Surprises in writing a science fiction novel. Part 1

The surprise that stands out in my mind today is how the emotions involved in writing a chapter become so real, as your characters interact with each other and/or their situation and environment.

I hadn’t expected that at all.

Other than the odd short story fiction here and there, grade school and high school writing had been book reports. Reports on someone else’s fiction.

At Carnegie Mellon it was the same thing.
Reporting … on someone else’s work and creativity.

In the professional world it was Engineering reports. Email summaries. Charts in Excel and whatnot.

All facts, just reporting the results.

There was room for creativity in developing a valve stack in a damper (aka shock absorber) to achieve the desired ride characteristics in conjunction with meeting durability requirements.

Problem solving an issue required some creativity. But the process was fairly straightforward.

Overall … it just wasn’t there. At least not the arenas I worked in.

Then one day I decided to put my ideas for an aerospace company on paper.

Curve Aerospace lander

Then I decided to turn that potential business plan into a novel.

“Imagine if … ”

Then, one night watching the TV series ‘Castle’, I got it, the main plot.

At that point it became a science fiction thriller. More plot devices came into play.

I started writing.

That’s when I discovered how much emotion can be felt simply by writing. The creation process, how a character feels and how you could feel the same way.

Then I realized that the feeling was actually first and that was the only way to get that emotion into the page.

What will my character think?
How will they react?

The only way to answer these and other questions was to create the character’s life first, aka the character sketch.

The emotions would flow from there.

I love it 😀

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We’re launching a satellite, a Borg Cube

AMSAT North America (LINK) that is.
I volunteer time to AMSAT, working on the mechanical engineering side of things, specifically the structural side.

Sometime in Summer 2015 we’ll be launching our CubeSat as a secondary payload.

The Chairman, my main character in the Distance In Time series, is an Amateur Extra ham radio operator. AMSAT and CubeSats receive various mentions in the story. 😀

So what’s a CubeSat? It is a 100mm x 100mm x 100mm cube with electronics inside. The cubed 100 is simply called a 1U. If you stack three then you have a 3U design ‘cube’sat.

Here’s our prototype: (GALLERY LINK)

As you can see it really is just 10cm cubed.

So what’s this all about, what’s our involvement here?

Amateur Radio, aka Ham Radio.

There is a VHF/UHF transceiver in the satellite along with a scientific payload. This satellite carries a science payload for a northeastern university.

We’re going to talk about the transceiver side of things. VHF and UHF communications are line of sight. That means that as long as one antenna (not radio) can see the other antenna the distance between the two is essentially meaningless.

Our CubeSats operate in a 600km orbit, approximately. It’s no problem using a 5w handheld transceiver to speak with another operator within the cone of coverage.

What’s the point? Advancing the Radio Art.

Title 47 – Part 97
Subpart A—General Provisions
§ 97.1 Basis and purpose.
The rules and regulations in this part are designed to provide an amateur radio service having a fundamental purpose as expressed in the following principles:
(a) Recognition and enhancement of the value of the amateur service to the public as a voluntary noncommercial communication service, particularly with respect to providing emergency communications.
(b) Continuation and extension of the amateur’s proven ability to contribute to the advancement of the radio art.
(c) Encouragement and improvement of the amateur service through rules which provide for advancing skills in both the communication and technical phases of the art.
(d) Expansion of the existing reservoir within the amateur radio service of trained operators, technicians, and electronics experts.
(e) Continuation and extension of the amateur’s unique ability to enhance international goodwill.

Many astronauts and cosmonauts are ham radio operators as well. Want to talk with the ISS? Get your Technician License. Easy peasy (LINK)
Here’s a link to a youtube video LINK of a ham talking to Col Doug Wheelock on the International Space Station.

Back to the CubeSat.

Those dark sections are stickers representing the solar cells. Two for every side to catch sunlight as the satellite ‘tumbles’ across the sky. It’s called tumbling but it’s really just a slow rotation.

The satellite is powered by ‘A’ cells. Not AA, not AAA, just A. NiCad ‘A’ batteries to be exact. Yeah, you read that right, NiCad. NiCad is an extremely well proven technology and NASA isn’t real big on secondary payloads getting ultra creative. And, yes, Li-ion is considered ‘creative’.

The antennas, one for VHF the other for UHF, are simply spring steel wire wrapped around four corner posts. The end is held in place with fishing line, Dyneema in our design. Yep, fishing line lol.
Once in orbit, about 45 minutes after release from the rocket structure, the fishing line is burned simply by using a hot resistor. The antenna then literally unwinds to return to its normal shape, hence the reason for using spring steel. In this case the antenna started out as straight wire.
The failsafe with fishing line is that UV light will weaken it and then it will break on its own (in case the resistor fails). It may take a few months but the satellite is up there for years.

Check out the photo gallery for more pics (GALLERY LINK)

Don’t tell anyone but this is how the Borg Cube came to be ………. 😀

Civil Forfeiture as a plot device?

Sure, why not. About two months ago I discovered my ‘device’, the device that will create that One Defining Moment, aka ‘the Climax’, where everything changes for my main characters.

I’m using a legal fiction, Civil Forfeiture, as the device. I won’t get into too much detail, to avoid giving away how it works into the story, but this topic is perfect. Stunningly perfect.

I even have some personal experience with it. I don’t know why I didn’t think of it earlier.

Now at first my Climax was simply the Chairman and Michelle selling their first starship to the government but then instead leaving the Solar System with it and having their grown kids finish off Starship #2 to sell to the gov.

Boring right? I knew that too, and wrote it out anyway. Again it was just something to start with, to get the imagination warmed up.

I have a 40 minute commute (one way), mostly highway, and I often drive in silence, just brainstorming.

Most times I’ll be running a single chapter through my head.

When I do turn on the radio I end up playing a song that might fit the tone of the chapter. This helps me to flesh out the details even further.

I was reminded of a time, in my current job, where I was called down to our marina to meet with two US Marshals. They were there to seize the yacht of one of our clients and they called just to give our company a heads up that they were removing the yacht to … wherever. (I forget)

That was an ‘in rem’ forfeiture. That means they take your stuff because your stuff is guilty, nothing at all to do with you.
How can stuff be guilty? That’s part of what makes this particular plot device so good.

In speaking with our client’s attorney it turned out that the case went poorly … for the plaintiff.

Perfect experience to build on.

I feel like I’m back in college in studying this Civil Forfeiture topic. There is so much meat available from so many different sources. It’s all really juicy stuff too.

So juicy that I am effectively re-writing the book to incorporate the process properly. FISA court, NSA, a couple of LE alphabet agencies will be involved. It’s the perfect device for my space travel story set in the near future (and then far future), just the thing I’ve been searching for.

Let’s just say that when the story is finally released you’ll wonder “How can that be real?”.

It is. It will be the only non-fiction device in my science fiction thriller lol.

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