was wearing her naval uniform, showing that she was commander-in-chief of the Peacekeepers, her chest heavy with medals and orders.

After making some quick greetings, she crossed the room to where Gwazi was still standing by the transparent wall. She took in the view briefly, then turned to speak.

"Captain Gwazi, an honor to meet you." She glanced at the now sputtering bureaucrat. "Donald, a pleasure. May I have a moment with the Captain, please?" It was as polite an order as Gwazi had ever heard. Donald quickly backed away babbling pleasantries all the time.

The Secretary-General watched him go. "That man never shuts up, and now he's going to be bragging that I remembered his name for the next ten years."

"Well, Your Grace, it is something of an honor to have you recall who people are." Gwazi said, dipping in a semi-bow.

"Ha! Captain, if I walk into a room without being briefed on everyone who is inside, my staff has failed me. Information is as valuable to me as it is to you. Are you enjoy the fly-by, Kosan?

Her sudden change in subject and use of his first name threw Gwazi for a moment. "Of course, Your Grace. You've assembled a powerful force here, it's important to see it assembled. For everyone."

For several long seconds the Secretary-General stared out at the fleet slowly sliding by. A waiter brought two glasses of champagne, and Gwazi realized that the security staff had moved most of the crowd out of the room, creating a bubble in which only he, the Secretary-General, and a silent aide were standing.

"Peacekeeper," she finally said, reaching out and running her hand down the front of Gwazi's powder-blue dress jacket, "it's the oldest duty of the UN, even when it was toothless debating society. Keep the peace." She raised her head and looked Gwazi in the eyes. That stare was piercing. "Captain, I have dedicated my life to keeping humanity from tearing itself apart. Just as you have taken your oath, so I have sworn mine. We have both sacrificed much to serve, am I right?"

Gwazi could barely nod, his throat was dry. He took a sip of his champagne before speaking. "Of course, Your Grace. I cannot even begin to imagine the burdens you bear. Of course, Donald made sure I knew every detail of his battles."

The earned a surprisingly loud bout of laughter. She loses twenty years when she laughs, Gwazi thought. Then he remembered that this was a woman who had ordered her own father's execution. Tread carefully, for this chat was a minefield.

"God in Heaven, you have no idea. Kosan, the Secretariat is filled with the little gray mice, and they all pretend to be cats. Every so often, you find a cat disguised as a mouse, and they end up in charge. Donald is a mouse, a very loud mouse, but a mouse."

"I think I prefer grasers and attack drones, Your Grace, at least they are honest and do what they intend." I may have gone too far, he thought, as all the mirth drained from the Secretary-General's face. She took a serious tone.

"You were promised the Africa, yes? A Captain of the 1st Rank, worked on the development of the operational orders for the new fleet, ranked as 'recommended for early promotion and positions of authority' by almost every officer you ever served under. You were promised that command, and I took it from you myself. You wish honesty? There it is. On the advice of Peacekeeper Command and the Security Council, I personally changed your orders. Do you appreciate my honesty, Captain?"

Gwazi swallowed his first angry response, then the second. "I serve at Your Grace's pleasure, and will obey your orders. But may I ask why I was denied command? Did I offend someone?

"No, Captain, not at all." she turned to the still silent aide who handed her a small leather box. "I have spent my life working to maintain the peace, and in that time I've learned to read the tea leaves. It's falling apart. Ten years, maybe fifteen, and all of human space will be at war. It's coming and all we can do is prepare. So to that end . . ." She opened the case, inside were the insignia of a flag officer. "The paperwork will take a few days, but I'm promoting you to Contre-Admiral, and assigning you to head the War Plans office." Gwazi took the box with suddenly numb hands. He tried to say something, but the words caught in his throat. The Secretary-General smiled.

"Don't thank me, Admiral Gwazi, for I've just thrown you into the deep end. War is coming, and you will be in the heart of the fire." With that, she drained her glass and turned to leave, her aides and security forming a phalanx around her.

Holding the box with his new rank loosely in one hand, Gwazi looked again at the fleet still slowly passing by. That fleet will be needed, he thought, and sooner than we had hoped.
gridlore: One of the penguins from "Madagascar," captioned "It's all some kind of whacked-out conspiracy." (Penguin - Conspiracy)
2017-03-03 10:58 am
Entry tags:

Words on a Page [750 words]

I don't want to write today. I mean, I'm still siuck, I slept like a baby, eaning I woke up every hour and peed a lot (at least I make it to the bathroom for that.) My perpetually sore shoulder is telling me I might just have overdone it at the gym, and I just don't want to write!

