Writing


. . . well, nothing happened to steam. It’s still pretty important.

It’s always nice when the post I actually have a few minutes to write somehow ends up following the last one I did from god knows how long ago. Picking up on the criticism of nostalgia in the previous post, I was just thinking more about the fetishization of particular technology in any ****punk genre.

Calling Victorian-inspired fiction “steampunk” kind of implies that the technology is stuck in that era. It’s as if only Victorians used it and as soon as people started driving Model Ts, nobody ever used it again, thus giving it some kind of cachet. This is ridiculous. Steam is still a crucial technology.

Okay, so maybe the defining factor is the steam engine. I can live with that. It makes sense. So maybe the idea is still legit and I’m just typing out of my ass. But while I’m here for like 30 more seconds, let’s appreciate how important steam still is . . . you know, just for shits and giggles.

The properties of steam are actually pretty neat. I don’t want to throw numbers around here, but due to its density, you can get huge flow rates from it when compared to plain hot water. This is more efficient. And unless you’re on a hippie commune in California, a lot of facilities/homes need a lot of hot-something to function properly. A pressure vessel–a boiler, preferably steam and not just hot water–is still how we do this. Boilers are everywhere, and I can’t see how we’d function without them no matter what kind of awesome technology makes us think we don’t need basic large-scale industrial solutions.

So what has changed? Well, thousands of people used to die in boiler accidents. That’s a neat steampunk theme, and I’m not being sarcastic for once. I’ve seen it in a couple books. To me, there’s an example of punkin’ it right. Anyway, now that we have mechanical engineers and boilers aren’t just something pieced together by Balloon Captain Englishman McBritishperson in his hobby workshop; they’re pretty safe and accidents are low. But they’re still there, and you wouldn’t be fretting about being too hot in the mall with your winter coat when Christmas shopping if it weren’t for boilers. So yeah . . . there isn’t a guy with coal on his face and a bunch of poor children at home tending it, so it’s harder to write a neat story about the power engineer watching the boilers nowadays. But it’s still pretty cool . . . at least to me. It’s also a decent paycheck.

Another tack to this is how people view energy, especially now. There’s so much talk about ditching things that work but take a big corporation to produce (like natural gas, which is pretty clean, but I digress) for downright silly ideas like “solar roadways.” What I’m getting at here is that the requirements of a huge facility, like a hospital or a factory (even one that makes solar panels) tend to demand a lot of power, especially for heating. It takes 60 percent more water to heat a surface using liquid than steam. I don’t think I’d want my hospital to rely on solar panels to output millions of BTUs to keep the place running. Just sayin’.

Even in the Nuclear Age (atomicpunk?) you still have steam doing the dirty work. Are we still in that age? I don’t even know–we use it, and it’s good, but we’re not supposed to acknowledge that anymore. Derp.

I guess in reality, you can’t just chop our technological state into different  . . . erm . . . things. It’s mutable, and some old things are repurposed because they are so basic and practical, other technology pivots around them and they fade into the backsplash where nobody looks because there’s not a lot to say about them politically or socially. I guess, then, that’s the true measure of a successful or important technology–when people stop talking about it but still rely on it.

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So what could make a post on a dead blog special? Well, the fact that I’m posting at all! Also, I’m writing this at a resort in Jamaica.

Seriously though, life as an actual person is more demanding than I had ever thought. With a popular wife, a new appreciation for the powerlifting end of the weight training spectrum, and a kickass 8 month construction management coop, free time is rare.

We’re at Sandals in Negril. It’s pretty awesome. I’m not a beach person, actually. But this isn’t like the beach in Canada. I learned this last year in Cuba, but it never ceases to amaze me: I still maintain my dislike of frittering away a summer weekend at a rocky gross Canadian beach teeming with stoned teenagers, but you can’t put that in the same category as the caribbean.

I think the main reason I’m enjoying this extraordinary resort is because of the aforementioned life as an actual person. As my indulgent author/musician self, I didn’t see the value of vacations because I was in complete control of 90 percent of my time. Not that being busy/responsible is a chore–it’s something I’ve craved and hadn’t found until getting into engineering and married life. I definitely understand the value of these seemingly vapid endeavpours now.

