All posts by tabboo@me.com

Spent the last thirty years in marine transportation and logistics management. Also, have been heavily involved in database management, developing several software products for the marine industry. Forcing myself to work on an industry handbook, but spending more of my free time writing science fiction and just goofing off on my boat.

A Mighty Dwarf – the naming 2007 OR10

Just yesterday,  I was excited to see that Dr. Megan Schwamb, who discovered 2007 OR10, had decided to name it.

 I had somewhat randomly chosen this dwarf planet to use in my novel–Prelude: The Expanding Seas of Earth.  Moreover, early this month I had contacted both Dr. Megan Schwamb and Dr. Mike Brown, and asked why no one had ever named it. I even offered my suggestion for a name–mentioned in my author notes (see below)  

Dr. Brown promptly replied to my inquiry, saying to stand by–the name would be coming very soon. A nice surprise! Technically, his right to name it expired in 2017 (after ten years). And no one has bothered in the two years since… until now.

Dr. Megan Schwamb and her colleagues have now provided their favorite choices, and invited astronomy fans to help select which one will be officially submitted. Hopefully, some preferential consideration will be accorded them. After all, they found it.

I also hope they won’t be offended that my story’s characters used it for target practice…. I can assure it was all for a good and necessary cause, and that no major planetary features were harmed in the exercises.

And while anyone can now officially submit a suggestion to the International Astronomical Union (IAU), I won’t be among them. I think those who found it should still have final say. These are the people whose work and dedication inspire us to look outside our small world… and dream. 

From my author’s notes:

Heavenly Bodies  

Kuiper Objects – When this story was written, 2007 OR10 was still the correct designation for the dwarf planet Maggie’s crew uses for target practice. However, by the year this story begins, someone will probably have already named it–thus a potential story flaw.

Naming rights for 2007 OR10 expired in 2017, so technically anyone can name it. The International Astonomical Union adjudicates this, and there are strict guidelines as to length and type–for instance, no pet names.

Professor Michael E. Brown***(Caltech), who held the rights, never officially named it. However, he did nickname it “Snow White” for being bright. He has a healthy sense of humor–it was the seventh dwarf planet his team had discovered since 2002.

Dwarf planets must either be very bright or very large to be detected. It was later determined 2007 OR10 was larger and reddish in color, suggesting presence of methane frost. So the nickname no longer quite fits. The good news, from my perspective, is that Snow White had a sister named “Rose Red”. Serendipity methinks! Still, I restrained myself from calling it “Rose Red” in the story. If someone named it otherwise between 2017 and publication, I’d have egg on my face.

Thankfully, given the transit time round trip between K’Laadia and Earth, Khreseea could only have uploaded Earth’s Kuiper Belt data prior to 2017. Thus they couldn’t have learned the new name.

***2007 OR10 was discovered by California Institute of Technology astronomers as part of the PhD thesis of Megan E. Schwamb, who was at the time a graduate student of Michael E. Brown.[15] (cit. Wikipedia). Hopefully, she ultimately gets to name it (only seems fair).

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The Tides of Earth

A New Day  The New Day

Prelude: The Tides of Earth

It’s past time to begin rolling out the sequel to The Expanding Seas of Earth… but if you don’t like spoilers, stop reading here.||<<<

…    …

              …    …

Okay, so it’s not a problem for you. Continue  |>>> 

The Tides of Earth starts off four days after The Expanding Seas ended. But to make it accessible to readers who may not already have read Expanding Seas, it was necessary to quickly establish the where’s and why’s of what Maggie and her crew were about to do. 

My natural instinct is to hew toward subtlety–something I enjoy when reading–but which doesn’t always work when there’s a ton of detail readers need. So I’ve tried to use it sparingly, but to avoid heavy-handedness bringing readers up to speed. Still, by the end of the first  two (short) opening chapters, I trust readers will have a handle on the main events of the first story. 

Obviously, if you see it differently, now would be the ideal time to tell me. I can still tinker with my words up until actual publication, and will consider thoughtful comments. The copy below is already result of some well placed suggestions made by my local critique group. Previous readers will find symmetry  between this opening chapter and that of The Expanding Seas.  It’s deliberate. I liked the idea of the story having come full circle.

