Tuesday, 12 June 2018

Our Continuing Retreat from Greatness

Hi Guys,

Bit of a different post today. Recently as many of you will know, Alan Bean, the fourth man to walk on the moon, passed away. He was 86. And while that's a sad thing in itself, it's also sad for a second, more profound reason. Twelve men in total have walked on the moon. Eight of them are dead. And the last men to walk on the moon, Eugene Cernan and Harrison Schmitt of Apollo 17, did so in 1972. It's now 2018. 

That's forty six years ago!

When I was a kid, looking forwards to the future - say the year 2000 - we should have had moon bases and regular travel by then. Possibly also alien encounters and flying cars, but that's by the by. But really the question for me is, why haven't we at least been back? And will we even go back before the last of the men who walked on the moon passes away? Somehow I don't think we will.

By now we should all be flying around at supersonic speeds. But we did that. Now Concord's gone and there are no plans to replace it. We should be eating dinner on space stations. But guess what - the shuttle's gone and all there are to replace it are plans and drawings.

We talk about going to Mars. But even as we talk, the current president slashes NASA's budget. We're not going to Mars. Not unless one of the billionaires like Musk does it.

It almost seems to me some days, that something has died in us. Our will to achieve greatness. To explore. To risk everything in the name of discovery. What was it that Kennedy said - we to go to the moon not because it's easy but because it's hard? It seems to me that we don't want to do hard any more. We want to do cell phones and computer games. Have a beer and put our feet up. Get a head start on that middle aged spread!

Look, I freely admit it, I am definitely not the right stuff! In fact I am so far into being the wrong stuff that they need a new word for me! (Hell, they'd need a whole new class of rocket just to get me off the ground!) But I'm still someone who can dream and hope, sometimes even type a few words about it. So if I can do that where are all the people out there who are willing to do the rest? To commit their efforts, their hearts and souls to these great goals? Where are the leaders who will take these visions and start trying to make them a reality?

Isn't it about time that we started trying to reclaim our greatness instead of retreating from it?

Cheers, Greg.

Sunday, 13 May 2018

Fineas And Tusk Released

Hi Guys,

As you may know, the eBook version of Fineas and Tusk: The Epic Journey of a Man and His Pig has gone out on Kindle. Now I'm in the process of getting it ready for publication as a paperback edition through CreateSpace. In the meantime here's version 1 of the full cover with the back cover with blurb roughed out. It probably won't change a lot before publication but I'm rewriting the blurb.

Have to say I enjoyed writing this book. It made me laugh in places. And when I got the cover back from Andrew I practically went hog-wild over it! (Pun intended!)

By the way, for those of you who wonder about such things, the lead character isn't named for the hero from Around The World in Eighty Days. That's Phileas Fogg. Fineas is actually a modern version of the Greek name Phineas which means Oracle. As for the other main characters, Tusk was named as he was because - well - he's a wild boar! And Shanniah because I was listening to the singer when I named her! So no advanced naming strategy here!

Anyway, that's my news. Hope you all enjoy the book.

Cheers, Greg.

Wednesday, 18 April 2018

Prognostication and Cats

Hi Guys,

So this morning began in an unfortunately familiar way – with the sound of my cat trying to throw up the contents of her stomach on to my face! Naturally being a cat owner I took this as a sign. Cats, as everyone knows, are able to predict the future with incredible accuracy. It's why they're never around when hard work beckons! Unfortunately this remarkable ability is possessed by creatures with the temperaments of … well cats. So instead of using it to give their owners insights into the coming days and even warn them of impending doom, they prefer to use it to predict events that have already happened and then laugh at them!

Which brings me to yesterday. A day which also began in an unfortunate way when the marge in my electric fry-pan as I fried some eggs decided to start spitting at me and caught me perfectly on the tip of my nose. A nose which I might add had already been attacked by my cat three days before and so was particularly sensitive!

After the screaming had died down – and the cat's laughter as she had naturally predicted the event and found herself the perfect position to watch from – the rest of my day proceeded to go from bad to worse.

Bad was when I got to watch the rubbish truck drive straight past my wheelie bin without stopping. I suspect that the Council has started hiring cats as drivers! Worse was when rushing outside to yell and shake my fist at the retreating rubbish truck I somehow managed to tumble on the drive and ended up lying in a puddle of filthy water! Worse still followed when I decided to clean myself up and discovered that the hot water had run out! But the truly terrible and completely unmitigated disaster was when my editor rang me up to say she was making good progress with my latest book and she liked the story!

Damn it! Hasn't she heard of the kiss of death?!

