What Kind of Week Has It Been

Spolier alert: a really good one! I completed some pretty major restructuring on the WIP, adding a new POV character and major plot thread, tying that into two of the other threads, and rearranging half of the scenes in both act two and act three to fix the continuity. Phew!

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“Daaaaamn!”

Not only that, I then went ahead and banged out around 5,200 fresh, shiny new words, taking the current total up to… *checks Scrivener stats*… 38,370. I’ve got thirteen more scenes to write, which I expect will come to another 20-25,000 words. If I can keep up this storming rate I should have a first draft to edit in early November.

“Bravo.”

Thanks, Shia.

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35 Best SF Movies Since Blade Runner

This is superb. Over at the AV Club, ‘The 35 best science-fiction movies since Blade Runner’ including the excellent question ‘what is sci-fi anyway?’.

One possible definition of sci-fi involves questions posed in the terms of a futurological imagination: technologies that haven’t yet been invented, worlds that haven’t yet come to be, places that haven’t yet been discovered. Most fantasy or superhero narratives ask us to accept their realities, while sci-fi films more often than not beg us to question theirs, even if the characters don’t. Perhaps that’s why there’s such a current of paranoia running through the genre, such an obsession with secrets: references hidden in the production design, subtexts, ambiguous endings. Whether the world of a sci-fi film is a decadent distant future where eugenics, drugs, and mental conditioning have replaced computers or a garage in a present-day Texas suburb, it’s based on some kind of question, even if the question is simply, “Is this real?”

So much to agree and disagree with! While their #2 should clearly be at #1 and Fury Road is too low for me, I’m delighted to see Moon and Looper in here, and Primer ranked so highly.

“I am furious-a about this ranking!”

Ah, charts: where you can please some of the people some of the time and all of the people none of the time.

Our Whole Universe Was In a Hot, Dense State

A quick science read to get the brain moving in tandem with your morning coffee: over at Medium, The Big Bang Wasn’t The Beginning, After All.

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“Wait, what?”

Space, time, and all the matter and energy within began from a singular point, and then expanded and cooled, giving rise over billions of years to the atoms, stars, galaxies, and clusters of galaxies spread out across the billions of light years that make up our observable Universe. It’s a compelling, beautiful picture that explains so much of what we see, from the present large-scale structure of the Universe’s two trillion galaxies to the leftover glow of radiation permeating all of existence. Unfortunately, it’s also wrong, and scientists have known this for almost 40 years.

“Great, so this is another topic where my physics teachers were just lying to me throughout school. Thanks, childhood.”

Anyway, tell us more!

[However, some] specific things you would expect from the Big Bang didn’t happen. In particular:

  1. The Universe doesn’t have different temperatures in different directions, even though an area billions of light-years away in one direction never had time (since the Big Bang) to interact with or exchange information with an area billions of light-years in the opposite direction.
  2. The Universe doesn’t have a measurable spatial curvature that’s different from zero, even though a Universe that’s perfectly spatially flat requires a perfect balance between the initial expansion and the matter-and-radiation density.
  3. The Universe doesn’t have any leftover ultra-high-energy relics from the earliest times, even though the temperatures that would create these relics should have existed if the Universe were arbitrarily hot.

Theorists thinking about these problems started thinking of alternatives to a “singularity” to the Big Bang, and rather of what could recreate that hot, dense, expanding, cooling state while avoiding these problems. In December of 1979, Alan Guth hit upon a solution.

1979? Six years before I was born, we knew about this. I’m outraged. I won’t spoil the reveal, but go read the full article–it’s fascinating, slightly head-scratching stuff.

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Image credit: NASA / CXC / M.Weiss.

I’ll never watch The Big Bang Theory in the same light again.

Sunday Roundup

A series of varying regularity, wherein I point at things I’ve read on the internet. Some sci, some fi, some fantasy, some very random.

Elon Musk continues to be entirely serious about colonizing Mars. And now he’s pretty sure he can make money doing it, and business being what it is, that makes the whole endeavor a lot more likely to succeed. From NYT:

Speaking on Friday at the International Astronautical Congress in Adelaide, Australia, Mr. Musk said he had figured out a workable business plan, although his presentation lacked financial figures to back up his assertions.

Mr. Musk has long talked about his dreams of colonizing Mars, and at the same conference last year, he finally provided engineering details: a humongous reusable rocket called the Interplanetary Transport System.

But he did not convincingly explain then how SpaceX, still a company of modest size and revenues, could finance such an ambitious project.

