Bloghop: Red Gold

I have been introduced to the “Bloghop” concept, where an author posts answers to ten standard questions, so here goes. Needless to say, some of my answers will hardly be standard! (I have also cheated a little by including a touch of the greater concept behind my writing, but then again, it is my blog so why not!)

1   What is the title of your book?

My latest is called Red Gold, and is set in 2075-76.It forms part of a “future history”, which starts in 2030 with Puppeteer, proceeds to the early 2050s with Troubles.

 Where did the idea come from for the book?

I started writing a futuristic novel in the 1990s, but it had far too much backstory, so I cut out some bits, and part of those cuttings led to the idea for Red Gold. The cuttings have actually provided material for five further books.

 3   What genre does your book fall under?

Science Fiction and Thriller, although the series itself will include two that would qualify as historical. The series goes to the 24th century before progressing back to the 1st as a “reboot”, and apart from two chapters, one in each book, they would be straight historical, dealing with the life of the main protagonist under the end of the Imperium of Tiberius, through Gaius Caesar, and the invasion of Britain under Claudius.

 4   Which actors would you choose to play your characters in a movie rendition?

I have no idea, but I would love Peter Jackson to direct, and Weta Workshops to do the special effects. With a bit of luck, they might let the author in to see some of what is going on. Part of “Lord of the Rings” was filmed opposite where I was working at the time, and I really wanted to see what was going on behind the huge “fence”.

 5   What is the one-sentence synopsis of your book?

Red Gold is about one man’s need to expose a fraud committed by his business partner during the colonization of Mars.

 6   Will your book be self-published or represented by an agency?

 It is self-published as an ebook.

 7.   How long did it take you to write the first draft of your manuscript?

About 8 months, I think. It was some time ago, because I abandoned it for a number of years.

 8   What other books would you compare this story to within your genre?

Obviously, nothing is exactly similar, but Kim Stanley Robinson’s Red Mars has a certain similarity in terms of genre.

 9.   Who or What inspired you to write this book?

The first of the futuristic novels was written to “see if I could make it”. To explain that, my first attempt at writing a novel was as an undergraduate in the 1960s. I was with a few female students who were going for a BA, and I could not resist saying that at least science was aimed at creating something, while all they were doing was criticizing. They should be doing, like writing novels. Their response was, I could not come up with a plot so . . My response to that was, of course I could; it was them who could not. So they challenged me, and I came up with one. They challenged me to write it, so I did. I posted it off, got four rejections and gave up. About 15 years later, I looked at it again, and the first twenty pages were awful, and nobody got past them. So I tried rewriting, and sent out query letters, but got no response. Then I tried self-publishing, on the basis that (a) I had some sort of platform because I was on nationwide TV from time to time, and (b) I was getting involved with an industrial venture, and I needed to clear the decks, so to speak. I did, but the venture also took off, and financiers forbade me to seek any publicity for anything. With no advertizing, no publicity, sales were only modest, so in the 1990s I decided to try again and see if I could make it.

 10.    What else about your book might pique the reader’s interest?

I got an agent, the book went to a major publisher, but the editor died and his replacement cleared his desk. According to this editor, my plot was too ridiculous. The book is about a fraud during the colonization of Mars, and it is exposed by an unexpected discovery, which involved where the atmosphere of Mars went. The colonization of Mars is hardly too ridiculous for SciFi, fraud is never ridiculous, which meant my science was ridiculous, and that was the prime insult. I then devoted myself to going deeper into this topic, and this ended up as my ebook “Planetary formation and biogenesis”. If Mars rovers ever find a deposit of nitrogen-rich organic material, this will be the first book to have predicted it.

Finally, something about Bloghop. To see more, go to http://www.colleensayre.blogspot.com

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A valuable role for speculative fiction?

I heard a definition of “speculative fiction” as fiction, usually set in the near future, as being based on background that “might happen”. Why do that? Most certainly it is not to predict the future, because anyone who tries to do that is going to get egg on face. The first book I wrote in the future history series I am writing had a lot of back story, and one part had a protagonist walk into a museum in Kazakhstan and look at historical photos regarding the upheaval following the collapse of the Soviet Union in 2018. I had just made my first submission when that date became ridiculous. No, what I think is an important function of such speculative fiction is to alert people of the consequences of things going wrong, in the hope the problems can be averted.

