X-Space: The Final Frontier

X-Space: The Final Frontier

By David Belt Copyright 2014

REALM Charter School in Berkley, Ca has everything it needs for the secondary education of our future generations, except one thing. Initial school funds opened the school for the business of education, but the students felt the school was lacking one critical element. Eighth grade teacher, Hallie Chen (Ms. Nini to her students) presented her class with this empty room and asked her students, “What do you want out of this space for your school?”

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The students’ answers were unique in thought but united in concept.

“I want have a space to learn and be more focused.”

“I want to learn about music history.”

“I want a place where I can relax and read and discover.”

In short, they wanted a library, but the students aren’t calling it a library. They are calling it the X-Space. From the algebraic variable X, meaning anything (even the imaginary and irrational), the students want to turn this empty room into a space where they can learn anything.

The X-Space

This model mockup shows the students’ vision for the room, but as school funds have run out, the students are turning to Kickstarter in order to raise the necessary $75,000 for books, building materials, computers, software and subscriptions.

You can read more about and contribute to this worthy cause here:

Hyperlink: https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/1903209704/xspace-a-library-designed-and-built-by-its-student

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The Way It All Began

Copyright 2014 by Paula S. Jordan

Our Long Address

Our Long Address

This week’s post is tougher than I expected. Not because of too little information, but because of so amazingly much of it, so suddenly (from the public’s point of view), on a subject about which human beings might never, ever have learned anything at all.

I mean, of course, the news of four astrophysicists who spent two years in the thin, cold, dry, and therefore very clear air of the south pole, and what they saw.

The timing was dramatic. Just a week before, Dr. Neil deGrasse Tyson had reintroduced us to Carl Sagan’s Cosmos by teaching us our “long address” in the vast expanse of observable space. And now we have learned that these galaxy-class science nerds have seen to the very ends of it.

In so doing, they have proven yet another of Einstein’s great predictions — the existence of gravity waves — as well as Alan Guth’s inflation theory of the way the universe expanded in the first infinitesimally small slice of a second of its existence.

What they saw, in the words of early-universe expert Marc Kamionkowski of Johns Hopkins University (quoted in the New York Times), was “… a signal from the very earliest universe, sending a telegram encoded in gravitational waves.”

In more technical terms it was, according to Scientific American Magazine, “ … a pattern called primordial B-mode polarization in the light left over from just after the big bang, known as the cosmic microwave background (CMB). This pattern, basically a curling in the polarization, or orientation, of the light, can be created only by gravitational waves produced by inflation.”

What they saw was proof of the Big Bang.

Calling theirs a ‘cosmic’ achievement is no more than literal truth.

Even they were so astonished at the power of the signal that, just to be sure, they spent a whole year double-checking their results before they published. That effort proved their work accurate to so high a degree of probability that, as project leader Dr. John M. Kovac of the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics put it, the chance that the results were a fluke was “only one in 10 million.”

Even so, hordes more scientists are already hard at work to duplicate their findings. It’s the way science is done, making every effort possible to assure that theory, backed up by repeatable experiment and observation, produces reliable information about the nature of reality.

Beyond that, there’s little more that can be said in the space here available, except to offer some links for further reading:

New York Times: Detection of Waves in Space Buttresses Landmark Theory of Big Bang

by Dennis Overbye  March 17, 2014

Scientific American: Gravitational Waves from Big Bang Detected by Clara Moskowitz

Re-read central again with gusto this time

Ok. Had an idea.

I’ve been getting Book Club Postcards about ya’ll’s interests in re-reading your faves after my post about being too drama queen to read anything new.

Additionally, some dipshit has been buying multiple copies of old faves to re-read. (*ahem*)

So! :) genius idea… Drumroll…

Pick a book (or twelve) to re-read within the next twelve ( or 24) months. Discuss on your blog with one, two, 47, posts. Pick up extra copies when you find them at book sales or wherever and mail them (like in a package, yo, with a stamp) to whomever* expresses an interest.

Note the effort as “re-read central”.

The end.

Spread the booky love.

Don’t necessarily involve me or ask permission or “how to”… You all know how this book love thing is done. You don’t need me! I will likely not have head space to respond to it all but if you can, post a link in the commentary please or tag me on tweeterz, it would be fun for me to watch the posts and packages exchange.