“Now we think we have a better way to do it,” he said Friday.

The new rocket and spaceship would replace everything that SpaceX is currently launching or plans to launch in the near future. “That’s really fundamental,” Mr. Musk said.

 

https://www.instagram.com/p/BZm_FXPg6YZ/

While we’re on the topic, if you haven’t already read Tim Urban’s incredibly in-depth post on Space X and Musk’s plan for a Martian colony, you really should set aside a while and dive in. It’s truly fascinating stuff. In fact, do yourself a favor and read his entire series on Musk and his businesses: you may not be as big a fan as Urban is (and, full disclosure, I am) but it’s worth your time to understand the man and what he’s aiming to do. He’s one of a few individuals, along with Bezos and Zuckerberg, who have the ambition, finances and staggering arrogance to fully believe they can change the world for the better–and who knows, might even be right.

Elsewhere, Luc Besson has written a script for a sequel to Lucy:

I’m a bit surprised simply because the original, which starred Scarlett Johansson as the eponymous Lucy, who gains super thinking powers after a weird run in with some superdrugs, didn’t leave much room in its ending for a sequel.

I thoroughly enjoyed the slightly trashy original, so I’d certainly give a sequel a look. Interested to see what direction he’s gone with it. ScarJo as God? With Luc Besson, you really never know.

Justice League meets Power Rangers! Friendship ensues! Aww.

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The British Fantasy Awards happened, which means there are even more books I should read that I won’t get to for ages.

And finally, Amazon continue to be a TV production company with some potentially mouth-watering SF adaptations:

It will adapt Neal Stephenson classic, neo-quasi-cyberpunk novel which introduces us to pizza deliveryman/hacker Hiro Protagonist, his business partner YT, and their adventures in a future divided between life in a grim corprocracy and in the Metaverse, a virtual reality that is being threatened by a terrifying virus.

I’d particularly like to see Snow Crash on TV, just to see a group of actors attempt to say ‘Hiro Protagonist’ with a straight face.

Have a good week, folks.

P.S. 2,100 words of the WIP written today!

The Pen Is Mightier Than The Laptop (Sometimes)

As most readers will have deduced, my last post wasn’t actually about knitting. (To everyone else: I’m sorry. There’s no dan-harris shop at etsy.com in the pipeline, meeting all of your science-fiction themed knitwear needs.)

No, all that waffle about scarves was obviously about expanding my work-in-progress, Causal Nexus. Having decided to add a new PoV character and a new exciting plot thread–seriously exciting, thousands of people could die–I had the unenviable task of trying to weave those into a longstanding plot outline and mostly written manuscript.

Now, I’ve posted about Scrivener before. (Waaaaaaay back when.) It’s a wonderful, truly amazing application for outlining, drafting, compiling–damn near everything the writer needs.

But for some reason, I found it really tricky to go back, as it were, and do all the rejiggery-pokery that I needed to do within my Scrivener project. It was like the note cards were staring at me, furious at the mere suggestion that I might drag them into a different act.

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STOP JUDGING ME

So instead I went the old-fashioned route. I printed off a copy of my outline onto actual real physical paper, and I got a pen–a nice one with a rubbery grip and a firm clicky top–and I sat on our back deck with a beer and scratched my head and stared at the pigeons but most importantly GOT IT DONE.

There’s something visceral and very stimulating about physically crossing things out, putting question marks next to possibly dubious plotting decisions and drawing arrows all over the place between sections tagged ‘MOVE THIS HERE DUMBASS’.

One hour later, I had myself a shiny new outline. Back into the office I went, and ten minutes I’d made all the changes in Scrivener too. Now I can go back to drafting, refreshed and reinvigorated after my vacation in pre-computer nineteenth century writing.

Now, if there’s an unfortunate side effect of my brand new character and ten new scenes it’s that instead of being two-thirds done with my first draft, I’m now only half done. But, in the words of the great Abraham Lincoln, spoken shortly after he defeated Napoleon in hand-to-hand combat at the climactic battle of the Crimean War:

It’s better to have written half of a great book than two-thirds of a fine one.

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“I never said that.”

When The Scarf You’re Knitting is Too Short and Not Exciting Enough

Bear with me.

Imagine you’re knitting a scarf. You’re about two thirds of the way done, and it’s coming along nicely. You’ve got lots of stripes of different colours, and it’s going to be a good length–once around the neck and then a jaunty flip over the shoulder length–and you’re happy with it.

Pretty happy with it. Yeah. It’s going to be a good scarf.

