31 March 2013

Do you have a ticket to ride?

Planning for the Escape - and those who can't.

In my previous post, I gave an overview of the situation where a planet's populace must escape an inevitable collision with a comet. Fortunately (at least, for now), I was not referring to Earth but to the planet Ghoupallesz which is the setting for much of THE DREAM LAND Trilogy. Oh, it's just fiction, some may sigh in relief, but that is exactly the point: fiction gives us the means of testing theories, role-playing scenarios, practicing before we need to do the real thing.

It may be appropriate, or simply a weird coincidence, that this post falls on Easter weekend when many people around the world worship their savior and hope for salvation. Saved from a lifetime of bad choices? Or saved from an invading planetoid? Aside from questions of why God would allow a comet to destroy the Earth---or a flood, for that matter---we can still consider how society, its people and its priorities, would react when such a disaster is due.

Today, I wish to offer a sample of THE DREAM LAND Book III to illustrate one problem a futuristic society may encounter: how to deal with mass hysteria, diminishing productivity just when it is needed most to prepare for evacuation, and how schools would prepare children for their future roles on a new home world. The following excerpt is from Act III of Book III. It's still under construction, but you may get started on Book I "Long Distance Voyager" right now and Book II "Dreams of Future's Past" will be available in the summer.

[Background: Gina Parton (a.k.a., Jinetta, Queen of Fenula), the female protagonist from Book I and "long lost love" of Sebastian Talbot (a.k.a. legendary warrior Set-d'Elous) has stumbled through the wrong interdimensional doorway, thus arriving in the far future when the planet is facing total annihilation with the approach of a comet. All resources in society are directed toward preparing to evacuate the planet---at least for those who can fit on the spaceships! To provide for her two children, Gina takes a factory job....]

The first task Gina was assigned to do was put the small silver disk squarely into the slightly larger silver tube and insert a pin. then make sure the disk would spin freely within the confines of the tube. Once satisfied, she put the item back on the moving conveyor and returned her attention to making another one. It had a complicated scientific-engineering-astrophysics name she hated trying to say. Part 17-A-67009 was what she called it instead.
After a few months of making that part she was advanced to a more complex part, then again after a few weeks to a very sophisticated part which earned her the right to sit at a table covered in tiny boxes of tiny parts and assemble Part 8518-G-161695 one after another. In a typical shift of 80 peth—a peth equaling about 18 minutes, she kept teaching to her children so they would be prepared for life back on Earth—she could produce between 90 and 100 of the devices, each consisting of 38 components. She had no idea how the part was used but she was good at making them and won praise from her supervisor.
At least she was able to get work, earn food rations if no wages, and have a quaint place for her and her children to sleep at night. Her children, Zaura the precocious blonde probably in appearance an 11-year-old in Earth time and Xix the boy who became an accident of her escape journey and who was dull and expressionless, had both been assigned to an education facility. More like indoctrination, thought Gina, but she had no choice in this society. Schools did not meet formally any longer; instead, educated volunteers taught what knowledge and skills would be needed in the future aboard the vehicles that would save them from annihilation. They were taught gardening, mostly. Boys were drilled in engineering skills, and girls were taught the wonders of fertilization and reproduction. It was believed that every maiden would need to produce five offspring, preferably by five different males, in order to continue the community once they all disembarked on a new world from what was being called the xænafi—‘ether ship,’ for it was believed that outer space was filled with an invisible substance called through which a vessel would move with resistance. An old tradition. Yet the name stuck: xænafi, or in the meta-sense of a multigenerational spaceship, the honorific was applied, thus xænafaxii referred to the whole project to save Ghoupalle-kind from an undeserved fate.
The schools also taught about the proper use of the colored bôb medication system, to which she secretly objected. She needed to keep her wits and focus on her delicate task. No room for sedation or anti-depression drugs or something to feign comatose calmness for the anxiety-prone. Regular warnings were sounded throughout the day: “If you feel troubled, now is the time to pop a bôb” or “The administration recommends black-bôb today; if you do not have black-bôb available, two blue-bôb will be sufficient to get you through today’s anxiety” and “Due to the latest astronomical report, administration recommends popping one black-bôb now and a second black-bôb after the evening meal for maximum calm.” Often right in the middle of the shift a co-worker would break down and sob, overcome by thoughts of the end days to come.
No, they can’t have the population in a panic, thought Gina, remembering her first day on the job when as soon as she stepped outdoors a coworker directed her attention to the sign advising her to pop a white-bôb now and a green-bôb after the evening meal. There was not much for an evening meal, anyway, consisting of tubes of this, crisps of that, something labeled ‘vegetable substance’ and another labeled ‘hearty grain’ that looked like someone’s vomit. Worse tasting than the food rations she had bartered for with those five miners...what, almost two years before? The green-bôb also repressed hunger, thankfully. That schedule was to be  followed with a red-bôb after the morning meal and a pink-bôb upon arriving at one’s work station. Of course, she did none of that and lied about her consumption patterns. It was voluntary although when properly bôbbed the average worker could meet maximum production and thus gain recognition and promotion—and extra food rations. She worried about what her children were being taught about the drugs, however. The school provided miniature dosages of blue- and green-bôb, and purple-bôb was recommended for unruly children. They had tried silver-bôb with her son, trying to spark him out of his innate dullness, but he remained unresponsive. Teachers remarked on his larger than normal head and lack of hair. One of them believed he resembled, especially with his olive skin, one of the so-called ‘miracle children’ legend had foretold for the end times. Other teachers thought he was wasting resources and suggested to Gina that he be put to sleep. She feared for him, wondering which day an accident might befall him.
Someday soon she would have to leave, she contemplated as her fingers assembled the parts automatically. She had stumbled into this world through the wrong tangent and now that she was, as it were, back on her feet, she needed to keep moving. So what if these people around her were doomed? She did not need to be here to witness it. So what if they were convinced a comet was on its way to destroy the planet? She could escape with her children—back to an earlier age here on Ghoupallesz, well before any comet would arrive, or all the way back to Earth. Zaura could fit in easily enough there; she was an accurate copy of her mother: smart and golden blond. Her son Xix, however, would likely be deemed mentally disabled and not have much of a life on Ghoupallesz or on Earth. People would be kinder to him on Earth, she considered.
But where to find the tangent to exit this future place of doom? 

