If that sounds epic, consider that I have become so familiar with this story that it was just a matter of moving it from my brain to the computer. Plus, I have an interactive outline to work with--the documents on The Reader.
As soon as I had this draft prepared, I realized that a portion of the next events in Molly's life deserved to be included as well. This brought the word-count up to 85,000. With only 50 pages left to edit, the final count of my first manuscript figures to be right at 100,000 words. If I were setting out to write a science fiction novel, I couldn't have done any better.
In fact, the overall structure of this first entry is startling for its neatness and simplicity. Ten sections, each one composed of around 10,000 words, or roughly 30 pages if I ever format this for publication. That early events in Molly's life could be detailed with such a beautiful layout is fascinating, even if coincidental.
The moment of panic came when I uncovered a document deep in The Reader which contradicted another report. I quickly went back and looked at my original source, and saw that a minor detail in a battle report could have been read two ways. I had read it incorrectly, reproducing this mistake in my narrative.
After a rough set of re-writes to reflect this new, and more accurate information, I feel that the events unfold in a more readable (and accurate) manner. The sensation, however, has not left me. What else have I gotten wrong? I'm beginning to think that I need a second person looking over my shoulder. Someone capable of catching any mistakes I might be making.
My wife, of course, serves as one line of defense. She reads my drafts and checks for inconsistencies and poor word choices. But any attempt to get her to look over The Reader leads to the little spiffs that we amusingly call "arguments." She has, after all, seen what the infernal device has done to my life.
I have, in The Reader, diary entries from four of my main characters. This has been an excellent foundation for capturing their voices (and sometimes their companions'). I also have several conversations that were preserved by Molly, many years later, as best she could remember them. There were a few encounters she had while younger that were so instructional, she later attempted to write them down, line-by-line. Each of these resources have proved invaluable.
Writing accurate, readable, and entertaining dialogue was one of my greatest fears moving into this project. I've heard from lost of people that this is the most difficult thing to do well. Imagine the challenge of doing it well while doing an actual source justice.
I'm not sure if it was the preparation, or if my fears were overblown, but dialogue has turned out to be one of the simplest parts of these narratives to construct. After reading so many first and second-hand accounts of each character, I feel like they are living inside of me. When I get in a zone with the writing, I almost don't even see the screen... I hardly know what I'm writing. My fingers just try and keep up with the scene that is playing out before me. A scene I already know by heart from my research.
That's the key with writing about these future events. I study them until I know them. I know the smells, sights, sounds, tastes... and then I try to relate this vision to someone else. The reader. And maybe this is why I wasn't too bad a choice for this project. Perhaps this is why the Bern Seer chose me (if there was any sort of selection process at all). Maybe anybody could have done this.
Here's a sample to give you an idea of my process:
READER DOC#295,201(Molly's Journal)
...can't believe Cole slept through the entire flight to Palan. Infuriating. Had so many things I wanted to talk about... plan for the trip back. He never once asked about Parsona, what she looked like, had planned to describe the entire layout, listen to some music together. I tried everything to wake him, but the guy sleeps like a brick. Like a brick with a cute, little snore. Okay, that part of the trip wasn't too bad. Lots of stolen glances. Just wish he'd fallen for my little ruse.
READER DOC#1,204,081(Cole's Audiolog Transcriptions)
After three nights of using the audiolog to record my sleep, I have to assume Molly is trying to get my goat. Get my goat. Now that's a curious phrase. Sounds weird to say it out-loud when I know it's being recorded. Great, now I'll have to edit this part out. So, uh, the snoring. I'm pretty sure this is some kind of running joke with Molly. I'll try one more night, just to make sure the mic is calibrated, and then this experiment will be concluded. Other observations: One, we spent two years in the simulators together pulling shifts and she never said a thing. Two, the first mention was on our flight to Palan. Three, it's entirely possible that this is a female thing, that Molly was angry at me for passing out on the starliner, which would also explain the heavy bruising discovered on my right arm upon arrival, and... now I don't remember which number I was on... uh, let's just say finally, this motivation on her part also calls into question her story about playing a card game that I have been able to find no mention of since.[END]
“Where are we?” Cole asked.
“Palan,” she said, as grumpy as everyone else on the ship, but for a different reason.
“Already? Man, that went by fast. Why didn’t you wake me?”
“You seemed pretty out of it. And when you started snoring really loud, I went and sat with some guys back in coach. They taught me this cool card game called Mossfoot. You start off with—“
“I don’t snore that loud,” Cole interrupted.
“Well, I just got back and people were complaining.”
“Hmmm. Record it next time. I don’t believe you.”
I hope this gives you, the eventual reader, a sense of how dialogue is being put together for this first trilogy. For every little line you read, understand that I'm pouring through dozens of disparate sources. This has me wondering if my manuscript submissions would have been cheaper to ship (and more likely to win a favorable reception) if I hadn't included my extensive footnoting system and bibliography.
The full scope of this story is only beginning to be understood, even after six months of nonstop reading and research. And yet, it all hinged on a single day. So that's where this story begins. The Tchung Affair.
I've apologized several times prior for my analytical, male brain. I'm an engineer, not a poet. If the following is hard to follow, please know that I appreciate the irony of my having been chosen for this task. I would reject the duty were I not so completely absorbed by its subject.
Here are the first seventeen pages of our saga, downloadable in .doc format:
Here's a sample from one of her essays (picking up on the second page). I think it's a fair representation of her unique mixture of iconoclasm, creative thinking, and human decency.
