Apr 13, 2009

Licensing wiki fiction

Back when Wikipedia started, the GFDL was a good choice for a copyleft license. The fiction wikia (Novelas) uses the GFDL, but it would be possible to switch to a different license. The alternative is the similar Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike license (CC-BY-SA).

If these licenses are very similar (and they are) then why bother switching? The creature to the right is an extinct arthropod, a member of the class Trilobita that existed for hundreds of millions of years then died out. In the ecosystem of the internet, survival times are typically much shorter...and the GFDL may be driven to extinction by the more robust Creative Commons family of copyleft licenses.

If you make the decision that you want your work of fiction to be freely shared with the world (free to copy, free to modify) then why not use the most popular license available for that purpose? As far as I can tell, CC-BY-SA is better supported and more widely used than the GFDL and that trend will only continue to grow. See: Forum:Change the license.

Apr 12, 2009

Video options

I made a simple animated gif for the Wiki fiction stew collaborative fiction project. The wiki stew story includes some science fiction themes such as an extraterrestrial arriving on Earth. The animation is just a little teaser with a barely visible spaceship seen near a building. The animated gif can be seen here.

I often find myself making animations with unusual dimensions. I was wondering how the Blogger video upload feature works and if it might be customizable for unusual video shapes and sizes. When I tried to upload a video using the Blogger interface, it indicated that it was contacting Google video, but the first time I tried it, my FireFox browser crashed.

Searching online, I found some indications (also) that there are range of options for the Google video embedded video player, including automatic start for videos and endless looping, which are two features that I like and use for animated gifs. I uploaded a video direct to Google video and pasted the embed HTML code provided by Goggle into this blog post (see to right). Since I am using a Macintosh computer, I had to use Gears. After I had Gears on my computer I was able to upload a video (see below, with the Blogger icon on the player).

The original videos were QuickTime format 216 pixels wide by 278 pixels high. The default for the Blogger player was 320x266. As you can see, I have not found an optimal way to customize the width of the player windows to match these narrow videos, but the auto play and looping do work! For some reason the video uploaded via Blogger by default only shows a black image before the play button is clicked.

Apr 11, 2009

Hypertext in fiction

One of my favorite authors is Jack Vance. Many of his books have footnotes and glossaries and accessory text that complements the story. I love fiction that educates and uses hyperlinks to connect the story to additional resources. I'm not sure that I would feel comfortable making fiction under conditions where I could not use multimedia resources and hyperlinks. I'm addicted to the hyperlink.

Back when I started reading science fiction, one of my favorite collections of short science fiction stories was one that had brief accounts of the relevant science for each of the stories. Sometimes science fiction can be explicitly designed to explore science or even the boundaries of science (example: the Science Fiction Challenge) and in such cases it is particularly convenient to be able to link from the fiction to discussions of the relevant science.

I'm also addicted to complexity in stories. Hypertext links for technical terms are a good way to help readers deal with complex story lines. For many of my stories I like to have a glossary that can both help the reader keep track of names and provide discussion of some of the key details of imagined science and technologies that are included in the story.

One of the advantages of writing fiction in a wiki environment is that there are constant opportunities for feedback from readers, even while the story is first being created. Sometimes I'm surprised by elements of my stories that puzzle readers, but in a wiki I can always quickly add a link and explain terminology that is problematical. Can't remember the difference between the worlds Sakkara and Azur? Just click over to the the glossary and refresh your memory.

Another use of hyperlinks that we are experimenting with at Novelas is branch points and alternate endings for stories. For example, see the alternate endings for the story VirileMail. In this kind of collaborative wiki environment, if you do not like the ending of a story you can always make your own and link to it from the others!

Image credits. Click image to enlarge.
It would be fun to see what Jack Vance might be able to do with hyperlinks in a wiki environment.

Related: the glossary for A Search Beyond.

Images. The image of a world seen from outer space (above) is a depiction of the planet Sakkara from The Search for Kalid. This is a modified screen shot from Celestia. The second image shows the Cotedazur ocean of Azur.

Apr 10, 2009

Science Fiction Challenge

The Science Fiction Challenge is a collaborative fiction writing project exploring the nature and boundaries of science through science fiction writing.

The images in this post and at the top of this blog are from the video teaser for a story called "The nanoepitaxy of Susanne Marie" which is part of the Science Fiction Challenge. The story explores the idea that there might be evidence for extraterrestrial life that can be found right on Earth....if we knew where to look and what to look for.