For newcomers, please note I try my best to assure the science in my stories is within the realm of current scientific knowledge and theory, and to avoid including “made up” science. Real science offers more than enough incredible ideas to be explored. And I think it’s very important for people to understand the difference between the two.

The first chapter is below–more of a teaser, but with hints of the backstory. I’ll post the second chapter Monday, April 15th, 2019–thereafter a chapter each week. So without further ado… enjoy!

Prelude: The Tides of Earth

Chapter One: The High Blind

The Earth shone brilliantly below. Sparse clouds crabbed aimlessly across its seas and continents. The moon–brighter than seen from any of its crusty shores–peeked around the horizon. Occasionally, a glint of light–as. a stray satellite caught a beam of sunlight. Maggie drew a deep, appreciative breath–awed by the beauty and satisfied that conditions would be perfect for today’s precision operations.

The control room’s wall and ceiling screens provided a clear uninterrupted image of everything outside the ship. There was reverent silence. No one wanted to disturb the stunning view.

Mike sat at the center weapons console and checked his settings once more. Adjustments weren’t really needed, but with what was at stake…. He’d check still again.

Tracy hardly breathed. A loose blond bang flopped across her forehead. Gone were her perfect tresses, cultured in life before their own ship had been hijacked. She squinted, bit her lip, and scanned the screens intently. No telltale signs of an attack. A comfort. Earth’s major powers may have agreed to cooperate, but only because there weren’t viable options. All it took was for one of them to take a pot shot.

“Frightened?” Mike asked.

“No,” But Tracy barely moved her head. Her eyes were still drawn toward the panorama. 

“Don’t be. Even if they could see us, our defensive canisters would take out any missiles… besides, why wouldn’t they want to know first what they’d be up against!” Mike offered a reassuring smile. 

Tracy took a deep breath and returned to surveying the screen.

Sorry kid, Mike thought, but it was you who convinced us! 

Today was Show and Tell. They’d demonstrate to the United Nations the full power of the K’Laadian weapons. The return to Earth with their prize had been difficult. The decisions they’d made were difficult. But there was no going back. 

We’re in it now! Mike knew. It’ll only get tougher from here. Whatever it took, they would buy or pry away whatever government support they’d need to build a planetary defense. We can do it, he promised himself. We are formidable!

Next chapter: Wake-up Call

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Water Clerk

Water Clerk        WATER CLERK

I’ve just resumed working on this vessel agency handbook after a lengthy hiatus concentrating on my (more fun to write) first science fiction novel.  And as I progress I will periodically post excerpts for those rare  few souls interested.  Please note these aren’t  in finished form. Those posted here will be further edited for readability and content–a most tedious but necessary process.

I’ve learned much about writing and publishing over the past five years, so have found that setting and making deadlines is as important in writing as it is in handling a ship’s port call.  Thus target date for official publication of Water Clerk is March 15, 2020… the “Ides of March” (for those liking literary drama). 

In the meantime, I shall welcome comments, critiques, and questions regarding the excerpts posted here.  Constructive dialogue can only benefit the project . With no further ado, below find the Introduction and the Table of Contents for Part One…. 

WATER CLERK: Introduction

The purpose of this book is to provide not just an understanding of a vessel agent’s role, but an introduction to the basics of agency operations and logistics, and—finally—a better understanding of the problems of agency management. It is a tutorial of the “hows” and “whys.”
A newcomer to this industry is typically thrust immediately into situations where their awareness and independent judgement are as important to their survival and success as their ability to memorize procedures and accurately complete paperwork. The hand-holding period where the more experienced agent shows how certain things are done… is invariably short. If you are new, very soon you will be on your own. That is the typical pace.
Some newcomers thrive on the novelty of the business, the variety of new responsibilities, the pace, the odd hours, and the early opportunity to be entrusted to work on their own. They feel invigorated. Many others will find these same conditions only stressful. Everyone are gaited differently. It may not be right for everybody, but the marine industry tends to grow on you.
Today’s vessel agents need to learn patience and a myriad of other skills—including, ironically, when not to be patient. The better your personal knowledge and your understanding of how things work, the better you will be able to react, respond, and grow into your job. And the more valuable you will make yourself to both your customers and your company.
The title of this book, “Water Clerk”, is a diminutive label a close friend and ex-sea captain once joked was the common term for vessel agents in Europe. It deliberately suggests an unimportant role.
However, the truth is that a vessel agent can have a greater impact upon the costs, the success, or the failure of a port call than any other player. It is up to you to remember that the only way your role as a ship agent will ever be unimportant, is if you personally make it unimportant. If you learn your trade and accept the responsibilities it entails, you will become the knowledgeable and dedicated ship agent your customers and your company needs.

