Summer Writing Schedule

writing_iconI thought I’d take a few minutes to update you about what I’m working on this summer.

Hell Bent is officially in beta. I handed it off to the bulk of the beta readers in the last few days, and I’m working out a handoff for the last one today. Hopefully I’ll get all that feedback by mid/late July and then do my edits in August. If I can get it to the copy editor in the September time frame, I might manage to publish it in November.

Debts of My Fathers (the sequel to Ships of My Fathers) is still in pre-edit limbo. I have the printout ready and waiting, but I haven’t looked at it since I wrapped it up last November. I will very likely do my initial edits to it this summer with an eye towards getting it to beta readers in the early fall. Publication is targeted for around New Years, but at this point, it’s hard to nail it down.

But for now, I’m starting to draft new work. In fact, I’m planning to draft two new novels this summer, if time and brain allows. My goal is to draft two new novels this year, with some hope of stretching that to three, and here I am with the year almost half-gone and not a single one written. Time to dig in.

shattered_vaseThe first one, tentatively titled Shattered, is quite the departure for me and might actually be a throw-away novel. Why? It’s a mystery, something I’ve never written before. Then why am I writing it, especially now when I should be trying to establish a rhythm in my publishing career? A couple of reasons. First, my mother is not a sci-fi or urban fantasy fan, and she keeps asking when I’m going to write something she can read. Well, I’m going to indulge her and try to write a mystery.

But the other reason is that a number of SF writers recommend that every writer should write a mystery at some point in their career, the earlier the better. Apparently, there’s something to be learned from the way a good mystery lays everything out and yet keeps the reading from seeing the resolution until the characters wrap it up all together. I’m also going to try a few experiments with additional prep work. I won’t say I’m going as far as the dreaded outline, but I’m at least laying down a few details before I type “Chapter 1”.

The second book I hope to draft this summer is the sequel to Hell Bent, tentatively titled Stone Killer. My general goal in writing series is to draft the sequel before publishing the first, or to generalize it, draft N+1 before publishing N. I figure that improves my odds of fixing continuity problems before they go to print since it allows me to spot a problem in N+1 and fix it in N before it’s too late. So, since I hope to hand off Hell Bent to the copy editor around September, that means I’ll want to draft Stone Killer before that.

But if you do the math, you’ll see that’s drafting two full novels in the next two and a half months. Even considering that one of them is a mystery (typically a little shorter, targeting 65-75,000), the total for both novels will be in the range of 140-160,000 words. That’s about three NaNoWriMo’s worth in less than three months, while also trying to wrap up edits to Hell Bent and making my initial edits to Debts of My Fathers.

I honestly don’t know if I can do it, but that’s what I’m aiming for.

FTL Flavors: Summary

This is the sixth and final installment of my series on the different flavors of FTL. We’ve warped through hyperspace and jumped through wormholes… or something like that. To clear it up, here’s a summary table showing how these various flavors stack up on the criteria I used:


Clearly, that’s a simplification of several simplifications, but in reducing the various drive features to simple yes/no pairs, it highlights a couple of things. First, not all of the options are represented. What if you took something like warp drive and changed the FTL-FTL box to no? What would that look like if FTL ships could no longer interact? Is it that they cannot see each other? Or maybe they only see each other long after they’ve passed? Maybe they have FTL drives but not FTL sensors?

For another example, what if we put a “yes” in the FTL-Navigation box for wormholes? Maybe instead of simple point-to-point tubes, we’re actually cruising through a complex network of junctions and connectors. Maybe our expected Sol-to-Rigel trip is merely the result of taking all the default options at every junction? What if we could alter course at key junction points and end up somewhere entirely different? What if that kind of exploration can only be done by trial and fatal error?

The second thing I notice with such a table reduction is that there are very different ways to expand these choices into the story mechanics of the drive system. Consider that wormholes and jump drives have almost identical table entries, i.e. Rarely or No across most of the table. Yet these two FTL systems have very different feels to their stories.

Similarly, even staying within a single system can give you FTL drives that end up looking quite different in the actual stories. Consider warp drive. We’re all familiar with how it works in Star Trek. We tear across the universe, warping space and manipulating subspace fields and so on. In my space opera universe of the Hudson Confederacy, ships are using tachyon drives, essentially throwing up ephemeral sails to catch the tachyon wind and yank them up to FTL speeds. The mechanism looks completely different, yet functionally, my tachyon sails are just another warp drive. But my navigators don’t worry about subspace interference. Instead, they worry about shifting winds and tachyon storms.

