Taste of Success

Photo by: J Hardy Carroll

Jones sighed contentedly. When they had accidentally been locked into the eco-dome with no supplies, that was bad. That the door couldn’t be opened for two weeks, was worse. The dome being full of predatory dinosaurs was a catastrophe.

Yet they had survived, and in minutes the door would open. “I’m glad we didn’t starve,” said Jones. “Also glad you’re a highly-trained field operative. Otherwise, we’d be dino food.”

Agent Haversham shrugged and chewed contentedly, “Told you we’d make it.”

“Well, I think survival tastes sweet. What about you?”

Haversham paused to consider his roasted Velociraptor bone. “Tastes like chicken.”
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Written for the Friday Fictioneers: https://rochellewisoff.com/2020/01/15/17-january-2020/

Author’s Notes:

It is well established now that the dinosaurs weren’t entirely killed off. Their modern forebears live among us, we just call them birds. So from that, can we guess at what dinosaurs taste like? Have a look at this:
https://www.vice.com/en_us/article/ypx4x5/this-is-what-dinosaur-meat-tasted-like

Velociraptor (fast, predatory dinosaur)
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Velociraptor

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Technobabble Versus Technical Description

Tower of Babel: by Pieter Bruegel the Elder (1563)

Continuing on in the Momus News essays, let us consider the differences between technobabble and technical description.

I’ve been a technically-minded person for most of my adult life. I’ve made my living developing databases and refining web-based user interfaces. All this gets really very technical. While describing how it all works (and even in the stories I write), I’ve been accused of spouting technobabble many times. But was it really? Let’s have a close look at what technobabble really is.

According to my friend E.M. Swifthook (and I totally agree with her), true technobabble is a series of technical-sounding words applied to sound technical, but which really describe nothing. True technobabble sounds like this: “The aptulintian projectors were caked with hablinkat residue, and the intchatachol kazumitors were flexing into the metapuliting fields.” That previous is from my flash fiction story, “Christmas for Santa“. I used technobabble there for comedic effect, not really intending to convey useful information.

During this essay, I will spend far more time discussing Technical Description. The reason for that is, it is a far more complex animal, often misconstrued as technobabble. To begin, let’s get something straight: technical description does not strictly live in the realm of science fiction. Any topic, from rockets to magic to basket-weaving can have their technical aspects, using terms and concepts most people have never heard of. That doesn’t mean describing them is therefore technobabbling. If you’re writing a political thriller, you need to describe how the politics works and how it affects the characters. Fail to do this and the reader will be left in limbo. To me, you cannot write a book about politics without describing how politics works. You cannot write about magic without describing how magic works. You cannot write scifi without describing how the technology works.

There can be a big difference scifi and fantasy, but they can also be strikingly similar. In Devon Monk’s “Magic to the Bone” she describes a city with a magical grid (instead of the familiar electrical grid) and explains how it works and what its limitations are. That way, when everything goes to hell, you understand why. This wasn’t magi-babble, this was brilliant, thoughtful writing. When it comes to technical subjects, often the failings of a wondrous technology or magic are as important as the benefits.

I might put technical description into a scene if describing some wonder weapon, that is critical to the plot, to firmly nail down in the reader’s mind why it is dangerous. I might also leave clues in there for a means by which it can be overcome. I suppose I am writing for people like myself. I am never satisfied that something “just is,” I want to know why it is that way. When I get that explanation, I am a happy reader. I can read on, unfettered by unanswered questions about something merely placed to characterize this strange new world.

I think the best way is to write technical description is to link it back to real science (or plausible sources of magic) in some way. We don’t have AIs now, but we have computers that AIs are derived from. So an AI is an easily understandable next step forward. Writing fiction is essentially, telling lies. But the best way to tell lies is to mix them with known truths. So tell the lie of this futuristic technology or magic by mixing it with current scientific (or established magical tropes) facts or theories.

In my book, “The Huralon Incident,” I describe military rifles that fire hypersonic rounds. The rounds are small, but because they move so much faster than current rifle rounds, their destructive potential more than makes up for their size. They are electromagnetic guns (rail guns) which exist now, so I’ve described a plausible, believable weapon because it is based on existing technology.

I read/write science fiction and fantasy because I want something that’s different than what I know now. I want something that’s better (or worse) than what I understand now. For me to get the “feeling” of that difference, I (or the author) must describe what that difference is. It doesn’t have to be everything, just key elements to immerse me into that alternative world. Technical description should be used sparingly, offering a brief insight into how this unfamiliar world works, never interfering too much with the pace of the narrative. Just like with baking, a little salt in your cookies is great, too much is bad. Sprinkle just enough technical description into the story, and have succeeded in making an imaginary world, real, in the mind of your reader.

