SolidCold by Richard Tornello


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Post March 30, 2011, 08:21:28 AM

SolidCold by Richard Tornello

This is a solid sci-fi story. I liked the ending - I wasn't expecting it.
There were two things that especially interested me.
#1 - This grew out of entry to the Flash Fiction Contest over in Fun and Games. That's the nice thing about a monthly contest it forces writers to write something...and you never know where that may lead.
#2 - I was interested in the measurements involved during the story. This is always a difficult task, because you can't say "The creature is 3 FEET long" in the year 10,028 A.D. Even the year itself is subject to change (is that 10,000 years from now C.E.? or 10,000 years A.T. (after the landing at Tranquility Bay - some scientists use this). How do you put length and time into a frame everyone will understand.
Let me give you some measurements from the story: "...start digging 9 measures out..." "The time is now 'High Star'..." "(she was)...2 1/2 times the average female.." "...five orbits around our star later..."
Interesting. The language of measurement can say so much about a specific civilization that it's difficult to find new ways to express these ideas.
Since the house is on fire - at least let us warm ourselves.
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Post March 30, 2011, 11:22:03 AM

Re: SolidCold by Richard Tornello

I can't recall for certain, but Rick may have said that this was the original, and he cut it down to fit the flash . . . it can certainly happen either way.

The measurement thing is giving me fits in my novel project. Time is another one. C. J. Cherryh got inexcusably lazy in her Chanur series: the main-character species (the Hani) used standard 24-hour time and Metric-system distance as though it were their own. I greatly appreciate Rick's effort in this regard; it goes a long way to making the story feel authentic.

Hint for others tackling this: for time, at least, study sun-dials for a while; you'll get some ideas.
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Post April 07, 2011, 08:01:40 PM

Hani units

Lester Curtis wrote: ,,, got inexcusably lazy ..
Or it might be a case of deliberate cultural translation?
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Post April 07, 2011, 08:39:13 PM

Re: Hani units

vates wrote:
Lester Curtis wrote: ,,, got inexcusably lazy ..
Or it might be a case of deliberate cultural translation?

Well, maybe . . . if so, she threw in a slew of modern North-American speech mannerisms too . . . although, she might have done that just to free up her thinking for all the dense political intrigue in that series. I could excuse her for that, I suppose.
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Post April 14, 2011, 03:34:29 PM

Re: SolidCold by Richard Tornello

bottomdweller wrote:#2 - I was interested in the measurements involved during the story. This is always a difficult task, because you can't say "The creature is 3 FEET long".

Rick Tornello wrote: I taste my blood. Sweet. Its color is somewhere in the 668 to 780 THz range and sweet.


Which puts it somewhere in the high end of the infrared band. Talk about using human-centric units of measure! These are beings that barely know the word 'human', but they know what a terahertz is? Really?

Why not just say that these critters can see in the dark, and get it over with?


I finally got around to reading this one. It’s much more understandable in its expanded form.

Like a lot of Richard’s stuff, it takes a little mental translation to parse.


There may have been a few little quibs with the science.


Soooo. . .

Neandertal Man is still alive and hiding in our genes, huh? You’d think the whole Human Genome Project would have noticed it. And they somehow reassemble themselves from a dormant 4%-10%. That would probably only take a few generations.

Their blood is based on glycol, which is a processed petroleum derivative, and isn’t found in nature. Hmmmm….

And they are two-to-three times the size of modern humans, even though the bones we’ve found from their previous incarnation are just a little more than average-sized.

Oh yeah! They take a chunk of lava (or maybe magma) and use it as the firebox in a Stanley Steamer to drive their vehicles. Wonder how far they get, doing that? I bet they have serious ‘Hot Potato’ competitions. Probably their version of NFL.

It was, however, a real shame the human female happened to have a Hollywood atomic bomb with her. Those are the only kind that can go boom after tens of thousands of years with no maintenance, or being thrown in a volcano, either. Too bad she didn’t have a real bomb, it would have been nonfissile after maybe fifty years, max. And it wouldn’t have done anything but melt if it was thrown into a volcano, even if it was brand spankin’ new.

There’s another oddity:
Look, phase transition! We don't go through that," I declare, calming myself.


I have no idea what that means. None.

If I froze these folks and then warmed them up, they would. It’s what happened to the human and I think he’s just saying she was starting to melt.

