My first impression is I like that show. I was worried at first that it might suffer from West Wing Syndrome, where the writers feel compelled to pretend that Republicans act in good faith. Thankfully that doesn’t seem to be the case so far. I was worried at first that the Republican alternate survivor would be put in too good a light, but when she betrayed Kirkman in the third episode I felt a lot better.
Thankfully, the show does not seem to make the same mistakes as West Wing. It’s got a fascinating premise. A massive attack on the US Capitol during the State of the Union address leaves the Secretary of Housing and Urban Development as president. Oh, also there are about two surviving members of Congress.
My favorite part so far is the treatment of the probably Republican governor James Royce. The character James Royce, the Governor of Michigan, responds to the attack by ordering state police to infringe on the civil rights of Muslims living in his state. I’m actually very impressed to see a fictional president who is not only trying to create unity but also do the right thing. Like mobilizing the national guard because a state governor decides that civil rights don’t matter.
The biggest problem I have is the FBI subplot. It didn’t need to happen. The central narrative was plenty. Overall I like it a lot so far. I’ll get back to you in a few seasons when I have to eat my words.
We’re all used to the adaptation being worse than the book, but aside from Eragon and Wanted I can’t think of a worse movie adaptation than Netflix’s adaptation of Altered Carbon.
The Altered Carbon of Richard K. Morgan’s imagination shows an amazing cyberpunk world where some of the secrets of the universe were unlocked by alien ruins on Mars. Where minds are cheaper to transport than bodies and the military trains psychopaths to inhabit premade bodies on remote worlds to brutally suppress insurrections. Where those same psychopaths have to come to grips with what they have done once they reenter the civilian world.
The adaptation did none of this. It combined huge chunks of Takeshi Kovac’s backstory into just a few bullet points. It took a soul tortured by his experiences as a cog in the machine and turned him into a lackluster failed freedom fighter. Now that I’ve read the source material I’m a little insulted by the Netflix version.
The Takeshi Kovacs of the book is a deeply flawed character with a deeply flawed past. He still does a lot of terrible things, but he has something of a conscience and he manages to find some kind of purpose in the process. The Takeshi Kovacs of Netflix however, was a starry-eyed idealist who got burned and as a result, he’s angsty…I guess?
I wish that studios wouldn’t do this. They get handed the rights to an amazing story and they decide to mutilate it. Unfortunately, it seems to be rare for the people adapting the source material to actually understand the source material.
To be clear, writing 50,000 words in just a month is a tremendous accomplishment, but 50,000 words in a month does not a novel make. In full disclosure, it’s almost a month since November 30th and I am at about 34k. That’s okay. Because I am here to tell you about the true value of NaNoWriMo.
The true value of NaNoWriMo is that it forces you to write. It forces you to think about what you want to write, plan out your writing process, and then execute it. If you can finish then great! If you can’t that’s okay! I would have loved to finish within a month, but I learned a lot about myself in the process and what I need to write effectively.
Here are a few of the lessons I learned.
Planning is key. I’ve always been a pantser. For years I have told myself that if I make an outline I will get bored. I was so, so wrong. I never realized that writing off of an outline requires a huge amount of pantsing. We all outline in different ways, but for me outlining means knowing all the different plot points and naming the main characters. The pantsing comes when I am figuring out how to get there.
I am a night person. The greatest thing about NaNoWriMo is that their website provides tools to track you writing. After every writing session you can tell it how many words you wrote and eventually it will tell you things like when you do the most writing. I get the most writing done between 11 pm and 12 am. Which makes sense, I’m a night owl after all, I just wish inspiration didn’t flow so easily at bed time!
Writing every day is important. In order to reach 50,000 words in a month you need to write on average approximately 1660 words every day. I didn’t come close to that on a daily basis but on some days I surpassed it by several thousand words. No matter how quickly you write there is incalculable value in sitting down and writing every day. Soon enough you learn how to grind through the slower parts of the narrative that we all struggle to get through.
Just write. If you are like me you’re always thinking about what to write next. Here’s the thing though, it doesn’t matter how much you think, you have to write. No matter how polished you think the idea is, no matter how unwork together the words do you just need to write. Write what you are thinking in the moment. Write the ideas you have now. As you write you will notice things that you could phrase better and you will probably realize that the plot needs some big changes. All of that can be fixed latter. The most important part of any first draft is that you get words on the page.