*gaugh! Is there a plural for “whom”? Whom as in “many”, like “send a whole bunch of frikking books to a whole buncha different people.”20140318-231101.jpg

Guess the Book.

Heh heh! There’s a read-a-long gearing up for this one. (Link below)

It’s such a distinctive book that I though some of you might know it on sight.

Dunc’s been working this volume for ten days, he’s totes absorbed and at that percentage in a paper book that’s between half and three quarters.

http://wp.me/p2ooqf-RG

Can you guess it, folks?

———-
These are such gorgeous books, an example of how we wish all of our faves were published.

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For the purposes of this post, which would you like to see done in this manner?

p.s. Kat- I may need you to send Vol 1 back to me, he’s indicated that he wants to re-read it.

Senses: Xenofiction Part 2

How the Other Half Lives, Part 2: Experiencing the World

Copyright David Belt 2014

Last week, I began a series into the infinite expanse of Xenofiction, stories told from the perspective of something other than human, covering some the dos and don’ts of creative literature. In Part 1, we gave witness to the miracle of birth and the variety of options for non-human procreation. Now that our inhuman babies have been born, how will they experience the world?

Humans have five natural senses used to interpret the world around them: Sight, hearing, smell, taste, and touch. It is with implacable continuity that otherwise brilliant writers, the world over, by insistence or by oversight, write non-human characters that experience the world in the exact same way as humans. Please, I beseech you: Let non-humans be non-human!

In my research, purposed at crafting a non-human species, I have explored each of the five common senses and asked: How will this species use that sense? Then, I went one step farther and asked this newly form creature: Do you have any other senses, not common to humans?

Sight: All creatures must see the world around them, though not necessarily with two forward looking eyes. The primary purpose for two forward looking eyes is for depth perception to judge distance to a target. Ecologically speaking, it does follow that predators rise to the top of their specific food chains and thus become the dominant species. So, two forward looking eyes are practical in many cases of sentient life. I, myself, am using creatures with two forward looking eyes for this very reason.

But it doesn’t have to be that simple. How do those eyes relate to human? Do they see the same color spectrum? Do they see anything other than refracted light? I have created a species that can see the auras that surround all living things.

Hearing: Hearing varies widely from species to species on earth, so it reasons that a non-human species would have very different hearing. The range of frequency and volume may be greater or worse than human, or may not exist at all. An important aspect to keep in mind about sound is that it causes vibrations. A non-human species may perceive those vibrations with something other than what we consider ears.

Bats use their hearing for navigation via a sonar-like ability called echolocation. This ability is carried to an extreme in Star Carrier: Deep Space by William H Keith as his Slan see exclusively by echolocation.

Smell: The Fox and the Hound by Daniel P. Mannix is an excellent example of xenofiction using a creature’s sense of smell as the nearly blind hound relies primarily on his sense of smell to experience the world.

Taste: This may be the most varied of all the senses, as not even members of the same species will have the exact same tastes. Additionally, there are species that use taste for purposes other than sampling food. Several varieties of lizards taste the air as a means of exploring their surroundings. As I have created a lizard-like species, I have adopted this particular option.

Touch: The sense of touch is universally found in every life form, many of which compensate for shortcomings in other senses by way of specializes forms of touch. As I said before, sound wave cause vibrations in the air, a species may be otherwise deaf, but able to interpret sound in some way by feeling such vibrations.

Clifford Simok’s Spheres in Project Pope use their unique touch for both hearing and communication.

Natural plants experience the world entirely through their sense of touch, so it only follows that sentient plant would rely heavily on their own sense of touch. It is alluded that J. R. R. Tolken’s Ents of Fanghorn from The Lord of the Rings possess a special sense of touch which includes a form of sensory navigation, as they can feel what direction they are travelling in.

Extra Sensory Perception: As writers cross the chasm of “what if,” a broad spectrum of unique senses that do not exist in humans emerges. Many of these senses include forms of psychic abilities, electromagnetic detection, and the variable uses of antennae.

Whatever your flavor, let your unique creations, look, touch and taste unique. The end product will be more enjoyable for your readers and more challenging for your writing as these characters explore the world around them with their own unique senses.

Join me again next week as I put on my anthropology hat and explore non-human cultures.

High Concept

Copyright 2014 by Paula S. Jordan

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This term turns up fairly often in descriptions of successful story.  I have an idea what it means, but there’s no way I could give you a definition.

