Friday, 13 September 2019

Relativity-ly Speaking

Hi Guys,

New post this time. It's late and I'm tired, so I thought I'd give all the relativists among you a conundrum to enjoy.

This is one that's based on the theory of special relativity, and also one that I posted long ago on Philosophy Forums before it went away. You may still be able to find it under my nom-de-net of Psychotick.

This is based on the commonly known twins paradox. Most of you will be familiar with the basics of it. In essence special relativity says that if you have two twins and you stick one on a rocket ship and he flies away at high speed and comes back, because he's been traveling at a significant fraction of the speed of light, he will have experienced less time. So when he comes back to Earth and meets his twin brother, he'll actually be younger than him.

Now about three or four years ago it occurred to me that this scenario is self defeating. (From a philosophical / logical point of view. Those of you who've watched The Good Place - which is brilliant by the way - will have heard the oft repeated complaint that "this is why everybody hates moral philosophers". Here I'm going to expand that to "this is why everybody hates philosophers!")

Okay, so lets get back to the paradox - and try and place it within the frame of special relativity. Now the first tenet of relativity is that there is no absolute inertial frame of reference. A complicated way of saying that you can't look at an inertial problem from the outside. You can only examine it from the perspectives of the - usually two - inertial frames of reference concerned. Call them A and B - or in this case the rocket ship and Earth.

Immediately you do this, you run into a basic problem of definitions - and no I don't mean that semantically. In short if we have no absolute inertial frame of reference, then it becomes impossible to say that a rocket ship leaves Earth. You can only say that if you have an external perspective on the situation such that you can see that the Earth is stationary or alternatively moving at a standard rate with no accelerative force acting on it, while the rocket ship is traveling away from it. Since you don't have this by definition of the theory of special relativity, you can't make this statement.

Instead the statement you have to make is that the earth and the rocket ship are moving apart.

I know, that sounds screwy. But within the confines of special relativity, it's correct. And you can understand it from a practical perspective too. If you're on the rocket ship and you stare out of the port hole at the retreating Earth, who are you to say that you're the one who's leaving the Earth and it's not leaving you? If you're not accelerating, you won't feel any motion. So the only thing that tells you you're leaving the Earth is your understanding that the Earth is huge and you blasted off from it. Likewise if you're on the Earth staring at the rocket ship, the sensation of gravity makes you think that you're standing still and it's leaving you, but that is no part of special relativity.

Alright, now lets hook this new definition into the twins paradox. Now according to the original paradox the rocket ship was leaving Earth. Now we can say instead that the rocket ship and the Earth are leaving each other. If that's the case than our two twins are both in the same situation. Each sees the other leaving him at whatever speed, and according to special relativity that means they're both in the position of claiming that because the other is traveling away from them at a significant fraction of the speed of light, and therefore both will expect the other to have experienced less time. Which means that when they come back together, there should be no real difference in elapsed time. Time slowed down equally for both of them.

So now we find ourselves in a conundrum - I think I'll call it a Psychotickian Conundrum! There are two options. Either the paradox doesn't hold, and we don't expect the twins to come back together having experienced different amounts of time - despite what we are constantly being told has been observed. Or the basic tenet of relativity, that there is no absolute inertial frame of reference, does not hold.

Now of course those who believe in relativity, are going to argue that it's due to mass, gravity and acceleration, none of which I would point out are a part of special relativity.

Okay, so enough of this. I'll leave you to your head scratching, and just finish with this most basic of all understandings. This is why everybody hates philosophers! We love to poke holes in things!

Cheers, Greg (aka Psychotick).

Wednesday, 7 August 2019

Fear And Loathing In Outer Space

Hi guys,

Bit of a different post this time. Hopefully one that makes you think a bit. But to begin with I put out Madness and Magic about a month ago – really happy about that – and have got some nice reviews for it which is great. And of course immediately after that, while I probably should have been doing something useful, I started on a brand new book.

But this one I actually completed!

