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Posts published in “Fiction”

Things I make up for a living.

[twenty twenty-four day one two three]: 75% of the way there …

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Our Kickstarter for The Neurodiversiverse is over 75% now! And my co-editor Liza put together a wonderful video for the project, now available on the Kickstarter page (just click the header image you see below):

I already posted about this on social media but not here I think, so ... we've also gotten the molds for the neurodiversity rainbow infinity symbol pins, and expect to get a look at pin prototypes real soon now!

So, if you love science fiction, neurodiversity, pins, or science-fictiony neurodiverse pins, in celebration of an #ownvoices anthology about neurodiverse encounters with aliens, please back us and share!

-the Centaur

[twenty twenty-four day one two two]: fools try to win with tactics battles the wise avoid with strategy …

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A wise man once said, "Fools try to win with tactics battles the wise avoid with strategy, but true experts win with logistics only the wars that they cannot avert with policy." I think I'll give that line to Jeremiah, though in the series narrative she probably got it from her mentor, "The Last General", General Weiss I think it was.

-the Centaur

Pictured: Our late cat Gabby, who appears to have constructed for himself a crude fort of stone.

[twenty twenty-four day ninety-eight]: no, the anthill doesn’t come back stronger and better designed

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Above is what looks like a massive anthill at the border of the "lawn" and "forest" parts of our property. It's been getting bigger and bigger over the years, and that slow growth always reminds me of Mr. Morden's comments in Babylon 5 about the Shadows' plan to make lesser races fight:

JUSTIN: "It's really simple. You bring two sides together. They fight. A lot of them die, but those who survive are stronger, smarter and better."
MORDEN: "It's like knocking over an ant-hill. Every new generation gets stronger, the ant-hill gets redesigned, made better."

Babylon 5: Z'ha'dum

But the Shadows were wrong, and what we're seeing there isn't a redesigned anthill: it is a catastrophe, a multigenerational ant catastrophe caused by climate, itself brought to light by a larger, slow-motion human catastrophe caused by climate change.

Humans have farmed, built and burnt for a long time, but only now, in the dawn of the Anthropocene - that period of time where human impacts on climate start to exceed natural variation of climate itself, beginning roughly in the 1900s - have those effects really come back to bite us on a global, rather than local, scale.

For my wife and I, this took the form of fire. Fire was not new in California: friends who lived on homes on ridges complained about their high insurance costs as far back as I can remember. But more and more fires started burning across our area, forcing other friends to move away. Then three burned within five miles of our home, with no end to the drought in sight, and we decided we'd had enough.

We moved to my ancestral home, a place where water falls from the sky, aptly named Greenville. And we moved into a house whose builders knew about rain, and placed it on a hill with carefully designed drainage. They created great rolling lawns, manicured in the traditional Greenville "let's fucking force it with chemicals and lawnmowers to look like it was Astroturf" which we are slowly letting go back to nature.

In this grass, and in the absence of pesticides, the ants flourished. But this isn't precisely a natural environment: they're flourishing in an expanse of grass that is wider and more rounded than the rough, ridged forest around it. In the forest, runoff from the rains is channeled into proto-streams leading to the nearby creek; at the edge of the lawn, water from the house and lawn spills out in a flood.

Each heavy rain, the anthills building up in the sloped grass are washed to the mulch beds that mark the boundary of the forest, and there the ants start to re-build. But lighter rains can destroy these more exposed anthills, forcing them to slowly migrate back up into the grass. That had already happened here: that was no longer a live anthill, and unbeknownst to me, I was standing in its replacement.

No worries, for them or me; I noticed the anthill was dead, looked down, and moved off their territory just as the ants were swarming out of their antholes, fit to kill (or at least to annoyingly nibble). But the great red field there, as wide as a man is tall and twice as long, was not a functioning anthill: it was the accumulated wreckage of generation after generation of ant catastrophes.

In the quote, Mr. Morden was wrong: knocking over an anthill doesn't make it come back better designed. Justin got it a little better: the strongest and smartest do often survive a battle - but they walk away with scars, and sometimes the winners may just be the lucky ones. Conflict may not make people better - it can just leave scarred soldiers, wounded refugees and a destroyed landscape.

Now, the Shadows were the villains of the story, but every good villain needs a good soundbite that makes them sound at least a little bit good, and it's worth demolishing this one. "The anthill comes back better stronger and better designed" is designed to riff on the survival of the fittest - the notion that creating survival pressure will lead to stronger, smarter, and better individuals.