 And concept, in terms of story, gets tangled up with idea, and premise, and theme.

 Maybe that’s a good place to start.

In his book Story Engineering, Larry Brooks explains idea as the “initial seed of a story,” to which concept adds “a forward thinking aspect” which expands the idea and develops detail. The premise then “brings character into the story.” And the theme “is what the story illuminates about real life.”

His example, with apologies to Clive Cussler, goes as follows:

Idea: “raising the Titanic from the bottom of the sea.”

Concept: “secrets [are] still hidden there that certain forces would kill to keep concealed.”

Premise: “an archetypical hero … is hired to do this job and in so doing saves his country from potential attack.”

Ok, got it. We’re talking about the “imaginative,” or “insightful” or perhaps “brilliant” development of a raw idea into concept. Right?

Wrong. What we’re really talking about, according to longtime screenwriter Steve Kaire, is not concept at all. It’s the premise. This, he says marks the difference between stories that are “pitch driven,” (that can be sold simply by pitching the premise to a film maker or publisher) and those that are “execution driven” (that “have to be read to be appreciated.”)

 Mr. Kaire’s “comprehensive definition of High Concept” lists five mandatory requirements, three of which address the quality of the pitch rather than the story.

 So … not so much about quality as marketability.

But Mr. Kaire is concerned with film. Would a general fiction writer say the same?

Jeff Lyons at Storygeeks.com, does agree that the issue is primarily “market appeal.” Commercially appealing books, he says, have “a clear line of demarcation” from the rest, and “That line is the high concept.”  Still,  his “seven common traits” of high concept in stories are much like the qualities we might expect to find in good writing:

  1. High level of entertainment value
  2. High degree of originality
  3. Born from a “what if” question
  4. Highly visual
  5. Clear emotional focus
  6. Inclusion of some truly unique element
  7. Mass audience appeal (to a broad general audience, or a large niche market).

 Sally McDonald, defining high concept for Tropical Writers, Inc, touches on several of the same traits, then adds one more that comes close to summing it up for writers:

High Concept story, she says, “inspires readers & other authors to exclaim: ‘why didn’t I think of that.’”

 But of course the marketing aspects of high concept are really appropriate too, else our “imaginative,” or “insightful” or perhaps “brilliant” stories might never be read!

Sources:

Story Engineering, by Larry Brooks, Writer’s Digest and Storyfix.com

“High Concept Defined Once and For All,” by Steve Kaire, Writer’s Store

“Write Better: The 7 Qualities of High-Concept Stories,” by Jeff Lyons,  Storygeeks.com,a guest post on The Writers Dig Blog,Writersdigest.com.

Sally McDonald, Tropical Writers, Inc   

Re-Read Central

Ah! Quiet time.

Many of you know, the last several months have just been non-stop action packed adventure for me.

Sitting down to read –at all– has been a real struggle, and sitting down to read a new novel is just “too much”.

What it is, I realized, is that I don’t have the energy required to get to know new characters, come to learn a new author’s writing style, trust that a book is going to resolve in a way that makes the time investment worthwhile. Can I handle the heartbreak if this book bombs part way through?

Ah! Can’t handle it right now. Drama queen.

But what about some of my faves, eh? I already know that I love these stories, I know what’s going to happen and who’s going to bite it and who’s falling in love with whom.

Therefore, I invite you to Re-Read Central.

January I re-read Barbara Hambly’s Children of the Jedi. Currently I’m working through her Darwath trilogy which starts with Time of the Dark.

What’s next in my secure little world of re-reads? Let’s see…
Tanya Huff Valor series
Jennifer Roberson Cheysuli series
Kristen Britain’s fifth in her Green Rider series is coming out in May, so I’ll need to re-read at least Blackveil, right?
Sharon Shinn Twelve Houses series, starting with Mystic and Rider

Whee! What else can I throw on this list?

This is what my reading place looks like right now: hiding from the world under the covers and inside a fantasy novel. This one is The Walls of Air via Kindle Paperwhite. Big baby! :)
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Earth Takes a Long Distance “Selfie”

Copyright Paula Jordan, 2014

Photo of Earth and Moon from Mars, Courtesy of NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory

Photo of Earth and Moon from Mars, Courtesy of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory

Copyright 2014 by Paula S. Jordan

On February 6th, with the help of the Mars rover Curiosity, Earth took a photo of itself across 99 million miles of space. A person with normal vision, standing on Mars, would see Earth and the moon as “two distinct, bright ‘evening stars.’”

