Cold Storage By E. S. Strout


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Post April 19, 2013, 07:00:44 PM

Cold Storage By E. S. Strout

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Post April 19, 2013, 07:11:04 PM

Re: Cold Storage By E. S. Strout

(Continuing my series on Early Story Context)

" Wild-2 Stardust labs, Johnson Space Center, Houston, Texas. Wednesday, October 21, 2015. 1020 hours:
Thirty year-old physicist Zack McFarland wore a white lab coat over Levis and a brown San Diego State Aztecs sweatshirt. He punched digits on a keypad and the door clicked open. He flipped the overhead fluorescents on."

Here we go! Here's about as clear of an opening as it gets! A few minutes of sanity checking rules out the "cheap shorts" like extra worlds, dreams, etc. So here we are.

The only thing to watch for is that Oct 2015 is only about 2.5 years away as of this writing. So we better be "pretty close to now+a little" on tech! One mistake writers fall into is that they learned their writing based on tales from 20-50 years ago, and then structurally forget to put in the correct tech into their stories. Instead, they treat them as "semi-timeless" like some version of 1985 rolled forward by 30 years. Sorry, no - your plot needs to handle *today's* (plus a couple years!) tech. So let's see if he manages that...

The first scan shows a lot of stuff being done on iPads, so that's sensible. A lot of the rest involves specialized higher-tech microscope notes that I am not in a position to judge.
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Post April 20, 2013, 03:30:35 PM

Re: Cold Storage By E. S. Strout

Started out a little like a newspaper article, said Verse (3.5 years old - that's 24 in doggy years), the brown and white Jack Russell terrier. A very sparse style but it got the story flowing quite quickly. So we have Zach and Rachel, two astro-physicist (funny story, I actually knew an astro-physicist called Rachel, she's in banking now) with frozen samples from a comet that display some unusual behaviour when thawed - could it be anti-matter (Dun Dun DA)! Starting to look like some deliciously hard sci-fi hi-jinx.

There's a little f[r]isson (see what I did there? Oh, that's Nuclear physicists, my bad!) between this couple we're told but it never seems to show and never goes anywhere.

Unlike the UK, it seems American research institutes and scientists are fond of a certain fruity computing platform, even NASA, which is surprising because the last NASA scientist I had contact with was still using an old distro of Red Hat Linux, bloody Luddite. Also, I think they stopped using the Crays a while back, these days NASA have the Pleiades supercomputer. I think they're moving into cloud computing these days. Yes lots of iThings in this universe, and product placement.

Then there is The Professor, Beatrice Talbert, with her FBI attack dogs and Omega clearances. Suddenly, there is Applied Phlebotinum everywhere. Be careful, don't get any on you!

The ending was interesting, how fortunate/unfortunate that the second sample module, in all of Antarctica, landed near the Vostok research station. I guess this is the end of the Earth as we know it.

After all the hard science and Applied Phlebotinum, the overall message is Science Is Bad, which was a little disappointing. My own prejudice showing, perhaps. I'm not sure how many people into sci-fi will keep with this, it's pretty hard core before the arrival of the Phlebotinium, it might turn a few people off.

Overall though, I liked it.
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Post April 20, 2013, 07:39:17 PM

Re: Cold Storage By E. S. Strout

Thanks for the comments, Tao and Verse. I actually learned a new word, Phlebotinum, which is understandable since I don't watch The Simpsons. I suspect that Bill Wolfe and Lester Curtis will have a few comments on the science.

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Post May 01, 2013, 01:05:38 AM

Re: Cold Storage By E. S. Strout

Well, I sure wish Bill would show up for this . . . I'm on shaky ground here, science-wise. That said . . .

The part that doesn't seem right to me (science-wise) goes like this: One particle of antimatter should destroy one particle of 'normal' matter, shouldn't it? And it should stop there. But here we have some-odd pico-quantity of antimatter eating two times ten to the umpty-dozenth times it's own weight -- and quite passively, at that; no bang, not even a noiseless flash. Stuff just disappears. Am I behind the times on theory, or does this seem wrong to someone besides me?

'Tame' and 'untamed' antimatter -- ?? Huh??

Aside from that, I got a little annoyed at all the product placement. Generic equipment names work just fine. Adding specific make and/or model numbers is a distraction; it draws the reader's attention away from the story. I don't mind seeing "iPad;" it's become a word like "kleenex." But why Zeiss binoculars instead of Swarovsky? Or (eww) Bushnell? Don't use brand names unless you have a very good reason, as in, that brand is essential to some aspect of the story.

Also, when the two profs who were(n't) an item meet Beatrice, why do they stop and stare at her? Was it merely because she dresses like Rachel? I had to stop and reread the passage, and still couldn't figure it out. So, that took me out of the story -- again.

And this trans-lightspeed gravity engine, again. Painfully clear, it's a plot device, used to explain the rapid turnaround time of that space mission. Gee, how convenient. What if they didn't have that, though? Consider how the story would change: the characters start on this project, and don't have conclusive evidence -- yet -- but the probe brings back the needed sample in time for their children's generation to solve the problem! I think I might have liked that better than the way it was here.