The rough draft is now finished – (87 K in a month – don't tell my editor!) and I'm tinkering with it at the moment. Turning it into something more fun to read mostly. At the moment it's title is “The Travel Bug” which is a bit of a pun and it's a sci fi – but not a traditional space opera. There are no spaceships – a few flying saucers though – and no epic space battles. Instead the action is set mostly on Earth and the book is based on two basic ideas.

The first is astral travel and the idea that some people who experience lucid dreams or astral traveling, are in fact actually able to travel to the stars. And that scientists will one day be able to record our dreams, meaning that these people, these actual astral travelers will become the equivalent of astronauts. Traveling the stars and bringing back all the wonders out there for the rest of us to see and learn from.

This of course is not a new idea. There aren't a lot of new ideas in fiction. And this one though it's been used a bit, mostly comes from Simak's “Time is the Simplest Thing”, which is a really great read and I recommend it. I fairly much recommend anything by Clifford Simak.

But it's the other idea contained within the story that's really the subject of this post. That we don't know and can't really understand what alien actually is. And we won't be able to until we actually experience it for ourselves.

This idea has been used all over literary fiction. If you read Lovecraft you'll know that his great and terrible creatures aren't just terrifying, but they overwhelm the understanding of his characters. A few years back the movie Gareth Edwards film “Monsters” came out and one of the central themes in it was that aliens while dangerous and apparently determined to immigrate to Mexico, are something we've just never encountered. The film tried desperately to make us experience a concept of “alien” not really seen before. I also recommend seeing this film, not so much because of the usual things, but because it is an experience. A little bit on the mind blowing side of things.

In “The Travel Bug” I wanted to take this idea and advance it. To ask the question, what would people do if one day they encountered something – an alien – that was completely beyond their understanding? Would they be terrified? Shocked? Overwhelmed? How would we deal with it?

This is actually an important question. We all know that the chances that there is alien life out there are high. The chances that it will visit us in the near future are quite a bit lower, but never the less, we've come up with plans for dealing with that eventuality. But every one of those plans that we've ever heard of centers around the idea that there will be a commonality between our visitors and us. That we will be able to understand them on some fundamental level. But is that realistic? Will we be able to understand them at all? Or will the sheer alien nature of them, completely overwhelm us?

I think this is a possibility we need to seriously consider. Because I'm not sure that we are at all ready to understand what alien really means. And yet we keep imagining that we are. And we even attempt to justify our imaginings with theories that may have no more scientific weight than candy-floss.

We can talk about concepts like parallel evolution meaning that certain body types and ways of interacting with the world will be universal. But really that's guesswork. Evolution has no plan, there are multiple ways of interacting with the world we live in, and worlds themselves may vary wildly. Is there actually any reason to think that an alien water life form should look at all like a fish? It may have evolved a completely different way of living in water.

And why should we assume that they think like us at all? Just because they go to the trouble of visiting us, does that mean they actually want to see us? Some of you will have read the story Roadside Picnic in which the aliens came to Earth simply for some sort of stopover on their journey and mankind wasn't even on their radar. They weren't interested in us at all. And we're trying to interpret the items they left behind in the belief that they left them for us. But really, it's just rubbish that they tossed aside. The point is that we assume aliens will be like us in some ways. That they'll behave in ways we do. But I suspect that may be a mistake.

Assuming that some alien with funny ears may simply wander down the landing ramp and tell us they come in peace, is likely a mistake. Whatever arrives may actually ooze through the porous hull of its vessel and then completely fail to recognize any form of intelligent live on Earth as it really just came to look at the pretty sunsets.

And how would we deal with aliens? We want to think we're rational people. But just as one example, what if what came down that landing ramp was a human sized spider? We already know that a certain proportion of people will run screaming in terror if that happened, while others would find themselves rooted to the ground in terror. We don't know why, but arachnophobia is a common human issue. We fear spiders. They have too many legs, move in unpredictable ways and we're frightened that they're poisonous. Yet the reality is that they're mostly harmless. And we're far less terrified of dogs even though vastly many more people are hurt by them every year. The reason I suspect, is that we can sense a sort of kinship with dogs. When a dog barks or growls, we can get a gist of their intentions and what they'll do. Spiders are simply too alien, for want of a better term.

