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The Killer Yarn
davidwake
I’ve just passed the 100,000 words mark with the fantasy novel I’m currently working on. Strange how we note these round numbers, isn’t it? It doesn’t actually matter how big it is, after all, does it? I mean, for example, who cares about the word length of, say, this paragraph?

It’s the age of the ebook, when every individual book (and every book added together and everyone’s completely library) weighs between 170 to 290 grams, surely the terms ‘short story’, ‘novella’, ‘novelette’ and ‘novel’ aren’t as useful as they once were.

After all, ‘novel’, and all the lengths that have that as the root, means ‘new’ and they’ve been around for a while now.

The Hugos define them thus:

• Short story: Less than 7,500 words.
• Novelette: 7,500 to 17,500.
• Novella: 17,500 to 40,000.
• Novel: over 40,000 words.

We can go slightly further than this: Flash Fiction is between 300 to 1,000 words. A Drabble is a story of exactly 100 words, see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Drabble (the second paragraph of the History section is the important one). A ‘dribble’, therefore, has been defined as 50 words.

It’s all nicely quaint, although shouldn’t a Novella be a female novel? (By the same token, a more female ‘Barbara’ would be ‘Barbarella’, someone with another female chromosome making her XXX.)

No-one completely agrees, of course. Novel-in-90 goes for 67,500 words. NaNoWriMo, the National Novel Writing Month, defines a novel as anything above 50,000 words. (So a careful crafted Hugo winner could be disallowed by those knock out first drafts in 30 days.)

It all has the same feel as the yards and furlongs of old imperial measurements. If you pour a US gallon into a good old British and Commonwealth English Imperial gallon, how many pints have you been short changed by?
Isn’t it about time for a metric system of writing?

Might I suggest the ‘yarn’ as the steel ruler in the French National Archives along with the second and the Kelvin.

A yarn thus is – by definition - 50 words. This is a dribble, the length of an anecdote, enough to tell a story, just about. For example, my opening paragraph is exactly a yarn or 1 y. This blog, 12.9 y.

If we subdivide this, then a centiyarn is 5 words or the length of a sentence clause. This could be a useful subdivision for discussing prose as I can say that the previous, rather awkward sentence, is 3.4 cy. Readability indexes would be well to use the centiyarn. A milliyarn is half a word or about syllable. (On average there are 0.6 syllables per word, which is an allowable smidge over the milliyarn, I’m sure you’ll agree.) So the measurement system is convenient for words.

Going the other way, the 100 yarn dash is 5,000 words, which is the length of an average (using the word rather sloppily) short story or the chapter of a novel. The novel becomes anything that’s a 1,000 yarns or 1 kiloyarn or above. (NaNoWriMo becomes Inkywrimo, the International Kiloyarn Writing Month.)

Thus:-

• Flash fiction: up to 10 y. (1-500 words.)
• Short fiction: 10 – 100 y. (500-5,000 words.)
• Medium fiction: 100 – 1,000 y. (5,000-50,000 words.)
• Long form: 1 ky and above. (More than 50,000 words.)

Novels do become really easy to talk about. You can instantly compare the sizes of say, War and Peace (1.2 ky), Fahrenheit 451 (0.9 ky) and Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire (3.8 ky). My last book, The Derring-Do and the Year of the Chrononauts is finally comparable to Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings (that’s 2.0 ky as opposed to 9.2 ky). The Guinness World Record Holder for the Longest Novel is À la recherche du temps perdu coming in at a whopping 25 ky.

So, my fantasy work in progress just passed the 2 ky threshold – woo hoo!

The Moon Is Made Of Green Cheese
davidwake
I was asked blog about the recent Doctor Who episode and so I've put down a few thoughts on scientific accuracy in SF.

http://davidwake.wordpress.com/




Software Summit
davidwake
Have we reached a software summit?

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City States
davidwake
I was in Los Angeles, listening to the crickets in the Hollywood Bowl waiting for the show to start, when I realised I was a citizen of the world.  I liked that feeling.

Los Angeles has a problem.  Every time one of the suburbs gains enough clout, it leaves the city and sets up independently.  As a result the City of Los Angeles is little more than a collection of sink estates.  If one manages to clamber out of the pit, then it too wonders why it's taxes are going on all these losers and so it leaves too.  Beverly Hills taxes for Beverly Hills.  I've driven from Watts to Beverly Hills, there are a probably poorer places and richer places (can't think of one) on the planet, but nowhere is the gradient so pronounced.  There's an "I'm all right, Jack" attitude creating a series of independent city states.

