Category Archives: science fantasy

Review: Blink

Blink is a dimension-hopping secret agent story. Agent Smith works for the Utility Company, a top-secret US agency that deals with the sort of issues that can’t get reported in more pedestrian secret agencies…you the know the drill. His latest case is the result of one scientist’s successful effort to breach the barriers within the multiverse and allow travel between two parallel realities. One of them starts messing with the other, and the inevitable complicated conflict arises.

This is a fun read. There’s plenty of action and twists and turns to the plot to keep it fresh. It clocks in at 107,000 words so the length is good value – there’s even two interludes, allowing you to relieve yourself the restroom or buy more popcorn if you wish. The main difference between the realities is reasonably well thought out and surprisingly realistic, although the tone may cause non-Americans to roll their eyes.

On the downside, the novel could have done with a good line editor. Also, while complicated plot twists are an inherent part of this genre, some of the twists in this book – especially towards the end – don’t bear scrutiny, to the point where it can break the suspension of disbelief. If you’re willing to dive back into a fun story after a WTF moment – for example, if you like James Bond movies – you should give this book a try.

The Intellectual Property of Language

There is action in the copyright field with Paramount suing a crowdfunded Star Trek fan film for copyright infringement.

That’s old news, but the people being sued asked for specific instances of copyright violation, and Paramount provided them. They include:

–The uniforms – which is valid, since clothing design can be copyrighted
–The appearance of Vulcans – probably valid. Calling a race Vulcans isn’t infringing, and having a race with pointy ears isn’t infringing, but having a star-faring race with pointy ears called Vulcans is infringing.
–Specific characters – probably valid.
–Using Stardate for a calendar – this is getting into dodgy territory. If it was a completely different universe you’d be hard-pressed to call this infringing.
–Phasers, beaming up via transporters, warp drive – absolutely not. These concepts have been around for a lot longer than Star Trek, are incredibly generic in the sci-fi genre, and are fair game.
–The Klingon Language – Now, this one is interesting.

The Klingon language is clearly a Star Trek thing – created originally by Star Trek writers and used exclusively by Star Trek media, or by people specifically referencing Star Trek. This would seem to make it clearly their content, yet it is a complete language with a large number of people around the world who speak it – or claim to speak it.

Can you copyright a language, even one for a fictional race? What would be the difference between Paramount claiming copyright on Klingon and an indigenous group claiming copyright on its own language? What if someone invented a word that then became popular…could they sue for copyright infringement for every use of that word?

So I think languages and words shouldn’t be subject to copyright, even if they are completely made up by someone for a fictional group or situation.

Buying a License to Print Money

You can buy a share of a license to print money! (conditions apply)

Australian company Bitcoin Group is having an initial public offering, planning to sell 60.7 percent of their company for A$20 million, as outlined in this press release. Bitcoin Group is a bitcoin mining operation, which means it runs the calculations that produce new bitcoins, thereby printing new money – albeit virtually. It’s a fairly risky investment, though, since the equations that create bitcoins are specifically designed to make it harder and harder to get new ones; so the company’s profit will fall unless the value of bitcoins keeps rising or they find ways to mine them more cheaply.

But there’s more! Some interesting stats in the releases, such as that around the world there is the equivalent of 400,000 specialised mining machines performing 400 petahashes of calculations and using A$1 million worth of electricity per day supporting bitcoins. So Bitcoin Group, which claims 6.1 to 6.3 petahashes of mining equipment, spends roughly A$15,250 on electricity per day – although obviously there’re ways to reduce this. At least, you’d hope so, because the company earned A$431,000 in the first six months of 2015, which by the numbers they’ve given would have used $2,745,000 of electricity. Let’s hope they’ve been ramping up production exponentially, and haven’t been using that amount of electricity for the whole six months. My point is that there are costs to printing money, even virtual money. At some point it’s quite possible that it will cost more to produce bitcoins than they’re worth.

It’s something that’s worth thinking about when writing science fiction stories – currencies won’t be the sole domain of the government, but any currency that is set up with require an infrastructure to support it, and the expense that comes with that.

And Now I’m Back

Thanks to my ISP I haven’t really had for an extended period of time (Telmex, never use this company if you move to Mexico). Apparently they haven’t built their network to withstand a light drizzle, or a slight breeze. The good news is that today there was no extreme climatic conditions, such as clouds, and I have internet, and I’ll post something quick.

10 Writing “Rules” We Wish More Science Fiction and Fantasy Authors Would Break

This is a wish list by Charlie Jane Anders based on the idea that you have to know the rules of whatever you’re doing, but you don’t have to follow them. If you are going to break them, break them effectively. So let’s have a look at them, and consider them in the light of my novel Faer Play which I’m unexpectedly doing rewrites on.

1) No third-person omniscient
None of that here, the novel is “limited third” – although in my first draft I apparently jumped around a lot between this and omniscient and “ironic narrator”. That’s all be edited for consistency. Yay editing.

2) No prologues
It was actually suggested that I put in a prologue, specifically making my dream sequence a prologue because it is full of action. The dream sequence was originally a flashback sequence, which an agent at a conference told me was a no-no because it was “backstory”.

3) Avoid infodumps
This is something else I removed from the first draft based on the advice of this agent at a conference, with the result that all my beta-readers commented they had no idea what was going on nor how the world worked. Getting that page-and-a-half of information back into the story has been rather more difficult than I imagined, but I think I’ve succeeded with the idea of performance art.