It is clear, therefore, that Dr. Glav Jones has made a grave error in linking societal changes on Delphi IV with first Human contact. His anti-consumption bias, noted above, has him searching for causation where there is mere correlation. Did the arrival of Human envoys to Delphi IV spark a revolution? Undoubtedly. Did Delphi society swing to a consumerist base in ensuing years? Absolutely. Was this, as Dr. Jones suggests, a result of a Human conspiracy? I think the answer is clearly "No." But without a grasp on the universal rules of Natural Selection, it is impossible for Dr. Jones to see why.
The Galactic Union has now cataloged over 400 planets that harbor life. More than 80 of these planets had some form of sentience. Almost twenty of those were at least in the industrial phase. In every case, the principles of evolutionary natural selection have been verified. The process is now understood to be chemical, as much as it is biological. We would be just as surprised to find a world which wasn't based on RNA/DNA and the subsequent shortcuts that life stumbles upon, as physicists would be if they discovered a planet on which objects didn't fall toward the center.
Despite this, xenoologists such as Dr. Jones continue to rely on soft psychological musings of cultural development rather than on the stricter theories which are founded on scientific principles and subjected to the rigors of peer-reviewed publication. The oversight would be tragic, were it not comical. The experts devoted to exploring the condition of all lifeforms do not study the very theories that govern life.
The case of Delphi IV highlights a pattern of sentient behavior seen, not just on other colony worlds, but in the ancient history of Earth. When organisms are given complete freedom, they tend to use that freedom to hoard resources. This is a fact of nature that can be seen in every engorged belly and every stockpile of gathered goods. Evolution rewards the greedy, especially if the organism can make large displays of philanthropy while it is quietly sneaking more away for itself.
Detractors of this theory often point to ecological niches that have attained a balance. This argument is flawed, as that balance has come after a long process of competing claims on resources. Give one of the competitors a bit more room, and see if they forgo the extra calories or territory because they prefer that on which they have already settled. The balance we see comes at the end of a process of each side taking as much as it can, resulting in fast prey and starving predators. If we found a symbiotic relationship wherein the horned grazers provided a steady supply of willing meals to the carnivores that promised to only eat their fill, I would be willing to entertain the argument.
What happened on Delphi IV was that the greedy imbalance between the slave-owners and the enslaved was disturbed. Guided by one of the great principles of the philosopher Madaline Meln, Humans intervened to secure the freedom of a sentient race in bondage. The subsequent flourishing of culture on Delphi IV led to increased societal freedoms and individual wealth. That the participants of this system used this combination to increase their own holdings, and improve the future for their offspring, is not to be condemned--it is to be expected.
There is much that Dr. Jones gets right in his analysis of Delphi IV, but not an ounce of it is based on a rational understanding of the forces at play. The good points he has, and I daresay the only reason the man is read and cited widely, is because his warnings of over-consumption resonate with Humans. Simply because the urge to hoard is rewarded in nature does not mean we ought to reward it in our civilized cultures.
The Delphians can learn from our mistakes, just as they have accepted the universal wrong of slavery. But we need to teach them that these urges they feel to possess as much as possible come from biological imperatives, not from a cultural invasion. Not only is the truth more helpful, it is more palatable. Current mistakes in ideology lead to xenophobia. We look at a universal trend, and tend to blame the first example of that trend as if it is the cause of the trend. This not only ensures that the pattern will continue, it perpetuates the hate that comes from ignorant tribalism.
For these reasons, and others that the space requirements of this assignment will not allow me to enumerate, I am unable to give a breakdown of Dr. Jones's conclusions regarding the increased consumption of luxury goods on Delphi IV following first contact. His biased assumptions and lack of a chemical or biological education do not just lead to flawed statements on the societal development of Delphians, I believe they make him unqualified to write about any culture in the Milky Way. Period.
It is quite a read; and if you made it all the way through--kudos! Imagine sorting through thousands of documents like this on top of the millions of other bits of evidence I have. You'll understand why my hygiene has suffered.
Just as fascinating as Molly's ideas are those of her instructor, who gave her a D- for the paper. He corrected the obvious grammatical mistakes (reproduced faithfully, above) and cautioned her against run-on sentences and obtuse word-choices (typical of highschool essays, I'm afraid), but he really nailed her for not following the assignment.
From this last, we get an idea of what Molly went through at the Academy. Frankly, it just makes me love her even more.
We were having lunch together in the cafeteria near KSC HQ (the hub of Kennedy Space Center's inland industrial area) when I showed her The Reader for the first time.
As I've said before, this project drove me batty from the first week, and I think Lisa was worried about her old friend. I was flipping through documents and talking excitedly about what I'd found thus far when I realized that Lisa wasn't looking at The Reader--she was looking at me.
It's an unpleasant experience, discovering that your close friends think you're crazy. Even worse is the difficulty one has in convincing them otherwise, especially when you are desperate to do so. The absolute worst, though, is when their sincere doubts begin to weaken your own resolve.
I was seeing myself through Lisa's eyes, and that's when I first starting having major doubts. Her next reaction didn't help matters. I had finally scrolled to the document I went there to show her. I slid The Reader across the table, urging her to take a look.
Lisa laughed immediately. She covered her mouth and looked up at me, eyes bulging wide. Her eyebrows were arced high, apologizing for not being able to control herself. When she explained why the was "Impossible," I was humiliated. Keep in mind, I'm a glorified chemical engineer with a physics degree--not an astronomer. However, a grade-schooler could have pointed out the obvious problem with the map I was showing her.
If it was labeled "The Milky Way," where in the universe was the picture taken from?
Lisa also pointed out that the spiral galaxy in the photo looked uncannily similar to M101. I asked her if these galaxies couldn't resemble one another, or if there was any way the photo could have been taken...and she said "No." Then she asked if it would be okay if she called my wife. "To have a chat."