The beach in Negril is ideal, the service at sandals is absurdly good, and I’m super pumped to suspend the weight training for lying around, smoking Matterhorns (gasp!) and enjoying top shelf drinks for a week.

I’ve been somewhat more involved with some diesely things in my job lately. Things like old buildings, military history, and so on. It’s interesting to compare what the diesel era was like in real life where I am, versus the vision in my head that drives my fiction. Huh???? Am I still in fiction mode? Yes. I don’t get to write  at the moment, but it’s still there. Anyway, I want to do some posts about actual conditions in the diesel era as opposed to the idealized version that’s focused on pulp serials and high modernist architecture in big cities. The story is a bit different in western Canada to New York or Paris. The people here didn’t really give a shit about Gertrude Stein, Schoenberg, or the use of setbacks in the Chrysler building. It’s actually a really cool thing to delve into, and I can’t wait to write these “un-punking of dieselpunk” posts.

For now though, I have a lot of nothing to do!

 

I admit, I didn’t check the date of the last post. For sure one, if not both, of my readers have likely by now assumed that I’ve been completely swallowed by the non-writing world of contract management, never to be heard from again. This is so terribly overdue that it’s pretty embarrassing.

Well, I’m here at nearly midnight after a long day of renovating the condo I don’t live in and am not allowed to rent out to prove otherwise. Sort of.

 

Where did I leave off? Something about being in Europe and getting married and all that? Yeah, the awesome travelogue I’d planned didn’t pan out. This is a failure I’m happy to display to the world, because it’s the best failure possible: I was too busy travelling to be able to write enough. Sure, I amassed some haphazard notes, but the statute of limitations on turning them into something interesting has lapsed. And that’s okay–unless you’re travelling as a professional and part of the reason you’re doing it in the first place is because someone’s paying you to write about it, why the hell would you spend any significant amount of precious time abroad writing, even if it was one of your passions and few things you’re good at?

Robert Heinlein pulled off a great travelogue. Tramp Royale came out of an entirely different situation–I don’t think most people travel the way Heinlein did. The ones who kind-of-sort-of-do these days often seem insincere and tend to be weird social media personalities who use their fantastic travel plans to build up some YOLO-ish persona, often with some charitable lip-service thrown in just in case anyone is cynical enough to doubt their sincerity. No, Heinlein did it with genuine curiosity and enough intelligence to write something meaningful from it. You should probably put down whatever you’re reading and check it out.

Me? I just stumbled around Paris and Germany with my wife and had a good time. I didn’t even take many photos. Why would I? The way I see it is that the human eye has better resolution than any camera; therefore it is redundant and wasteful to spend time making digital images when all I have to do is sit back and chill for a bit if I want to revisit those experiences. Typical INTJ hubris, I know, but it is what it is . . .

Speaking of hubris, how about that title? Yeah, I don’t mean to invoke The Stephen King in a bad/stupid/clueless/ham-fisted way. But the point right now is that I’ve been sucked into the real world, or Babylon, or whatever you like to call it. Writing is always there, especially in my chosen field. This is probably something most people with adult jobs intuitively know, but since I’ve been writing “professionally” for so long, of course I’m going to view it more mechanically than my coworkers.

Part of my education included a technical communications course. Everyone hated it, but to me it was a refuge. It was the only course where I could sit back, enjoy a break, and occasionally pick up something new. Actually, I picked up more than anyone else in the class did . . . I guarantee this. The hubris didn’t last long, because soon it became obvious that writing at work was nowhere near the same as writing novels.

I kept a certain amount of cockiness, sure. But because I had a million words of fictional crap behind me, my weaknesses in real world writing soon magnified in my editor’s brain and I had to take it seriously. During my work term job interviews, I had to sell myself on communications skills because I’m a 30-something with average grades, and that was all I had to show for it. My pitch relied on this, and yet in reality, writing effectively in the real world is one of the most difficult things there is. It’s confusing because the standard is actually so low, yet the stakes are high: in the world of building things, legal contracts and specifications, one small oversight in precision can result in a bridge collapsing and reputations crushed, not to mention money and jobs lost.