Note:  As I put together this handbook, I was faced with two difficulties. The first was how best to organize the material into a natural progression, where readers could assimilate the concepts first, then consolidate that knowledge by seeing actual practices. The second difficulty was determining how to cover the incredibly dull basic materials without readers committing suicide or avowing to become an accountant instead—two roughly equal choices.

However, it is extremely important the terminology provided is clear and accurate, because many are legal concepts. And in the maritime community, huge sums of money can ride on getting details right.
So I came to the following compromise—to issue this hazardous warning:

Be advised that materials in sections Getting Acquainted, Types of Agency Services, and Roles of an Agent are, at points, both mind-numbingly boring yet absolutely essential to learn.
I have added  comments, where possible, to break the bleak monotony. However, I recommend—if getting bored to tears or passing into REM sleep—temporarily jump ahead to the section Getting Things Done. 

fullsizeoutput_380IMG_1462

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PREFACE to PRELUDE

Below find my first stab at writing a preface for my novel PRELUDE. Not so amazingly, I hadn’t even thought about writing one until reading Mary Ann de Stefano’s highly informative article on the Florida Writers Association website – http://floridawriters.net/front-matter-matters/

I greatly welcome any comment or critiques anyone has to offer on its content, style, grammar, spelling, and punctuation. It will help me to improve it. Thank you!

Magic Hour 0177

Preface

My family has always been drawn to the sea, in one way or another, and though I never had the chance to meet many of my forebears, that draw has always influenced my choices in life. It led me to a life of working with ships, and to owning boats. And while working for ships is akin to a kind of slavery – ship movements will dictate to all your working and sleeping hours – leaving the shore on one’s own boat is utter soul-quenching freedom.

But before having the freedom of owning my very first boat, I enjoyed the delicious freedom of escaping into books…classic sea stories, adventures, and finally the joy of classic science fiction. This last discovery wasn’t bound by the oceans of Earth, or by the humdrum world around me. Now there was the promise ships could sail to the stars, and every day life could begin a new adventure, as scientific advances redefined the world around me. I experienced sheer delight in exploring the joys and dangers these new tales dangled before me. I wanted to see the future. And I wanted (most of) it to be real.

Unfortunately, I also come from a long line of cynics. I’ve been cynical in my professional and personal life, yet when it comes to worldview, I see a different picture. I see the hopefulness of the future I dreamt of when reading all those exciting SciFi tales. I still nurture and preserve my optimism. 

Yet the most common trope in science fiction and fantasy today is dystopia. These apocalyptic futures no doubt reflect a newer generation’s feeling their parents have really screwed things up. In reality, it would take many more years of substantial screwing up to even begin delivering those apocalyptic visions. Importantly – thankfully – there is always a ying to offset the yang of misfortunate tides. Plus, regardless of how dysfunctional modern times may seem, it is easy to document how much very better human society is on the whole, when compared to any times past.  

So when I undertook to write this novel, I unabashedly wanted it to reflect reality in a positive light. I believe the stakes feel more dramatic when the science is real – actually feasible.

People are basically both good and bad, with varying degrees of both within each person. So while we may have entire groups of people who will sign off and accept the worst kind of brutality and destruction, we still have equally measured groups who will fight such brutality and aspire to produce gentility, growth, and fairness in the world. And amazingly, as a society, these people will mix, change sides, learn to be better, and sometimes learn to be worse than their best selves.

