Quick update on After the Storm

It’s been a while (nearly a year) since my last update, so with some prodding (thank you!) I wanted to take the opportunity to check in.

Lots has changed since March 2015 – I’ve changed day jobs, moved across the Pacific, and have reworked some longer-term arcs for further Hard Drop sequels (and potentially prequels) that required slowing down a little on the After the Storm process.

The good news is that, going forwards, the process should be a bit more streamlined.

After the Storm is coming together nicely. I’m aware of the shortcomings of various elements of the first novel (proofreading and some scientific elements in particular), and am taking some time to ensure that these are addressed in this and future sequels.

There will be a proofreading update to the first novel, which I am also working on and will figure out how to circulate to those of you who have already purchased it (as Amazon doesn’t make that easy). I will keep you updated on the progress there.

In the meantime, thanks very much for your support, and I look forward to exploring more Hard Drop with you!

Battlefield Science?: Internet-linked telepathy

In an absurdly sci-fi development, researchers at the University of Washington have managed – in very limited fashion, with somewhat modest results – to send a brain signal from one person to another, using the internet to convey the sender’s thoughts.

While it is obviously early days with this technology – a 25%-83% accuracy rate is hardly conclusive per se – this is still very exciting, because it suggests that the realm of telepathy (albeit internet-delivered telepathy) may not be quite so far-fetched. That having been said, the current result is very much like the first word of a language yet to be developed – before this can become useful, an entirely new lexicon of brain usage and translation signals will need to developed.

At the same time, the battlefield implications of a thoroughly useful, consistent, soundless link can probably not be overstated – a unit, reacting in real time as a single, coherent, flexible entity could be a very powerful thing, and would be much harder to ambush.

Unless, of course, they lost reception mid-firefight.

The future of authorship and the creation of worlds: The Black Library

Before I start this post, I should explain: I cannot claim to be the biggest Warhammer afficionado, I don’t own any of the maps or armies, and I am relatively new even to the books. I am not here to critique, praise, or discuss plot in detail. But, having read a handful of the Horus Heresy series of books, I am convinced that the model of writing which they represent is the future of authorship, and more generally, media.

For those of you who are not familiar, the Black Library is the fiction publishing arm of Games Workshop, creators of the well-known, much-played Warhammer and Warhammer 40,000 games, and they explore the universe(s) in which those games are set. The books published through the Black Library share a clearly recognizable lore and tone, and draw heavily from various and sundry influences including elves, orcs, demons, Greco-Roman, Germanic, and Norse mythology, as well as a wide array of other cultures, traditions, and legends.

What makes the Black Library so fascinating is that each book in the series is written by a revolving panel of writers and explores overlapping, but not necessarily directly consecutive, storylines within the broader universe. By collaborating, the committee of authors creates a coherent, rich timeline with deep storylines and – above all – a rapidly growing base of content. To put this in perspective, consider: the Horus Heresy series, the one I am familiar with, has been written since 2006. In that time, 30 novels have been published (some full-length, some combinations of short stories and novellas). And that is only a minority portion of the larger Black Library canon.

Some novels are indubitably better than others (and of course the series is not looking to appeal to every reader), but the fundamental, deeply impressive fact remains: if you are interested in Warhammer, there is, from the moment you start, an ocean of material awaiting you. And it is ever-growing.

Author collaborations are not necessarily a new thing – in some form, they have existed for some time – and of course Warhammer provides a fertile lore from which to draw, but to the best of my knowledge, the Black Library is unique, or at least remarkable, for the way in which collaboration is embraced, and for the speed and uniformity of content which it produces. The trend towards open-source universes is growing, of course: other authors (notably Hugh Howey and his Wool series) have begun to embrace the idea, while Amazon even supports monetized fan fiction for a variety of titles, but for now, at this moment, I have not yet seen anything to match the effectiveness of the Black Library’s approach. Where reliance on a single creator (such as George R. R. Martin) may be the default approach, with a clear plot and limited cast of characters, it is also achingly slow. By comparison, a lore-driven, universe-exploring, creation by committee process keeps readers satisfied steadily and unrelentingly. I expect to see much more of it in future.

Battlefield Science: 3D-printed supplies

Word is that the US military is walking on 3D printing technologies for use on the battlefield…to print food for its soldiers.

It sounds like the technology in question has already been tested and proven in the civilian context, but that the military is working on adapting and customizing the same technology for battlefield use.

