.comment-link {margin-left:.6em;}
Miscellaneous thoughts and ramblings
Monday, April 10, 2006
Synchronous – An Introduction
I wrote a science fiction short story.

Most science fiction isn’t really about science; it’s about technology – spaceships and blasters and transporters and triquarters. But some science fiction is actually about science – about people asking smart questions and making important discoveries about their complex universe. My favorite such stories is Asimov’s Nightfall. If you can get it in an anthology, read it.

I decided to bury the story in the archives because it’s much longer than even a long blog post and I didn’t want to take up that much room on the front page. It’s not long for a short story – 13 pages on MS Word with typical settings, just under 7,000 words. I also didn’t want to publish it in fragments because I didn’t want to decide when you had to stop reading it. You may wish to read it in one sitting or interrupt whenever you’d like. I also think that it will not be of general interest, but that’s OK. I’ll leave it to you decide if you’d like to read it or not.

I’ll value your comments, both positive and critical. Leave them here. I’m closing the comments for the story itself so that I don’t have to keep checking there for comments.

Finally, I’m reserving all rights to it, so please don’t copy any of it. Feel free to link.

(Click on the title of this introduction to go to the story.)
I printed it up to read during the sede-- holiday.
Synchronicity is one of my favorite Police albums.
Wanderer - I prefer "Medulla Oblongata."
Wanderer: agreed..love the Police.

Doc: I read it, and I liked it...especially the ending. Very cool. Good for you for taking this venture into story writing. Happy Pesach to you and your family.
I hated the Police. Synchronicity was like nails on a chalkboard to my ears.
Bean - I haven't read it yet, but why is the entire second half blue?

Tussled is something two sixth graders do over a ball. Tousled is something you do to a kids hair, IIRC.

I may be wrong, I've been wrong before.
Psychotoddler: Great. Let me know what you think. Give it to me straight, doc. I can take it. Pesach sameach. [Happy Passover.]

Wanderer, Ralphie, and Stacey: [snapping fingers and waving] HELLO!!?! Over here! Good. The Police has nothing to do with this thread. Or had nothing to do with it before you showed up. Please read the post again. Thank you. A very happy Passover to you and yours.

Cruisin-mom: Thanks. I can’t believe you plowed through the whole thing this morning. Happy Pesach to you and yours too.

Ralphie: The whole second half is not blue! Why do you torment me, fool?

Og: You’re right. Thanks for the correction. I looked up the words and fixed it. Happy Easter to you and your family.
It shows up blue in Firefox. Methinks it has to do with the placement of a couple of HTML tags. No biggie.
Ralphie: well, the text color matters (for reasons that the content makes clear). You want to check it out in IE??
“Do you want to show me what you’re studying now?” Dalp asked.
“Let her finish eating” his wife protested, but Gat had already ran off
I haven't read far enough to comment on the story but one word needs correction: she had run off, not she had ran off.
Ms Katz: Fixed. Thank you for the correction. Lower your expectations drastically for the rest of the story but keep giving me corrections / criticism.

Happy Pesach!
Just a comment on the ending, very apropos Pesach and the ten commandments: (don't read if you don't like spoilers)

Damm you! Damm you all to HEEELLLLLLL!!!!
Yeah. It's hackneyed. Thanks for reading it.
The story is intriguing and inventive. I meant to read just one or two paragraphs at a time but actually read the whole thing at one sitting (except for the little bit I had read before Pesach). But a lot of questions weren't answered. Wondering what happened to their world, why didn't they have electricity or internal combustion engines, would they find a way to save their world? Liked the story, liked the ending, but in reality what you have here is not so much a story as a great idea for a story (or a movie)

For grammar and punctuation corrections see my next note. For science questions, see my note after that.

If you are going to submit this as a high school paper it is a definite A (especially after you make a few corrections). For a college paper, it's a probable A. For a sci-fi magazine it is probably a check in your mailbox but don't quit your day job.
==Grammar and style==

“Do you want to show me what you’re studying now?” Dalp asked.
“Let her finish eating” his wife protested.
“We’re learning about the World map,” she bragged.

Every paragraph should be indented, even if the paragraph is only one sentence -- or only one word. In a school paper you can indicate a new paragraph by doublespacing after each paragraph, and then you don't have to indent the beginning of the new paragraph, but in a story for publication you can't get away with that.

Not indenting each new paragraph (each new line of dialogue) makes the left side of the page very densely packed and confusing to the eye. Make friends with your Tab key.

2. The paragraph beginning "What had been recently preoccupying Dalp" is too long and should be cut into two or even three paragraphs. One good place to start a new paragraph might be with the sentence, "And that was the mystery."

