Against the Stasis Quo

Whew! My hyperlink comm is finally back online and Dr. Kincaid has quite a few things to say. As always (Sorry, couldn’t resist that one, Dr. K.) He had this to say about stasis and why it is not a good idea.

“I’ve received a few questions about stasis pods and why travelers in the League don’t use them more often. Most of them read something like ‘If stasis is such an easy option, why not just freeze yourself and travel that way.’

“My first response to this is ‘Phase down! Stasis is NOT an easy option.’ Despite what you may have seen in the movies – do you even have League movies there? – Stasis is never as simple as ‘climb into the pod, push a button and done.’ Stasis, or physio-neural stasis induction, is a very complicated and dangerous procedure. It is also fraught with misconception thanks to Arn Ironhand and his ‘Lethal Max’ character.

“The basic process, commonly called ‘freezing,’ is cellular entropic damping. Most people lose awareness early in the induction process but the few who didn’t describe the feeling differently. They all say they felt no temperature. They were not hot, warm, cool, cold or even comfortable. It was, they say, the total absence of temperature. Healer’s Guild researchers theorize that, for these people, consciousness lasted a few seconds past the damping of their cerebral impulses.

“That’s what stasis is. It literally shuts down 99.999% of all electrical activity in your body. Yes, that is 0.001% away from death and that’s what makes it so dangerous. The human body is designed to be active, even when you’re asleep, and non-activity is an unnatural state. It is also not possible without proper preparation. The biggest part of this is the pre-stasis drug. By now those of you who have seen any of the Kace Karson, Patrol Ranger episodes are seeing him shouting ‘Green jolt. Now!’ That’s one of them, it’s the best-known and it is the most dangerous of them all.

“Administering a prestasis drug is tricky and it has to be exactly right. It slows neural activity and prompts the internal organs to shut down. In order to have a good freeze, the organs and every cell within them must achieve a certain level of saturation. The spiky part is ensuring that the first cells affected don’t over-saturate before the last cells reach minimum. If that happens you probably won’t survive the freeze. If you activate the field early, the cells that don’t saturate properly die.

“The best way to enter freeze is to spend at least twelve hours building up cellular saturation levels. That’s best done under sedation and with nothing in your stomach. Once saturation is optimal, the field is activated and cellular activity in your body gradually stops.

“If you have a good freeze, the battle is halfway won. The only obstacle left is proper revival. This is called decanting and it’s a lot more accurate than ‘freezing.’ The first order of business is flushing the prestasis drug. They are designed for that and massive doses of the flushing agents don’t have any harmful effects but there is one minor problem. In stasis, your cardiovascular system is shut down. That means you don’t have a working heart to circulate the medicine. That means it has to be done externally and that’s never a sure thing.

“Once the prestasis agent is gone, or at least below 5% saturation, the physical body can be revived. That process has to be competed within about a hundred and thirty seconds or you may suffer irreparable brain damage. The good news there is that our medics are all ruddy good at decanting and revival. Survey and Guild medics are certified in it.

“So. The next time someone says ‘Just pop them in stasis,’ look them in the eye and say ‘You first. I think I’ll wait.’ You’ll be a lot safer that way.”

F. R. Kincaid, PhD, ArG

If you’re interested in the universe about which Dr. Kincaid speaks, you can read all about it in A Pattern of Details and the Stone Blade series:
http://moldyripegrape.wix.com/newstarstradeleague
http://amazon.com/author/jamescoxjr
https://www.smashwords.com/profile/view/JamesMattCox

I also have a few things to say on my own so I’ll try to be more blog-faithful than I have these past few months. Book sales are still down, I haven’t yet sold my screenplay and I also have Java projects and an RPG system to maintain but I’ll do my best.

Ciao;

-matt

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Writing About Writing: Knock Knock

Who’s there? That’s up to you. This post concerns aliens in your science-fiction universe. Do they exist? If so, what are they like?

Many people don’t consider a story true science fiction unless it has aliens. My universe does not, as yet, have any non-human inhabitants. Nor do I plan to. Why, you ask? Because they’re not needed.

