Monday, August 14, 2017

An olio portfolio

Notwithstanding -- and more likely related to --  my most recent post (Weird process, this writing), the writing has been progressing smoothly over the past week. Lots of deeper back story worked out and retrofit, where appropriate, into the novel presently under construction. Lots of new text added. (We won't, however, speak of the single paragraph in the original, high-level outline that has transmogrified in my latest plans into five future chapters. Those wounds are too fresh.)

A veritable cornucopia
Amid the progress, my willpower on occasion did slip, leaving me to lapse into some of my customary surfing. And so, herewith, I shall bring to your attention several eclectic -- and relevant -- observations of the sort visitors here seem to find of interest.

SF is about world-building, with "world" loosely defined. Something about an SFnal story setting(s), whether in time or place, dimension or natural law or the state of technology, is different. One peril of the process is describing a world that's too uniform (e.g., "the desert planet" or "the ocean planet"), because we tend to find those unbelievable. The single world any of us know is, after all, rich with plains, forests, deserts, mountains, oceans, glaciers .... And neither are natural resources uniformly distributed, available at the convenience of our characters. A recent real-world reminder of that inhomogeneity involves helium:

... the element is needed to use or make all sorts of things: semiconductors, rocket fuel, computer hard drives, the Large Hadron Collider, magnets in MRI machines, airships, scuba tanks, arc welding, anything that needs to be super cold, and of course, balloons.

See "How the Qatar Crisis Shook Up the World's Supply of Helium."

World-building often also involves society-building -- and any but the most low-tech societies, at least in our everyday experience, use some form of money. So: we turn to another topic in the news (and much modern SF): cryptocurrency. A cryptocurrency, of which bitcoin is perhaps the best-known example, is a form of currency existing only on computers and run separately from any government.

Traditional currencies take their value from convertibility into a physical commodity (e.g., they're on a gold standard) or the creditworthiness of the issuing country.  A cryptocurrency -- whatever its other features, such as comparative anonymity -- can lay no claim to either traditional attribute. So maybe a cryptocurrency is not really money. That's the opinion of the co-chairman of a major asset-management firm. See: "Howard Marks says bitcoin isn't real -- and we can all blame millennials for its rise."

How about building a "world" limited to a space habitat or a generation ship, anywhere unnatural where the inhabitants must sustain a closed ecosphere to survive? There's lots about such a venue to keep the world-builder (or, someday, the environmental engineer) up nights. Such as: "Conquering the galaxy begins with fighting fungi: Researchers preparing for life off-world have found that the greatest threat may come from an unlikely source."

 As I segue back to writing that novel in progress, I leave you with a lexical observation: "The ‘i before e, except after c’ rule is a giant lie." Explaining at least one type of authorial kryptonite ...

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