The Pursuit of Happiness . . . by Dan Holifield


Tell us what you thought about the December 2011 issue.

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Post December 20, 2011, 10:58:21 PM

The Pursuit of Happiness . . . by Dan Holifield

This month's editorial caused me to break with an established habit of mine: reading the editorial first, then the feature, then the poetry, the short stories, etc. I got jostled out of sequence by the link . . . anyway . . .

One of the first things that caught my attention was the fan-fic name-dropping. 'Fox' and 'Dana' were bad enough, but it kept happening, with 'John Carter' and 'Engineer Scott.' Sorry, but I have to subtract points for that, especially when it happened more than once. Oh, yeah, there were the Martians, too, and the Enterprise -- and maybe one or more others I didn't recognize . . . all right, I realize this is supposed to be an alternate reality sort of thing, but -- really -- ! Way too much borrowing and referencing going on.

Or did I miss something? Was it really supposed to be tongue-in-cheek? Maybe it was; after all, the author did use his own screen-name as a character.

I also thought that there was too much expository dialog, especially in the beginning; it got dangerously close to "As we all know . . . " Sometimes that trick is necessary in very short fiction, but to me, it has no place in a novel, where you can stretch out and take your time revealing background information.

I thought the dialog was too melodramatic. Maybe it's supposed to be; I'm not very familiar with the genre. Still, Victorian era aside, I can not believe that people ever actually talked like that outside of courtrooms and bank offices. And the bridge crew seemed to spend a lot of time overexcitedly praising each others' accomplishments. Things like that need to be balanced out, by someone saying, "Indeed, my good fellow, but don't you remember what happened in that bar on our last shore leave? We'll never be allowed in there again!"

I liked some of the details of the ship and the other technical gizmos, but there weren't enough (for example, what are the 'Specials'? I want to know!), and some of them are a little silly, like the steam-powered wheelchair, suffocating its user with combustion fumes. (Okay, it's steam-punk.)

The battle scene was kinda fun, but I thought it seemed to be over too quickly; should have been stretched out some more. And, the good guys should lose someone and take some damage, too. I can't feel sympathy for them if they never get hurt. Nice strategy and tactics, though.

Still and all, I'm intrigued about who might have been behind the nastiness . . . it's someone who stands to gain a boatload of money and power from a war . . . we know all too much about how that works in the here and now, but the mystery remains.

I think I did spot one misplaced bit of punctuation, but other than that, it seemed good technically, and it was easy to read.
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Post December 22, 2011, 10:01:31 PM

Re: The Pursuit of Happiness . . . by Dan Holifield

Well, there are 38,000 more words in that part of the story, and it is the last of the four parts. Sample chapters are a bit difficult for me to pick out. That in particular was several bits that were stitched together to create the preview.

I'm afraid the stilted dialog is one of the tropes of steampunk. Not everyone uses it, but I'm one of the ones who do.

As for the fan-service name dropping, that seems typical of most of my work. My Mare Inebrium stuff is rife with it. As was my "Nightwatch" novel, but there I was a bit more subtle. In this story, the name-dropping is the reverse of the Mare series. Here, the names are just names.

Each one of your criticisms are valid. But some of them are answered in other chapters of the story. The ones that aren't, I should address in the next few drafts. Part 4 is the only section that has reached the complete 1st draft stage. The other 3 parts should also each span the 50k that Part 4does, once their outlines are gradually fleshed out.

Oh, one point. The heroes do lose friends, people die, people get injured, and the good guys don't always win along the path to the end of the story. There just weren't any deaths onscreen in the sample chapter.

And thank you very much for the critique! I get very few comments on my work, so it's difficult for me to improve. You've helped a lot. I only hope more people choose to comment!

Dan
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Post December 22, 2011, 10:44:47 PM

Re: The Pursuit of Happiness . . . by Dan Holifield

You've helped a lot. I only hope more people choose to comment!

Dan
Glad to. Hopefully you can return the favor someday.
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Post January 15, 2012, 10:05:26 AM

Re: The Pursuit of Happiness . . . by Dan Holifield

Hey Folks,

Long time, no. . . .write.