You have several other paragraphs that are too long, too. In this age of the short attention span, no one can afford to write like Herman Melville. I am comparing you with Melville only in the length of your paragraphs, you understand. Your reader won't go into that dense forest of words with you but will skip the long paragraphs and miss essential information. If there seems to be no logical place to break up a paragraph, break it up anyway.

3. Fras joined the department about ten stars after Dalp


Should be: Fras had joined the department about ten stars after Dalp

4. About a generation ago steam power was developed and replaced animal muscle power
Should be: About a generation ago steam power had been developed and had replaced animal muscle power.

5. Dalp sat and absorbed what he heard.
Should be: Dalp sat and absorbed what he had heard.

6. Then, when the danger has passed, they could make the project public

Probably a typing mistake but should be: when the danger had passed

7. You have to double space after a period. Your sentences should not be squashed together.

8. Why didn't you give the wife a name? You gave everyone else a name.
==Other comments and questions==

1. “Sweetness,” his wife said “Gat had another perfect score on her science test!”
“That’s great, Gat!” Dalp beamed.
How nice that you made them a Jewish family!

[early in the story:] “Well, World is round. It’s shaped like a giant ball.”

.....[later in the story:] What had been recently preoccupying Dalp was the rate of change of things, although he might have expressed it mathematically as the first derivative with respect to time.

You can't go from kindergarten to grad school in the same story. What IQ do you picture for your ideal reader? Some of your sentences are too simple/childlike -- and then others leave the average product of American education scratching his head, "Whaaaa....?"

3. You never answer a lot of questions but then maybe the sign at the end of the story IS the answer -- too many movies, too much TV, civilization declined so much that no one remembered any longer how to make things run. Plus after watching all those commercials people just kept buying stuff until they changed the whole climate irretrievably. But not even the most evil Republican administration could change the earth's orbit -- or could it? Oh, and is it scientifically possible for an orb NOT to rotate -- your planet seems not to be rotating on its axis? Or is it rotating, but with its north pole always pointed towards the sun? But then as it orbits the sun it has to keep sort of bobbing around so the top of its axis always points in? Is that even possible?

4. How will you keep your steam hot as it passes through miles of pipeline? After you cut ice blocks how will you get the water to where the people live -- in caravans of wagons? How will you feed all those horses? Or will you transport the melted ice through pipes? How will you keep the water liquid in the pipes? Come to think of it, I don't think horses can survive such extreme cold. You need dogs and sleds.

5. How can the moon shine on your planet? Isn't your earth always poised smack in between the sun and the moon, and wouldn't that create a permanent total lunar eclipse?

Admittedly my grasp of the science essentials is shaky and my questions may not be valid at all.
Sorry, I shouldn't have said "double space" after a period -- that would mean you have to skip two lines, not what I meant! I meant you have to leave two spaces after a sentence.

Like this. See?
Not like this.See how squashed it looks?
Ms. Katz: Thank you for your close reading and your detailed comments. I will address each suggestion and question, but perhaps not for a few days. The Beans are at an undisclosed location from which I can only access the web rarely and briefly.
The best song on Synchronicity is Mother. Hands down.

Bean - you and Asimov are kindred spirits. There was a planet like your World in Foundation - tidally locked to the sun with people living in the in thin band separating the bright side from the dark side. Unfortunately, your ending makes no sense whatsoever, but I won't fault you for that. The enjoyment is in the food-for-thought up to that point. So let's walk through some of it:

Sunangle is pretty clever. You don't define ringangle, but I don't think any angle relative to the ring is meaningful. The easiest way to uniquely identify where you are in the World would require some longitudinal lines (from sunpoint to darkpoint makes the most sense) and a designated "Prime Meridian." If you had something else in mind, please explain.

You say a circle is a hundred arcs. I would have gone with 120 or 144 or 2310 - something with more factors.

Six planets - I got wise to you at this point.

The meteorology of the World is the most baffling aspect of your story. You say a cold wind blows constantly from the dark side. Why is that? If so, you might expect perpetual rain along the ring as moist warm air meets cold air and condenses.
I downloaded your story and am looking forward to reading it and commenting. It'll take me at least a week due to the usual chaos in my life.

Meanwhile, ignore much of the editing advice you're getting. Mrs. Copyeditor is here to save your tuchus.

First: one space after periods. One. I once had to interview editors from the New York Times, AP and Amazon to research this. Nobody uses two spaces any longer. It's a holdover from the early days of typesetting. HTML won't even recognize two spaces without special coding.

Proper formatting for a short story submission to a magazine is as follows:

12 pt. courier, double spaces between lines, first line indented. For dialogue, a new speaker is a new paragraph and should be indented.