It doesn’t need to be perfect. What you are writing now will probably not be the final draft. It will be the first draft, or maybe the pre-first draft (is that a thing?). Write waht you can now and know that you can polish it up later. Writing is about getting words on the page and then refining them. Don’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good.
If you didn’t want to read that here are the spark notes. Outline in advance, be ready to improvise, write every day, write when you don’t want to, and be ready to write garbage. I’m no saint, I’m still working on all of these five points. Still, I’ve learned so much from participating in NaNoWriMo and I recommend it to any other aspiring writer.
If you’re like me and you spend a lot of time therapy shopping in book stores you’ve probably come across more than a few books on the shelf that you keep stopping to consider but keep walking away. This was one of those for me. Over the past few years, it’s become harder and harder for me to get invested in SFF books despite my love of the genre. So lately I’ve made a rule for myself if I keep stopping to consider a book two or three times I’m going to give it a try.
“A Declaration of the Rights of Magicians” was one of those books for me. In a word, it’s fantastic, 5/5. It’s the first in a series called The Shadow Histories and the second book, “A Radical Act Of Free Magic,” just came out. Which for me is always a plus, I love it when I can get excited about a new series or author and immediately have another book to dive into.
From the title of both the book and the series, I think you can probably guess what it’s about. It’s a magical alternative history of our world that takes place during the French Revolution and follows the characters of William Pit, Robespierre, and others. The progression of events, so far, seems to closely mirror the events of our own history with some exceptions. The main difference is that there are millions of people all over the world who have some kind of inherited magical ability.
How is society not radically changed? Simple. A few centuries before we dive in, the Templar Church fought a war to eliminate Europe’s vampire rulers. Magic, after this was heavily restricted in most countries and commoners, were forbidden from using magic. Only the aristocracy was allowed to use their powers and an old agreement called The Concord forbids the use of magic in warfare.
But this is an age of revolution and the common folk of Europe of tired of not having their voices heard. With talk of freedom and liberty comes also freedom of magic. And there are forces fighting in the background, manipulating events as they happen. This leads to one of our protagonists, Prime Minister William Pitt, working to not only lead his nation through the horrors of the Napoleonic War but also to fight a smaller and more personal conflict in the background.
Like I said. 5/5, 10/10, A+. Go give it a read! You can purchase the book in physical format or on kindle through this affiliate link.
I do too. One of the great joys of science fiction on screen is watching giant capital ships pound the snot out of each other. I’m here today to talk about how you can make that happen in your own work!
There are a lot of ways for space combat to take place in science fiction that depends heavily on technology levels and on how much you decide to treat space like an ocean. In a hyper-advanced setting like that found in the culture novels, combat will take seconds at most and will be handled entirely by AI. Then there’s the other end of the scale where ships pull up next to each other to exchange broadsides. I’m going to choose to talk about space combat in a setting like The Expanse or Revelation Space. Universes where there are some fantastical elements but are also grounded in reality.
Shootouts Across Space And Time
Space is really big. It’s had to really describe just how big it is. The human brain really isn’t designed to comprehend the sheer scale of space. And when I say big I mean big,you may think it’s a long way down the road to the chemist’s, but that’s just peanuts to space.
With the scales involved, it’s worth considering what distances combat between ships takes place at. It’s had to hide in space since space is very cold and ships are very hot surprise attacks are bound to be difficult unless the side doing the surprising has time to set a trap. In most situations, your characters will have advanced warnings of their attackers. This doesn’t mean that you can’t have tension though. Two ships could be barreling towards each other for days or weeks before they get close enough to exchange their first blows. And that’s where time and space come in.
With spacecraft moving as fast as they do it’s not enough to know where a target is, but where it will be. Remembering the fact that light does not travel instantly it’s important to keep in mind that a ship’s view of where its target is is actually where it was.
These distances and information delays mean that your characters might need to wait hours or days to find out if the missile they just fired ever hits its target. Or if shots have been fired in their direction.
