advice

  • THIS IS AN OPEN LETTER TO SCIENCE FICTION WRITERS, PARTICULARLY SPACE OPERA WRITERS, AND ALSO PARTICULARLY TO NEW WRITERS

    You really need to get this hierarchy straight:

    For the most part, planets revolve around a sun. This is called a Star System.

    Stars (with their collective planets) are generally found in big collections called a Galaxy.

    Galaxies all exist in a Universe.

    YOU REALLY NEED TO KEEP THESE TERMS STRAIGHT.

    To simplify it, think of it this way: If a planet was a house, then the Star System is a street of houses, and a Galaxy is a very large city. A Universe is the entire continent.

    Also, a note about distances:

    Planets inside a Star System can be very far away from each other, but they’re still within the gravity well of a star.

    Stars are usually very, very far away from each other, so far away that it takes their light years — sometimes hundreds or thousands of years — to reach each other. That’s why we use the term lightyears as a unit of measure.

    A lightyear is 5,878,499,801,210 miles.
    – Carl Sagan

    That is also why we generally use the science fiction term “hyperspace” to cheat and jump from one star system to another, and to bypass the reality of a thing called “time dilation” which would make plotting any kind of fictional story a real challenge.

    GALAXIES ARE VERY VERY VERY VERY VERY VERY VERY FAR AWAY FROM EACH OTHER. It takes light hundreds-of-thousands, or millions, or even billions of years to reach each other. Even using “hyperspace” you need to stress how in the heck you can go that far, even if it’s a simple statement that the technology pokes a hole in space to enable instant travel across ANY DISTANCE. If you establish that up front, you might get away with it, but … and this is a big point:

    You must respect the vast distances between all these celestial objects, and have a grip on what they all are. Bonus points if you have a good knowledge of what a black hole is, and a quasar, and other exotic and strange things such as a neutron star.

    Example: You will never be able to look up into the sky and see something happening at that very moment to a star. If a sun is destroyed by a “Star Killer,” you won’t see it happen from a neighboring star system for many years.

    Major goof made in a recent Star Wars movie

    You should also know that there are many different types of stars, ranging from giants to dwarfs, and various colors, and each color means something — and is an indicator of how much heat and radiation that they spew forth.

    But above all, do not get star systems and galaxies confused.

    If you do, your readers will laugh at you.

  • Following Your Passions to Success

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    When I was a kid, I wanted to be a scientist. Still to this day I am still passionately interested in science. What stopped me from becoming a scientist, though, is I have a mental block when it comes to higher forms of math.

    In modern speak: I can’t math. But in reality I can, I just was too ADD (literally, thought I wasn’t diagnosed with Attention Deficit Disorder until I was in late my 40’s). I was too distracted to push my way thought the math and learn it.

    So I drifted into the next logical path, and decided I wanted to be a science fiction writer. And I became one (albeit with very limited success). But then I learned during this journey that the publishing industry is rife with the same petty squabbles, bullying, and rivalry as High School (which I hated) and so I took the Groucho Marx route: I don’t want to belong to a club that would have me in it.

    I also used to make Super 8 films with my teenage friends, but I never considered going into film making as a profession. Odd, because that is now a large part of my profession — and one I really enjoy. I daresay I enjoy it much more than writing fiction, though I think that is mainly due to it being an instant gratification endeavor. Much like photography, which is also a large part of my day-to-day profession.

    Another thing I used to do as a young teen, and never seemed to realize I could have done it as a profession, was make silly recording. Well, now there’s podcasting, which I’ve been doing for years, including professionally for my day job.

    What actually kept me employed for a large part of my life was computer industry work, and that’s because I have some sort of odd supernatural affinity for it … and it for me. I once wrote a short story about a “voodoo computer healer” and — even though I have never levitated anything (like the character in the story does) — I can in many cases hold on to a laptop or touch a cable and heal the technology. Scoff at me if you will, but at one job they used to have me come sit in the finance offices while they ran payroll because they were convinced the check printers would not break down if I was there. Even now my girlfriend, who is an IT master, has me come over to work on the stuff that stumps her, and 7 out of 10 times all I have to do is touch it and it starts working again.

    I kid you not — and no, I can’t explain it.

    To sum up: If I had concentrated on any of these interests, and specialized in it, I could have made a career out of it. It’s just pure luck that all these interests which I followed eventually congealed into one career that has helped me succeed. You couldn’t have predicted it, because my profession didn’t exist 20 years ago.

    So my friends, you can take it from me: follow your passions, and do not give up. They will lead you to success, though it may not be the success you were expecting.