But evolution doesn't work that way. Those stronger, smarter, and better individuals have to have existed in the population in the first place. Evolution only leads to improvements over time at all if the variation of the population continues to yield increasingly better individuals generation after generation - and that is not at all guaranteed. The actual historical pattern is far closer to the opposite.

Now, people who should know better often claim that evolution has no direction. I think that's because there's a cartoon version of evolution where things tend to get more complex over time, and they want to replace it with another cartoon version of evolution which is blind and random - perhaps spillover from Dawkins' attempts to argue with creationists using his Blind Watchmaker idea.

But that's not how evolution works at all. Evolution does have a direction - just like gravity does. Only at the narrow level of the fundamental laws operating on idealized, homogeneous substrates can we say gravity is symmetric, or evolution is directionless. Once the scope of our investigation expands and the structure of the world gets complex - once symmetry is broken - then gravity clumps matter into planets and gives us "up", and evolution molds organisms into ecosystems and gives us "progress towards complexity".

But the direction of evolution is a lot more like the gradient of air around a planet than it is any kind of "great chain of being". Once an ecosystem exists, increased complexity provides an advantage for a small set of organisms, and as they spread into the ecosystem, a niche is created for even more complex organisms to exceed them. But, just like most of the atmosphere is closest to the surface of a planet, most of the organisms will remain the simplest ones.

Adding additional selection pressure won't give you more complex organisms: it will give you fewer of them. The more stress on the ecosystem, the harder it is for anything to survive, the size of the various niches will shrink, and even if the ecosystem still provides enough resources to support complex organisms, the size of the population that can evolve will drop, making it less likely for even more complex ones to arise - and that's assuming it doesn't get so rough that the complex organisms go extinct.

Eventually, atoms bouncing around in the atmosphere may fly off into space - just like, eventually, evolution produced a Neil Armstrong who flew to the moon. But pouring energy into the atmosphere may slough the upper layers off into space, leaving a thin remnant closest to the planet - and, so, stressing an ecosystem will not produce more astronauts; it may kill them off and leave everyone down in the muck.

Which gives us a hint to what the Shadows' real plan was. They're portrayed as an ancient learned race, so presumably they knew everything I just shared - but they're also portrayed as the villains, after all, and so they ultimately had a self-serving goal in mind. And if knocking over an anthill doesn't make it come back better designed, then their real goal was to keep kicking over anthills so they themselves would stay on top.

-the Centaur

Pictured: Me, near sunset, taking picture of what I thought was a live anthill - until I looked more closely.

[twenty twenty-four day seventy-three]: independent confirmation at last

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At last! Thanks to Bing, I found an online calculator whose numbers confirm the calculation I did on my own for the interplanetary distances from my story "Shadows of Titanium Rain"!

[ from https://www.vcalc.com/wiki/l1-l2-lagrange-points based on data from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/WASP-121 ]

This is VERY close to the numbers I got from doing this in Mathematica based on the equations from (as I recall) the NASA page https://map.gsfc.nasa.gov/ContentMedia/lagrange.pdf :

AND, despite a good bit of reading [ https://www.amazon.com/Orbital-Mechanics-Foundation-Richard-Madonna/dp/0894640100 , https://www.routledge.com/Orbital-Motion/Roy/p/book/9781138406285 ] I was not able to find a ready source which gave me a simple formula without solving a bunch of equations.

But the calculator gave the same result that I got earlier on my own.

SO! Failaka is a quarter million kilometers from Tylos.

That's my story and I'm sticking to it.

-the Centaur

[twenty twenty-four post nine]: failaka, tylos and dilmun to scale

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The star Dilmun, its planet Tylos, and the hypothetical exo-Io Failaka, to scale. For comparison, if our Sun, Jupiter, and Earth took those positions, this is what they would look like:

What's funny about the Dilmun system is that normally you have to say "planetary distances and sizes are not to scale". However, Tylos is so close to Dilmun, orbiting only 4 million kilometers away with a year of 1.25 days, that the top diagram IS to scale. And this is in real life, not fiction.

What an amazing universe.

-the Centaur

[twenty twenty-four day seven]: tylos and dilmun from failaka

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So! I'm working on a series of stories set on a tidally locked moon called Failaka, orbiting a "hot Jupiter" called Tylos around an even hotter star called Dilmun. I don't know if anything like Failaka exists, but Tylos is a real planet originally designated WASP-121b, orbiting a star called, um, WASP-121, about 850 light years from Earth.

