A-Z Challenge post-mortem

So, I didn’t get through all of the A-Z posts by the end of the month.

Being honest with you, I did spend quite a bit of the first couple of weeks worrying about money, something which is basically out of my control.  Things are fine now but I’m late paying my bills and that’s not good.  It doesn’t leave me feeling like writing, I can say that much!

On the upside, the wordage across all the posts I did complete is about 2900.  Which is more than I’ve written in a while.

The increased dose of medication seems to have some effect on my ability to stay focused during the day, but I do still tire easily.

Goals for May, then?  Nothing complicated, just try to crank out more than 2900 words without going crazy. 🙂

But if I can I want to finish off Part 2 of Pegasus, and decide if it’s going to be an erotic romance.  I also want to make a start of the fanfic idea I had last month, before it floats out of my head completely.  In fact, I’ll go set up a fanfic idea page for myself now, and get it noted down.

I also want to write an ending for Servant of the Siphen and then twist someone’s arm until they read it.  Haha, okay probably not, but I can ask around, see if I can get a new perspective.

That should easily get me past 2900 words.  At the end of the month I’ll let you know how that goes!

Thanks to everyone who commented and got involved in the challenge.  It’s nice to know that I’m not alone.


Jump gates

Following on from my post about hyperdrives in science fiction, I thought it was only fair to mention jump gates, which (in Babylon 5 for example) allow entry and exit from hyperspace even when the ship in question doesn’t have its own FTL drive.

A series of jump gates along trade routes means that freighters don’t need to be outfitted with or rely on expensive drive systems.  This keeps the cost of running a trade route down.  Of course, a jump gate does require power, a lot of it, but since it is close to a trading hub it’s easy to maintain and you get a large number of ships coming and going.

Jump portals (like the Stargate SG-1 supergates) allow for quick intergalactic hops.  Convenient, but very costly to maintain because of the enormous power requirements.  Still, if it is desirable to open a trade route with a race in another galaxy and deliver goods in a timely fashion, a jump portal might be the solution.

Of course, sensing the opportunity to make a bit of extra profit, whoever maintains such a portal is likely to charge a fee for passage, preferably paid in advance.  Who says you can’t have a toll booth in space? 😉

Irena, Princess and Avatar

Irena is a character introduced in Part 12 of Servant of the Siphen and also in the second part of The Maw of Despair.

In my original notes she is named Princess Arianne, which is a not so clever play on the name Orion, which is what she names herself when she meets the crew of the Orion for real.

Just as we humans sometimes create avatars to interact with each other online, Irena is an avatar of the Orion’s computer, designed to interact with humans.  In the distant past, when her original crew was still alive, she would have taken the form of their race to interact with them.

Irena is (as far as she knows) the last of her kind.  The Orion and starships like her were designed to act as the sentinels of the dimensional portals, the only ones trusted to open them to travellers and traders.  Avatars act as a second stage of authentication to prevent anyone from simply hacking the computer to learn how to open the portals.

When Caroline and Rhona go on a virtual reality adventure to pass the time, Irena hacks into the VR system, sets up a suitable scenario and plays the role of the princess needing to be rescued.  It’s not just a test though – after many years of isolation, drifting between the stars waiting to be rescued and repaired, Irena is bored and lonely too.

Avatars are grown and cybernetically augmented on board the ship.  The augmentation creates a secure link between the ship’s computer and the avatar, and interferes with any kind of thought or brainwave scanning.

However, avatars are otherwise as limited in capabilities as the genetic template they are based on – they are mortal and can die from illness, injury or old age.  Perhaps whoever created the technology recognised that in order to earn the trust allotted to them, they should not be given any more advantages.


For a science fiction writer, hyperdrive is a great way to get the protagonists to some distant alien world in the nick of time.  By which I mean that the journey isn’t ten chapters of a guy talking to his droid.

That being said, faster-than-light drives such as hyperdrive are limited by the technology available.  It’s not just about how fast you can travel in a straight line.