Plus I have two huge library books to read, part of my research for Task Force Singh. These are monstrous tomes on both the race to develop the Imperial Germany and Royal Navies in the age of battleships, and the follow-on book about naval operations during WWI. I really should go back to bed and crack those.

I could even finish the three other books I'm reading. My Goodreads account mocks me daily which the static "what I'm reading" column. I really should update that . . . Or I could do the small pile of dishes. I could do a load of laundry, but I'm not really feeling that adventurous.

There's always Civilization VI, or Madden NFL. I haven't played the Grand Theft Auto game I got at Half-Price Books. But do I want to try a new game when my head feels this thick? I foresee rage quitting. I suppose I should clear off the coffee table, for Kirsten has said we're having pizza tonight.

Maybe later.

But I really dreaded opening my 750 words today. I'm watching the word count in the corner willing it to go higher. Just hit 250 words. 500 to go. Sigh. See, normally I have something to say, something for the book or some writing exercise or personal experience to share. I feel motivated to write, even if it's gibberish. I could go the Spider Jerusalem route and write "fuck" 750 times and claim it's a political article about the Trump administration. I could even cut and paste an older piece and just massage it a bit to fill my quota.

Because on March 1st I agreed to the site's monthly challenge. Write everyday. Even when you don't want to write. And anyone who knows me at all know how I am about living up to my pledges, even the silly ones. I won't even be winning anything, other than a couple of site badges. But it's the fact that I did agree to participate that is keeping me here at the keyboard when I'd rather be doing my part to lower the water level in Anderson Lake by taking a very long, very hot, shower. With the space heater blasting in the bathroom. I like things warm, OK?

436 words. Getting there!

I really should vacuum the filters on the air purifiers. But that's work, it can wait until I've have my live steam shower and a nap. Likewise, I could gather up the stray bits of recycling and corral it for a trip to the recycling place next week. But that involves moving. Later. Procrastination is something I'm always very prompt about.

Just had a sneezing fit. I own Sinuses of Holding. It's the only explanation for what just came out of my nose. Aren't all of you happy that I share these little details with you? Anything for my adoring audience. Send burritos.

The sad thing is that it's only when I'm this miserable that my broken brain decides to click on and show me all the things I've been avoiding in terms of house work. Since I am home almost all the time, I do what I can within my limitations. Dishes, laundry, taking the garbage out, whatever cleaning I can handle. But inevitably my brain gets overloaded with the sheer number of tasks needed to accomplish something as simple as vacuuming the living area that I burn out and need to stop. I really need to nuke this place of all the junk, call in a maid service for a one-time cleaning, and set a schedule for maintaining some order.

I also need to continue the purge of stuff that we just carry around with us. Half-Price Books is my new favorite place for losing unwanted clutter. And dear gods, do we have that.

696. Into the home stretch.

The good news is I do feel a bit better this morning, it's just the terrible night's sleep that has me dragging. I have eaten, and taken all my morning medications in the morning for a change. I think I will pull the two Great Tomes in to the bedroom, take a shower, then nap. Notice the word "read" never figured into that.

764 words. The streak continues.
gridlore: One of the "Madagascar" penguins with a checklist: [x] cute [x] cuddly [x] psychotic (Penguin - Checklist)
2017-02-24 02:45 pm

Some world building [750 words]

Perhaps I should go into some detail about the setting I'm going to be using for my novel, tentatively titled "Task Force Singh." As always, I encourage questions, comments, and donations of burritos to the Starving Writers Fund.

We're about 450 years into the future. Mankind has spread out from Earth in a series of diasporas after the invention of the hyperdrive in the late 21st century. The first wave was well-funded mass colonization efforts from the industrialized portions of the world. China and India were leaders in the effort to send excess population to the newly discovered worlds. Western Europe and North America lagged, but caught up.

The second wave came when the now-empty colonial transports were looking for work. This wave was made up of ideological groups that were no long welcome on Earth. Many of these colonies were poorly funded and supported, many have degraded over the years.