4) Fantasy novels have to be series instead of standalones
I agree with this, a thousand times yes. If I see “Book One of…” on the cover my first thought is “if the rest of the series isn’t out yet, it would be better to wait until it is so I can read all the books at once”. This rule was instituted after I tried to read From Hell, an excellent comic series that I had to start reading from scratch every time an issue came out because of the time between them. Twelve issues over seven years…yeah, I’ll just get the phone-book version, thanks. My book is a standalone, although there are sequels. Sequels or other novels set in the world of the first are great, I love them, but writing a series just because that’s what is done often goes wrong. Take Robert Asprin and his MythAdventure series. I love this series, the first six books are amongst my favourite books of all time. Funny stories with great plots and interesting characters, not to mention funny… I don’t think I’ve laughed harder at any other books, including Discworld and Hitchhiker’s Guide. Up there with the best. Books 7-12, in my opinion, left a lot to be desired. They didn’t seem as funny, the plots weren’t as tight…I’m not going to complain here. My point is that after I finished reading them I found out that Asprin published the first six books independently, but got a publishing contract for the second set of six books, which allowed him to “plan more”. I think he worked a lot better as a pantser.

5) No portal fantasy
I understand that this trope is overused, but it’s the only way to tell a certain type of story. My novel is reverse portal fantasy, if such a thing exists.

6) No FTL
Not really relevant to my novel, but definitely a rule that can be broken because it is so restrictive. If you think science fiction can’t have FTL travel, just call it science fantasy. Everyone happy?

7) Women can’t write “hard” science fiction.
I had no idea this was a rule. It seems, on the surface, stupid, and digging a little deeper doesn’t reveal anything intelligent to comment on.

8) Magic has to be just a minor part of a fantasy world
Let me guess…this is the result of an influx of the literary crowd who insist they would never read genre? They can all piss off. If you’re going to write a story where everything is exactly the same as Earth, you may as well just set the story on Earth. Or would that require too much research and knowledge so that readers don’t get thrown out of the pretty prose by proclaiming “well, that’s ridiculous, that’s not how tigers behave”?
My novel has magical beings, and them being magical is kind of their distinguishing feature, but I don’t know if that counts as being a “minor part”… I’m going to say it breaks this rule because I think it’s a stupid rule.

9) No present tense
I think this is often considered a problem in any type of writing, along with second person. I actually agree with this one – if it’s done well, present tense and second person can be awesome, but it’s really hard to do well.

10) No “unsympathetic” characters
Well, I understand that it’s difficult to write a story where the protagonist is unsympathetic, but no character? This is a pointless rule, because what is unsympathetic to one person can be entirely sympathetic and relatable to another person. My novel certainly has bit characters who are treated with nothing but contempt (this is to add realism), but the main characters are flawed, but hopefully personable. I’m going to say that I half-broke this rule. I fractured the rule.

So, I only broke two-and-a-half “rules”. That’s good, I guess?

Review: Homeworld Blues

This debut novel by A.J. McMillan is a cracking good read. The writing style is fast and fresh, the characters mostly well-written and the world-building brilliant. It’s a good length, too.

Homeworld Blues is in the science fantasy genre, which combines technology and magic-as-science-we-don’t-understand…like the Force in Star Wars. In this universe, Earth as we know it shares an interdimensional axis with two other planets in two other worlds (or dimensions, or branes, or planes, or however you want to think of them) and certain people know how to leap between the worlds, which ability they use to transport refugees from Earth to the paradisiacal Breorl, via the hellscape of Darsa. All the locations are richly detailed and realistic, and I often paused my reading and spent a while imagining what I would do in each place. The books starts off in a claustrophobic colony ship, jumps quickly to a desert world, then to a magic jungle tree with dizzying rapidity that often made me wish McMillan had spent longer in each setting.

Still, this is the first book in a trilogy (the second one is planned for 2015 some time) so I’m sure the plot will return to each place over the course of the series. The characters are fleshed out and likeable – and you’ll find some annoying and some pretentious and so on based on your personal preferences, which is a sign of diverse characters. McMillan follows the lead of George R.R. Martin in being perfectly willing to kill off characters that the reader has become attached to and which appeared as if they would have a major role to play throughout the series.

Apart from a few minor scientific errors, the few things which jolted me while reading concerned a couple of characters. Zepp is a great character, but a touch inconsistent. At one point he looks at a woman “in a whole new light” because she was wearing a sexy and revealing dress; but he had the hots for her the moment he met her and his increase only increased throughout the novel, so I’m not sure what the “whole new light” would have been. At another point he admitted to himself that he deserved to be distrusted because of his actions, but he’d never been anything except completely open and honest throughout the novel – to the point where some other characters chastised him on his openness. At one point I got the impression that Zepp had originally been two characters that had been merged in editing.

Trayia, the protagonist, is awesome. She’s a strong character – not just a strong personality, but a character with good depth and believable motives and beliefs. Still, she gets accepted as the leader/saviour pretty easily by everyone else despite her extreme inexperience and lack of broader knowledge. One guy got told by the Goddess that she’s “the one”, so that’s fair enough, but a lot of other experienced and highly capable people give her undying loyalty based on not very much. I’m not saying she doesn’t deserve it, just that her actions in this book didn’t really warrant it.

All in all, they’re minor issues in a well-written book, and I think we can expect McMillan to get better as the series progresses. So if this is a genre you like, buy the book.

A.J. McMillan’s blog is here.