“The Quest” and Clarke’s Third Law

Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.

-Sir Arthur C. Clarke (1917-2008)

The Quest is a reality show of sorts that runs on Thursday nights on ABC. It’s not a typical reality show like The Biggest Loser or The Bachelor or Survivor XXIV: Pebble Beach. Instead of twelve contestants locked in a gym or on a desert island or in a room with a narcissistic bachelor, the contestants are placed in a pseudo-medieval setting, complete with a queen, a Vizier (whose job is apparently to sneer at everything), mages, monsters, and so on. Challenges involve tasks such as hunting down dragon tears for the antidote to a poison that has been administered to the queen and swordfighting. Really, it’s more like LARPing than like a real reality show. It’s a very silly show, but Jennifer and I are actually enjoying it.

Watching this has made me think of the “Three Laws of Prediction” as formulated by science fiction writer Sir Arthur C. Clarke, the third of which I’ve quoted above (I had to look up the first two laws, which hardly anyone knows, but the third one is pretty famous). In “The Quest” there are a few elements of anachronistic “magic” which are really just commonplace technologies. The “fire orbs” which the participants had to hunt for in a recent episode were magical devices that glowed with an inner light, but in “real life” they were simply glass jars with a fluorescent liquid inside of them. In the Hall of Fates (where the participants must be judged for their actions and one of them voted off the show), the visages of previously banished contestants hover against a high, dark wall; though they are obviously just projections from a hidden source.

I find this use of modern technology to replicate magical effects pretty fascinating. It puts me in mind of an amusing post I saw on Facebook some time back. I wish I could track down the source, but like all things Facebook, the source is sadly lost to history. The post goes something like this:

How would you describe modern technology to a visitor from, say, the 1800s?

“I possess, in my pocket, a device which allows me access to all the world’s knowledge at the touch of a finger. I use it to look at pictures of cats and get into arguments with strangers.”

When you consider that you can actually speak to Siri in your iPhone, or to Google in your Android device, it becomes even more fantastical. With ChromeCast or AppleTV you can use your phone to control your television or other devices. In short, your pocket device makes you the equivalent of a wizard.

Amazing, isn’t it? I can’t imagine describing modern technology to someone from the 1800s (or even the early to mid 1900s), let alone someone from medieval Europe. If a sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic, then what would such a time traveling visitor think of our times? And what sorts of technology are yet to come that we can’t conceive of, that we would think magical ourselves?

All this, of course, has made me come up with an idea for a new novel. This annoys me, because it’s a very shiny idea, and I am already committed to finishing Code Monkey. No, you cannot have this idea. I’m hoarding it. Someday — probably in 2016 — I’ll be able to write it.

Someday…

Another writing post about goals: voice, style, etc.

When I was first writing, seriously, back in high school, I aimed to be the next Kurt Vonnegut. Not sure why. I wrote satirical science fiction and some serious science fiction and fantasy. These days I still admire Vonnegut and I love his writing, but the world already had a Vonnegut, and we don’t need another one.

Then for awhile I aimed to be the next Clive Barker. I wrote horror that I imagined was dark, edgy, and imaginative, with elements of humor. But now the horror market is oversaturated, and again, the world already has a Clive Barker, and we don’t need another one.

Then back in 2005, when I wrote Fred Again, I realized my main writerly goal: to be the next Christopher Moore. Since then I’ve written fiction that is humorous, with elements of the fantastic.

I’ve decided now on a new goal: to be the first Richard S. Crawford. I write stories of all sorts, from science fiction and fantasy to dark horror, to comical pastiches. I’ve come to realize that my fiction is a bit Christopher Moore, a bit A. Lee Martinez, a bit Tom Holt, a bit Terry Pratchett, and a bit of a whole bunch of other writers that I really admire. But mostly, I’m hoping that my fiction is distinctly mine, that I’ve found a voice that I can write with and that people will read and enjoy.

And all these thoughts came about because I sat down and decided on my next four novel projects (after Code Monkey), including my NaNoWriMo projects for 2014 and 2015! For your reference, those projects are:

  • Brought to Life (a rewrite of my 2010 NaNoWriMo novel);
  • Down to Nineveh
  • Brought to Life 2
  • The Solitude of the Tentacled Space Monster

And so I address my writer friends: what are your goals? Not just in terms of word count, but in terms of style and voice that you want to develop? Who are some of the authors that you really admire, and how have they influenced your own work?

