“Laika Dosha” project begins.

So, the good folks at the Blackgate Game project have tapped me to write and direct “Laika Dosha”, a hard science-fiction visual novel that tells the story of a deep-space search-and-rescue dog team, that finds itself haunted by the ghost of Laika.

Here’s a blurb to whet your appetite:

Antimatter smells like bacon.

They knew what they were doing when they wired in that association. Two atoms of antihydrogen react off of a fine copper mesh a few atoms wide and light­seconds across. It’s one net of four hundred and thirty eight scattered around the outer solar system. To my proprioception, my nose spans most of the outer solar system, everything from Jupiter to the Oort.

The scent of bacon hits me, and abruptly I’m eight years old, watching my mother make me a BLT. I’m also, simultaneously, a german shepherd pup of only eight weeks, nose to the air, watching the same. Hive mind memories run parallel that way.

Shared proprioception across three bodies, two brains in a can, one quantum computer, and all those sensor nets, means it’s easier to think of every one of me as a body part of a whole. For example:

Right now my sinuses, Rocco, has his nose up in the air. His eyes are squinting, his ears perked forward, and his tail is doing a lazy spiral. Signals from our sensor array get split; telemetry goes one way, quantum spin data goes the other. Rocco’s a four year old german shepherd dog, with some polar bear and luna moth hacked in for the benefit of our vomeronasal organ.

Almost a third of Rocco’s brain weight is devoted to processing scent; and Rocco gets a direct feed into the sensor array. Through him, the aroma of bacon frying is so rich and overwhelming, I find myself salivating from all of my mouths.

Sensors tag the two little spikes of gamma decay as 1.3 milliseconds apart. Trajectory models bloom in our consciousness. My left arm’s name is Pauline, and her brain is doing the math. My left arm is a human, female, aged thirty, and so powerfully autistic-­savant on its own that it medically mandated hive mind integration. Before me, Pauline tried to  communicate with her caregivers through Fourier transforms of Pi, expressed by blinking.

Now, with integration, I can pretty regularly beat the computer on signal triangulation and sequencing. More importantly, I have a backup now in case the computer ever goes down, which my commanding officer assures me is inevitable in this environment.

My mouth’s name is Molly, the communication and integration specialist. I use her to relay the initial report to command: “Command, antimatter delta orbital ­north of Jupiter, relative earth angle one-­fifteen by three point five. Source looks like it’s off the orbital plane­, ninety-three percent certainty. Tracking. Updates will follow.”

Molly’s a genehacked hybrid, a cup of human, a cup of german shepherd dog, a few tablespoons of mynah bird and mockingbird for echolalic transmutations. My mouth has been born for this role; to transform complex hive­mind sensory input into language our command structure can understand. My mouth’s brain specializes in taking the mix of vomeronasal signals that Rocco understands, and the math that Pauline and the computer can come to agreement on, and transform that into words.

Hereford and Libby are my feet, and they boost up and off the station at a lazy two G’s, arcing up to start the long drift towards our target. They’re a pair of pygmy marmosets, eighty percent brain tissue by mass, permanently embedded in their happy little networked cans. Like matrioshka dolls, their cans each nest inside small spaceships with heavy industrial tools.

My job is to rescue people in deep space, and sometimes that means ripping apart a bulkhead or five to get to them. Stasis tanks are typically nestled in the heart of a ship, as far away from hard radiation as engineers can design. Hereford and Libby are here to kick the shit out of every piece of metal that stands in my way, and run those pods back here before the slow freezer­burn of radiation can destroy whoever’s inside.


Review: “The Darker Side of Paradise” by JDT.

Originally posted here.

The Darker Side of Paradise“: 

An adrenaline-fuelled tale of mercenaries vs. mafia.

Full Disclosure: This review was a reciprocal review with the author JDT. Happily, before I agreed to the review, I’d already read through this serial to-date and enjoyed the hell out of it, so conflicts of interest are few, here!

An exciting page-burner, ‘The Darker Side of Paradise’ brings modern action-crime-drama to the web serial world. When a small team of mercenaries profiting from criminal enterprise in near-lawless Sierra Leone get caught between much larger and more powerful powers-that-be, a desperate group of survivors take the fight back to the untouchable. Packed with exciting gunplay and solid dialogue, JDT proves he can write fun, adrenaline-fueled action scenes.

The work is in occasionally sore need of an editor, with occasional doubled or dropped words, but the prose is solid and the dialogue snappy. Combat is visceral, and violence and wounds are treated realistically but without focusing too much on the bloody aftermath. Sierra Leone’s underbelly is presented with unflinching honesty, both in the humdrum and extraordinary.

Content advisory: There is both sex and violence in this story, but neither are gratuitous or even particularly explicit. It’s a good balance between showing the underbelly and wallowing in the gutter.

