space

Writing in Public, Too: Day 24 - Skylarking!

writinginpublicUp at 6am. Out the door by 6:30. Out of work at about 5pm, after an entire shift where I literally wasn't able to so much as sit down until the last fifteen minutes. I don't do well with no food for ten hours... Really need to find a way to grab a granola bar or something on the fly. It's sad when you put in two hours of overtime, and still leave an hour of work undone behind you. Frustrating, too. OK, back to Waltham by about 5:20 - made good time. And made it to the dentist late, but they took me anyway. Had to get a temporary cap on a tooth replaced (old one cracked). It didn't take them very long. Feels a little odd, but hey, it only has to last a couple of weeks. Then they do the permanent crown. (SO not really looking forward to that!)

Got home in time for Susan to leave. She was out to visit with a friend this evening, and left shortly after I arrived. A very "ships in the night" sort of day. I continued reading the book on writing; also browsed some Amazon genre pages, doing a little research on what is selling, and how. I still track percentage data sometimes, although not as carefully as I once did. Anyway, thinking about the genres, I had a new idea for a story. Actually, I had several new ideas for stories, but this one, I decided to work on a little bit.

So after dinner, I skimmed the first couple chapters of "Skylark of Space".

For anyone who's never read the book, this is a bit of classic SF from E.E. Smith, one of the most famous science fiction writers of the pulp era. Awesome story, if you can handle the dated storytelling style. I love it, but I admit if can be an acquired taste. Anyway, I was thinking about Skylark, and looking at my bookshelf, where there is a book titled "How to Build Your Own Spaceship". So I stole the title, and the seed of the technology from Skylark, and started writing something for my kids.

My girls are seven, and one of them is voraciously reading anything in her path. She's not - QUITE - to where she can handle full length adult fiction. But she's close. And I was thinking I could maybe write something she would like, that older people would enjoy as well. So I wrote about 750 words of a story, then sat her on my lap and read the story to her (actually, she was supposed to be in bed by then, but was complaining of a nightmare, so I let her read it to me as a bedtime story to take her mind off bad dreams).

She liked it, and wants to read more. ;)

This will be a fun side project to spend some time on while working on the other stories.

 

For your entertainment, the very first pages of How to Build Your Own Spaceship (first draft work)

Dana's face froze.

Playing chemist in the basement was one thing. Accidentally dissolving your mom's platinum ring was another, she figured. And if Mom would ground her for the chemistry (well, she might or might not – Mom was pretty cool), she'd feed Dana to piranhas if she found out about the ring.

Lucky her, it wasn't a piece of jewelry Mom wore all that often. It was an old family ring, and Dana had figured it was a prime candidate for her experimentation in electroplating. She had the acid bath. She had the copper bar in her hand. And she had the electric current from a car battery, which up until a few moments ago had been hooked up to the platinum ring.

She wasn't expecting the platinum to dissolve! She clenched her teeth, trying not to howl in frustration. Mom used the aqua regia to etch platinum for her artwork. It wasn't supposed to make platinum just go poof like that.

Absently, she reached forward to stir the solution with the copper rod. Maybe the electroplating would still work?

Bang!

Her ears hurt. Her fingers, the ones that had been loosely holding the copper rod, stung. The steel wire she'd looped around the bar to run back to the battery was dangling loose. What had made that loud noise? And where was the copper rod? She looked into the little pot filled with solution. Had the copper dissolved too?

No... She thought it would have left some sort of telltale residue. The platinum had.

She looked around the room, wondering what had happened, and her eyes were drawn to a small hole in the wall, right near the ceiling of the basement. It was small; she only noticed it because she could see sunlight through it. She'd never seen the hole before, though – and she spent a lot of time down here, working on one science project or another. If it wasn't chemistry, it was robotics or engineering or rocketry. So she knew that wall as well as she knew her bedroom.

And funny, that hole was about the same width as the missing copper bar.

 

A short while later, she had four holes in the wall instead of one, but she'd figured out what the heck was going on. She winced, looking at the holes, and pulled out the chunk of gray modeling clay she'd swiped from the art supplies in her homeschool room. Carefully, she took four chunks of the clay and pressed them into the four holes. The color matched the wall pretty well. She didn't think anyone would notice.

But she'd figured it out. Somehow, the platinum solution, plus a current, in contact with the copper, made the copper move. And not just move, but move fast. Almost faster than her eyes could see, even at the lowest level of power. Plus, the holes got bigger if she added more electricity into the mix. And when she hooked a bunch of paperclips onto the copper bar, they went along for the ride.

“Holy shit,” she said softly. She figured even Mom would agree this was one of those times it was OK to use bad words.