Or if I dropped one of them into the volcano and they started to boil, they would undergo phase transition, as well.
Any idea what that sentence means, folks?


Sorry, had to get that out of my system.


With all of that out of the way, I liked a lot of the society building that Rick did with this one. He managed to portray a people who—in general—are very unlike humans. They aren’t very curious, for one thing. More than that, actually, these folks seem to be anti-curious. Maybe Cold Core has a few more humans in his woodpile than most.

Calling ice ‘solidcold’ and the description of what happened to the regular mammal when exposed to where these folks live was impressive. This place could freeze a penguin in his tracks.

I’m not sure what the moral of this story was, but it seemed to be: “Those pesky humans, even when they’re dead, they’re dangerous.”

One of our better qualities, in my opinion.

Bill Wolfe
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Post April 14, 2011, 04:10:41 PM

Re: SolidCold by Richard Tornello

Oddly enough, Discover Magazine's May 2011 cover story says that modern human DNA is an amalgam of traces from past hominid species:

http://ebookhorn.com/wp-content/uploads ... y-2011.jpg

One would assume that the natural antifreeze in Ander-Tallis blood (funny they'd call themselves that, since the species was named for a region in France, I think...) was not exactly glycol, but had similar properties in terms of low freezing point, resistance to the formation of crystals, etc. Carriers of the genes would have superior resistance to cold and would be the last ones to die from hypothermia (ensuring that they would then have their pick of the tools and clothing of the frozen dead); a few generations of interbreeding (okay, more than a few), with higher survival rates for those in whom the gene was most strongly expressed, would eventually raise the antifreeze component concentration to the point where one of Them could survive in temperatures that would almost instantly freeze liquid water (i.e., substantially below -50 Fahrenheit?).

I think the "phase transition" thing simply refers to the 'fact' that Ander-Tallis blood and body fluids do not freeze in any naturally-occurring conditions with which the narrator is familiar. (Drop him in liquid nitrogen and we'll see who's kidding whom...). Since those fluids don't freeze (as far as he knows from experience), they don't melt, either.

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Post April 15, 2011, 08:59:27 AM

Re: SolidCold by Richard Tornello

Robert_Moriyama wrote: Oddly enough, Discover Magazine's May 2011 cover story says that modern human DNA is an amalgam of traces from past hominid species:
http://ebookhorn.com/wp-content/uploads ... y-2011.jpg
Carriers of the genes would have superior resistance to cold and would be the last ones to die from hypothermia (ensuring that they would then have their pick of the tools and clothing of the frozen dead); a few generations of interbreeding (okay, more than a few), with higher survival rates for those in whom the gene was most strongly expressed, would eventually raise the antifreeze component concentration to the point where one of Them could survive in temperatures that would almost instantly freeze liquid water (i.e., substantially below -50 Fahrenheit?).

Robert,

One of the most succinct and knowledgeable renditions of natural selection that I've ever seen. You're one of 'Us.'

Problem is, it would be a very slow process. And humans are inventive. All you'd need is a little fire, and some log cabins (a.k.a. almost all of human history) and these kinds of temperatures wouldn't matter. Besides, regular mammals still survived in the more temperate regions. So would we. Don't forget that in this world, there are no humans at all. We're a little more persnickety than that.

If the temperature change were immediate and worldwide, the species would have died, taking the Neanderthals with it.

Besides, we are pretty sure we are not direct descendants of Homo Neandertalensis. We share common ancestors, but they were a separate line. And though there is some evidence of interbreeding, it's not statistically significant. And it sure as hell ain't 4-10% of the general human genome. ‘Cause Dude, that's what's referred to as a sh@tload. (I apologize for the highly technical jargon. Old habits, you know. . .)

Robert_Moriyama wrote: One would assume that the natural antifreeze . . . . was not exactly glycol, but had similar properties in terms of low freezing point, resistance to the formation of crystals, etc.


If it's not glycol, why call it that? Ethylene glycol (antifreeze) is sweet to the taste (like Cold Core’s blood). That's why it kills a bunch of dogs (and a few kids) every year. Propylene glycol is only slightly sweet, has much fewer problems since it doesn't do half the damage, and is STILL a petroleum derivative that is not found in nature.