Over the long term though, with occasional stumbles, human society slowly learns how to be their better selves. And while I doubt that will ever be universally achieved (I am still a cynic), that clearly must remain everyone’s long term goal.

And that is why demanding reality is so important. Ergo that’s why I love science, which helps bring truth to reality. While I am no mathematician, scientist, or technical expert, I read and drink up the latest in the theories of everything. I respect the process and the incredible people whose minds make these great new discoveries in truth. And while there is so much absolutely fun science fiction out in the world that wink-winks at actual scientific fact in order to move characters most impossibly through time and space, I prefer to keep mine at least grounded in current theories. 

Human society invents. And inventions are still the best catalyst for positive change. However, when people are unable to differentiate between what is real science and what is false, they can be misled by the opportunists (especially those political types)  to adopt a skewed vision of reality that can lead society toward those apocalyptic speed bumps we might otherwise avoid. 

Facing reality, demanding real science instead of a politically induced stupor, is the best weapon humanity has against dystopia.

I began writing PRELUDE to satisfy one ‘what if’ that piqued my curiosity, and which seems rarely (never?) addressed in any invasion tale I’ve read. So I combined my love of ships with my love of science, reality, and science fiction, and I’ve set sail to put my own spin on the classic invasion yarn.

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Preparing for ANNIHILATION – a book review

Annihilation

I read this book some months ago, with hesitation. The further I read, the more hesitant I was to proceed. In truth, this hesitation had nothing to do with the quality of Mr. Vandermeer’s prose or his prolific imagination. He creates an strange and intriguing world within a world, and sets his characters on a dangerous expedition into the unknown – all the exciting elements you could want in a science fiction story.

So what is my problem?

Probably, because when I’m reading I look for new revelations in each chapter. Stories of exploration usually offer not just new challenges at each turn, but new clues to the puzzle the author has created. Characters piece together the clues, bit by bit, until one reaches an Eureka moment, where the puzzle – or at least an important part of the puzzle – is explained.

The basic conceit of the story – which has been given away worldwide to anyone who’s seen the trailer for the movie – is that a  part of the country (by its native landscape, I’d assume Florida) has been overtaken  by a strange phenomena. No one who’s gone in has ever returned (no, they’re not retirees). Moreover, the boundary for this area is ever expanding, posing a threat to the entire country and perhaps the world.

No explanation is given (that I remember) why it is not being closely observed by satellite. So the government’s intrepid team enters with only rudimentary detail of the layout of the land around their entry point.  Here is where the story begins…and it is not too far from where the story ends. The abounding mysteries of the place overtake them very quickly, and the events almost as quickly dissolve their confidence in themselves and their teammates.

And the abounding mysteries pretty much remain mysteries through to the end.  Vandermeer presents his troupe with many questions, but with little by the way of answers – except, perhaps, about themselves and the human condition. Unfortunately, I wanted more. While I kept getting frustrated at not being offered some insight as to why this event was occurring, I kept up hope of being rewarded in each next chapter.  I kept hoping until it was too late. I’d finished the book.

My one final takeaway, reading the last page, was that this story was clearly intended to be continued. I seriously considered checking to see if a sequel had already been written,  but my discouragement at being left empty-handed won out. I never checked. I see now that two sequels have been written, and I’m seriously tempted to give them a shot. After all is said, the first did keep me reading and did raise questions I wanted answered. Who and why come immediately to mind. I’m very leery though whether I’ll find the answers I seek in these later books.

Maybe Hollywood will offer more answers in the movie version.  I know I’ll see it.  Vandermeer has created a rich, fascinating, visual world, so Hollywood’s version should at least look gorgeous even if it winds up a “gorgeous but dumb” blonde joke on theater-goers.

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PRELUDE – A New Cover Story

Prelude laserbeam full cover with spineOne  interesting thing about the original image for the cover is that there were two small disc-shaped elements hovering together near the planet’s surface.  As they were angled and aligned identically, and as each had a notable center, it strongly suggested something had passed through those centers – thus creating the effect.

This odd effect seemed a shame to waste, especially since my story does include the use of several forms of energy beam.  Suzanne Johnson*, who is not only patient (with my questions), but also immensely talented, came to my rescue with this (above) reiteration.