Doing Damage The Conventional Way
There are a lot of possible weapons but I am going to focus on the three that the expanse uses; missiles, rail cannons, and point defense cannons (PDCs). Lasers are cool too and should be considered, I’m a fan of grasers myself, but a lot of the same limitations for the other three will apply to lasers too.
In the case of all three, it’s important to remember that humans will have very little to do with their aiming and firing. Humans will pick targets and perform maintenance, but it makes much more sense to leave the actual operations to computers.
Missiles are going to be very useful, especially if they allow the warheads to be replaced with other payloads and come equipped with sophisticated targeting and guidance computers. Missiles have a few things going for them
They can survive a lot more gees than a human can so they’ll probably catch up to whatever they are fired at.
They can be programmed to take complex paths to their targets.
They can adjust course midflight.
Components can be adjusted to change yield or pupose (ex. makeshift sensor pod).
They don’t need to actually hit their targets, just get as close as the given payload requires.
Missiles aren’t perfect though. Their engines are probably going to create a fair bit of heat, although cold gas thrusters might be useful in some cases. Most of a target’s PDC’s are going to be aimed at them in an attempt to blow them up before reaching effective range. There are ways to get past this. But a lot of combat between capital ships is going to be either firing missiles at long range or trying to detect and intercept missiles at long range.
I know, I know. Shouldn’t these be outdated? Shouldn’t missiles be so much better? Well, yes, they should. But strangely, depending on the technological capabilities of your setting, a solid projectile fired at relativistic speeds actually works pretty well.
Compared to missiles they are going to give the users less control after firing, but they are going to be harder to detect and harder to hit. Sure the enemy can look at where your cannon is pointed, but with the speed of light considered will probably be a few minutes old. That’s a lot of time to adjust your aim. And on account of not having a tail of hot plasma or ions, it’s going to be a lot harder to detect.
Now, a great deal of how useful rail cannons are will depend on the technology available in your setting. Here are a few examples.
Energy is plentiful and components are compact. This allows a ship to have multiple cannons that are each able to fire projectiles at relativisitc speeds.
Energy is plentiful but components are bulky. A ship has one or two rail cannons that are large and obvious to attackers. May or may not fire projectiles at relativistic speeds.
Energy is not plentiful and components are bulky. A ship can only fire ocassionally. The one or two railguns on board need time to charge their capacitors between volleys.
Point Defence Cannons
Remember what I said about giving AI control of the weapons? PDCS are probably entirely controlled by AI. Missiles and rail cannons at least have humans picking targets and maybe picking approaches, but PDCs need to be much faster than that.
PDCs need to fire a lot of small projectiles quickly. The idea is to increase the odds that they hit the missiles or boarding shuttles that they are meant to be intercepting. The projectiles might be mildly explosive, the equivalent of flak shells, or simple solid slugs. And that’s really all I have to say about that. Here are some examples of different use cases.
In order to disable or indimidate another ship the crew manually desigates a handful of PDC bursts.
Where sensors are not able to track missiles in real time, the crew selects different interception algorithmns based on what parts of the ship they think are being targeted.
Dedicated to the mission above all else, the crew instructs the ship’s computers to prioritize the PDCs to cover only the most critical systems.
With limiting sensing and control technology PDCs are programmed to fire in a wide cone aimed by a human opperator.
Computers and sensors are advanced enough to track individual missiles and aim grounps of PDCs at them.
Adding Sci-Fi Flavor
Everything up until now has been very mundane (remember I said no lasers). Now I’m going to add some fun twists to the three weapons systems above, because if you can imagine a way to kill people, us humans will probably try it eventually. These will all be various degrees of scifi hardness.
Hydrogen Foam – I’m stealing this idea from a fantastic series called Revelation Space. Here’s how it works. Hydrogen is a gas and it really wants to be a gas. But under intense pressures hydrogen can form a liquid or even a solid. Because hydrogen wants to be a gas, if you compress it into a liquid it’s going to expand violently the first chance it gets.
Nanite Nets – if you make a net that is a few microns thick and spread it out in front of a ship moving at a significant fraction of the speed of light then the ship will have a bad time. At lower speeds, a wide nanite net could do a lot of mischief from subtle sabotage to dissolving through the hull to hack into computer systems and get the intel without ever risking a single member of the attacking crew.