Before I left, Lisa scanned a copy of the map right off the face of the reader (a technique I never thought of before, and have since used to snag schematics and some other diagrams). She said it would be fun to e-mail it around to her colleagues and stifled another laugh.
I figured the incident was over and promised myself that I would shower and shave before I visited with any more friends about this Molly Fyde nonsense.
The next week, I got a phone call from her. Again, she was telling me that the map was impossible, but this time...she wasn't laughing. She sounded anxious and harried. I had been asleep (passed out at my computer), but I agreed to rush right over (breaking my earlier promise to myself regarding hygiene and visitations).
"It was Wade that pointed it out," she told me behind the SSPF building. "He called me and congratulated me on the effort." Lisa was glancing up at the sky, as if someone were watching. "So I asked him what effort he was talking about, and he said the distances, positions, and luminosity."
Now I was the one worried for my friend. She looked horrible, and I couldn't follow a single word of what she was saying. I begged her to slow down and pretend my Day Pass was a Visitor's Pass.
"The distances are spot-on," she said. "The luminosities, the angles of deflection. For Menkar, Canopus, and Sol, anyway."
"What about the others?" I asked.
"Never heard of them," she said.
A handful of people at NASA already knew about the image and were poring over it. They were calling it "The Impossible Map." But now the label had become ironic and spooky instead of literal. Everyone wanted to know who had created the hoax. (If you guys are reading this, now you know where Lisa even got the image. Perhaps you want to start taking the hyperspace document more seriously?)
Here's the map (click to enlarge), and I can corroborate the relative distances between these stars by suggesting that they conform to elements within Molly's narrative. Here is a link to the star data Lisa sent me later that day.
You would think the easy part lies ahead, but unfortunately, this is not the case. My sixteen-hour days of nonstop manuscript work will prove to be the relaxing moments in this quest. The difficult part is going to be finding an agent that believes in Molly's story as much as I do, finding a publisher that believes what my agent tells them, and then finding an audience that believes what the jacket of my book tells them.
That's a lot of faith for an organization that gets no tax sheltering.
What's next and why is it going to be so hard? Well, I just wrote a dandy query letter and I have a list of select agents to send it to. I'm going to attach the first ten or so pages of my work, and see if any of them are interested in reading more. The problem will come from the constant rejections and time spent away from the actual writing.
As a rocket scientist specializing in chemical propellants, I'm used to trying various "recipes" and tweaking according to the results. I will try to see my upcoming failures as empirical data with which to hone subsequent tests. The metaphor, as demonstrated by the following video, could not be more apt.
While I'm crashing and burning, I have another 100K manuscript to begin editing, plus a third, fourth, and fifth book to write. I speculate wildly on why The Reader was brought through time and handed to me, and I'm starting to suspect a pretty mundane truth: Publishing in the future is more difficult than time travel. Right below vanity presses and print-on-demand is the Bill and Ted publication method. Drop your material off in the past and give it 500 years to make it to bookshelves, if then.
So. Welcome to the final countdown. Liftoff is commencing in three... two...
Uh, Mission Control? We have an anomaly.
If you missed my first stab, THE AUTOMATED ONES, I urge you to check it out. Then give my latest effort, WHILE YOU ARE GREATER THAN MYSELF, REDUCE MYSELF a once-over. These stories lack polish, to be sure. They're written late at night and receive the briefest of edits. I do not possess the emotional fortitude I would need to stay away from my Molly studies. And with her first book just a few months from publication, I need to remain focused.
It reminds me of the day, just as a young child, that I learned the Milky Way wasn't expanding through the universe in the direction it should be going. Instead, it is sliding toward some force known as "The Great Attractor."
Molly's plight reveals a galaxy isn't just physically moving in reverse. Many options open to women in our time are not open to her. When I read in her diary that she went through history books for feminist inspiration, it sickened me.
And it's not just Earth. I don't want to get into the second entry in her narrative, but one of Molly's alien friends deals with a very similar problem. In her case, males claim to elevate women above themselves. To prove this, they remove all possibility of women coming to harm, which constricts their personal freedoms.
Is this what 25th-century humans are doing when they tell Molly she can't fly starships into battle? But, if it's about protecting her... why can she be a navigator in one of those very starships? Isn't she equally in harm's way? And with less control over her own safety? What if she can fly better than anyone else in the fleet? I think the hypocrisy reveals the true reason for limiting her choices: they don't think she's good enough.
They named me Hugh Crocker Howey after my grandfather, Hugh Crocker Murrill. On the same day that I was given a first name, my grandfather, the great male of our clan, was given a new one. He became "Big Hugh," the only name I ever knew him by.
It was many years into my life before I realized that I'd helped rename the great man--that my humble existence had altered the label used for such a marvelous, massive and magnificent human being. I was probably ten or eleven before it occurred to me that he wasn't called "Big Hugh" prior to my birth. I'll never forget how shocking this new knowledge was, like a lightening bolt of the obvious sparking through me.
It was a lesson in time-lines, and cause and effect, that has come in handy quite recently.
Another lesson, a tragic one, that I gleaned from my grandfather is the sadness and tragedy of senility. Big Hugh suffered from Alzheimer's for a dozen years before he finally passed away. Well, suffered is probably the wrong word. There were a few years during which he knew something was happening, that a mysterious disease was taking away his greatest strength--his intellect. But after this, he didn't even have the faculties for understanding his loss. These senses were part of what was taken away.
I'll never forget sitting with him during those transition years. My mother would drop me off to spend time with him; our circular, strange conversations would constantly orbit the rational--but never touch down.