Puppeteer is technically about corruption and terrorism, but it also has some important points to make about the economies in general. One such point is the price of petrol. In Puppeteer, at one point one of the protagonists fills his car with petrol, and admittedly it will be a large tank, but pays a thousand dollars. One of the other protagonists at one point cannot pay the electricity bill, despite being self-employed and having plenty of work. The reason: she works in Los Angeles installing security systems, and needs to get to jobs in a van. Until she sorted her routes out more efficiently, the cost of fuel took virtually all her cash. These are very minor parts of the story, in total less than ¼% of it, but hopefully it might get people thinking about the effects of excessively priced oil. And it will become excessively priced because there is a limit to how much is there.

Think about what the changes would involve if we do nothing. First, food prices would rise in a very spectacular way, partly because food distribution has become highly centralized. Thus a few major centers handle most of a given product, thus involving heavy transport costs.  Also, food production currently involves a lot of oil consumption, if only for driving vehicles and providing fertilizer. One way to reduce oil consumption would require people to eat locally produced food, but the quality and variation would drop significantly.

So, this is a major problem and the future is dreadful? No, that is not the way to look at it at all. I believe most of these things can be averted, but only if we get on to them now. What most citizens do not realize is how long it takes to change manufacturing to a new process. It can take up to ten years to properly develop a new chemical process, and to acquire sufficient engineering knowledge to build a reasonably large-scale plant. It then takes decades to build enough to replace the current oil infrastructure, which was built over a century. These things do not get done by themselves; we have to decide what we want our future to look like, and then make it happen, but why are we going to do that if we do not even recognize it as a problem? This is where I think literature has a role to play. Not by preaching, but by showing, it can wake up people. What do you think?

Red Gold: a unique book (in a very minor way)?

A claim to be unique requires some extraordinary evidence, but I think I can back that up. Red Gold is a futuristic novel about the colonization of Mars, and there is nothing extraordinary about that, indeed there are many others out there.  No, the claim for uniqueness is based on something far more unusual. The backstory in the novel was in the near future when I wrote it, and in the event, what I wrote came to pass, with me as the “player”, and it was not what I intended. Let me explain.

Red Gold was written in the early to mid 1990s, and was set in 2075-76. The setting was the colonization of Mars, but the story was more about the disintegration of a relationship between two nominal business partners when one learns that the other is creating a massive stock-market bubble on Earth with fraudulent Martian stock (or shares, depending on where in the world you are). To expose the fraud, I needed “a totally unexpected discovery”. Further to my concept of putting science in fiction, I had explained that the “soil” on Mars is very deficient in nitrogen, and there is very little in the atmosphere as well. Accordingly, feeding people in the long term might be difficult. This gave me the inspiration for the “unexpected discovery”: One of the protagonists could find the nitrogen fertilizer needed to make Martian settlement viable in the long term. So I wrote in that the main character took drilling equipment to the very bottom of Hellas Planitia, which happened to be owned by the protagonist, and many of the drill samples found urea.

Why was it a surprise? Well, standard scientific theory said the required ammonia in the early atmosphere could not have been present. My solution was to invent a minor scientist, Pavel Marchenko, who had predicted a reduced atmosphere in the early 21st century, but his papers were variously rejected by the mainstream scientific journals, and eventually the theory was published in an extremely obscure place and promptly forgotten.

Red Gold eventually made it to an editor’s desk in a serious publishing house, but it was rejected as too implausible (actually by another editor who was clearing a desk, after the first one died). I got somewhat irritated to have my science trashed by a literary editor, even if it was originally presented “tongue in cheek”, so I became involved. The more I looked into the nature of Mars, the more certain I was that my argument was sound. Furthermore, it made predictions, one of which was, of course, that the early lakes on Mars may have accumulated ammonia, which would react with carbon dioxide to form urea. The ammonia solved the major problem of how water can flow on Mars when the temperatures never reached the melting point of ice. So, I worked away at this and eventually formed a proper theory. It was then that I fulfilled the destiny: the papers were rejected as either not being compelling, or, in one case, because I did not do computer modeling.