Traditionally in science fiction, strong gravitational fields present a hazard to hyperspace travel which must be navigated around.  Even if you could just go through, what happens if your drive suddenly cuts out and dumps you out into the middle of a star?

So as well as being able to go really fast, these explorers need to be able to map out those obstacles and find the best path, and presumably either correct their trajectory on the fly while in hyperspace, or periodically drop out into normal space and re-align for the next jump.  Being explorers they may want to drop out anyway to chart solar systems, or make contact and trade with advanced space-faring civilisations like their own.

Undertaking an expedition beyond our own galaxy doesn’t necessarily present the same obstacles, but it does require a reserve of food and supplies, a very fast drive, and some way to power it indefinitely.  In Stargate Atlantis for example, when the Daedalus makes a supply run from Earth to the Pegasus galaxy it takes three weeks.  That works out to a velocity of equivalent to 15000 times faster than light.  That is insanely fast.

Graphic design

I’m not an expert in graphic design, but there are a few tips that I can pass along.

Lettering and background separation

For example, when you’re designing a book cover that will be shrunk down to a thumbnail on a book site.  At thumbnail size, the lettering really needs to still be distinct and not fade into the background.

Unless your cover has stark black letters on a white background, contrast is something worth thinking about.

If you have a colourful background and colourful lettering then the two can become a bit less distinct as they are scaled down.  Edging the letters can help, or you could try a drop shadow.


The idea here is to put a high-contrast outline around your letters.  

  • Take a visible copy of only your letters layer, and select anything which in not transparent.
  • Now grow the selection, by as many pixels as you want for the outline (remembering this will all be scaled down to a thumbnail later).
  • Fill the entire selection on your copy layer with a colour which stands out against both the lettering and the background
  • Unselect the copy layer and move it behind your letters layer.
  • You may wish to soften the edges sllightly with a blur filter.

Drop shadow

This technique is similar to above, but we’re not going to make a selection or grow it.

  • Copy your letters layer and deasturate (so it is just grey).
  • Use a heavy blur, for example a 20-pixel Gaussian blur.
  • Further increase the darkness of the shadow layer.
  • Now move the shadow layer behind your letters layer and using a movement tool, nudge the shadow slightly out from underneath the letters.
  • Adjust the opacity of the shadow as necessary – you may still want the background to show through.

There you go.  Practise and come up with your own variations, and take a look at how the thumbnail would appear by scaling down yourself (then just undo to get back to your regular image).

Flying and Flight of Passion

Servant of the Siphen started out in 2009 as a story provisionally titled Flying, in which Isamura and Caroline take a shuttle out and go exploring.  There was no mission, no away team, just two lovers on a romantic adventure.  In this original draft and all subsequent versions, Isamura asks Caroline to teach her how to fly it.

Various elements were added and then later removed as I continued to write the story and title it Flight of Passion.  For example, there was a version in which Isamura tells Caroline to run and let her deal with a pursuing bandit, and Caroline ends up at an inn run by Meg, who sympathetically offers her a bed to sleep in and then seduces her.

The next version saw significant changes.  Instead of starting on the shuttle, we go back to earlier in the day and the starship Orion, where Caroline is waking up next to Isamura.  As with the current version, power fails and they decide to enjoy each other’s company while they wait for a rescue.

At this point Erica was still called Fred, short for Frederica.  One of my readers didn’t like the name – obviously never watched Angel – so I changed it.

So anyway in this second version, Erica has a bit of a voyeur moment when she arrives at Caroline’s quarters.  In Servant of the Siphen though, she instead just asks them to please put some clothes on.  There are a number of scenes which deal with Erica’s fascination with Caroline and Isamura and these are removed later on or altered to have Erica show a friendly curiosity about their relationship.

The revision to Servant of the Siphen in January 2014 introduced Talestra, a servant of the enemy that the crew of the Orion recently faced.  It also has an eleventh hour appearance by Irena, who claims to be the living avatar of the Orion.