Curiosity is operated by NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory,  a division of the California Institute of Technology, Pasadena.

Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS/TAMU

 

How the Other Half Lives, Part 1: Birth

Darkcargoites: David is exploring xenofiction. This is part one of a series to be continued in the following weeks.

How the Other Half Lives, Part 1: Birth

copyright David Belt 2013

I have recently delved into the exciting world of Xenofiction or stories told from the perspective of something other than human. I initially took this project on as a matter of curiosity, but the deeper I dug, the more challenging and more interesting the task became. Over the next several weeks, I will be detailing what I have learned on the subject, along with some examples of what to do and what not to do.

I want to take my readers on a complete journey from birth to eventuality of a completely non-humanoid species. So where to begin?

Birth seemed like a logical place to start, so I had to examine the birthing process. By limiting this precept to earthlike reproduction processes, there are four possibilities: live born, hatchling, seedling, or cellular division.

Live birth is very familiar as it is common to all mammals, however, it typically involves a lengthy gestation period and complicated delivery. To effectively integrate an alien live birth into a story would take a considerable amount of telling, largely involving the parent. (Note: I did not say “mother” for reasons to be described later.) With live birth, a writer is committing to a family story as the reader will be heavily invested the parent(s) well before the protagonist child is introduced. A solid example of this is found in Barry B. Longyear’s Enemy Mine, which focuses the first half of the novella on the pregnant Jeriba Shegan, before it gives birth to Zammis.

Live birth is a bonding process between parent and offspring to which readers can very easily relate. What you do not want to do is to cheat your readers of that experience. If you are going to commit to live birth, then commit to it fully and allow your readers the opportunity to bond with the offspring, as well.

Hatchling, or offspring hatched from an egg outside the parent’s body, is the next most familiar form of procreation as it is common to the majority of animals on earth. While gestation periods and parental involvement can very widely, one thing is common to all hatchling births. Parental involvement is not required at the time the offspring hatches. There are a great many fantasy tales that begin: “A boy finds a strange egg in the woods.”

Hatchlings provide the widest range of options regarding family involvement. One could have a single egg and parent, a single egg and multiple parents, multiple eggs and a single parent, or multiple eggs from multiple parents. For my project, I chose multiple eggs from multiple parents. The parents lay their eggs in a collective hatchery, and the hatchlings are cared for in a nursery-like environment by selected parental guardians. This has the effect of the hatchlings bonding with the guardian, rather than their natural parents.

Seedling is the common process by which plants on earth reproduce. Though this does not naturally exist in animal life as we know it, it has been used in literature, many times over. J. R. R. Tolken’s Ents of Fanghorn from The Lord of the Rings may be among the most well known examples of sentient plant life.

Seedling reproduction gives the writer all of the options of both live birth and hatchling, depending on the approach. The downside to this very alien method of reproduction is that the process must be very detailed in order for the reader to fully understand what is happening to the characters. One major pet peeve of mine that I strongly urge you to avoid is the rapid spontaneous generation of mass, prevalent in a large amount of anime style tentacle horror, in which huge creatures emerge from tiny seeds in moments. The Law of Conservation of Mass applies to living creatures too. In order for something to grow, it must absorb a sufficient quantity of matter, first. Don’t be hasty, little one.

Finally we have the most common method of procreation, cellular division. While on earth, this method of procreation only exists in simple life forms, cellular division does exist in on some level in every life form, therefore it is theoretically possible for a higher life form to reproduce by cellular division. Again, the Law of Conservation of mass must be applied. The movie Gremlins is a terrible example of a creature which reproduces by cellular division when it gets wet. While humorous, this is also completely ridiculous.

The Host by Stephanie Meyer, however, is a brilliant example of reproduction by cellular division. For starters, the Souls are a biologically simple life form, so the theory is much more practical. A large Mother Soul ends her life cycle by dividing into a number of smaller Souls.

Along with reproduction, we are, of course, left with questions on methods of procreation, which I won’t be covering here.

Now that our non-human children have been born, it is time for them to experience the world. Next week, I will delve into the variety of senses by which the world may be perceived.

Until then, good luck, good reading, and don’t feed them after midnight.