The final wave was in the last century and came as the UN government on Earth became more aggressive and controlling. This wave tended to settle in established colonies, while a few utopian groups grabbed space wherever they could.

There is no unified state controlling human worlds. There are a dozen multi-system states in existence, with many more single system states scattered through near-Sol space. Relations are not always peaceful.

The two biggest technological advancements involve fusion power and the ability to manipulate gravity. Fusion reactors use Helium-3 fusion; as He3 is easier to store and the fusion process is cleaner. He3 is found in the regolith of airless worlds, deposited there by solar wind, and in the atmosphere of gas giants. Of the two, it's easier to scoop He3 from the gas giants. Most systems with a gas giant will have a refinery in orbit around it. Control of these planets is an important strategic objective in war.

Gravitic control is the key to the stars. Along with the long-promised flying cars, gravity control is the key to both the reactionless drives that move ships in normal space and the hyperdrive that allows ships to get around the speed of light limitations. Ships enjoy artificial gravity and compensators that eliminate the effects of high acceleration. Losing either of these benefits can be devastating to a ship.

On planets, near-limitless power and negating gravity has resulted in cityscapes that have soaring, mile-high towers and wide open parks. Most people on Earth live in massive arcologies, huge single building cities that can house millions. Most of the people on Earth are on Basic Income, as there are nowhere near enough jobs. Make-work and public education keeps things mostly calm.

Key to the novel is the growing tensions between my as yet unnamed coalition, probably centered around Epsilon Eridani (because I like the name Eridani Coalition Navy) and the United Nations over economic issues. The situation will resemble the situation at the dawn of the First World War. The Eridani are the German, the UN is England, and I've yet to cast France and the other powers.

The actual plot is drawn from the pursuit of the SMS Goeben and Breslau, Imperial German warships sent to Constantinople to bolster the Turkish Navy. To get there, the two ships had to pass through the British-dominated Mediterranean pursued by the Royal Navy. War between Britain and Germany hadn't yet been declared, but both commanders knew it was coming.

I'm translating this to space. The commander of the Task Force has to escort a small group of ships to an allied system while dodging UN ships. Both sides are waiting for the word to start shooting. I'm aiming for a tense game of chess played out over many light years.

I'm world building now because I realized why my NaNoWrMo attempt failed last year: I wasn't ready. This time, I'm going to have all my world building, character development, and plot set. I'm using a program called Scrivener which serves as a great tool for organizing your writing and creating chapters and keeping track of your plots and subplots. I'm writing this on 750words.com which is training me to write every day.

So come next November 1st, I'll be ready and armed for the task of writing 50,000 words in one month. I'm going to work on increasing my daily output from 750 or so words to around 1,400, which is the level you need to maintain to "win" NaNoWrMo. Along the way, I'll work on a few short stories and essays.

I'm ready to start writing. For real.
gridlore: Old manual typewriter with a blank sheet of paper inserted. (Writing)
2017-02-20 05:45 pm

Because "gigajoules" is fun to say [750 words]

Doing a little more world building for my eventual NaNoWrMo project. I plan to have everything ready to roll come November 1st. Setting, characters, plot and subplots laid out in Scrivener (a program I heartily endorse, by the way) so that I can start writing. That's part of the reason I'm doing 750 words, to get into that writing habit day after day. Get the word count up, work on my typing, and most of all cure myself of that insufferable urge to correct my mistakes as I go, as that always derails my train of thought.

So, today I'm going to look at the weaponry these ships will be carrying. Again, I'm going for a Golden Age of Battleships feel for the book. So recreating what a WWI battleship would be carrying is my main thrust, with a few exceptions for logic's sake.

The battle is going to be split into two "zones" in terms of weapons usage. Beyong about 10 light seconds (call it 3 million kilometers) combat will be carried out by Autonomous Attack Vehicles. These are the setting's equivalents of torpedo boats. An AAT is an unmanned carrier system for payloads attached to a big honking drive and guided both by internal programing and orders from the launching ship.

AATs are going to be fast, agile, and designed to get close enough to the target to launch attacks with nearly no time for response. The standard configuration is a "bus" system where the AAT carries smaller missiles with sprint engines and hyper-dense penetrators. These are the no-nonsense, kinetic kill weapons. They poke holes in things, and a AAT might carry twenty of them, all launched at once.