"How did you get here?" he asked me.
"My mother dropped me off."
He would nod, play with his empty pipe, consider it for awhile, then look at me. Waves of recognition and confusion would twitch his face this way and that.
"Who are you?" he wondered, more out of curiosity than alarm.
"I'm your grandson."
"That's right." He said. More twisting of his pipe and face. "And what's your name again?"
"It's Hugh, grandpa, the same as you. I was named after you."
"Oh," he said. "Isn't that nice." There was a pause as he remembered something about his pipe. A better use than something to chew on, something to clutch. Then the memory was gone.
"How did you get here?" he asked me. Again.
After awhile, he wasn't suffering anymore. He just enjoyed being driven around the block by his nurse, the only person he truly knew. If anyone was suffering, it was the rest of us.
I've been thinking about Big Hugh these last two days. Sometimes the Bern Seer looks at me the way I used to look at him. As if there's something I'm supposed to know--or remember--but can't. She's also more familiar with me than our brief time justifies her being. And she often mentions things that sound like gibberish, but she says them with the calm tone of a shared experience.
Now I know, somewhat, how Big Hugh felt during those transition years. Time travel does things to interpersonal relationships, like a reverse sort of senility. It came to me last night: the Bern Seer knows me from years hence. Years I cannot remember. One of us is at the end of a long relationship and the other is at the beginning. Yet it's the same relationship.
I haven't decided what to do with this realization. I suppose I should play along and maintain my wide-eyed ignorance. But now that I know, I can imagine what she's feeling. It's what I was feeling with my grandfather that day. And it makes me want to rush to her and say, "I can't remember why, but I know that I love you. I know that we are the fastest of friends. And I'll love you back until I can remember again."
I feel like this is the right thing to do. It won't clear anything up for me, it won't change what I'm going through as I struggle to remember things I can't possibly know... but I can see on her face that she's the one suffering. And I want to make it stop...
That's why it's important that I understand the principles fully (if not the exact science). One of the documents that has helped me the most is a paper Molly wrote for her math instructor. It isn't on hyperspace at all, but rather on the method she uses for visualizing up to ten spatial dimensions.
The paper seems to have been motivated from an argument she was having with her own professor on the viability of such a system. Not because the tone is combative, but rather, because it has a strident, instructional air and is followed with an allusion to some previous conversation. I am contemplating an entire blog post that details the method in Molly's own words, but I'm afraid it would bore most readers to tears.
And that's one of the problems I'm having with my integration of hyperspace into Molly's narrative. Rather than explain the science and mechanisms behind hyperspace travel in the beginning, I believe the drama is heightened to reveal secrets to the reader at the same time that Molly and her friends are discovering them.
The few principles that are important, I will touch on before she enters hyperspace for the first time. These center around the gravitational perturbations of nearby objects, and the need to have an extremely stable (and therefore calculable) two-body or three-body mass problem. Two-body is preferred (a system with only two gravitational centers, or points) because there are only a few solutions for very specific three-body systems.
This makes Lagrange points a very key concept for hyperspace travel. All a Lagrange point is, is a location in a two-body system in which a third body can maintain a constant orbit thanks to its centripetal force of rotation. There are five of these points, all named after Louis Lagrange, who discovered them in the late 18th century.
There's a bit of confusion here between 21st century physics and 25th century physics. In our time, L1, L2, and L3 are considered "unstable" Lagrange points. That's because we use L-points in dynamic systems, systems in motion. We put satellites and observation systems in these points. L1 is considered "highly unstable" for these purposes. Any drift in one direction increases the attraction from one body while decreasing the other. Think of a pin balanced on its point. That's the L1 for moving bodies.
In the 25th century, L1 is considered the "most stable" point. And the reason is clear: you aren't planning on staying there. You jump in or out of the L1, experiencing no gravity from either main body, and you thrust out of there before the next ship jumps in. With the other four points, you can calculate the mass offset needed for the jump in or out of hyperspace, because you can treat the two bodies as one body. Taking the ship into account, this makes the 3-body system a 2-body system, which can be calculated.
Molly's story would have played out much differently were it not for the limitations of hyperspace. In fact, it wouldn't have taken place at all. She would never have been born. The Earth would have been overrun and destroyed long ago (before my own lifetime, in fact). It's a humbling thought, to say the least.
Next up will be a discussion on the nature of space and how the universe can be finite in volume yet not possess an "edge" or "boundary."
Instantaneous communication. From anywhere in the universe. And it really works. I watched an adorable Japanese cat jumping in and out of a box on YouTube, and I must be millions of light years away from Earth.
I'm not a particle physicist, so explaining Bell's Theorem is probably best left to the experts, but I'll give you a quick and dirty summation. Some of the core ideas require an accepting mind. However, as strange as these concepts are, Bell's Theorem has been verified in laboratories in our own lifetimes. This isn't theoretical stuff, it's very real.The gist: Once two particles are "entangled," they behave as a single particle in some ways. One of those is the inability to discern the position AND the velocity simultaneously (the famous Copenhagen...). So, if you measure one particle, it's entangled partner instantaneously limits what can be known about IT! I'm dead serious.
