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Nanomagica’s Back Story on the BackXStory Radio Show on BlogTalkRadio

Here is an interview I did on the BackXStory Radio Show on BlogTalkRadio. We talked about all of the influences and themes in my novel, Nanomagica. Our discussions touched on the future of technology, science, philosophy,  and policy. It was great fun to do. I want to thank Frank Fiore and Steven Bradley for having me on their show.

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Some of the authors that inspired me to write…

I was talking with a reader of mine the other day who asked me what authors and novels inspired me. After some thought…

  • Frank Herbert – Herbert’s Dune is, in my opinion, one of the finest and most complex novels ever written. I have read it three times and I am still amazed at the richness of the worlds and characters he created. Technology, politics, psychology, mysticism…it has it all. The sequels are decent and worth a read, but that first book is a classic. Brian Herbert and Kevin Anderson’s Dune books are surprisingly good.
  • Peter Hamilton – I have read everything Mr. Hamilton has produced but it was the Night’s Dawn Trilogy that hooked me. Interesting worlds, political intrigue, a touch of horror, sexual escapades, and likeable characters, make these books a must read. These books also contain the most evil character I have ever found in a novel.
  • Isaac Asimov – From the robot novels to the pre-foundation novels to The Foundation Trilogy, Asimov is a master. His novels captured unique themes such as the decay of empires, and the psychology of sentient robots. He was a major influence for my thinking when I wrote my novel, Nanomagica.
  • Dan Simmons – I loved Hyperion. But the sequels floored me. His concept of worlds linked by portals fascinated me, especially the idea of houses with rooms on different planets. These books rival Dune for richness of scenes and characters. I am reading Illium now and again, Simmons brings unique ideas to the reader.
  • Arthur C. ClarkChildhood’s End still disturbs me.
  • Micheal Crichton – I am not crazy about many f his later novels, but Andromeda Strain and Terminal Man were ahead of their time.
  • H. G. Wells – What can I say? He opened the world of science fiction to me. War of the Worlds….classic!
  • Jules Verne – The other earliest influence. 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea is a favorite of my childhood.
  • Robert Heinlein – Stranger in a Strange Land was truly unique.
  • Ray Bradbury – I like almost everything he wrote.

Let me hear about your favorites.

Space Launch in Science Fiction and the Real World

My design for the Cosmos Mariner spaceplane

Space launch, the ability to get people and cargo from the Earth’s surface to orbit and beyond, is taken for granted by most science fiction stories and novels, including my novel, Nanomagica. It seems that every story has a hypersonic spaceplane  to get people off-planet. These systems, in the stories, are reliable, routine, and cheap enough that they are prevalent.

So what is the reality of real space launch today?

Space launchers are expensive. It takes an enormous amount of fuel and oxidizer to get a significant amount of cargo mass to orbit. In addition, much of the structural weight is lost in staging and tank jettison. The space shuttle, the closest man has come to these fantasy spaceplanes, costs hundreds of millions of dollars per launch, and never reached its goal of routine launch processing and execution.

So what technologies are necessary to reach the goal of routine and inexpensive space launch?

1. Advanced propulsion and propellantsRocket engines have high thrust at the cost of enormous fuel and oxidizer consumption. This propellant has enormous weight that must be carried by the launcher. An advanced propulsion system must get beyond this. What are the options?

  • Air breathing rockets that don’t have to carry near as much oxidizer.
  • Silane propellant that allows Nitrogen to be a secondary oxidizer (safe and noncryogenic).
  • Pulse detonation engines that are more efficient than combustion processes.
  • Maglev launch that uses a rail to accelerate a launch vehicle (powered by a ground source).
  • Higher energy propellants and additives.
  • Laser and particle energy feed to the launch vehicle.
  • Magnetohydrodynamic aerothermodynamics and propulsion to increase launch efficiency.

2. Lighter and more reliable fuselage structures – Making the fuselage lighter means that less of the propellant is spent carrying structure.

  • Advanced aerothermodynamic shapes.
  • Advanced materials like composites, ceramics, and superalloys. Nanotech materials are also a possibility.
  • Advanced thermal protection systems that are lighter, simpler, and require less maintenance. Titanium panels for instance.
  • Manufacturing processes that allow for less fasteners and structural parts.

3. Smart systems that learn and allow for ongoing monitoring and maintenance of all launcher systems during launch prep and flight, with massive redundancy. This would include advanced sensors and actuators that can diagnose and fix problems dynamically. Nanotechnology would go along way in this task.

How close are we? Not too far from the goal. Right now, the big obstacle is money and will, not technology. Why should we care? Because advances in these technologies will drive all kinds of technologies for the future. This nation used to have a sizable technology advantage because we pushed the envelope. We need to do that again and regain that advantage.

Imagine a hypersonic space launcher with no staging…air breathing rocket engines with Silane propellant…structure built from advanced composites in one piece by massive part printing technology with integrated nanotech sensors and maintenance actuators…thermal protected by interlocking titanium plates…smart systems monitoring and fixing systems on the fly.

