Radiation in space

The solar system is awash in radiation. The second largest thing in our solar system, after the heliosphere (or area of sun’s influence) is the magnetosphere, which comes from the magnetic fields of Jupiter forming this immense penumbra or plume of radiation around it. If you design a space ship that is not shielded against radiation, you didn’t do it right. Especially if said ship has to travel through a magnetic field that causes the radiation.

Secondly, if you are designing a space suit of any kind, again, plan for radiation. Nasty stuff, that.

Star Nomad: Fallen Empire, Book 1 by Lindsay Buroker

I read this one a week ago, and have since purchased three additional books in the series.

It’s space cowboys, I suppose, in a way, sort of inspired by Firefly.  I have been enjoying the series and like Lindsay’s writing. I recommend it.

However, the one thing that has stood out for three books are THERE ARE NO ERRORS. At all. No usage errors, no homophones misused, no punctuation missing or out of place or present when it shouldn’t be, no mangled sentences where I have to guess the meaning, or missing words, or missing carriage returns that need to separate two speakers. Nothing.

Her editor is Shelley Holloway (Shelley Holloway’s website).

The question is, does Lindsay have impeccable manuscripts to start with, or does she present something to Holloway who magically makes it all perfect?

Either way, I’m impressed with four books I’ve read and nary a single error. Kudos to the author and the editor.

That went okay. Rebuilding the plot with… well, plotting

I went ahead and mixed the Larry Brooks story points spreadsheet with my scene list. Now, I went through the 32 k words and did a brief description of each scene, the exact word count, the cumulative word count, and percentage of the book location. Then, I put the ideal word count (number of scenes/total word count) for each scene. 60 scenes for 80,000 words = 1333 words per scene.

I then placed the Larry Brooks 6 important tent poles in the location where they should go, whether the corresponding scene was correct or not (usually not).

Then I took a look at what the scenes that are already written are doing, and where they are located.  For instance, my initial scene sets up something that will happen at the midpoint.  It was 800 words, but it lacked conflict. I wrote 400 additional words to bulk up the conflict in the scene. I also added more description. After listening to some major best seller books (CDs… we drove to Tahoe and back this weekend for a snow day with the kids), I concluded my writing is parsimonious and miserly. Go ahead and put that lush description in. Why not? Since each scene now has a job to do, and can be put in the right location, it shouldn’t be a problem filling out the scenery a bit more than I did.

With a bit of tweaking and moving about, I ought to be able to slot the important scenes into their logical locations, and map out the plot twists to the end to increase the pace of work and complete this thing within a month or two.

Been working on the novel. Resetting to match Larry Brook’s outlining

I’m at 33 k, and I went back and fixed it to remove 5 additional characters who were clogging up the works. That took some time, but there was no reason to haul around two entire fireteams of marines, so I killed off a fireteam and offed two of the shuttle crew while I was doing that. Overall, I changed a few hundred words.

I also wrote 1500 words yesterday. I will need to rewrite the scene for conflict.

Today I’ve broken down all the scenes I have so far. I have 32 scenes (so far). They average 1047 words each. In an 80,000 word novel, I’m 40% of the way through. A review of the scenes shows that some are information only, no conflict, and will need a rewrite to introduce goal/conflict in each scene.

So I’ll take what exists and rewrite the scenes for conflict. Extend them to create more uniform length. Shortest scene: 47 words. Longest scene: 3800 words. The rewrites will fix the pacing and structure. I can see that my structure, in order to sit correctly in the Larry Brooks sense of things, needs to have that first plot point somewhere between words 16000-20000.  That is not correctly set right now, which will be fixed by controlling the scenes and length.

I’ll also plot out the rest of the scenes, so that each scene has conflict/goal, each scene accomplishes what it’s supposed to accomplish for that part of the book, and it all comes together with precision.

I see the only problem with having the structure be so defined is that someone who knows structure will be noting the important points while reading their kindle, since it tells you percentage-wise where you are in the book if you choose that information (or tells you location, or how many minutes are left in the book).  That’s thrown off if there’s a hook chapter at the end of the book so you get sucked in to the sequel – your 25% plot point might be more at 23%, so it looks like it’s early when it’s not. But… if people want to see the underlying structure, fine, so be it. I want it to be obvious that we’re hitting the plot points when we should and that all is right in the universe, writing-wise.  Those who hate structure and don’t care, that’s fine, they can ignore it and just enjoy the book, which will seem awesome for some strange reason they don’t understand, like the fact the plot is structured perfectly. 😀



Stewardess? Can you bring me a clip for my gun?

I just finished Brad Thor’s “The Lions of Lucerne,” which was splendid and thrillery and I recommend it. At the end, Brad thanks the dozens of people who helped him on the book, and names some SEALs and FBI guys who gave him information.

That’s all well and good. And most of the writing rings true. Then I hit this sentence: “Do you have an extra clip of ammunition?”

Okay, maybe the editor missed it. Or maybe the author is like, “don’t care, it doesn’t matter.”

Look, nomenclature is a big deal. If your character is a former navy SEAL, he would never, ever say “clip.” Not in a million years.

