CanCon 2015, day 3: The Renaissance vision of utopia

Mini disclaimer: These are my notes and may contain errors. If you have corrections, please email me at melanie (dot) marttila (at) gmail (dot) com and I’ll amend the post directly.

Presenter: Professor Cristina Perissinotto, University of Ottawa


My apologies, Cristina, for my poor photography skills 😦

Utopia is from the Greek, meaning ‘no place.’

More’s Utopia was published in 1515. He’s an important scholar. He was essentially optimistic. The king sent him to Flanders where the concept of the book was born. More visited Erasmus and was introduced to a Portugese sailor named Hythloday. The book documents their discussions of Utopia, the miraculous land Hytholday discovered in his travels.

The inhabitants are peaceful, they dress the same, they distribute goods equally among the people, they don’t engage in war, and they don’t use money except when they need to in their dealings with other nations.

The principle explored was this: that humankind, with good laws and education can create a good society.

It hearkens back to Plato’s Republic, which was a philosophical treatise on the nature of justice. The principles of Republic were applied on several occasions, but failed to take hold.

In the Renaissance, it was rediscovered.

Aristophanes, a comedic playwright, wrote The Assembly of Women, which suggested that women would institute a utopian society.

There are also elements of monasticism in utopian societies. Monks are communal, but set apart from society.

There is also the legend of Prester John, who was said to have founded a Christian Kingdom somewhere in Africa. Travelers would return with stories of strange beings with wolf heads, mono-pods, and people with faces on their chests.

The land of Cockaigne is another mythic place. The people there never speak of work or war. They only eat, drink, sleep, play, and dance. Real life is topsy-turvy. Nature is overwhelming. It’s a hedonistic place where people satisfy their needs and wants. There is no spirituality. They espouse anti-Christian values. It’s a symbol of lower class paradise.

Utopia is different.

Everyone works in Utopia. It’s like a machine that only functions if everyone does their part. It’s thought that the idea of Utopia was inspired by tales of the New World.

Arthur Morgan claimed that nowhere was somewhere. He posited that the Incas were the inspiration for Utopia. They had grain warehouses to feed everyone.

A utopian society needs to be insular, however.

Every utopia has the seed of its own dystopia within it.

The Italians loved the idea of utopia, but their efforts to create a utopian society were not focused on the happiness of the people. They aimed at the harmonic ideal. The pre-planned cities of the Quattrocento were an attempt to design such a utopia.

Utopias are not free. In More’s Utopia, there is no travel, a restriction on procreation, and the population is controlled by a pre-determined death age. So that they wouldn’t be a burden on the rest of society, women were killed at 45 and men at 50. Women were relegated to the role of housekeeper and mother. Because the model was a monastic one, it was hard to find a place for women within it.

Dystopias are dysfunctional utopias. 1984, Brave New World. Ernst Callenbach wrote Ecotopia in 1975. It was an ecological utopia.

We don’t believe in the idea of utopia anymore.

The first ‘gated community’ appeared in Florida, run by Walt Disney. It was an attempt at a modern utopia in the 50’s.

Findhorn is a Scottish commune started in the 70’s. It’s a self-sufficient community with green roofs and windmills for energy.

Modern attempts at utopian societies engage with reality. Writers can dream about possible futures.

The bosco verticale, or vertical forest, in Milan is another attempt at an ecological utopia. They want to green the city, use solar and wind power, clean the environment.

The proposed Shimizu Mega-City Pyramid in Tokyo Bay will eventually house a million people.

As we move into the age of space exploration, the search for utopia becomes a blank canvas. It is what we make it.

And that was the end of the last presentation I attended at CanCon 2015. I hope you’ve enjoyed my session notes.

My next convention won’t be until the end of April. Until then, I’ll attempt to entertain you with all the wonderful stuff I’ve learned from movies and television recently, and I might have a book review or two to share. Aside from that, I’ll still be writing my monthly next chapter updates.

Hope everyone has a fabulous vernal equinox. Spring is here (finally)! Though, as usual, we probably have a few more weeks of snow and cold to go around the Sudz.

CanCon 2015, day 3: Whither and how the human exploration of the solar system?

Mini disclaimer: These are my notes and may contain errors. Got corrections? Email: melanie (dot) marttila (at) gmail (dot) com

Panellists: Trevor Quachri, Wolfram Lunscher, Eric Choi


TQ: What do you think would be the most promising method of space travel for the exploration of the solar system?

WL: Nuclear-powered space travel. Once you’re in space, chemical rockets make less sense. NASA has developed a reactor the size of a fridge for interplanetary travel. Financing of the Mars program has been a contentious issue, however, and, for now, the Russians are ahead of the West.

EC: There is a lot of optimism about space travel again. It’s the positive influence of science fiction. Are there negatives to the way fiction portrays space travel?

TQ: Not really. Except, “where’s my rocket pack?” People want access to this technology now. It’s hard to see the destination when the process is so drawn out. We need to encourage science literacy.