But spiders are from Earth. We have far more in common with them than any alien being that may come from the stars. So why not take that phobic reaction we get from seeing spiders, and amp it up a thousand times or so, to try and understand what our reactions to our alien guests might be. Suddenly it might not just be a few people screaming in terror, running away in blind terror, depositing the contents of their stomachs on the ground, or standing rooted to the spot like statues. It may be half the population.

And I can hear the doubters scoffing at this even now. They watch horror movies. Nothing could scare them. Not like that. But my counter would be that this wouldn't be a movie. It would be real. There's no screen in front of you, constantly telling you that what you're seeing is only a movie and that you're safe. Instead there may be sounds and smells that simply make no sense. Actions we just can't interpret. There's no way to predict how people will respond when something truly alien walks into their life without the reassuring safety net of a screen between them and us. But my guess is that it could be very badly.

The gist of this blog is really that when it comes to aliens, we don't actually know what alien is, and we won't until we finally meet it. We also don't know how we'll react to it. And we won't even be sure why it came. But the one thing we do have to do, is put away our beliefs that we do. Because all our theories about aliens have rooted deep within them, the idea that they'll be just like us in some ways. 

And the whole point of being alien, is that they're not.

Cheers, Greg.

Sunday, 2 June 2019

House Prices in Midsomer and Unintended Consequences!

Hi Guys,

This time I thought I'd turn my attention to unintended consequences in world building. And the title, though perhaps a little tongue in cheek, says it all. Would you buy a house in Midsomer? I wouldn't when the chances of your surviving there until old age are remote and the likelihood of suffering a gruesome death is high. (On the other hand St Mary Mead is once more a desirable place to live now that Miss Marple has gone away, and house prices in Cabot Cove are starting to rise again since the departure of Jessica Fletcher!)

I know, this all sounds very odd. But in essence it's a simple point for writers. We dream up characters and world builds and all sorts of wonderful things, but too often don't stop to think what the consequences of our dreams would be in the real world. Nowhere is this more true than in the realm of science fiction and fantasy.

The reason I bring this up is that in writing more steampunk fantasy like Madness and Magic and now Callum, I've been having to concentrate a lot more on this very issue. In Madness, I had my hero riding on a steam powered motorbike - which I thought was damned cool idea, I admit. But in doing that I had to deal head on with the question - could you have steam powered motorbikes in a world full of magic? Because if everyone had magic, why wouldn't people just fly or portal wherever they wanted to go? On the other hand if magic was rare, complicated and difficult and only a few had it, why would anyone even care about it let alone desire it? Everyone would be getting motorbikes and the roads would be perfectly smooth.

This has been my struggle with world building for steampunk for the last couple of years. A tricky balancing act where I have to both advance and hold back technology and magic to explain why neither of them has dominated the world. Why there hasn't been an industrial revolution and mass production - or a magical enlightenment. What lets them compete in the world without one dominating the other.

For me I've developed and used a number of answers to resolve these questions and I think they've been reasonably coherent. Enough that my worlds don't leave people scratching their heads too much - I hope! But after handing Callum over to my editor I've begun watching more shows of late, and seen more versions of these problems popping up everywhere.

In Powers - a show I really enjoyed - I watched superheros and villains streaking across the sky and having aerial battles over the city and a question struck me - would you have air travel in a world like this? Because planes would be horribly vulnerable to attacks and accidents and the safest way to travel would quickly become the most dangerous. The industry would never take off! (They actually had a partial explanation for this in the show about flight heights and rules, but it didn't sound plausible to me.)

I re-watched Lord of the Rings and once more found myself caught with the question about the eagles. If you can simply get on an eagle and fly why wouldn't you just fly the damned ring to the mountain? I know, there is an explanation - the ringwraiths on their dragons would tear the eagles apart - but really Mordor is a big place and the ringwraiths can't be everywhere. They could sneak through. Especially at night. And more so when they have invisibility on their side.