In the story, Susanne Marie Ganice becomes the first person found to be a host for a nanorobotic life form of extraterrestrial origin. Normally, such nanorobotic life forms do not interfere with the course of development of the native life forms on Earth. However, certain "renegade" nanorobotic life forms make use of cloned humans as a tool for passing knowledge from generation to generation. The goal of these renegades is to artificially stimulate human progress, but their methods are illegal. This illegal program involves producing clones, allowing the clones to remain on Earth and then performing a form of "nanoepitaxy" to connect the brains of the parent and its clone, allowing a form of shared consciousness and "downloading" of thoughts from the parent to its clone. Susanne Marie Ganice is such a clone. The story is about how she discovers what is going on, and then how the people of Earth do also.

If you would like to help write this story, feel free to participate at this wiki page.

Below: video teaser for "The Nanoepitaxy of Susanne Marie"...

Images: Available for re-use under the Creative Commons attribution share-alike license

Apr 9, 2009

Complexity in fiction

One of the first science fiction novels I ever read was The Gods Themselves by Asimov. It was a rather daunting introduction to science fiction for a 14 year old, but I was hooked. Years later I found that Asimov had also written the Lucky Starr series. By that time I craved complex stories and was rather shocked to think that Asimov had gone out of his way to make books that were intended for juveniles...I wanted long and intricate novels.

One of the joys of participating at Novelas, a wiki where anyone can drop by and write fiction, is that all kinds of writers are thrown into a collaborative environment. Authors have a chance to interact, learn from eachother and try new kinds of writing.

At Novelas nobody has really gotten into categorizing the works of fiction according to their complexity or possible appeal to young readers -which might be a good thing- we can be forced to wander outside of our comfort zones if the boundaries are not well marked. Still, I have many tricks for staying in my own ruts...for example, my addiction to complexity keeps me away from most short fiction. I've started thinking about the possibility that I might find a way to break my addiction to overly-complex stories. After seeing an outline for a new story I started thinking that Asimov probably had fun writing about "David Starr: Space Ranger" in a way that was not possible for most of his other works.

Can I "let my hair down" and work on a story that offends my taste for hard science fiction? Gee...maybe I'll find that it can be fun to "break the rules" that I usually follow when I write fiction. Maybe I'll learn how to break my addiction to complexity and find new ways to have fun writing.

Upper image: Cotoxy processor KX-263 This image is licensed under the GFDL.
Lower image: public domain.

Apr 8, 2009

Multimedia and videos for stories

Wiki technology began as a tool that facilitates collaborative authoring of webpages. We can go beyond text and add images and sounds to our webpages. I just created a short video for some dialog from the story Cellular Civilization. I used the xtranormal website to make the video clip. You can arrange to have your video creations uploaded to YouTube.

The Xtranormal video making system is still being developed, but it is easy to use and fun. There are some problems with their test-to-speech, but it is not too bad for the price (free). Since it is hard to understand some of the spoken words, I used the YouTube feature for adding captions. This is easy to do using a word processor, saving the captions as a text file and using the .sub file format (see the online instructions).

In this scene, Dexamene Gregores and Charles Parker are chatting. Dexamene is on a secret mission and Charlie is baffled by Dex and is trying hard to figure out who Dexamene is and what she us up to.

Related link: fiction wikia media project

Apr 7, 2009

New collaboration: start your characters

We started a new collaboration today. The project is called "Wiki fiction stew" because each participating author creates a character and throws it into the pot. The plot is then constructed around the characters and each authors writes the part of the story that describes their own character.

I'm not sure how this will really work. It seems likely that participants could select characters that will never have much scope for interesting interactions. I tend to make characters who are "out of this world" for my science fiction stories (for example, the image shown here is a character from "The Start of Eternity"). An alternative approach would be to first select a general topic/setting for the story and then have participants make sure they select characters that are suited for the story.

Image. The image of the alien (above) is licensed under the GFDL. Thanks to Hervé Cozanet and Susanne Kauz for copyleft images used for making this alien!

Apr 6, 2009

Intellectual property rights

I fully support people who are trying to earn a living from their writing and other creative endeavors. In my case, I write as a hobby and I think it is neat that I automatically have copyright for my stories. However, I make my work available to the world under a copyleft license which formally surrenders most of my intellectual property rights.

