Sunday, June 30, 2013

Not a Survivor

I enjoy stories of survival. You know the plot types: a spaceship crash lands and the crew/passengers have only their wits to figure out how to survive; a spaceship has severe technical difficulties, and the people aboard have to figure out how to survive; after some type of apocalypse, a rag-tag band of people have to figure out... Basically, a group of people are stripped of all the luxuries they are accustomed to having, and maybe some of their necessities as well, and they are forced to concentrate on basic survival.

I learned a little bit about camping as a kid; don't pitch your tent in a ravine, how to build a campfire and make sure it's out, building a make-shift shower, how to make burnt toast over your campfire... I learned enough to know I don't like it and never want to do it again. And we never went camping in winter, so I have no experience dealing with cold as well as everything else.

Last Monday, a storm blew through town at about 70 mph, taking down tree limbs, full-grown trees, power lines and doing a number on some street lights and traffic signals. We were without power for 3 days.

No lights. No air conditioning. No fans. No cold drinks. Don't open the freezer or refrigerator. No cooking (kitchen is all-electric). No computers. No television or radio.

Know what I discovered? I probably would not survive, if thrown into one of those survival plots. When the weather is hot, I tend to just sit, with no energy to do anything. When the temperature is cold, I wrap up in blankets and sit, or crawl into bed, just trying to keep warm.

What do you think? Do people who can't handle a situation live through it vicariously by reading about others who manage to survive?

Sunday, June 23, 2013

Story That Isn't a Story #2

Last week I told you about a story that hadn't satisfied me because the writing style was too old and it left far too many questions unanswered. The second story did not disappoint as far as writing style, but it still left too many questions unanswered.

Story 2 takes place in a world populated by various mythical creatures, some familiar to this reader, others not so much. On that world is a land populated by centaurs. The centaurs are of two types. The High Ones I see as the nobility of the country. Their strain is older and they have a touch of magic in their blood. But they mix freely with the commoners; the current king has married a commoner, and they have three children. Apparently, the High Ones' magic flows through the generations undiluted, which is just a little boggling to the science side of my mind, but I beat my disbelief into submission. I did the same for the question of if the High Ones are an older strain and magic flows through them undiluted through the generations, where did the commoners come from?

The country is about to be plunged into war. The king must lead his troops, which leaves his wife to take on the responsibility of supervising the protection of the palace. The queen is uncertain, having no background in strategy or warfare. This was something I could get into; a character who had to learn to use skills she didn't necessarily have. I settled in to see how she did at it.

The army marched off to the east. There were some troubling raids on the north edge, which kept the remaining troops busy. Then everything goes wrong, magic kills all the High Ones, the palace is overrun, and the queen barely gets away with a handful of followers to hide from their enemies until they can exact justice.

End of story.

I just about fell off my seat.

I felt somebody had just read me chapter one and then thrown the book away. I had prepared to watch the queen learn and work and become the new leader of her people, but instead, all I got was the circumstances that would put her on that path. She never actually followed the path.

To me, this is like telling the story of Sleeping Beauty, and ending it when SB succumbs to the spell that puts her to sleep. Incomplete!

Sunday, June 16, 2013

Stories That Are Not Stories #1

A couple days ago, I went to bed early, but found myself too tired to go to sleep. I had enough time to read 2 stories I had recently purchased from a regional publisher.

After reading, I slept through the night and found myself thinking about those 2 stories all the next day. They had both left me disappointed. I felt I hadn't gotten any ending.

Today I will analyze why Story #1 disappointed me, and next week, I'll examine Story #2.

Story #1 was written in an old style, as something that might have been written in the 19th century. The scene was a dinner party, and the 'action' of the people attending this dinner consisted of taking bites and refusing to acknowledge the existence of a newly discovered tribe, even though one member of that tribe was seated at the table with them. The 'story' of the discovery of that tribe was told in flashback by the two anthropologists who had searched for them. The tribe had not wanted to be found, and had always - throughout the centuries - dealt with strangers coming to find them, as well as tribe members who wanted to leave. Before the entire story is told to the dinner party, there is a scream in another part of the house, which everybody rushes to investigate, and when they find ... apparently nothing, they discover the tribe member has disappeared without a trace. End of story.