If Scotland is better off independent, then leaving is selffish.  If not, stupid.

The Greek Civilisation flowered in the Medditterean based on trade agreements.  Once city states began to add import duties to improve their individual situations, the whole civilisation went under.

it should not be that we do the maths and declare that we are putting more into Europe than we are getting out (are we?).  The bottom line on the spreadsheet often lies, because the entries above are woefully incomplete and miss everything that cannot be easily be quantified.  Ask not what the world can do for you, but what you can do for the world.  We should help our neighbours.

I like being British, a member of a growing Federation, a citizen of the world, human.

Seeing It Yourself
davidwake
Well, the new washing machine is going through its clean cycle.  The instructions said 'select this and that' except it doesn't have this or even that.  The transit bolts took a &!**£% age to remove because it's not just bolts, but also the plastic bit.  I'm a writer, words are important: bolts are metal, plastic bits are plastic bits.

The other issue with crawling around in confined spaces to screw things in, adjust the other and general get dirty is my reading glasses.  I've had to have reading glasses for a while and they are great for reading and wonderful for computer work.  (I exaggerate, they're OK.)  However, for DIY they are a pain.  There I am, under the worksurface, trying to see the stupid screw hole and I need my glasses, but I'm looking at an odd, so they fall away from my nose and I can't see.  I get up, carrying this whatever with my hands full, and my glasses are still on, so the whole kitchen is out of focus.  That close-distant, close-distant switching is headache inducing.  I need voice operated glasses that automatically adjust when they detect a swear word.

They also need to go completely black to prevent me seeing something else that needs doing.

The roofers are replacing the workshop roof and the main chap spotted a section of fasica that had fallen away from the main roof.  I don't know, at the moment it's one step forward, another back, then another back...  I've asked for him to quote, but it's one of those items that require a 'yes'.  'Pay bill or have water running inside the house' isn't really a choice.  And I want to make progress.

I have managed over 2,000 words a day on the new novel, so that's forward movement.

Worldcon theatre approaches...
davidwake
I am sitting amidst stuff for five plays at Worldcon.  It's spread across in four rooms of the house.  I'm not doing five plays, just the one, but having done lots of theatre, I have lots of stuff, so I can usually answer "Do you have..." with "Er... somewhere...".

The Cancellation and Re-imagining of Captain Tartan is on the Thursday, 10pm.  I need a few more cast for walk on parts - anyone interested?

I went into theatre at SF conventions, because I thought there ought to be more of it.  Geoff Ryman did a superb version of Gilgamesh way back at Novacon and I'm appearing on a panel about 'SF and Theatre' with him on a Worldcon panel, which I'm looking forward to.  Sorenson and Raines did funny plays, of course.  I wanted more.

Now there is.  It does feel a little like handing the baton on and my work here is done.

How many moons above your world?
davidwake
I’m writing a fantasy novel and using it as an opportunity to think about the genre in general. There seem to be three types, which surprises me as I thought such an open form would have far, far more. Maybe I’m missing something.

1. An idealised mythical setting. Examples would include Lord of the Rings, Robert E. Howard’s Hyborian Age. (Although, how you can have an age ‘undreamed of’ when you are making it up?) These are, I suppose, the historical world as it should have been with dragons and magic and whatever.
2. Something fantastic in our world. I’d count near history in today, so a werewolf in Tudor times. Dracula is our world into which is introduced a vampire.
3. Another world. Narnia for example. It often has someone from our world going there. I wonder about John Carter of Mars as that might be defined as SF. The film certainly was, whereas in the books he just dozed off.

Which leads to the question of how many moons? One option would be not to mention one at all and then the reader can populate the night sky with whatever they want. Most have one moon. Middle Earth has a sun and a moon, but then it is our world without the top and bottom.

Gaie Sebold’s Babylon Steel has two moons, the story pivoting around an alignment known as ‘Twomoon’. The novel has Tarot cards, including ‘The Moon’, which I thought was a misstep, but there are portals there to other worlds with any variety of moon numbers. It’s strictly fantasy, whereas the two moons of Barsoom (Mars) in Edgar Rice Burroughs’ work is a step towards reality. He knew at the time what he thought Phobos and Deimos, neither having leather goddesses I suspect. I think if you start adding planetary objects, you end up discussing orbits, and then you are moving towards science fiction. A perfectly good fantasy world can weaken and crumble before the might of logic; once you’ve added enough midichlorians, then any forceful magic slips away through your fingers.