So now as I sit here writing this and waiting for the ceiling to collapse on top of me, I find myself wondering – will it be enough to simply beat myself over the head with my computer? Or will a true blood sacrifice be required?! But it could be worse I suppose. I could be superstitious!

Still the good news is that Fineas and Tusk: The Epic Journey of a Man and His Pig, is approaching publication. The cover art has been done, and it looks glorious. The artist by the way is Andrew Morris – vanmorrisman on Deviant Art – check out his work. (I added the titles by the way, so don't blame him for that!)

So that's been my last day or so. I hope you've all had a better time of things. And as always, be good or don't get caught!

Cheers, Greg.

Sunday, 18 March 2018

The Speed Of Information

Hi Guys,

Bit of a change in topic this time. First up the next book – Fineas and Tusk: The Epic Journey of a Man and His Pig, is with the editor at the moment, but since she's in the process of moving house at the moment, it may be a while before it returns to me. The image above by the way is one that I found on DeviantArt.com while I was searching covers for the book, and while I can't use it since it doesn't really match the story at all, I loved it so I thought I'd share it. I may contact the artist and get him to paint me something similar.

However, this time I thought I'd return to an old chestnut of mine – Relativity and space opera. We all know the basics, Relativity means that faster than light travel is essentially impossible, so most space opera is impossible. In essence if we want to write space opera grounded in any sort of reality we have to resort to cheats like warp drives and hyperspace. Theoretical speculations and mathematical possibilities but still things not observed. Or else write things like The Expanse and Starhunter – sub-light speed space opera contained within the solar system. Alternatively we risk arousing the wrath of hard science fiction fans and being told we're fantasists. (That may actually be true in my case!)

But as some of you may know, I have never been the most ardent believer in Relativity. Yes I know – it's one of the most tested and validated theories in physics, and even suggesting that it may not be right is like standing on sacred ground for many. But I have never been comfortable with the idea that time is mutable. To me it seems that if time can be slowed by motion or gravity, or even stopped, then it can be reversed and time travel becomes possible – and I really do not accept time travel. To me something either is completely mutable or it isn't at all. And if time is actually mutable as Relativity says, than we live in a universe of time travel paradoxes.

Naturally I don't think my speculations are going to end up on the title pages of any physics text books any time soon! In fact quite likely I may end up labelled as a Luddite! But that's life.

However in keeping with my views, I've often found myself wondering over the years, is there a way to explain the observations of Relativity without actually having to claim that time itself is somehow being bent? And the answer is yes – at least in my view. I'll attempt to explain my answer here. (Physicists avert your gazes now – this may be treason!)

So my theory is a simple one. That what is observed, has nothing to do with time being bent or slowed. It is in fact nothing more than an artifact of what I'll term the speed of information. Time is not in any way affected by motion. Only the information about it is.

Now I should say at the outset that this artifact is real. It must logically exist. So any theory of apparent time dilation must include it. I'm not sure however, if it's included in current relativistic calculations. I thought about contacting NASA and asking but could feel the laughter building!

OK, that said lets consider the old twins paradox which is what essentially buggers up a lot of space opera. Now according to Special Relativity we have one twin on Earth and the other on a rocket ship leaving Earth at the speed of light. The twin on the rocket ship has time slow down or stop for him, so that when he returns to Earth, he finds he is in fact younger than the twin he said goodbye to. And we have evidence that objects travelling away from Earth do in fact appear to be experiencing less time. Sounds like a case closed sort of thing doesn't it?!

But what I would ask you, would we expect to see if Relativity wasn't an issue? If the universe operated purely by Newtonian principles? Would we expect to see the rocket ship leaving us at the speed of light and everything as if it was happening right in front of us?

Actually no. If Relativity was not an issue we would expect to see that rocket ship which is heading away from Earth at the speed of light, seemingly only travelling at half the speed of light. And if there were portholes on that ship, we would expect to see the people on board moving and ageing at half speed. It would look like everything was in slow motion.

This has nothing to do with time dilation. Time is not being slowed in any way. This is purely an artifact of the speed with which the information about that rocket ship's travel comes back to us – at the speed of light.

To explain this, consider that the rocket ship has been travelling at the speed of light for a year. Could we sitting on Earth staring at it with our telescopes, expect to see the rocket ship one light year away? No. We would see it at the six month point in its trip. This is because the light from the rocket ship as it travels takes time to get back to us. So at the one year point in its journey, that light will take a second year to get back to us, meaning that we will observe the rocket ship at its one light year point, after two years.

