Putting the life back in science fiction

November 30, 2010, 9:11 pm
Filed under: fantasy, fiction, science fiction, Worldbuilding

Ah yes, the sound of silence on a blog. That was me finishing NANOWRIMO 2010. 50,000 words, finished with 12 hours to spare.

This is the third year I’ve attempted it and the second year I’ve completed it. Last year’s version is sitting in publisher’s slush piles, and I’m considering self-publishing it on Kindle for Christmas.

One thing I’m finding is that my addiction to world-building makes story telling…complicated. Much of what I wrote this year (as last year) isn’t so much story, it’s trying to figure out the world and how it works, so that I know what the characters are getting into.

Last year I had fun with the old idea of a low-tech culture on an alien planet (think Pern, Darkover, etc). But it had to make sense ecologically. When even the soil is alien, how do people grow enough food to survive? And how did they get there in the first place? And why are they low-tech? The last question was easy: the microbes on the planet think that industrial polymers and lubricants are yummy, because the local plants and fungi use analogous chemicals as structural compounds (yes, the plants are plastic. Be careful in what you burn for your fire!). The rest of it? That was complicated.

This year I decided to tackle time-travel. Learning about the past was the first challenge (I chose the Paleocene for reasons that are relevant to the story). The major NANOWRIMO challenge was figuring out a) who the time travelers are (more game wardens than secret agents, in my view), and b) the hard question: how do you go about designing a culture that is very good at erasing every trace of itself from the fossil record? That’s even less easy than it sounds, but ultimately it was fun to think out and write about. It takes leave no trace camping to a whole new level.

I still like NANOWRIMO, because having that contest helps everyone understand that they need to leave you alone and let you write. That’s not so easy, other times of the year. If you’ve ever wanted to try writing a novel, I’d recommend this as the way to do it.

What to do, what to do….
November 7, 2010, 4:30 pm
Filed under: livable future, Uncategorized

Wow, that took way too long, but I’m back.

I’ve got a simple problem, and I’m posting it here in the hopes of some new ideas.

Unfortunately, this isn’t science fiction. On the up side, it might have a tech solution.

While I was reading those environmental reports, another problem showed up. That problem came from a friend who is also an environmental consultant. He’d been called in to salvage a couple of rare plants (and I’ll get to the stupidity of that in a moment), because the environmental paperwork said that was all that was on the site of a small housing development. Actually, the site had about an acre of really rare stuff, including a couple of endangered species. However, the grading permit had already been issued, the paperwork had been signed, and he got to pick the two plants he was going to save (not including the endangered ones, as they officially didn’t exist). To top it off, the rare species he was salvaging doesn’t survive transplantation, so this was a pointless gesture, just killing them slowly instead of bulldozing them.

So here’s another way developers keep their costs down: hire someone to lie on the paperwork. These liars are called biostitutes or conslutants in the trade, incidentally.

My group is trying to figure out how to catch these creeps. To gather evidence, my thought was to post the environmental documents online, and to get volunteers to take pictures and GPS points to show where the pictures were taken. Then we can compare what they wrote with what is actually there.

It it turns out that a lot of developers are lying, I do know some people in the local bureaucracies who are going to get very, very angry. Whether they can do anything depends in part on who’s in power, but we’ll see.

But that’s the question: what can my (small, volunteer) group do using low cost technology? How do we gather and use information about this problem, without getting sued by a developer?

Matt and whoever else, spread the word: I’m trying to crowd-source solutions on this one, and I’m pretty sure we’re not alone with this issue.