Sunday, January 31, 2010

Spinward Fringe Technology: Propulsion

Pictured left is an artist's rendering of Deep Space 1, a space probe launched by NASA in 1998. Its purpose was to test a number of high risk technologies in order to prove more than one new space faring technology, including navigational and propulsion equipment.

When I was setting out to write science fiction for the first time I did a lot of research on propulsion. As I waded deeper and deeper into the history of rocketry, space travel and theoretical deep space travel I kept coming back to the ion engine.

Why? Well, it's not a glamorous type of propulsion, so that wasn't the reason. In fact, Deep Space 1's engine can hold roughly one piece of paper aloft in our gravity, and to get into space it had to be loaded onto a conventional rocket. On the plus side it's incredibly efficient, able to run for years without stopping. The major difference (aside from raw power), between a chemical rocket and an Ion Engine is simple. The Ion Engine is electrical type propulsion. I won't go too deeply into the science of it since the JPL (Jet Propulsion Laboratory), and NASA explain things much better here.

Pushing the Ion Engine into the future:
It's been done before, but I wanted to make sure that it could be done feasibly. Star Wars, Silent Running and many other films refer to Ion Engines as common forms of propulsion in their universes, but that didn't mean I thought I was off the hook for proving that the technology would evolve into a powerhouse of an engine in the distant future. If I were writing a film script, I could get away with it, but not in a book, even one as small as The First Light Chronicles: Freeground.

I decided to look at some of the existing theories that real rocket scientists, electrical engineers and other researchers had as to where they might be able to take the technology. That led me to some interesting notions and futuristic materials that are in play today, on smaller and larger scales. Some of those materials and miniature super-forces included antimatter, new synthetic compounds, and even the creation of short lived miniature black holes.

Astrophysicists can be a fantastic source of information when you ask them a question like; "do you think you could create an engine that uses the force of artificially created miniature black holes to drive a ship across the galaxy?" Surprisingly, the answer was; "yes, possibly, but the energy required to create and contain a black hole would negate the benefits of using it as a means of propulsion. Not to mention you'd be trying to ride something that could have a massive gravitational effect that could bend time, and endanger the ship." Some of the questions I asked sound crazy now, but I was looking to either prove the usefulness of technology derived from what we have today or invent some new kind of super-amazing-futuristic propulsion that would make people stop and think, well, that's super-amazing-and-futuristic! (The black hole drive is not off the table, by the way).

In the end, after doing an obscene amount of reading on super colliders, research into deep space travel, and even more on the proposed future of the ion engine, I made my decision. It was just in time too, considering it was nearly Christmas 2007 and I was going to make the resolution to write every day starting on January 1, 2008.

So, what kind of engines do they have in the Spinward Fringe Universe?
There are a few different kinds, actually, but the most notable ones in the first books are futuristic Ion Engines that are enhanced by highly efficient field technology. They're also assisted by thrusters using High Energy Composites (HEC). The Triton's Ion Engines are assisted by an antimatter injector that provides annihilation type thrust right along side the main thrusters. This costs a great deal of energy and was offline for most of her service with Captain Wheeler.

Smaller ships most often use different explosive propellants to suppliment their thrust, but it becomes expensive for any ship without materialization technology aboard. Xetima, a patented, unduplicatable fuel used on the Clever Dream is a high quality synthetic form of combustible fuel that is used in the ship's high efficiency power plant and propulsion system. The reason why an advanced ship like the Clever Dream would use this kind of fuel is because it allows the vessel to generate more power while using much less space. A rule that has quietly been placed in the Spinward Fringe universe dictates that the more efficient an energy or travel technology is, the more space it takes. On the flip side, technology like Ion Engines take much less wear and tear than the conventional thrusters that provide the extra acceleration for the Clever Dream.

Though Xetima is fictional, it's quite likely that it will exist in some form one day. As we drain the planet dry of petrol, more and more synthetic compounds are being developed. New, patented variations of different ethanol based fuels are created every year. I made the decision that there would be a number of fuels just like that in the universe since there would always be pilots looking for more acceleration.

