I was wondering about how to write characters whose ethnicity I don’t share. I have a character in my WiP novel The Asteroid Gambit who is descended from African American forebears. On Mars a lot is different but that’s his history. He’s also a United Nations of Sol Marine. That gives him two sets of allegiances, sometimes conflicting. I was thinking about his Marine allegiance and it occurred to me that I see a lot of things written about military characters by people who’ve clearly never been there. I spent a career in the military but never saw combat so my own perspective is different from combat vets. Even so, I spent many years at the tip of the spear in a combat aircrew billet, a spear that in my case was fortunately never used. Thinking about this made me remember a situation where I came close.
Classification is hard. When we encounter the unfamiliar, we try to classify it according to a scheme we are familiar with. We do this on the basis of features, aspects of the object that somehow match the features of something familiar, to a greater or lesser degree. But which features do we focus on?
When we select features to use in classification, we introduce bias. Satosi Watanabe proposed his Ugly Duckling Theorem to show that our choice of features determines how we classify things. For something totally unfamiliar, like the asteroid Oumuamua, we choose features and, based on those features, assign it to a classification. Oumuamua has two unusual features: it’s shaped like a cigar rather than a sphere and its trajectory isn’t closed. It came from outside the solar system. There was some speculation that Oumuamua was an alien spaceship due to its shape and origin, but there was no evidence of any life aboard the object, everything else fit the classification asteroid, so that’s how it continues to be classified.
Suppose new information became available. Suppose a twin of Oumuamua, christened Agni, enters the Solar System a year later. Are Agni and Oumuamua both relics of the same unguessable extrasolar catastrophe? Or something else?
Occam’s Razor suggests that we choose the simplest hypothesis that fits the facts. But the choice of features to classify an object determines its category. Asteroid or spaceship? My story Watanabe’s Hammer shows how the Ugly Duckling theorem might upend our current understanding of our extrasolar visitor based on disturbing new information.
October is coming to an end and still no takers. I’ve signed up with Literarium, which regularly posts calls for submissions. I’m wrapping up the tweaks of my novel IX – New Millennium and hope to send it out this week. The Revolt on Mars, my second essentially complete WiP, is only 70.000 words but I plan to submit it to a couple of places that publish novellas. Then it’s back to flogging my short fiction while I work on either a sequel to IX or a prequel to Revolt. I’ve made a solid start on both of them.
I also have a WiP near-term military thriller about a war between North Korea and the USA. This one is based on a personal experience I had in the Navy. I was on a carrier sleeping at 2 AM when the General Quarters alarm went off.
BONG – BONG – BONG “General Quarters, General Quarters! All hands man your battle stations. Condition ZULU will be set throughout the ship in ten minutes.”
Usually if it was a drill they would precede the above with “This is a drill, This is a drill, …” Nope, just general quarters. As I grabbed my flight gear and headed for the ready room I wondered if WW3 was about to start. Fortunately it was a mistake. A watchstander on the bridge saw a lighted life vest go over the side into the ocean and tried to hit the Man Overboard alarm. Ooops.
It took about six hours to account for every sailor aboard. The last two hours were spent searching for a young sailor who had a mental health crisis and was in sick bay, lying on the floor under a bunk. The docs, never very military to begin with, didn’t realize it was their responsibility to make sure the ship knew he was there while we were doing a head count. Thank God it wasn’t WW3. But even then I thought it had the makings of a hook for a story. Time will tell whether I ever get it finished.
It’s October, I can hardly believe it. I’m querying for two novels. One is The Revolt on Mars, a 70,000 word novella/novel about a rebellion by terraformers against the United Nations of Sol. The other is IX-New Millennium, a novel about the world a millennium after humanity is virtually wiped out by bioweapons. I didn’t make the cut for #pitchwars so I’m reaching out further. If I don’t have success by 2019 I may try self-Publishing. I need to publish while I’m still alive.
It’s been busy the last month. I participated in #PitchWars 2018 for my newly polished manuscript of The Revolt on Mars. I’m still waiting to see if I get a request for the full manuscript, but I need to stay busy until mentors are announced in October.
On Sept 7 I submitted IX – The Messenger to #PitMad and got one like. After that an agent tweeted she was accepting queries and IX – The Messenger fit her wishlist, so I submitted a query there as well.