In The Huralon Incident, there is no technobabble, but there’s a lot of technical description. I’ll leave it up to you if I balanced it with a fast-moving and engaging narrative. You can find it here:

What about you? How would you define Technobabble, and where did you find it?

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Cravings

Photo by: C.E. Ayr

Bryce guided his sailboat into the slip where his RV waited. The aliens had returned him as they promised, but he’d lived on alien worlds for so long he missed simple things like a good chili-cheese dog. He sighed, “Oh how I missed familiar food.”

Beside him the alien, Portomus, looked like a man with a wolf’s head. He said, “I will miss hunting my meals, but it’s good to be back on Earth and sampling the local cuisine.”

“Yeah, about that,” said Bryce. “I’m glad you like our local food, but let’s keep the cattle mutilations to a limit, okay?”
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Written for the Friday Fictioneers: https://rochellewisoff.com/2020/01/08/10-january-2020/

Author’s Notes:

My wife isn’t from this country. She’s from the Philippines. I can only imagine what it feels like to be in a foreign land where familiar and (usually) easily found food becomes rare, and hard to come by. I do try to help out with that by learning how to cook some of the food she grew up with.

By the same token, after visiting the Philippines several times now, some of the food there has become things I cannot live without. I wasn’t born and raised eating Dinuguan for instance, but I crave it just as much as I would any hamburger.

People are funny, right?

Dinuguan (pork blood stew)

Dinuguan Recipe


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What Makes an Artificial Intelligence?

Background image by: Parker_West from Pixabay

In my next book, I wanted to explore how an AI might be developed. As so often happens in science, I thought it might occur by accident.  This is from Book Two of the Springbok Chronicles (untitled). In my previous book, The Huralon Incident, we meet the Reapers: deadly war machines fighting for the protagonists. Earlier in this scene the Reaper had reported 61% readiness, effectively non-deployable in the field. Brian, its technician, has been struggling to get it working again. HIP is described earlier and Human Interaction Protocol.

***

With a gesture, Brian made copies of the machine’s OS and firmware. He called up a block of code he’d written during a night of despair and anger over the bullying Grazny directed at him. For days after, every time Brian examined the code he wondered where his own mind was at. He had intended to write a piggyback OS that would stabilize Thunder’s often-collapsing system links by enabling auto self-correction. But as he looked at it again now, it seemed too simple in execution, yet too complex conceptually. It was something like a fractal organization system, simple in structure, but producing complex results.

The code was totally out of bounds for use in an operational weapon, but Brian kept wondering how well it would work. Plus, he’d added about 3K more lines of possible responses to human queries, and that would make his only friend a better conversationalist. Thinking hard, he drummed his fingers on the table. Thunder was hosed beyond belief. This couldn’t make it worse, could it? He loaded the code, triggered an overwrite, and rebooted the Reaper. He restarted its HIP and said, “Hey Thunder, what’s happening?”

“Feelin’ good, Bruh. You?”

Brian laughed out loud. That was more like it. “Aren’t you going to give me an operational status?”

“Sure. 72%”

Brian felt his stomach jump into his throat. His code shouldn’t have changed anything that much. “Say again?”

“74% now, and climbing.”

“No, no,” Brian muttered. He brought up the system logs, and sighed with relief. Core weapons release and action protocols remained standard. Then again, the arrays were expanding, allowing new potential behavior. Thunder’s same firmware error codes, the ones that had plagued it forever, still popped up, but the Reaper had created new software bridges that bypassed those problems. More bridges were popping up, hundreds per second.

His finger hovered over the diagnostic holo’s “kill thread.” Pulling on the virtual cord would trigger an emergency shutdown.

“What have I done?”

Brian’s eyes locked onto the folded up cube beside him. In diagnostic mode, the Reaper should remain folded, passive, incapable of doing anything else.

And then the alien-made killing machine stood up.

Brian yanked on the kill thread.

It didn’t work.

***

So what about you folks? If an AI were possible, how would it come about?

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A Timely Distraction

Photo By: Rochelle Wisoff-Fields

Nanotechnology meds ensured Ben lived until 2050. The divorcee sank all his savings into one time travel trip to provide a timely distraction.

***

Ben and Jasmine were preparing to welcome the new year of 1930 when their first fight started. Ben was so angry, he prepared a crushing retort, one that would surely end the marriage…and then the phone rang.

“What?” he growled into the phone.