This could happen…if we want it to. And we should.

Note: We will discuss an alternative to these launchers in the future.

How I formulate characters…

I have always been drawn to interesting characters in novels. To me, it is the characters that take a good novel and raise it up to great. Science fiction writers, for all their ability to produce interesting plots and scenic grandeur, can sometimes fail when creating characters with emotional depth. It isn’t that the characters aren’t interesting in concept, but that they seem emotionally flat; muted sadness, muted anger, muted joy. It is as if the authors are afraid to color their work with human frailty.

If the character is facing the end of the world and is helpless to stop it, shouldn’t they demonstrate anger or frustration openly and intensely? Shouldn’t characters in sci-fi novels show fear externally? Shouldn’t the loss of a loved one evoke the same kind of sadness in a sci-fi novel as it does in other genres? It seems sometimes that the writers tell you about how their characters are feeling but are loath to have the emotions show in the actions of the characters.

When I started writing Nanomagica, I decided that one of my goals was to create characters that were multidimensional, not only in back story or skills, but in emotional range. To do this, I began observing people I knew, and watching how they expressed emotions with action. Many of my characters are composites of these people and share their skills, personality, and faults. They also share the emotional sensibilities I observed in them.

It is my hope that this will bring added color and depth to my writing that will attract an audience outside of the science fiction fan base.

Writing is telling myself a story…

I have been blogging mostly about science fiction and futurist views of the implications. I decided to switch it up a bit and talk about writing.

When I started writing my novel, Nanomagica, I tried taking lots of notes on plots, characters, scenes, etc…and I bored myself silly. Fact is…I couldn’t write that way. I had to find another way that worked for me. So I laid out just enough notes about the beginning…the middle…and the end of the novel to guide me. I then began each chapter with some quick notes on characters, scene, and plot…and began writing. Some days, I had no idea where I was going so I didn’t write that day. Other days, the ideas just flowed. A funny thing happened…the writing became very organic and spontaneous. I knew generally where I needed to end up so I wrote toward that goal. It was very much like I was discovering my own story. I had to stop every few chapters, reread the earlier ones, and fix any inconsistencies. Some chapters were eliminated because I found that I just didn’t like them enough to keep them. After I was finished writing the whole novel, I went back and refined it.

In the end, this system worked for me and the book, if I do say so myself, came out better than I could have hoped. I know that this would cause a problem if I died and someone wanted to continue the series, but I am what I am and this is how I write.

Sex in a Cybernetic World

Sex is an age-old theme in science fiction.  From the Orgasmatron in Woody Allen‘s movie Sleeper, to the SQUID device of the movie Strange Days, novelists and screenwriters have speculated what sex would be like as technology advanced. What would a tight integration of brain and computer do to the human libido? Would the spontaneity of sex be lost in the advanced mentality? Would the hormonal chemistry be altered by the computer’s interaction with the involuntary actions of the brain? What will cybersex become in a fully realized virtual reality with sight, sound, and tactile interface? Would it even be necessary for lovers to live in the same town? Would this capability enhance efforts toward safe sex and lower the teenage pregnancy rate? Could this be a solution for over-population? Or would the lack of actual tactile contact cause unforeseen damage to the human physiology and psychology?

In the novel I am writing currently, I am exploring these ideas.  I would love to hear your thoughts.

 

The Subtle Negative of the Internet

One of the themes I explore in my novel Nanomagica is our propensity to implement world-changing technologies without due consideration of possible negative implications (nanotechnology and genetic engineering in the novel). We have a propensity in this society to let the dollar direct and accelerate implementation of these kinds of technologies, even when the negatives have been stated. The automobile changed the demographics of our planet by allowing people to travel longer distances routinely. But it also introduced traffic congestion, the traffic accident, smog, and other negatives that we are now forced to spend money and time to mitigate.

Consider the internet. Had the implications of viruses, worms, and cyber attacks been considered up front, would the internet’s inner workings be different? I contend that it would. The anonymity characteristic of the internet has allowed these negatives and has inhibited the potential of the internet for business. There are many people who do not trust the internet with their money and recent cyber attacks have further eroded what confidence there is.

A more subtle negative of the internet is the erosion of journalistic standards. To be fair about this, the advent of cable television began this trend with journalism undergoing a subtle change from factual reporting to increased amounts of opinion journalism. But the internet has exacerbated this trend by allowing a forum for anyone to state their views, fact based or not. And it is an unfortunate part of human nature to latch on and cling to statements that fit into our ingrained ideology regardless of factual basis.

The blame for some of this must fall on the traditional news outlets for abandoning many years of rules regarding reporting of facts based on checks of multiple sources. Even the networks and news services have been caught stating “facts” that started in these unregulated blogs without checking for secondary sources.

What is needed is a new set of journalistic standards for the internet age that are taught in our schools to our new generation of journalists and adopted by our news agencies so that it becomes easier to differentiate between news and opinion and between fact and ideology.

Thoughts?