Before you include aliens, ask yourself what purpose they fill in your universe. Not from their point of view but from yours. In his classic Foundation Trilogy, Asimov had no aliens. They were not needed. Arguably, the Mule and the members of the Second Foundation might be considered alien but were not. Asimov did not need aliens to convey anything. Humans were alien enough for him.

In a similar vein, Herbert’s Guild Navigators, Bene Tleilax and even Bene Gesserit (Dune) might be considered alien but again, they were essentially human. In both of these cases the authors found sufficient alien-ness within humanity and didn’t need green-eyed monsters.

Now let’s shift gears. Star Trek would not have been Star Trek without its plethora of alien races. In this case, though, each alien race was carefully realized to emphasize both its uniqueness and its similarity to humanity. These beings both emphasized the fact that they were alien and they focused sharply some aspect in the mirror humanity holds up to itself.

Star Wars. Ahhh, Star Wars. More aliens than would fit into a Mos Eisley cantina. Most of them had very human aspects. The story, however, emphasized some of the most basic human conflicts and desires. The plethora of aliens served to demonstrate that some things – the struggle for freedom from tyranny – transcend such trivial things as the body’s exterior configuration.

Finally, consider Brin’s Uplift books. In these stories the aliens are ubiquitous throughout the universe and humanity is an endangered species. Some of the aliens are friends, some are enemies and others just don’t care. In this case the aliens define the struggle while humanity, with only unconventional unpredictability as its weapon, manages to succeed by the thinnest of margins.

Aliens can be fun, messengers, mirrors, obstacles or simply there. As with all things, the role they fill in your universe is up to you.

-matt

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Lost and Found. Somewhere…

Dr. Kincaid writes:

“I’ve received several questions on linkspace travel and why ships don’t stop mid-link. I won’t go into the grisly scientific details, mostly because they are very grisly, but the short answer is this:

“Linkspace is different from normal space.

“I know, ‘No blather!’ but that is the reason. Let’s consider normal space and locations within it. Pick a single reference point, no matter where it is. We’ll use the Metropole star. Any other location in normal space can be described using a three-component vector starting at Metropole and ending at the other location. ‘But,’ you say, ‘what about time?’ Slib. Make it a four-component vector with the last coordinate being the time it takes to traverse the distance. Therefore ‘It takes T time to travel from point (0, 0, 0) (Metropole) to point (X, Y, Z).’

“Except that it doesn’t. Even if we assume a constant linear distance from Metropole to our destination the time component is not constant! Simply put, if we travel twice as fast it only takes half as long. Once again, we’re ignoring the fact that the two points are in motion with respect to each other (which contributes to jitter) and the relativistic effect of moving at any speed greater than zero.

“Now we factor in the curvature of space. Even though we perceive it as linear, and on a small enough scale it is indistinguishable from, space is not linear. For truth, linearity as a concept is just that: concept and not reality. The simple fact is normal space is curved. In order to travel from one world to another we must take that curvature into account.

“Linkspace is also curved. Depending on the phase used, the curvature is either very similar to normalspace or very dissimilar. The term scientists use is relatively plesilinear or simply plesilinear. The word itself means, loosely, close to linear. This plesilinearity both allows faster-than-light travel and complicates it.

“Every point in normal space has a corresponding point in linkspace(es) but the path between these points does not necessarily correspond. I can see your thoughts bubbling. Right now you’re thinking ‘But the pathway between two corresponding points is composed of points, each of which has a corresponding point, therefore the paths must be identical!’ And you would be wrong. This is where plesilinearity comes into play. While it is true that the path-points in normalspace do have corresponding points in linkspace, the curvature between them is different!

“What this means is that, while the endpoints of both paths do correspond, the actual points along the path traversed in linkspace do not necessarily correspond to points along that particular path in normal space. Therefore, terminating the link before reaching the destination could put the ship anywhere.

“For those of you now worried about traveling, don’t. Statistically speaking you’re much safer taking a link than you are driving a hover to work. For those who don’t like statistics, League vessels are built with multiply-redundant safety systems in place. They’re not just redundant, they are designed to fail before linking it if something’s wrong. That means if the thalyssium grid or coils have even the slightest irregularity the link will fail, the lights will flash and you’ll spend a little more time where you are instead of where you want to be.

