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I had written previously about the essential difference between Fantasy and Science Fiction [Link]. An illustration of this is provided in how I deal with dragons in THE DRAGONS OF SHEOL when compared with other occurrences in literature, for example in Tolkien’s The Hobbit.
Please don’t misunderstand me. I do not regard Tolkien’s silence on the question of “How can a large animal fly?” or “How can a dragon breathe fire without burning itself up?” as a defect. Not at all. Indeed, I regard The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings trilogy among my favorite books of all time and would not like to change a thing.
I merely wish to point out the difference in approach that the two genres take when designing the fabric of the story. As a genre, Science Fiction, often takes great pains to think about the physical laws involved, while for Fantasy these considerations are usually set aside.
So What’s the Problem?
Many years ago, I listened to a captivating lecture by Professor Octave Levenspiel. His lecture has been published . He applied many engineering principles to animals reconstructed from the fossil record and argued that these animals existed and were able to function because the atmospheric pressure was 3-5 Bar (a little more than 3-5 atmospheres).
Of relevance to The Dragons of Sheol was the data captured in his Figure 7:
The above figure is a log-log plot of mass (kg) against cruising speed (m/s). Since the lift (force holding the flyer up) is proportional to the square of the velocity and the first power of the wing area, one quickly runs into a limitation for birds. At our air pressure one of the highest wing loading (force/unit wing area) occurs for Canada geese. Indeed birds reconstructed from fossils (quetzalcoatlus and pteranodon) were much larger and were well above the one-atmosphere line.
However lift is also proportional to air density. According to Professor Levenspiel, very large flying creatures, that is muscle-powered flyers weighing more than 14.5 kg, could only have flown if the atmospheric pressure was 3-5 atmospheres. Even in fiction, if I want to have dragons flying, I have to imagine a setting that is plausible. In my thinking this led to the continent of Abaddon.
Abaddon Below Sea Level
The sketch below shows the altitude of Abaddon on a much-contracted horizontal scale. The Abaddon Plain is about ten kilometers below sea level while Sheol is about sixteen kilometers below sea level. For comparison, Mount Everest is 8848 meters above sea level. If sliced from the summit all the way to sea level, it would still be lower than the rim wall around the Abaddon Plain. Still, since Abaddon is a continent-sized plain, the ten kilometer rim wall on the scale of thousands of kilometers of plain, make the rim wall quickly disappear over the horizon.
Rough calculations on the pressure (assuming temperature is approximately the same as at sea level) would make the pressure approximately three atmospheres and six atmospheres respectively for the plain versus Sheol. Given the higher air density, much larger animals could fly at these pressures using muscle-powered locomotion, but it brought up the interesting idea: if the larger dragons grew so large they could only fly in the lower reaches of Sheol, then only the smaller ones could reach the higher terraces.
The Terraces on the Edge of Sheol
So how does one drop from the Abaddon Plain to Sheol? One huge drop? A steep slope? How about steps? Using steps has some interesting possibilities as shown in the figure below.
Depending on the geometry, line-of-sight would block vision of all but the immediate terrace below the escarpment edge. This fact, coupled with the danger of dragons rising from the depths would make the terraces an ideal place to hide. This plays a significant role in the story.
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I once asked a friend of mine who reads a great deal of Science Fiction and Fantasy what he saw as the essential difference between the two genres. He thought for a moment and said that Science Fiction “could happen” while Fantasy “could not.”
I think I know what he meant. In Science Fiction, the writer is cognizant of the physical laws operative within the story. If an SF writer were to describe space travel, Newton’s Laws of motion and gravity would be obeyed. Even here one enters a grey area: some writers would insist on using the speed of light as a fixed limitation while others would imagine a way around it.
In my high school years, I grew up on this genre and my love of science, in large measure, grew out of that reading. Several friends had urged me to read The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings, but I resisted for a long time. When I did read it, it was as if a new world had opened up for me. It recaptured for me what I had experienced as a child on first reading The Chronicles of Narnia. There was a sense of nobility, beauty, and “rightness” about those imagined worlds that I had missed in my Science Fiction reading, which instead, seemed sterile in comparison.