Then there was Powerless - a fun little comedy where the employees of Bruce Wayne beaver away in their building creating all sorts of devices to protect people from super villains. But a single question arises - why haven't the super villains got together and destroyed the building and its people? They are after all villains and it is a threat to their continued villainy.

My point in this post is really just that actions - or in this case characteristics of your world build - have consequences, and that we as authors really need to sit down whenever we come up with a cool idea like wizards on motorbikes, and start asking ourselves what is this going to mean for our world? Will house prices go up?!

Cheers, Greg.

Sunday, 19 May 2019

Madness and Magic

Hi Guys,

Just a quick post to say - Yes! It's out! And I'm buggered! (Also my eyes have gone a little wonky! Editing has to be the most awful part of writing ever invented!)

Now on to the next books. Callum is off to the editor shortly - Shh - don't tell her, it'll be a lovely birthday surprise! And then I'll finish off Winged Fool (yeah the title may need some work!) and then off to Baen Publishing (hoping of course that they haven't read Madness and Magic and discovered a bookshop in it called Baen's Books!)

Cheers, Greg.

Saturday, 20 April 2019

Writing Up A Storm

Hi Guys,

Just to keep you up to date on where things are at with me. First, Madness and Magic is still with the editor. But progress is being made and I hope it'll be out in the next month or two.

And while that's being edited I've been working on two other books.

One of them, possibly to be called Callum or Chase - since that's the hero's name - has finished it's first draft and is now in the sitting around phase, waiting for me to mull it over a bit. I'm not completely convinced with the ending and some of the language needs sharpening up a little. It's the tale of a hedge (wizard) caught up in a war he wants no part of, between true wizards and the fae. I don't know if that will go the self publishing route or be farmed out around agents and publishers yet.

The other book - I want to call it Wings, but the name is already taken by the tv series and trademarked - is the corollary to the Arcanist. In essence it starts out with an identical protagonist - a third son of a noble family blessed (or cursed in this case) with magic, and technological skills. But everything departs from the first tale because of one small change in the world build. In his world, magic and technology undermine one another. So spells weaken and damage technology around them, while technological items weaken enchantments etc and make spell casting problematic. Our hero lives in a technological city (think steampunk) and when he discovers his magic is forced to flee the city and head to the magical lands to the west.

This book, I'm thinking will go initially to Baen Books, given that they have an open submission system and like works to be focused on magical systems. I just hope that they don't read Madness and Magic, since the hero in it is called Baen and has a book store called Baen's Books!

Ah well, such is life!

Cheers, Greg.

Monday, 18 March 2019


Hi Guys,

So, I'd guess everyone has heard about what happened in Christchurch on Friday. Certainly everyone in New Zealand has. And I'd guess most kiwis are a little like me, shocked and horrified by such a terrible act of violence. All of us will be saying - this is New Zealand - We don't have things like this. Not in Godzone.

But it seems we do. Even if the offender has to come here from another country to murder innocent kiwis who were doing nothing more than praying. (Note that I will only refer to him as the offender. I do not want to use his name and give him a single ounce of fame.)

My heart of course, goes out to the victims and their families. To lose their loved ones in such a brutal and senseless attack must be beyond our understanding. All I can say is that you have my prayers as you do those of all kiwis. 

This is a good country filled with good people, and we apparently let in one rotten apple. We have to make sure we never do that again. And quite frankly we have to get rid of all semi-automatic weapons. That will be my submission when the enquiry is put out for public comment as it surely will be. Let the gun makers cry into their empty bank accounts!

But I want to take a moment here to talk about the revolting ideology commonly called white supremacy. And to express my rejection of it speaking as a white half Aryan man.

Now I'm sure the neo-nasties will try to defend what they believe in. Just as I know that their entire belief structure is a lie. And I'm not just talking about the long since discredited doctrines of racialism and Nordicism. I'm talking about the lies all neo-nasties tell themselves.