Earth (in the 25th century)

I’ve already posted a bit about how humanity might fare in the future.  Aside from problems resulting from contact with alien microorganisms though, how might this future Earth look?

Much of the heavy industry would benefit from being situated in places with access to raw materials.  In other words, the rest of the solar system and beyond.  This means that Earth can be greener, more tranquil, and free from most of the 21st-century pollutants.

Having also established some colonies, the resident population on Earth may well be much lower than it is today, putting far less strain on its natural resources.

There will finally be contact with alien civilisations, but it may not be as fantastic as we imagined it.  After all, the universe does not revolve around one upstart species from the third rock of a yellow star.  Hopefully though, we humans bring a youthful enthusiasm and optimism to the intergalactic community.

Earth will also learn a lot about alien civilisations, both existing and long-gone.  So there would be some cultural exchange centres, as well as expeditions going off-world to discover and explore worlds that have long been devoid of civilisation.  The competition of the day would be to discover new knowledge or wisdom, not acquire material wealth.  We may well discover that our theories about the universe need to be updated.

To someone time-travelling from 1985 or even 2014, this Earth will be startlingly different.  After all, four hundred and odd years is a long time for the fashion industry to create all manner of exciting new ranges. 😉


Depression (da da daaaa!)

So, I’m in treatment for depression.

I think my most prominent symptom is sleepiness.  Not just excessive sleeping, but drowsiness during the time that I’m awake.  I think an apt comparison is that when I first went to the doctor, I felt a bit like Lillian in Go Get a Roomie.

I’m doing much better now in terms of mood and willingness to engage with the outside world, but my writing suffers a bit as a result of not just the depression, but the treatment for it, which acts like a sedative.

One of the interesting ways in which it actually helps my writing though is that I do sometimes have very real-seeming dreams, even though the events which transpire are unreal.

Being visited in dreams by someone who you almost never see or could never see, living and seeing a dream reality, and being someone else are all features which help to resolve things in the waking world that have never been resolved, or to push me in new direction or encourage me to change and to heal.  That includes reaching out to people for help that they can give.

So while I’m not writing a great many words at the moment, I am steering in a good direction.  The A-Z Challenge is sort of part of that, and aside from my scheduling going to hell in a hand basket, it’s been very positive!

I think one of the things that I can take from my experience is that I know what it’s like to feel unable to deal with reality.  There’s one of my characters in particular who I feel I can relate to better because she finds her exploration mission to be lonely and depressing.  But in the story I do give her opportunities to not feel that way.  How it turns out, well, you’ll see, one day!

Promise. 🙂

Cryonic suspensed animation

In other words, freezing people to (safely) revive them later on.  Cryogenics is something different!

If you’ll excuse the pun, the idea is still really cool if you’re considering writing a science fiction story. For example, a very long space voyage can be undertaken, arresting the normal aging process of the crew and passengers and minimising the food and water usage during the journey.

Aside from the technology required to make the such a voyage, it would also require a great deal of commitment on the part of the participants.  They would leave behind everything they’ve ever known and possibly friends and relatives that they would never see again.

Also, there’s a possibility that they wouldn’t remember the day they were frozen, if short-term memories aren’t preserved by the process.  It might be a bit of a shock for them to wake up and realise they’re already at their destination, as if no time has passed at all.

Whether your characters are arriving to found a completely new colony or join an existing one, everything is going to be different.  Time has passed, but they’ve stayed the same.  It does however give them an opportunity to start afresh.

Of course, another way of using cryonic suspension in a story is when characters need to buy some time to wait for a rescue – perhaps their supplies have run out and they have no way to go back they way they came and get more.

Of course, freezing is not the only option available – more advanced technology might be able to induce a state of metabolic stasis without using cold temperatures, supporting life but slowing down aging and biological processes to the point where you could leap through the millenia like Elizabeth Weir in Before I Sleep.  It’s not as flashy as hitting 88mph in a DeLorean time machine, but it’ll do!