These are all things our instructor told us. But it’s such a complicated thing that merely being told these things amounts to . . . not much. This is really the advantage being an experienced fiction writer gave me–the tools to see the value in being told I didn’t have a clue and why it was important. I don’t blame the other guys for thinking it was all bullshit. It’s not like calculating the point of failure on a column . . . if you haven’t written much, some guy telling you that writing in the workplace is important isn’t going to be all that convincing, especially if you’re a boss at math and aren’t intimidated by dynamics.

I should have gotten this clue a couple years ago when I’d first attempted to document travel. It was an obvious failure, but for some reason I didn’t take it seriously enough to analyze exactly why.

Going further–if you only have to deal with words, you’re lucky. Take drafting, for example. It’s writing too. Or, in the politically-correct parlance, “communication.” Now, talk to most draftsmen, and they’ll probably tell you to fuck off and stop talking about bullshit, but it’s true: drafting is a form of writing, and similar to what I’d learned above, isn’t about whether or not you can draw something. Beside me I have a small drawing of a very simple post and concrete pad setup. I volunteered to make an awesome CAD version of the sketch my coworker had made and used for a project. I’ve been staring at it for a couple days wondering just what exactly the best way to communicate the intention of the drawing is. Still haven’t drawn much. This isn’t a discussion about drafting so much as it is a reality check about non-fiction communication–I’m left with the same sense of bewilderment as when I need to write something detailed, fast, and simple for work. Just like I whipped up some crazy-assed psychoanalytically-based experimental fiction that was terrible, my final drafting project in school featured a feverish isometric drawing of a house. If you’ve ever dealt with building houses, you probably know that a complicated isometric drawing is about as useful as a weight-loss supplement. Like my experimental writing, it looked cool on the page and took a lot of technical thought and effort, but in the end meant nothing. My project overall earned a poor grade despite the effort, and all because I missed the point: to communicate the idea properly and nothing more.

 

But hey, I have a backlog of fiction ideas that I could (in theory) crank out in no time and with little effort. I have more ideas than I’ll be able to write in my lifetime if I were able to write fiction full-time. You’d think that some published fiction and the confidence that comes with that would make you an All-Encompassing-Great-Writer.

The point of this post is to assure you that such an assumption is horseshit.

 

The next time you read a good DVD player manual or see a good set of house blueprints, take a moment to appreciate real-world communication. It’s even harder to find than good fiction.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Once again I’m finding it necessary to reiterate the fact that yes, I actually still am alive. I may even still be a writer—I guess we’ll see soon enough.

That’s it—24 weeks of 35 hours-per-week-plus-homework craziness. It’s hard to believe that the first half of my engineering technology program is done. I don’t even remember what I did with the extravagant amounts of time I must have had before this. Kind of a sobering thought, really.

If anyone reading this has/is considering one of these programs and is on the fence, I’d say just do it. When you look at all the cool stuff you get into versus the cost and time, it’s totally worth it. Now, on r/engineering, most of the guys will say otherwise and that you should just get a big engineering degree. Sure, if that’s what you’ve set out to do, by all means it’s obviously the best way. But I don’t think everyone interested in engineering necessarily wants or needs to get to that level. For myself, when I read the conversations about students fretting over turning town awesome jobs with huge companies because they want to “do research” or get a phd, my eyes glaze over and I start thinking about more interesting things like gear ratios or cats. Some of us just want a cool job and the scope of a technologist still has plenty of room to go pretty far. Not only that, but if you find you want to become a P.Eng after the fact, it’s easy to continue on with university.

The reason I mention this is because I wish I had done it a decade ago. When I was that young, I still believed the crap people had taught us about how everyone is meant to do this or that and that precious snowflakes should just follow their passion—as if 19-year-olds actually have a clue what that really is. And I think people still believe that, because in the few job interviews I’ve had, a sticking point seems to be the drastic shift in my career goals. If I had been pushed a little harder to look at programs like this, I would have realized that I liked it a lot and wouldn’t have to deal with that issue. It certainly was not at all on the radar back then. I didn’t even know it existed.

Ah yes, the co-op issue. So I didn’t end up with one. I’m on my own until January of next year—whether I find something I can count as a work term or just continue slaving away in the health racket, it’s a bit of a blow.