Which brings me to another thing . . . Gino's stories always seem to be in too much of a hurry. Race to the finish-line, very exciting, all life as we know it is at stake. Trouble is, there's no variation in the pace, and that in itself generates a kind of monotony.
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Post May 01, 2013, 10:14:41 AM

Re: Cold Storage By E. S. Strout

Lester Curtis wrote:Which brings me to another thing . . . Gino's stories always seem to be in too much of a hurry. Race to the finish-line, very exciting, all life as we know it is at stake. Trouble is, there's no variation in the pace, and that in itself generates a kind of monotony.


This is an interesting remark, because it's like a "meta-comment". Any couple of stories is fine, but if *most* of them fall into the pattern, it's an area for the writer to look at. Of course, "everything is at risk!!!!" is the classic way to build suspense in SciFi ... but then after enough of them, it all leaves you breathless and jaded.

"Ho hum, the entire universe is at risk ... again... let's go fix it, then get a Lamb Gyro from the lunch truck on the corner street!"
A bunch of those Star Trek novels were criticized for this problem, in part because they were written in parallel by ten writers, so when 20 of them came in all at once, a lot of them shared that meta-flaw.

It's tricky to beat though, because Novel A Features The End Of Life Jim/Jean Luc as We Know It!!!! Novel B has a failed romance on Betazed. Which is more exciting?
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Post May 01, 2013, 11:26:00 AM

Re: Cold Storage By E. S. Strout

TaoPhoenix wrote:
Lester Curtis wrote:Which brings me to another thing . . . Gino's stories always seem to be in too much of a hurry. Race to the finish-line, very exciting, all life as we know it is at stake. Trouble is, there's no variation in the pace, and that in itself generates a kind of monotony.


This is an interesting remark, because it's like a "meta-comment". Any couple of stories is fine, but if *most* of them fall into the pattern, it's an area for the writer to look at. Of course, "everything is at risk!!!!" is the classic way to build suspense in SciFi ... but then after enough of them, it all leaves you breathless and jaded.

"Ho hum, the entire universe is at risk ... again... let's go fix it, then get a Lamb Gyro from the lunch truck on the corner street!"
A bunch of those Star Trek novels were criticized for this problem, in part because they were written in parallel by ten writers, so when 20 of them came in all at once, a lot of them shared that meta-flaw.

It's tricky to beat though, because Novel A Features The End Of Life Jim/Jean Luc as We Know It!!!! Novel B has a failed romance on Betazed. Which is more exciting?


One of the general criticisms leveled at the James Bond movies is that they ALWAYS featured some Threat to The World. ("The Spy Who Loved Me", for example, was named after a novel in which Bond protects a young woman he meets while traveling in America, but featured a typical Bond megalomaniacal villain; even "Goldfinger" changed the plot to one where the villain planned to destabilize the U.S. economy by rendering its gold reserves literally radioactive and untouchable.)

The Daniel Craig Bonds are more personal -- the stakes are lower in terms of impact on the world, but more intense in terms of the consequences for Bond himself and those around him. Mebbe Gino should try something more on the level of "The Fly" (the original or the Cronenberg version), where the life of one person is in peril. The Deus ex machina solution may still appear, but the machina can be the size of a toaster instead of a battleship.
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Post May 01, 2013, 11:43:02 AM

Re: Cold Storage By E. S. Strout

Tao wrote:
This is an interesting remark, because it's like a "meta-comment". Any couple of stories is fine, but if *most* of them fall into the pattern, it's an area for the writer to look at. Of course, "everything is at risk!!!!" is the classic way to build suspense in SciFi ... but then after enough of them, it all leaves you breathless and jaded.

"Ho hum, the entire universe is at risk ... again... let's go fix it, then get a Lamb Gyro from the lunch truck on the corner street!"
My comment was meant to focus on the pace of each story individually, and Tao has noted that the problem is collective. Equally true, and it's a very strong signature style that Gino has adopted. I've mentioned a similarity to the work of Michael Crichton; someone else once mentioned a different author.

I don't have a problem with all the stories sharing a strong style. I do have a problem with the stories maintaining a uniform level of high tension throughout them. When every sentence is warning of TEOTWAWKI (and I feel fine), then there's nowhere to go if you need to add some more tension somewhere. Like The Boy Who Cried 'Wolf' -- after a while you get numb to it; you become immune to anything that might otherwise add extra impact.
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Post May 01, 2013, 12:19:29 PM

Re: Cold Storage By E. S. Strout

Lester Curtis wrote:... I do have a problem with the stories maintaining a uniform level of high tension throughout them. When every sentence is warning of TEOTWAWKI (and I feel fine), then there's nowhere to go if you need to add some more tension somewhere. Like The Boy Who Cried 'Wolf' -- after a while you get numb to it; you become immune to anything that might otherwise add extra impact.


Just for humorous perspective on this, let's play with the following snippet:

...

Dr. Emmet L. Brown was worried! If his calculations were correct, the entire universe would blow up in seventeen minutes!

...