WL: 2001: A Space Odyssey shows the way it was supposed to work, the way we thought it would work. There was a lot of optimism. After the moon landing, we were going to establish a presence on the moon in the 70’s and then use that as a step toward Mars, and eventually Jupiter.

EC: Fred Ordway was the advisor for 2001. They showed the use of flat screen monitors and newspads. While we don’t have human exploration of the Jovian system, in terms of the other technology featured in the film, we’ve been there and beyond.

TQ: The human interest aspect is crucial. We lose some of the romance when we compare what’s actually happening with what’s portrayed in science fiction.

WL: Space exploration was a human endeavour in the 50’s ad 60’s. That robots would go first wasn’t part of the picture. Arthur C. Clarke followed up on this with the message the monolith transmitted. There was a documentary on Discovery about a manned mission to another planet. The craft was totally automated.

TQ: In some fiction, automated probes are designed to build habitat and biological bodies for scientists, then the scientists’ consciousnesses are transferred into the remote bodies.

WL: They’re looking at similar possibilities for the moon.

EC: In Stephen Baxter’s alternate history Voyage, Kennedy survives and the mission to Mars is accomplished in the 70’s. They swung around Venus. We know more from robotic probes than the characters were able to gather. What are the hurdles we need to overcome to make this kind of vision happen?

TQ: Public interest needs to be sustained over long periods of time. This is the primary challenge. Science fiction is optimistic that we can overcome the obstacles.

WL: The biggest hurdle is money. We have to invest heavily to make the vision a reality. The money spent on The Avengers: Age of Ultron exceeded the cost of the last probe sent to Mars. The money being generated from the space program isn’t being realized in the same amounts as the money being invested into it. The money comes from the government or military, so it becomes politicized. It’s all quid pro quo. We need to build an industrial space infrastructure that will lead to colonization. There are parallels to be drawn to the discovery of the New World.

EC: William Proxmire, a former US senator, created the Golden Fleece Award, and gave it to scientific experiments that he considered to be the biggest wastes of taxpayer money. A number of them resulted in advances, but it just reflects his misunderstanding of science and scientific enquiry. Niven and Clarke both wrote stories about him. Sagan knew that Proxmire was opposed to SETI, but the senator was also concerned with the nuclear arms race. Sagan framed SETI in terms that were attractive to Proxmire and was able to get support for the project.

Q: How do private enterprises figure in?

TQ: Heinlein pre-figured that private industry would be responsible for our exploration of space. The Military-industrial complex worked toward it. Outside of public good, how do they identify the cost effectiveness of their efforts?

WL: What goes out has to come from somewhere. Rocket Ship Galileo was owned by the older brother of one of the characters. Serenity was bought in a junkyard. Elon Musk doesn’t fund Space X entirely out of his own pocket. NASA is his partner. They’ve faced hardship because of rocket explosions. That’s how research and development goes, though. Sometimes experiments fail.

TQ: In the golden age of science fiction, the archetype was the two-fisted astronaut-explorer. Now characters fit into the Elon Musk or Tony Stark archetype.

WL: In Clarke’s Prelude to Space, the mission tot he moon was funded by the last millionaire in England who bequeathed his fortune to the space program. The general belief is that mad scientists working in basements come up with all of the scientific innovations. In reality international teams of scientists do that work.

TQ: It’s a childhood fantasy, though. People have been building rockets in their back yards.

WL: Larry Niven isn’t just an author. He was involved in the Strategic Defence Initiative, the Citizen’s Advisory Council on National Space Policy, and an advocate for the Single-Stage-to-Orbit concept. He’s advised the Department of Homeland Security.

EC: Elon Musk was asked, how does one make a small fortune in space? His answer? You start with a large fortune. He went to Russia and tried to buy a rocket. It was beyond his means and so he started his own company.

WL: The question of security has been raised. What are they afraid of? That we’ll drag everyone to the trailing edge of technology? It’s so expensive because, to this point, most projects have been one-offs. One shuttle. One space station. Or the numbers have been limited. It’s the opposite of manufacturing. We need to think of efficiency and reusability for space exploration to move into the future.

And that was all we had time for.

Fascinating. Thoughty, even 😉

Next week, I’ll be coming to my last report from CanCon 2015. Sunday was not only a short day because of travel, but it was also the day when I had most of my pitches and blue-pencils scheduled.

It’s been fun. I won’t have more convention reportage to share with you until after Ad Astra at the end of April. In the meantime, I’ll fill up Saturdays with movie madness, series discoveries, and next chapter updates. I might even muster a book review. You never know.

Have a great weekend, everyone!

CanCon 2015, day 2: Getting noticed (in a good way) in the novel and short story slush pile

Yesterday ran away with me, so I’m a bit late.

Panellists: Mike Rimar (co-owner Bundoran Press), Gabrielle Harbowy (managing editor, Dragon Moon Press), and Elizabeth Hirst (editor, Pop Seagull)


MR: What do you want to see?

GH: Electronic submissions simplify the process. You want to submit your absolute best work. Follow the submission guidelines.

EH: When something works well in the submission, it stands out.