At the core of the sub-light travel theories is the idea that all the means of transport would be probable, and even antimatter falls into the realm of probability in the far future. Though antimatter is far too expensive, volatile and difficult to contain to be practical now, there's every chance that it will become more practical in the distant future.

So, much like in our own world, the answer to what kind of propulsion is used in the Spinward Fringe universe isn't short or simple. There are a number of different kinds. I even included a couple solid rocket boosters so a certain pilot could get a rush on more than one occasion. An email from a couple readers from MIT patted me on the back for acknowledging that some technologies, though dangerous and out of date, are just too thrilling to leave behind.


I hope you enjoyed this little trip through my brain, leave a comment and tell me how I'm doing!

Friday, January 29, 2010

The Sons Of Brightwill: Why?

One of the most common statements when someone's talking to a writer about fantasy is; "it's been done." Meaning, we've had stories about dark elves, pale elves, well tanned elves, long yarns about McGuffins (think One Ring), about the birth of one hero after another and so on.

Well, after nearly burning out from Science Fiction, I needed another outlet for a while, so I wrote a really short piece called "Brightwill" where a pair of thieves risk life and limb to steal food. Low and behold, I felt better, I had new ideas for Fantasy and Science Fiction (Spinward Fringe specifically), and so I went back to SciFi for a while and made marvelous progress.

By Boxing Day the urge to go ahead and write a short, one shot Fantasy novel was nigh undeniable. So I started working on the Sons Of Brightwill on January 1st. It's become an adventure in "doing it differently" as I stay the hell away from having this book focus on the "rise of a hero" or the "quest for the dreadfully dangerous or holy [fill in the blank]" - it's been done, after all.

Instead, I decided I'd stretch my legs and write a book about two characters with few prospects trying to live in a world where anything is possible, but everything they want is just out of reach.

I'd be lying if I said I took a break from Science Fiction. I've actually written more for the Spinward Fringe series this month than I did in December, and refined a lot of important points in the last two books of the Rogue Element Trilogy. If it weren't for the break I've had with Sons of Brightwill, I believe the work I'm doing with Spinward Fringe wouldn't be nearly as good.

Back to the Sons of Brightwill for a minute. In this short novel I'm telling the story of two poor brothers who are alone in a world that is rife with magic, noble houses that control the masses and more religions than anyone would care to count. They're a resourceful pair, but have terribly mixed luck. We join them just as that luck is about to turn for the worst, as one of them, exasperated beyond reason, decides to show his displeasure at the treatment of poor folk by throwing a stone at a full fledged Knight Captain. The Sons Of Brightwill is a one shot novel.

The book is going out to beta readers and my editor on Monday, so the work on Brightwill isn't finished, but I'll be back to writing Spinward Fringe full time next week while I wait for results. I certainly hope they enjoy it as much as I've enjoyed writing it. I'll share some of the first impressions when they come in.


Saturday, January 23, 2010

Spinward Fringe Status Update: January 2010

It's difficult to talk about Book 2 and 3 in the Rogue Element trilogy because, quite frankly, they're full of spoilers. These books are tightly wound, revealing any part could actually ruin a number of surprises or the plot as a whole. Each major character goes on a significant journey and it should become evident before long that the end is nigh, so to speak.

I hear the buzz and it's telling me that a lot of people are eagerly awaiting the release of the next book. Thank you for staying interested! I'm doing my best to finish both these books on time, the first of which is due out on Feb 28, and it's looking like I'll hit that date or come very close.

There's an inherent difficulty in having a blog about writing, especially since the most current news reads as: Yup, I'm still writing!

Work continues on Spinward Fringe right along side the Sons of Brightwill, and with work on that book coming to an end shortly, things should pick up on Spinward Fringe, not that they have been moving slowly. Progress on both projects has been going well.

I've been enjoying my work on the Sons of Brightwill. Having a project in another genre has given me a clearer head where Spinward Fringe is concerned. It's like I've had a chance to stretch my legs. That brings me to my next point, what you'll be seeing on this website over the next couple of weeks.

For a while, the focus of this site will be on the Sons of Brightwill because it's finished and I'm going to have to promote that book. It's a stand alone fantasy novel. A rare thing these days as most fantasy authors like to pen trilogies or seemingly endless epics that occupy entire book shelves. For a while this site will look a bit light Brightwill central, and that's excellent news for Spinward Fringe readers. Why?

