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May 25, 2013

200 - Blogging about Writing

The Olmec Intervention
This is my 200th post to this blog, so I'm going to take a look back and reflect on some of my experiences with collaborative fiction writing and blogging that have changed the way I write science fiction stories.

In 2005 I started exploring the use of wiki websites as a tool for collaborative fiction writing. Prior to that time, working by myself, I had created the first story set in the Exodemic Fictional Universe. Exodemic was written as a kind of alternative history story, but I was feeling dissatisfied and constrained by that format. It was valuable for my growth as a writer to go online and find other science fiction writers who I could collaborate with and by doing so gain writing experience that expanded my fiction writing repertoire.

Elsewhere, I've summarized some the important online collaborative writing projects that I've had the pleasure to explore by making use of wiki technology and in 2009 I started blogging about my fiction writing, both here and at other websites.

Looking back on what I've learned from these online experiences, I can identify a few types of activities that have been particularly fun and educational. The rest of this blog post provides a summary of those experiences.

Fan Fiction
The Start of Eternity
Back in 2005 I had recently discovered the joy of fan fiction. I've occasionally blogged about my condition: I now suffer from "fanfiction disease", the incurable desire to write stories that make use of famous characters created by others and it is my habit to do so by inserting those characters into stories that are set in the Exodemic Fictional Universe.

My first act of fan fiction sin involved the creation of an X-Files/Star Trek story in which I brought together Gene Roddenberry's characters from Assignment: Earth with some X-Files characters. I've also sinned by making fan fiction using characters from science fiction novels published by Isaac Asimov, Jack Vance, Carl Sagan and Sydney J. van Scyoc.

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The most egregious example of my tendency to hijack famous characters is a fan fiction novel called The Start of Eternity. As described in a recent blog post, I'm very pleased with The Start of Eternity because it allowed me to make use of the Huaoshy to provide an amusing ending to Asimov's Foundation Series. At the same time, I was forced to develop my thinking about the technological prowess of the Huaoshy and define some limits on their seemingly god-like powers.

Right now I'm feeling very happy with my fan fiction experience because as a consequence of my dabbling in this sinful activity I was able to imagine a satisfying backstory for my current science fiction writing project: Exode. That backstory involves time travel, but Exode is not a time travel novel.

Time Travel
One of the first science fiction movies that I remember seeing was The Time Machine. Even when I was ten years old I was disappointed by the idea of a time machine looked like a sleigh. The only time travel story that captivated me was The End of Eternity.

For most of my life I was a space travel snob, convinced that the proper domain of science fiction is stories about spaceships and distant planets with alien beings. However, I was haunted by the thought of Noÿs Lambent living out her life in the 20th century after having been born ten million years in our future. When I finally decided to write a fan fiction sequel to Asimov's Foundation and Earth I could not resist the temptation to include Noÿs in the story.

When I translocated Noÿs into the Exodemic Fictional Universe I had no desire to write a time travel story, rather, I wanted to put an end to time travel. This was possible for the Huaoshy, who, it turns out, were responsible for the existence of time travel. When the Huaoshy altered the dimensional structure of the universe so as to make possible faster-than-light travel, they inadvertently also made time travel possible. As described in The Start of Eternity, time travel was not invented by the Huaoshy. In a strange twist of fate, time travel was discovered by positronic robots.

Having developed the technology for time travel, the positronic robots of Earth caused a big headache for the Huaoshy. Eventually, the Huaoshy decided that the had to undertake one final dimensional engineering project that would make time travel impossible. At the same time, that shift in the dimensional structure of the universe ended the ability of positronic robots to exercise the telepathic abilities that Asimov had depicted in his robot stories.

About a billion years ago, in a distant galaxy, a sapient biological lifeform developed the technology that is required to harness fusion energy and antimatter-based spaceship propulsion. They started slowly exploring their galaxy while looking for the means to travel through space at speeds faster than light. These beings were not yet Huaoshy, but I'll use that label for convenience since they eventually transformed themselves into the Huaoshy.

The Huaoshy discovered that they could alter the dimensional structure of the universe. By first switching the dimensional structure from the "ground state" to a "transitional state" they made possible faster-than-light communications using hierions. This was a great advance for the management of their growing interstellar civilization.

However, the Huaoshy really wanted to be able to travel through space at faster-than-light speeds. They completed another even more technologically challenging alteration in the dimensional structure of the universe that gave them mastery over sedronic matter and which allowed for faster-than-light travel through space.

The Huaoshy were satisfied with that new dimensional structure and they slowly transformed themselves into an artificial lifeform composed of sedronic mater.

However, when humans invented positronic robots the Huaoshy discovered that their dimensional engineering had also made time travel possible. Eventually the Huaoshy made one more change to the dimensional structure of the universe which made time travel impossible while continuing to allow travel through space at faster-than-light speeds....which, afterall, is an important technology to have around for space operas!

Space Opera
My personal introduction to space opera was similar to that described by Will Stackey. When I was 12 years old it was fun to imagine building a spaceship and heading off to the stars...meeting aliens, defeating the bad guy and ending up with the girl...at least, for as long as the innocence lasted. Unfortunately, the more I learned about science the less I was able to tag along with Dr. Smith and his cosmic adventures, particularly when they involved spacecraft that flew at the speed of thought

Smith can be blamed for starting my revolt against science fiction written by physical scientists. Given my interest in biology it should be no surprise that I have trouble when chemical engineer starts trying to get me to believe that thought "travels" faster than the speed of light.