MR: When it comes to a query, I need to see three things: word count, genre, pitch.

EH: I like a little personality.

Q: Do you always reply?

GH: When submissions are open, yes. When they’re not, all bets are off.

MR: Usually, we reply within three months. If someone has taken the time to query, we will reply. Nothing’s worse than being left hanging.

GH: Wait 1.5 times what the submission guidelines say, just to give everyone a buffer. I will always respond when we have an open submission period.

MR: Asimov’s can be up to six months.

GH: Lightspeed will reject you before you can hit send. It might be a cliché, but eleven lines is all an editor needs to tell if the submission is for them.

EH: I think that’s true, but I keep readings until I know for sure whether it’s a pass or a request for full.

MR: For the Second Contact anthology, I gave people more of a chance to impress me. Two to three pages.

GH: If I’m suitably impressed, I might check out chapter two.

Q: Can you share some statistics?

EH: We had 70 submissions for the Robotica anthology. We took 18. I found more that I liked, but we couldn’t take them. Love, Time, Sex, Magic was different.

MR: It’s sad when you read a really good story that doesn’t fit.

Q: Will you respond with a ‘please send something else’?

MR: No. If I reject a story, I don’t want to invite further interaction.

GH: I’ll respond with a request for further material if I like what I’ve read.

MR: If we meet face to face, I’ll tell you directly.

Q: Do you respond if someone submits repeatedly?

MR: It hasn’t happened yet.

GH: It’s happened to me. They’re probably not paying attention. I keep a maybe file. It’s about 10% of submissions. 2% receive further consideration and 1% might get published.

MR: What are the technical no-no’s you watch out for?

GH: Not fitting with the publication, not following the submission guidelines. Stupid, nervous mistakes are forgivable.

MR: Keep your queries polite and to the point.

GH: In fiction, it has to be complete. Make sure you include your contact information.

MR: Are you as forgiving with paper submissions?

GH: It’s been ten years and I’ve never received one.

MR: Tricks just make me mad.

Q: Is theft a problem?

MR: Not at all.

GH: If I like it, I’ll buy it.

MR: People can have similar ideas. It’s not copyright infringement.

GH: I choose the one that executes the best.

More great advice from professional editors. I’ll be back on track next week, when we’ll be moving on to day three and speculating sex and sexuality.

CanCon 2015 day 2: Blood spatter pattern analysis

Presenter: Detective Constable Garneau of the Ottawa Police

Note: The Constable introduced himself, explained what his job entails, and the education he needed to do his job. He told us that he hadn’t presented to writers before and that he’s brought along the material that he’d present to an introductory forensics class. Then he told us that he spoke to a writer about what would be important for a writer to know. He was advised to focus on the physical evidence and on the interpretation of that evidence through case studies. We wouldn’t need to know the history of forensic science or much about the physics.

So, he asked us if we would mind terribly if he focused on that material. He also warned us, even though it was in the program, that he would be presenting some graphic material. He was so polite.


Blood spatter pattern analysis tells the examiner:

  • The direction the blood droplet was travelling;
  • The angle of impact;
  • The mechanism(s) that contributed to the creation of the pattern;
  • The area of origin;
  • The minimum number of impacts for any source of blood;
  • The relative positions of person(s) or object(s) involved;
  • The sequence of event(s); and
  • The identity of the perpetrator.

The most useful evidence is the outliers.

I confirm theories using science. I don’t work for the Crown, or the defence. I work for the court.

Blood behaves according to the principles of physics. It will behave differently, and look differently, on different surfaces.

In lab simulations, I use sheep’s blood, but then I would also have to explain how sheep’s blood behaves similarly to human blood when I present the evidence in court. If I don’t have to use a lot of blood for the simulation, I’ll use my own.

There are three kinds of blood spatter patterns:

  1. Passive;
  2. Spatter; and
  3. Transfers.

Passive blood spatter patterns are affected by gravity and include: drip stain patterns, drip trail patterns, drip patterns, splash patterns, pool patterns, saturation, and flow patterns.

Spatters are caused by a physical action and include: mist patterns, expiration patterns, cast-off patterns, cessation cast-off patterns, projected (e.g. arterial spray) patterns, and impact patterns. Impact patterns are the fun ones. I have to use physics and math to explain them.

Transfers occur when a blood-covered object touches another object, leaving a pattern behind. Transfer patterns include: the transfer stain, the swipe pattern, and the wipe pattern.

Many of us develop morbid senses of humour. It’s a way to protect ourselves from the impact of all the horrible things we see every day.

For impact patterns, we now have software which will map everything out based on our measurements. I could use strings, and in some cases, I have to, but it’s very time-consuming. Dexter does it wrong, by the way. You can be very precise.

I use trigonometry to determine the area of origin/impact.

The rest of the presentation was specific case studies and how the Constable’s blood spatter pattern analysis resulted in a resolution to the crime. In some cases, it was a positive outcome. In some, it was not. Most of the crimes presented were perpetrated by men against women, often their girlfriends, or spouses.

