Wednesday, 3 June 2015

The Battle Between Hard Science and Space Opera

Hi guys,

The Arcanist is in editing at the moment so I have a little time to spend on my blog. This time I thought I'd turn my thoughts to a controversy that keeps coming up.
This is a far from a new topic. In fact it's one that keeps coming up again and again and again in my various writing groups (Damn – almost said gropes – fingers aren't working well today!) How much science should we put in our books? One that rages through the world of sci fi. How far can we move from what we know – or what we think we know – about how the universe works as we write?
My answer is that sci fi is a genre based on two simple words – “what if?” It doesn't operate on the phrase – “well this what we know so lets work with that.” It goes beyond that to speculate on what we don't know. And sometimes to cross the boundaries between what we know and what might actually be.
Nowhere in sci fi is this tension between what we believe we know about the workings of the universe and what we need to speculate might be for our stories to work, more pronounced than in my own sub-genre of space opera. Because space opera is based on one founding acceptance, the idea that we can travel to the stars. Relativity on the other hand quite clearly says no. You can't go faster than the speed of light, and really that's pushing it too far. So realistically speaking the closest you can come to space travel is generation ships. I don't know about you guys, but if someone offered me a ticket on a spaceship heading for a new star to explore, with a round trip time frame of a century or more – I'd say no. I might sign up for a trip lasting a few months, but once we start talking generations I have better things to do.

So for me like generations of sci fi authors before me, I'll resort to cheating to write my space operas. I'll use hyperspace and subspace, warp drives and time dilation drives, worm holes and slip streams – maybe even the dreaded spin dizzy drive of Doc Smith. And though some people may – and have – criticised me for it, I won't apologise. Call me a scientific heretic – I'm comfortable with that though I prefer fantabulist! Because the ultimate reality is that I want to write books about travelling to the stars, about alien invasions, and interstellar wars.
In my mind those who want sci fi to limit itself to science fact, have lost a large part of the joy of the genre. They have lost the what if that is the heart of what sci fi is all about.

Cheers, Greg.

Saturday, 23 May 2015

The Stars Betrayed Almost Done

Hi Guys,

Just a quick update. The Stars Betrayed is nearly through it's final edit, and the cover above almost ready too. The artist by the way is Adam Kopala of Deviant Art though I added the text.

So hopefully in a few days The Intruder will take to the stars - and my first book of the year will be published. (It's been a long time between drinks as they say!)

It's a space opera as you might have guessed, with a strong theme of betrayal running through it. Essentially everyone save the hero is both betrayer and betrayed and that weaves together to form the plot. It is most similar to "All the Stars a Grave" though it's set in a very different universe. One in which humanity has been made second class citizens by genetically engineered Ubers, and a war is raging between the Terran Empire and the Alliance.

After this The Arcanist heads down to my editor - just in time for her birthday! I always give the best presents!

Cheers, Greg.

Friday, 8 May 2015

Of Warp Driven Spaceships And Betrayal

Hi Guys,

(Mock up model of The Intruder from my cover artist Adam Kopala - can't wait to see the finished version.)
Just sent off "The Stars Betrayed" for its second line edit, and so have a little time to spend on other things. So I thought I'd talk a little bit about the ship.
First, though the ship - The Intruder - is important to the story, this is not a simple "man in a battleship goes off to have adventures" space opera. The ship is just a vehicle (pun intended!) for the story. Rather this is a story of lies and betrayal - betrayal at every level. (Though I will not explain that any further since it might spoil the story by giving away some plot elements.) It's about why people will betray others including the ones they love. What will push them to do something almost unthinkable. And what sorts of betrayals can be forgiven. But also it asks the question, is their a longer term price to be paid?
It's also a story about Nietzsche's supermen. As some of you may know I am not a fan of Nietzsche, and I regard his supermen as people akin to sociopaths. People with no moral compass other than what they decide for themselves to be right and wrong, good and evil. That is not in my view a good thing. And when you give such people power, it can become a very bad thing indeed. When you give them ultimate power through say genetic engineering, it can be a nightmare.
Nietzsche himself saw his ubersmench as heroic figures in the ancient Greek tradition. Almost godlike and unbowed. He saw them as a vision of what men should be. He did not seem to accept that men have the impulses of both angels and demons in them. That yes we can be wonderful, true and loving. But we can also be monsters. And when psychologists tell us that one to three percent of our society have sociopathic tendencies, the monster within has to be recognised.
The Stars Betrayed grew out of these disparate ideas and also one further one - that some betrayals, even the most terrible can be forgiven. For example the father desperate to save both his drowning children who can only save one. He has to sacrifice / betray one to save the other, or else lose both.
Yes that can be forgiven. It can be understood even. But the cost of such a decision would be soul destroying for the father. And the question hardly ever asked is what would the sacrificed child think of his father's betrayal? Could he forgive him? Could he understand? Or is it a betrayal too great?
I hope that this book will make readers think about these same issues - as well as hopefully be entertained!
Cheers, Greg.