Not everyone on a planet will fit aboard a dozen spaceships, no matter how large the ships can be made or how tightly spaced the personal capacity might be. Mass panic would ensue: those knowing they will not be able to get aboard the escape vessels and those who believe they will or should be allowed aboard yet do not have a ticket and are scheming or working hard to try to get aboard.

Unlike the portrayal of a similar situation with massive "arks" in the film 2012, where there was no need for respiration devices, etc., those who had a place aboard were the rich who had funded construction and their personal retinue. When escaping to space, especially with the expectation of colonization, favoring the rich and famous would limit those who had knowledge and skills actually useful to to the survival of space arks.

The series of medications portrayed in THE DREAM LAND Book III "Diaspora" not only calm the populace but also enable them to perform their work in more efficient, productive ways, thereby making success more likely. For the average worker, of course, what motivation could there be to work hard to make things that will help other people survive? More money? Bonuses? A pat on the back and a sincere "thank you"? How to keep such workers working when they know years in advance that they will not be allowed aboard the escape vessels?

There will always be a limited number of tickets. Are you worthy of a ticket? What would you do for a ticket? Or would you prefer to stay behind and watch the comet come on in?

(C) Copyright 2010-2013 by Stephen M. Swartz. All Rights Reserved. No part of this blog, whether text or image, may be used without me giving you written permission, except for brief excerpts that are accompanied by a link to this entire blog. Violators shall be written into novels as characters who are killed off. Serious violators shall be identified and dealt with according to the laws of the United States of America.

23 March 2013

How to Escape a Doomed Planet

I admit it: the last blog post was rather lame. Me moaning about my mental maladies. Self-indulgence at its finest! Or its worst. Sorry about that. It was an exercise in invention, just me thinking aloud and pounding the keys.