It's not just the lie that one race is somehow inherently better than another. It's the lie they cling to in their beds at nights. In their hopes and dreams. That the white race (as if there were such a thing!) is somehow great - and so by extension, are they.

This is patently false. One race is not better than another. And even if one were, these individuals would be the exceptions.

Consider the concept of greatness. The one as espoused by Nietzsche (who only got it half right) and completely misunderstood by the Nazis. Ask yourself, what is a great man - or woman? What defines him or her?

Well one of the things is self awareness. Self knowledge. The very things the neo-nasties clearly don't have. You see a great man or woman looks inside him or herself, especially when things go wrong. He fails a test, doesn't get a job, doesn't earn a high salary or gets hounded by the police. Whatever it is, whatever failure has beset him or her, a great man looks first for the source of failure in him or herself. And when he finds it, he fixes it. He gives up drinking, works harder, stops breaking the law - whatever is needed. In so doing he becomes greater.

But a neo-nasty like the offender and his cohort? They don't do that. They look outside. They blame other people. They didn't get a job? It must be because the system is rigged to favour those brown people. It never occurs to them that the person who did get the job worked harder, studied harder, didn't do drugs or alcohol and didn't get a criminal conviction. And so it goes on. Always, for every failure in their lives, it must be someone elses fault. It could never be theirs!

Another of the things that defines a great man or woman is courage. And courage doesn't mean that they don't know fear. It means that they don't give in to it.

But the neo-nasty gives into fear without hesitation. Just listen to the snippets of the manifesto that the latest offender published. Why did he do what he did? Because there was an "invasion" of people who were different to him. He was terrified that he would be left alone and unemployed, inadequate in a world where people better than him succeeded. That's not courage. That's cowardice.

And then there's weapons - a form of power. The great man or woman doesn't need weapons. He doesn't need to use force to exert his or her will on the world. S/he knows s/he is right and carries with him / her an inviolable authority. Why would he need to use force? He doesn't. The great man knows his thoughts and beliefs are right and that others will see that and accept it.

The neo-nasty on the other hand, craves weapons. S/he craves anything that will make him or her stronger. And the reason for that? Because he or she knows deep down inside, that he or she is weak, even if they can't admit it.

This is the nature of the white supremacist. And of the offender who killed all those innocent, unarmed men and women and children in Christchurch. As well as so many others.

And the reason I wanted to say this? Because while this atrocity was carried out by one man, he was aided and egged on by so many others. All those who supported him. All those who took his feeds and distributed them.

I don't know if it's possible to track you down and expose you to the world. Since you so bravely decided to name yourselves as anonymous! But I do know that if you hold the same views as the offender, then you are the same as him. And if you encouraged him to do this, then you are as guilty as he is.

Don't come to New Zealand. You're not welcome here.


Monday, 25 February 2019

Magical Science

Hi Guys,

This time I thought I'd turn to a slightly different aspect of writing - magical science. Or put another way, science that simply isn't possible.

Now as you know I write space opera and one of the impossible sciences that's fairly much vital to the genre is faster than light travel. To those purists among you who only read so-called hard science fiction, this is pure fantasy. And who knows, maybe you're right. But maybe, you're wrong. It all comes down to whether the theory of relativity is right. And for my part, while I don't intend to expound in great detail about the problems I find with the theory, I would point out one important fact. It's a theory. Therefore I feel quite comfortable inventing and using various methods of FTL travel in my books.

There are however, other scientific principles that I have a harder time allowing to be broken. One of them as you may know - since I actually wrote a book about it - is the concept of disassembling and reassembling someone and expecting them to somehow live through it. Yes this is the Star Trek transporter! This device, invented because the show was low on budget and they couldn't afford to create sets of shuttles etc, if it worked would actually be a killing booth that murdered a man at one end and created an exact duplicate at the other, Or according to others a nearly exact duplicate with bits of fly mixed in!