To extend this point a little, if the ship is travelling to Alpha Centauri, four and a half light years away and is travelling at the speed of light, it will arrive in the system in four and a half years. But we on Earth will observe it arrive nine years after it left, without any time dilation being involved. Naturally this fits perfectly with the fact that everything we see of Alpha Centauri is four and a half years out of date.

Now lets reverse this a little. What does the man on the Rocket ship staring back at Earth see when he's travelling at the speed of light? And the answer assuming that he sees anything at all, is that he would see the Earth as if it was frozen in time. Someone had hit the pause button on the dvd player. This again is simply an artifact of the speed of information. All the light from Earth telling him what's happening there, is travelling with him at exactly the same speed. So the light that left Earth one second after he did, is still one second behind him for the entire journey.

And again to extend this point a little, when he arrives at his destination and stops, four and a half years later, he suddenly sees the Earth start moving again as someone hit play on the machine. But everything he sees is four and a half years out of date. Naturally once more this fits perfectly with the fact that everything seen of Earth from Alpha Centauri is four and a half years old.

Now lets add a third observer. This time the guy at Alpha Centauri watching the rocket ship come to him. What does he see in a universe without time dilation? Oddly, he sees nothing. The rocket ship takes off, but he won't see that until four and a half years later – at exactly the same time as the rocket ship arrives beside him. So he has the unusual experience four and a half years after the rocket ship leaves Earth, of seeing it take off, travel for four and a half years, and arrive all in the same instant. A sort of photonic boom.

So what does all of this mean for us space opera writers? It means at the very least that there is a simple explanation for why we might observe what seems to be time dilation without it actually existing. It also means there might be a very simple reason that we cannot observe anything travelling faster than the speed of light – all the information about that thing travels to us at the speed of light since it's axiomatic that light cannot travel faster than the speed of light.

Most importantly it means that we can write space opera involving faster than light travel without having to invoke the gods of hyperspace and warp drive etc, and still feel good about it! Hard science fiction be damned!!!

Anyway, must dash. I see the men with the white coats walking up the drive and I suspect they have a new jacket for me – one that straps up at the back!

Enjoy your writing.

Cheers, Greg.

Saturday, 27 January 2018

Fineas and Tusk - The Epic Journey Of A Man And His Pig!

Hi Guys,

Hope you all had a great Christmas and are enjoying the new year. Here in Rotorua it's been strange – weather wise at least. We had days and days of rain, intermixed with thunderstorms and endless grey skies which kept me locked inside a lot. But just at the moment we seem to have been hit with a heatwave and I can't even step outside without burning my feet off. So go figure!

Anyway all this enforced home detention has been good for my writing, and a new book is now about eighty percent complete. At this stage it has the working title of “Fineas and Tusk – the Epic Journey of a Man and his Pig.” The scary thing is that that may in fact remain the title – I haven't decided.

It's a slightly different twist on my usual epic fantasy of a hero – or more often a reluctant fool – setting out to save the world or at least some of it. In this story it begins with our hero actually plummeting from an airship a league above the ground, to land in a savage, magical land and then wanting to do nothing more than make his way home to his pregnant wife, a thousand leagues away. And once on the ground he encounters Tusk – a two hundred pound wild boar – who travels with him. While Tusk might or might not be a familiar – I've called him a companion which is simply an animal that those with magic are sometimes accompanied by – he doesn't talk, or cast spells or do anything other than what wild boars normally do. If he has a magical gift, it's eating and embarrassing Fineas as he journeys east.

My main struggle in writing Fineas and Tusk, has been in shaping the nature of Fineas. As many of you will know, I normally spend a lot of time trying to get into the head space of my main characters, and Fineas has been particularly difficult for me in this regard. He's so close to the traditional good guy in many ways, but his world view and beliefs are so different that often when he does things that seem to be what a good guy should do – he does them for completely different reasons. So if he steps into a battle where a woman is being attacked it's not because of a sense of justice or fear for her safety – it's because of his inbred need to act honourably. It would be shameful to let a woman be harmed. He will walk into a war even when he's quaking with fear and show not a sign of his terror, simply because he is a Lord and he can never fail in his duty or show such emotions. And when things go wrong as they inevitably do, the true destruction of his life isn't brought about by typical things like bankruptcy or criminality. It is again the code of honour which lays him low as he is shamed by the actions of others even when he has acted with nothing but propriety.

As I say he is close to being the generic good guy / hero, but when you cut to the heart of what makes him tick, he's almost completely alien. Tusk on the other hand is much simpler – it's always about the food!

Anyway, that's been my January. And as I sit here writing and bathing in my own sweat, I hope to have Fineas and Tusk and their epic journey off to the editor in February. After that I suppose, I'll have to start searching out cover art – and strangely there's a large dearth of covers out there depicting Lords walking with wild boars through medieval worlds!