But this is serious. Deadly serious. Maybe not for Earthers but for those on another world that is near (metaphorically, not astronomically) and dear to my heart. Call it a test case. How to escape a doomed planet. And where to go. 

In writing THE DREAM LAND Book III "Diaspora" I have made no secret of the main element of the storyline involving the arrival of a comet. Quite a conundrum. Fortunately, the arrival coincides with a sufficiently advanced civilization that possesses advanced technology, enough so to actually have a fair chance of dealing with the issue. Yea, them!

First, I should explain that such an event has been foretold in mythology for eons. And our tangent-hopping interdimensional voyagers have seen its approach while popping into the future on other business. So, in the "past" we have dueling prophets warning about the end of days. In the "future" we are concerned with the science of diaspora--the scattering of a population as a survival strategy.

Second, the weak link in the system is I am not a rocket scientist. Hence, I must do research on all sorts of issues, both social and technological. I do have some head-start based on my extensive reading of space-related books during a childhood in the 1960s, an interest which waned during the Shuttle era. I also can be expected to tell the tale through assorted characters, most of whom are not themselves rocket scientists. Thus, readers will get the science through the voices of non-scientists. (Remember how Sebastian sardonically replied to Chucker's question in THE DREAM LAND Book II: "I can't explain how [interdimensional doorways] work, I just know how to use them"?)

Third, and perhaps most importantly, where do we they go? From Earth, it's fairly easy: the closest star of any kind, with or without habitable planets, is the Alpha Centauri system (read all about it here) which is still about 4.36 light-years away. Considering a trip there for your next holiday? Get a preview here. (Need more info? Check this page; the good stuff is toward the bottom.)

For the good folks of Ghoupallesz, however, destinations are more limited. First around the twin suns (Abæda, the larger, yellow one, and Siila, the smaller, blue one) is the planet of Ghoupallesz orbiting at a comfortable distance. Outward from there are three other planets, thus colder, gassier, less hospitable. The second planet, Gouo, could be used as a way-station for repairs or other short-term stays but is unsuitable for permanent habitation. The other two planets are Kuraja and Sovê, gas giants. That leaves the closest neighboring systems.

Our heroine, Gina Parton (a.k.a. Queen Jinetta of Fenula), does have a background in Physics. Thankfully, she becomes instrumental in locating suitable destinations for the diaspora.

Whereas Earth's closest is 4.36 light-years, the poor travelers from Ghoupallesz must go 17.54 light-years to reach the Tumark-C system where there are three potentially habitable planets within the comfort zone. Next closest is 22.8 light-years to reach the Ubo system, which may have two habitable planets. Then comes Raal at 23.77 and Danida at 25.12 light-years. If they really want to put the pedal to the metal, they can try to reach Sol (a.k.a., Earth's very own star) at a life-stretching 101.38 light-years! (There are three closer systems than Tumark-C, at 8.11, 9.72, and 12.6 light-years, but they do not appear to have habitable planets.) 

Given the apparent necessity of long-period travel, some options remain: 

1) residential ships ("arks") where people are awake the entire voyage, living their lives aboard, or 

2) sleep through most of the trip. 

At, say, half-lightspeed, such a trip would be a manageable 35 to 100 years. Generations will be born and die enroute to the destination. This generous method would require full "hotel" accommodations, food and fuel, and a lot of "dead weight" consisting of people who have no active role in the operation or maintenance of the spacecraft who would nevertheless need to be cared for. Perhaps those people could be put into suspension on the way there. 

We would also need a propulsion system that uses little to no fuel that must be carried along. That's where the rocket scientists come in. NASA? JPL? Anybody...?

Once arriving on a distant unknown world, presuming it is suitable for long-term habitation, as studied prior to arrival, ground personnel would be needed: scientists of all categories, a security force, and construction teams to build structures. Plus other passengers whose usefulness finally gets a test in the setting up and running of a new civilization. Probably on the list of needed skills would not be athletes, entertainers, celebrities of all kinds, etc. Everyone would have to work, contribute to the new society, and most of all: procreate--but procreate with high-IQ mates who may not be passing on the most physically attractive genes.