Other common packages are electronic warfare loads designed to degrade the enemy's sensors, senor platforms, packages that drop decoys that mimic AATs, and even big freaking fusion bombs to destroy large soft targets like space stations.

AATs are multi-use vehicles. It is expected that every attempt will be made to bring them back safely after an attack run. Any Captain who fritters away his AAT compliment will soon find himself flying a desk. Capital ships like battleships and dreadnoughts, won't carry many AAT tubes. Cruisers are the AAT-heavy ships, especially specialized missile cruisers flown by most navies.

Inside 10LS the battle shifts to energy weapons. The near univeral weapon is the gamma-ray laser, or graser. This is an extremely power burst of coherent gamma rays directed at a target. The weapons are rated by their effective output in Gigajoules (GJ). 1 GJ is equal in power to about 500 lbs of TNT. A typical main gun on a battle ship will put 200 GJ onto the target, or the equivalent of nearly 48 tons of TNT focused on a very small area. The grasers are fired in pairs from the same mounting, with the shots going out a fraction of a second apart, so the two blasts hit in close succession. Smaller mounts range from 5 to 40 GJ.

To power these shots, the guns are fed "shells" consisting of the lasing apparatus and and fusion power plant that consumes itself in creating the pulse of energy. The shots travel down a barrel that is a combination of wave guides and scattering protection to prevent damage to the firing battleship. These barrels would be 3 or 4 meters long for the big guns. The entire firing mechanism is in a turret that can rotate and track to place rounds where they are needed.

Which is exactly the feel I'm looking for. Because of the higher than normal reliance on human crews caused by the problems with hyperspace travel, the gun mounts are going to be hives of frantic activity in tight quarters as shells (I need a better word for those . . . cartridges? charges?) come up from the magazine, are placed into the firing chamber, all safety checks done, and fire! An outside observer wouldn't see anything, these beams are afar, far outside human vision. But I imagine that the impact would be spectacular to say the least.

There is a third many weapon system, rapid fire railguns that send streams of fire to destroy ATTs that get to close. These are mostly seen on smaller escort ships like destroyers and frigates, but a big ship will mount a few just in case. Generally, these are slaved to their own fire control systems and once given the clear by command, operate independently.

The one place you don't want to be in my book is between to flotillas slugging it out. Not at all healthy.

All comments and questions welcomed, as always.
gridlore: Old manual typewriter with a blank sheet of paper inserted. (Writing)
2017-02-17 04:27 pm

Aliens [750 words]

One of my favorite parts of writing is the world building phase. I love creating strange places and the people and things (and the things that are people) that inhabit those spaces. I steal gleefully from history for setting details and odd occurrences to throw in.

But I think my favorite thing is designing aliens. I'm using the word here to define anything other than a baseline human. Elves and dwarfs are aliens, as are those hyper-intelligent shades of green from Procyon. Because building these sort of things allows for great creativity.

One of the things I hate about most alien depictions is that they end up being humans in funny hats, to steal a line from TV Tropes. Oh, they might have weird heads or be CGI critters, but we can recognize their motivations and usually speak with them. Klingon honor is indistinguishable from human codes of honor. These are aliens! They should be, well, alien!

Take my favorite alien race from Traveller, as I was just talking about that yesterday. The K'kree. A hexapodal plains-dwelling race of militant vegans. The K'kree are gregarious to the point that just the thought of privacy makes them ill, claustrophobic as hell, and totally dedicated to the extermination or conversion of all meat-eaters in the galaxy.

You see, at the dawn of the K'kree's industrial age, a slower than light asteroid ship came to their world. Aboard were the G'naack (the K'kree name, means "carnivore" more or less) a species who saw Kiriur as an all you can eat BBQ. The war lasted centuries, and when it was over the K'kree were the survivors and they had a mission that had become beyond religious.

So tell me, would the K'kree trade with human kind? Exchange diplomatic pleasantries? Do anything other than send extermination fleet after extermination fleet towards the Third Imperium? Gateway Sector, where the Third Imperium and the 2,000 Words meet, should be a scene of near constant war, with smaller meeting engagements punctuated by horrific clashes of giant fleets. The worlds should be scoured of life as the K'kree fight to erase any human presence. A thriving trade in looting these shattered fleets and doomed world would attract adventurers willing to risk being stomped to death by K'kree military types in the hopes of striking it rich.