“I hope this allays your concerns. By all means keep your questions coming!”

F. R. Kincaid, PhD, ArG

If you’re interested in the universe about which Dr. Kincaid speaks, you can read all about it in A Pattern of Details and the Stone Blade series:
http://moldyripegrape.wix.com/newstarstradeleague
http://amazon.com/author/jamescoxjr
https://www.smashwords.com/profile/view/JamesMattCox

I’ll also be continuing my posts about writing and about my writing.

Ciao;

-matt

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Writing About Books: A Pattern of Details.

Grrr… I just had my first encounter with windoze 8 today. I hate it! Every time a new version comes out I think “There’s no way m$ can screw things up any worse. Every time they prove me wrong. So, to alleviate my frustration, I decided to blog about something I always enjoy. My own books! This is also semi-related to my “Writing on Writing” series and I plan to do more hand-in-hand articles. Interspersed, of course, with Java/MathTools news and missives from Dr. Kincaid, never fear!

———-

As do most of my books, A Pattern of Details began with a character. The main character of that book is, for lack of a more accurate word, a nerd. A geek. A stereotypical geek. Technician Morris Taylor is the absolute master of his craft. He is a proud member of the Technical Guild and totally devoted to what he does. He is also limited in his ability to interact socially with others. As is the case with so many, he tends to apply his analytic skills to his own perceived social lacks but, without positive experience, he finds no ‘optimal solution vector.’

The story begins with Morris ending his day too early to quit but too late to start another assignment. After an evening out with his best friend (also aTech) he receives an assignment outside the League teaching a class in the Halcyon Region. I can say from personal experience this is a traumatic event and Morris sees it as such. The Tech Guild motto, however, is “Will do!” so Morris accepts the assignment.

What follows is a series of similarly traumatic events wherein Morris is forced to interact with people on a closer and more frequent basis, some of whom are VERY attractive women (the most terrifying creatures of all to a shy, introverted male geek!). Being who he is, Morris manages to acclimate himself to the teaching routine and even enjoy it. Then, just when his life has settled into a predictable routine, chaos rears its ugly head.

The entire League team is recalled and, along with one of the Halcyon teachers and three grad students, sent on a mission well outside League and Halcyon space. Their assignment: conduct primary exploration and build a base for follow-up investigation of a just-discovered Imperium advanced base abandoned for thousands of years!

As the voyage progresses Morris and the investigation team begin experiencing accidents. The first is quite serious but none of the rest are, at least at first. As the severity slowly escalates Morris realizes there is a traitor among them! It then falls on his shoulders to discover this saboteur and keep the rest of them alive, all without telling anyone! The journey culminates with a live-or-die encounter in which Morris discovers that he’s not just dealing with a saboteur but a well-trained assassin!

I wrote the original to this story back in the 80’s and revised it mid-90’s. “The League” was a nebulous place, roughly corresponding to “The Good Guys” and the Halcyon Autonomous Region was, again nebulously, “A Place Away From Home.” Then, after multiple query-letter rejections, I elected to go the indie author route for publishing my books. I wasn’t sure how it would work and I didn’t want to potentially mess up my nascent series (Stone Blade, of which I’d already written the first story and several more), so I decided to re-re-rewrite APoD and retrofit it into the new League, about which I now knew a lot more.

Interestingly, A Pattern of Details fit its back- and forward-linking eminently well. It takes place somewhere between book 1 of the series (Stone Blade) and book 3 (The Radical Factor). I mention that because it represents a very important “Ah-HAA!” moment for me as an author. The fact that the stories meshed so well together, despite one having been written, originally, some thirty years ago (Dang! I’m OLD!), convinced me that I was meant to be an author.

Without a doubt, the thing I like best about APoD is its exploration of character motivation and perception of other characters. We see the universe, and hence the story, through Morris’ eyes and experience. He himself doesn’t realize just how much he’s grown until the end, when he has to look back and see it. It was also a chance to try my hand at subtle direction and misdirection, and my friends who read the book tell me I succeeded. I’ll take that as a compliment since they’re good enough friends to say “Hey, that’s crap!” if that’s what they think.