Monomolecular Shards – imagine a lot of ultrathin graphite sheets broken into shads and released to form a dense cloud These could be dispersed in a cloud by a fleeing ship and wreak havoc for a pursuing ship that is not paying attention. A bit like futuristic caltrops.
Drones – there are a lot more things a ship could launch besides missiles and railgun slugs. One idea I particularly like is a cloud of autonomous weapons platforms that could carry their own PDCs, racks of micro-missiles, sensor equipment, maybe even boarding parties. These drones could maneuver around a target and potentially be harder to hit than a complete ship.
In the next part, we’ll talk about armor, damage control, and what a destroyed ship might look like. Follow me on Twitter at @expyblg for updates!
What do you get for the person who has to a to-be-read pile a mile high? For the person who clicks and clacks away on their keyboard all day? Clearly not more books. What are they going to do with those? Stack them higher? The answer is actually to get them a collector’s edition of their favorite book. But what if you don’t want to get them that? I’ve got the answers for you.
A Great Notebook
Every creative knows the torment of having more ideas than they know what to do with. This can actually be a real problem because with every new idea that jumps into a person’s head it becomes that much harder to focus on their current project.
I’ve dealt with this problem by keeping a commonplace book, or a journal if you prefer to call it that. This book is for any idea that occurs to me or for anything I want to remember. Everything from meeting notes to random thoughts to outlines of entire novels. If I have an idea I want to remember I write it down in this book.
It’s done wonders for my productivity. It helps me to stay focused on my current projects, helps me plan out future ones, and make sure I remember anything else that pops into my head that seems important.
You might be wondering, why a notebook? Why not the notes app on your phone? Phones work, but I feel that writing in a notebook has a certain joy to it that can’t be replicated. Plus imagine how much smarter a person looks in a coffee shop with a notebook instead of a phone.
Anyway, what notebook should you get? Personally, I love Rhodia’s Rhodiarama softcover dot grid notebooks. The dot grid is a great compromise for someone who wants to write and diagram at the same time. Another great option is Leuchtturm1917.
Now let’s imagine that they already have a notebook or you want to get them something else besides the fantastic notebook you just got them. That brings us to our next topic.
A Great Pen (Or Pencil)
Writing implements are like guitars. Any old one will do, but once you’re hooked you just want more and more and more. Just like guitars, writing implements come in a lot of flavors. So I’ll only focus on a handful.
Fountain pens might seem antiquated or mysterious but they are anything but. Nothing beats the feeling of how a good fountain pen glides across the page. A great and commonly recommended fountain pen is the pilot metropolitan. At about $20 it packs a lot of value and can accommodate a variety of refills.
If your gift recipient prefers pencils one of my favorites is the Kaweco Special S. It has all the benefits of a modern mechanical pencil and all the charms of their wooden ancestors. Of course, I would be remiss if I did not also mention just about everything from Rotring, a company that is famous for the quality of its drafting pens and pencils.
Finally, what if you want to get them a more conventional writing implement? A ballpoint or rollerball perhaps? The good news about high-end pens is that they tend to be refillable. If you don’t like what it comes with you are free to try something else. And in that area, you simply can’t beat a Parker Jotter or Parker Jotter XL. These iconic pens are so iconic that the industry refers to the cartridges they take as “parker style.” Parker has made so many unique takes on this design that it’s nearly impossible not to find the perfect jotter.
But what if that special person needs a break from creating content? I’ve got that covered too.
I know, I know. Nothing will ever replace the feel of a paper book. But the fact is that our homes have a finite amount of space in them and that space can all be taken up by books (or can it?). I resisted ebooks for a long time but they are invaluable for consuming content. They save space, they often go on sale, and they allow me to immediately get the next book in a series.
I recommend the Kindle Paperwhite myself. It doesn’t quite match the experience of reading a traditional book, but it comes extremely close. Kindle Unlimited is a great option too for all those voracious readers out there.