Here's what I can gather from the Bell Phones (my name... the coincidence with Bell Labs is just too much): Entangled particles are created and stored in flat discs the size of garbage-can lids. I have no idea what kind of magnets they're using to keep them in such a tight loop, but the particles spin around and around the outer edge of the disc, constantly passing through a read/write mechanism.Each phone is made up of three of these. One to transmit, one to receive, and one to keep time. The time, from what I understand, is very important. It assures simultaneity--without which, the following would be impossible.The phone on Earth is constantly trying to measure one feature (A) of its particles. If it can make all measurements successfully, nobody's transmitting. As soon as a measurement fails, it knows there's a caller, and here's why: the other side (wherever I am) is making measurements on its entangled pairs for (B). And both cannot be known at the same time. Any measurement made here limits the readings from Earth.From there, it's as simple as assigning 1's and 0's to feature (A) and (B). With that, you can transmit voice, data, even videos of cats jumping in and out of boxes. And... if you can read this... it really works!
(I've been informed of some syncronicity problems over the last week, which would explain any typos)
Nope. What people really want to know is how I can be so audacious as to attempt the proper telling of a young woman's story. How, as a male, could I ever relate to Molly's way of thinking?
There's a simple answer I like to give (for comedic effect and to avoid the truth): "Because I spent four years of directed study on the subject in high school, neglecting all other areas of research."
The reality is, my education on stigmas has proceeded parallel to my studying Molly's adventures. In many ways, this has made the experience even more powerful. I didn't arrive, all covered in scars; I've been suffering new wounds alongside her. My naive hurts have mirrored her own.
"What hurts?" you ask. Well, try publishing a work of science fiction in today's market. Imagine 90% of publishers and agents telling you, "We don't serve your kind here." The pain of segregation in the bookstores would be damaging enough, but then there's the added humility of being lumped together with "fantasy," ignoring the prophetic nature of one genre and the purely fanciful tone of the other (yes, I'm aware of my simultaneous call for integration and segregation in the same sentence. My hypocritical stance is a call for the end of the hypocrisy).
Going by the movies and TV shows people prefer, it's clear to me that an honest look to the future is one of the most popular forms of entertainment. Even CSI and its ilk are science-fiction. Just ask the forensic specialists and medical examiners. It's a fact: we love the almost-possible more than the mundane. We pine for what's about to be and then we quickly grow bored of it once it has "become."
Despite this positive bias in the consumers of entertainment, my work (while not entirely a work of fiction) is shunned by the purveyors of it. Not personally, mind you; I've only begun searching for an avenue toward publication. No, this is a systematic ostracizing. An institutional one. And book-specific, really. Even those that rave about the Star Wars franchise frown on reading from the same genre. It's in their sneers when you answer their "Whatcha reading?" with "Some science fiction."
"Oh," they'll say, as if there's nothing to be absorbed by it. Nothing to be gleaned. As if the diversity of human experience can be shelved in one tidy section of Barnes and Noble. As if Oprah's book club can be considered "inclusive" without the greens and grays.
If the sci-fi stigma weren't enough, imagine the horror if I print the book myself! This is death to authors. Sure, some terminally-ill patients such as Daniel Suarez defy the doctors and arise from their coma, but does this inspire me to insert a catheter and don a patient's robe for the next five years?
Mmmm... not quite.
Printing on demand is rightly seen as vanity publishing. The author knows, deep down, that their work isn't good enough (or they've given up on trying to convince the world otherwise). The allure of seeing their name stamped on a spine (shoddily-glued, no doubt) is too much. They fall for the dream of publishing the next Harry Potter--of showing up all the know-nothings that rejected what is surely Pulitzer material.
And then they sell 40 copies. 20 to themselves, a dozen to their mother, and the rest to friends who pretend to read the book and get busted for not remembering every single plot point. Vanity, indeed.
The confusion for many POD authors is that they believe their wife or husband when they praise the work. They forget that these people didn't pay $20 for the disappointment, and are probably just tickled to discover that their spouse can compose a sentence or two. Or maybe they're urging along this lifestyle that provides minimal daily interactions? Who knows. Just don't trust 'em.
What's Molly feeling as a young woman lost in a sea of cadets? I don't have to guess. And not because I have reams of her poetry and journal entries. It has more to do with my attempt to publish her saga, a work of science fiction, in a declining market and as a first-time author. Oh... and I'm a 33-year-old white male writing YA feminist books about not fitting in and how the galaxy is unfair.
Yeah. The audacity is what makes me different. As soon as you point out how ridiculous I am, you've made me not-ridiculous. It's a self-fulfilling prophecy. As easy to understand as a time-travel paradox.
One of the things I'm trying to do is cross-reference the time she wrote the poems with what she was studying at the Academy or going through in her personal life. It provides more insight into what things are permanently her, and which were short-lived muses fluttering in her environment.
The structure of this poem is common in her time. It's called "Dwindling Primes," and it was created by A. J. Howitz, a math professor-turned-poet, in the 23rd century. Molly wrote an entire paper on Mrs. Howitz and seems to prefer this style ever after.
The form of the poem is as important as the content. Each line shrinks to create a pleasant shape, and the angle of the dwindling is as important as its straightness. Also the stanzas grow to the third and then fade again. The inclusion of mathematical notation (!= means "does not equal") is a classic nod to one of Howitz's traditions.
Howitz will become most famous for the discovery in 2274 that '2' and '3' are not prime numbers. She also described the arrangement of all primes with two simple equations, changing the entire field of cryptography.
This is why there are always 5 stanzas (the first prime).
There is also the allusion in the phrase "Dwindling Primes" that the overall number of primes shrank thanks to her findings. Since there are an infinite number of primes, this, according to Molly's paper, was a joke she never tired of telling.
I hope the poem gives you some insight into Molly. And I hope the above explanation of its form gives you an appreciation for how much information is in The Reader--and how difficult it has been to piece it all together.