If you’re still reading, and interested, A Pattern of Details is available as a FREE DOWNLOAD in the format of your choice from Smashwords. (Shameless self-promotion!!) Of course my other books are also available, just not for free!

I hope you enjoyed this. More to come soon;

-matt
http://moldyripegrape.wix.com/newstarstradeleague
http://amazon.com/author/jamescoxjr
https://www.smashwords.com/profile/view/JamesMattCox

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Writing About Writing: Caution! Universe Under Construction.

The first step in writing a science fiction series, or even a book, is building your universe. You must have every detail carefully planned and recorded along with all the worlds, all the data on the worlds, how people travel there and how they communicate with each other. This must be done before you write the first word of your story.

OR NOT! This is, perhaps, one of the greatest story-killing myths about writing SF. You don’t have to have every single detail preplanned. Your stories define your universe! This is not to say that universe-building should not happen, merely that it, like a good series, is a living, changing thing. The other side of that coin is the gremlin of inconsistency. Not having a single thought about the universe in which your story exists is just as bad as trying to pre-plan everything. Here are a few things to consider from my experience.

1. How Big Is The Place? Some SF stories and even series take place in our own Solar System. This requires minimal planning – we know how many planets there are and how they act; this information is freely available – but it also requires obscene attention to detail for the same reasons.

If your universe consists of a relatively low number of planets or planetary systems then you need only worry about them. Other places are inaccessible, period. Gordon Dickson’s Dorsai books are an outstanding example of this.

If your universe is truly universal, many worlds will receive no detailing at all! Start with the ones your characters visit in your first or first few stories and work from there. Describe in your writing as much about the planets as necessary but have more detail waiting in the wings for the next visit there. E. E. “Doc” Smith loved this size for his universes. This is good to put in your detail document! It also leads to the next topic…

2. How Do Folks Get Around? Hyperspace is a wonderful thing! It is a mystical, magical place that future spacefaring vessels enter in order to break the speed of light. If you plan to use it you MUST know how it works! No, I’m not talking about a technical dissertation on how to build it. How does it work from an average person’s point of view? Driving 600 miles takes 10-12 hours, depending on traffic. I know this and I don’t know anything about building a car! You don’t have to know all the details about faster-than-light travel, just how long it takes.

On that topic, you should also know at least a little about how hyperspace works, ‘scientifically.’ Does the ship leave this universe for a shortcut through that one? Do ships stay in this universe and move really fast? Do they suffer relativistic effects? Are there ‘star gates’ that send ships passing through them to other places? These are foundational questions you need to answer.

3. How Do People Communicate? Can people communicate between worlds? If so, how long does this take? Can planets communicate only with other planets or can they talk to moving starships? What about ships in hyperspace? If they can communicate then how fast is such communication relative to the speed of starships?

Vessels in the Star Trek universe have instantaneous, long-range communication. Signals do weaken with distance, but the citizens of the Federation certainly have FTL communication. There is no such communication in H. Beam Piper’s The Cosmic Computer (orig. title Junkyard Planet). Communication is via letters, written on paper and delivered by FTL-capable starships. So which is best for you? Trick question! Your stories determine that!

I’m going to stop here. There are a few other points in universe construction but I’ll cover them later. For those who are interested, here’s how things work in my universe. FTL travel and communication are both via hyperspace, which in my universe is called linkspace. Astrogation and communication are based on gravity and specifically the huge gravity generated by stars. The League itself is BIG but the civilized space outside it is even BIGGER! Linking from one place to another is a matter of days, possibly a week, but communication is measured in hours. Long-distance travel is done in shorter hops because ships inevitably miss their target when they link out. The longer the link, the greater the distance between the ideal exit point and the actual one. This is called jitter and it’s unavoidable. If you want to learn more, scroll back through some of my older blogs. My best friend in the League, Dr. Ferdinand Kincaid, loves to talk about such things. For even more information, check out my books!