I have to respectfully disagree with Lester on how the dropped fictional referents affected the story. SteamPunk is a genre that is rife with contradictions and technical silliness. The whole scheme is completely tongue-in-cheek unless our entire world were without fossil fuels (besides coal) and internal combustion had never been developed. Highly inefficient and DaVincian in scope. Basically. . . . . .impossible.

But that's not the point of SteamPunk. The technology is no more impossible than magic wands and dragons and spells and such. And I've read about this lady who's made a killing hawking the very same, to the public. It's all about the suspension of disbelief. It's also about shortcuts.

Anyone who doesn't get the HG Wells references is of no further use to society. The 'Fox' and 'Dana' stuff is merely a continuation of the same. As is Miss 'Scott' as an engineer, etc..

Part of the challenge of SteamPunk is to make your readers believe. . .if just for a moment. . .that most humans will use the technology available to do the things they want to do. That they won't question that the tools they have to work with are the best there are. If writing SteamPunk was easy, everybody would be doing it.

Soooooo. . . . .

By using Fox & Dana, Dan tells us we are looking at a scene in the 1990's to 2000's. . .and they are making references to events more than a hundred years in the past. No infodump, just a common referent that pretty much everybody gets. . . .and immediately . These old folks have been around for a very long time.

Very cool, Dan.

The whole genre is based on literary references, and The X - Files is actually literature. . . .when you think about it. Innasmuch as Moby Dick is part of the shared cultural perspective. . . .so is this.

It's a little like saying that Kirk was Kahn's White Whale. Anybody NOT get the reference? Is the author 'stealing' if he makes the reference? I think not.

Okay. . .now to the story, itself.

When I read this first. . .in December. . .I noticed that when I'd hit the bottom of the page. . . .read the last line Dan offered. . . .I started spinning the little 'downscroller' on my computer mouse.

I wanted more.

Dammit! MORE!
But in the common lingo. . . .'There weren't none.'

That's what every author wants. Or at least, it should be.

If you ain't aiming for the reader to slam your Book III shut. . .toss it to the floor like a discarded lover. . .and pick-up Book IV. . . .you're missing your mark.

The characters are a bit formal, but this a Navy, not a bar room conversation. It's also the turn of the Century. . . .and I don't mean the last one.

Think Doyle and Wells and even a bit of Dickens. To me, the language used adds a bit of verisimilitude to the discourse. Formal sometimes, not so much in the interpersonal bits. It's a delicate mix that Dan pulls off, with aplomb.

And if he wants to use Vila as a 'nickname' for his protag. . . .more power to him. It's an oblique, inside reference, at best. Most of his readers won't get it, at all. We few. . . .will. It's for us, and does not detract from the story in any way for the rest of them.

Besides, Hitchcock put himself into all of his movies. . . .and he didn't look like he missed any meals because of it, now did he?

I definitely want to read the whole series, Dan.

And I will.

The only true critique I can offer is that by showing us the scene where these two very old fogies are enjoying their retirement, we will never truly worry that they won’t get out of whatever nasty dungeon, crashing airplane or firing squad line, you choose to put them in.

Some of the ‘here and now’ suffers when you start the story with a reminiscence, instead of throwing us into the action the same as the characters.

Shut up. Finish up. And let me at it!

Bill

p.s.

One technical (and unsolicited) bit of advice.

Sails.

Airships should have sails—more like a huge parachute that can be deployed and retracted—that will allow them to take advantage of prevailing winds. Streamlined aerodynamics work against you when you have a tailwind.

‘nuff said?
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Post January 15, 2012, 12:38:20 PM

Re: The Pursuit of Happiness . . . by Dan Holifield

Worthy comments, Bill, and I've been missing your presence on the forum. Glad to have you back in action.

I guess I need to read more of this stuff to get a feel for it . . . maybe the word should be, "fanciful." And, I should have picked up on the John Carter reference and actually remembered what all those Barsoom stories were like (and I had the whole collection, once). That would have gotten me closer to a proper appreciation.