I'm alone and surrounded
by nasty beasts that
heckle & snort
Gassy giants orbiting themselves
swirling with the hubris
of a false gravity
Pits in the fabric of space and time
revulsion != repulsion
Dragging me down, crushing
I yearn for a near-miss
to sling me clear
Like a satellite doomed
But not for nothing
Edwin Abbott Abbott wrote FLATLAND in 1884 to make fun of a rigid social hierarchy (in the book, the number of sides you're born with dictates what you can and can't be within Flatland culture), but as a young child, I didn't care about this commentary. My mind was too busy being blown away by something else: the weirdness of living in any set of dimensions other than three.
Just as Flatlanders have a hard time conceiving of a third dimension, we have a nearly-impossible time picturing four, much less eight or nine. And please, let's leave Time out of this, we're having a spatial discussion.
(NOTE: I've mentioned before that Molly has a system for holding a dozen physical dimensions in her head. I'm not sure her paper on this topic is correct, but there are smaller contributions to geometry within it. I keep promising to get that document up on the blog, and I assure you I'll get to it, but for now... I want to talk about the shape of the universe and how hyperspace likely works.)
The most important geometric lesson from FLATLAND is an explanation of how the universe can be finite and yet have no boundary (nothing "outside" it). Imagine only knowing two dimensions while living in a world of three (you have no concept of Up or Down). The landscape around you appears perfectly flat thanks to the enormous size of the globe you reside on.
Suppose you wanted to find out what lies "beyond" this world of yours. You take off in one direction and travel for several years until... SHOCK!! you end up right back where you started! "That's impossible," you'd say. I went in a perfectly straight line the entire time!
Curious and a bit upset at how sore your two-dimensional legs are, you set off in a new direction. Years later, you are right back in the same place! (and you passed the same cute girl half a world away that you saw the last time around) Your family is happy to see you and they ask that you stop sneaking up from behind like that.
You try, but you can't figure out how the world you live on can be finite, and yet there not exist some "border" beyond which something else lies.
Dear reader, we live in a universe just like that. There are dimensions beyond the three we note around us. Travel in a "straight" line in any direction in the universe, and you'll come back to where you started (even though the galaxy you left behind will have moved on). It's finite and yet without border.
According to several papers in The Reader, the universe also seems to be "unfolding" rather than "stretching." This appears to be important for understanding hyperspace travel. If the universe was "stretching," the distance between points would be getting further apart in every dimension that matters. What appears to be the case, instead, is that the universe is acquiring ripples, or folds.
In several dimensions, this makes objects appear further away, as light travels up and down these folds in a "straight" line. In other dimensions, however, objects are not much further apart than they ever were. Traveling through the folds allows one to cut across vast distances of space.
Imagine our Flatlander doesn't live on a perfect sphere, but rather on a flattened disk, like a ball with most of its air let out. Our intrepid explorer wants to visit the girl he met twice in his travels; unfortunately, she lives on the opposite side of his planet. Thanks to his limited awareness of dimensions, he would have to travel for several years across the surface, not noticing the sharp curve at the flattened edge, in order to reach her. He wouldn't know that he was just a few steps away if he could cut across the center.
This is how we travel. Up and down the folds of space as they present themselves as straight lines. Meanwhile, through dimensions orthogonal to all of our familiar three, we are but a few steps from anywhere. We just don't realize it.
What kind of adventures could a person get themselves in and out of if they ever sorted this out? What could Molly's original and insightful method for visualizing multiple dimensions mean if she was the one? I'm afraid that the answers to these questions are not even reached in her first three books... but it's something to be aware of nonetheless.
Wow. What a writing utensil! I've owned a hand-me-down Mont Blanc before, and while the snowpeak cap looked nice sticking out from behind my ear, that pen has nothing on this baby. Smooth glide, even flow, perfect grip (Mont Blanc needs to do some research into this squishy stuff) and it even has a handy little clip so you can hang in from your clothing.
They really thought of everything!
Eager to test out this wonderful birthday surprise, I opened up an innocuous pouch that had arrived in the mail that day. It appeared to be a book contract--how ideal! The course fiber overlay and luxuriantly light weight would pose a nice mix of obstacles for my new UniBall Premier 207 (with Squishy Grip™).
How would it handle this test? Would I be able to wield the thing properly on my first try, and with friends and family watching eagerly?
I must say, the results were quite pleasing. There was a little bleeding, but not too much. And even the best-engineered grip in the galaxy isn't going to fix my handwriting, so I couldn't blame the UniBall Premier 207 for the illegibility of its output. I'll chalk the rest up to my own nerves; quite a few patrons in the restaurant were gawking at the scene, which put me on the spot as if I was some sort of local hero.
Hey, it isn't everyday you meet someone with a UniBall Premier 207 ball-point pen in silver with a Squishy Grip™.
Official website of the UniBall Premier 207 with Squisy Grip™
Another review of this fine writing utensil at Cause and Defect
Me signing a book contract:
Wow. Just... wow.
Document #3,549,018. Why in the world such a vital piece of evidence would be so deep in The Reader, have no searchable tags, and not be active-linked to any other document is beyond me. It's almost as if the schematic was slipped in at the last minute, with no time to reference it elsewhere.
The first thing I did was go back to every description of the ship that I'd already tagged. It all conforms perfectly to the layout seen here. I have no reason to believe that this isn't a perfect representation of the starship Parsona.
Curious is the absence of bathrooms and a "utility room" mentioned in several of Molly's diary entries. I'm assuming these minor details were not deemed necessary for this particular drawing. I also find it a bit confusing that the schematic is specific to this one ship (with the name stenciled on the starboard wing) rather than a generic manufacturer's drawing.
Several passages in my first narrative will have to be tweaked slightly, as my visualization of certain scenes is now improved. Also, I had no idea where the escape pods were located, but it makes perfect sense to have them in the floor, with so much fuselage space below-decks for mechanical systems.