That’s it for now;

-matt

http://moldyripegrape.wix.com/newstarstradeleague

http://amazon.com/author/jamescoxjr

https://www.smashwords.com/profile/view/JamesMattCox

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Writing About Writing: Step One in my Journey

Well, this is it. As (semi-) promised, I’ve decided to do a series of posts on writing science fiction and my journey through it. For the record: I do not claim to know everything, nor will I. Ever. (Claim it or KNOW it!) Rather, this is a journal of my passage from science fiction reader to science fiction author. I intend to pass along some of my hints, tips and tricks, and I hope someone out there in blogland finds it helpful. I will also (probably) intersperse this with notes on the books I’ve written.

Details

One of the biggest pitfalls of writing science fiction concerns DETAILS. As SF readers we are a picky group. I’ve read many a paperback with a believable premise, good tech concepts and well-developed characters only to choke on DETAILS. These wonderfully-developed characters in the disbelief-suspended universe are urgently pursuing (or fleeing) someone else. Hyperjumping from Planet Purple to Wampus World takes six suspenseful days. Once the Wampians are handled the ensuing jump back to Planet Purple only takes two days, because the characters MUST be there for something else. No explanation is given for WHY two jumps of the same ‘distance’ took two different times. The story is still enjoyable, the characters are still well-developed but the disbelief-suspender just took damage.

As an avid reader I can forgive small faux pas and even a few more serious ones but too many of them will drop me out of a story cold. As an author I try, hard, to keep my details consistent. My Dad suggested that I spend too much time doing so but, of course, I disagree (Politely!) with him.

This is especially true when writing a science fiction series. Not only is detail-consistency required within a single book, it is CRITICAL between stories. My solution for this is a separate document specifically used to track details. Mine is up to 31 pages so far but this is a false number. I also maintain a similar document for each story. (Starting with The Radical Factor where I really needed it!). Who knows? Some day in the future I may decide to publish a League Encyclopedia or Reference Guide. If I do, I’ll have plenty of material already available!

So. You think this is a good idea and decide to implement it. What should go there? What tidbits of information should you record, how should you format it and how should you organize it? The simplest answer is ‘Whatever fits your needs.’ Record anything that needs to be consistent throughout all the books: names of major planetary systems, governments, well-known hyperspace routes and other things like that. I also record slang and technical jargon, especially if it’s something REALLY cool-sounding. That includes profanity, since some of my characters have really foul mouths. Right, you ruddy stape?

Format and organize the detail-document(s) in such a manner that you can FIND things and ADD things easily. If you use a word processor that supports such things, put headings on all your major sections and create a table of contents for them. If you’re really feeling fancy then add hyperlinks. If that doesn’t appeal, check out the Internet for open-source idea organizers. There are plenty out there and bunches of them are FREE.

Well, that’s all I’m going to say for now. I’ll be back soon with something else. Dr. Kincaid is pestering me so you may be seeing a post from him soon. I’m also getting REAL CLOSE to finishing my Stone Blade #6 rewrite, working title Honeymoon Cruise, so expect to see it before too terribly long.

Oh yeah. For the curious amongst you, ‘stape’ means stupid ape and it’s mildly insulting. It’s slightly worse than ‘spiker,’ which can be used in a complimentary sense and not nearly as bad as ‘nubb,’ which may constitute sufficient cause for fisticuffs!

Ciao for now;

-matt
http://moldyripegrape.wix.com/newstarstradeleague
http://amazon.com/author/jamescoxjr
https://www.smashwords.com/profile/view/JamesMattCox

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Free Book On Me!

BookCover4_SmallEST

For those who have not yet explored it, allow me to present you a FREE introduction into the Member Worlds of the Sovereign System States New Stars Trade League! I have elected to make my first book in that universe and my first book published, A Pattern of Details, available for FREE!

As of now the price of zero is available at Smashwords but Amazon should catch up within the next 2-3 days. Amazon doesn’t have a “free” option for its basic service so I’m using their price-match software instead. So. If you’d like a good, free read then please stop by for a download.

Full disclosure: Yes, I do have an ulterior motive. By offering a taste of the universe for free I am hoping to increase my book sales. But hey, how can you beat FREE?

https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/445950

http://www.amazon.com/James-Cox/e/B00HX7HMUE

I’ve also decided to (attempt to) write a series of articles (posts) on writing science fiction. I don’t claim to know everything, but I want to share a few of the concerns and considerations I’ve encountered during my trip down the publishing path.

Ciao for now;

-matt

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