8)
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Post May 01, 2013, 01:01:13 PM

Re: Cold Storage By E. S. Strout

Dr. Emmet L. Brown was worried! If his calculations were correct, the entire universe would blow up in seventeen minutes!

He knew that rechecking his arithmetic would take at least half an hour.

[Your turn]
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Post May 01, 2013, 01:27:30 PM

Re: Cold Storage By E. S. Strout

However, he had a theory!

Maybe by using "Time Crystals", which are physical structures that move in a repeating pattern, like minute hands rounding clocks, without expending energy or ever winding down, he can attempt to build a time crystal by injecting 100 calcium ions into a small chamber surrounded by electrodes. The electric field generated by the electrodes will corral the ions in a "trap" 100 microns wide, or roughly the width of a human hair. Then he must precisely calibrate the electrodes to smooth out the field. Because like charges repel, the ions will space themselves evenly around the outer edge of the trap, forming a crystalline ring!!

The Universe is saved! The end!
:o

(To be read in a hyper-ventilated Doc. Brown wheeze!)

But I didn't quite make that up! It's from a real article today!

http://www.wired.com/wiredscience/2013/ ... stals/all/

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Post May 01, 2013, 07:45:20 PM

Re: Cold Storage By E. S. Strout

Thanks, guys. I don't know whether having a certain style is good or bad. There are two types of writers, the OP and the NOP. The OP, or Outline Person knows exactly where his story is going, from word one to The End. The NOP, or No Outline Person begins with a small idea, throws it against the wall to see if it sticks and takes it from there in whatever direction it leads him or her. I like to think I'm a NOP.

Lester, Stephen King's novels are loaded with brand names.

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Post May 01, 2013, 10:12:46 PM

Re: Cold Storage By E. S. Strout

Gino wrote:
Lester, Stephen King's novels are loaded with brand names.
To me, it makes no difference who does it. I still think it should only be done for a good reason.

Those binoculars? Instead of "Zeiss," why weren't they labeled "Property of United States Government"? Hm?
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Post May 01, 2013, 10:24:32 PM

Re: Cold Storage By E. S. Strout

Gino,

Valerie and I are in your fan club and both love your stories. Keep being inspired to write. You are the decider on what criticisms that are best to apply and what should wind up on the cutting room floor. Enjoy what you are doing and start sending your fiction out to other venues for a variety of feedback.

When I get caught up, maybe I can record something for you.

Mark

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Post May 02, 2013, 10:48:29 AM

Re: Cold Storage By E. S. Strout

gino_ss wrote:Thanks, guys. I don't know whether having a certain style is good or bad. There are two types of writers, the OP and the NOP. The OP, or Outline Person knows exactly where his story is going, from word one to The End. The NOP, or No Outline Person begins with a small idea, throws it against the wall to see if it sticks and takes it from there in whatever direction it leads him or her. I like to think I'm a NOP.

Lester, Stephen King's novels are loaded with brand names.

gino


Hi Gino.

There's a colossal middle ground there. To me it can be as easy as having a large piece of paper with three things on it, just so that you remember which story you are actually writing! Something like "Introduce Loner Man", "Loner Man fights bureaucracy and the laws of space to survive" and "Loner man almost dies because of bureaucracy induced safety shortcuts." Then it can get all spaghetti from there, but you fill in important points as you write them, roughly on the part of the big page where they go, so the "outline" becomes more like a "souvenir of your writing trip". It then becomes a proof-reader device so you can discover the guy supposed to go out and fix the leak in the hull is accidentally still on Earth playing triage politics to North Korea! Oops!
:)
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Post May 02, 2013, 05:53:55 PM

OP vs NOP

To me, the choice to outline came later, and only for my novel project. I've never needed one for flash or other short work.

I began my novel without an outline, but after a while, I had to come up with some sort of way to keep track of what the characters were doing, where, and when. Tao, if you remember, I was recently looking for something with a tree structure for this. Scrivener has one, but I didn't think that was worth paying for and then having to import my existing system into.

My existing system is Mac's Text Edit (an .rtf file), which allows me to change font color and also to use tables. I built a two-column table and filled in the information. Left column (narrow) has dates (the main character's age according to his home-wold's 14-month calendar). These are also the chapter titles. Right column has very short outlines of the chapter's main events. I use the Bookmarks function to navigate to chapters and important sub-chapter locations.

Here's what some of my outline looks like:
#1.jpg
#1.jpg (167.05 KiB) Viewed 3009 times
#2.jpg
#2.jpg (178.49 KiB) Viewed 3009 times

There's more, but this is just to illustrate. And I use this thing ALL the time, and back it up along with the manuscript, 'cause I'd be lost without it.

And, by the way, shouldn't this discussion be somewhere else, like in a new thread in Writer's Workshop?
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Post May 02, 2013, 07:39:46 PM

Re: Cold Storage By E. S. Strout

Tao, when I began writing s-f back in the mid sixties (I think), my fiction was never more than 3000 words. I could keep them all in my head, no problem. My longer stories today are more complex and require more strict attention. Now with advancing age and declining vision I may produce only one or two stories per year.

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