Overall: This is a solid, exciting tale of mercenaries fighting for survival, and then revenge, against the criminal groups that slaughtered their friends and destroyed their life. The action scenes are gritty, pulse-pounding fun, the dialogue holds up well, and while occasional proof-reading and editing mistakes trip the reader up, the momentum will carry you through.

From Winter’s Ashes

From Winter’s Ashes

A Detective with nothing to lose, against a Necromancer with a world to gain.

For those of you joining me, thanks for stopping by. Myself and Keith Aksland are the authors of From Winter’s Ashes, a fantasy noir serial. It tells the story of the Church Knight Heather Blackthorne, and her quest for justice (or revenge?) upon the necromancers responsible for the murder of her husband and son.

The web serial is expected to enter into weekly publication by July 2015, and chapter length aiming for 5k-9k as the story requires.

We’re pleased to bring you Heather Blackthorne’s story of devastation, revenge, and redemption. Watch this space and +follow us to be alerted every time we post another chapter.

Want to support us? +follow us and spread the word to your friends and fellow readers. Vote for us on TopWebFiction.com!

On the Orders of Magnitude of Energy (And why classical Wizards are idiots).

(Originally posted by me elsewhere, but I thought I’d repost it here for fellow fantasy writers and system wonks):

Let’s start with this all-important link: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Orders_of_magnitude_(energy)

You can reasonably safely skip down the chart until you get to about 10^-7 to 10^29 range, as this is more or less straining the limits of ordinary human capacity to visualize.

Specifically, let’s take a happy hop-and-skip to about the 10^-1 to 10^9 range, which is more or less our day-to-day energetic interactions.

As I read through this chart, what really struck me, over and over again, is how relative to human expectations, light and motion are cheap, while heat is expensive. Of course, these are all subjective perceptions; energetically, a Joule is a Joule. But it can be pretty weird to realize that your friendly neighbourhood chocolate bar (1.2×10^6) has about one quarter of the energy of a Kilogram of TNT (4.2×10^6), and about 5 times the energy of a WW2 “pineapple” style hand grenade.

The next energy equivalence that really struck me was solar energy vs bullets: Specifically, the solar constant at our distance from the sun is 1.4×10^3 Joules per second. The kinetic energy of an M16 rifle round is 1.8×10^3. Got a decent solar panel and a way to convert energy into motion? You could be firing off bullets all day on solar power.

Need to melt some ice? Each gram will cost you 3.3×10^2. Need to kill a man via X-rays? Now available for the low, low price of 3×10^2.

What’s that, you’re an old-fashioned wizard who lays waste to his foes via lightning bolts (1.1×10^9 J) or fireballs (ballpark it to 1KG of TNT 4.2×10^6 J) or a tornado (> 1×10^15 J)? Maybe you’re the classier sort of evil sorcerer who boils an opponent’s blood (5 litres, heating (4.184 J/ml/celsius) from 37 to 100 celsius, 5000 ml x 4.184 x 63 = 1.3×10^6. Why, it only proves your mettle to use hundreds of thousands of times more energy to strike down your foes than necessary, right?

But what if you’re one of those awful modern sorcerers who rather likes using that would-be energy of a lightning bolt, and firing off one hundred and fifty thousand .458 Winchester Magnum rounds (elephant gun, 7.3×10^3 J per round) instead?

And that doesn’t even touch on how terrifying conjuring is, energetically. Magically creating mass from nothing but energy? (9×10^13 J per gram!) Conjuring a dove (900-2100 g) pretty quickly starts demanding Tsar Bomba levels of energy.

So I guess what I’m trying to say is, forget Gandalf. The guy at your kids birthday party, pulling a rabbit (400-2000 grams) out of his hat? Back away slowly, and pay his invoice.

In which the author seeks to duel for the virtue (Ha!) of the English language.

Is there some place a man can go to, say, duel whoever puts together scholastic and literary style guides?

Because whoever decided that we put a comma instead of a period in a line like:

“You hate this comma here,” said the grammarian.

That man, I would like to take to a knife fight. And I would bring a hammer. To demonstrate in a material fashion a way in which an author can be wrong, and yet right.

I loathe that comma used prior to the closed quotation on a line of dialogue.

“If dialogue does not continue past the said tag, using a punctuation mark that implies a continuation of the dialogue is illogical. I shouldn’t have to endure that hated comma. I contend that a period should be placed at the end of the dialogue, prior to the closed quotation mark, right here.” stated the bitter author.

“And yet, you are wrong,” said the laughing grammarian.

“I hate you,” sobbed the bitter author, as he complied with the rule he found esoteric and arcane. “At least in this part of the example, the use of a comma seems logical, as my dialogue continued past the said tag.”

“And yet, you cannot even follow a statement with a closed quotation mark and then a comma, as logical as that would seem,” said the grammarian.