And when the author is speaking of events in third person, his narrative should use the correct nomenclature, as well.

I understand if someone unfamiliar with weapons were speaking, they might use “clip” instead of “magazine,” but otherwise it’s wrong usage and while it won’t matter to half the population who reads the book, it makes other people’s teeth itch.

See, I know the author knows better because there are multiple instances where “magazine” is used correctly, in a quote or outside a quote. There are 18 uses of magazine in the book, and of those, about half are referring to a box with a spring that hold ammunition to quickly load it into a semi-automatic weapon of some kind.

As to my title, you would never use the term stewardess in real life unless you wanted to insult or upset a “flight attendant.” (It’s sad that there aren’t stewards and stewardesses around anymore. What’s so offensive about the term, anyway? It comes from a long line of impressive credentials. The steward was the person in charge of an entire estate, and in the early days of flight, you had people who served you food, made your bed, and acted as a steward, so the title was pretty apt. Then boom, in the 1970s, we lose PSA -and- suddenly the title changes to Flight Attendant… who brings me food, blankets, pillows, and does steward-type stuff. But now they’re flight attendants because they’re primarily taking care of safety, such as making sure the door is closed and giving a brief lecture at the beginning of the flight, and checking seat belts… and bringing me food, blankets, pillows, and doing steward stuff.)

So, right, if you were writing a thriller that happened in the 60s, it’d be stewardess for sure. Nowadays, you say that, and someone’s head will explode, for sure.

Right, then. Brad: replace all the instances of clip with magazine. (But carefully. There are some instances of “clip” being used in its correct form, three times out of six.)

Argh. It cannot be possessive with an apostrophe. Nope nope nope.

Now for a small rant.

I was reading through a self-published book, and every time I see “It’s,” it’s like stubbing my toe. And no, it is not being used as it is. It is being used as if IT is possessing some thing. It’s nose. It’s big fat word. No, no no no no.

Authors: Do a word search on your manuscript. Search for it’s and It’s. Every time you see one and it does not mean “It is,” rip out the apostrophe, throw it on the floor, and stomp it to death. Please. Each time you use it in a possessive sense, a kitten dies.

Also, homophones.


Ancient Romans in Fantasyland? What?!

I recently signed up for a test of Amazon Prime, and there are many free books attached to that test.  I began to read Stiger’s Tigers (Chronicles of An Imperial Legionary Officer Book 1). The selection criteria: First, free (borrowed, as they say at Amazon), second, it had an officer in Roman armor on the cover. The guy is wearing a lorica segmentata, and the sword is worn on the left (milites wear theirs on the right), and he has on a helmet with a fore-aft crest. That’s semi-accurate, I suppose – there is no evidence officers wore anything but chain or scale mail rather than the segmented armor, but they could wear whatever they wanted. And that means the cover was okay, but that segmentata niggled at me. (Yes, this is going to be a nitpicking post. That’s just how I was made. It’s a character flaw.)

Beyond the art abilities of the artist, though, is what’s in between that makes the book accurate or not accurate to a Roman simulation. As you may not know, I have a hobby of Roman reenacting, and that involves putting on accurate reproductions of armor and weapons (and sometimes making them) and then going on hikes or standing about at presentations to teach people about Rome’s armies.  I’d say I have a few dozen hours of time wearing a lorica segmentata (just like the one on the cover). I’m fairly knowledgeable about the grunt in the field, although I also seek to expand my knowledge as I go. There’s always something new to acquire and learn.

With that in mind, I began to read. Within a few hundred words, there was an anomaly: The main character is accompanied by an elf. Beyond that, the titles of the military ranks were modern- captain, lieutenant, sergeant, general.  The elf thing told me that whatever the cover might tell me, the insides weren’t classic Rome. The modern ranks also telegraphed some differences.

I read on, because I wasn’t going to be that big of a stickler. Obviously, we’re in a fantasy, a sort of “What if the Roman Legions were plunked down into a fantasy world?”  They’d take over, of course. Anyway, I settled down to see if things would be worth reading, and was reminded of a sort of napoleonic kind of army, at first.

Things managed to change within a chapter or two, and then we see the men training. And they’re training right, with heavy practice shields and swords. However, practice shields were wicker with weighted frames.  “Wicker work was utilized for the construction of practice shields. These were designed to be double the weight of the normal battle shield.” (Pg. 247, Bishop, M.C. and Coulston, J.C.  Roman Military Equipment from the Punic Wars to the Fall of Rome, second edition. Havertown: Oxbow Books, 2006.) M.C. Bishop is a leading authority in the field of Roman archeology, and I believe this statement is based off the writings of Pliny the Elder.

Okay, so the author took some liberties. Or, perhaps, wicker wasn’t available to the fantasy legions. I like to give some leeway, though it’s apparent from my reading that the author got huge swaths of Roman stuff correct, and that means he was no slouch of a researcher. So why get this thing wrong? I don’t know.