Well, if Sons of Brightwill is finished, that means I'll be working on Spinward Fringe full time again. I'm looking forward to it, and with Spinward Fringe: Fragments on its final draft, I'm excited to finish it and get it out on time. Promoting a book only takes a couple hours a day for me, the rest of the time will be spent on Spinward Fringe.

There is other work underway on getting the Spinward Fringe series in front of more readers as well, and soon, hopefully very soon, there will be some new eye candy online. Even while I've been working on the Sons of Brightwill things haven't come to a halt on Spinward Fringe, not at all.

Thank you for your support and for hanging in there while everything happens behind the scenes. This year is looking like an active one, with at least one fantasy novel and two Spinward Fringe books well on the way.


If you'd like a preview of the Sons of Brightwill soon, or to get your hands on other news before anyone else, drop me an EMail.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

The How's and Why's Of Books

At a reading in Toronto not so long ago, George R.R. Martin, celebrated author of fantasy, said something to the effect that readers didn't really care how or why a book was written, only that the next volume was on the way.

I personally love peeking behind the curtain as long as it doesn't give away an important part of the story or completely dispel the sense of fantasy or emotion behind the work. The only bad experience I've had in looking behind the curtain was with Peter Jackson's Fellowship of the Ring, when I saw the special feature about how he managed to convincingly film his actors as hobbits. Knowing how that was done somehow burst the bubble for me and I didn't watch the movies again for the better part of a year. I still suggest friends avoid watching that special feature on the DVD. Other than that experience, I've always loved special features and Making Of documentaries.

Martin has a point, however. It takes time and energy to blog, though us authors are expected to maintain one. Explaining a bit about the thought process and motivations behind what we're doing provides a fairly deep well to draw on for our posts. On the other hand, if people aren't terribly interested, there's little point in going into detail.

Novels take a while to write and edit, so reporting progress every week can start looking like us writers are dragging our feet when we're really putting a lot of time into story and wordcraft. It can't be helped. Some chapters take a day to write, others take a week while being the same length. Editing can take just as long as writing, especially since they sometimes involve re-writes, extending the whole process. It's difficult to post week after week when all you really have to say other than the how's and why's is that you've gotten a little closer to finishing, but there's a lot left.

Talking about where a story comes from and how parts of it were imagined (for us fiction writers), can populate a blog with tidbits and facts, help keep it alive and give us something to talk about. That's one of the challenges with a blog; having something interesting to say. There are so many with barely a wisp of substance that writers especially don't want to be compared to. We want our posts to have weight, tell the reader something about what's going on while entertaining them.

At the same time, a lot of people don't care how their meal is cooked, they just want to eat it. My flat mate is a great example. He doesn't enjoy Making Of' documentaries simply because he doesn't want any of the illusions dispelled and he wants the work to speak for itself. That holds true with many readers of fiction, perhaps more so than movie audiences.

What I'm concerned with here is what YOU want. Most of you visit because you've read some of my work and are looking forward to more. I'm grateful, so grateful it defies expression. The question I ask you is simple: Would you like to know more about the how's and why's of the projects I've completed and am working on, or would you rather the blog be as it is: more about where the books can be found, the status of upcoming works and occasional reviews.

It's a quiet blog as is because I spend most of my time writing, researching and editing, but if I were to speak a little about where the books come from and how they're done, the blog would be more active.

It's up to you! Do you want to know more? Vote on the poll to the right, please!


Monday, January 11, 2010

Spinward Fringe On Smashwords: January Coupons!

After dealing with many distributors, Smashwords has become my favorite. Mobipocket is still a great place to release a book, but thanks to the Digital Rights Management Copy Protection, glut of XXX covered erotica, periodical down time that denies readers access to their libraries, and growing negligence on the corporate side, it was in my best interest to look somewhere else.

Along came Smashwords, a place for Indie authors to release their work in many formats DRM free. It's a friendlier place to be with large book samples available for download or online viewing. I first discovered them when I was trying to find a way to release my work on the Stanza Reader, a popular iPhone eBook reader app.