She's been lucky she wasn't holding that first chunk of copper too tight, or it might have taken her along. Through the wall. Who knew how far. She shivered a little.

Take away the current, though, and nothing happened. And when she tried a smaller battery, the copper sped away noticeably slower. So however the reaction was being created, she could control it by controlling the amount of electricity present.

Dana wondered how far those copper bars had gone before the reaction stopped. Maybe they'd even gone into space! She'd launched model rockets before, but it would really be something if she could launch her own little copper rockets into orbit.

Mom would be home soon, though. And she felt like she wanted to keep this from her mother for a little while yet...like maybe forever, if she could. It was a really cool reaction, like nothing she'd ever read about. But she didn't think it would be cool enough to save her if Mom found out about the ring. And she didn't like the idea of being grounded. Like, forever. Or at least for however long it took to get from thirteen to being away at college. Which might as well be forever.

 

 

Totals for Day 23

Daily Fiction Wordcount: 750 words    Month to date fiction: 33650 words

Daily Blog Post Wordcount: 529 words    Month to date blog posts: 14239 words

Writing in Public, Too: Day 6 - To the moon!

writinginpublicAnd now I TOTALLY feel like dropping the fantasy novel and getting back to some science fiction. (grin)  

Got up this morning at 6am, off to work shortly after again. Another typical work day - doing a bit more there each day, as I get up to speed with how they do things there. Stayed from 7am until about 4pm. Worked through lunch. Wasn't a bad day, wasn't a particularly good day. Which makes it a step up from yesterday, so I'll take it.

Headed home, and got stuck in slow traffic, so it took a while. I was pretty tired, so I made some coffee and headed upstairs to my computer. Checked emails, caught up on Twitter a little. Read up on some new stuff coming up in the publishing end of things that look interesting:

1) FlipKart started taking indie books last month, but I wasn't sure how I was going to get onto their site. It's not quite as clear as KDP or Nook Press. But now, Smashwords is going to distribute to FlipKart. Suddenly, Smashwords is looking much more interesting. For those who don't know, Flipkart is a big internet retail website for India. And India has more English language readers than any other country in the world. It's actually possible that India has more English language readers than the entire rest of the world...not sure. So it's a huge market, and a growing ebook market. Finding ways to break into that market would be a Good Thing.

2) Oyster - a service opening up in a few weeks, which will charge $10 a month for readers to be able to read books from their stocks. Pay the monthly fee, read books (I gather as many as you want). Again, Mark Coker's Smashwords has stepped into the breach here. Smashwords will distribute ebooks to Oyster when it launches. I don't yet have details about how authors will get paid when their books are borrowed on the Oyster system, but I've known Mark (peripherally) for a while now. He's a canny man. He wouldn't have made the deal if it wasn't worthwhile, so I suspect this is something to jump into with both feet.

As a result, I'm suddenly VERY interested in Smashwords again, where I was leaning away from using them anymore, just a month ago. I'd had great luck with Draft2Digital uploading to Apple and B&N, and can upload direct to B&N and Kobo anyway. Smashwords was looking a little superfluous - go figure that Mark would jump in and find more ways to add value to his distribution system. I will happily pay Smashwords the small percentage of sales they keep, if they'll keep finding me new markets for my books!

 

Took a brief nap until after six, when my wife called me down to dinner. Which was pancakes and sausage: what we call "silly supper". The kids always enjoy it when we do that.

After dinner, it was back upstairs, and a little more reading on the Oyster thing. Trying to find out as much as I can in advance, which unfortunately isn't much. But I'm intrigued.

Then I got to work. Put in an hour on Ashes Ascendant, and just about exactly 1200 new words. Then it was time to get the kids to bed, and watch a TV episode with my wife. We're working through the first season of Lost Girl on Netflix, which is fun, and interesting, and urban fantasy - so it's nice to keep me on track for writing the Blackwell urban fantasies.

After the show was done, it was closing on time for the LADEE launch, so getting back to writing just wasn't happening. I debated climbing the hill in the park near my house - highest point for many miles all around. We're just west of Boston, you see - and inside the range to be able to see the launch, according to the web pages I was looking at the other day. The rocket was launched from the Virginia coastline, which made it the first rocket launch far enough north that I'd have a shot of seeing it. So a high vantage point seemed smart. However, the park is closed after sunset, and I had visions of trying to explain to a police officer why I was up there... (grin)

Staying put finally won out, so I pulled NASA TV up on my computer instead, and watched the launch that way. Then, because I had to, I peeked out my bedroom window at about the time when I ought to have been able to see the rocket.

And there was a little bright light out there, flickering through a tree branch. Was it a star?