Now I’m working on editing some of my short fiction after some rejections and additional critiques. I’m not sure my perspective fits very well with recent SF but I’m writing what comes out of my own experience.
So I did it. I submitted The Revolt on Mars to PitchWars. It’ll be a month before I know for sure whether a me mentor chooses me. Until then I languish here in limbo. Please read and comment on my short fiction. It’ll give me something else to think about.
This week I am obsessed with #PitchWars. My first completed novel, IX: Awakening, has languished in Rejectistan for over a year. I took some writing courses to help polish my writing and mashed up two short pieces into The Revolt on Mars, which ended up being 71,000 words. Revolt is the piece I am readying to submit to #PitchWars in the search for a mentor who can help me make my writing more likely to be published. Everything is pretty much ready to submit next week, after which I will have a month to wait before I find out if I have attracted a mentor. This process is higher probability than querying an agent, but it’s still very low probability of success. When I was a Navy helicopter pilot a lot of my fellow Naval Aviators wanted to fly for the airlines. When I left active duty, one airline advertised for six pilots and got over 8,000 applications. There is no way this can be weeded down to 6 without a huge helping of arbitrariness and personal connection. Same with writing. So the probable #PitchWars odds of about 100:1 against isn’t as bad as it might be.
While I wait I am working on a third novel and trying to get several finished short stories published. I just joined critters.org as a way of getting more feedback on my writing. I plan to critique some short stories and submit a few of my own for critique. It will keep me focused on writing and make the time go faster.
Names are more than a convenient reference to a person. Names have content, meaning. I just read a Facebook thread about a made-up character name that evoked an unbelievable potpourri of reactions and wondered what the name of an alien who came to Earth would do when it resonated with some cultural reference to (some of) us. Think L U Cipher.
I’ve had fun with character names. Ignatius Xavier Ryan was based on the names of Jesuits I knew and their family members. It turns out IX, his first initials, are the the Greek initials of Iesus Xristos, an entirely unintended consequence.
I have detectives in my one sci fi detective short whose names were fun to create. Ken Bell and Jacqueline Russell were partners. Ken has encyclopedic knowledge (ken = know) and has good ideas (the bell representing the sound of a good idea arriving). Jackie Russell is hyperactive to the extreme, full of energy and ready to react to almost anything. Sophia Weiss (wisdom knowledge) is a truly wise detective partnered with Virgil Goodenough.
In a haunted house story, Amanda Hughes (lovable spirit) is a smart real estate agent pining for her true love Ezekiel Robbins (god strengthens / fame bright). I wanted his name for the positive and negative implications, not its meaning, but he turned out to be unexpectedly strong for a geek and very bright.
An android named Jay Myriad in my story about an android with memory loss was a tribute to Eric Frank Russell, one of my favorite authors in my early days. He had a character named Jay Score, who turned out to be a robot with the designator J.20. Jay Myriad, in addition to being a member of a large class of androids, was actually J1000.
In a story about the outcome of climate change, my main character was named Brunna, from Brunhilde, the name of a Valkyrie. Brunna was the one who chose who survived from an apocalyptic battle.
Sometimes it’s hard to come up with a name that sounds right and also has the right meaning. A character name I find myself going back to is Jack. It’s popular, strong, terse and a slang word for man in the middle ages. Also the names of my father and my youngest grandson, both of whom are “as independent as a hog on ice.” I never knew exactly what that phrase of my father’s meant, but it surely conjures up an image of a new but determined ice skater.
I’ve been spending a lot of time with my 8-year old grandson. He wanted to write a story and asked for help. We’ve written four short chapters of Hunting in the Woods involving him and his three young cousins. I read it to all the cousins at a recent family dinner. Beatrix, who’s 10, listened and then patiently told me that while she likes it, it’s mostly ‘he said, she said”. She suggested with infinite tact that it might improve if I wrote how the characters were feeling too. She reads and writes a lot. I think she’s going to be published before I will.
This month (July 2018) I’m participating in Csmp NaNaWriMo for the first time. I’m interested in finishing off my novel WiP The Revolt on Mars. It should be an interesting experience.