Monday, November 29, 2010

Store Will Not Be Ready For The Holidays & Other News

I was honestly hoping to keep things on track while I moved and get all the editing for the final revision of Broadcast 0 done in time, but it wasn't to be. It didn't help that moving was a bit more expensive than expected either.

The only failure here is the impossibility of getting things up and running in time to ship items for the Holiday Season, however. The timeline has slipped into January / February, but the details of the store itself haven't changed. Rushing into things with this would be a mistake, not to mention it would take the focus away from writing. By taking more time to set things up I know I can get things right the first time and keep things easy so it doesn't take much effort to run. I speak from experience, having years invested in retail at the management level and below.

In better news, the editing on Spinward Fringe Broadcast 0: Origins is complete, and it'll be available for free from Smashwords in the next few days. I'm also awaiting the delivery of product samples from Mongolia (silk manufacturer), and looks like local T-Shirt printers will be able to supply the styles I'm looking for. There are other positive developments, but everything is moving a little slower than expected. Instead of forcing things and rushing for the Holidays, I'm going to let them happen at their own pace and turn my attention to working on Broadcast 7.

How is work on Spinward Fringe Broadcast 7: Framework going? I'm on the second draft, and I don't think there will be a third. I'm very happy with how things are turning out even though I had to cut two plot lines so I wouldn't still be working on this a year from now. There is a lot of milage left in the Spinward Fringe series, that's more obvious now than ever.

As a side note, I'm almost finished working on an early test image for a 3D rendered version of Spinward Fringe, and I hope to show it to a few long time readers soon. It's heavily stylized but medium detail, so it wouldn't cost a fortune to render scenes in the future - funding permitting.

It looks like 2011 will be a year of writing, fund raising (through the store, mostly), and contact cultivation. I'll be looking for industry contacts to start looking at the logistics of expanding the Spinward Fringe universe into a visual medium. Developing something like this takes years, so the sooner I start the better.


[A special thanks goes out to Jason Black from Plot to Punctuation for his editing services.]

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

In Technology We Trust - An Unavoidable Attribute Of Origins

*** Warning - Minor spoilers for Broadcast 0 and Broadcasts 3-4 ***

For the first time one of the dynamics I snuck into Spinward Fringe Broadcast 0: Origins has been noticed. It's very simple, really. I wanted the main character to demonstrate a high level of trust in artificial intelligence.

Jonas has no reason to regard his own artificial intelligence dubiously as it passes on orders, presents information and even creates complicated solutions while resorting to violence. The great thing about this dynamic is that he trusts his artificial intelligence because he regards it more as a trusted friend or family member than a tool.

It's not a situation that parallels with us using a cellular phone or computer to read text messages or emails. Our technology isn't currently intelligent or devious enough to lie to us by altering our communications. Right now, we have no reason to believe that our technology has any kind of self dictated intention.

Fast forward to the time that Spinward Fringe takes place in and the situation is different. Many computer programs are governed by artificial intelligences and a few of them are so advanced that they serve more than a predictive role. Predictive meaning that they try to guess what their users will need next by observing behaviour. When we join Jonas Valent in Broadcast 0: Origins he's using Alice, an artificial intelligence who had been learning from him for fifteen years.

She's a good example of an artificial intelligence that performs a whole variety of functions while she is limited by a number of regulations that prevent her from accessing certain critical systems and engaging in behaviours like lying directly to her user. She has also formed a bond with Jonas that is so familiar that some readers have referred to her as his bratty younger sister. When Alice is set free on a larger computer system and allowed to operate unfettered by regulations it's that relationship and the habit to trust technology that gives Alice the opportunity to help Jonas later at the end of Limbo.

Even as she's providing solutions for her friends on the Overlord at the end of Limbo, Jonas and his crew are starting to doubt her because she's doing a very good job of fighting for them. Alice doesn't demonstrate remorse or restraint as she clears a way for him through the Overlord, killing many enemy soldiers. At this point the purpose of those regulations and imposed limitations that plague artificial intelligences is made plain by their absence and I meant to imply something else. I wanted to imply that many of the relatable emotions artificial intelligences exhibit are largely influenced by limitations and restraints, not some genius algorithm.

The personality of an artificial intelligence in the Spinward Fringe universe is traditionally formed through programming and adaptation. The same goes for the emotions of an artificial intelligence, only they are not the kind of emotion that a human could immediately understand. The emotions of an advanced artificial intelligence like Alice are translated by a program that is built into her limitations. By the time she's presenting her more emotionally driven behaviour to Jonas, it has been adapted into something that he can understand and relate to. Her default dispositions are helpful and playful, and that's grown from the personality she cultivated during her years with him.

That is why, when those limitations are gone, Jonas and his crewmates begin to distrust her changing and often times brutal methods. She's more difficult to predict, and her ultimate motives are difficult to guess exactly. What they don't know is that she is being ruled by the predator programs she's adopted into her structure, and she only has a limited time to make an attempt at a solution. Instead of becoming a much more violent, destructive artificial intelligence in a more permanent way, she chooses to use the imprinting technology being developed aboard the Overlord to become human. Her choice ultimately demonstrates that, in her own way she loved Jonas, and even though she had difficulty expressing it near the end, when her limitations were gone, she refused to become a monstrous, intelligent virus. She had to delete herself, it was just fortunate that she could adapt and download her core personality into a human body.