Writing stuff

Writing workshop at Westercon 67

At Westercon last weekend (I will be posting a Con Report at some point this weekend), I participated in the con’s writing workshop. The two critiquers there had nothing much to say about my story, “Tumbleweeds”, except that they really liked it, they laughed all the way through it, and there are only a couple of places that need tightening up. They also recommended that I submit the story to the Writers of the Future contest. I was pretty pleased with all that, of course, but at the same time I suppose I was hoping for more.

I feel like I’ve moved past the point where these one-day workshops and critiques at various cons would be useful to me. I still have room to improve, definitely, but I also know that I’m a pretty good writer.

Code Monkey

Speaking of writing: As per a meme on Facebook, here’s a list of five tidbits regarding Code Monkey, my current work in progress:

    1. Much of it is inspired by the music of Jonathan Coulton;
    2. It features a giant squid named after our cat Sherman;
    3. It also features sasquatches named after our cats Ingrid and Rupert;
    4. It’s always Christmastime on Chiron Beta Prime! and
    5. It is also (very) loosely inspired by the 16th century Chinese novel Monkey: A Journey to the West. Because I can, that’s why.

Last night at our writers’ group I received several pretty thorough critiques of the first 40,000 words of Code Monkey. Plenty of good feedback, and I’m looking forward to applying what I learned to the rest of the novel.

Other writing projects, and some goals

It’s July, time for Camp NaNoWriMo. I’ve never participated in Camp NaNoWriMo. It’s much like November’s NaNoWriMo, except without the parties and heavily populated write-ins. You also get to set your own goal, instead of the 50,000 words that you’re committed to writing in November. This month, I am determined to write the first 20,000 words of my new project, And the Devil Will Drag You Under (content forthcoming on this site). This novel is based on the short story I wrote a few months ago for my Story of the Week project.

And speaking of Story of the Week, I fully intend to resurrect that project in August. Right after Camp NaNoWriMo. I promise. No, really this time.

I have other novels I want to write as well. PadmaThe Outer DarknessThe Solitude of the Tentacled Space Monster. And so on. And after I finish the first 20,000 words of And the Devil Will Drag You Under, I will get back to Code Monkey, and while that one is making the rounds I’ll start work on one of the others.

And, finally, I still plan on self-publishing “The Winds of Patwin County: A Tragedy in Four Gusts” soon, though it will probably happen in August or September, and not July as I’d previously hoped. It needs cover art, and it needs at least one more round of edits before I release it on an unsuspecting public.

And that’s it for now. Do you have writing goals? If so, what are they?

A Four Question Blog-Hopping Meme Thing About Writing

rockhopper-penguin
This friendly rock-hopper penguin welcomes you!

(Tagged by my friend Andrea Stewart. Andrea is a member of my face-to-face writers’ group, WordForge. She’s wicked talented and a really neat person to boot. Check out her website and her fiction.) 

So many books to read! So much television to watch! So much social media to catch up on, constantly! So much work to do at work! It’s actually kind of amazing that I get any writing done at all, isn’t it? And yet somehow I manage to get some words written on a more or less regular basis.

1. What are you currently working on?

Currently, a couple of things. First, of course, is my novel Code Monkey, which is a refinement of the novel I wrote for National Novel Writing Month in November 2009. I thought it was fun and I honestly believe it has potential. My goal is to complete the current draft within the next week so that I can submit it to my crit group this month.

I’m also working on a couple of short stories: “Flash Drive” and “The X of Doom”. And, of course, I plan to publish “The Winds of Patwin County” in July under the Igneous Books label. More details on that as they become available.

 2. How does your work differ than others in its genre?

That’s a tricky question because I’m not actually entirely sure what genre Code Monkey belongs in. I call it a “love story with occasional monsters” but that by no means implies that I’m writing a romance. I’ve asked around, and the people who’ve read early drafts seem to agree that it’s contemporary fantasy, but I’m not sure what defines that genre. So, I’m not sure how to answer this question, except to say that I hope I’m doing enough differently to make it entertaining and to avoid the tropes and cliches common to the genre it belongs in.

The same is true of the short stories I’m working on.

3. Why do you do what you do?

I’m not 100% sure, but I think it has something to do with just enjoying the process. I’ve written stories ever since I was very young (my mom still has “Tornado in the Sky”, a book I wrote when I was, I believe, 6). Whenever anyone suggests a game of Dungeons and Dragons, I want to be the Dungeon Master. I’m not always satisfied being the audience. I just like to create the worlds and the characters and the stories that they’re involved in.

4. How does your writing process work?

Too often, it simply doesn’t. While I almost always have a document open in Scrivener or LibreOffice on my computer, I’m too frequently distracted by something else: a novel I’m reading in one browser tab, or Facebook or Twitter in another. I know the best thing for me to do would be to shut down my Internet connection when I write, or simply switch to a workstation that has no Internet connection at all, but I find it’s simply too easy to restore the connection and start browsing again.