But instead we got a watered down version of this, where if you abstained from eating meat for several days, it was totally cool because the K'kree would ignore the existence of a few trillion meat-eating humans. That always bugged me no end.

Now when I do my own aliens, I look hard at what they are to begin to understand how they act. As an example, my race of sentient blimps (called Blimps by humans, their own language is a series of colors and shapes formed on their skin) evolved as grazers in swallow swamps and river deltas. They use long tentacles to grab both mooring points and food as they stride along. I decided that rather than having sex, Blimp females drop egg sacks in still waters, and males are attracted and fertilize them. Also, Blimps have distributed brain networks. Along with a large brain near the forward eye clusters, there are neural nodes all through the body. Blimps never sleep, completely. There's always some part of the brain that's awake. Which means that Blimps are awake and dreaming at the same time.

So here we have a race with no traditional family structure, as eggs and the spawn are community assets, a worldview that sees dreams and the waking world as one, and communicates by changing the patterns and colors of their skin. They are not going to have the same thoughts and goals as humans! Indeed, even once we figure out how to talk to them, it may be that we find them infuriatingly vague and other-worldly; while they find us to to be boring and rude. Artists would love the Blimps, and who knows, the Blimps might find some value in human visual arts.

Of course, Blimps use colors for mood enhancements. Since blue is the primary color of the swamps they live in, blue is the color a Blimp uses to hide, so it is associate with fear. Meaning they'd be quite confused by Picasso's Blue Period. Also, don't wear your red power tie to the meeting, Blimps use hydrogen to float, and they are a little touchy about fire-like colors. I love these guys, I just wish I could figure out how to write a book around them.
gridlore: The Imperial Sunburst from the Traveller role-playing game (Gaming - Sunburst)
2017-02-16 03:48 pm
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RIP Loren Wiseman, a personal view [750 words]

Yesterday a man I was lucky to count as a friend and mentor passed away. I only ever met Loren Wiseman in the flesh once, and that was long before we had a professional relationship. But he was one of the architects of the role-playing games that I still love to this day, and as I told my mom on the phone, he was probably one of the guys she wanted to punch in the face when I was a teenager (I was just slightly obsessed with Traveller. Slightly.)

Ah, Traveller. When Craig came home from a local game convention with that iconic little black box and told me that he wanted to run a game for me, I was thrilled. It was the early summer of 1977. I wasn't quite 11 yet, and attention from my big brother that did not involve a pummeling was a good thing. I found out years later I was allowed to game only because his regular group wasn't interested in doing a science-fiction game.

But I rolled up a merchant named Beowulf Schaffer (yes, I was reading a lot of Larry Niven) and Craig had of course figured out a 3-D starmap based on the Known Worlds. I think that game lasted three or four sessions. But there were more to come, and eventually I rolled up the character who would stay with me for years, Captain Sir Arameth Gridlore, Master of the Free Trader Driver Carries No Cash. I played Gridlore in multiple games through the years, and I'm proud to say that the old ethically-challenged merchant has made it into several official Traveller publications.

Eventually, I had my own set of the rules, and used my weekly allowance to gather more and more Traveller stuff. This is where Loren comes back into the story. GDW, the publishers of Traveller and other fine games, started a magazine to support the game. The Journal of the Travellers Aid Society (JTAS) had short adventures, new aliens and equipment, and mostly articles that expanded the growing Third Imperium setting from a vague "there's an empire out there" to a living, breathing place. Loren was editing the magazine, and I didn't know it then, but his work honed my skills as a world builder.

Loren also was a great game designer in his own right. He did a series of war games set in Republican Rome, and was lead designer on a game called Twilight:2000. The setting of the game was central Europe in the aftermath of the Third World War and a limited nuclear exchange. The characters are soldiers in the US 5th Infantry Division who get a message from divisional command: "Good luck, you're on your own."

Needless to say this game was immensely popular at Fort Benning while I was stationed there. A game where all the officers are dead and we get all the cool stuff? Awesome! I still remember the day we were playing in the rec room at Delta, 3/7th Infantry. We had found an intact M109 self propelled artillery piece, and were having an argument over how fast it could shoot. Then we all remembered that right across from our barracks was the 2/10th Field Artillery. After confusing the staff Duty NCO, we eventually got a quick lecture on the vehicle and a spare Field Manual for it. All so we could blow up imaginary river pirates on the Vistula.