The only other major glycols, according to Brittanica: "Other important glycols include 1,3-butanediol, used as a starting material for the manufacture of brake fluids and of plasticizers for resins; 1,4-butanediol, used in polyurethanes and in polyester resins for coatings and plasticizers, and for making butyrolactone, a valuable solvent and chemical intermediate; 2-ethyl-1,3-hexanediol, an effective insect repellent; and 2-methyl-2-propyl-1,3-propanediol, made into meprobamate, a widely used tranquillizing drug."

So, Robert. . . .which of these do you make blood out of. . . .?

Again it goes back to NOT trying to explain why/how your critters can take more cold than modern humans. Simply say they can, and forget it. Leave it up to the readers whether they have thick skins, elevated blood alcohol content (naturally occurring and with a lower freezing point), or just a monstrous metabolism that lets them do it. THEY wouldn’t necessarily know why they can take more cold than we can. Why should we—as readers—care?

THAT'S one of the “secrets” of Science Fiction. If you're going to make your characters superhuman (as these guys are, when it comes to cold), either don't explain it, or get it right.

Isn't that what we're here for? To point-out where some stories fall short?
Robert_Moriyama wrote:I think the "phase transition" thing simply refers to the 'fact' that Ander-Tallis blood and body fluids do not freeze in any naturally-occurring conditions with which the narrator is familiar. . . . .


Rick and I have discussed this problem, both in private and in public.

Here’s the gist of it:

Just because your research gives you a cool term for water turning from one state of matter to another (solid-to-liquid = melting and liquid-to-gas = boiling. . . .both are ‘phase transitions’ in scientific lingo. . .)

And my response is: YOU DON’T HAVE TO FREAKING INCLUDE IT IN YOUR STORY!

Imagine writing: 'I filled a conductive vessel with liquid dihydrogen monoxide and introducted it to a superthermic resistance source. I then had to allow sufficient time for phase transition to occur.'

or

"I filled the kettle with water, put it on the stove, and waited for it to boil."

It is esoteric, somewhat arcane, and downright confusing for 99% of your readership. It’s also a little condescending, because you’re just flaunting your highly superior (A.K.A. googled) knowledge. And this is coming from a bona fide, card-carrying, GEEK!

DO NOT ALIENATE YOUR READERSHIP. Snag as many as you can. Every time.

Did calling Cold Core’s blood the ‘color’ of 668 to 780 THz tell most of you that he could see in the infrared? Even I had to look that up. Why not just say that they could see heat signatures?

He already implied that they can read thoughts. No explanation for that one, I noticed.

Michele called this a ‘solid’ Science Fiction story. It isn’t.

It’s good. It has a lot of really cool stuff in it. I particularly liked how ‘naming’ once character as ‘Finder’, added status to his family, improved his selection of potential mates, and generally just helped him out as far as the social structure of the culture was concerned.

That is very good plotting. It adds verisimilitude and characterization to the culture.
And I fully intend to steal the concept, and use it as my own. It’s fantastic.

I don’t particularly expect to hurt Rick’s feelings with this critique. He already knows how I feel about this stuff. But maybe it will help somebody else do it differently, next time.

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Post April 15, 2011, 01:32:32 PM

Re: SolidCold by Richard Tornello

I'll say it again, it's fiction, not a science paper. I use terms, that might not be all the could be, in order to give an idea to a thought, like a sign post and the reader can use them as they see fit. And maybe didn't want to use the term infrared and just the wave frequency that would be almost universal in understanding. See our SETI efforts as well as our Pioneer and Voyager craft as examples.
The end.

Yes Bill we have discussed this subject many times and you tend to be of the hard-science school of fiction. You know I'm not. In fact I was expecting these very from comments from you a bit earlier.

Thanks for the complements straight forward or otherwise.

PIONEER PLAQUE
At the top left of the plate is a schematic representation of the hyperfine transition of hydrogen, which is the most abundant element in the universe. Below this symbol is a small vertical line to represent the binary digit 1. This spin-flip transition of a hydrogen atom from electron state spin up to electron state spin down can specify a unit of length (wavelength, 21 cm) as well as a unit of time (frequency, 1420 MHz). Both units are used as measurements in the other symbols.

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Post April 16, 2011, 10:45:34 AM

Re: SolidCold by Richard Tornello

I agree that some of the terminology in the story was a bit confusing for a non-hard science reader, but if I really wanted to know these things I would look them up. This is a good thing I think (causing readers to explore beyond the story as long as it doesn't hinder the read completely). It also adds to the sense of a foreign world, a new culture that we are not familiar with, again adding to the beauty of the story. But, I found it all rather unusual that a group that was not truly curious about the world around them (with the Exception of the MC which seems to be the exception rather than the rule of the group) would mix simple language with left over scientific words...