And the other big sin was that he had the legions locking shields together. There’s only one time the men “lock” shields, and that’s to form a testudo, which is designed to keep arrows out. There are no mechanisms for the shields to lock together or even be operated in close proximity.  You need space between you and the guy to your right or left to fight. If you have your shields in tight, then you simply cannot fight effectively.  Figure that about a foot gap between each miles, and you’re golden.

I passed this one off as, “eh, it’s fantasy. He can have locking shields if he wants.”

It occurred to me that maybe this was a case of legions-out-of-time-and-space thing, like Harry Turtledove did in one of his books.  And legions in space was done in, I believe, in Janissaries by Jerry Pournelle. So back in the mists of time, the legions maybe were portalled in to wherever-the-heck-we-are and they’re using the systems and materials they found there.  Tactics change over time, as well, so maybe these guys found locking shields to be a good thing.

Nah. Doesn’t work for anyone except ancient Greeks and the Macedonians in their phalanxy glory.

As for the titles, this could be a function of the author making it easier for us to grasp the roles of the people involved, so instead of centurio, we get captain, and instead of optio, sergeant, etc.

And does the captain have greaves, or a vitus staff? Nope.  So those things are missing.

So, for overall historicity, the thing gets 8 stars out of 10. He was so close, but then that locking shields thing knocks off 2 stars.  Everything else is spot on.  I wish, however, he’d put some of his guys in chain mail (lorica hamata) because those things were as common as dirt and much easier to wear than a segmentata. And he ought to put his officers in scale or chain mail.  Throw in some phalarae and you’re good to go.

For Romans in a fantasy world, though, it’s excellent. Because, it’s fantasy. You don’t have the same rules as real life, and you can do stuff like locking shields, wrong armor, and wooden practice shields. Toss out the rules! 😀

I picked up book 2 and 3 of the series, and read through those in successive days, and it’s clear that the author did a lot of setup and preparation for the later books to come together.  Plotwise, it’s got the hero character with a destiny stamped all over it, and while the predictability of that plot will be obvious to anyone, it’s still a good read overall.  I can’t knock a guy for using a tried and true formula. That’s just smart writing, and I suspect Mr. Edelheit is making a few dollars on his books, he is.

I enjoyed the series, and will read the next couple of books he publishes.




Anne McCaffery and impossible Pern

I finished reading the Harper Hall series. They were satisfying small bites, and buying the actual books meant I wasn’t raging about the poor quality of the e-reader transcriptions. That’s a big deal. How can you tell if the author cares about you?  No typos. No line editing problems.

For those of you not familiar with the series, it’s sci-fi/fantasy.  Fantasy because the science behind it all is flimsy at best and laughable at its worst. Before you go all commenty on me, consider: If you have a planetary mass that is close to another planetary mass, you get the interesting effects of gravity. Thus, tides with oceans, right?  But this mass apparently is close enough that stuff (thread) breaks free of the bad planet’s gravity when it’s close to Pern and it bridges the zillion mile gap to land on the poor Pernian heads, thus the development of telepathic dragons to combat it.

Wait, did I say the mass is close enough to have thread bridging the gap between the planets?

And apparently vacuum and extreme cold and extreme heat and radiation do not kill thread. Assuming that Pern has an atmosphere like Earth (and by all means, the planet of Pern is a clone of Earth in many ways… everything operates the same as if it were Earth), then space outside of Pern is either in unshielded sunlight or shaded from sunlight, and we get two extremes.

How extreme? According to Angela Libal, 120 C in sunlight and -100 C in shade. Not much can withstand that, right?

“This solar radiation heats the space near Earth to 393.15 kelvins (120 degrees Celsius or 248 degrees Fahrenheit) or higher, while shaded objects plummet to temperatures lower than 173.5 kelvins (minus 100 degrees Celsius or minus 148 degrees Fahrenheit).”

The Temperatures of Outer Space Around the Earth, by Angela Libal, http://classroom.synonym.com/temperatures-outer-space-around-earth-20254.html accessed November 10, 2016.

Plus, we have the effects of radiation itself, beyond just its heat properties.

Throw in re-entry in the atmosphere where temps get up to 3000º, and now we’re talking impossibilities.

Back to planets, masses, gravitic attraction, and tectonic plates. Something big and close is going to create massive upheaval in the plate tectonics. Beyond mere earthquakes.

At least Anne has fantastic characterization and plot. But she gets an F on science.

My Characters are Writing my Book

Of course, my characters don’t know a single damned thing about plot structure. They also are pleasure seekers and conflict avoiders.

I fired them all.  Never put your characters in charge of their destiny. They’ll make stupid decisions which make for book that will be rightly titled, “Wallpaper: A plot without conflict.”

Nah, there’s a better way.

Writing is such orthodoxy.

I was reading Story Engineering, of course, and looking at structure, and I’m encouraged because I think I know how to write the next book, and in record time. I know how to write, but this whole plot thing evaded me.  Until now. Thanks for the recommendation, Kristen.

And then I read this over at Larry’s Blog:
Larry Brooks at Story Fix – Writing in a corset

He’s not actually wearing a corset to write. At least, I don’t think so.

It’s a fun read, as long as you’re not a pantser. If you are a pantser, put on the nomex pants for that blog.