Furthermore, it’s also an over-simplification to think that a story must use only one flavor of FTL. Many combine them. For example, the Honor Harrington series by David Weber uses a mix of hyperspace and wormholes. That is, while most travel occurs via hyperspace, one planetary system hosts the intersection point of several long-distance wormholes, giving them a huge strategic advantage both for shipping and war. Similarly, some of the later Star Trek series (TNG, DS9, and Voyager) added rare wormholes on top of their trusty warp drive fleet.

So, did I skip a flavor? Probably. There’s a lot of SF out there. Some of those FTL systems may indeed be fundamentally different, but I suspect that a lot of them will boil down to being one of these four with different names and different hand-waving for the so-called science.

But the most important thing for all of them is to get your characters from here to there before they grow old and die. And once there, they can try to write a letter home, which brings up the matter of FTL communication, but that’s a subject for some future series of articles. With luck, I’ll get to that before we reach Sirius.

The whole series: Intro, Warp Drive, Hyperspace, Wormholes, Jumping, Summary

Review: Saving Mars, by Cidney Swanson

Saving Mars is the first book in a trilogy (or series) of books about a teenage pilot from Mars and her brother. I was mostly checking this out for my daughter, because she is nuts about Mars, and the brother in question is a reasonably high-functioning autistic. Likewise, my daughter’s brothers are autistic. On that point, I will probably recommend it to her around age thirteen or fourteen. (She’s nine now.)

However, it didn’t work that well for me as an adult. I have certainly enjoyed some YA fiction, but this one only did so-so. Too many details were glossed over for my taste, and I found a number of decisions (made by both youngsters and adults) to be poorly thought out. While I can say that’s something to be expected amongst the adolescent, some of these pushed my willing suspension of disbelief, especially the ones made by the adults. This probably would not have bothered me had I read it as a young adult myself, but looking at it with adult eyes it bothered me.

I will probably continue to read the series – after all it’s high-adventure and solar-system politics – but I really do hope the characters get smarter in the later books.

FTL Flavors: Jumping

shipjumpingThis is the fifth installment in my series on the different flavors of FTL, and this week we’re jumping into… well, jumps. A jump is essentially teleportation over interstellar distances. You set your destination coordinates, hit the switch, and then you’re at the destination. In some stories, these jumps are instantaneous. In others, the jump takes time while you exist in some transitory null-space. That second variation might sound a lot like hyperspace, but the distinction between jumps and hyperspace are in the details.

One thing about jumping, though, is that the terminology is much sloppier than for other flavors. For example, the Dune universe used jumping, though they didn’t call it that. It was “folding space”, but it was functionally the same kind of interstellar teleportation that I’m describing here. Star Wars muddies the water further by talking about “jumping through hyperspace”, making it unclear which of the two flavors they’re using. This flavor is the furthest from known physics, so it’s understandable that it has the most hand-waving and distracting terms.

FTL-to-FTL Interactions: There are none. If the jump is instant, there is simply no time, but if even it takes a few days or weeks, the ship is not in any kind of recognizable space. You can’t see other ships, so you can’t interact with them.

FTL-to-sublight interactions: There are none. Again, if it’s instantaneous, there’s no time for such interactions, and even if it takes time, your ship is completely cut off from the rest of Einsteinian space.

Relativistic effects: If the jump is instant, there are one. If it takes time, I have typically seen it take the same amount of time on ship as it did in regular space. However, I don’t see this time match-up as a hard rule for this flavor of FTL.

In-FTL Navigation: There is none. All of your navigation choices were set before the jump. After that, you are simply waiting to land. This is probably the biggest distinction between jumps and the hyperspace flavor. Hyperspace typically allows at least some kind of in-FTL navigation, even if it’s merely to stop short and drop back to normal space.

Speed Differential: Yes, there can be speed differences but not in the normal sense. After all, my instant jump cannot be any faster than your instant jump, but it is possible for my jump to be of a greater distance than yours. I jumped to Sirius in one jump, but you require four shorter jumps. That speed differential is a fairly common one in both fiction and space-based RPGs.