Dilmun is a yellow-white star hotter and brighter than our Sun (itself white, not yellow), and Tylos orbits so close its parent star that its orbit takes one and a quarter Earth days, cooking the planet to a sizzling 2500 degrees Kelvin (about four thousand degrees Fahrenheit). Failaka is a cometary remnant, and if it exists, it could only survive in the shadow of Tylos, which itself appears as a bright orange, hot as a hot coal.

SO, to make the story more grounded, I worked out where Failaka would have to be (Tylos's L2 point, currently calcuated as about the distance from the Earth to the Moon), how relatively bright Tylos and Dilmun were, and how large Tylos and Dilmun would be in the sky, as well as their colors.

The above renders this in Mathematica. Tylos is the orange circle partially occluding the white disk of Dilmun behind it, and Failaka is the blue plain of ice below - ice which, if it really was this exposed to Tylos and Dilmun, would be rapidly sublimating away, as the plot demands that the planet "roll" due to an orbital shift, leading to plains of former darkside ice shifting into the light and rapidly disintegrating.

Oh, and the tiny dots to the right of Dilmun? The white dot is the Sun, in natural color. The next dot is the Moon, rendered in grey, as the moon's albedo is actually kinda like charcoal.

And now, a helpful safety tip: do not stand on Failaka where you can see this view of Tylos and Dilmun. The radiation would be thousands of times as bright as the Sun seen from Earth, and you would rapidly have a very abbreviated day.

If you see this unprotected, you will die.

The good news? Cremation is free.

-the Centaur

Viiictory, Thirty-Five Times

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the Camp Nano victory badge for 2023

Woohoo! After being just about as behind on a Nano challenge as I have ever been and still won, I managed not only to complete 50,000 words in the month of April, but to blow past it to 53,266 words! Hooray!

progress chart for PLAGUE OF GEARS this April

To be frank, that steep slope over the top there feels really good, and I'm quite proud of the effort that I put in to make sure I made it this Nano. But, to be equally frank, the steep slope there PRIOR to going over the top really su-u-u-cked, and I pulled two almost-all-nighters (and one actual all-nighter) to finish.

what, me eating breakfast before noon? it's less likely than you think, though I do like it

Early in the month, I prioritized Clockwork Alchemy, and the Social Navigation paper, and getting work done in our old house in California that we're trying to renovate. But once I was back in the East Coast, I really had to knuckle down, writing up to 6,000 words a day near the end.

deficits and progress on April's nano

But, by the end, I was so far ahead that the "velocity required" to stay on track actually went negative (as you can see at the very end of the graph). I broke 50,000 words yesterday, but I still had a scene in mind involving the Big Bad of the Jeremiah Willstone stories, the dreaded Black Queen, Victoria. I didn't want to lose that inspiration, so I wrote it today, and the next scene, which is starting to roll back together with other parts I've written already. So now will be a good time to take a break and take stock of my life, to resume editing Dakota Frost #4 SPECTRAL IRON, and to get my new consulting business, Logical Robotics, rolling.

twenty-one years of nano challenges

According to my records, I've attempted Nanowrimo challenges (Nanowrimo, Camp Nano, and Script Frenzy) 37 times, with 35 successes, producing over 1.85 million words in successful months. If I'm lucky, and I can keep up the pace, I may crack two million words next year - wish me luck. But I think it's more pressing to get the editing of the existing books done - so wish me even more luck with that.

Oh, one more thing, the excerpt:

“Alive, but deposed,” Jeremiah said, as the proboscis of the thing behind her touched the back of her head—then bit in with a sickening CRACK. “Aaah! Deposed in 1865—or enslaved by the Plague today,” she moaned, as it dug in. “It’s y-your … choice … your … Majesty—”

The Queen raised the pistol. “I am no-one’s slave,” she said, and pulled the—

Falconer Cadet Specialist Jeremiah Willstone awoke with a start. Staring at the ceiling, she tried to hold on to the dream … no. She knew better than that. It felt like a fading dream … but they were echoes of memories, the last remnants of some disruption in time.

The jumbled recollections were slipping away, the tangled thoughts dissipating: canaries and scarabs and plagues and queens. But she remembered at least three key things: there was a war on, in time; her memories would be out of date; and she had to rise to the occasion.

Jeremiah glanced at the clock: 4:45AM on a radium dial that did not look familiar—no, did not look like her style at all, a frilly elegant thing more French than Austrian. She looked over, found what she expected from seeing the clock, and considered. It was late enough.