It was gruesome, but fascinating.

Next week: Getting noticed (in a good way) 🙂

Be with the one you love, tomorrow.

Phil and I will be heading to an afternoon movie (Deadpool!) and dinner.

The next chapter: January 2016 update

First, a note about the non-writing parts of my life

Well, the new year has gotten off to a bit of a shaky start, not with respect to my writing and revision goals, but with respect to other stuff.

In the last week of December, Phil got sick enough he had to go see a doctor. He hadn’t been in a very long time and in the process of diagnosing the illness he went to see the doctor for in the first place, the doctor diagnosed him with two other, fairly serious, illnesses. Three for the price of one. Yay?

I won’t go into the details, because it’s not my story to tell, but he’s on several medications, we’ve had to change our diet (not significantly, but still), and we’ll have to commit to several more lifestyle changes in the coming months. It’s going to be a good thing, ultimately, but I’m a creature of habit. Change is stressful.

Phil’s been told not to tackle everything at once, and so we’re dealing with things one issue, and one day, at a time.

I’ve gotten a cold for the first time in about three years. Since I don’t get them often, I tend to get doozies. I’m also in the process of seeing whether I’m anaemic or not, and my gall bladder is acting up.

I guess this is my reaction to the stress of everything else.

Which includes learning that I’ve been screened out of the consultant process at work. We’ve had a general information session, because many of the over three hundred people who applied were screened out, but I’m still getting an informal discussion of the specific reasons I was screened out. That happens Tuesday.

I’ve really been trying not to get upset. Work is work and I’ve tried to prioritize my creative work over the day job, but having been successful in the last three processes and had four acting assignments in as many years, I can’t help but feel that I’ve been kicked in the teeth. They still have testing and interviews to go, and if the eventual pool ends up being as small at I suspect it will be, there will be another process in the future. I have to question the point of putting myself through the wringer again, though.

My current acting assignment ends next Friday and at that point, so far as I know, I’m heading back to the training and advice & guidance team, but everyone keeps saying that I’m not going back and even managers aren’t including me in the training plan and no one is telling me anything. I’m kind of suffering from mushroom syndrome.

I’m trying to be Zen, but I’m not very good at that, in all honesty. I am a lot more laid back than some people, but I internalize a lot. Hence, the illen.

Now, onto the Writerly Goodness 🙂

I took some time over the holidays to plan out my writing year. Using Jamie Raintree’s amazing new Writing and Revision Tracker, I set writing and revision goals for the year, and for each month.

As I mentioned in my last Next chapter update, 2016 will be the year of revision. As I return to the querying process with Initiate of Stone, I realize I want to have some of my other five finished novels revised and edited and ready to go so that I can keep working toward my dream of a traditional deal.

What I did was to add up the current word totals of all my drafts and divided them up according to what I figure will be my productive months. I also estimated what my blogging totals would be per month and add in my NaNo 2016 writing goals.

What that worked out to was 37,550 words of revision each month (except November and December), between five and seven thousand words of blogging each month (except November), and 50k words drafted in November and December (NaNo this year will be book three of the Ascension series I figure it will take me two months to complete the draft).

So this is what January looked like.


And I even took a few days off (!)

The month started with a couple of days devoted to reading through my draft of Apprentice of Wind, and then I set to. I’ll probably have the first run through done within the next couple of weeks, and then I’m probably going to go through it at least one more time.

So at 9,274 words, I wrote 141% of my writing goal and at 69,774 words, I almost doubled my revision goal (186%).

I also revised and sent out two short stories, and heard that another short story is still under consideration from a submission last year. So that’s awesome.

I also sent out IoS packages to open submission periods for a couple of publishers. As of the end of last year, the three Canadian small publishers I’d pitched last fall had either declined or failed to respond.

We’ll see where all of that gets me.

Other excitement

I’ve attended a few events this past month. The first was Last Stop at the Sudbury Theatre Centre, in which a couple of writer friends had their plays in progress workshopped in front of a live audience (us). It was awesome.

Then, I attended a Skype workshop with Barbara Kyle through the Sudbury Writers’ Guild on adding magic and verve to your first thirty pages. Barbara is an excellent presenter and so knowledgeable about her craft. It’s a pleasure to learn from her.

Finally, I attended a lecture by singer/songwriter Steven Page at Laurentian University on ending the stigma around mental illness. He sang a couple of songs from his new album and discussed his struggles with mental illness.

I’m also currently enrolled in two online courses.

First, I couldn’t resist signing up for Story Genius with Lisa Cron and Jennie Nash. It’s based on Lisa’s new book (of the same name) and is eight weeks long. I’m working on my week four submission this weekend. It’s hard (like, it hurts my poor, tender head hard), especially negotiating the day job and health issues Phil and I are facing right now, but I can see how it’s going to improve my ability to write a novel that will hook readers and keep them reading.

Second, I signed up for Jamie Raintree’s Design a writing career you love workshop. I’m trying to keep one foot in the business side of things. Jamie’s an excellent instructor and I always enjoy her courses.