I like your comment about sails -- the ones used on sailboats are called spinnakers, I believe, and are only good for downwind running. They do look like parachutes. Would be a great fuel-saver as long as you don't mind your speed being limited to that of the wind. Be ready to cut it loose if you have to maneuver hurriedly, though. Bonus -- some clever wag could point out that, if you lose your gasbag, it might actually serve as a parachute to soften the crash. Have fun deploying it and watching everything horizontal suddenly become vertical.

Dan, if you feel like continuing with this, I'd be happy to keep reading it. I do still want to know who's behind the evil plot -- and maybe you'll tell us what those Specials are.
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Post January 15, 2012, 01:51:25 PM

Re: The Pursuit of Happiness . . . by Dan Holifield

O0 Hello! I am in Ukraine, I write science fiction about the purpose of amphibians (from the Vendian and Cambrian periods) - mermaids, trilobites, and super-turbellarians that have come in our time ... I find it hard to translate everything into English, I know the buyout is bad, but with the help of Google translator, if a little fix ... one can understand what is at stake! So: I write:

"It took almost a century since the discovery in burdzhessky black shales of the Rocky Mountains prints graceful chord beings who lived a half-billion years ago ... But who would have thought that this little creature, dubbed Pikaia Gracilens - only the larva that grows into a real mermaid! And what on earth in the Cambrian period was the whole of humanity Homo Aquaticus! And that that Homo Aquaticus incredible way belonged to the same species as Homo Sapiens! And once the representatives of this ancient humanity were in our time! .. http://spacenoology.agro.name/?page_id=4912"
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Post January 16, 2012, 09:41:26 AM

Re: The Pursuit of Happiness . . . by Dan Holifield

Bill, Lester, all of Part 4 is at the finished 1st draft stage. Part 3 has a nice beginning to it, with more of a "Wild, Wild West" TV show feel to it. The main action is outlined, but as my regular readers know, my outlines are merely suggestions that I freely ignore when the words start to flow. Parts 1 & 2 are outlined, with a bare sketch of text done. I've done truckloads on research on not only the actual War of 1812 for Part 1 and Civil War for Part 2, but also HG Wells, Verne, Doyle, Tesla, and various other writers & inventors of the Victorian era. As you both noticed, Modern Pop Culture references also abound, for the sheer fun of using that sort of shortcut. Rest assured that known historical and fictional characters will continue to drift into the story. And the tech used by the human characters will also keep getting masses of description & development, since one trope of steampunk is that inventions are just as much vital characters as the people.

I'm of several minds on the matter of using HG Wells' Martians as I had originally planned, so I'm intending to use a global "search & replace" to swap in my own aliens in order to give me two different versions of the story. With the generic alien invaders, a dedicated edit will b needed to re-describe all the Tripod tech from the original drafts.

In a related matter, the "Fox & Dana" scenes are a framing story that is supposed to tie all four parts into a single continuing narrative. It's going to take massive rewrites to the existing text of the first two parts, plus tons of new text to get them up to the standards I set with Part 4. But, references to past adventures in Part 4 let me know what needs to be foreshadowed or expanded upon in the future text. But for your interest and edification, here is the working copy of all four parts: http://www.aphelion-webzine.com/mystories/SteampunkStoryFullDraft.html Fragmentary though the first three parts may be, what does exist gives a vague flavor of what is yet to come!

Dan
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Post January 17, 2012, 02:31:08 AM

Re: The Pursuit of Happiness . . . by Dan Holifield

Just finished it . . . kept me in my seat for hours. I liked the way it turned out. The bad guy reminded me of the ones in James Bond stories, but I guess that's no coincidence. I guess it just took me a while to get accustomed to it. Incomplete as it is, it's still a lively read. Thanks for posting it.
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Post January 17, 2012, 07:39:08 PM

Re: The Pursuit of Happiness . . . by Dan Holifield

Just briefly, I also want to add that the ending (in the Epilogue) was very nicely done -- it tied up some loose ends that had just barely been tickling the back of my brain. Plus, it's a wide-open invitation to sequels of all sorts.
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Post January 18, 2012, 05:49:34 PM