I'm too giddy to write. This ship has come to mean so much to me... to see it, to know its shape... it's exhilarating.
The plan is to work through the manuscript, which has been praised for its relative "cleanness," over the next two months or so. Once we have a version we like, as faithful to the actual (and upcoming) events in Molly's life as it can be, we'll create a digital version of the book. This will be double-check one final time before we print a galley proof. Barring any minor edits we need to make, the galley proof will represent the version of Molly's story that you'll see.
With this schedule, the book could be available as early as late September, but certainly by the middle of October. Once we get closer, we'll have hard release dates to share.
Isn't it nice to have your Christmas shopping sorted out in the middle of June? You should go ahead and plan on getting everyone you know a copy. This story is going to thrill and delight people, and the more readers we can share it with, the more it will grow.
I'm taking a fractured reality and making it a perfect whole again.
As I study up on how best to present the fruits of my labors, I experience a different sort of data-gathering. This time, the more pieces I line up, the more bizarre and nonsensical the larger picture. For one thing, these pieces don't snap together. They're those annoying jigsaw elements that just sit beside one another, waiting for a knee to bump the table and send them flying off on their own. Worse, a lot of the pieces overlap, disagree, or seem chewed to a soggy pulp by the disenfranchised.
This process isn't revealing any larger truth, it's just obscuring what I previously thought I saw, replacing it with some sort of modern art that only the publishing elite can discern (or pretend to!)
Today's lesson is the reality of printing costs vs. perceived value. With 100,000 words in the first book, the balance is pretty good. A reader is going to get 300 pages of Molly Fyde goodness at a price that leaves room for profit. The problem is going to be the second book. It's going to come out closer to 120,000 words, nearing a limit that doesn't seem to add much more value for the reader while dealing a significant blow to the publisher.
Thirty pages have already been removed from the end of book two and added to the start of book three; further research revealed a wonderful break in the flow of the narrative, resulting in a natural cliff-hanger (again). However, there's much to be told in this book, perhaps enough to consider breaking it in half and releasing two 220-page books rather than a crippled 350-page book.
"Make some cuts!" I hear you say. I assure you, there are few bumps to hew. This saga is being written more like non-fiction than fiction. I do not spend two pages describing the local flora and telling the reader that everything smells of sage and jasmine. And I've left out the incredible political struggle in the background of Molly's story. A better complaint would be that there isn't more padding.
Which takes me back to the idea of serializing the saga. Television, comics, manga... these mediums seem better-suited to telling a sweeping story. You stay engaged year-round. You make lots of micro-transactions (in the case of TV, you feed the advertisers). There's a lot of perceived value, and fans have to watch or read each entry NOW.
This last observation isn't appreciated enough by the book industry. By not making the story something that's ongoing and cultural, there's no reason not to wait, buy used books, or trade them with friends. Unless the author's name is enough to push the same story over and over, making each cookie a must-have, there's no reason not to read in such a way that the author and publisher are cut out of the deal (and their margins kept in your pockets).
It isn't just the limits of printing I'm bumping up against, it's the limits of the current model. There's almost no flexibility. Even ebooks, while a game-changer, aren't the creative solution we really need. All they do is improve the packaging, instead of re-thinking the product. The serialized model of story-telling could harness these new tools, and go even further. Just as TV shows now make a mint in collected seasons via DVD, serialized fiction would always have traditional books in mind as well. Ten or eleven "episodes" would be collected into a single volume. The major climax and cliff-hangar at the end would be no different than what happens on the tube. This would leave a lot of room for smaller climaxes of action and suspense throughout the episodes, rather than 250 pages of padding and 50 pages of wrap-up.
The only good news coming out of this printing limit is that I may be working on book 4 and editing books 2 and 3 right now. The illusion of being more prolific with my writing isn't a terrible trade-off for not getting to tell the story in the gradual and consistent manner in which it begs to be.
It wasn't that long ago that we had no website... and now we have forums! It's just too exciting. The world of Molly Fyde is expanding at relativistic speeds.
For those of you with Firefox, IE8, Chrome, Opera, and iPhones... you'll no doubt be impressed with how clean the forums look and how well they're integrated with the rest of the site. Those of you running IE7 and older... I haven't figured it out yet. No, not why you'd use ancient software when the upgrade is free, I haven't figured out how to code PHP well enough to sort the problem. Try reading the site over the shoulder of a non-Luddite and see if that helps.
What are forums for, you ask? The same thing Aristotle used them for, to mock ridiculous philosophical positions held by others, but in a snarky, non-cruel sort of way. Oh, and to debate about font choices. Our first active discussion guided me through the design of Molly's first cover. The font, banner idea, and some color choices even came from some of our first members. Okay, from one of them. Thanks, Lisa!
What are the forums not for? Plenty. I'll post some guidelines in the forums themselves, but I'd like to keep the foul language and adult themes in our short stories--where they belong. This site is intended for readers and writers of all ages to enjoy each others company. Anything that disturbs this mood will probably be deleted without animosity, like flies shooed from a pleasant picnic.
So, sign up. Poke around. Create some threads. Introduce yourselves. Tell me how insanely popular this series is gonna be (so you can brag later about what a keen prognosticator you are).
All you have to do is enter your email address, and the Molly goodness comes right to you. No spam, no sharing of the address, completely non-toxic. So, what are you waiting for? Go sign up!
M301: Linear Algebra
The Visualization of Extra Dimensions
The difficulty we have in visualizing extra dimensions lies not with our familiarity of the three dimensions that make up R3 space. Rather, it lies with our our false sense of familiarity. The mistakes we make when picturing a point, a line, a plane, an infinite cube get in the way of understanding movement within higher dimensions.