How have things been going with Smashwords? They've been going well enough for me to offer The First Light Chronicles Omnibus there for free (over 6,700 downloads since August), and to list the entire Spinward Fringe series there as well. The only complaint I've had regarding Smashwords is that their system doesn't allow for navigation menus inside eBooks, and I'm told that the feature is coming. They'll roll it out when its ready and anyone who bought the books previously will be able to update to the indexed version. For now I use word search to return to "Chapter ?" (replacing the ? with a number), whenever I intend to continue reading from where I left off. Most quality eBook readers also have a book marking system so you can mark your last page or even create your own index. I'm too lazy when I'm reading on my iPhone, to be honest, so I word search for chapter numbers.

On the positive side, one doesn't have to worry about compatibility if they move to a new device or need one document on two platforms. With no DRM and multiple versions available when you buy a book you can use that piece of property wherever you like. You can also download each version and back them up so you never have to visit the book's site again, or add them to your online library. To me, that's actually a fair trade for limited formatting and no indexing. I strip formatting from most of the ebooks I read anyway. I like to read text my own way using features in Stanza so the book suits my device properly, not as determined by some over zealous designer. There are other reasons why I like Smashwords as a reader and as an Author, but I'll get into that in a future post.

Now, on to what many of you are here for; coupons for the Spinward Fringe series. This is an experiment, so I don't know if I'll be offering them in the future. These expire on Feb 2, 2010.

First Light Chronicles Omnibus: Free!
Spinward Fringe Resurrection: No coupon, the price was reduced to $1.99 instead.
Spinward Fringe Awakening: No coupon, the price was reduced to $1.99 instead.
Spinward Fringe Triton: [From $7.95 to $4.99] RE56H
Spinward Fringe Frontline: [From $7.95 to $4.99] BG73S
Spinward Fringe Fracture: [From $7.95 to $4.99] MH48Z

Click here to go to my bio and full book list at Smashwords.

A few of you may be asking where my fantasy novels are and why I haven't adapted them to Smashwords yet. Well, the Fate Cycle books; Dead of Winter and Sins of the Past (Click here for the Mobipocket Links), aren't going to be sent over to Smashwords until The Sons Of Brightwill is out, which will launch on Smashwords first.

The Sons of Brightwill is a stand alone fantasy novel that is unrelated to my previous works, and in an effort to keep them separate the Fate Cycle books will not be launched on Smashwords until later this year when Fate Cycle: Exodus, the last book in that set is ready.

I hope you enjoy reading my work, please feel free to leave a comment or rating whenever you like!


Now, back to work on Spinward Fringe: Fragments and the Sons of Brightwill.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

The First Light Chronicles Omnibus - Final Edition Available

*** UPDATE: I've been informed by several Kindle owners that Amazon hasn't been allowing their users to update to the latest version of the book. As an answer to that I'm offering the Kindle edition for the lowest price Amazon allows, $0.99 US, here. You can also download the free edition from Smashwords. ***

So begins the release of what I like to call Spinward Fringe 2.0.

The First Light Chronicles were the beginning of the journey for the main characters in the Spinward Fringe series, and over the last few months I've been working with an editor to improve the trilogy.

It was a labour of love, and the final edition has been cleaned up, touches of character development and a little back story has been added as well. Some redundancy has been removed during the process, which was important since the three books in this volume will always appear together.

The 2.0 version, or final edition of the First Light Chronicles is currently only available at Smashwords here for free.

As I work on the latest book in the Spinward Fringe series and the Sons of Brightwill, my editor and I are polishing Resurrection and Awakening. The Spinward Fringe 2.0 project will continue until even Spinward Fringe Fracture gets a polish. My goal is to improve quality but to keep the fundamental plot, characters and feel of the books intact.

I owe a special thanks to my editor, the readers who sent in comments, posted reviews, and have supported me through donations and ebook purchases. I love writing full time and am doing everything I can to continue entertaining you and to improve the quality of said entertainment.

Now, go update your copy of the First Light Chronicles Omnibus or grab it for the first time and start reading!


I aim to entertain...