I’ve booked my hotel for both Ad Astra in April and WorldCon in August and am still waiting for the registration information for The Canadian Writers’ Summit to emerge.

So, I guess it’s no wonder I’m under the weather at the moment.

By and large, though, I love my life. The creative part of it anyway 😉

Next week, the CanCon 2015 reportage continues.

Hope your creative endeavours are moving full steam ahead and that you’re all well on your ways to meeting your goals. Feel free to share your trials and triumphs in the comments below.

The Next Chapter

CanCon 2015 day 2: Magic and magical systems

Panellists: Leah Bobet, Kate Heartfield, Jim Davies, Leah Petersen

KH: Why do we choose to systematize magic?

LP: There are so many ways to approach it. I think the goal is to bring something unique to readers. Generally, epic fantasy means systemic magic.

KH: Have reader expectations changed over time?

LP: If you know what you’re aiming for, you have to dig in.

JD: In Alice in Wonderland and The Wizard of Oz, magic is inexplicable. It’s more wonderful because it’s not explained. Observation yields magic. Understanding saps magic of its wonder. The best solution is to have your magic system generate questions in the reader.

LB: Where do you want to go today? Patricia McKillip is more mystical. Lev Grossman is more systemic. Your story is going to dictate the nature of the magic in it. Magical realism liberated the idea of what magic could be. I could be organic. You need the right tool for the job. People read books for different reasons. Is the reader looking to be challenged or are they looking for the familiar?

JD: I read role-playing game books for pleasure. I had trouble getting through Harry Potter because I felt that there wasn’t anything that couldn’t happen.

LB: Authorial fiat may damage your world building drastically. You might end up with one foot on the cliff and one foot in the air.

KH: The question asked in Grossman’s The Magicians is, who gets to have the magic? Harry Potter never explored that question. How do modern authors address this?

LP: In a book I’ve read recently, every culture within the world had its own magic.

JD: The charm of hidden world stories like Harry Potter is that it could be happening right now. Writers could also be lazy.

LB: Some magic systems play with magic and class. Scarcity implies privilege. What would it be like to be special? Knowledge can be magic. Music can be magic. If magic is important in your story can the average person get it? I am special – magic is internal and only the gifted can access it. This thing is special – the magic is external and anyone can use it. Our systems are a reflection of our enthusiasms as authors.

LP: Increasing diversity means that everyone looks at magic differently.

KH: A great example of that is Aliette de Bodard’s House of Shattered Wings.

LB: In The Shadow Speaker, the pathways to knowledge are difficult.

Q: Can magic and technology work together?

LP: Yes. Look at the Powder Mage trilogy. As technology increases, so does magic.

LB: Elizabeth Bear had one of her characters use divination by MP3 shuffle. That would be cool – an app for magic.

KH: Steampunk conflates technology and magic.

Q: How do you decide that the story you’re writing needs magic?

LB: I had an idea for magic using resonance and chords. It was cool stuff theory. Editors make you justify your bullshit, though.

KH: You have to get into the how of it. Science and technology is to science fiction what magic is to fantasy, generally speaking.

LP: I had to think about how the magic in my story world worked, but do my readers really need to know this?

Q: How quantified does the system have to be?

LB: Theme can be your guide. Like Water for Chocolate used food magic. In [Gabriel Garcia] Marquez, the landscape is magic. In The Cooler, the magic was the character’s ability to dampen luck.

JD: How systematized is systematized? Even if you use spells, unpredictable results may render the magic non-systemic.

LB: Magic cooking would be yummy.

Q: When do you go subtle and when do you sensationalize?

JD: Stage magicians are sensational. People who want you to think they have power work more subtly.

LP: It will depend on the story.

LB: If everything is at a 10, they everything is really at a 1.

Q: Can you talk a little about consequences?

LB: Magic can have social consequences, sour relationships. It can be small, cumulative things. Check out Resurrection Man.

KH: The magic user can get to a point where they’re forever changed by the magic. In The Fisher King legend, the king is linked to the land, so the consequences are not just for him, but for all his people.

LP: The price could be to lose your generative ability. You’re sterilized as an initiation. It’s all up front.

JD: In The Runelords, the cost of magic comes from someone else.

LB: For Ged, in the Earthsea trilogy, the cost is his morality.

And that was time.

Next week: Blood spatter analysis (!) A constable from the OPP explains how it’s really done 😉

CanCon 2015 day 2: Writing fiction and fact for Analog

Panellists: Derek Kunsken, Eric Choi, Trevor Quachri, Andrew Barton


TQ: With respect to hard science fiction, there’s a soft creep to fantasy, and a hard creep to the uber technical. I care most about character and plot, but the story must make sense scientifically as well.

DK: Eric, since you’ve been published in Analog several times, what is an Analog story to you?

EC: Trevor’s covered it really. I edited an anthology with Ben Bova called Carbide Tip Pens, which has been described as Analog in hard cover.

DK: Is there a quantifiable difference between Asimov’s and Analog?