I used to be one of those people who didn’t think that audiobooks were really books. I was a purist and I was wrong. Audiobooks are a fantastic way to catch up on reading and to expand your horizons. I especially like the Great Courses on Audible. I find that good non-fiction can provide the best inspiration for some great fiction.
I really can’t undersell the value that Audible provides for just $15 per month. There is of course the 1 credit per month that can be spent on any book. But Audible plus now comes with an entire library of free books. It’s a great chance to catch up on the classics.
It’s hard to find a gift for that special someone or that someone who seems to have it all. I can’t imagine having all the answers, but if you’re still in need of some check out my page of recommended products. If you are a creator who has products to sell for the holidays please link them in the comments below.
It’s the middle of NaNoWriMo but that doesn’t mean I haven’t taken a few (a lot of) breaks. During one particular break, I decided to watch Ripley Scott’s Alien after I noticed it on Prime Video.
Some movies become such a large part of popular culture that even if you haven’t seen them you might as well have. Alien is not one of those.
There are a few scenes we’ve all seen, or at least we’ve seen parodies of them. The face-hugger, the chest-burster, the alien itself. Yet most of the movie has safely stayed out of those references. That meant that most of the movie was unknown to me going in and I’m going to say that it was good. Good in that it’s well made, the effects still hold up in that they are dated by not so much that they ruin your immersion, and that I can appreciate it for what it is.
I can’t quite say that I enjoyed the movie, however. The first half is slow and I struggled to pay attention to it. By the time the plot picks up in the second half the movie is a lot more enjoyable but it was hard to follow because I struggled so much to pay attention in the first half.
That said I’m glad I watched it. It’s one of those classics that I’ve been neglecting and it’s always fun to see these older staples of the genre.
I tried to manage my expectations. I really did. But I failed. And that’s okay because this movie is fantastic. It met every expectation that I had and surpassed them.
It’s a problem inherent in every movie adaptation. Too many times readers have been disappointed by movie adaptations made by people that don’t seem to understand the source material. We can’t always expect to get the Peter Jackson treatment, as much as we all wish that wasn’t the case. But this time, this time readers were not let down.
This movie is amazing in so many ways. I was worried that all of the lore and politics that the book dwells on so much would seem hamfisted in the movie. I was totally wrong. So wrong. Villeneuve and company distilled all of that worldbuilding into its most essential elements. It all just worked. Everything was made with an obvious appreciation for the source material that is hard to find in movie adaptations.
However, I really want to talk about what made the movie better than the book. Yes, you read that right. Sometimes the movie is better. In some ways. Sometimes.
Here, the movie succeeds in how large the world feels. Science fiction is littered with planets that feel like villages. The book series that is Dune is filled with a few planets that feel like universes. In the first several books the narratives focus exclusively on events that take place on Arrakis. That single planet feels big and there is a lot that happens there. We are told that there is much more out there in the rest of the universe but we mostly have to take the narrator’s word for it. In Dune Messiah we are told that Paul’s armies have rampaged across the known universe, but we are only told that. We aren’t shown that. We only ever focus on the lives and actions of a handful of characters.
That’s okay. It’s characters who are at the heart of any narrative. But it’s also hard to feel like the rest of the universe is really out there. The movie doesn’t have that problem and that is where it really shines.
From the book, we know that the Atreides are one of the great houses and that they are powerful. In the movie, we see that. We see that in the army behind them at the signing ceremony chanting “Atreides” and in all the pomp and ceremony that we see when the Atreides arrive on Arrakis.
Everything in the movie is big. All of it is focused on Paul and the other main characters, but everything around them is so much bigger than they are.
Honestly, it’s nearly perfect. Just go watch it. And then watch it again. And again! In my mind, Dune is to SciFi what Lord of the Rings is to Fantasy. They’re not the end all be all, but their shadows loom large. It’s so good to see Dune finally get the treatment it deserves on the big screen.
This is a book that has been sitting in my TBR pile for quite a while now and truthfully I am not done reading it, but the naming conventions interested me so much I decided to look into them a bit and write this post.
The book follows the new ambassador from Lsel Station, Mahit Dzmire, as she arrives at the imperial court of the Teixcalaanli Empire. Her first priority? Finding out what happened to her deceased predecessor. That’s enough context for now.