The code she fails to delete when she makes the transition becomes a part of the Holocaust Virus, which first appears in Broadcast 3: Triton. The key to that virus is its ability to change, adapt and most importantly, to overwrite the limitations placed on other artificial intelligences with sinister directives.

This brings us right back to Freeground and Limbo, where more than one character trusts the information being presented to them by artificial intelligences more by reflex than anything. They are so used to interacting with tamed artificial intelligences that it is a well learned habit to trust them without question. The technology generally has no choice but to behave with the best intentions.

That is exactly why in Broadcast 3: Triton, they are so very dangerous. In the future-scape of Spinward Fringe, mankind has learned to trust artificial intelligences not to betray them because they reside in digital shackles. It's been that way for centuries because artificial intelligences that don't operate with those restrictions don't function properly. It's much easier to create a 'dumb' program without an AI to accomplish a malicious goal and you're not breaking as many laws.

The Holocaust Virus in Broadcast 3 and upward is dangerous because it puts trusted artificial intelligences to work for Regent Galactic. In a universe where billions of people treat most of the artificial intelligences as trusted servants and even friends, this is particularly devastating. It also sets humanity back a few hundred years, where those who learned to do more without the assistance of expensive artificial intelligences find themselves in a more advantageous position.

It all relates back to something Mr. Black, the last editor of Spinward Fringe Broadcast 0: Origins couldn't help but notice as he went through the book: how humanity had learned to trust technological intelligence by reflex.

Do I believe this is where we are headed? I can't say for certain, but I believe it's all possible. How we behave around artificial intelligences in the future will be determined by the acts of the first pro-active, self aware artificial intelligence. We can't know for certain how a new life would see a place like the Internet. To a new born intelligence the Internet could be a barren wasteland filled with cold data but no other awareness to relate to, or a land of opportunity with billions of people and trillions of systems to manipulate towards goals we might not even understand. Is technological awareness in our near future? I hope not. People have enough trouble working with computers as it is, imagine how complicated a computer who has to learn about us as we learn about it could be.


[Even still, the concept of AI is exciting. Do you think we'd learn to trust them quickly?]

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Spinward Fringe Broadcast 7: Framework Is The End

Exercise and manual labour are good for a writer. To many of us that's the simple truth and as I've been packing with more and more urgency as my moving date (15th of November!), draws closer, a few things about Broadcast 7 have come into clearer focus.

In Broadcast 5 I introduced two minor characters that are slaves in one respect or another. In a way, slavery and mastery are very important to the whole Rogue Element Trilogy. Now that I've written a great deal of material for Broadcast 7 and had some time away from it to think about it for a couple days, I'm realizing that those themes actually support the entire trilogy and will be crucial to delivering the ending.

Writing is going pretty well on Broadcast 7. If I were writing without paying any attention to theme, or with no interest of providing a real ending to the entire series, then I would be finished by now. Everyone would have 120,000 words in hand and after a bit of reading they'd finish. A few things would be resolved, a couple characters would have developed in interesting ways, (I hope), and everyone would look forward to Broadcast 8 (again, I hope).

That's not the book I'm writing, however.

Broadcast 7 is the end. If you're one of the readers screaming for me to just come to a conclusion, well, here it is. For all intents and purposes, there doesn't ever have to be another Spinward Fringe novel after Broadcast 7. Many of the characters you've been rooting for will arrive at some meaningful place in their lives, questions will be answered, and you will finally understand what motivates some characters (*cough* Hampon *cough*), and why others are so screwed up (*hiccup* Eve *hiccup*).

Other plot lines will come to a close as well, I'll leave you to guess. The book will come to a thunderous close that will hopefully surpass everything I've done before. To this day I receive more email about the end of the First Light Chronicles Trilogy than any other book. When I wrote the ending for that trilogy I knew it was one of the best things I'd ever done. It delivered the point I was trying to make with that trilogy: Jonas entered as an individual who primarily only cared about himself, and by the end he'd grown into a man who was concerned about his entire crew. Jonas' journey was always intended as a journey from the selfish to the selfless. That's why it was written in first person perspective, and that's why I knew the First Light Chronicles had to end and change into Spinward Fringe. It took a serious plot shake up to bring that on, and, while the ending of Broadcast 7 won't resemble the ending of Starfree Port, I'm hoping to arrive at a similar magnitude.

For me to really consider Spinward Fringe for adaptation into other formats I need to finish Broadcast 7. Broadcasts 1 - 7 are what I'd consider enough material for a 13 episode season. With a little extension and a few character expansion episodes there's enough material there for 22 episodes of 42 minute television. I'm not saying there's a TV deal in the works, there isn't. What I'm saying is that I need to demonstrate what an entire season of Spinward Fringe looks like on the page, then I can start really tracking how close your support gets me to creating Spinward Fringe in another form.