“Happy New Year,” said the ancient, creaky voice.

Taken aback, he said “You too.”

Ben hung up, perplexed and forgetting his angry words. As the countdown reached zero, he kissed his wife, and they never fought again.
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Written for the Friday Fictioneers: https://rochellewisoff.com/2020/01/01/3-january-2020/

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Maximum (Effective) Laser Range

When I began writing, The Huralon Incident, I wanted to figure what would be a plausible “effective range” of future military lasers. I dug into Google and started researching. The number of different, and often contradictory answers, I found were legion. Nobody seems to know for sure, and even those who should know, say the end result depends on a huge number of factors. Safe to say, I didn’t get any really hard, useful information after reading so many articles my eyes turned red and they began to creak in a distressingly loud way.

Maximum Effective Laser Range

Having found no definitive data I, somewhat arbitrarily, decided that any distance within one light-second is point blank range. “That’s really close, E.A.” you might say. Actually, it isn’t. The distance from Earth to the Moon is 238,900 miles, and that is 1.28 light-seconds. So, here is the ISS space station, a large installation looking a bit diminutive, in orbit around the Earth:

We’re already some distance from the ISS, but you still cannot see the whole Earth. We’re too close. Now for comparison, here’s an Apollo 11 shot taken from the Moon, 1.28 light seconds away.

Now we can see the whole Earth, but where would the ISS be? Well, it would be a tiny little speck too small to see. And this distance would amount to a knife fight in a phone booth during futuristic space combat.

The reason I consider this point-blank range is because the information directing a firing a laser at this range is “only” two seconds old. One second for a light-speed radar range finder to reach the target, one second for the range information to come back and tell you how far away it is. Considering that a ship could move hundreds (instead of thousands) of kilometers from the location a radar tells you the target is located at, that’s not too incredibly awful. Futuristic computers, I wager, could work out where a target might be at that range. You’ll have a snowball’s chance in hell of actually hitting something, with a sophisticated AI.

At five light-seconds away, you’ve got little hope of hitting a maneuvering target. The enemy would be dodging his/her butt off because that’s a ship full of people who very much don’t want to die. Your information would be ten seconds old and when you fire your laser this beam of superheating destruction it will take a further five seconds to arrive on target. That’s a fifteen second lag time! Adding to the thinking is that every time you release the immense energies of your laser, you create heat in your own ship. Getting rid of heat in space is very difficult because there is no atmosphere to transfer the heat to. So, you want to fire your lasers when you can make the shots count. That means, at a range where you’ve got a hope of hitting.

And thus, is the logic for how I determined maximum effective range for a futuristic laser. What say you? Any thoughts to add? Let me know in the comments.

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Christmas for Santa

Courtesy of jmstaehli.com

Things were looking grim for Christmas. Santa’s sleigh (actually a Kawanika Ka-393 starship) was breaking down all over. The aptulintian projectors were caked with hablinkat residue, and the intchatachol kazumitors were flexing into the metapuliting fields and causing an arrhythmic resonance in the laputiator chambers. In short, the sleigh was a mess. It maxed out, at best, at just over eight-thousand times the speed of light. To make matters worse, the time-slipping module was getting real twitchy and it was taking 364 days of real time, going back in time every day, just to get all the presents delivered. No vacations in Maui…again.

But now with the last japithalmic convertor burned out, Santa had no hope of delivering ANY presents. All would be fine if the Kawanikans were still shipping spare parts, but no one had seen them ever since they discovered Xbox. Santa sat on a frozen stump in Northwestern Siberia and wondered what would become of Christmas.

A bright star shined suddenly in the sky, and a massive red machine zoomed in for a rapid landing. The being that stepped out could have been confused for an upright-walking reindeer, but Santa recognized a Kawanikan immediately. “Ho-ho-ho!” called Santa, in the traditional Kawanikan greeting. “Am I happy to see you!”

“Sorry I’m late,” said the alien. “I brought spare parts for your old sleigh.”

“My old sleigh?” said Santa.

“Oh yeah, this is your new one. A Kawanika Ka-544. Gets over a hundred-thousand times the speed of light. ”

A tear slipped down Santa’s cheek and froze there like a diamond. “It’s beautiful! I thought I’d seen the last of you Kawanikans.”

“Yeah, well, I’m a bit of an outcast. Nobody lets me play in their Xbox games, so I do my own thing–making starships.”

“Well you, my friend, have saved Christmas! Tell me, what’s your name?”

“Unpronounceable for humans or elves, of course. You can call me, Rudolph.”
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Merry Christmas everyone!

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