I used to get job interviews for fun in the health industry. I knew what I was doing, have a reputation here built around it, and had no problem taking control during an interview the way you’re supposed to. In career change land, not so much. Like I said, it looks like being an author is actually hurting me here. These are two worlds that definitely do not get along. I understand why, but the stereotyping is frustrating and something I don’t know how to navigate quite yet. A major reason I didn’t end up with a co-op position is that I can’t really move to where most of the work is. In that regard, not successfully competing in a tiny job market isn’t that big of a deal. But this is why I would plead that anyone thinking of doing this just stop hesitating and do it now—it’s so much harder to do when you have an adult life and can’t pack up and go to a camp for 8 months. I’d love to do it, but it’s just not feasible right now.

Anyway, yes, I’m still a writer. Already I’m starting to look past the current projects I have on the go—mainly a sequel and my serial. I’m thinking about diverging from dieselpunk after I finish those. Two things are getting me going these days when it comes to fiction:

 

  • The way Canadian literary fiction makes me thankful I have a calculus textbook now, because calculus a hell of a lot more interesting
  • Hard SF is full of really great writers, but seems stuck in the 90s.

 

Don’t get me wrong—being stuck in the 90s is awesome. But it’s those little gaps that make me want to write. It’s why I wrote dieselpunk before it was even a thing.

Dieselpunk is on its way to better things. I think it reaches a point where the rate of reproduction outgrows the artistic values that made me write it, and that even when I continue to write in the genre, it won’t necessarily be recognized as such. My vision of it isn’t going to change, but collectively it will.

 

Canadian literary fiction drives me up the wall. How did we go from Leonard Cohen to this? I’m seriously considering trying my hand at it again. It’s like being in a room with all the picture frames placed cockeyed and such. A lot of people would agree—this idea is nothing new. But I don’t get why a lot of writers trash literary fiction, focus on their own little corner, and don’t try to add anything to it. This is something that has constantly bothered me about the genre writing scene. I guess it’s fine to like what you like and stick to that, but I’ve never been able to limit my writing to one area.

Hard SF doesn’t bother me the way the above does, but there are definitely gaps to be filled. I have no idea if I’m capable of addressing either of these things, but hopefully I’ll get to try.

 

That is, after I wrap up some diesel projects of course!

I haven’t done a lot of interviews, but when I have done them, or had to prepare talking points about writing, one of the things I mull over beforehand is science fiction. For some reason, the topic always gets derailed and I’m left with a lot of things to say about it, even though I’m strictly a fantasy author with no real intent to challenge the hard SF guys. I mean the Aurora Award might as well just be named “National Robert Sawyer Appreciation Day.”

The weird thing is, sometimes I have way more to say about science fiction than I do fantasy. Why? It’s hard to say. Without wanting to sound like an elitist douchebag, I think some of my motivation to write fantasy is the fact that so much of it makes me want to jump out of my skin and throw the book into a vat of molten steel. But like the Skynet chip or whatever the hell it was they were trying to destroy at the end of whichever Terminator movie I’m thinking of, it would likely just keep coming back in different, more upsetting incarnations. I like a challenge, especially when I know it is within my grasp.

This post isn’t about things that drive me nuts about fantasy, but about why science fiction is so cool. And difficult.

Before I wrote Blightcross I wrote a lot of crappier novels. One of them was hard science fiction. It was doomed from the beginning, and part of me actually knew this as I wrote the first draft. But I also knew that abandoning projects in your first few attempts at writing is a good way to fail. So I pretended nothing was wrong and finished it, revised, revised again, and tried to sell. I describe it as “hard” science fiction but it probably wasn’t even close. It might have scraped by as hard SF in the 80s, but having been written in an entirely different millennium kind of made even that ridiculous.

So, let’s try to summarize the problem without getting into detail about the embarrassing story. See, one of the sins I had committed was writing from a place of opinion or protest. My opinions at the time meant nothing and weren’t based in much, and because I was young, were naturally pretty strong. The story was about some stupid trans-humanist fearmongering (on my part), and the objective of this novel was to tell people interested in transhumanism and the idea of the “singularity” that it was “bad” and should be stopped before it starts. Well, recently I read an article that outlined exactly why the “singularity” idea wouldn’t happen anyway. My understanding of the whole thing was embarrassingly outdated because I had been involved more in writing and music than I had been with computers and technology at the time, and had fallen way behind.

Anyway, I think the “singularity” idea came out in the 1970s, so it wasn’t exactly cutting-edge subject matter to begin with. I’m not entirely sure why I had become freaked out about the idea at the time.