Whether they were true Neanderthals or not I don't think was really important...they were an evolved/devolved group that lost a link to their past with humans but somehow caught on to some supressed memory of Neanderthals? Don't know.

But like I said earlier--I'm not the hard science reader and focused on a different aspect of the story---myth.

This I loved: How a myth generated by these people explained their lives and how one character tried to understand the world through the context of the myth without fully accepting it. Unfortunately his true questioning of everything seems to have come too late.

Also the end...whatever the author had in mind might not be what I got from it, but the destruction of the world (as far as I could tell) was not really caused by the nuclear weapon but massive volcanic activity that probably was caused by the extra weight of the increasing ice sheets on the crust of the earth. The weapon just being symbolic of the "humans" self-destruction that was mirrored by the destruction of the Ander-Tallis due to their lack of curiousity about what did/could happen in their world (sort of a "If we don't know our past we're doomed to repeat it").

Overall, fun read, thought provoking...I enjoyed it.
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Post April 16, 2011, 12:01:46 PM

Re: SolidCold by Richard Tornello

jsorensen wrote:I agree that some of the terminology in the story was a bit confusing for a non-hard science reader, but if I really wanted to know these things I would look them up.

. . . .This I loved: How a myth generated by these people explained their lives and how one character tried to understand the world through the context of the myth without fully accepting it. Unfortunately his true questioning of everything seems to have come too late.

Also the end...whatever the author had in mind might not be what I got from it, but the destruction of the world (as far as I could tell) was not really caused by the nuclear weapon but massive volcanic activity that probably was caused by the extra weight of the increasing ice sheets on the crust of the earth. (sort of a "If we don't know our past we're doomed to repeat it").



All really good points, Jay.

I know it doesn't sound like it, but I enjoyed the story, too.

My points aren't really about science, it's how bad science can interrupt the FLOW of a story.

A story should take the reader on a freakin' ride. It should take us to another world, another time, another culture, another set of circumstances.

As a reader, I don't like to be taken 'Out Of The Story' because something doesn't jibe.

Who wants to stop a story IN THE VERY FIRST PARAGRAPH to look up what 668-780 THz means?

Why in the world would you want to do that to your readers? Readers are good things. We want them. We need them.

I didn't know. . .off the top of my head. . .what the author was saying. And it was important that these folks can see in the infrared. It's an immensely useful adaptation/genetic gift.

Rick used scientific gobbledygook to say a very simple thing. . .these folks can see in what we call: the 'dark'. At least somewhat.

I can think of one billion, three-hundred and six ways to do it without sending the reader to Google.com to understand it. Can't you?

So why use the scientific term?

As I've said, I've corresponded with Rick about this very subject. In my opinion he's just showing-off.

My advice to other authors is. . .Don't. It ain't worth it.

A story should be a joyride, not a research assignment.

And did I mention I'm the one who's supposed to be the geek?

Bill Wolfe

p.s.

I'm pretty sure that Rick was saying that throwing the nuclear bomb down the volcano destroyed the 'world.' Or at least the entire area around this particular tribe of Neanderthals.
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Post April 16, 2011, 01:00:16 PM

Re: SolidCold by Richard Tornello

Bill--I agree that the writer should not/can not take the readers out of the fictive dream. I suppose I was a bit unclear on that...I thought the scientific jargon was unusual within the context of the story and definitely jarring. I don't mind having my interest sparked on a topic that makes me go look things up as long as I can still get into the story without it...In this piece I thought the language was self-defeating in that regards and as long as I just read over it and allowed the rest of the story to unfold it was a good read. I still think it odd that these peolpe, who are very simple by nature, would hold onto such sophisticated language. That doesn't fit well with me. It was the other aspect of the story (again the myth structure and the possibility of ancient genes surfacing) that carried me through the piece. I agree "they could see in the dark" is a lot clearer and less obstructive than talking about wavelengths or whatever...

As far as the end I would say the author wanted the connection to the nuclear device and the destruction of the place to be directly related...again, I found that a bit hard to accept and opted for my own view of the events that it was just coincidence...oh well, maybe I took too much liberty on that one...

I did like the story as such but agree with your ideas of alienating the audience....

(by the way, it's Jeffrey...)