Sunday, 12 April 2015

Yes - Something Is Actually Happening!

Hi Guys,
Sorry for not having written anything for a while - (why do so many of my posts begin with apologies?)
However I have a good excuse. No the dog did not eat my homework! I have however been writing and there is progress on the horizon.
In the last couple of months I have completed one sci fi / space opera book which is now sitting with my editor. Meanwhile I have commissioned a cover artist to design a spaceship and am sitting on tenterhooks waiting to see what he comes up with. The ship by the way is called The Intruder, and the book is titled "The Stars Betrayed". (Maybe there will even be a hope by then that my blog problems will have been resolved and I will be able to post an image of the cover here. If not I suppose it will just go to Facebook.)
My hope is that "The Stars Betrayed" will be released within about a month or so.
As well as this I have returned to an old fantasy book - "The Arcanist" - and just finished the first draft. As soon as The Stars Betrayed has finished its editing process The Arcanist will begin its hellish journey, and with a little luck both novels will be out by the middle of the year. It will also be getting a privately commissioned cover. Currently I am searching out cover artists that I think can provide an image similar to the one I want.
As for Mage - The sequel to Maverick with which I was having so many problems, it hasn't been forgotten. It just hit a rough patch at a hundred and fifteen k and I got distracted. (I blame the cat!)
Cheers, Greg.