What I really want to talk about are the names of the characters from the Teixcalaanli Empire. The first one we meet is named Three Seagrass and we are soon introduced to many others like Nine Maize, Ninteen Adze, Six Direction, Fifteen Engine, Thirty Larkspur, and so many others. Luckily, we see all this through the eyes of a character who is new to the culture and her assigned cultural liaison is able to provide some context. In short, all names consist of a number and a noun. Parents then use certain customs such as a belief that low single digits are good luck to decide on the name of their child. It’s further implied that the noun used in their name may sometimes reflect what is important to daily life in their place of birth.
So far that’s all that’s been explained so far, it’s possible that more will come later in the book but I am impatient so I decided to do some digging. To begin, I started out looking for the historical inspiration that Arkady Martine most likely drew from in crafting the Teixcalaanli Empire. If your instinct was to think “mesoamerican” then congratulations, you and I think a lot alike.
I began in the place where all research begins, Wikipedia. There I found an account of the Mixtec king Eight Deer Jaguar Claw, or 8 Deer for short, who was the only Mixtex king to ever unit them all under one banner. The Mixtecs were later conquered in the 16th century by the Spanish and there are about 800,000 Mixtec still living in Mexico today.
So that was a good start and it gave me what I needed to look a little further. As it turns out, the basis for Mixtec names came from the calendar that they used, with individuals being named after the day they were born. So Eight Deer would have been named after the day on which he was born. There are thirteen days and twenty symbols on this calendar. Eventually, I found this site which offers much more context on Mixtec names and mesoamerican culture in general.
Basically, the day a person was born would be their name as we already established, and the individual may then add to their name or change it later in life. The day a person was born was believed to reflect their future including their profession, personality, and even spouse.
So that’s the basis of names used in Arkadi Martine’sA Memory Called Empire. It’s a great bit of worldbuilding on Martine’s part. It makes complete sense that after several millennia parents would stop using the literal date to name their children and instead name them based on their hopes for their child’s future. Depending on how involved Martine chooses to get with the names later in the book, a character’s name could say a lot about what their family expects of them.
I’m not finished reading this book, but my initial impressions are nothing but positive. I really like the worldbuilding based in mesoamerican culture and can’t wait to see other ways in which that history and culture is incorporated.
Have you read A Memory Called Empire? What did you think? Did you find any good resources to learn about the historical inspirations for Arkady’s worldbuilding? Let me know in the comments!
The other day I decided to try watching a movie that I had forgot exist and I would strongly argue should not exist; Seventh Son. It’s a movie starring Jeff Bridges and others loosely based on The Spook’s Apprentice by Joseph Delaney. Also called The Last Apprentice by us Americans. The books series holds a special place in my heart, I devoured the books in middle and high school and remain a fan to this day. The world of The Last Apprentice is wonderfully constructed. And after all these years I finally read the final book in the series, Furry of the Seventh Son.
That’s not to say it’s perfect. Ten years later I don’t find the books anywhere near as scary as I used to, which is to be expected. But the plot and the worldbuilding are still exemplary.
The best-written part of the series is the protagonist, Tom Ward, he is so incredibly annoying. He is stupid at times, he makes the wrong decisions all the time, but he still does his best. That’s probably the best part of the series. Because at many times throughout the series he keeps things from his master, The Spook, for various reasons, in nearly every instance it turns out that he should have been honest from the beginning. Yes, The Spook doesn’t want to compromise his morals for the greater good, but also Tom never tried to make the case for that option. Because as much as this series highlights the difference between light and dark, but when it comes down to individuals there are a lot of shades of grey.
The Spook, over the course of the series, eventually makes compromises for the greater good. But I think he could have reached that point and a lot of evil could have been averted if Tom had just spoken up and shared what he knows.
But’s that’s one of the great things about this series. Tom was doing the same thing that you or I probably would have done. It’s very easy to say what the right thing to do is, it’s another to actually do it. You and I would probably not do the smart thing if we were in Tom’s shoes.
But I will tell you what the right thing to do is. Read the books. Don’t see the movie. It’s bad. Read the books, you will be glad that you did. While this is certainly a YA series, the story and worldbuilding are hard to beat.