Fast forward several years. It is announced that Steve Jackson Games has gotten a license to produce a version of Traveller. Loren was going to be mostly in charge. The intial projects look great, and I'm checking the "writers wanted" section of the SJG website when I see a call for a GURPS Traveller book on the Imperial Army and Marines. With great trepidation I send in a proposed outline and writing sample. And wait. And wait. Finally, I summon the nerve to call SJG and speak to Loren, who remember is one of my idols, and ask him about it. "Oh, yeah, I'm giving you the contract." He may have said more words, but I had stopping having a functional brain.

Writing Ground Forces was a challenge. I had never tackled such a project before. Luckily, I was smart enough to ask for help from my fellow members of the Traveller Mailing List, and brave enough to pepper Loren with questions. Each one of which he answered fully. Ever written for publication? You send in your first draft and it comes back covered in red ink, possibly reeking of brimstone and charred at the edges. But mine also came with a note "You write like a pro! Fix these few problems, and we're all good!" Exactly what I needed to see.

I can never express how it felt to hold that first author's copy in my hands. It was a Traveller book with my name on it. It was a good book, and I'm proud to say that it's always been highly rated by Traveller fans. And it never would have happened without Loren Wiseman's guidance and patience. He'll be missed.
gridlore: Old manual typewriter with a blank sheet of paper inserted. (Writing)
2017-02-08 03:49 pm
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750 words

Kirsten pointed me to 750 Words. This is my first try.

Testing one, two, three... I'm starting this as an exercise in getting words on the page, so to speak. Procrastination is my biggest foe. I find excuses to do anything but write. I need to check Facebook, I've got a good game of Civilization 6 going, whatever. The point is I want to write, and I want to get published.

One of the highlights of my life was writing GURPS Traveller: Ground Forces. It was a struggle, and Having someone like Steve Jackson, a legend in the gaming industry, write "STUPID, remove this" on your draft submission was not encouraging. But I soldiered on, pushing myself to make this book, the one I was destined to write, the best book I could.

And it paid off. Ground Forces was well received and I'm shocked at how people consistently rate it as one of the best Traveller products ever. I've had people come up to me and ask for autographs. At the 2014 Burning Man, I actually met a fan of my work in the plaza at the base of the Man. It's rather strange but satisfying.

That was 17 years ago. Oh, I have my excuses. I was working as a truck driver and was too tired to write. No gaming company wanted what I was offering. I was too sick to write, or had too much to do. The simple fact is that I was putting things off because as usual, my fear of failure was pushing me to not even try. This is a problem I've dealt with all my life. Rather than attempt something and accept failure, I've avoided the possibility of being embarrassed by my failures.

But now I'm running out of excuses. I'm also running out of time. In 2013 I suffered a stroke. That, and my other copious health problems, have made me aware of my own mortality. I need to do the work so I can say "I am a published science fiction/fantasy author" before I die. Just like holding that first copy of Ground Forces in my hands was magical, I expect that seeing my name on table of contents for a magazine like Analog or Strange Horizons would be equally amazing.

A Hugo Award wouldn't hurt, either. Just saying.

So, I'm going to write daily. Much of it will be gibberish. Much of it will suck rocks through a bendy straw. No matter. The stuff I like will be shared on my Dreamwidth. The other stuff . . . well, let's just say I'm happy that 750 words is private. This will also be useful for my writing group, as I'm expected to show up at each session with something to read. This will let me keep up with my amazing friend Rafael, a 93 year old USMC veteran of WWII, Korea, and Vietnam, who never fired a shot in anger in his career. The Marines found out he could type when he entered the service in 1943, and that sealed his fate. Rafael shows up every week with multiple pieces, sometimes as many as eight or nine, that he types out on an old typewriter. Surely I can keep up with him! Maybe.