The longer I thought about it, it came to me that I was encountering an unspoken presupposition that was embedded in most SF literature, that of a materialistic universe where all that mattered was atoms and molecules; chemistry and physics. In addition, I found that the more modern SF also grew more cynical, growing increasingly hostile to the very things that I loved in Fantasy. As a consequence, I read very few modern SF stories (although I do try them once in a while) and spend much more time reading Fantasy.
So how has this impacted my writing? I think, in The Halcyon Cycle, I write Science Fiction that reads like Fantasy. I spend a good deal of time thinking about the physics and chemistry behind my imagined world (I think some of my readers would argue too much, in fact), but I also have many of the elements of a Fantasy story (swords, nobility, right and wrong which transcends worlds and physical laws for example).
Check out The Halcyon Cycle Books … http://bit.ly/2qzzi4P-Author
Posted in C. S. Lewis, Christian Worldview, Fantasy, J. R. R. Tolkien, Materialism, Peter Kazmaier, Science, Science Fiction, Speculative Fiction, The Battle for Halcyon, The Dragons of Sheol, The Halcyon Cycle, The Halcyon Dislocation, Writing
The third book in The Halcyon Cycle begins with the kidnapping of Albert Gleeson’s pregnant wife and adopted son. Mistrusted by the police, he follows them through a portal to a continent called Abaddon that is ten kilometers below sea level. This land is filled with strange and terrifying creatures.
In the center of this continent is a vast chasm, named Sheol, that drops in steps to an infernal sea fully sixteen kilometers below sea level. The high air pressure at sixteen kilometers below sea level supports dragons who are able to fly despite their size.
Gleeson’s nemesis, Bigelow, in his insatiable quest for power and dominion, has become a monster with an army at his disposal. The searchers become the hunted as Bigelow drives Gleeson and his friends into the depths of Sheol.
If you liked The Halcyon Dislocation, I hope you’ll give The Dragons of Sheol a try. This book has taken me three years to complete. After seven drafts, it’s ready for my editor. I am looking forward to publishing this in 2019. I am always delighted to hear from my readers.
The Halcyon Dislocation is no exception. One of the prominent “What If” questions I asked as an author: “What if time were quantized and parallel worlds could exist side by side in these overlapping time intervals?” Here is how it was described in the book when one of the physics graduate students tries to explain how the island university of Halcyon was moved to a new world.
Tired and hungry, Dave and Glenn returned to their room and turned on the TV to see if broadcasting had resumed. To their surprise Jennifer McCowan, the blonde talk show host of Halcyon Music, was on the air.
“Even without social media,” said McCowan in her gentle, lilting voice, “I know that everyone is asking ‘where are we?’ and ‘what’s happened to us?’ To answer those questions I’ve asked a friend of mine to the studio. Please welcome Vlad Sowetsky.”
Canned applause welcomed Vlad.
“So, Vlad,” said McCowan, “please tell our viewers what you do.”
Vlad, a tall, big boned youth in his mid-twenties, had a long, narrow face and close-set eyes, so that the overall impression vaguely reminded one of a horse. He had shoulder length hair and stubble on his face.
“To cut to the chase, I’m a graduate student with Professor Hoffstetter, and I was in the control room when the dislocation occurred.”
“So what actually happened during the accident yesterday?”
“Well,” said Vlad, “we were running the largest test on the force field to date. The plan was to—”
“Whoa,” said McCowan, “I think you are going much too fast. Tell the audience how the Hoffstetter force field works, but no jargon, please!”
Vlad screwed up his face as if he were being asked the impossible. “The force field appears as a bubble about the size of a soccer ball when we first generate it. The time inside the bubble is slightly behind our time. When we first make the bubble, the time delay—or offset—is very, very small so that the field is thin. That is to say, anything can cross it. We expand the bubble to the desired size and then thicken it. By ‘thicken’ I mean that we increase the time offset so the field begins to have an effect. First it stops large objects. If we increase the time offset even more, we could theoretically stop air molecules or light from crossing the force field boundary.”
“Field boundary,” said McCowan. “Now you’re lapsing into jargon again and losing me.”