“Oi, roommate,” Jeremiah sat up, feet off her cot. “Name, rank, year. No joke.”

The human computer on the cot opposite her groaned. “Wha—” the woman muttered, a dark-skinned woman with impressive curls and chest, who managed to make waking up seem elegant. Then one of the vacuum tubes in her head sparked, and she sat bolt upright, blinking.

“The Lady Westenhoq,” the woman whispered icily, then swiveled to look at Jeremiah. “Liberation Academy Cadet. And, like you, Cadet Willstone, I’m a first year.”

“Thank you, Lady Westenhoq,” Jeremiah said quietly, “but I meant the date.”

Westenhoq looked at her, then swiveled her own feet of the cot to face her.

“Eighteen-ninety five,” Westenhoq whispered. “Out drinking again, Mya?”

“No, and I … think I’m going to start going by Jeremiah.” She rubbed her face. “Sounds more professional, and pet names remind me of my uncle anyway. But, since you knew my nickname and used it freely, I … take it we’ve worked together before.”

Oh, have they. Prevail, Victoriana!

-the Centaur

Pictured: Breakfast at Stax Omega, lots of graphs, and the Camp Nano winner's badge.

Dragon Con 2022

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Well, it's that time of year again ... 65,000 of my closest friends have gotten together in five hotels and two convention halls in Atlanta to celebrate all things science fiction!

My schedule is below. I worked right up to the start of the con, so am just now posting this two days later, but for the benefit of the time travelers in my audience, I'll include the first two panels:

  • Thursday
    • 8:30pm - Start Now, Research! - Hyatt Embassy EF
      How much research is enough? How much is too much? When do you stop doing research and start writing?
  • Friday
    • 7:00pm -  The People Who Live in Your Book - Hyatt Embassy EF
      Characters rise off the page and become people--if they're well-crafted. Discover ways to make this happen in your fiction.
  • Saturday
    • 10:00pm - Stories Needed: Get Yourself Invited into an Anthology - Hyatt Embassy EF
      There's an anthology being published that might just work for a story you have in mind. Or, when you hear about an anthology and KNOW you have a story for it, what do you do? Get some professional help from our pros.
  • Monday
    • 10:00am - Writing About Star Trek - Hilton Galleria 2-3
      There are thousands of worlds within Star Trek, and thousands of topics to talk about. Where do we start? Join a panel of published writers to discuss what's worth discussing in Trek books, articles and more
    • 1:00pm - Where Do You Get Your Ideas? - Hyatt Embassy EF
       This is a question that every writer gets asked by everyone they know. What is the answer to that question?
    • 2:30pm - Predicting the Future - Hyatt Embassy EF
      Where in the world is fiction headed? Do the old tropes still work? What's fresh and new for the future?

At each panel, I'll be giving away signed copies of the writing inspiration book Your Writing Matters by my friend Keiko O'Leary. This is the latest release from Thinking Ink Press, and we're very proud of it! No matter where you are on your writing journey, I think this book can probably help you, so come on by!

See y'all tomorrow!

-the Centaur

Viiictory, Thirty-Two Times

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Well, after a long hard month and many ups and downs, I have successfully completed Camp Nanowrimo, one of the three yearly National Novel Writing Month challenges to write 50,000 words of a novel in a month - and this is my 32nd time claiming viiictory!

This was one of the more challenging Nanos for me, as April is our quarterly planning month, and on top of that we decided to switch managers within our team and to switch to semester planning in our org. So that led to a dip in the beginning, where it was hard for me to get my groove.

The blood on the deck continued almost to the end of Camp Nano. This month's project was my third go at JEREMIAH WILLSTONE AND THE FLYING GARDENS OF VENUS, and I found it particularly difficult to get momentum as the story is more complicated than normal, with a new protagonist Puck taking center stage in addition to Jeremiah. You can see the dip compared to past Nanos:

I felt like I was struggling and stumbling with the story, writing and rewriting scenes, trying out different alternates (I count these as words written; editing can come later). However, as I rolled into the end of the month, these struggles started to pay off, as I understood better what was up with Puck, why so many weird things happened around her, and what role they played in the story.

Over the years of doing Nano, I've reached this particular point of the enterprise many times - a point which I sometimes call "going off the rails". This is the point where the story seems to gel, and I think it happens when I go from exploring the logical consequences of a set of characters in a situation - which is where I start almost all of my writing - to creatively injecting things into the story that could not be predicted from its beginnings. These still need to be grounded in the plot and consistent with the characters, but there's a difference between the things you typically expect to happen in a scenario and truly creative innovations which cannot be predicted from the setting alone - what the Mythcreants writing team calls Novelty in their ANTS framework (Attachment, Novelty, Tension and Satisfaction).