I suppose this is the flipside of my usual obsession with scientific rigour in your science and pseudo-science.

I’ve ended up adding a moon (the moon?) because my characters wouldn’t be able to see a damn thing during a night scene.

Printer woes
davidwake
My wretched printer, an HP, has been causing me woe.  It's an all- singing, all- dancing one that is so clever that it can detect when I'm doing printing (not that difficult) and thus time out my cartridges.  They have a use-by date coded into the chip, so, despite the fact that you can hear the ink sloshing around inside, it won't print.  I was sensible, I bought back-ups, so that when it runs out, ha, ha - I can pop the spare in.  Of course, they have a rubbish shelf life and were bought at the same time, so....

I got rid of the last printer for the same sort of reason and because I discovered how much oil goes into one cartridge.

Can anyone recommend a printer that hasn't been programmed to prevent printing?


Science Fiction, Science Fiction, Science Fiction
davidwake
When Sydney Newman created Doctor Who, he wanted the programme to be educational. So, enter two teachers: Ian Chesterton, Science, and Barbara Wright, History. (Of course, they could never go the United States in the 1930s as that’s not part of the curriculum anymore.) It was a clever plan, you have to agree, to have the space and time machine alternate between the future and the past, each affording one of the teachers a chance to explain something. And Sydney didn’t want any bug-eyed monsters. Education was the keyword: in other words, proper Science Fiction.
Of course, in the second story, the Daleks turned up.

Years later, the Daleks’ creator, Terry Nation, gave an interview for the Radio Times Tenth Anniversary Doctor Who Special. He said he wanted his scripts to be… ‘educational’, and then baulked at the word. The interviewer suggested the phrase ‘intellectually stimulating’ and Nation agreed that this was a better expression. I bought into that idea, but I now wish Terry Nation had stuck to his initial answer.
I mean here education in the sense of knowledge, culture and understanding, rather than stuffy classrooms, hard desks and stupidity.

There’s a need in writing to get your facts right. None of this Ian ‘if you paint someone gold they die’ Fleming nonsense. I think this is doubly important in SF as the ‘facts’ can be made up.

However, all this drive for purity doesn’t quite work. I agree with Bob Shaw about certain necessary fudges. He called it the ‘Secret Game’ in his book How to Write Science Fiction. Basically, you want to write about an alien world, say one of these exo-planets recently discovered, and why not. But, sadly, your main character will have died of old age before he gets there, so… er, FTL anyone?

Bob’s Secret Game is basically a nod to the reader to say “OK, I know this won’t work, but stick with me and we’ll get a good story out of it.”
Herein lies the problem with CAMRSF (CAMpaign for Real SF), apart from an inability to pronounce the acronym, and it’s in separating our allowable ingredients from impurities.

Ingredients
1. Pure SF (‘Hard SF’ has an engineering feel to it and excludes the softer sciences, so I prefer ‘pure’ here). This is straight forward extrapolation, build a satellite in geo-stationary orbit and you can beam messages around the world, stuff.
2. Secret Game, which is stuff invented to make the imagined Universe work: FTL drive, Bob Shaw’s Ylem substance used to construct a Dyson sphere, and, I suppose, elements like telepathy. Some of Star Trek’s technobabble fits here. Their Heisenberg Compensators are a nod to the Quantum Mechanical objection to Transporters.

Impurities
1. Gibberish, which is just nonsense. A vast quantity of Star Trek’s technobabble (but not all, see above). This impurity leads to lazy writing: all the character needs to do is spout things with Greek endings and press a button to solve any problem.
2. Wrong as in just plain wrong, basically contradictions of known science and pseudo-science. Examples for this would be adding new elements to the Periodic Table (in Avatar that lump of unobtainium must be radioactive, because we know all the non-radioactive substances) and most things in the film Prometheus. I’d include here breaking the laws of established technobabble. If a starship goes at Warp 9 and takes 3 days to go from Earth to Vulcan, it can’t in the next episode go at Warp 9 and take a couple of hours.

Now, I just need to do CAMRSF t-shirts and souvenir glasses.
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Contact
davidwake
I'm trying to get in touch with Phil Raines.  Can anyone pass on my details to him please.

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