“By field boundary I mean the edge of the force field bubble. Shooting a missile through this barrier is, as Hoffstetter would say, ‘like trying to shoot into last week.’” Vlad was beginning to get exasperated.
“Okay,” said McCowan, “please go on. Even if I don’t understand all of the physics, I’m sure there are many listeners who will.”
“Well, we had intended to expand the force field so that it enclosed the central building in the experimental area. However, while we were expanding the bubble, the first lightning strike overloaded the equipment and the expansion continued unabated.”
This was followed by a momentary pause and a baffled look on McCowan’s face. “How big did the bubble get?” she finally asked.
“I think it expanded to a sphere about four miles in diameter,” said Vlad.
“Then a second series of lightning strikes overloaded the offset controls, and the time offset increased enormously,” said Vlad. Beads of perspiration had appeared on his forehead.
McCowan uncrossed her legs and leaned forward. “Tell the audience what you think happened next,” she prompted.
Vlad took a deep breath. “I only have a half-baked theory. Do you know about quantization of energy?”
“Vaguely,” said McCowan, a blank look on her face.
“Let me see if I can make it as simple as possible. Macroscopically, that is, in the world of meter lengths and kilogram masses, energy seems to be continuous. It flows like a stream or a river. So if I ask how much energy it takes to lift this book,” he lifted a book from the table, “you can calculate the energy in joules to as many decimal places as you like. I can lift the book to any height and calculate the lift energy for each height. But when you go down in size, ten orders of magnitude to angstroms, the world changes. When lifting electrons away from the atomic nucleus, all the rules change, and one can only ‘lift’ the electron to discrete ‘heights,’ or energy levels. It’s like being able to lift this book in little jumps.” He demonstrated by rapidly lifting and stopping the book at various heights.
“Yeah, I know what you’re talking about. You’re bringing back unpleasant memories of first year chemistry. But what has that got to do with the Hoffstetter field generators and the accident?”
“Everything!” said Vlad. “I think time is also quantized.”
“You’ve lost me again. How can time be quantized?” asked McCowan. “And if it is, what difference does it make?”
“Well, think about it in relation to the quantization of energy that you learned about in first year chemistry. We think of time flowing past us like a stream moving at a constant rate. That may appear true in our macroscopic world, but what happens if, at very short time intervals, one reaches a minimum time (I call it a mintival for minimum time interval)? What if our existence at the time interval of a mintival consists of little jumps, like a jump second hand rather than a sweep second hand? Or putting it another way, what if instead of a flowing stream, time consisted of a series of pools,” and here he paused to let his words sink in, “and our existence is a discontinuous series of jumps from one pool to the next?”
“Your theory is fascinating, Vlad, but what has that got to do with the Hoffstetter field generators?”
“I just told you that the Hoffstetter field generators cause the matter inside the field to lag normal time by a very small amount, say ten to the minus thirty-second of a second—that’s a decimal point with thirty-one zeros after and then a one. Now let’s suppose…” Sowetsky turned and kneeled on the sofa and drew three contiguous rectangles on a white board behind his seat “…that these three rectangles represent three sequential mintivals in our world, or universe, if you like. Another world can coexist with ours, as long as the mintivals of that world are offset from those of our time.” He drew three more rectangles adjacent but offset to the first three, like bricks on the side of a building. “It would be like a single reel of film containing two movies, with the odd numbered frames representing our world and the even numbered frames representing another world. If two protectors played this interlaced film with one displaying the odd numbered frames and the other the even numbered frames, one film could give rise to two motion pictures. Similarly, although two solid objects cannot occupy the same space at the same time, they can occupy that space at different times, so to speak.”
“Keep going,” ventured McCowan doubtfully. “I hope our viewers are following you through all this.”
“Well, normally, when the Hoffstetter field generators shut down, they collapse back to the nearest quantized mintival. When the field generators overloaded, I believe we kicked over into the trailing mintival—hence the new world!”
“Well, I’ll be!” said McCowan, genuinely shocked. “Can we get back?”