Saturday, 7 March 2015

MFA - Creative Writing Teacher Quits - With A Few Choice Words

Hi Guys,
Recently you will have read since its all over the blogosphere, about Ryan Boudinot, a former teacher of creative writing in an MFA programme who quit and then decided to leave a few unfortunate comments.
And of course there have been a great many (outraged) responses to his blog, which seems to have become something of a storm magnet. This is my own response which I hope will be somewhat more balanced than many.
To begin with let me just say that teaching is a hard job. Ask anyone who's been in the profession. It wears down the soul. And so first I applaud Mr. Boudinot for having made this a career of his and having tried to teach. But I would also say that given the general tone of his blog, I think he may have been in the job too long. It strikes me as the sort of post someone would write who's a bit on the jaded side of things.
I would also say that as has been said many times, the most convincing sort of lie is the half truth. The lie that has a nugget of truth at its core. And most of his blog post reads like that. It is not that there is no truth in what he says. If there wasn't people could simply look at it, laugh, and walk away. It is that there is a nugget of truth in there which is expanded upon and then made into a great flat blanket claim.
And last let me just say that Mr. Boudinot's claims - at least the headlines - read as black and white. As absolute rules that must be adhered to. But the truth is that with creative writing as with most other human endeavours there is a huge grey area. There are no hard and fast rules. If you do this you will not necessarily succeed. And if you do that you will not necessarily fail. You will just make things either easier or harder for yourself.
Okay, over to the claims he makes.
1 Writers are born with talent.
Well this is absolutely true. Everyone is born with all sorts of talents for all sorts of things. Maths, rugby and writing to name but three. But no one (or at least almost no one) is born with so little talent that they will never be able to produce great creative writing. And equally no one is born with such great talent that they can simply write masterpieces without some study and hard work. Mr. Boudinot actually alludes to this once you get past the salacious headline.
2 If you haven't started writing seriously by the time you're a teenager you're probably not going to make it.
Again a half truth. Yes if you start writing seriously at a young age you have a better chance of succeeding. The same is true everywhere. Tiger Woods would have to be the world's best example of how valuable starting as a toddler practically and training from then on can be. But if you start later does that mean you're doomed to failure? No. Even Mr. Boudinot says "probably". The fact is that many great writers have started later in life. What those of us who do start later - like me - is that the journey for us will probably be harder. But if we're willing to put the hours and sweat in, there's no reason to assume that any of us can't make it.
3 If you aren't a serious reader don't expect anyone to read what you write.
Well this ones a complete pile of pooh. Yes reading is vital to becoming a good writer. But is there any evidence that what you read will make you a better or worse writer? No. What we do know is expressed in that mantra every writer is told almost from the start - Write what you know. So lets take two well known authors - Dame Barbara Cartland and Feodor Dostoyevsky. Do I know what either of them read as kids? No. But is it a fair bet that the first read romance and the second serious literature? Yes. And what does this tell us? That That Dame Barbara Cartland probably couldn't write serious literature (don't you just hate the sheer snobbishness of the term) and Feodor probably couldn't write light romantic fiction. But is either of them not read? No. The truth is that both of them are highly read and respected. What you read won't determine whether you'll be read in turn. What it will do is probably steer you in a certain direction writing wise, and that in turn will decide who reads you - not how many. But that's one of the great things about creative writing. There isn't just one thing you can write to be read.
4 No one cares about your problems if you're a shitty writer.
And here were return to the issue of burn out among teachers. (Note that I choose to see things this way rather than the unfortunate alternative which is that this is how Mr. Boudinot always felt.) What I read here is that Mr. Boudinot is saying don't come to me with your problems unless you have something great to bring with them. As I said at the start teaching is a hard profession. But one of the things that stands out for me when I think about the teachers I've had, is that the best of them were the ones who understood that I like everyone else had problems and were willing to listen and help.
5 You don't need my help to get published.
Well this one is actually completely true in this day of the internet and the indie.
Okay guys. That's my two cents worth on this unfortunate episode in the annals of creative writing. Now it's up to you to go and write and prove this guy wrong.
Cheers, Greg.

Friday, 30 January 2015

Happy New Year and Je Suis Charlie.

Hi Guys,


Bit of a gap between posts this time, and as you will notice no nice graphic at the top either. The reason I believe is called technical difficulties. A polite way of saying I'm a computer moron. For some reason I can't seem to upload anything to my blog anymore - I just get error messages. Something about server connections failing and a resumable file which I can't open. So if anyone knows what any of that's about, kindly drop me a note.
However this blog will be short and sweet.
At the start of the year you'll remember I usually like to set out some resolutions, and also to see how I did on the previous year's ones, and this year I did the same thing. I find that this is one way to cut out the BS and just get a benchmark for how I'm going as a writer.

Last year I decided that my goal would be to put out six books - which was a goal I had achieved previously. I felt that was an ambitious target, but not an unachievable one - and goals should always be achievable. Sadly I didn't achieve it, putting out only five books, but in my defence one of those books - The Godlost Land - is a 250K monster. So I think I'll give myself a B on that - with the proviso that I should really get off my arse more often and write!

Over to 2015. This year my new goal is to do the same (five books not six since I've included a second goal which will slow things down.) And my second goal is that one of those books will be a genuine sequel to one of the other books I've already written. This as I'm daily discovering, is a tough goal, since most of the books I'm looking at sequels for I closed years ago. I've forgotten so much about them, that it makes continuity a major problem. However, I am pushing on and Mage, (The sequel to Maverick) is now over 100k.

This year however, one other thing impacted on my writing as I'm sure it did on the lives of many other writers. Terrorists, murdered a dozen innocent cartoonists in Paris.

That monstrous act left a disquieting feeling in my writing guts, as I'm sure it did in the guts of many others. It brought home the reality that there are people out there who truly believe that they are the only ones who should be allowed to decide what people can write and say. And ultimately I assume, what they can even think. And it reminded me that if I write the wrong thing I could become a target for them.

That of course was the terrorists intention. To scare people like me.

It failed.

That was the other new years resolution I came up with. I will not be bullied into writing only what other people want to allow me the right to do so. Granted I don't write a lot about Islam, but if the subject comes up it will be written about and in a way that suits my creative purposes, not the desires of these thugs.