No, it was moving. A plane, perhaps? I didn't want to get my hopes up.

Then NASA announced the stage two engine shutoff on my desktop, and the light went out.

NASA called the stage three ignition, and it came back on.

I called my wife over, shut off lights, and got ready. She wasn't at all sure it was the rocket.

NASA called the next stage shutoff, and it vanished from sight. Which was about as much proof as either of us needed.

AMAZING.

We just saw a craft, built by people, carrying a cargo to the moon, as it was leaving Earth to begin its voyage.

For a science fiction writer, that moment when you see a glowing point of light that you know is the real thing...it's a hard moment to describe. It makes me want to write better - makes me want to inspire more people. I want people to read things I write and dream big dreams about reaching into space. I want them to grow up and make those dreams into reality.

I'm SO in the mood for writing more science fiction right now. But I'm going to stay the course, and finish the Blackwell novel. Then I'll probably shift gears back to something near-future SF. Because getting into space is something that I feel in my heart we ought to do. We are a curious race. We have always, whenever we reached a new vista, taken whatever risks were necessary to explore that new place. I'll probably never get to go there myself, but if my writing helps encourage others to take those steps, I will be satisfied.

 

Totals for Day 6

Daily Fiction Wordcount: 1200 words    Month to date fiction: 11950 words

Daily Blog Post Wordcount: 1076 words    Month to date blog posts: 4791 words

Space Anniversaries: First man in space, first shuttle launch

MH900301064.jpg

Hey, how often do you get two big space anniversaries in the same day? Today we've got two: fiftieth anniversary of Yuri Gagarin's historic ride into space, and the 30th anniversary of the first shuttle launch. Both of these are landmark events. Before Gagarin, some theorized that humans could not survive in space. There were all sorts of concerns; it was a new frontier we didn't really understand very well. His test proved once and for all that we could go there - and that opened the doors for "could" to become "should".

The shuttle program, for all its flaws, has had thirty years of forward progress for humankind in space. I think we all could wish more had been accomplished over those thirty years. But I think it would be wrong not to look back and smile at what has been accomplished.

 

All the same, I wonder what new things we'll have to celebrate in the future? What new landmark dates in space exploration will we create for our children and grandchildren to celebrate?

Where do we go from here?

I'm not an astronaut. Probably never will be (although if someone offers me a ticket, better believe I'll be taking the trip!). I'm not a professional physicist, although that was my original major in college. So what can I do - you do - we all do to encourage our future in space? What can we do to make this a priority for our nation and the world as we step forward into the future?

The obvious answer is to get a little political. We all know that the government responds to voter desires, if slowly. If space exploration - manned space exploration - becomes a priority issue for voters, politicians will make it a priority in the budget. And it's probably not going to happen in any serious way until we see that.

Some folks will ask how we can prioritize that with so many problems on Earth. Pollution, job losses, government at war with itself, media revolutions, fighting revolutions, higher taxes, gas closing on $4 a gallon again, greenhouse gases, oil spills, earthquakes, nuclear plant problems, wars, people starving, healthcare problems, and the list goes on...and on...and on.

The thing is, it always has. It always will. A thousand years ago, the people living felt like their issues were just as insurmountable, every bit as critical. More to the point, fifty years ago the USSR and USA both felt like the issues their nations faced were just as Earth-shaking as we think ours are today. But they managed to get men into space - then to the moon.

These problems we are facing have always been there, in one shape or another. And they always will be. Every new generation has its own set of crisis moments, a never-ending stream of them. But by and large, it is not the crisis that history remembers: it is those people who managed to step beyond day to day crisis management and do something greater that we recall and reflect upon.

I'm a writer. I enjoy writing science fiction, but not of the far-future variety. What I prefer to write about is the time just ahead of us now. The future in space which we can have, not a hundred years from now but ten or twenty years from now, IF we reach out to grab it. I want to write not about the someday possible, but the tomorrow possible. Partly because that interests me. And partly, I guess, because I hope to in some small way help inspire a few more minds to wish it could be so, and maybe a few of those to try to step forward and help make it so. Science fiction is a realm of the imagination, one of the most powerful tools of the human mind. If we can envision something, we can reach for it and, in time, achieve it.

So if there's a theme to my upcoming science fiction episodes, it's that people belong in space, should be there. That exploration and curiosity are so fundamental to our nature that turning aside from this challenge is a denial of who and what we are as a species. And that at our core, we know as a species that we cannot deny the siren call of the great adventure waiting just beyond our atmosphere. There is risk, yes; danger, yes; and there will be losses, yes. But we owe it to ourselves, our predecessors, and our descendants to reach for the possible.

Space is within our reach. We just need to stretch a little.