Cheers, Greg.

Thursday, 14 December 2017

Line Trimming For Dotards

Hi Guys,

Merry Christmas to all of you, or happy holidays for those who don't celebrate the festival. Thought I'd let you know that at this stage my latest book looks set to go on sale before Christmas. And following its release I may admit myself to the Home for the Terminally Bewildered!

Have to admit that this book has been a challenge. The Dotard – yes I'm keeping the name, North Korea will just have to find another word – despite being quite short at a hundred k or so has attracted the full fury of my editor. (And I thought it flowed quite well!) So the rewrites have been quite extensive.

But while she gets the final edit finished, that's given me a little time to spend in the garden with the line trimmer. Boy has that been a mistake!

It seems that somewhere in my misspent youth (would you believe last year?!), I fell for the old mantra that bigger is always better. And from my humble red-neck man's point of view, this is almost always true. I want to be taller, to have more money in my bank account, for my car to be bigger and more powerful. I think everybody does. But it turns out that line trimmers are where this rule of thumb breaks down – and if you're unlucky your thumb breaks down with it!

The new rule of thumb for line trimmers is this: When you're standing in a jet-stream of blended vegetation shooting into your face and ten feet over your head, when your right arm is cramping from the effort of holding down the trigger, and when every time you move the end of the trimmer wants to take flight and spin you around like a top – it's too big!

For me the magic number is eight hundred watts. Seven hundred and ninety nine would have been fine, but eight hundred was just too much! I know, it doesn't sound like a lot. It's only two or three times the power of a normal trimmer. But with the heavier line on it, it really is like trying to hang on to a jet engine. On the other hand when you're trimming the stuff that grows between the cobbles on the drive, it does a fantastic job of polishing the concrete too!

Anyway that's my consumer advice for Christmas. In the new year I may start reviewing bandages and painkillers!

Hope you all have a great holiday season, and don't over do it in the yard! My new years resolution will be to try and put out more books next year than I did this year.

Merry Christmas, Greg.

Tuesday, 26 September 2017

A Week in Writing

Hi Guys,

They say a week is a long time in politics. I think it may be even longer in writing!

Last week and a bit ago, several things happened almost simultaneously. First I sent a copy of my latest book - "The Dotard" off down to the editor, relieved that the first draft was finally done and thinking to myself - nothing can go wrong. Oh what a foolish thought!

Days later the North Korean's called the US President a dotard, and I was left shocked and floundering. Wondering, why do they suddenly use this archaic term right bloody then! And also wondering do I now have to change the title of the book now that I've gone to all the trouble of getting a cover done etc?

The problem is that some people seeing the book cover will connect the two things, and immediately either assume that I'm making some sort of political statement - which I am absolutely not - or else that I'm simply cashing in on the sudden notoriety of the word by copying North Korea - save that as far as I can tell they're copying me! Good to know I have readers there though! On the other hand - it was such a brilliant title for the book and I've already gone and got the cover done. I don't want to change it.

What a miserable couple of days that was! You just wouldn't read about it! (Except of course if you read the book when it comes out!)

Then just when I thought things couldn't get any worse my computer crashed. Actually the hard drive had a complete break down with all data lost. Thankfully it was only my desktop, so I lost no writing. I normally write on my laptop and back up regularly to burner discs. The desktop is purely for connecting to the net. That was the good news. The bad was that I did have one file on my desktop that I absolutely needed - the one with all my logins and passwords! The one I never backed up!

So after a week with no online presence, I'm now in the process of trying to resurrect all my logins and passwords - with limited success. Most of the time I had the computer remember my passwords and addresses for me which was extremely convenient - until now! At this stage I'd guess I can access probably half of the fora I used to, which means if you're looking for me under my alternate persona, don't be surprised if I'm not there.

Emails have of course also died, which means I've lost loads of names, contacts and reference material. And some of my contacts will shortly be receiving emails starting off "you remember that you sent me ...? Can you send it again!" And of course many of my online contacts like cover artists I won't be able to contact at all.

The moral of the story is of course - back up everything. Not just the data files on your laptop!

Anyway that's been my week. At this stage I've decided to leave the book as it is (as you can see above). Hopefully the North Koreans will find some other language to use and people will forget the word. And dotard really is a brilliantly old fashioned word that perfectly encapsulates the book.

So that's been my week or so. One out of the box really. All I can really say is that I hope people can learn from my mistakes. And that the title of the book like the book itself, has absolutely nothing to do with US politics.

Cheers, Greg.