To be fair, there was a fundamental problem; scientific papers are rather brief, and usually establish one point. Unfortunately, this analysis is based on the intersection of sets of data, and no single point is compelling. To gradually build up the case you need a book, not a paper. There was a further problem. Carl Sagan showed that, because of sunlight, ammonia in the atmosphere only lasts decades, although he noted that screening chemicals could prolong that. The problem with that is, ammonia will largely be dissolved in water, where it is more protected. Irrespective of what various scientists believe, one sample of seawater has been found on Earth containing water from when the Earth was 1.3 billion years old, and this sample had sufficient ammonia in it that about 10% of all nitrogen on Earth was in that form. If that can happen on Earth, surely it could happen on Mars as well.

I eventually tired of the rejections and self-published the theory as my ebook “Planetary formation and biogenesis”, which the scientific community would definitely consider to be obscure. There is one minor point I did not fulfill: after various pointless rejections (I could not resist throwing the odd barb) Marchenko published in Armenian. That I could not do! My guess is, I shall further fulfill the backstory: my theory will be thoroughly ignored.

I think that is unique, but I could be wrong. Let me know if you think I am. Meanwhile, if this piques your interest, there is a free download at Amazon for November 16-18.

Why explain how devices work in fiction.

One reason to explain is when the addition adds to the story. The problem then is deciding what is worth explaining, and if it is, how to do it? An explanation is different from a description, which involves “what it is”, while an explanation involves “why it is like that”. Somewhere intermediate are the answers to the “how” questions. “What it is” may be necessary to follow the story, but “how it works” is different. In my opinion, it only matters when something else follows. If this can be pulled off, a far more enriched texture follows.

In my latest ebook, Red Gold, the background involves the colonization of Mars, which requires large-scale space ships to get there, since the plot also requires starting on Earth. To get artificial gravity, these are giant rotating disks. Now, we could merely have rotating disks, but look what happens if you think about how they rotate. First, there must be a means by which they can rotate while having motors that direct the direction of travel. That is most easily achieved (in fiction, if not in reality) if the motors are separate from the disk and joined in some way to something that does not rotate. These requirements give rise to a description that, while quite speculative and open to a lot of criticism, at least has the virtue of painting a more detailed picture that I hope makes the written section more plausible. How to do this? I had the disk spinning about the non-rotating support, and within this there is a massive inner hub that spun at extreme velocity in the other direction. For those in the know, when spinning something up, somehow you have to conserve angular momentum. It would be easier in some ways to have the counter-spinning part external to the disk, but that would make the stabilization of the motor mount near impossible. What I hoped to achieve with this detail that is not needed for the story is to give the reader a better feeling of “being there”.

However, the real point is that having reached this “design” more detail can be added. The disks carry plants so it is important that they travel through space “face-on” so as to maximize the collection of sunlight, but they have to land “edge-on” or “bottom down” so the motors have to be able to be re-oriented. Finally, the motors have a mass of about 25,000 tonne, so there has to be a means of separating them from the disk prior to landing, otherwise the supports would collapse and the motors would crush the ship. That means the disks have to land essentially unpowered.

Once that is done, I felt it was important to use those descriptions to aid the plot. Thus the danger of the landing permits one protagonist to get down before anybody else, and this allows the build-up of tension between two men who are falling out. The structure also permitted the invention of a ball game that is rather difficult to play. There are two major protagonists who start off as business partners (more or less). This game was used to bring to the open that one was sexually involved with the other’s wife, and it was also used to have a game between the two protagonists, and when one is shown to be a bad loser, the rift between them starts to open, which is a major advance to the plot. The design gives a great excuse to get the ship to land in the “wrong” place, at least as far as one protagonist is concerned, and it forces several other things to happen that otherwise should not have. So, while it may seem unnecessary to have such a detailed discussion of ship design, I hope it gives a clear picture to the reader, and as the book continues, the specific design permits several pieces of plot development. Rightly or wrongly, I feel that when the plot depends on the descriptions, then everything hangs together better. What do you think? If you wish to form your own opinion, the ebook has a free download from Amazon on November 16-18.