Tuesday, June 27, 2017

NatGeo: "The Next Earth": what if mankind does have to find a new home?

National Geographic has a special coffee table issue “The Next Earth: What Our World Can Teach Us About Other Planets”, by Tom Jones and Ellen Stofan.   Somehow I'm reminded of the 1990s series "Earth II" with Anthony Saboto.

There is a spectacular photo of Chixulub, Yucatan, Mexico, where a 6-mile long comet crashed 65 million years ago and changed the history of Earth and made us possible.

There is a lot of comparable geology of Venus and Mars, both of which have volcanoes larger than any on Earth (even the Yellowstone Caldera).

There is a pretty thorough exploration of what we know about possible life on Mars and in the ocean of Europa, and some discussion of Titan (I have a review of a BBC film about Titan today on my movie’s page).

But the most interesting photo probably occurs on p. 106, an artist’s sketch of a desert landscape on an Earth-like planet in the Goldilocks zone around Proxima Centauri B, a red dwarf star, the closest to Earth.  The planet is probably tidally locked, which would make the habitable area of perpetual twilight and mild temperatures smaller. Tidally locked planets may have strong winds.

Stephen Hawking is reported to have said that mankind has about 100 years to escape Earth (by drawings straws?)

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Graduated publication of novels online, with user participation and even editing

Some authors have tried a new technique for staged publication of novels.

The idea is to post one chapter (or a few chapters) and invited comments and even editing help from readers, before moving on to future chapters or even deciding the ending.  The idea reminds me of a style of dinner theater where the audience decides who committed the murder (like "Clue").

The books of James Strauss seem to fit this model.  A recent project is “30 Days Has September”, based on his experiences as an Army officer during the Vietnam war.  (I, a draftee, was stateside at Fort Eustis and sheltered from combat at the time).

 The chapters seemed to be based on individual days in combat.  I do remember being told in Basic Combat Training that a typical infantry platoon went on patrol every third night.

The comments appear, under the name of Chuck Barton, on a blog posting by Ramsay Taplin on his “Blogtyrant” site, a post titled “What will you sell if you give away your best blog content for free?”, here.

The idea of gradual publication online to get an audience is interesting.  I think Stephen King has tried it.  But my own idea right now is to finish a complete draft, with all loose ends tied, of  "Angel’s Brother" myself (about 105,000 words) and put them through a copyeditor before it goes anywhere.  There is a draft now (all 27 chapters);  but I have a lot of polishing to do.  I guess I want to be the dictator of what happens to each character in this sci-fi, ongoing apocalypse setting.  I decide who is going to get it.

Tuesday, June 06, 2017

NatGeo magazine issue warns Trump on climate change, then describes artificial human evolution

The April 2017 issue of National Geographic has two very important items.

One if “7 Climate Facts You Need to Know Now”, especially in view of President Trump’s pulling out of the Paris accords.

NatGeo says that extreme weather events even now are related to climate change, and some animals are already going extinct.

But the feature article is “The Next Human” by D. T. Max, with illustrations by Owen Freeman. The article traces how life in the desert, high altitudes, and later colder climates all affected human evolution. Human behavior may have favored development of starch metabolism.  Environments seemed to encourage a “thrifty gene” which leads to obesity in some native populations when exposed to processed foods, but less so in European populations because of centuries of food preparation technology. Sometimes European men became taller and kept more body hair partly because women regarded them as more sexually attractive, but this did not happen in warmer climates.

There is a section called “Distant Future” regarding human manipulation of genetics, and particularly “Can Humans Adapt to the Red Planet?” On Mars, bodies would become tall and thin in lower gravity and hairless in an indoor controlled environment without dust.

Sunday, June 04, 2017

Dean Koontz's "Moonlight": how a commercially prolific suspense novelist remains relevant as technology and politics change

During my first year of employment at USLICO in Arlington in 1990 (what would become my last main job, for 12 years and four owners), I read the Dean Koontz 1989 novel “Midnight”, and shared it (paper, Putnam was original publisher) with a few people in production control in what would become a coffee break book club.

The novel is remarkable in its huge number of chapters, and organization into three parts each with its own chapter 1.

The novel starts with a jogger running in a California beach town (Moonlight Cove  -- “In the Moonlight, Do Me” indeed) being attacked by a mysterious alien-like creature, and soon the mystery, somewhat in a “Twin Peaks” -like fashion, is examined from the viewpoint of various characters, whose narratives gradually connect.  (Irving Wallace had used this technique for building plots for Cold War spy novels back in the 1960s).  It seems as though people are getting converted into hybrid creatures and that a sociopathic computer scientist Shaddock is involved.

I would have thought that this novel would make a good miniseries on a cable channel,, even today, as the premise has less dependence on political circumstances and even technology than most sci-fi suspense novels.  Koontz sometimes gets into Shaddack’s head, anticipating the psyche of a modern terrorist, deflecting the social issues (like gay rights in one passage) in surprising ways.
I mention the novel because Koontz is often heralded in some circles as the ideal author who writes strictly to sell, and he indeed has a huge career of a long list of novels, divided into various subcategories of suspense.   Literary agents love his approach, because it is so commercial.  So do trade publishers.

One problem with developing suspense novels is that sometimes they become very vulnerable to changes in world politics, which can come suddenly and be largely unexpected by suspense authors, like the fall of the Soviet Union at the end of 1991.  Today it’s not clear who is the biggest threat: North Korea, Iran, ISIS, Russia, China.

I’ve had that problem, and my own approach to fiction has to start with my own narrative first.  I make no apologies, despite the disruptive advice and sales calls from others.