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Post April 17, 2011, 10:25:33 AM

Re: SolidCold by Richard Tornello

gentlemen, your comments are very important to me and i will take them in.

I do not mind looking things up as I read whether fiction or otherwise, just a point.
However, if it destroys the continuity of the read for the reader, then that's a different issue altogether.

BTW, I didn't think these people were simple. They have a technology based upon steam, transportation and other wise.

I purposely leave a bit of leeway for the reader to make his and her own interpretations, and as in many case, the readers come up with ideas and analysis that authors had not even thought of.

Again thanks for the comments, suggestion, and put-downs.

Love and punches,

RT

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Post April 18, 2011, 03:30:50 PM

Re: SolidCold by Richard Tornello

Enjoyable story, but at least one glaring hole in the science in the critiques. In the visible-spectrum charts that we used to use, frequency range 670 - 790 THz. (wavelength 380 - 450 nm.) was designated as violet light. Red was 400 - 480 THz. (620 - 750 nm.), so infra-red frequencies fell below 400 THz. (longer than 750 nm.).
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Post April 18, 2011, 09:09:46 PM

Re: SolidCold by Richard Tornello

gordhaddow wrote:Enjoyable story, but at least one glaring hole in the science in the critiques. In the visible-spectrum charts that we used to use, frequency range 670 - 790 THz. (wavelength 380 - 450 nm.) was designated as violet light. Red was 400 - 480 THz. (620 - 750 nm.), so infra-red frequencies fell below 400 THz. (longer than 750 nm.).

GEEK ALERT!! WHOOP WHOOP WHOOP WHOOP! ENTER THIS POST AT YOUR OWN RISK. WHOOP WHOOP WHOOP!

Welcome back, gordhaddow.

I've noticed your posts (couldn't miss the Irish toast!).

According to NASA: http://imagine.gsfc.nasa.gov/docs/science/know_l1/spectrum_chart.html

Infrared has a frequency range of : 3 x 10^11 - 4 x 10^14 Hz. (Wish we could do superscript, in this. . .)

Which would correspond to 0.3-400 THz. (One THz = 1.0 X10^12 Hz)

UV Starts at about 750 THz. So our hero is right on the upper edge of what we call 'visible light', but into the the ultraviolet, not the infrared. I was bassackward, and I apologize, to all.

That'll teach me to take the easy way and check it out on Wikidumbia. Or at least read the whole article, not just the blurb. . .

Screw Wikipedia. It ain’t a real source for anything. I won't rely on it, next time.

In so many words, you are absolutely right, and I was wrong. Ain't the first time, and it won't be the last. Thank you for sorting that out.

In my defense, I didn't spend a lot of time researching it because my quib wasn't so much with the number, it was with using such an arcane way of stating that the species can see in frequencies we can't.

Authors shouldn't flaunt esoterica. Not at the expense of readers.

And those who critique, should get their facts straight.

Mea Culpa,

Bill Wolfe
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Post April 18, 2011, 10:12:55 PM

Re: SolidCold by Richard Tornello

Bill_Wolfe wrote:Mea Culpa,

Bill Wolfe

Wasn't she married to Woody Allen? And was previously married to Frank Sinatra? Wow, what a step down for her!
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Post April 18, 2011, 11:16:22 PM

Re: SolidCold by Richard Tornello

rick tornello wrote: gentlemen, your comments are very important to me and i will take them in.


Sooo. You won't take in Michele's comments. Because I quite assure you, she is no gentleman. (Wait, that sounded funny, too. . .)

rick tornello wrote: I do not mind looking things up as I read whether fiction or otherwise, just a point.

Bet you do, Rick. Most folks just don't make you do it TO UNDERSTAND WHAT THE AUTHOR IS SAYING. Quite often, I look something up to learn more about what I read. Not the same thing. Not by a long shot.


rick tornello wrote: BTW, I didn't think these people were simple. They have a technology based upon steam, transportation and other wise.

So do we, Rick. It's called electricity. 92.7% of what you're using to read this comes from steam.
(http://www.eia.doe.gov/energyexplained/images/charts/electric_power_industry_net_generation_fuel-large.jpg )

But we don't drive Stanley Steamers powered by lava (or magma). . .'cause it's dumb.


rick tornello wrote:Again thanks for the comments, suggestion, and put-downs.



Put downs? You wound me, Sir. 'Tis naught but honest critique.

Occasionally innacurate, but honest.

Bill
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