Hmm.

But not a great scarf.

Is that really the length you want in a scarf? What sort of weather would you wear that in? Wouldn’t it be better if it was just a bit longer? Maybe twice around the neck, and tuck the ends into the front of your coat long. That’d keep you warm.

And how about those colours? They’re great colours, sure–you’ve got red and orange and green and blue and it sounds like it should clash but it really doesn’t.

However.

It could be… snazzier. Maybe–just maybe–you throw some magenta in there too. Or cyan. Or cerulean. (Polka dots? No.) But something that pops.

Now that would be a scarf.

The tricky part is, you can’t just add the new colour and the extra length at the end, oh no. You’ve got to weave it in. You’ve got to add a stripe in near the start, then another few in the middle, and again at the end, and it’s got to flow, seamlessly, as if the new colour had been there all along and the scarf was always going to be this long.

That’s the tricky part.

I’m getting there though.

Sunday Roundup

The first in a series of varying regularity, wherein I point at things I’ve read on the internet. Some sci, some fi, some fantasy, some very random.

First up, the wonderfully titled ‘Middle-earth Cage Match: Bill the Pony vs. Shadowfax‘ over at Tor.com. The author has really put some work in to first articulate what in the heck the difference between a horse and a pony really is, anyway, and then who would win in a cross-discipline matchup between sturdy Bill and coiffed glamour boy Shadowfax.

Pound for pound, too, a pony can be stronger than a horse. Shetlands can carry a grown man with ease, though his feet may drag on the ground. Horses will lose weight-bearing capability as they get larger; a very large horse is challenged enough to carry his own weight around without also carrying a heavy rider. A really big horse is not what you want to carry your very heavy rider, especially if he’s in armor. You want a cob, a stocky, sturdily built animal in the mid rage between pony and horse—14.2 to 15.2 hands. The Welsh Cob is a great example, as is the Lipizzaner. Forlong the Fat, in my head, is riding a largeish Welsh Cob, and the Cob is rocking it.

Great stuff.

Also at Tor, a lovely retrospective on Gattaca, and why it ranks high in the sci-fi movie pantheon Worth a rewatch–it’s not on Netflix, unfortunately, but you can rent it HD from Amazon Video for a few dollars.

At io9, Tom Hiddlestone is surprised Loki hasn’t been offed yet. I’m not, given he’s the best character in the MCU in my humble opinion. As the author points out:

He manages to bring a dashing chaos to Loki, like James Bond doing a Joker impression.

(Time to dust off those Hiddlestone-replaces-Craig-as-Bond rumors, too.)

Oh my word. Adam at The Wertzone appears to have written at least a hundred thousands words ‘summarizing’ the history of Middle-earth in ten parts so far. Impressive, albeit intimidating. Warm up, stretch and hydrate before attempting.

Back in the MCU (kind of – MTU?), the trailer for the upcoming Punisher Netflix show dropped. And Frank… well, Frank is angry.

I’m very excited to see this, as John Bernthal is fantastic and his Frank Castle was the best part of a… let’s say uneven season two of Daredevil. I’ve a little catching up to do first though, as I’ve yet to finish Luke Cage (excellent), Iron Fist (slog) or even start The Defenders. Of the latter, I’ve heard good things, but apparently people aren’t watching it–perhaps more viewers than just me are struggling to keep up with all the other good TV on. (We’ve only just started Stranger Things and season two starts next month!)

Apparently there’s a TV adaption of Isaac Asimov’s Foundation series in the works. The writers have decent resumes:

Writers David S. Goyer and Josh Friedman will be transforming the novels for the small screen. Goyer’s credits include Ghost Rider and Blade, while Friedman’s projects include the War of the worlds remake and Terminator: the Sarah Connor chronicles.

I’ve read all of the Foundation novels, and as well as being wonderful science fiction novels they’re all to an extent treatises on philosophy, psychology, sociology and politics. Whether that depth can be adequately transferred to a TV version is debatable–but I’m sure plenty of A Song of Ice and Fire fans were convinced that was unadaptable too.

Finally, in natural science news, ‘Sexual rivals can influence the size of a duck’s penis‘:

As study author Patricia Brennan, a visiting lecturer of biological sciences at the institution, told National Geographic earlier this week, she didn’t even realize until near the end of her graduate school work that birds could even have penises. In fact, 97% of them do not, she explained.