But I’ve set myself some goals. Daily writing. A certain word count or time spent editing per day. And so on. I’m hoping you readers will help hold me accountable.


And here I go, tagging some people.

First, Dex Fernandez. Dex is a talented writer and a good friend. We go back several years.

Second, Jessica, whom I know through NaNoWriMo, and who’s pretty spiffy, in my opinion.

Third, Jamie Thornton, another member of my writers’ group. She is the author of Rhinoceros Summer, a fantastic coming-of-age novel that spans two continents.

And, finally, Leigh Dragoon, a great writer, member of my writers’ group, and a good friend.

Infested!

Remember this scene from our kitchen from last night?

A Dalek in the kitchen!
A Dalek in the kitchen!

Well, we thought that a single Dalek in the kitchen, easily dispatched by my sonic screwdriver, would be the end of it.

We were wrong.

When we woke up this morning, we heard a familiar sound from the kitchen: a soft, almost plaintive “Exterminate!” We came into the kitchen, bleary-eyed and barely awake, and saw this:

Dalek hanging from dishtowel
Dalek hanging from dishtowel

It was cute, in a sort of ready-to-destroy-the-universe way, and it was easy to take care of. We simply grabbed it, and smashed it to smithereens on the floor and gave the pieces to Sherman to play with.

But then we went to make coffee:

CAFFEINATE! CAFFEINATE!
CAFFEINATE! CAFFEINATE!

And then we realized the entire kitchen had been taken over! The Dalek from the night before had merely been a scout or it had left spores or something behind! The Daleks were everywhere! Daleks in the silverware drawer:

Silverware
Silverware

Daleks in the microwave oven!

Microwave!
Microwave!

Daleks among the potatoes! (Warning: DO NOT LET YOUR POTATOES GROW EYESTALKS!)

Spuds!
Spuds!

Daleks in the Kitchen-Aid!

Eggs-stir-mix-bake!
Eggs-stir-mix-bake!

Daleks in the refrigerator!

Refrigerator!
Refrigerator!

Even Daleks in the dishwasher!

Dishwasher!
Dishwasher!

It’s an invasion! Help! Someone call the Doctor!

Birthday Thoughts ‘n’ Things on the Seventh Day of Christmas

A Dalek in the kitchen!
A Dalek in the kitchen!

First things first: There’s a First Friday write-in at my house this Friday at 7:00 pm this Friday, January 3, 2014. Hope to see you there! If you want to come, send me an email or something and I’ll tell you how to get here.

Anyway, today’s my birthday, and I turn 46 years old. I’m quite all right with that. I freaked out a little bit about turning 40, as is traditional, and I suspect I will do so a bit when I turn 50, because I think you’re supposed to. But 46? Meh.

It’s also New Year’s Eve. The picture above shows what Jennifer and I have done so far. We inflated the Dalek that my parents had given me for Christmas, and then it invaded the kitchen. Fortunately I had my sonic screwdriver ready, and successfully fought it off. Go us! Now it’s up to the cats to deflate it with their claws. I’m sure that won’t be difficult for them.

Typically, I don’t really make New Year’s resolutions. I used to make them when I was younger but I usually didn’t keep them for very long. Then, in a bout of rebelliousness, I decided that instead of New Year’s resolutions, I would make March 25 resolutions — the thought being that March 25 was just as arbitrary as January 1 for that sort of thing.

Nowadays I use my birthday and the end of the year to consider the areas of my life that I like to focus on, and consider where I’m at in those areas of focus. Those areas of focus are, summarized:

Health. Physically, I’m not very good at this, but with the mindful eating I’ve been practicing I’ve been getting better. Emotionally and mentally, though, I’m pretty happy with where I am, though there’s definitely room for improvement.

Relationships. I’m still working on some basics, like returning phone calls in a timely manner. For some reason, I suck at that. But I have good relationships with my wife, my family and with my friends, both online and off-, and I’m looking for ways to make those relationships better and stronger.

Geekery. By which I basically mean learning and fun. Learning IS fun, of course, but in the “fun” column I also put gaming, reading, entertainment, and so on. It’s all geekery because I’m a geek. This coming year, I do intend to do some more learning. A lot more.

Writing. Always. This year I plan to focus on it a bit more. Maybe start submitting short stories again.

And that’s all. As I said, I don’t really make resolutions. Instead, I just like to refocus on what’s important to me.

‘Tis nearly the end of Holidailies

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