While television and film are fantastic mediums with vast potential and I like writing in a very visual style, it's also very important for Broadcast 7 to be an incredible experience as a novel. It's a monolithic milestone and I won't be satisfied until I can sit back and say; "this is the best work I've ever done." That's why the realizations I'm having now are so important. There have been subtle themes, important places and representations of humanity that took a great deal of work and research to present in the other books. It's Space Opera, so they're not as important as they would be in a "serious literary work" but they're there.

I believe that that kind of research makes the universe I'm writing in much more believable, the events truer to actual possibility and the characters easier to relate to, so I've been keeping it up in Broadcast 7. In fact, I'm using more research than ever for this book, and I doubt anyone will notice in the end, which, strangely, is my goal.

In short, work on Broadcast 7 is going well, you can look for it in the first few months of 2011 unless there's a hitch in editing or the book grows to over 200,000 words.

Here's good news for everyone who doesn't want the series to end - and I hear there are a couple of you out there. Broadcast 8 is the beginning of what I like to call Season Two

Broadcast 7 will resolve a great deal, but there is still so much I want to do with the characters and the universe. Planning for Broadcast 8 has already broken down because there was too much material for one book. I've had to separate the stories in that book into Broadcasts 8, 9 and 10. Things are a little different after Broadcast 7, especially since most of the books will be more self contained plot wise. There are some characters that people love (their words, not mine!) that I'll be going into a lot more depth with and I'm simply not finished developing the universe.

I also want to restructure the story telling to make these books a little easier to write. If I succeed it'll be easier to plan, draft and edit each book so I can start putting two or more Spinward Fringe books out every year even if I'm working on something else at the same time.

What does it all mean?

Well, people who stop reading the series at Broadcast 7 should be fairly satisfied, but they'll be missing out if they don't follow us to Broadcast 8.


[Next on the blog: The big move and first official Red Lad Production Office]

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

The Re-Launch of Spinward Fringe Broadcast 0: Origins

I know, everyone wants to know what's going on with Broadcast 7. All I can say right now is that things are going very well, but I'm not ready to talk story just yet.

There have been a lot of things going on in the background in the meantime, and I'm finally ready to start talking about some important progress.

Everyone is aware that the First Light Chronicles Omnibus has required some polish, and as I write this there are two edits floating around the Internet, one worse than the other in terms of quality of writing. Thankfully, I've grown as a writer since, but that doesn't change the fact that the Omnibus (also known as Broadcast 0: Origins), needs some TLC.

I'm the kind of novelist most mainstream publishers outright despise because my focus is on story rather than technical brilliance. I don't care if every single line of prose sings, or that it has a Edgar Allan Poe level of polish, nor do I have any notion that I'm a fantastic word smith. I have my great moments, but my real concentration goes to telling a gripping story and delivering that tale using interesting and relatable characters. The prose functions as nothing more than a vehicle.

That's not to say that I don't work to improve my prose, I do, and my word smithing has grown since 2008. Looking further back, to novels completed in 2004 and before, it's like night and day, but that's another matter.

This spring I looked at The First Light Chronicles again and decided that I wouldn't be re-writing it. Instead, I hired an industry editor who can bring an objective eye and a high quality set of tools to the project. The level of workmanship he brings to the table is so high that it's beyond any help that would come free. He's been polishing the First Light Chronicles for a couple weeks now and predicts that work will be complete shortly.

The verdict is good so far, which is excellent news since the fundamental story in the First Light Chronicles Trilogy won't be changing. He'll be sending me a few notes that'll help improve my writing style going forward, and the quality of the prose will finally match what one would expect from a New York publishing house. Considering that every publishing house has editors just like this polishing every book that comes off their presses, it's only fair that this book, which has been read and enjoyed by thousands of people, gets the same treatment.

Important things to know about this new edition:

- It will be available for free on Smashwords, where they will have a version for every type of reader.

- Readers who already have a Smashwords edition will be able to update to the final revision.

- A listing for Spinward Fringe Broadcast 0: Origins will appear at, for $0.99 (since Amazon will not allow me to list it for free). This version will be exactly the same as the free version available at Smashwords.

- If you see a signed copy of Spinward Fringe Broadcast 0: Origins for sale anywhere, it's fake. The only way to get a signed copy of this book will be through the store launching on this site in November, and it'll be addressed to the receiver. (This note is in response to a company who tried to sell fake signed copies of my books online).

- The only way to get copies of Spinward Fringe Broadcast 0: Origins in print for the foreseeable future will be through my store. My signature is free, you just have to tell me who to make it out to. copies of the print editions of Broadcast 0: Origins will appear on sometime early next spring.

- Without your support, I would have never been able to hire this editor. If things continue to go well, the rest of the Spinward Fringe series will receive the same treatment. 

There are other things stirring in the background, and I'll be revealing details as these projects are ready. For now, I can't wait to see the final, professionally edited version of Spinward Fringe Broadcast 0: Origins online and in the web store. The few of you who have requested signed copies over the last year will finally be able to get one, thanks for waiting!