Re: The Pursuit of Happiness . . . by Dan Holifield

Thank you, Lester! I'm glad to know that I'm on the right track with it. I'll be much happier now about getting back to work on it. Oddly enough, the framing story was a complete afterthought. I'd finished Part 4 and begun the editing & re-writing, as well as laying out the general outlines of the rest of the story, when I decided it needed something to tie the different stories together. I just sat down with a pot of coffee one morning and began typing. The entire framing story grew out of the first five lines I typed. It only took about 12 or 14 hours to get the framing story written, then split into the different sections it needed to fill. I keep tweaking the different completed parts, to polish the rough edges and keep the dialog flowing smoothly.

All in all, I think I'm beginning to get the hang of this writing gig. :)

I hope your questions about the Specials, and the other tech, were answered to your satisfaction.

I await Bill Wolfe's opinion...

Dan
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Post January 20, 2012, 04:25:43 PM

Steampunk Iron Man costume

http://www.geeksaresexy.net/2010/10/11/ ... gn=scribol

Of course, to be really steampunk, it should have visible external pistons and gears instead of just looking like a hand-riveted suit of plate armor... (The prototype suit in the first Iron Man movie had a kind of steampunk feel to it -- aside from the glowing repulsor generator in the chest, that is.)

Oops -- correction: it does have visible gears, on the SIDES OF THE HELMET and the BACK! Yeah, that makes perfect sense in terms of powering the arms and legs.
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Post January 20, 2012, 05:14:24 PM

Re: The Pursuit of Happiness . . . by Dan Holifield

I just saw a really bad movie, just for kicks -- "Hobo With a Shotgun" There was a two-man team of bad guys called the Plague who wore some rather steam-punk-ish gear.

Don't get the movie just to see that part, though. It's disgusting.
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Post January 23, 2012, 01:24:39 PM

Re: The Pursuit of Happiness . . . by Dan Holifield

Vila wrote:I await Bill Wolfe's opinion...

Dan



Dan, I'm about 30k words into it (The darn thing's 62k!)

So far, you've got me snagged. I have seen some problems with continuity, but nothing that can't be fixed.

(Vila's father died in the battle of Atlanta but when Cita calls him a bastard, he says his parents have been married for 60(?) something years. . . .little things like that.)


It's good, Dan. I'll write a more solid critique when I'm done with it.

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Post February 03, 2012, 02:50:25 AM

Re: The Pursuit of Happiness . . . by Dan Holifield

Not exactly steam-punk, but it made me think of it . . .

http://wulffmorgenthaler.com/strip/2012 ... s%2BStribe

A warning about this strip . . . it gets extremely vulgar on a regular basis.
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Post February 17, 2012, 02:23:30 PM

Re: The Pursuit of Happiness . . . by Dan Holifield

The prologue rolled out a very nice carpet in which to engage the reader, and to interest the reader in the story that is to unfold. As I read, I became interested and fascinated with the concept of ‘steam-punk’ and it did spur me on to keep reading.

Thoughts of The Wild Wild West television series bubbled up as I read. And I expected a craft similar to the one in Jules Verne’s Master of the World ---the movie and not the book’s craft--to open up before me. However, these airships in The Pursuit of Happiness reminded me more of Star Trek and the Enterprise. And I must say I do like science fiction patterned on Star Trek.

The dialogue in this story was Okay, but maybe a little improvement could be had by deleting some of the wise-cracks and sticking to a natural speech. The use of ‘Aye, Aye, sir’ would have help establish a feeling of a turn-of-the-century style of command.

The battles and mechanics of the airships are within the scope of the possible, since our modern society could have been very different if Thomas Edison and Tesla--who were bitter enemies--prevailed in their quest for an all-electric mode of transportation. In fact, battery operated cars were manufactured during the early part of the 20th century, and if research into, and the continuation of battery cars had continued, then our technology with batteries would be almost light-years ahead of what we have today. I believe in that!