EC: Both have published my Mars-focused fiction.

DK: I have a track record of stories Stan (editor for Analog) rejected, but Sheila (editor for Asimov’s) bought.

EC: Editorial personalities and preferences do play a role.

DK: Andrew, you’re not a scientist, but you’ve had stories published in Analog.

AB: All of them have been science oriented. I’m not a scientist, but I try to make as few demands on the reader with respect to the science, except for the one big lie that is the basis for the story. I try to be rigorous, but I also try to write an entertaining story.

TQ: I commend Andrew for the material he’s submitted. There’s a misunderstanding out there about how rigorous the science has to be, though. Stan was a physics professor. He’d fact-check. You have to be science literate. You have to do the leg work.

DK: Andrew and Eric, what would be the difference between writing a physics-based story, and writing a chemistry-based story or a biology-based story?

EC: My most recent one was on baseball statistics.

AB: Everything I know about orbital mechanics, I’ve learned from playing Kerbal Space Program.

DK: I tend to write on the biological side of things. One response I received was that I was just showing off what I knew. What I really needed to focus on was the how.

TQ: You have to know how things work.

EC: Don’t limit yourself to a particular type of story. Smash the stereotypes. For “Crimson Sky,” I talked to a pilot and an ER trauma surgeon. Don’t be afraid.

TQ: Culture and biology may be a match. Stan was also into linguistics. Look at Dune. It’s science fiction with fantastic elements. Cultural prediction is interesting is done well. Sometimes it’s about the approach to story rather than the nature of the science involved.

Q: Can you have different physics?

TQ: It could work if you’re rigorous in your created universe.

DK: Let’s turn to non-fiction science articles.

TQ: I never get tired of those. Give me more. They have a popular focus. The information has to be accessible. Balance is key. We also have scientists who read Analog. Science fiction relative is also good, the deconstruction of tropes, idea generation, interesting research. How can a writer use this information? It has to be entertaining.

Q: Should I query first, or just go ahead and write?

TQ: If you’re adamant, go ahead and write, but we also take queries.

Q: Any formatting tips?

TQ: We’re not to picky.

Q: Can we use figures as long as they’re cited?

TQ: That’s no problem as long as they’re right.

DK: Your readers seem to be hungry for everything.

TQ: There needs to be diversity. Don’t be too complacent. Curve balls are important.

DK: What’s the ultimate fate of these stories and articles?

TQ: It falls to the individual authors what happens to the piece after publication. Sometimes there are tie-in “science behind the story” articles, audio versions, etc..

There was then some promotion regarding subscriptions to Analog, as well as where to get sample stories and articles online. It’s all available on the web site. Start there and you won’t go wrong.

Next week: We’re talking magic and magical systems.

CanCon2015 day 2: The history of science fiction

Presenter: Dr. David G. Hartwell (and, his site).


Sorry for the poor pic. It was the best of the bunch I took 😦

Frankenstein (1818) was actually a collaboration between Mary and Percy Bysshe Shelley. The Bodleian library holds the original manuscripts. They reveal four distinct hands. That it’s the first science fiction written by a woman is therefore debatable.

Aphra Behn, Margaret Cavendish, and Jane Louden could be contenders.

Many of the manuscripts from the early 20th century are now being re-examined.

Facsimile reprints only lasted 15 to 18 years for the research set. Now we have Google Books, Project Gutenberg, and the like.

There have been no organized, concerted efforts dedicated to science fiction. It’s something fun for academic researchers. The early works, in particular, don’t get a lot of attention.

After Shelley, we have Jules Verne (1828 – 1905) and Edgar Allen Poe (1809 – 1849).

Poe was, arguably, not a great writer, but he more or less created genre fiction, specifically mystery, science fiction, and horror.

Kafka (1883 – 1924) and Edward Bulwer Lytton (1803 – 1873) published speculative works as well.

There was a growth in modern nationalism and military invention at the end of the 1800s. The machine gun, the tank, and the air plane. It was largely considered the end of war the way it had always been fought. Governments other than monarchy developed.

More’s Utopia and Plato’s speculations were considered thought experiments. They were never realized.

By the 1890s, there was a large body of work that could be read and mimicked.

George Orwell was considered to have wrote scientific romances.

Currently, it is thought that the ‘important’ science fiction is written in one language, but there are French, German, Polish, and Italian writers in the genre.

Q: What is proto-science fiction?

Science fiction is a conscious effort. If it’s accidental, it’s proto-SF. The second consideration is that there has to have been an audience for the work.

Q: What about other literatures?

There are Arabic texts describing aliens that date back to Medieval times.

Q: Is Tom Swift considered science fiction?

Not really. It’s more adventure.

All imaginative literature got scrunched together and separated from ‘proper’ literature. The fantastic exists in literature since Gilgamesh. That doesn’t mean it was what we consider fantasy.

Q: What’s the difference between a techno-thriller and science fiction?

In the techno-thriller, the changes are temporary. The world reverts to normal. Science fiction tends to change the world permanently.