Male ducks are one of the exceptions, and unlike most species, they grow a new one each year. Most of the time, they are hidden, but you can convince a duck into showing you his by turning him over onto his back and applying pressure to his belly, Brennan noted. “If you know exactly where to press, you can pop the penis out. They’re quite cooperative.”

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‘They grow a new one each year.’

Have a good week, folks.

Scientists Thought They’d Proved Einstein Wrong, Hadn’t

Over at Gizmodo:

[Researchers] found instances where moving (but not stationary) atoms spitting out packets of light energy would bring into existence a tiny force that acted like friction, and published research on it earlier this year. A force that exists when an object is moving, but not when it is stationary, violates the core principles of Einstein’s (and Galileo’s) laws of relativity—there isn’t anything special about the laws of physics when something is moving at constant velocity versus when it’s at rest. So, had they accidentally spotted a tiny hole in the most well-accepted theories of physics?

Nah.

But the researchers thought, well, what if they redo all of the physics of this situation, but allow the mass of the atom to change, too?

This, it turns out, resolves the paradox—the moving atom loses a tiny amount of mass through the emission of energy, eliminating the requirement for a velocity-dependent frictional force. Essentially, they came across Einstein’s most famous equation, E=mc^2, demonstrating that energy and mass are proportional using the basic laws of physics.

Einstein: still the undisputed champ at all levels of mass or energy.

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‘Nice try.’

Self-Publishing Master-free

Just a quick one, via industry guru David Gaughran:

Iain Rob Wright has done something pretty amazing. He has created a pretty damn comprehensive course on self-publishing and marketing – over 50 hours of HD Video – and he has made it all free. Not the first bit free. Not free for a limited time. Not free if you also buy this, or agreed to be assailed by that.

The course is called ‘Self-Publishing Mastery’, hence the VERY CLEVER PUN above. I’ve signed up, mostly hoping for a quick and easy refresher on the state of the industry since I was last paying close attention. Having watched the first few sessions, the quality is very good, and Iain delivers the content in a straightforward and easy-to-understand manner. Also it turns out that yes, Amazon is still very much in business.

Worth a look for any aspiring author considering taking the plunge into self-publishing. Or lapsed authors emerging from hibernation, blinking blearily in the sunlight and asking passers-by what year it is.

Read more at David’s blog, or jump straight in here.

Hello Stranger

Hello, stranger
(ooh) It seems so good to see you back again
How long has it been?
(ooh, seems like a mighty long time)
(shoo-bop, shoo-bop, my baby, ooh)
It seems like a mighty long time

Shoo-bop, shoo-bop, my baby, ooh, indeed. It has been a mighty long time since I was last here. But now I’m–

“Oh my god we thought you were dead!”

Oh, hi! Well, no, I was just–

“Deep undercover inside the Yakuza?”

Not quite–

“Trapped in a well?”

Very pre-Batman Bruce Wayne, but no–

“Frozen in carbonite in Jabba’s Palace?”

I don’t think carbonite’s real–

“Letting life get in the way of writing, what with moving across the country twice, and changing jobs twice, and travelling a lot, and spending your precious leisure hours watching endless HGTV shows or playing video games instead of writing?”

No, that’s–oh. Yes. That last one.

tenor

Back in (gulp) November 2014, when I last posted, Mrs. Dan and I were still living in Washington, D.C. In early 2015 we moved to Kansas City for her new job, where we spent a thoroughly enjoyable two and a half years, made some wonderful friends, and ate several farmyards’ worth of barbecue. (Amazing. Do your tastebuds a favour and visit.)

Just three weeks ago we relocated again to Boston where Mrs. Dan is starting a PhD. Fancy! I’ve changed roles at work a couple of times too, which has been good and fun and challenging… and nothing you have any reason to be interested in.

WHERE IS THE NEXT BOOK, DAN. GIVE US THE BOOK. YOU CAN’T WRITE TWO OF THEM AND THEN JUST STOP.

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(That’s actual footage of one of my more intense readers, by the way.)

With sincere apologies for the hiatus, I’m here to let you know that I’m back. Back again. Dan is back. Tell a friend. I’ve reinstalled Scrivener, reread ASCENSION POINT and VENUS RISING to remind myself where we’ve got to, figuratively dusted off the two-thirds written work-in-progress – CAUSAL NEXUS, coming to a digital bookshelf near you in early 2018! – and I’m back at it.

I’ll also be posting here more regularly with my usual mixture of superhero movie waffle and self-publishing thoughts – the latter as I try to catch up with what’s been happening in the industry in the last three years. (Are Amazon still in business? I should check.)

See you soon!