However, let us not think too far ahead! We must be able to get off the planet, preferably well before the doomsday event. That means building a launch system to go from surface to orbit. Then an orbiting station for assembly of interplanetary vehicles. Meanwhile, further construction would continue on the surface and pieces would be shuttled into orbit to be added to the "frames" under construction there. Once completed, the crew and passengers would be shuttled up to the interplanetary vehicles. At the appointed time, those vehicles would break orbit and sail away from their home world forever.

Plenty of planning to do....

Because it will happen someday, even to Earth. Remember the dinosaurs and their brush with extinction via the Yucatan strike? Well, under the ice of Antarctica is an even larger crater from an even earlier strike!

Now for the fun part: naming the interplanetary vehicles for the mythical gods and goddesses of Ghoupallesz!

[P.S., Sebastian, or someone similar, could walk a number of specialists through a particular interdimensional doorway, thus saving them from the fate of the rocketeer groups. Or not.]

(C) Copyright 2010-2013 by Stephen M. Swartz. All Rights Reserved. No part of this blog, whether text or image, may be used without me giving you written permission, except for brief excerpts that are accompanied by a link to this entire blog. Violators shall be written into novels as characters who are killed off. Serious violators shall be identified and dealt with according to the laws of the United States of America.

15 March 2013

Do you have the Curse? (Or, Curses! Fictioned again!)

It's been a rough month, er, uh, two weeks...seems like a month. First I bombed on my Oscar predictions. Then I bombed in the Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award competition. Then I was overwhelmed by the day job, wrapping up the first half of the semester. But I suppose nobody wants to hear about my misery--which is fair because I wouldn't want to hear about your misery. Misery does not actually like company, because one misery won't listen patiently to another misery. Who came up with that idea, anyway? All right, never mind, forget it.

The latest news is that I have been writing on THE DREAM LAND Book III "Diaspora" and it is coming along just fine. It has been a while since I've written new material for anything. So much time spent editing and rewriting manuscripts I thought were finished but then discovered they needed serious revision to be publishable. I have two out: AFTER ILIUM, my contemporary tale of seduction and betrayal on the Turkish coast. Also, THE DREAM LAND Book I "Long Distance Voyager" is available now. THE DREAM LAND Book II "Dreams of Future's Past" will be out by the start of summer.

Back to Book III. After Book I was finished, I rushed ahead into Book II, even though I had no plans to make it a trilogy when I started Book I. Then I got stopped about 75 pages into Book II and put it aside for what turned out to be 10 years. (I did write an MFA thesis [a novel] and a dissertation on writing instruction during the interval). I've told the story previously but to recap: a student of mine brought a short story to me for feedback and it was similar enough to my Book II idea that it poked my brain and motivated me to return to Book II. I suddenly had the plot conundrum figured out. I wrote through the scene that had stopped me and on I went to the end--simultaneously finishing the dissertation.

But back to Book III. When I finished Book II, this time I knew I was pushing ahead with a trilogy, and even had tentative ideas for a fourth and fifth volume if time was kind to me. I did not dive ahead into Book III but paused to plan it out. Then, one night when the music fit my brain and my body was barely awake and my mind was sluggish and ready for sleep, the waves parted and there was the dry path leading across the gulf. I proceeded onward, Moses-like in my obsession with solving the riddle of fiction. It is a riddle, isn't it--as surely as the riddle of steel with which Conan struggles!

What is so amiss inside my skull that every image and act I experience can instigate a fluid causal chain of  episodes for several degrees before pittering out?

That seems weird. The right music added to the mix (see blog post here) is like a steroid injection and the effect is heightened. I become unaware that I am creating scenarios and possibilities as those my fingers were actually fitted with strings to pull. I lose touch with reality--with one reality--and become enfolded in something like gelatin wherein all manner of probabilities exist simultaneously and yet as if by gravity am I compelled in this direction or that direction, like a magician on a moving walkway heading to a boarding gate, wondering if the flight is cancelled, delayed, or running on time, and whether or not my baggage has enough underwear for the trip.

You see what I mean? It's a curse. A curse, I tell you!