J.G. Ballard’s work usually involves a disaster of some variety and humanity must live with the results. It’s not the optimistic attitude of most science fiction.

Between 1920 and 1940, the literary establishment had to start excluding written material to maintain their elitism. The typical modernist text of the time was normal life with psychological insight.

John Updike wrote about The World Treasury of Science Fiction. He said it couldn’t be first rate literature.

The attitude of the literary establishment toward science fiction is not acceptable.

Q: Could you comment on Orwell? What about Huxley and Burgess?

Burgess liked reading science fiction, but his only analogue is A Clockwork Orange. Orwell wrote in the tradition of H.G. Wells. He would have been appalled if anyone called him a science fiction author.

Science fiction and fantasy are marketing categories.

Genre is an interaction between the author, the text, and the reader. There’s direct feedback. The traditional genres (literature, drama, poetry) don’t necessarily have that.

There was a fair amount that I didn’t get written down with this particular presentation, but it was still a great source of information. It filled in a few gaps for me from my previous studies. I have a feeling that Dr. Hartwell could have kept going 🙂

That’s it for this week.

I’m off to Bedfordshire (as in bed).


CanCon 2015 day 2: The basics of the sword, the katana, and the Viking axe

A quick disclaimer, since I haven’t provided one recently. These posts are transcriptions of my notes from the panels in question. There will be errors. If you can provide clarification of correction of any of the information provided, please do not hesitate to do so. I will make any corrections post hasty.

Update: Feb 4, 2016. Ariella was gracious enough to give me some additional notes 🙂 These have been added with brackets.

Panellists: Geoff Gander, Kris Ramsey, Reanne Roy, and Ariella Elema


GG: What bugs you most about how most movies and television shows represent sword fighting?

KR: Flynning. Named after Errol Flynn. It’s all the swahbuckling stuff that would never work in real life. When it’s done well, you can’t tell an actor is Flynning. If not, it’s terrible. The last Three Musketeers movie is an example. You try to stay out of blade range when you’re fighting with a sword.

RR: I hate it when actors fight with a katana and cut through the opponent’s body. It would get stuck. The first two inches of the blade is the dangerous part.

KR: Swords are only for when you’ve run out of all other means of attack.

RR: And samurai using two katana? One is heavy enough. Musashi carried two, but is was a shorter blade and a katana, not two katana.

AE: A ‘case’ of rapiers. It can be done. It’s a flashy trick for duels, but it requires mastery of use in both dominant and non-dominant hands.


KR: Longer weapons tend to flex and it makes them less deadly. A shorter weapon is deadlier. When using two blades, it’s usually one long and one short. The longer blade deflects, and the shorter blade is used to kill.

GG: How has swordplay changed, historically?

AE: With armour, the shield became redundant. [More precisely, the development of complete suits of plate armour in late fourteenth-century Europe made shields less necessary. Having two hands on a sword gives you the leverage to cut faster with a longer blade.] The second hand was used on the sword for more power. The Germans placed the emphasis on speed. [IIRC, this comment was specifically about the differences in style between Italian and German masters in the fifteenth century. Fiore dei Liberi, an Italian master, seems to have been fond of moving into close range. His treatise, The Flower of Battle, has a lot of instructions for grappling, disarms, and pommel smashes in the face. The German masters, especially the later ones, tend to put more emphasis on the things you can do a little farther out at cutting range. This may be a reflection of the fact that Fiore was teaching people who were likely to face heavily armoured opponents, while the later Germans had a tradition of holding unarmoured tournaments.] When fighting in a tournament, knights fought at sword range.

KR: There was an older, battlefield style that included bo, naginata, and grappling.

Q: When did they stop having tournaments?

GG: It depends on the culture.

AE: I wrote my PhD dissertation on it. Trial by Battle in France and England. Tournaments ran from about 1050 – 1250. The last big tournament was in France in 1455. [1455 was the year of the last judicially-sanctioned trial by battle in the territory of what is now France. Subsequent duels were not organized by courts of law. The last trial by battle in England that came to blows was in 1456, but there were some outlying attempts to revive the practice in the 1650s and the early nineteenth century. Fencing tournaments of one sort or another have existed pretty much continuously since the Middle Ages.] There were outliers as late as the 1650’s. By and large, fire arms took over. Usually, they missed each other.

KR: There were cavalry charges with swords as late as WWII.

AE: By that time, though cavalry was a combination of horses and vehicles.

KR: A very good book on the subject is Swords and Swordsmen by Mike Loades.

GG: Who are the lead smiths now?

AE: Charles Jevins (?). [Charles Jevons is a terrific maker of aluminum practice swords. His site is here:] He uses aluminium these days. Weight and balance of a steel sword can be duplicated, but there’s greater safety because of a thicker edge. You can get steel swords as well. It will run you anywhere between $300 and $2500.

Q: What was the historical cost of a sword?

KR: It’s hard to say. Again, it would depend on the culture. Initially, Japanese swords were made from crap steel. Then, they learned how to make it durable. It took months to craft and took two smiths to make. They’d quench them in clay.