No wonder I was disappointed by that one. I can drag myself through stories written in the 19th century, but it isn't easy. The style of writing has changed so dramatically. These days, authors are expected to "show, don't tell". But in Story #1, even the bits of information in the flashbacks were told to the reader, not shown. And since the scene was presented as a dinner party, it was just one big 'info dump', another thing that is frowned on these days. Finally, although the reader has a really strong suspicion what has happened to the tribal member, it is left undetermined. Like so many of today's horror movies, I was left wondering when the 'monster' would make its next appearance. To me, an unclear ending is not an ending.

Sunday, June 9, 2013

Should I Try Something New?

Every author has their own methods of devising story plots. I do occasionally incorporate something of my dreams into my stories; a character, a scene, a situation. I do that rather sparingly, as I've learned that whatever I import from a dream doesn't hold up well through the many rewrites, and will either be pulled out because they no longer fit the story or will no longer bear any resemblance to the dream where they originally belonged.

I've been in recovery from surgery for about a week now. I do not consider this prime writing time, since my mind seems to be more confused than at other times. I have new activities that must be done - called physical therapy, meds that must be taken to keep the pain at bay, but otherwise make it hard to think, and sleep comes in naps ranging from 1-4 hours.

And yet ...

Most of those naps have ended with a simple typed paragraph, all variations on a theme. This is something new; I don't 'see' my stories as typed manuscripts, they come to me as movie scenes. I noticed, as they kept appearing, that they seemed to be summaries of various experiments where one ending is expected ... but they keep getting another ending.

I've let these paragraphs wander through my subconscious, wondering if I could possibly do justice to the story they seem to be pointing me to. It looks like it would be some sort of exo-psychological court drama.

Really! And it comes to ME to be written? I have enough trouble trying to figure out humans, let alone aliens. I don't have any real understanding of human psychology, and the fine niceties of human laws flow at least 10 feet over my head.

Still, it's an intriguing ideal. I didn't expect to take on a new and challenging project at this time. What doesn't kills us makes us better, right?

Sunday, June 2, 2013

NASA News 2

NASA News 2


Now to get back to that informational talk NASA personnel gave at the Orlando Science Center. I believe the next subject was the Kepler telescope.

The purpose of the Kepler telescope is to examine one tiny section of this galaxy looking for planets. That's all. And it does a wonderful job of it, including some planets that are more or less earth-like AND in that star's Goldilocks Zone. Personally, I was surprised to learn that the Kepler telescope does not orbit Earth, but is actually located quite a distance from us. I was dismayed to hear that a short time ago, the second of its 4 stabilizers went out. It had been working 'okay' with only 3, but with 2, it is now rotating, unable to keep track of the section of the galaxy it's supposed to examine. Since it is so far away, chances are it will not be repaired. And that is a bummer.

Then we turned to Mars. I don't remember a specific number being mentioned, but there have been a lot of attempts to land a probe on Mars, by many different countries. The US is the only one who has managed to have any of their Martian probes still function after landing.

Apparently, Mars is very difficult to land on. It has enough gravity to pull things down really fast, but not enough air for wings or parachutes to do much good. If I remember correctly, the density of Martian air at the surface is only 17% of Earth's atmosphere density at sea level. It's why we've gotten so creative with our landing methods, from bouncey balls to floating cranes.

Discovery is our most recent probe sent to Mars, and it's about the size of a van. Can you imagine tooling around Mars in an intelligent van? It has to have some ability to make its own decisions, because calling for help, waiting for humans to figure out the answer and send it back takes too long.

Intelligent robots. The future is here. And we sent it to Mars.