Unless some inspired publisher throws money at me and insists  on using their own cover art, I consider this a keeper.  So how does this grab you? I’d love to hear feedback.

*To see other of Suzanne’s work, her website is: http://dsjohnsonbooks.com/gallery

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Pantsing, Plotting, and Sussing

 

Pantsing, and Plotting, and Sussing …      Oh My!

I’ve read a number of literary discussions on the relative merits of “pantsing” versus “plotting” when it comes to developing one’s story line, and have always been left in a little quandary as to which I’ve done when writing my first novel, “The Expanding Seas”. I didn’t start out with a plot. I began only with a scenario that I found intriguing.

As I wrote, the typical form of most SciFi/adventure plots took shape. I placed my protagonists in the most impossible position. They would have to outwit their captors, overcome great odds, recognize and accept they had a greater responsibility, and ultimately take action to protect others. Obviously, this is a common trope in many genres.

But wait! Not so fast! Rather than plot out how I’d lead my characters and story toward resolution, I found myself approaching each new chapter in their journey from the standpoint of “why have these particular obstacles been placed in front of them”, “what would they need to do next”, and “how might this affect their goals”.

I had already set up a myriad of questions in my opening chapters. I felt I really needed to answer each to properly grasp the next logical action or event – before I could move on. Sussing these out, recognizing this natural progression, is what drove each successive chapter. Moreover, it’s what logically forced twisting the plot before the end.

Now, I won’t suggest that Sussing – as a concept – should be given an equal place next to Pantsing and Plotting. Perhaps it might be regarded a subset to plotting. But I do suspect it fits somewhere in between the two.

You start your story, establish the rules of your story world, then must follow those rules. If you are writing SciFi, or procedural (detective) novels, some of these rules may be strict, leading you down the same path to discovery as your characters. And the more confidant and professional you make your characters – both heroes and villains – the narrower that path will be. Their logic begins leading you down the path to a better understanding of the world you created, and maybe even of your own world.

My own sussing led me in an entirely new direction, and dramatically affected my novel’s theme.

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Protocols, Procedures, and Rules…Oh My!

Having already staked out a position on bad rules, it seems only appropriate that I should give equal time to the value of good rules – in general, at least.

OneTwoThree.

(Scene from MGM’s classic 1, 2, 3…with James Cagney)

The reason we constantly surround ourselves by “best” and “required” practices is to get through life in the least stressful, most efficient and productive manner.

Being human, we are, after all, toolmakers. Much like a computer, hammer, and test tube, these protocols, procedures, and (yes) rules are simply tools. Their purpose is to help us get the job – whatever that may be – done in the best way we can manage!

This brings up two questions. The first is “what is the right tool for the job”. If you have a box of screws and some wood to assemble, do you use a hammer? Obviously, a screwdriver would be better. But then there is that adage “when all you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail”. Remember that? Good! Now forget it. Go out and buy a damned screwdriver.

IMG_1180The second question is “are these the best tools for the job”. This is more subtle. If you have some hammering, sawing, screwing, and gluing to be done on your project, do you buy the ten-pound hammer, hand saw, long handled screw-driver, and Elmer’s Glue? Or do you buy the heavy-duty electric stapler, a saber saw,IMG_0055 an electric drill, and a water-proof epoxy? Now there are variables. Each must be taken into account to formulate your answer.

In fact, now you have multiple variables affecting your decision on each tool. How big is your project – i.e. how much repetitive action will be involved with each function? What type of materials will you be working on – thin, soft wood? thick, hard wood? And how many projects of this nature will you be participating in, in the future? Will it be just this once? Will this be one of a series of similar projects you’ll need to do? How much time can you allot to this project? Need it yesterday? Need it next week? Plus how precise must your work be? Impeccable quality? Rough, simple and functional? Some place in between?

I’ll assume you’ve got the idea. Answers to these questions will help determine what tools – protocols, procedures, or rules – will work. However, the one safe, albeit generic, takeaway you can get from this exercise, is that most tasks can be successfully accomplished in several ways. What practices are good, better, best, or awful will depend upon your individual situation. The difference, if any, will be in their relative efficiency.