AE: In the thirteenth century, the cost was about 12 pence. That’s about two weeks of wages for the average peasant. [Here’s a place where the Historical European Martial Arts community has collected some data on medieval European sword prices:]

KR: The Vikings were very poor. That’s why they raided. They had to go out to get what they needed to survive.

Q: In 1966, I bought a Japanese katana for $400.

KR: Now they’re made in a Chinese factory.

Q: Can anyone carry a sword, or do you need a permit?

AE: In Canada, it’s technically legal, but you could cause a disturbance by walking around with one and get into trouble that way. I have white lady privilege, though. I can walk through the financial district of Toronto carrying my sword. Only the panhandlers notice. [I admit to having done this quite close to the financial district. It was probably dumb. I don’t recommend trying it yourself: results may vary. Sword canes almost certainly fall under the category of concealed knives, but I don’t know of any legal cases that have set definitive precedents on the matter. I’m a medieval legal historian, not a lawyer, so don’t take anything I say for legal advice. 🙂 ]

Q: How about cane swords?

AE: It’s a grey area. It could be considered a concealed weapon.

Q: What do you think of the sword work in Sparticus?

AE: The fight director might be Philippine influenced. The theory is that the Medieval Arabs taught everyone sword fighting. [My personal hypothesis is that medieval Arab sword arts influenced both Chinese and European fencing theory. There are quite a few medieval martial arts treatises in Arabic that have not yet been edited or translated into any European language. The oldest one dates from the mid ninth century CE.]

KR: There are only so many ways you can move with a sword.

Demo ensued.




We didn’t really get into the Viking axe, sorry to say.

Next week, we’ll delve into the history of science fiction from an academic perspective.

Hope everyone has a fabulous weekend!

CanCon 2015 day 2: Asteroids

I can’t believe it. I actually had the time between Boxing Day shopping and family dinner this evening to put my post up. I love it when a plan comes together 😉

Happy Boxing Day, everyone!

Panellists: Andrew Barton, Eric Choi, Wolfram Lunscher


AB: Let me just say this: Armageddon is not a documentary.

WL: Asteroids pass Earth all the time. There’s an asteroid that will pass us on the far side of the moon, about 15,000 miles. The Hallowe’en asteroid. Mining asteroids is feasible, but we’d need rockets bigger than the Saturn 5. Space-X is developing the Falcon Heavy, which could be used for the purpose. Our planetary resource needs could be met by mining four asteroids. There is a parallel between the exploration of space and the exploration of the new world. Spice used to be as expensive as gold until the Spice Islands were discovered. It will be expensive to mine asteroids until we have sufficient access to the resources we need to make it reasonable.

Q: Can a solar mirror be used to melt asteroids?

WL: For resource processing in situ, a solar mirror could be used to smelt minerals. If we can figure out a cost-effective way to mine asteroids, we could become a true space-faring species.

EC: Terrestrial mining is a huge part of the Canadian economy. Can we transfer these skills to the mining of asteroids?

WL: The short answer is, yes. There’s a lot of enthusiasm within the industry for making the leap. Deep mining drills are taking place in Sudbury and a paper is being prepared, a feasibility study.

EC: Back to you Andrew. You said before that Armageddon was science fiction.

AB: I’m not the expert. I’m just and author who likes to write about asteroids. My research tells me that asteroid settlement is possible. James S.A. Corey (actually two co-authors) writes about the Belters, who make a living mining the asteroid belt for water to supply settlements on Mars and Jupiter’s moons. Asteroids are actually spinning rubble piles.

Q: Diverting asteroids away from Earth is supposed to be more effective than trying to blow the up. Are there any practical experiments or is this all fiction?

AB: We could use a kind of gravity tractor to divert asteroids. There’s not a lot of drama in the process, though, so people don’t write about that.

WL: If the asteroid impact is immanent, we would have to try blowing it up. If we can spot the asteroid at least ten years out, we would have the time to mount a mission to divert it.

EC: The budgets for the films Armageddon and Deep Impact were both orders of magnitude greater than the budget astronomers have for asteroid detection.

AB: There’s a probe that has been sent to the inner solar system, to Venus and closer to the sun. It’s intended to detect asteroids orbiting in the inner solar system. There’s danger from that direction, too.

Q: What complications does the spinning of the asteroid pose to landing on it?

AB: It’s problematic because there are voids in the asteroid a probe or landing vehicle could be lost.

And that was time.

Next weekend, I’m going to take a break from CanCon do write my year-end Next Chapter update, and, if I have time, I want to put together a post on how to set up Jamie Raintree’s new writing and revision tracking spreadsheet. I was asked to do this back in the spring by some writer friends who aren’t Excel-savvy, but realized that doing it when the spreadsheet is fresh off the presses would be better. Sorry for the delay, ladies!

We’ll see how it goes 🙂

In the meantime, I hope everyone is safe and cozy with their loved ones and if anyone dared Boxing Day madness, that they’re all home and none the worse for wear (if a little poorer in their bank accounts).