By the time I was out of my teens I had developed a preference for "hard science fiction" that never seemed to violate the laws of physics or trot out biologically implausible plot elements.

For example, when I started writing Exodemic, I wanted to depict a future in which there was no faster-than-light travel, no time travel, and no telepathy or "mental powers"....and no religion, too.

I had reached the point in my thinking where I was more comfortable traveling slowly from star to star in generation ships than flashing across the universe in defiance of the laws of physics.

Writing The Search for Kalid
Then I was lucky enough to participate in the collaborative writing of The Search for Kalid. Left to myself, I never would have started writing a space opera. Three of the important things I learned from that collaboration were 1) that some characters can be crafted and developed in certain ways just because it is fun to do so (plot-driven science fiction can take itself too seriously), 2) it can be fun to include social elements like religion in a science fiction story even if the story is not directly about cultural elements like religion and 3) I was able to start making room in my science fiction for imaginary technologies like faster-than-light travel, teleportation and even forms of "weird biology" that would make possible "mental powers" and telepathy.

These changes in my science fiction writing "comfort zone" were very liberating. I've learned to live with "imaginary science".

Fictional Science
My science fiction writing has been powerfully shaped by three key ideas: 1) the Fermi Paradox, 2) Richard Feynman's realization that there is plenty of room at the bottom and 3) Clarke's suggestion that advanced technology can seem like magic.

The plot of Exodemic involves the realization by humans that small can be powerful and during the past year while creating Exode I've further refined my thinking about how to include the power of the very small in my fiction.

Nanotechnology
When I wrote Exodemic I used the term "nanodevice". At the Fiction Wikia I picked up the term "nanite" and started using it, for example to account for the ability of Isis to morph between human and cat forms.

Originally I conceptualize nanites as microscopic devices composed of conventional matter. However, I imagined that sophisticated nanorobotic devices could use fictional "hierions" to exchange information. Hierion-based communication between microscopically small symbionts inside people became a means of achieving telepathic communication.

Later, I developed the idea that there could be a type of matter formed by hierions where the bond lengths were zeptoscale. In Exode, the pek are composed vast numbers of nanorobotic devices that are made from of such matter.

Not satisfied with that level of miniaturization, the Huaoshy have taken their technology to an even smaller scale where intelligent artificial life exists in the form of sedronic matter in which bond lengths approach to within a few orders of magnitude of the Planck length.

Mental Powers
I never understood how Asimov imagined that telepathy would work in his stories. In Second Foundation he wrote about returning "the recording of his original brain-wave makeup" to Bail Channis in order to restore his erased memories, as if our memories are some kind of electronic software program to be loaded into a computer, or erased.

Asimov wrote that the Mule could sense the electric fields generated by a brain, thus allowing him to "read thoughts".  He could also alter personalities using "mentalics", impressing his pattern of brain activity on others.

First Foundationers who lacked the biological equipment needed for "mentalic abilities", were shown using sensitive brain wave recording technology to detect evidence that the function of brains (like that of Homir Munn) had been altered by "mantalic manipulation". So, electromagnetism was the basis of "mentalics", but the brilliant Dr. Darell had to invent an electromagnetic "mental static" device with hundreds of circuits in order to prevent mentalic mind control by the Second Foundationers. Eh?

While working on The Search for Kalid I took the time to seriously think about how it might be possible for telepathy to evolve and be present in a biological species like we humans. Thus, the telastid was invented and used as the fictional explanation for telepathy.

Having grown comfortable with such an imaginary mechanism for telepathy I no longer have qualms about endowing technologically advance artificial lifeforms with "mental powers" that can involve hypothetical hierions and be entirely independent of any physics as primitive as electromagnetism.

Illustration and Video
In my teens, when I first started writing stories, I had a dream about a science fiction book that I would one day write. In my dream, that book had an animated cover like a miniature television screen. When we finally rumbled into this millennium I was pleased that my science fiction stories no longer had to be restricted to text.

One of the joys of writing stories in electronic format is that images and videos can be easily added to the text.
In the first scene of Exode that I imagined, Hana saw a business card from Parthney with the provocative text: "Change your world" and images of some planets located far away towards the center of the galaxy.

Hemmal became the most important such planet in Exode, the world where Parthney was born. The nearby planet Oib was where the Pla developed their plans for how to bring a technological culture to the people of Earth.

The Koly star system has one other inhabited world, Clu'ten'ium. No human would think to live there, but it is a world with some appeal to the Fru'wu, so that becomes the secret location of Lendhalen.

Blogging about Writing
As described above, my online experiences have greatly modified and expanded my interests as a writer. While I greatly enjoy collaborative writing, I've also learned to make use of blogging as a way to explore and develop a story.

Of course, when I say "develop a story" I really mean the development of the imagined universe that I think of as the Exodemic Fictional Universe. For me, that development process is endless fun because there is a logic to the Huaoshy. As an artificial lifeform that designed itself, the Huaoshy have an identity that is hidden from we humans, but if we keep chipping away we can reveal the structure of that logic.

There is no escape from the recursive nature of that logic. The Huaoshy created we humans and we find ourselves struggling to understand our origins. To do so, we we must imagine the Huaoshy and what they must be like in order for them to have created us and kept us so ignorant of our origins.
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Exode is the story of a small group of people who are trying to discover the nature of the aliens who made we humans. The story is under development and collaborating authors are welcome.
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