Over almost 20 years, I've had this creative spark, this "going off the rails" many, many times, and stories always seem better for it. I have tackled 16 Nanowrimos so far out of 34 monthly challenges (also counting Camp Nano and Script Frenzy) and have successfully completed it 32 times.

Each time for me, it's facing those middling slumps, facing the places where I've fallen out of love with my own story, that ultimately kickstart my creativity into high gear and make me fall in love with my work again.

That happened this time, even though I wanted to give up. I know Nano doesn't work for everyone, so your mileage may vary, but for me, as I've often found in other arenas of my life, you sometimes have to work just a little bit harder than you want to to reach an outcome which is far better than you have any right to expect. That was true with Cinnamon, originally a side character in the first Dakota Frost about whom I have now drafted three novels, and it is turning out to be true here with Puck as well, the Girl Who Could Wish, now turning into a truly interesting twist.

Oh, an excerpt. Let me see if I have some rough draftiness lying around here ...

“It’s an ecosystem,” Puck murmured. “There’s a whole ecosystem in the floatbergs—”

One of the jellyfloats wandered under one of the falls, and screamed, terrifyingly human-like, as it steamed and melted—and then Puck realized what the liquid was: sulfuric acid. This was an upper-atmosphere floatberg, its engineered bacteria designed to harvest sulfuric acid from the air—and as the floatberg disintegrated, the collected sulfuric acid which had not been processed was now spilling out in uncontrolled streams, destroying whatever had inhabited this cavern.

“I’m sorry,” Puck said to her little audience. “I … I think it’s too late.”

One of the bigger parakeys, with a crest, hopped up on her knee.

“Is that a vest?” she said, touching a bit of what looked like cloth. “You … you can’t be intelligent creatures, now can you? How could you start a whole civilization up here? Floatbergs only go back a few hundred years, and they don’t last for more than months, maybe weeks—”

The parakey chieftain, if that’s what it was, cheeped at her.

Puck drew a breath.

“I wish this cave could be saved,” she said carefully. The crowd of parakeys cheeped and beeped, and the chieftain pawed at her and cheeped even louder, like a little screech, and she relented. “Alright, a proper, non-conditional wish this time. I wish this cave would be—”

The bottom dropped out from beneath them.

Poor Puck! She can't seem to cut a break. But at least I know who and what she is now, and how she's related to Jeremiah, and can therefore move forward with this story with confidence.

Prevail, Victoriana!

-the Centaur

Sales for Dakota, Jeremiah and Nicole!

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So a number of sales are running this month featuring stories about Dakota, Jeremiah or Nicole.

First off, Dakota: on February 16-28 of this month, BLOOD ROCK will be back on sale for $0.99 wherever fine eBooks are sold - for example, Amazon and Barnes and Noble. BLOOD ROCK continues the story of Dakota and her weretiger daughter Cinnamon, facing their greatest challenge yet: getting Cinnamon into a good middle school. Oh, and there may also be magic graffiti, deadly fires, cranky werewolves, magical police investigators, and vampire romance. You should check it out.

Second, Jeremiah: the LATER series anthologies are on sale at DriveThruFiction through the 11th. Each features pairs of stories set in Jeremiah Willstone's time at Liberation Academy. We're adapting these for audio, so I feel this is a good way to get into this universe early!

Finally, Nicole. Everyone's favorite killer computer's debut story, SIBLING RIVALRY, is also on sale at DriveThruFiction: https://www.drivethrufiction.com/product/372242/Sibling-Rivalry .

Also, a few of my friends who are published through Thinking Ink Press also have books on sale at DriveThruFiction:

The DriveThruFiction sales ends February 11, so strike while the iron's hot!

-the Centaur

P.S. Also, while I'm under the hood, let me point out that the new WordPress editor continues not just to suck, but to get worse over time, as it was markedly harder to write a blog post on the Library of Dresan than the Jeremiah Willstone and Dakota Frost websites, both on older versions of WordPress. It's harder to edit text, insert links, navigate texts, add lists, or add tags, and the tags no longer show the relative category sizes. "Modern looking" is not a substitute for usability, and never will be. End of rant.