Here’s the thing: you can make even an outdated premise work . . . with enough skill. Actually, you don’t even need that. You just need enough skill to barely make the material interesting PROVIDED THAT YOU HAVE EXPERTISE IN THE FIELD WITH WHICH YOU’RE TRYING TO BULLSHIT THE AUDIENCE.

To clarify: I knew nothing whatsoever about the topic. Well, except that for some reason it freaked me out.

Even John Ringo (if that is a real person, and I’m too lazy to research this but the one novel I read of his was so ridiculous I figured it had to be a joke . . . a really awesome, ironic joke) demonstrates some credible expertise that shockingly legitimizes the story’s bad taste. At that point in my life, I was offended that this guy was making money writing science fiction. Now I admire the guy’s chops. The books sell. They are definitely entertaining. I don’t care about his politics—not that you can tell from a writer’s fiction what those truly are.

A lot of hard SF drives me insane because it’s so boring, but at the same time really, really interesting because the author knows their stuff. I mean, the magnitude of boring some of these hard sf novels have is mind-blowing. The fact that they end up being good novels in spite of just how boring they are is a testament to the major chops these guys have. So when literary snobs trash genre fiction, they might have a point when it comes to hacks selling more stories about Jizznar the Elf Warrior, but they really need to examine just how amazing the hard sf writers are.

Flash forward to the present. I’m in a position that I never, ever would have dreamed could be possible: I have a good short haircut, lift weights, and . . . am in an engineering program. Suddenly the issue about expertise doesn’t seem like such foreign territory. And now, even with the most basic applied science education—barely scratching the surface—I’m seeing a clearer picture of what goes into good science fiction. Like I mentioned in the previous post, the amount of control and perception we actually have of the world is like magic. But it’s magic most people can learn, if they apply themselves.

When us fantasy writers debate the differences, we get all pissy and claim that oh yes, we had to make detailed worlds too! They had to be convincing and internally consistent. Yeah, that’s a tough thing to do. But not as hard as building a story around real technical knowledge. And a lot of fantasy writers still have that—there are a bunch who know every detail about medieval life and it’s equally impressive. But it’s not necessarily required. Fantasy authors, if they’re good at it, can fake it if they have enough intelligence and attention to detail. There’s rarely a hard sf author who can fake it. That was basically the approach I took in my attempt, and it was just awful.

At school, stuff that’s boring is still interesting. Instantly my imagination is triggered by dry technical material. It’s hard-wired to find a way to make this stuff into a story, and an awesome one at that. There was a thread on r/engineeringstudents about what job we all wanted. Of course I put the absolute ideal, which for me would be on Mars. I mean, of course, right? Doing even the most mundane geotechnical work would be fucking awesome on Mars. It’s not that far-fetched, since private companies are already trying to throw together a Mars colony. I wanted to do it, but being old and tied down now, I can’t sign up. Hell, I even debated with my fiancée the morality of steering one of our future children into going to Mars. Sadly, the consensus is that being concerned about having one of your children get to Mars is “not normal” and probably not something to talk about in everyday conversation. Anyway, I might not be able to do civil gruntwork on Mars, but I can damn well write a good, convincing story about it someday. That would be impossible if I had thought of the story idea and knew nothing.

Some pros can pick a storyline that needs fleshing out, then immerse themselves in the technical details it needs for a month and pull it off. I don’t know if that works with hard sf. Stephen King does well spending a week or whatever with a police department to do research, but hard sf needs something more. It needs to pick up on the drive the author has to pursue the technical knowledge in the first place. It does come through in the writing—but don’t mistake this for “passion.” On the list of things that ruin a story, an author who is merely writing about pet interests is close to the top.

Will I end up writing science fiction in the future? Hard to say. Archon has some sf elements in it but is still going to be fantasy, which actually might bother people. My fantasy writing is evolving with the technical knowledge, but I wonder what it would be like to try my hand at a good, classic hard sf story someday.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Concrete and the Pacific Northwest–I haven’t seen much of either in steampunk, so let’s take a look at both at the same time. Just for fun. Concrete isn’t something we normally associate with steampunk. It kind of gets lost in all the brass and  . . . collars. But it became quite important in the later half of that era.