But back to Book III again. Part One reintroduces us to the principal players and the situations in which they find themselves after the end of Book II. Part Two introduces the new problems, which are threefold: a comet is headed to the planet, our hero discovers his nemesis and each gathers an army to do battle. Part Three focuses on what the population will do to deal with the comet: build some rockets and flee the planet, pray desperately for salvation, or escape through the interdimensional doorway that only our hero knows. Part Four is a set of lavish conclusions where each avenue is explored to its unexpected end.

Will there be a fourth book? By the Gods of Royalties, we shall see!

In The Midnight Disease by Alice Weaver Flaherty we learn how some of us (or them, not us!) cannot help ourselves. The quirks of brain function align thoughts and propel narrative in ways we struggle to control. The lucky ones channel it into fiction, the very luckiest into publishable fiction, and the rest settle for mental illness labels that do nothing more than assuage the obvious: that humans are narrative machines who must invent plots in order to keep going in our fictive lives. Changing everything by changing one thing is the mantra that lives between fingers and keyboard or fingers and pen or voice and dictaphone or...you get the idea. No matter what society may say about me, I have an excuse: I'm a writer. Anything I experience, including you, can and will be used in a book of fiction.

There you have it. My confession. Do not quote me, or if you do, please use a pseudonym...like I do. Maybe. You never can be sure, eh? Hah hah hah and LOL lol lol.

(C) Copyright 2010-2013 by Stephen M. Swartz. All Rights Reserved. No part of this blog, whether text or image, may be used without me giving you written permission, except for brief excerpts that are accompanied by a link to this entire blog. Violators shall be written into novels as characters who are killed off. Serious violators shall be identified and dealt with according to the laws of the United States of America.

04 March 2013

Have you fallen into The Dream Land?

Mondays usually mean yet another hangover. No, not from booze. Just life in general: time to rise from the dead and push ever onward on the treadmill of civilization, doing whatever I can to bring peace and pleasantry to everyone far and wide. Sometimes, I offer itty bitty bunny wabbits to cause downturned mouths to bend up at the corners and become transformed into silly smiles. It occasionally works.

Now I have serious things to present. Here's the deal:

THE DREAM LAND Book I "Long Distance Voyager" is available right now as an ebook for Kindle through Amazon. It has been called "the only true epic of the new generation of sci-fi mash-up writers"--most likely for its sweeping scope and the depth of its characters. The trilogy embraces two worlds, multiple time periods, a cast of millions, and a leading cadre of god-like ne'er-do-wells not seen since Zelazny's Amber brood. The print edition is due out in late spring/early summer--basically whenever I get up off my computer and click a few buttons.

THE DREAM LAND Book II "Dreams of Future's Past" will also be available as an ebook for Kindle through Amazon in that late spring/early summer window, with a print edition to follow some months later. Just when you thought our heroes were lost in space, we discover the truth about them. Are they really dominating another world like the fake gods they are, or is it all a lavish dream that detectives are attempting to unravel? Never let your guard down, of course, or someone may change history--for the worse.

THE DREAM LAND Book III "Diaspora" is currently under construction. In layman's terms, I'm still writing it. However, I have it outlined and know where it goes and how it ends. Given enough uninterrupted time, I could possibly finish it in six months. Another six months to revise and edit to a fine polished glimmer, and it too shall be available as an ebook for Kindle through Amazon sometime in 2014. As the title may suggest, desperate things are happening; in fact, Earth itself may be seriously impacted by the arrival of a comet to the other world!

So that's where we stand. Thanks for your patronage, support, comments and criticism. Thanks most of all for your willingness to take a dare and read a book quite unlike anything you've read before: a mash-up multi-genre novel of interdimensional travel, alien romance, and world domination by a pair of high school sweethearts, marbled with police procedural and psychological thriller, layered by a patina of steampunk pathos and lame limericks and snappy puns! A book for every genre reader!

in association with

(C) Copyright 2010-2013 by Stephen M. Swartz. All Rights Reserved. No part of this blog, whether text or image, may be used without me giving you written permission, except for brief excerpts that are accompanied by a link to this entire blog. Violators shall be written into novels as characters who are killed off. Serious violators shall be identified and dealt with according to the laws of the United States of America.