When thinking of a line, it is necessary to remember that points have no physical dimension. They have no edge. It is impossible that they even "touch" one another. Pick any two "points" and I will show you that an infinite number of other points exist between these two. P1 might lie at .01 and P2 at .02 and it is readily apparent that there's countless points between that have higher precision: P3 at .015 P4 at .0105, and so on.
Therefore, it is impossible to conceive of a line as a solid string of points. It is actually a dotted path, with the dots existing at whatever spacing dictated by the settled-upon limits of precision. A line is not: ------------ It is: ..................
Movement along the line involves the theoretical "teleportation" from one point to another. We say that an object was once at .1 and is now at .2. It is impossible to describe its journey through the infinite numbers between, a paradox well-known to the ancients from Zeno (for which I have a nifty solution).
For the same reason, a plane should not be considered a flat "sheet" of connected material. No matter what resolution you choose in which to visualize it, an infinite number of points will exist between the others. And an infinite number of lines between any two lines.
These zero-dimensional constructs are representations of places in space. They are meant to convey location, not substance. For this reason, they should not be considered to "make up" lines and planes and cubes, they merely "divide" them. A point just slices a line into two pieces, telling you how long each piece is. A line slices a plane in the same manner. The physical lies to either side.
So, a plane looks like:
And movement is our figurative teleportation between any two adjacent points. We can zoom in or out and change the number of these points, but the decision is arbitrary. As long as the precision suits our needs, there is no wrong answer.
R3 (the infinite cube we see around us) Is a stack of planes, each made up of rows of lines, each of which is just a string of points. Seeing how each higher dimension is built from the last, it is trivial to continue to R4. But let's review what we've done. We took points and laid them side-by-side, resulting in a line (R1). We laid lines side-by-side, and got planes (R2). We laid planes side-by-side and got a cube (R3).
Take that cube of points in your mind, and create a string of them, laid out side-by-side. That's R4. Now take more R4's (just "lines" of dotted cubes) and create a "plane" of them. That's R5. We can layer these and visualize R6. With a little practice, we can string these layers out in a dense mesh and "see" R7. I tend to fall asleep with a tenuous grasp on the ephemeral R13, but computational display devices could portray dimensions much higher.
Visualizing movement between these new dimensions is easy when we remember that we teleport along simple lines all the time. Let's take a line segment and a point at the center, or the origin. Our precision is two decimal places. The object can go from 0.00 to 0.01 or to -0.01. Those are it's only options. It must go to one of these two points, side to side, before it continues anywhere else.
In a plane, it could also go to the adjacent points in two other directions, front and back. In R3, it would have the option of going up or down in addition. We do not have standard names for the next options, but I use in and out for movement along R4. If we go back to our string of dotted cubes, it just means a point at the "center" of one cube is adjacent to the centers of the cubes to either side of it. The point can move to these centers, or even (diagonally) to any point "adjacent" to these centers.
In R5, it can do the same for the "string of dotted cubes" that lies to either side. And then there's the "plane of dotted cubes" above and below. The fascinating result is obvious: every point is "adjacent" to an infinite number of other points. This isn't as remarkable as it sounds when we consider: even the smallest segment of a line contains an infinite number of points, which is the same number of points found in an infinitely-sized sphere. Understanding this, and the nature of figurative teleportation within standard dimensions, unlocks the mind to much higher ones.
After a few more changes to the first book yesterday, I'm back to editing numbers two and three today. There's a challenge in telling a single story across multiple books: thinking about and planning for the readers who might go through these entries in a random order. But maybe I'm making this more complicated than it needs to be.
There's a handful of ways one can write multiple novels. One method is to write stories that have absolutely nothing to do with one another. Each entry introduces new characters (or more likely, the same three characters the author always writes, but with different names) and they can be read in any order. I haven't read all of Grisham's novels to know if he sticks to this formula, but judging from his movies... he's one of these authors.
Another option is to write about the same characters, but have each story self-contained. John D. MacDonald was a champ at this. Each book introduced Travis McGee and his boat, The Busted Flush, in the exact same way. New readers always had a decent introduction, and for regular readers, the paragraphs of carbon-copy descriptors became a rite of passage. Something to tickle the nostalgia, or to skim over.
Then you have the trilogy (told in five parts if you're Douglas Adams). These are books intimately tied together, telling a larger story over several volumes, even as each entry has its own arc and climax. Of these three examples, this is probably the trickiest format. Naturally, it's the one I'm tackling.
My problem is, I believe, that I'm trying to cater to readers from all three groups with the same novels. I want to tell a complete story with each entry, but I want to reward regular readers with an overall story that grows in scope as they go along. It's thinking about the people picking up book two without having read book one that disturbs this formula somewhat. Do I reference important events in my character's lives in order to please the "insiders" at the risk of confusing the random reader? Can I have a "dark" ending in honor of THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK and trust the entire body of work to support itself? How much time do I spend describing and introducing each character in order to please both crowds?
And is all this agonizing over the out-of-order reader justified? What percentage of the readership will these people represent? Is a trilogy somewhat immune to these considerations? And do I risk turning off some readers who don't want to get involved in a story that takes multiple books to finish? The mixture of plotting, reader psychology, and marketing one has to consider can be pretty daunting.
Then there's the idea my wife had last night, as I agonized over the length of the second book, and the need to tell the story properly. She suggested the middle book in the trilogy be released as a two-parter. Intriguing idea. I'll be thinking of the best way to structure this as I edit like a madman today.