Let’s look at your woodworking project. You have flexibility in the order of work, and the safeguards you choose. You might cut all the wood to size in advance of doing any assembly. You might instead begin assembly of some parts as you finish cutting each piece. Neither practice will be wrong, but their relative efficiencies will depend upon your allotment of time and your immediate objectives. Do you need to turn out a number of units quickly? Then the piecemeal approach might be more effective. Do you need to complete the entire batch quickly? Then doing the cutting, then assembly in stages might be better.

Either way, you get the job done, and get it done right. But the procedure – tool – you choose must fit your objectives and deadlines.

Note that the physical tools you have at your disposal, whether hammer and nail, or computer and software, still affect your final efficiencies. The more automated your tools are, the shorter, simpler your protocols, and the more efficient your overall operation can be.

Bottom line – no procedures, protocols, or rules are – or should be – carved in stone. There are only “best and latest” practices that fit your current situation. The truly “best practice” is to recognize best practice is a moving target, and that organizations should always review and strive to achieve better. The tools – protocols – you

Four friends accept responsibility
(Four teammates dedicated to established  procedures embrace exciting new conditions.)

 use today were developed over time through trial and failure,

In a changing world, when you stop reviewing and refining your procedures – stop updating your tools – you stagnate and set yourself up for failure.

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Book Review: SLEEPING PLANET by William K. Burkett Jr.

I have read and loved hard SciFi my whole life. However,  I first read this when I was only thirteen. It is not hard SciFi. The science isn’t even remotely accurate. But it was irresistible – unquestionably the first science fiction “DIE HARD” of its day

DSCN0835You get a resourceful hero who is determined not to lose, but who faces overwhelming odds (an entire occupation force). There is also the reliable outsider who can’t participate in the action, but whose efforts still aid the hero’s fight. And you have the clever villain, slowly tracking down and boxing in the hero.

Earth and its Venus* and Mars settlements have been at war with the invading Llarian forces for years, stalemated. To break the stalemate, the Llarians devise a plan to place the billions of humans on these planets into a hibernation-like sleep, and use them as hostages. It is spectacularly successful, except for a small handful of “unaffecteds” – humans who did not succumb to the sleep.

One among these is Rierson, an Atlanta lawyer and avid hunter, alone in the Georgia backwoods when the “big sleep” takes place. Another is Donovan, a crippled London truck driver, with a grouchy disposition and a sharp wit. Donovan uses his wits to intimidate his superstitious Llarian guards with stories about his Grandpa’s ghost wanting revenge. Riersen fights his way through squads of invading troops, while he tries to figure out what has happened.

Donovan’s tall tales begin to spread among the Llarian ranks, and stories of Rierson’s exploits begin giving them credence. As each learns of the other’s efforts, they both focus on creating fear and panic in the ranks of the Llarian occupation force.

While rank and file “Larrys” are fretting over being murdered by Earth’s ghosts, a brilliant Llarian  intelligence officer is putting together the puzzle pieces and tracking down Rierson. He sets a trap, and draws the net closer and closer to capture Rierson.

The rest I leave to readers to discover for themselves. Rierson’s tactics and  solution are imaginative, and are sheer fun to read. I always wished Hollywood would make a movie of this, and with the ILM class graphics now available, the ending would be joyously fun Hollywood magic.

Bruce Willis may have saved the people in the Nakatoma Tower, but Rierson very coolly saves the world.  This is a fast, fun, action-filled yarn from start to finish. On the Pizza Scale, I’d give it eight slices.

*I doubt the “science” in this book was even accurate  when it was first published in 1964. If not, obviously the publishers decided to overlook that weakness. I was recently surprised to find it had been reprinted (after a long hiatus) in 2012.  All they changed was the cheesy 60’s SciFi cover (robots & guns), although the new cover is rather blah (a tree – go figure). The cheesy one is actually better. And classic.

Burkett was only eighteen when he wrote this, and probably not worried about research or accuracy. At the same time, he clearly had a logical mind, and his character’s actions – both the heroes and villains – reflected that clear logic, thereby making the story more interesting (I hate when authors have smart characters do dumb things just to advance the plot). 

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