Civic Duty Again

I’ve got jury duty today and have to leave in a few minutes. Actually, it’s the second time I’ve been called since the move, but the first trial got cancelled so now we are here again. I actually don’t mind. It’s never going to be convenient, but so what? Someone’s future is on the line. That’s not something you take lightly.

Besides, I much prefer being “juror xx.” Could be worse.

Could be the defendant.

Roll Over Carl Sagan

Voyager 1 launched in 1977. Its stated mission was to do flybys of Jupiter and Saturn. It did so with aplomb, discovering, among many other things, active volcanoes on the moon Io, and just how intricate Saturn’s rings are. But that wasn’t the end of its mission. Its trajectory after its last flyby was toward an even more ambitious destination.

Out.

 As in, leave the solar system completely. Which it accomplished in 2012 by passing out of the area known as the heliosphere, the area of local space more affected by our sun than whatever forces might lie outside it.

Not its primary mission, but possibly more significant in the long view. Our very first robotic foray into interstellar space. Aside from instruments, it carries the “Golden Record,” with greetings in fifty-five languages on the assumption that any aliens smart enough to find It are also smart enough to figure out how to play it. It would be to their advantage, because the record also includes music by Beethoven and Chuck Berry. Which inspired the long-running joke: What will be our first communication from an alien species? “Send more Chuck Berry.”

I have my doubts, with all due respect to Chuck Berry, and this is also due to one more new discovery from Voyager 1: the Hum.

No one was expecting new science from the probe once its primary mission was over, as both Voyager probes were designed and expected to be operational for only five years. If that had been the case, Voyager 1 would still have been the first man-made object to leave the solar system, but it would be a dead hunk of metal when it did so. After forty-four years Voyager 1 and its sister craft Voyager 2 are both still very much alive, and Voyager 1 was the first to hear the universe singing.

Well, okay, it’s more of a hum, which why they call it that. For those of us who grew up fussing at science-fiction in movies and television which almost always depict spacecraft rumbling very loudly through space when there’s no air to carry any sound, it was a bit humbling. Yes, there is no air to speak of in space, so we can’t hear sound there the way we were designed to hear it, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t any. It appears the spaces between the stars contain traces of ionized gas—plasma—vibrating in a narrow band. It’s far too faint for us to hear, but with the right instruments to detect, amplify and interpret the wave forms, it becomes sound.

So it turns out the universe is humming to itself.

So much for the emptiness of space and the silence of the stars, both are illusions based on a misapprehension—ours. We just had to learn how to listen.

A Distinction With a Difference

Today’s post will be bit of writing neep (if that term “neep” still has any meaning). Yes, sorry. Our local writing group has been meeting online since the pandemic began and I was directly asked a question about the mechanics of writing a novel vs a short story. Allways a dangerous idea, since I tend to mull over such questions and come up different answers depending on what I had for breakfast that morning. Here’s more or less what I said.

I’ll take a shot at this, bearing in mind I can only speak from my own experience. Any other novelists in the group would likely have a different take. I wrote short stories for years before I first attempted a novel, and that first novel took me five years to write because I didn’t know HOW to write a novel. After five years, I knew how to write a novel. That is, I knew how to write that particular novel. The next one? Another steep learning curve. And the next….

All that said, the most significant difference between short stories and novels is not length, because a novel is not a long short story any more than a short story is a tiny novel. It can be summed up in one word: pacing. For that reason, a novel composed of self-contained flash fiction chapters with complete story arcs is likely to read very “choppy” and call too much attention to themselves at the expense of the larger story, unless substantially revised with the greater story in mind. The main job of a chapter is not to tell its own story but to serve the greater narrative and smoothly advance the storyline. And the writer has to make that happen even if, as is often the case, they themselves do not yet know the whole story. Yes, there are some writers who can sit down and plot out the whole book before they even write Chapter 1. I’m not one of them, and I know from contacts with other writer friends that I’m not alone here.