“Is that so? Just watch.”, said the bitter author.

“And yet, you are still wrong,” said the grammarian. “And so you must endure my torturous trailing commas forever in all of your dialogue.”

And the bitter author wept.

This is the current reason a hammer resides on my writing desk.

Just in case I meet this man.

On Inspiration and Writer’s Block, and overcoming it.

“Inspiration exists, but it has to find you working.” – Pablo Picasso

I currently write approximately 10k-20k words a week. Most days I am content to slam out 2500 and call it a day, some less, some more. On especially productive days I might manage the rare 4k, 5k, day. But I have unproductive days; days where the cavalcade of adult responsibilities, parental responsibilities, and professional or social obligations, prevents me from my hours at my keyboard.

I’m not telling you my numbers to boast, or to admonish you. These are just my facts of life, the dry statistics of my data.

I have my bad days.

I have days where opening up the word processor and slamming out another dozen pages sounds exhausting. Days where double-clicking that icon open and staring blearily at my work sounds painful. Days where the words trickle, falling in clunky chunks like an obstinate ice dispenser.

But the days of fearing my own writing block are a long way behind me. I know that, for me, writing block is not a force of nature, nor an immutable law of the creative process. It is a symptom, just like muscle and joint pain might be for an athlete.

So I look for causes.

The most common cause is sleep deprivation. I’ve written at length in the past about my rather extraordinary level of caffeine addiction. It assists my productivity, but at the cost of sleep, and when that catches up to me, my word count, structure, plotting, and the entirety of my writing craft suffers for it.

The second most common cause is a failure to plot. Often times I discover it isn’t that I am stuck, but the story is stuck. When I discover this, I step back from my words and I go back to my planning documents, and inspect the skeleton I’m trying to flesh out. Very often, it’s a fast fix that sends the dominoes tumbling once again, neatly down the pages.

The third most common cause is noisy distractions. I have three children! They are noisy, wonderful, cantankerous, adorable, messy, funny, aggravating, excellent children. I share my life with two adults, both of whom share the same living room for all their media needs. For these days, I have both earplugs at my desk, and a little desk in my bedroom with an ancient old laptop for the days of extreme noise and activity.

The fourth most common cause, a simple lack of discipline. Some days it is way more fun to screw around online and play video games, read twitter, browse imgur, go on reddit. There’s a thousand ways to lose your productive day. For those days, I have a user account on my computers that have everything fun more or less locked off. The browser only opens a select few (productive) addresses, and no more. No IM programs run, games are blocked, and the computer at that point exists only to write. Attempting to open unauthorized programs kicks back, instead, a rude little text file admonishing myself. If I cannot manufacture discipline, I can certainly automate it.

As pertains to inspiration, I often find that people who complain to me about a lack of inspiration have plenty of ideas, but haven’t plotted and planned a story around the idea. Inspiration can be found in a thousand sources. My personal favorites are music lyrics, and ‘What if?’ games. “From Winter’s Ashes” came about when Diz described to me a character idea of his of Heather Blackthorne, a Detective working for a church, burnt out on her own grief and the world around her. The story was going nowhere, and he was frustrated with it.

So I sat with him and talked about the idea, and his burnout. He described this narrative arc of her being ground down, of being surrounded by people who didn’t care, or outright betrayed her, and how her support network eroded, and let her fall through. And he found himself left with a suicidal character. Nobody gave a damn about some washed-up failure of a detective, and why should a reader?

The ‘What If?’ that solved this block was simple: What if someone gave a damn? 

Which turned into “What if someone gave a damn with all their heart and soul? What would that person be like? Who would they be? Why would they exist? Would it be enough to salvage her? Who would she be, at the end of all this? 

The answer came to us over a few beers and a few hours worth of music and talking about the problem. Thinking and writing Heather to the blues came naturally; and the moment  “Gotta Knock A Little Harder”  came to mind, I knew we had the heart and soul of the story encapsulated.

The heart of any story is questions; and if you find yourself stuck, ask a question. Then ask another, and then another, and keep asking them of yourself until you find the ones interesting enough to pursue and write answers to.

That’s my secret, anyway. Now you know it too.

A few nights ago I found myself stuck at 500 words, and I was frustrated, aggravated, and was left wondering if my internal tank was empty so early. In desperation, I forced myself into a simple bargain: “Write just one more line. It has to be a question.”

I wrote the line.

I wrote the answer to the question.

I wrote the conversation that had the line and the answer.

And the next thing I knew, I had 2000 more words on the page. (And it was 2:30 a.m., but that’s neither here nor there.)

You cannot resolve writer’s block without writing the words down. The muse is late, she’s caught in traffic, but she’s on her way. But if she checks in and you’re not there to work with her, well, you better believe she’s gonna head right on back home, bucko. Better luck tomorrow.

Let your muse find you working.