“I don’t know,” said Sowetsky, frowning. “We only know how to make the Hoffstetter field lag time, not precede time. If we tried it again, we might jump into yet another world that lags this one!”
“You can’t be serious!” said McCowan.
“I’m deadly serious,” said Sowetsky evenly.
“We’re never going to get back, are we?” asked McCowan, her voice fading to a whisper as tears began to fill her eyes. She turned away from the camera for a moment. “I have one final question, Vlad,” she said, regaining her composure with obvious effort. “Did you tell Professor Hoffstetter about this possibility?”
“Of course! I told him not once but several times!” said Sowetsky. “That’s what burns me up so much.”
“What did he say when you told him?”
“At first he told me ‘science requires us to take risks,’ and finally he told me to stop raising the matter.”
Back in the dorm room there was brooding silence as the interview on the television drew to a close. Glenn suddenly got up and threw a magazine as hard as he could against the wall, cursed, and stomped out of the room. Within minutes, Dave heard the sound of an ominous rumble, like the growl of a giant beast being roused from a troubled slumber. He went out into the hall to investigate. Students were everywhere. Approaching the common room, he felt the air electric with tension. The fear and anger that had been building over the last two days was growing, and students were gathered in groups. Most had seen the television show, and they were loudly blaming Hoffstetter for their predicament.
In Flash Back, by Ellison Blackburn, we meet Charley, a middle-aged married woman who undergoes cellular regeneration. Cellular regeneration gives Charley the body of an eighteen year old (even though it doesn’t increase her overall life expectancy) without any loss of her memories or emotional awareness of her previous life experiences. What seems at the outset like a uniformly positive change without qualification, leads to many unexpected difficulties. It is a coming-of-age story with the twist that Charley is coming-of-age a second time.
Blackburn writes well and helps us to see the problems facing Charley with her new life. Charley’s inner dialogue and emotional as well as intellectual responses to her situation are well articulated. A well-written book.
During an interstellar fleet battle, a group of Stellar Union marines are sent on a desperate mission to destroy a key ironclad and allow the retreat of the mauled Stellar Union fleet. From this dramatic opening combat scene there is nonstop action as one adventure follows another leading to a remarkable climax.
This is a well-written book with engaging characters, and is filled with imagination, courage, and plot twists. The author imbues the combat scenes with authenticity. If you enjoy Science Fiction, this is a book well worth reading.
My rating: 4 out of 5 stars
If I were to describe Joshua Grant’s novel PANDORA in one line it would be: the movie ALIENS enacted on a cruise ship.
A cruise ship suddenly goes missing and then reappears one week later. All attempts to contact the ship fail and the ship’s owner dispatches his own security team ostensibly to see what’s happening before governments and the military takeover the investigation.
The investigating security team knows not only that something is seriously wrong with the ship, but also that the investigation is being handled in a completely unorthodox manner. However, the ship’s owner, Carver, knows exactly how to manipulate each member of the team to keep them on mission despite their serious misgivings. He also seems to have enough influence to keep normal modes of disaster investigation at bay.
This book is nonstop action delivered in frightening detail, with surprises at every turn. As readers we explore the devastated ship with the team as they suffer terrible casualties. Having traveled on several cruises, the layout was reminiscent of my own trips (except for the massive destruction of course) and that bizarre warping of a familiar and pleasant scene only added to the impact.
Grant is an excellent storyteller and the plot is well thought out. The fine descriptions put me into the midst of the action and kept me reading.
For my part, I found the coarse language jarring and distracting, but I realize for many readers this would make the tense, life-threatening scenes more realistic.
Amazon Link to Pandora
In summary, if you like Science fiction that comes across as Horror, then I think you will like this book.
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
Ever wondered what could be accomplished in terms of space exploration if a group of interested engineers and space enthusiasts pooled all of their resources, forgot about the risk, and simply tried to do as much as they could with the technology available today? Richard Penn in his novella Spacetug Copenhagen walks the reader through the steps involved. If you are interested in science and like to see it used to perfection in science fiction then I highly recommend this short book.
My novel The Halcyon Dislocation was featured on December 19th on Kay MacLeod’s Indie Advent Calendar. Why not check it out?