 

The Kaleden Hotel: 1910

Lots of other things were going on in the steam era. Yes, Balloon Captain Baron Britishperson is interesting to read about and we all can’t get enough of things made of gears that don’t really need to be made of gears; however, while Balloon Captain Baron Britishperson was doing his thing in Europe, his compatriots were also doing stuff way the heck out here in British Columbia. A few of them decided to build a bunch of orchards in the Okanagan Valley, and those who didn’t feel like making the trip invested in some of these communities. One such place was Kaleden.

Unlike a lot of the small towns around where I grew up, this wasn’t a staging point for miners and railway workers. It was a project undertaken by English bourgeois to irrigate the area and produce a lot of fruit. Elites back home funded much of the operation, which was mostly a success—it’s still a beautiful, dignified little place consisting mostly of orchards and, more recently, vineyards. It has remained bourgeois for most of the last 100 years.

The above photo is of the ill-fated Kaleden Hotel. No, it didn’t burn down. There are no ghosts or tragic stories. The skeleton you see there is a dramatic example of how ambition and lack of expertise turned a nice hotel into an abandoned shell.

The reason I mention this is that in an age where pioneer buildings were built of wood, someone decided to build a hotel out of concrete. Now, there was hardly anything around at the time as far as industry goes. I have no idea how or where they got their aggregate and what the logistics of that were. More on that later. But back to the story—the project fell on some financial trouble, and in that case the guy did what we all do when we need some cash: tear out the floors and sell it all! Right . . . .

When things got better, the guy wasn’t allowed to put it back together. Thankfully there must have been an engineer around—it was deemed unsafe because they hadn’t even reinforced the concrete.

Apparently the concrete was poured by hand. That means carrying it up a ladder and dumping it into the forms. That’s what the few historical accounts say—I’m not sure why nobody would have thought to use a rope and pulley, but I digress.

“But its concrete, how interesting is that?” you ask.

Concrete has been around forever, but actually wasn’t used very much between the ancient Romans’ time and the 1800s. The thing that revived it was the invention of Portland Cement (no relation to Portland Oregon or Maine), which made concrete a whole lot more consistent. To use concrete you need the right kind of rocks and the right mix of sizes of these rocks, and they need to be in a certain condition for it to work with the cement paste. Those gravel pits everyone doesn’t want in their back yard and writes letters to the editor about? Well, they’re actually very important to building a city and having them closer probably cuts down on pollution from trucking it around everywhere, but that’s another post entirely. The point is that the people who built this hotel had hardly anything available. There are tons of wood structures around from the same era, so I’m not sure why the builder chose to use concrete in this case. This is mostly conjecture, but to me the hotel was a ballsy move—a deviation, perhaps, from the overly practical “pioneer” temperament. Or is that kind of bravado a trait of pioneers? I’m not sure.

So while in mainstream steampunk land we have man portrayed as having such mastery over technology that he creates mechanically grotesque indulgences, here we have a case of that same bourgeois confidence falling flat in the face of ineptitude, the environment, circumstances, or some combination thereof.

Here’s a closer photo of the concrete. I chose this one because it shows just how random the aggregate in this concrete is. The big, long, flat, sharp rock is an example of everything you don’t want in concrete. Perhaps the reason they didn’t use rebar was because the size of this aggregate wouldn’t be able to pass around it and the concrete would separate. More likely is that they just used whatever they could find in the area. Also from the look of the rock, it’s dachite or something equally as unsuited for concrete use. When you look at geological maps of the area, most of the minerals they’d find are potentially bad.

In small towns that’s how concrete was done, though. And based on accounts I’ve heard personally from old guys around here, they still knew what worked and what didn’t, though in a broad sense. Of course now we know that mixing it in terms of “x-bags of cement with y-shovels-full of gravel” still isn’t good enough, but they made it work for house foundations and so on.

To the left you can see more of the same evidence of random rocks thrown into this concrete, and the pop-outs resulting from that choice.

Some might be disappointed that there isn’t some big dramatic fire behind this concrete skeleton, but to me the story of technical failure and financial blundering offers a lot more to think about. I guess readers don’t always see the underpinnings of a story, but for myself, and I imagine a lot of steam/dieselpunk writers, often the coolest stories full of action and drama stem from studying everyday situations like the one I’ve been writing about. And sometimes that starts with something as mundane as thinking about building materials, or electricity, or how a city is designed.

