Carl Sagan on Books

” A book is made from a tree. It is an assemblage of flat, flexible parts (still called ‘leaves’) imprinted with dark pigmented squiggles. One glance at it and you hear the voice of another person – perhaps someone dead for thousands of years. Across the millennia, the author is speaking, clearly and silently, inside your head, directly to you. Writing is perhaps the greatest of human inventions, binding together people, citizens of distant epochs, who never knew one another. Books break the shackles of time, proof that humans can work magic. “

– Carl Sagan, Cosmos (1980)

Came across this yesterday; seems all the more poignant now that Sagan himself is speaking to us beyond his time.

Picking up where we left off

I recently realised that I haven’t made any posts for a good long while. This is always the way of these things; after a gap, you feel the need to do something worth the wait, which only worsens the problem. New Year provides a useful occasion to carry on like nothing happened (or in this case, did happen).

So, Twenty-Fifteen, eh? We meet at last.

It’s shaping up to be a busy year. First up, in February I am pushing a new initiative I made up on the spot: Finish a Novel Feb. Specifically, I am looking to finish Chronozone. NaNoWriMo is all well and good for creating loads of rough, unfinished drafts but, well, it seems I can do that pretty well already. So come Feb, I will be committing to complete the draft of Chronozone Zero.

It’s not an initiative that’s going to catch on or anything; hardly a challenge worth a website for; but it will get me where I want to go. Wish me luck.

Diluting creative output: can it work?

A lot of the famous and successful writers you come across describe themselves as being obsessive or living to write. It makes sense, of course. If you spend each waking hour with the written word, you ought to be pretty good with them.

If I’m honest, though, that’s not really me. I hugely enjoy writing, but it isn’t my raison d’etre. Mostly, I just get too distracted by all the other awesome-cool vocations out there that I can’t decide what I like more. Sometimes this makes me wonder: can you be successful with a divided attention?

If you focus on your vocation, you will obviously further your skills in it. So it stands to reason, taking only this into account, that the best writers will be those that work hardest and longest at their craft. And to a degree, this is true. Does this mean those of us that are undecided or took a while to find the right thing are destined to be hopeless “masters of none”?

Nope! As much as this fear sometimes nags me, it’s worth remembering that there’s more to writing than a proficiency with language- just as there is more to art than shading techniques or volumetric form. When we create, we draw upon all areas of who we are and what we know. A breadth of knowledge is as important as the depth of it.

My many hours of flying give me a pilot’s knowledge on my works. As an artist I have a vivid visual sense of the world I’m writing (and will sometimes use drawing to work through ideas). My understanding of games and emergent systems affects how I build plots and implement causality.

You do need to put in a lot of hard work to excel at any craft worth doing, but don’t be afraid to diversify a little, too. It’s what makes your work yours.

Releasing preliminary version of Cloudgazer

So earlier this week I released the preview version of my first novel, Cloudgazer, somewhat low-key as it’s still in draft 5 and only the first 8 chapters are up for feedback. But it’s been quite exciting just in this short time, starting to discuss with people the characters and plot points that I’ve been working on for over ten years. So if you’re curious, check out the link above and grab the PDF for your e-reader of choice. All feedback and critique welcome. At this stage there are still probably several misspellings & typos, but I’m mostly interested in how people feel about the tone and pacing and the like.

We Aim to Miss the Moon: Or, “How I Learned Orbital Mechanics Instead Of Fudging It All The Time”

Some years ago, I attempted to land on the moon.

Okay, it was the moon in the astrosim Orbiter. But it was, in logistical terms, still a huge challenge; Orbiter is a simulation, after all. So I decided to make things a little bit easier on myself. After all, I could learn the necessary astrophysical calculations to do it as NASA did in the 1960s. Or I could use the future! The science fiction future of Firefly, to be precise. I figured that the main challenge would merely be the limits of my vehicle. So, I postulated, if I was to use a high-tech scifi spaceship, it would be easy! I wouldn’t need to worry about trifling matters such as calculations. And I could not have been more wrong.

Serenity leaves Earth in a general moon-like direction

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Jammin’

So it’s been a little while since I made an entry, so much so in fact that we’re closer to the next Ludum Dare than the one I last spoke of entering. LITH rated pretty well in all; notably placing 11th for Mood and 40th for Audio. I’ve reworked it a little and the unreleased iteration improves the enemy intelligence a dickload. There’s a couple other tweaks I’d like to implement on top of this to add more possibilities to it, but it’s been on hold lately as I have a mounting list of priorities.

LITH

In other news, I’m delving into Piano, as I am fortunate enough to know (and be sibling to) an excellent music teacher. This is rather exciting for me; I’ve wanted to be able to play the piano for years and never really got far. I took some lessons in my early teens but they didn’t go well. I have vague recollections of copying sheet music exercises and finding it incredibly boring. Unlike my first lesson last week, in which music theory blew my mind. Also, I think I have a thing for diminished triads.

I’m… not sure if that’s normal?

Ludum Jam on Toast

I’ve decided, somewhat last minute, to participate in Ludum Dare games jam along with a couple of maybe-I’ll-help minions. Ludum Dare is a challenge to make a game around a voted theme, that takes place globally three times a year. The next one begins tomorrow (at 02:00, in this part of the world). You can read more about it here. I’ll let you know how it rolls.

On a little side-note, No Man’s Sky has been grabbing a lot of attention. And it’s interesting that the design philosophy in the article is very much along the lines of my recent thoughts expressed in this article. So I’m just making a note of that for the record.

Procedural gaming: it’s just going to keep getting bigger.

Why is Evidence Important?

When discussing spiritualism, philosophy or religion it doesn’t take long to encounter the apparent impasse of “but concept X might be right”, where the concept is not falsifiable. Most of us with an empirical bent are content to ditch these ideas, because the lacking or counter evidence is often compelling enough. But I want to look at what happens when we don’t, and why a belief contrary to evidence is a no-win risk. To take a belief in something contrary to (or without) evidence is the colloquial (and less misleading) definition of the word ‘faith’. The “risk” we’re talking about can also be hugely variable; it could be as little as some of our time or as much as the welfare of a nation. Either way, I’m going to assume there is something lost by believing in a falsehood, as in reality there nearly always is.

So. We have our belief that is neither provable nor disprovable, as all persistent faiths necessarily are. We have no substantial supporting evidence for this faith, perhaps even evidence against it, but ultimately it is not disprovable. It might be true, the adherents stubbornly insist, and What (as a Liberty University student once fatefully asked Richard Dawkins) if you’re wrong?

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Keep on writing!

I’m missing out on the fun of NaNoWriMo again this year. It’s hard to keep writing, sometimes. I find it all too easy to just want everything to be perfect and never let it out. But you have to keep writing. Because the alternative is stopping. That sounds obvious, but it’s something I have to remind myself from time to time. Keep on writing, even if everyone seems to disagree with you. Keep on writing, even if you think nothing will become of it.

Here’s a toast to anyone too busy trying to finish something to start something new this month.