Thursday, September 29, 2011

Roller Coaster Highway

The Kentucky Rumbler
I have mentioned in a previous post that I prefer fair rides that are not airborne. I am not a fan of loosing my meal in hair raising attempts at death defying amusement, and thus I have never felt inclined to investigate the wider world of roller coasters.

A few years ago we went to an amusement park in the winter that they had set up with a huge light display. They had their most famous roller coaster open with the big promotional slogan "Ride the Kentucky Rumbler At Night." This remains the only roller coaster I have ridden. I loved it. It didn't go upside down, see. It operated on principles I could understand, and was just very, very fast, and very, very curvy. I love fast.

I live in Kentucky, the land of rolling hillsides. I live on a highway that winds its way through these hillsides, and if you drive fast enough you get an effect very similar to the Kentucky Rumbler. This effect has been noticed by many people, with the result of a nickname being stuck to it that sticks. The Roller Coaster highway. Yup, that's where I live.

Every year, on the first weekend in October, we have something we call the Roller Coaster Fleamarket. This ostentatious name refers to a grand yard sale that takes place along the length of the entire Roller Coaster Highway. The event was started in 1986 to bring attention to the Roller Coaster effect that had taken many lives in automobile accidents. Was it successful? I imagine so; if you're driving between Temple Hill and Glasgow you will cross a stretch of road that's surprisingly modern in it's standards, compared to the rest of the standard two-lane highway. This was once the most dangerous part of the road, so dangerous that public outcry succeeded in getting it straightened. Or so I've been told, it doesn't look very dangerous any more.

The fleamarket starts today, and will end in grand finality on Saturday. Woe betide those who wish to travel my roads during these days, for it is a big event, and the road is narrow and winding. I shall be out there, somewhere, basking in the spirit of festival days and, in the words of the locals: "Riding the Roller Coaster."

Monday, September 26, 2011

The Trilogy Theory

I remember when I finally read Lord of the Rings the first time. When I finished "Fellowship of the Ring" I was in a car on a Very Long Drive and rather despairing over the cliffhanger ending. I lamented for a while about how I knew exactly how The Two Towers would start, but I didn't have it with me to read. However, a few minutes later we stopped at a Goodwill store and I found a copy of the entire trilogy in paperback that I could buy for $2. Well, that was not too high a price to pay for my curiosity so I got to find out if my guess about Two Towers was correct.

It was. My next rant was about how Lord of the Rings was not a trilogy. Not by any stretch of the imagination. It was all one book that was simply too long to be published in one volume. When I got home I looked that up and, again, I was right.

My theory branched out from there into the realm of what I termed "real" trilogies, and later "Perfect Trilogies." Two examples of this are Star Wars and Pirates of the Caribbean.

The first Pirates of the Caribbean movie was really good. I loved it. And it ended all neat and tidy. Nevertheless the characters had more than enough charisma to create another story, so I felt no trepidation about the second one. I didn't care for The Dead Man's Chest, however. It had little plot, a lot of random filler material and it ended, predictably enough, on a serious cliffhanger. The third movie was the logical conclusion to the trilogy, picking up seamlessly where the second left off, (only with more drama and suspense) and ending in a very complete and tidy manner, all strings tied.

See, they made a movie, not knowing how it would go over. When it was successful they made a second and planned a third. That's what makes a perfect trilogy. The first is stand alone, the second ends on a cliff hanger, and the third wraps everything up permanently.

To prove my point let's examine the original Star Wars. A New Hope is a complete story. There is absolutely no set up for anything further. George Lucas, made a film, called it Star Wars, The End. Only... it was very successful. So he made a second one, and planned a third. The Empire Strikes Back builds on everything A New Hope never predicted, and sets up for one more sequel, ending on a chilling cliff hanger. The Return of the Jedi picks up where ESB left off and tidies everything up in a satisfactorily conclusive manner.

That is the Trilogy Theory and it only applies to those books and movie that do not know they are going to be trilogies when they first come out. Planned trilogies are more like three volume series, or one really long book, and thus do not have a theory. 

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Fictional Science

"What is warp drive?"