Sorta sounds impossible when you look at it that way, but it really isn’t, and the process is a lot simpler than it sounds. It isn’t necessary to know the whole story when you start, but what you will need to find sooner rather than later is a direction. That is, by the time you’re a few chapters in, you need to at least know what the greater narrative is and where it’s going, even if you don’t yet know how the heck you’re going to get there. Figuring that part out is the daily work. A chapter usually isn’t a complete story in itself, though it can be, provided that’s what the greater narrative requires.

You’ll likely end up with some chapters that are fine by themselves but don’t serve any purpose in the narrative. Other chapters which you might have written without understanding how they fit in, were exactly what was needed. All that will come under the heading of editing/revising. Neil Gaiman once described it, and I’ll paraphrase, “Making it look like you knew what you were doing all along.” The reader doesn’t need to see the bits that don’t work, nor should they.

Otherwise, perfectly doable. Just like eating an elephant: One bite at a time.

It’s Nice to Be Included

This sort of thing doesn’t happen all that often, at least in my part of the writerverse. My fae fantasy, Little Fire and Fog, is part of a push to encourage Kindle Unlimited (KU) signups. The list includes a selection of fae themed books, like LF&F, that are available in KU. If you’re inclined, check out the web page. There’s a button up there somewhere. There’s no obligation, so it doesn’t hurt to look. If you’re already in KU, you might get some ideas for your next read.

Commanding the Tide

Some of what follows actually happened. All of it is true, even the parts that didn’t actually happen.

“I’ve been thinking of King Canute lately. In light of current events.”

“Really? I’ve been thinking of loading the dishwasher. Takes my mind off the mess we’re in.”

It was a pretty typical Wednesday in lockdown. I was thinking of what needed doing. She was thinking of either the meaninglessness of existence or a parable about the limits of secular authority. Either way, there were matters to consider. Such as whether the pots should all go on the bottom rack or whether a 12th century religious philosopher was just hijacking an old story to make a point about the glory of God.

“Load, if you think it’ll help. And before you ask, yes, the pots go on the bottom rack. This isn’t your first rodeo.”

“It’s always the first rodeo.”

“Stop changing the subject, and by the by, that’s a lot less zen than you believe. I was thinking of the account of King Canute and the Tide.”

I was sorting flatware. “Naturally. If it wasn’t for that incident on the beach, would anyone even remember his name?”

She glared at me. “Irrelevant. Everyone who remains famous for more than fifteen minutes has to be famous for something, usually only one something. We’re the short attention span species.”

Plates down, pots up. Flatware in the side rack. Each according to its needs. “So which version of the story were you thinking about?”

“At first I was thinking of the version where his flattering courtiers convinced him he was divine, so he put his throne on the shore with the tide coming in and ordered it not to get his feet wet.”

“I can guess what happened.”

“Guess again if you think that plastic spoon goes on the bottom rack. You’re likely right about Canute. He got his feet wet. Not to mention his royal robes. But that’s not the version people remember.”

“No wonder. Good for a chuckle, but no great moral lesson. Guys full of themselves will always get soaked, sooner or later.”

“Which is why I didn’t dwell on it. No, the more famous version. His courtiers are convinced he’s divine. Canute, who knows himself far too well, says it ain’t so. To prove it, he orders the tide to stay back and not get his feet wet. He gets his feet wet, and thus proves his case.”

I tackled the glassware and mugs next. “So what was his case? You don’t really think his courtiers actually believed he was divine, do you? I imagine some awkward silences about then. They’re like: ‘did His Majesty actually just do that? Couldn’t he play along? After all, we were just doing our jobs.’”

“Let’s assume both sides were sincere.  I know, it’s a big assumption, but work with me.”

“I will if you’ll hand me that spoon. You were saying?”

“What Canute said whether he knew it or not. Secular authority is no more absolute than kings are divine.”

I started the dishwasher. “In other words, the tide is turning.”

(c) 2021 Richard Parks