While 3D printing food has implications for all kinds of innovation, not least down the road as a survival technology, e.g. enabling distressed soldiers or civilians to harvest edible supplies in their environment and have the machine produce complex foodstuffs from them (once sufficient miniaturization advancements have been performed), the current applications are most interesting for supply chain innovations and cost savings here and now. After all, if it’s possible to provide a group of soldiers in the field the same basic ingredients in bulk and rely on their machine to churn out the necessary supplies (with water added, presumably), it saves all the effort and cost of shipping processed, individualized food halfway around the world to sustain an army.

Following the old adage that an army marches on its stomach, this is nothing short of revolutionary. If portable, sturdy 3D printing of food is achieved, it allows units to become fully self-sustaining, packs potentially lighter (as water makes up most of the weight in food), supply chains shorter, and costs exponentially lower. It adds new meaning to the concept of lightweight, high-speed, sustainable warfare.

And the craziest thing? The technology is (almost) already here.

The pictures that inspire Hard Drop

Like Hard Drop but prefer a more visual approach to SciFi world-building? Sadly, I can’t claim to be much of an artist, but thanks to the wonder of the internet, I am able to draw inspiration from people who are mindblowingly good. Check out the artists and images that inspire the Hard Drop series on Pinterest at the Hard Drop Board, where I am constantly amazed by new, incredibly detailed and improbably stunning artwork from a variety of artists. Go check it out, and check out their pages, too – you won’t be disappointed!

Did Amtrak just find the answer to Space/Time travel?

I was as blown away as anyone by the speed of Amtrak’s response in creating its writer residency program. The quick turn of events, from a quick retweet to a full-blown shot in the arm for the image and relevance of the ailing service, was yet another example of how powerful the internet and social media truly is.

However, that story is well-told and, frankly, boring.

What is interesting about the Amtrak story is that it has allowed the company to take what has typically been seen as a drawback to its service (namely the time required to travel from one place to the next) and turn it into a benefit. It has enabled writers to drop out, plug in, enjoy the scenery – and go to work. And that, for the right person, can be a powerful thing.

Being a sci-fi enthusiast, I immediately thought of the next step – the possible implications for space travel. Space is vast, as has often been said as well, and we are typically used to regarding this as a massive drawback. And, truth be told, it very likely is an obstacle that we may never learn to overcome.

But, just for a second, imagine a universe in which we do travel between the stars. In this world, science fiction has typically employed one of two conceits to overcome the time gap: the first, faster-than-light travel, decreases the time between two points though wormholes, warp drives, or other bending of space. The second, cryostasis, requires freezing the human body in time to offset the aging process as the vessel travels within the constraints of current ability and physics.

But perhaps, inspired by Amtrak, there is a third option: maybe it is possible that, instead of avoiding or attempting to overcome the time barrier of the journey, humanity instead embraces and celebrates it? In the aftermath of digital age, where artistic, scientific, or any other works might not require massive storage, or heavy materials for their creation, might not the long voyages in space offer potential to think, to collaborate, to produce and to refine? Might we not achieve our greatest masterworks while in limbo, waiting to begin our future on a foreign world?

Maybe, as Amtrak is currently suggesting, a little extra time between points isn’t such a bad thing after all.

Taking the Fiction out of SciFi: Potentially Habitable Super-Earths are ‘Plentiful’

Not long ago now, there was great excitement when we began to discover signs of potentially Earth-like planets in the theoretically habitable zones around their stars. A number of first followed each other in quick succession, each both more impressive and more fanciful than the last, each revising our estimation on the likelihood of life elsewhere in the Universe.

The trend is only continuing: recent discoveries suggest not only that potentially habitable planets exist in a number of places, but that they may in fact be “plentiful.” Thus, little by little, the odds are improving for the potential of life out there, which, to a degree, is an exciting thing (as long as you ignore the corollary implications for threats, either via other life or in terms of extinction barriers, as has been discussed at length elsewhere).

But perhaps most interesting of all of this is that it’s now very clear that we have been, at best, a curious bystander shining a narrow beam around a very large and dark room: we have barely begun to understand the limits of what surrounds us, or the things which we may encounter there. With each improvement in technology, we discover more, see farther, deeper, or measure better, and so it seems only inevitable that, in the very near future, the odds of life will improve again.