It started with a question. A rather simple question, on another Long Drive. This one was with me as the co-pilot and five rather hyper children in the back. And a box of pizza.

There are three methods of traveling faster than light. Well, only two involve traveling faster than light, the third is sort of the illusion of light-speed travel, because the pen is faster than the space ship. They all involve a certain amount of hand waving. Hand waving is the process of talking really fast and waving your hands around so that no one notices that what you said is, in the words of my dad, completely bogus. None of them are exactly what I'd call scientific.

This is why I said to my mom, fifteen minutes later, that maybe I shouldn't be giving my siblings science lessons. Actually, one should never let a science fiction writer teach anything scientific...

A magical place outside of the known universe where the laws of physics don't apply. Thus, to travel thousands of light years one simply hops or jumps into hyperspace, flies over to the nearest star, and hops or jumps back into the real world. 

Warp Drive
Wave your hands really fast and your ship will go faster. Never mind all the physical implausibilities of traveling faster than light, just do it. Equip your ship with special engines; alien technology always works. And call it something that sounds like was it is... warped. 

Snail Speed
Suspended animation is the most plausible method of traveling from star to star, but it's not the most plausible method of immortality. So it depends on which science fiction technique you're evaluating to know exactly how plausible it is. Also known as cryogenic sleep it involved sleeping for thousands of years while traveling just below light speed, thus remaining within the known laws of physics. Generation space ships also fall into this category. 

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Parallel Episodes: Golden Light

Flynn regenerates!

I couldn't help but do this comparison. Do you think that either party realized that they were making two identical scenes?

Rapunzel saves Flynn Rider in 'Tangled'
Melody saves the Doctor in 'Let's Kill Hitler'

Friday, September 16, 2011

Imaginary Numbers

If there's one thing more constructive and informational than a good Dinner Table Conversation it's a very long drive. When you live out west, or in the country, you learn this very quickly, because every drive is a Very Long Drive. Tonight was no exception.

It was an hour drive into the city for my Dad's speech club meeting. He took me out to dinner, and then we went to Barnes and Noble, and there I planted myself in the Science section and found some complicated books on theoretical science. I'm a science fiction writer; I don't care how sound the science is, just that it's cool. I didn't really have enough time to sort out what any of the writers were talking about before it was time for the drive back home, so I asked my dad the fatal question: 

"Do you know anything about string theory?"
"It's completely bogus."
"Well, besides that..."

Because, you see, all I knew was that it involved 10 or 11 dimensions. This confused me, because I understood three spacial dimensions, and the fourth time dimension, and I could almost figure out how you could have a fifth dimension... but ten? Where were they? What did they do? Why do you need that many? The best I could figure they were alternate dimensions, but then why have only ten? Why not more?

"No, they're completely different."

Back to go forward, says DarkTrench, so backwards we went. Back to Einstein and the relativity. We talked about the double split experiment and quantum physics. Then we went back further and talked about Newton and calculus. And finally we got around to the point...

"What is the square root of negative x?"

Um... good question.

Actually... very good question.

Actually... what is the square root of negative x??

Well, says my dad, it's i. (Or j, actually, depending on if you're a mathematician or an electrical engineer. Because if you an EE than i stands current, hence the need for j. Did you know that before now?) It's an imaginary number. It doesn't exist. You can do math with it, but it isn't really there. You just imagined it.

It's like having two mechanical pieces that need to be fit together inside a tiny box. There's not enough room to do it, so you take them out of the box, fit them together and put them back in. Only there's nothing outside the box.

Well, this is good. This makes sense. This is a working, practical solution to an obnoxious problem. People use this every day. They build things and go their way not realizing what a dangerous tool they have put into the hands of theoretical scientists...

Imaginary Dimensions. It's a bit like hyperspace, a mythical wonderful world where the laws of physics don't apply. M-Theory (or string theory as it's also known) is the theory of inventing dimensions to solve insoluble problems outside of the known universe. Such as traveling faster than light. And the ten dimensions it uses to explain these things don't actually exist, anymore than the words that flow from a writer's pen.

Amazing how simple it all is once you get space and time out of your head. 