Copyleft. The copyleft license used at Novelas is the GFDL. When participants make their stories available at Novelas, they are giving others the right to copy and modify their work. One "right" that is not surrendered by the GFDL is the need for attribution. You can use my work, but if you take my idea and words then you need to give me attribution for my intellectual contribution to any new work that you build upon my work.

When writers make their work available under a copyleft license they are sharing their creativity and intellectual property with the world. Note that you are free to market and sell GFDL-licensed works, just be aware that others can also sell your work and they only need to give you attribution. There are other copyleft licenses that specify only noncommercial use by others.

Related video. I made this video specifically for making the point that YouTube videos can be uploaded and made available under a copyleft license, but the same idea applies to fiction.

Image. The image (above, top of this post) is the "cover image" from a science fiction story called Cellular Civilization. This image is licensed under the GFDL.

Apr 5, 2009

The fun of collaborative fiction

Imagine a bored government employee who during lunch break starts writing a story at a wiki website. At first the story is just a brief account of someone foolishly driving too fast to work. Other participants at the wiki pitch in and soon the story becomes a mystery about how a human-like artificial intelligence first develops in a machine. When the dust clears a 70,000 word collaboratively written novel has been created...with plenty of fun along the way...and is any story ever really complete in wiki format?

If you have never bothered to click on the "edit button" at a wiki website and participate in the collaborative authoring of webpages, feel free to join the fun at Novelas.

There is a more detailed discussion of the collaborative origins of this particular story at Wikiversity.

About the image. I made the diagram (above) in order to illustrate how nanorobotic devices are able invade a human brain and allow for direct communication between an artificial intelligence and a person. This image is licensed under the GFDL.

Below: a video teaser for the VirleMail story.

Apr 4, 2009

Why Wiki?

Geek Test No. 9
Can a true internet geek remember where they were the first time they saw the World Wide Web? Well, maybe only old geeks like me who lived for decades without hyperlinked documents.

For me, the World Wide Web was something to dive into but it was like diving into ice cold water. I quickly started experimenting with ways to let multiple people contribute HTML documents to the same website. When I finally saw wiki technology in action I did not at first understand what I was seeing, but once I caught on I wished I had found it sooner.

Of course, there is two ton elephant in the wiki world called Wikipedia. I suppose most people think that "wiki" means Wikipedia and that Wikipedia means, "Ya, I go there to use the free encyclopedia." But wiki technology can be used for all types of collaborative efforts.

"Let’s face it, the act of writing is a solitary activity"

I saw this statement (above) about writing at Topic Turtle. Does writing have to be a solitary activity? Can our internet technologies like wiki, chat and blogging change writing into a social activity? I fear that we have a huge problem with cultural momentum that prevents people from participating in collaborative writing.

Authors have the feeling that they own their words. "This is MY work." But surely there is a place in this world for words and stories and ideas that are freely shared with others. When I was about 12 I discovered the joy of collaborative writing. We'd sit is study hall and pass pieces of paper around with growing stories on them, each person adding a few lines and then passing it on. Wiki technology allows us to do that on the internet. I invite everyone to give it a try. It is a great way to have fun and learn.

Image. The image (above) depicts a nanorobotic colony from the story VirileMail. This image is licensed under the GFDL.

Fiction Wikia

A space station near Mars
From an animation I did for "The Search for Kalid".
Image licensing: public domain.
I have been exploring collaborative fiction writing at the fiction wikia (also known as "Novelas") since 2005. This blog will allow me to reflect on what I am learning about how to use blogs and wiki technology to support online collaborations.

Here is a link to my user page at Novelas where there is information about the collaborative fiction writing projects I have been involved with during the past few years.

I tried to call this blog "Collaborative Fiction" but while trying to do so I discovered this other blog already existed.

The proximal stimulus for starting this blog came from my investigation of Twitter. I followed a link from Twitter to a blog called The Multiverse According to Ben where I was entertained by the post about a female mad scientist. That reminded me of my character Dexamene Gregores in the story Cellular Civilization.

"Cellular Civilization" is now over 50,000 words but it is still under construction and in search of more collaborating authors. On my To-Do list is developing the alien-inspired religious beliefs of the Thomas character. The idea is that his religious thought has grown out of the alien nanites that infect his mind. Poor guy. We have been having some discussions about religion as a theme in our fiction at the wikia-fiction IRC chat channel. It would be nice if there were some good way to integrate wiki, blogs, microblogs and chat. Another task for Stefiz. Get busy, girl.

Future collaborations...
more posters