Another speed differential with jumping can be in the time it takes to figure out all those jump coordinates. This is less about the drive itself and more about navigational sensors and computation power, but it still impacts the overall speed of a series of jumps strung together. Similarly, it can take time to refuel or recharge the jump drives. So, not only do these jump delays allow two similarly-rated ships to have different overall speeds, but they further penalize any ship that has to do a series of shorter jumps.

Furthermore, jump accuracy makes a big difference in the final planet-to-planet travel times. Does your jump drop you out at the edge of the star system? In the neighborhood of the planet? Or can you plop yourself down in the atmosphere on a landing path to the starport? The further out you are, the longer you’ll spend travelling at sublight speeds to finish off the journey. Similarly, some jump systems don’t work well in gravitational fields, so it’s necessary to travel a ways out before making your jump in the first place. Put those together, and drive accuracy and stability can add days or weeks to your journey.

Now, for those jumps that actually do take time, we get into speed differences that are much more familiar. How long does a jump take? Is it the same for all jumps? Does it get longer the further you go? Maybe some ships can jump five light years in a day while others take a week. This kind of variation is fairly rare in stories I’ve seen, but I would not say it’s disallowed by the general flavor of jumps. It’s just another tweak.

Malfunctions: These tend to be either errors of navigation or fatal disasters. Sloppy navigation could be from miscalculating those jump coordinates, but they could just as easily come from some mechanical failure in the jump drive itself. I can see the jump-drive equivalent of Scotty shouting to the bridge, “Aye, her core filters are as twisted as the Admiral’s knickers!” Still, the worst that has happened is that you ended up somewhere other than where you meant to land, and space is 99.999… some more 9’s … 99% empty space. Very likely, you won’t have landed inside anything nasty.

ShipGoBoomOn the other hand, if “her core filters” are as twisted as Scotty says, they might just blow up when you hit the switch, especially if you’re too close to a planet, moving too fast, or anything else that makes a jump tricky. Who knows what would cause it, but when enough energy to teleport the ship five or ten light years goes awry, it’s not a healthy place to be.

And finally, there’s the possibility of jumping but never landing. These ships get lost in that transitory null-space, and we never hear from them again. Or do we? I’ve seen a few tales of the Flying Dutchman’s space cousin, and even one where they managed to recover them.

Special traits: A common feature I’ve see with jump drives is that they are reserved for larger ships, not little one-man fighters. This isn’t universal, but it’s common enough to note. Another feature I’ve seen crop up is the idea of jump points, i.e. fixed points in space where the local conditions are ideal for a jump. Those fixed points can add to the fun of space opera because they make space suddenly small again. The star system might be billions of kilometers across, but there are only four usable jump points. If you’re defending against an invasion or hunting unsuspecting merchants, those are the places you want to stake out.

That’s the end of the flavors. Tune in next week for a recap, some comparisons, and ideas that could point to as-yet-unsampled flavors.

The whole series: Intro, Warp Drive, Hyperspace, Wormholes, Jumping, Summary

Review: Mockingjay, by Suzanne Collins

This is the third and final book in the Hunger Games trilogy. I enjoyed it, but not nearly as much as the first two.

This one picks up shortly after the end of the second book, Catching Fire, which ended on quite a cliff-hanger. Everything has broken loose and been turned upside down. It’s no longer a matter of surviving the Capitol’s Hunger Games. It’s a matter of surviving open warfare, and now everyone is at risk, not just the tributes in the arena.

Yet with so much at stake, our hero Katniss mostly just fumbles around. Yes, she’s been a pawn before, and I suppose she knows she is still just a pawn, but she only breaks out from that on the rare occasion. You’d think that by now she would be coming into her own. So, for much of the book, I was kind of annoyed with her. Towards the end, she does finally break out on her own – or at least, of her own volition – but ultimately she falls short of her goals, with others stepping in to do the heavy lifting.

I was kind of disappointed by the ending. It’s not so much what happened as how it was revealed to us. Again, Katniss has been sidelined as a pawn, and so much of what has happened is simply told to us as a fact. There’s very little dialog, and very little narrative of discovering what has happened and seeing Katniss’ reaction. Instead, we get a “this is where I am now” info-dump that is lacking in passion. She does finally make some good, independent choices, but it wasn’t enough to save the ending for me.

The love triangle was resolved more or less the way I thought it would end, and that was at least satisfying. So, it was a pretty good book, but I think it was a weak ending to the trilogy.