And don't worry about long paragraphs, for crying out loud. Say what you need to say. Editors care more about word count than line count.

I'll probably email you my remarks along with some suggestions for rewrites. One thing you can do is look up an essay called "Turkey City Lexicon" at the SFWA (SF Writers of America) site:


Very funny, and will spare you some of the more humiliating beginners' mistakes.

Anne (formerly Inland Empress)
Ms. Katz: Thanks again for the detailed suggestions. Let me answer each.

Blogger’s software gets rid of extra blank space automatically. Tabs can’t be inserted in posts. I tried 5 spaces instead, but Blogger just suppresses them. Ditto double spaces after periods. Only single spaces appear. If you know of a not-very-laborious way around this, I’d be happy to hear it.

I’ve fixed all of the grammar errors. Thank you.

You’re right. The wife should have a name. I’m open to suggestions. Ideally, it should be monosyllabic and the only vowel should be an “a” making the short “a” sound. It must not resemble any name readers have heard.

I’ll leave the paragraphs as they are for now given Anne’s input.

Your comments and questions:
2: Derivatives are high school or college math. You don’t have to know what a derivative is to understand the story, just that he’s an engineer and thinks mathematically. He speaks in much more simple terms when talking to his daughter. I use his interactions with her (and her textbook) as a way to do some basic exposition about their world.

3. The planet on which they live rotates on its axis exactly once a year. That means that it rotates on its axis at the same rate it revolves around the sun, so the same hemisphere always faces the sun. Just as our moon spins around its axis during the same period that it revolves around the Earth, thereby keeping the same side facing us. This is actually the most stable and most common way for a body to orbit a much larger body, and many moons in the solar system orbit their planets synchronously. (Ah! That’s what the title means.) The Earth’s spinning is actually being slowed down very gradually by the moon, but it has enough spin to last for the rest of the sun’s life. The only thing that would stop the earth from spinning is a massive impact of a huge body traveling very fast and hitting the earth going west. Presumably this is what happened a millennium or so before this story takes place. The impact itself would have killed almost all life on earth, and humans would have certainly lost all technology and reverted to hunting and gathering for sustenance.
4. Pipes would need to be insulated. The ice mines would melt the ice right there and pump water in insulated pipes back to the ring. The wagons to which I refer are steam engine powered, not horse drawn. I called them wagons simply to avoid the familiar word “car”.
5. The Earth still goes around the sun once a year and the moon goes around the earth once a month. The only thing that has changed is that instead of taking 24 hours for the earth to spin on its axis, it takes a year.

Oven: Yeah, I imagined ringangle as lines of longitude from darkpoint to sunpoint. I had the whole planet figured out with detailed notes before I started writing the story. The planet itself is the only character I wanted to flesh out completely, and really the only character I cared about. I didn’t end up using the notes defining ringangle, ‘cause it didn’t really matter to the story.

Your suggestion about how to define a unit of angle measure is well taken.

I think the ring would indeed be a humid tropical rainy place. The meteorology as far as I could figure would go like this: Air is heated (a lot) and any moisture evaporates on the bright side. The hot air rises and expands, driving a high (meaning high altitude) hot wind to the ring and towards the darkside. On the ring much of the moisture would rain. On the darkside the high warm air would cool and sink and lose (as rain or hail) any moisture that it still had. The dry cold air would return to the brightstide as a cold surface wind. So I imagine that at the ring there is a cold wind constantly blowing from the darkside at the surface, but high up a warm wind blowing the other way. I don’t know squat about meteorology, and I made all of that up.

I’m not surprised Asimov already had this idea. He had all the good ideas and was a good writer to boot. I just had a premise I thought was interesting and wanted to run with it.

Anne: Thanks for saving my undeserving tuchus! I hope you’re not expecting either plot or character development.

Everyone: By the way. I think the people are doomed. I don’t think their planet will be able to continue to sustain life indefinitely. It’ll inevitably run out of liquid water and that will be that. I just wanted to tell the story of the planet from the point of view of men who are trying to figure it out themselves but who are so used to the constants in their world that they can’t (even at the end of the story) imagine that their world ever had alternating periods of light and darkness. Note the absence of any words that divide time into units smaller than a month. I never used the words day or night since they certainly would not have those concepts.

Anyway, if anyone wants to flesh this out into an actual story with some characters that the reader might care about, I’d be happy to be the science adviser. Otherwise, I feel very done with it.
I just finally read the story, and wow, I like it. But I wish you hadn't quit so soon, or that somebody else would take the idea and run with it. Good work!
Post a Comment

<< Home

Powered by Blogger