What am I going to write about here? Some of it will be stuff like this, stream of consciousness thoughts and ideas. I'll be doing some world building for a setting I'm working on. I might review books and movies. Sometimes, I'll just rant about something. Most of the time I'll be trying to hone my story-telling skills. I need to work getting my words to paint a picture. I know I can do it. When Ground Forces came out there was one piece of art that made me squeal with joy. i had written a description of how prospective Imperial Marines began their combat training with spears and knives, to hone their awareness of their surroundings and build a hunter's instincts. One of the artist drew two marines pushing through thorny vines with spear, and the sheer look of exhaustion on their faces was *exactly* what I was going for. I believe I pointed at the picture and said "those are my words!"

This is the challenge I set for myself. A daily ritual of getting words out of my damaged brain through to my blazing two-fingered typing and onto the screen. I honestly don't know where this will lead. I do get badges for keeping up the work, and National Novel Writing Month is coming up again in November, so maybe this year I'll see it through.

As always, I'm thinking of it as an adventure.
gridlore: Old manual typewriter with a blank sheet of paper inserted. (Writing)
2017-01-14 11:59 am
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Notes for something

Doing a little thought as to how to recreate the tensions of a WWI era naval pursuit in an interstellar setting. Let's start with the drive and it's effects.

1. Drives can reach up to about 500c. However, maintenance and fuel requirements rise sharply in drives designed for the highest speeds.

2. Entering or exiting hyperspace requires a local gravity field of at least .000006g. Entry and exit can be pushed in high fields, but it's hard on the equipment. Ships trying to push deep past the hyper rim can be forced out of hyperspace without warning.

3. Hyperspace is damaging. Ships and people in transit begin to suffer effects of hyperspace after several days of travel. Early symptoms are headaches, numbness or tingling in extremities, nausea, and vision or hearing issues. The longer a trip continues, the more severe the issues become. Extended voyages can result in permanent brain damage or death. Electronic systems on ships are also disrupted, though they can be better shielded.

4. Additionally, ships exiting hyperspace are subject to "terminus shock." This is a sudden attack of hyperspace sickness, causing everyone on a ship emerging from hyperspace to be stunned or nauseated for as long as several minutes. Those already suffering from severe effects of travel can be killed by this shock. The deeper a ship goes past the hyper rim, the more severe the shock.

5. Speed increases the onset of negative effects of travel. The pilots of high-speed couriers tend to have short careers and amazing health care plans.

So, we have a set up where ships will need to plot courses that minimize their time in hyperspace. Which means controlling access to certain stars will be quite lucrative as trade will funnel through them.

Now, interstellar communications. FTL comms exist, but they are limited.

1. The power and plant requirements for a true FTL sending station are massive.

2. The systems that can afford them usually build them on asteroids or moons close to the hyper rim. These stations tend to be fortified.

3. The system has limited bandwidth. Messages tend to be telegraph-short.

4. Stations can broadcast or aim a message at another station.

5. Messages move at about 10,000c

6. Larger ships can carry receivers. This allows them to get messages even when moving in hyperspace.

7. Due to limitations, these tend to be three letter code groups, like used with ballistic missile subs. As an example:

RQD (All 3rd Fleet Units)
YYT (War Plan Case Ocher)
SNW (Rendezvous Wolf 359)

In which case every ship of the 3rd Fleet would open their safes, pull out Case Ocher, and plot courses to Wolf 359.

More to come.
gridlore: A Roman 20 sided die, made from green stone (Gaming - Roman d20)
2017-01-03 04:56 pm
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Contracts Under Pressure

This is the background story for my latest Dungeons & Dragons character. He is a Warlock, which is a magic-using character who gets his powers from a pact with a powerful eldritch entity that isn’t a god: A powerful fairy, a Lord of Hell, or something from a far plane of reality. All places are fictional, and taken from the Forgotten Realms setting.

It's also a bit of an experiment in writing style, going from 3rd to 1st person in telling the story.

Contracts Under Pressure )

And since I'm addicted to in-jokes, the characters full name is Porte u'Marinaio. Which is Corsican for Popeye the Sailor.
gridlore: Old manual typewriter with a blank sheet of paper inserted. (Writing)
2016-11-15 12:08 pm
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NaNoWriNoMo

I've given up on my NaNoWriMo project. Simple fact is I got derailed by some health issues and the election. Also, I keep trying to make myself write science fiction, and it's really not my genre for writing. I may try my hand at urban fantasy. Without the pressure of meeting a 50,000 words in a month.

For those of you who paid into the Istanbul fund with the promise of being Tuckerized, I'll be in contact about the new project.