If anybody ever watched an old Stanley Steamer workout during an antique tractor or farm show, then I don’t have to tell how powerful and useful that thing was. It can really pull! We have another bit of technology that was shunned over because of the gasoline engine! If research into steam technology had been as committed as the research into internal combustion power, then once again---our steam technology would have been far superior than it is today!

My last two examples demonstrate, I hope, how things might be different
today if oil and gas companies had not captured our economy one hundred years ago!!

The battle between the airships also reminded me of submarine warfare during WWll, at least in what the movies show us. I don’t know of two enemy subs during the war hunting one-another below the surface, and one torpedoing the other to win the confrontation. However, with Hollywood we see that scenario very often.

Steam is very powerful: Even a small-model steam engine delivers eyebrow-raising power when played with it.

This story is based on ‘what might of happened’ ‘what could of happened’ in the past if world events had changed the way inventors and scientists viewed the possible. Steam-punk, like all science fiction, can open-up another universe.

I can’t say too much more about how to improve this story--just follow good story-telling techniques and keep the dialogue natural, which can be a very difficult problem with any story!
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Post February 17, 2012, 04:37:23 PM

Re: The Pursuit of Happiness . . . by Dan Holifield

If anybody ever watched an old Stanley Steamer workout during an antique tractor or farm show, then I don’t have to tell how powerful and useful that thing was. It can really pull! We have another bit of technology that was shunned over because of the gasoline engine! If research into steam technology had been as committed as the research into internal combustion power, then once again---our steam technology would have been far superior than it is today!

Steam power shares an advantage with electric motors; it has its highest torque at its lowest rpm, rather the opposite of an internal-combustion engine. The trouble is, you better not be in a hurry to get anywhere, because even with the fastest flash boilers, it took about 20 to 30 minutes to get the thing ready to move. Think of an ambulance or a fire truck; they'd have to keep the boilers running round the clock -- burning fuel while they waited to be used. There are other problems inherent in that torque-speed relationship, too. Steam is great for some things; a practical automobile just isn't one of them.

Electric power was used in some city delivery trucks as early as the late 1800's, and I guess they worked pretty well -- until it got really cold out out and the batteries got sluggish. I think electric is the way to go for cars, but we still haven't conquered the range limitation with battery-only models. Hybrids rule, for now, and they'll keep getting better.

I guess the thing about steamers -- and I've only seen videos -- is that they were so fascinating to be around. People who've seen one work say that the thing almost seems to be alive, and they have a complexity of external parts in motion that's really fun to watch. And, all that cast iron and polished brass . . . lots of eye appeal. I'm sure that's where the fun comes from.
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Post February 18, 2012, 11:51:59 AM

Re: The Pursuit of Happiness . . . by Dan Holifield

Yes, Lester, steam power is, well, very powerful as anybody knows who works or worked in any generating station--nuclear and non-nuclear.

Even with today’s steam technology, steam motor systems could be used much more to replace oil and gas. And Hybrids? How about a steam-battery operated car?

These are just thoughts along a ‘pressure power system’ like steam, and it is too bad steam technology didn’t advance more over the last one hundred years.

Believe me, steam during the early 1900s was being explored in just about every mechanical and electrical device invented.

A very good example of steam power---and many laughs that border on steam-punk-- is the British K Class Submarines. These subs had steam boilers for use on the surface. The theory was that they could keep up with the fleet.

The stories about these subs are informative and most very funny! It’s worth reading about these subs! Really, it is!
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Post February 18, 2012, 12:49:04 PM

Re: The Pursuit of Happiness . . . by Dan Holifield

Check out "Winter's Tale," by Mark Helprin. Maybe sort of proto-steam-punk; published in 1983. One of the major setting details I recall was a newspaper printing press (this is a single machine that's a city block long or so) powered by steam, and quoted in the story to reach 100% efficiency. Nice book, very busy, full of beautiful imagery and dangerous action, and large doses of fantasy.

And, somewhere on YouTube is a cluster of videos of a steam-powered paddle-wheel ferry boat, running somewhere in England, I think, with footage of the engine room.
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