Monday, January 4, 2010

Announcing Sons of Brightwill

While I've been working on the last two parts of the Spinward Fringe Rogue Element Trilogy, I have also quietly been writing a new fantasy novel. The big surprise here is that working on something completely different here and there has helped the Spinward Fringe series immensely. I feel like I've broken out of a box that's been slowing the series down and creatively limiting where I can take the story. The last two books in the Rogue Element Trilogy are looking a lot better because of my side project.

Now, back to that fantasy novel. It's time to make it official as a piece of work that will see daylight. It's called Sons Of Brightwill.

This book is about a pair of homeless brothers who live in a bustling city near the heart of Brightwill, a large, heavily populated continent. Magic is fairly common in lesser forms amongst the educated, and the various races well known to fantasy run rampant. Many of them have been cross breeding for centuries (elves, pygmy folk, humans, etc...), while the royal lines have tried to remain pure of blood. There are five Kings and two Queens ruling over the continent while numerous Great Houses play at politics beneath them. That sort of thing isn't much concern to the main characters however, as they simply try to survive in a city where they have few, if any advantages and even fewer friends. To be poor in Brightwill is to be alone.

One of the brothers is a natural student, learning his first written languages from the facade of the All Souls Temple, he does his best to improve his knowledge of the arcane and everything around him. Thanks to his reading skills, average height and nearly pure blood looks (luck of his mixed ancestry more than anything), he slaves away at a repository cataloging documents to earn an income that affords him food but no lodging.
His companion and brother is more the scrappy sort, willing to steal to survive and the victim of his cross bred heritage. With mismatched eyes, a thin, short frame and a tendency to get himself into trouble, he would live a life of crime if it weren't for his brother. Instead of picking pockets he does more menial work that Houses Great and Minor wouldn't even force their servants to do for a little coin.

All their trials and toiling has been piling up, and when a well known Knight trods on a crowd of starving peasants, one of the brothers stands up to him with crass disregard for his superior's station. That's when things get complicated.

Told with a strong narrative voice, the Sons of Brightwill has been a joy to write, and I'm taking a couple of weeks to finish a draft so I can get back to Spinward Fringe with a much needed fresh perspective. The first chapters are going out to beta readers and my editor this week. It's a one shot novel, meaning that the story begins and ends in this book. If there's call for another, I'll be happy to revisit Brightwill, but it'll be another one shot.

I'm looking to break the cliff hanger habit this year.

2010 is already looking insane on my end, with the release of two new Spinward Fringe books speeding my way and the impending arrival of The Sons Of Brightwill. It's starting to look like 2008 all over again, release-wise, which brings a great big smile to my face.


Friday, January 1, 2010

Welcome to 2010

I'm not going to talk much about 2009. For me it was a year of getting used to writing full time, to the pressures of marketing, a little creative experimentation (thank you Shawn, for Sudbury NaNoWriMo and to everyone from Underground Writers), and a year where I took a very serious look at what I'd done, started making it better, and decided what would be happening in 2010.

It was a busy year. At times I felt like an archivist, maintaining and improving the books already out there while working to create new content. I only released two books in 2009, but I'm proud of each of them for different reasons.

Now, on to 2010. The final versions of the First Light Chronicles will appear very early on since we're wrapping work up on that right now. Final revisions of Spinward Fringe Resurrection, Awakening, Triton, and Frontline will follow. Anyone who owns the books right now will be able to update their versions for free. That's what's happening in the distant background, it isn't taking up much of my time at all.

What will take up the bulk of my time is writing new material. The marketing is starting to take care of itself, with the good word spreading thanks to my excellent readers and communication growing between them and myself I can feel my work reaching people. New work is the focus this year, and I can't express my excitement.

In 2008 I pledged to write every day of the year and managed to only miss sixteen. I'm making the same pledge for 2010 and know exactly where my efforts will be focused. The books I will complete in 2010 include three more Spinward Fringe novels (one is almost finished), and two fantasy novels. 2010 is about building, it's about reaching out with good, refined work and letting the people who enjoy being part of the process help me to deliver works of enduring quality.

This is going to be a fantastic year, and I have my readers to thank for putting me in a position to have a great start.

I hope everyone had a good year in 2009, and I wish you all a fantastic time in 2010!

Here we go.