Having said that, there are other, similar ideas which for me at least, don't pass the sniff test. One of them, which pops up all over the place, is the idea of somehow uploading your consciousness into a computer to become a digital immortal. To me at least, this is pure nonsense. It will never be possible. Yes you may be able to make an exact digital copy of your brain / mind one day and put it out on a network of some sort. That seems perfectly plausible. But what isn't plausible is that that copy will be you. It'll just be a copy. You'll still be where you were in the real world - though quite possibly dead.

Time travel also falls within the spectrum of impossible science for me. I don't accept that time travel is possible in anyway - and not just because of the inevitable paradoxes it would cause.

And while I'm at it, mirror universes are also out. Parallel universes are fine. But mirror ones where there's an exact duplicate of everyone on Earth living the same lives? No. That's fantasy too. I mean think about it - an exact duplicate universe with just one tiny little change as they all inevitably have? That change, no matter how minor, after its been experienced by every person in the mirror universe for millions of years, is no longer minor. The butterfly effect would have kicked in and it would be extremely unlikely that any single person in our universe would have a duplicate in the other one.

I could go on. I could mention the bizarre mish mash of diseases that turned up in the Helix tv series - none of which made any sense. Or the immense windstorms on Mars that apparently blow people around like confetti when the atmosphere there is only one percent as dense as that on Earth. Then there's the Xelayan heavy worlder from the Orville. Yes she may have vast strength. But unless she also weighs thirty or so tons, when she hits a metal wall with all her strength, she's the one who's going to be bouncing off it!

My point here, is that everyone has different limits to what they will accept as believable, and when it comes to basic scientific principles you have to tread very carefully as authors. Because it doesn't matter how you spin it - whether you try to gloss over the impossibility without any explanation, make up some pseudo scientific sound basis, or simply assert it as scientific fact - the moment you cross these boundaries, you're going to lose readers.

As someone once said, as a writer you can be allowed one impossible thing in a story, but no more. So treasure it and use it wisely.

Anyway, Cheers, for now,


Thursday, 10 January 2019

New Year, Old Resolutions

Hi Guys,

So 2019 has finally rolled around, and I for one cannot say goodbye loudly enough to 2018. That's mainly because it ended in such a cruel way. Christmas day I unwrapped the most miserable present ever - a cold! And ever since I've been coughing away my nights instead of sleeping, sweating my clothes out, enduring the pain of a bleeding sore throat and a sinus filled head, and wondering when death would finally release me from this torment! Of course my blessing was a joy for those around me as I also lost my voice nearly completely for two weeks and sounded like a punctured tire losing air! Even now I can barely make myself understood. (My family are so happy!)

Which leads me to my first resolution for 2019 - I'm never getting sick again! I've considered the issue carefully, decided that there is absolutely no upside to being ill, and made my decision!

Another resolution came to me yesterday when my book cover artist Yvonne Less of Art 4 Artists sent me the completed cover work for my next book - Madness and Magic: The Seers' War - and damned if that isn't a beautiful cover! The book itself is still with the editor, and will probably be out in February.

Anyway, this was a book I loved writing - it made me laugh even as I wondered what was going to happen next (I'm pretty sure I've mentioned that I'm a pantster rather than a plotter before and so really don't know where my books will go before I finish them). Madness and Magic is another steam-punk(ish) fantasy about a wizard and the perils of being part of a family of madmen! 

And so I decided that I really need to write more books this year - or rather publish them. Two and a half for 2018 was really not good enough. So this year I'll try and stay focused on particular books instead of starting new ones half way through. It won't be easy but I will try to tame my muse.

2019 will also be the year I try to get a little fitter - proof that I can be just as deluded as everyone else when deciding on my resolutions! But really if this illness has taught me anything, it's that my twelve step program (attempting to walk twelve steps every day!) has not been enough to keep the germs at bay. So this year I will attempt thirteen steps a day - maybe even fourteen! Possibly lose a few pounds too so that my scales don't keep telling me to get off every time I stand on them!

So those are my resolutions for this coming year. I hope that all of you will have similarly achievable ones!!!

Cheers, and Happy New Year, Greg.