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Myst: Avatar

I'm sure this has been done before, but all the same I present to you Avatar and Myst, visually depicted side by side.

They are Atokirina'. Seeds of the Great Tree -- very pure spirits.
- Neytiri; Avatar

I taught him how to trim the delicate Lattice roots. How to splice old and new growths together so the walls of our houses will grow strong. I tell him the traditions of the Weave. How by using the spores to support the growing branches, we keep the Lattice Tree alive. He wants to learn everything I know. He wants Narayan to survive. I take him to the rift, to where the sea flows through gaps in the world. Steam flows up from the waterfall. The puffer spores are ready to take flight. We stand in the shadows of dusk and watch the spores begin to rise. He says they look like pearls against the sky.
 - Saavedro's Journal; Myst III: Exile

What we think we know - is that there's some kind of electrochemical communication between the roots of the trees. Like the synapses between neurons. Each tree has ten to the fourth connections to the trees around it, and there are ten to the twelfth trees on Pandora...  That's more connections than the human brain. It's a network - a global network. And the Na'vi can access it - they can upload and download data - memories - at sites like the one you just destroyed.
- Grace Augustine: Avatar

Many lifetimes ago, a child from the village contracted a fever and died. Moved his parents tears, a flower told the parents to carry their child into her pistil. She would preserve his memories so they could visit him whenever they wished. Then the flower passed one of the tears back through the roots, turning it into a container to hold memories, and the father dove underwater to collect it. Having read Catherine’s descriptive Book, I realize that the plant the Protectors called the “Memory Chamber” is but the fruiting body of a massive fungus. Like any fungus, it recycles dead organic material into nutrients — in this case, “filled” memory globes. Yet I cannot help thinking that my scientific understanding of Serenia pales in comparison to the Protectors’ simple tale.
 - Atrus' Serenia Journal; Myst IV: Revelation

Perhaps, if I bring in some of the unusual floating stone from Amateria? Something about the molecular composition of the rock in that Age causes it to attract and repel other stone quite forcefully. Maybe, if I introduce some of it to the soil on the island, it will interfere just enough to damage the last poem.
 - Saavedro's Journal; Myst III: Exile

The legendary Floating Mountains of Pandora? Heard of them?
- Norm Spellman; Avatar

Yeah, so what does hold them up? Grace explained it to me -- some kind of maglev effect because unobtanium is a superconductor, or something. At least somebody understands it. Just not me.
- Jake Sully; Avatar

A great evil is upon us. The Sky People are coming to destroy Hometree. They will be here soon.
- Jake Sully; Avatar

The Lattice Roots were black from too much overgrowth. Puffer spores  floated up in the hot steam and burst. No one was there to guide the  spores to the branches. No one was waiting to perform the ritual Weaves. The fighting had torn my people apart. They didn’t care.
They wanted Narayan to die
- Saavedro's Journal; Myst III: Exile

Thursday, September 1, 2011

The Story of Your Life

Everyone has a story.

"Not me," you say, "my life is boring," and I won't argue because my life is boring as well. "Write what you know," the experts say, but what do you write when what you know is not (in your opinion) worth writing? There's no story there, no excitement, no adventure.We want to write epic tales of intrigue, of heroes, of danger and romance. But what is a story?

For every "epic" tale there are thousands of untold stories. While heroes are running around saving the world in dozens of different places, hundreds of ordinary people are living out dramatic lives in their shadow. When you read the story of an assassination do you think about the cook who was executed for serving the poisoned food? When you imagine a story of war and pathos, do you think of each of those soldiers as lives lost, or tools to be used?

One unwritten story that has always haunted me is the tale of the Unsung Heroes.  Everyone has a history, a past, and so many risk their lives, so many die and no one ever knows. Both in reality and in fiction there are stories untold, and heroes unsung.

When you think of the little people, the unknowns, and those deemed useless, when you can see the beauty of the small lives they lead, when you can see the pieces of a much larger tapestry, then can you look at your life and see the story? Can you see how heroes can be small, and triumphs ordinary? Can you see how everyone has a story, and every story has a part?

Can you see past your dreams to the Story of your Life?