Balloon Captain Baron Britishperson is a fun character to play with—the aim of this post and my dieselpunk leanings isn’t at all an attack per se on those types of characters. But what I love about dieselpunk, and writing about “new world”—ish settings as opposed to opulent old empires is that Balloon Captain Baron Britishperson’s sense of entitlement and theoretical knowledge mean less when you change the rules of society. Industrial and entrepreneurial skills rule dieselpunk. Entitlement gets you nowhere—assuming that throwing money or status at a construction project will hemorrhage that old English money in an instant. Now, I don’t have a clue about what the person’s attitude was when they tried to build this thing, but it’s something that happens even today and is mitigated by the fact that we aren’t in the middle of the woods with no expertise or proper materials available.

The main point is that . . . well, sometimes things that aren’t interesting actually are. And that steampunk ought to exploit gold-rush type settings a bit more.

(Okay, so I have been doing blog posts straight from MS Word and it’s pretty neat . . . only apparently sometimes the formatting gets messed up in the process. Derrrrr.)


Once again I feel the need to reiterate that I exist, despite having left this revamped blog thing hanging. It’s the end of the first semester and I’ve found some extra minutes of time to consider things other than math and concrete. Some of these things include:

  • Eating properly
  • Doing things
  • Picking up some, but not all of my guitars
  • Running
  • The gym
  • ARCHON Part I

Somewhere in this period the plan was to get my entire condo painted and replace the floors. And by “get my entire condo painted” I mean “make a huge mess everywhere myself and hope it ends up looking better than it did in 1976.” Is that still going to happen? Derr.

Make no mistake—I’ve only completed one of seven final exams. So am I trying to weasel out of painting by mentioning that? Who knows.

What’s been really been on my mind outside the realm of civil engineering is Archon. The one good thing about not having time to write is that I get to totally forget what I’d written. When I read over the latest draft of this project, it was so foreign to me . . . a lot more foreign than what I’d experienced when I was writing all the time. When writers give you advice to put away your work for a while, it’s not just something that sounds nice. I never fully grasped the concept. Sure, I gave a mandatory three-month cooling-off period before attacking first-drafts. But I admit I did it more because it was standard practice than anything. Going over those drafts felt nothing like the strange world of reading something you can barely recall writing.

What of it? Well, you tend to catch idiotic writing tics a lot faster than normal. They’re like glowing toxic waste spills in the middle of your manuscript. You can’t miss them. But you can definitely miss them if you’re still close to the draft. The actual editing seems faster this way. Before it would take three or four passes to catch a lot of these things. We’ll see where I’m at after the first round of revisions, but it looks like it should take less time to polish.

Of course the other angle here is the fact that the story itself appears new again. It’s actually a good read this way. Before, it was kind of painful to keep reading stuff I already knew word-for-word. Not so this time. Part of why I’m so excited about this project is the very fact that it passes this test—the test of holding my interest at a time when I have no attachment to it whatsoever and have a million other things I need to do besides worry about my fiction. This is a really cool serial, and that’s why I don’t mind stringing along potential readers like I have been. Once it finally appears, it’ll be worth the wait. The only other time I felt anything close to this was with Blightcross, and that was just one novel among eight others . . . and consequently the only one that made it to print.

So what’s the holdup? I can get this thing ready to go relatively soon. I’m just unsure about the idea of cover art. If I just release this for free on my own (which is probably what I’ll do), I don’t want it to just be some text file floating around on the internet. Trouble is, I can’t make it myself and don’t know how to solicit artists on my own, never mind pay for it. The other option is getting it in with a few of the epublishers out there who handle serials, but the problem there is that they’d want at least two episodes up front. That I can do, but then the wait would be extremely long since I’d have to wait for the second part to materialize . . . and that might take a while given the current circumstances. I’d rather gauge the time I spend on future installments on reader interest in the first one.

Is cover art a big deal?

Am I too concerned with window-dressing? Should I just quietly place it on my blog and hope people find it?

Right now, I need some feedback about how people are finding new stuff to read. This is especially important given the niche audience I have.

Who wants to read some out-there dieselpunk where epic fantasy collides with Memphis Belle?

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