Because in the end people have said that this was an attack on the freedom of speech - which of course it was. But it's something more fundamental than that. This was tyranny in action. These people believe that they have the right to determine how others should live, act and think. They aren't just opposed to democracy, they are opposed to freedom - yours and mine.

And the bitter irony is that they claim that they do this in the name of God. They don't. What seems to have escaped their notice is that every person they bully, intimidate, harm and kill is a child of God. These people were created with free will and out of love. And they were not created with the intention that anyone should harm them.

So to any out there believing that these modern day savages are in the right, think again. And if you support them you support their acts. You are as guilty as they.

Lastly in conclusion: Happy New Year and Je Suis Charlie.


Tuesday, 9 December 2014

Lessons Learned From TV Land Which Every Writer Should Know!

Hi Guys,

As a writer I am an avid tv watcher - usually when I should be writing! And in point of fact as I sit and struggle with the endless continuity problems involved in writing Mage, I have found myself watching a lot of the idiot box lately. There comes a point at which the thought of going back to a book I closed four years ago and promptly forgot about, just to fact check one tiny piece of information, becomes unbearable. A point at which I would rather hit the remote control and watch anything other than write another line.
There is a lesson here to be learned my fellow writers. Or actually two. The first is obviously don't start writing a sequel four years later - the pain of maintaining continuity between the old book which you've completely forgotten about and the new one, is not worth it. The second lesson for those who like me keep a companion document with all the facts and details about the book I'm writing, is of course, don't lose that damned document. It is so much easier to go through a companion document than to do endless word searches through an entire novel.
However, that's my pain at the moment, and completely a problem of my own making. I accept that, just as I accept that by the time Mage is completed I will in all probability have pulled out all my hair and may well have started on the cat!
But on the positive side, all this tv watching lately, has been useful. It has reminded me that there is wisdom in tv land. Great wisdom - and some of it even affects authors. So here - also in part because I can't stand the thought of doing any more word searches through Maverick tonight - I have pulled together a few of the most important lessons I've learned lately. Lessons that I believe we should all take to heart!

Lessons Learned From TV Land:
1 Never piss off a serial killer! Enough said I think. Not sure if this has any relevance to writers save of course for the obvious - don't write unflattering things about these people!
2 There is a subset of human beings who are literally too stupid to live. We call them reporters. These people will literally go out at night, unarmed and without any allies to meet strangers in dark parking garages when they know the people they are supposedly going to meet could be dangerous. And even within this subset there is another subset who are not only too stupid to live, but think its a virtue. We call them plucky female reporters! So the lesson for writers? Don't take up reporting as it's clear it will have a detrimental effect upon both your IQ and your life expectancy!
3 Writers are cursed. I call this Greg's law of Sodding Synchronicity. But whatever you want to call it it is a fact that in any tv series where there is a writer he will always end up at some point being attacked by whatever he writes about. If he writes about vampires, he will suffer a vampire attack. If he writes about werewolves, werewolves will attack him. Crime writers will always end up at some point embroiled in some sort of true crime – often a murder. And so on. The lesson for writers? Either write about pink fluffy bunnies or brace yourself for the consequences!
4 Never stand near the captain or other important members of a cast or crew. If possible don't even be in the same episode. The chances of suffering a horrible death increase exponentially as your rank decreases. And if you don't have a full name, you're doomed. The chances are crewman number five that you're going to die. The lesson for writers? Yeah I don't think there is one – it's just fascinating!
5 Time travel always happens. In any series once it passes a certain number of seasons, you will encounter a time traveller. It cannot be avoided. And said traveller will of course vanish leaving the main characters without evidence and scratching their heads. At much the same time Father Christmas will also appear and then vanish. So the lesson for writers? Expect strange visitors!

6 There are certain people in the world who thanks to their advanced hacking skills will be able to build a neutron bomb from duct tape and paper clips or carry out brain surgery by reading a few books. The lesson for writers? Get to know them – they may also be clever enough to be able to programme the damned dvd player!
Anyway, those are just a few of the lessons I've gleaned lately from the idiot box. No doubt more will follow in time as my hair thins and the cat heads for the hills!
Cheers, Greg.