Days 189-192

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Well, something weird happened with my blog which interfered with updates, so, boo, but nevertheless, it cleared up on its own despite my best debugging efforts, so ... yay? #nervous_laughter  And updates. First, here's a quick concept sketch from JEREMIAH WILLSTONE AND THE FLYING GARDENS OF VENUS of the antagonist character "the Parasolite" ... or, more properly, one of her bodies:

the parasolite concept sketch

The Parasolite prime interrogating Puck in her throne room. Looking at both of these, I'm not getting the length of the human leg correct; I need to work on body proportions as much as faces.

parasolite and puck

After a long day of writing Camp Nano (oh, I'm doing FLYING GARDENS OF VENUS for Camp Nano) I gave up and did this quick sketch of Brainyon, the brain-jar spider-boy shown earlier, drafted as a mercenary by our "Robert De Niro in Casino"-styled protagonist / antagonist:

brainyon again

Concept sketch for the Parasolite Prime.

parasolite prime

Drawing every day, even if I can't always post.

-the Centaur

Day 186

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puck and the skywall cleaned

Re-sketch of Puck on the skywall, using a lightbox. That really cleans it up.

Drawing every day.

-the Centaur

Days 181-185

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Just because I was on vacation doesn't mean I wasn't drawing ...desk toy sketches

Above, a sketch of some desk toys ... below, I think it was a from-memory quick sketch of Indiana Jones, but I find that hard to believe.

jones sketch

Below, test sketch of Puck climbing a skywall from JW&TFGOV.

puck climbing

Test sketching the shape of a face ...

face sketch

And another quick sketch of Gabby.

gabby

Drawing, even a little, every day.

-the Centaur

P.S. Monterey is, as always, awesome.

Day 178

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puck sketch with flats

Another take on Puck from JEREMIAH WILLSTONE AND THE FLYING GARDENS OF VENUS, a quick sketch with roughs in non-repro blue, Pigma rendering, and flats in Photoshop - through which process I discovered she was black with blonde hair. Concrete descriptions for the representational win! Below, a quick sketch over non-repro blue of the Wings of Wisdom or Wisdom's Folly, the ramen sailshop where Puck works. All she wants to do is serve Venus some ramen, man, cut her a break.

wings of wisdom

Drawing every day.

-the Centaur

Days 174-177

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Just because I haven't been posting doesn't mean I haven't been drawing. Day 174 was a super quick Sharpie sketch of a face from one of my steampunk desktop backgrounds; it was too much of a quick sketch to be able to recover some of my initial mistakes:

Dim Horizons Face Study

Day 173 was a quick character sketch of Puck, the point-of-view protagonist of a new story I'm working on, JEREMIAH WILLSTONE AND THE FLYING GARDENS OF VENUS:

puck character sketch

Day 176 was a quick sketch of Byron (or Brainyon) from JW&TFGOV:

byron character study

Day 177 included some quick sketches of speakers at the Embodied AI Workshop, which I was monitoring today; I'm not going to identify the speakers because (a) privacy and (b) many of these are terrible:

face sketches
pen tests

Drawing every day.

-the Centaur

Day 168

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eckener sketch

Dr. Hugo Eckener, the "Pope" of airship pilots. Even though I carefully noted the angle of the head, I nevertheless tilted the eyebrows wrong - and even caught myself doing it. But, even though I saw the problem, and did some work to correct it, it was too late to recreate the fullness of the face:

eckener headshot

The comparison shows a 5 degree tilt and 10 degree horizontal squash, but, frankly, there's no way to make everything line up no matter how you stretch it, as the nose is misproportioned compared to the eyes, which led the dent on the face on the left side of the page compared to the original.

eckener comparison

Ah well. Drawing every day.

-the Centaur

The Codex of Quills

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The Codex of Quills

Not sure if I mentioned this or not, but there's an ongoing round-robin story going on at the Clockwork Alchemy website, The Codex of Quills! My episode is the current one up, #4. Here's a summary so far:

A steampunk serial adventure with a new author every episode!

The Codex of Quills – Episode 1: The Hedgehog

by Dover Whitecliff

Hot. Smoky. Irritating. Any or all of which could pertain to the wildfire-permeated valley air, or the mélange of personalities on the bus. Or the perfect description of Kilpatrick’s commute from the cubicle farm to the coffee house off the freeway.

Cold Brew. That’s all I need. Thirty ounces of caffeinated goodness with just a pirouette of cream will erase Monday and make everything better.

... read more ...

The Codex of Quills – Episode 2: The Woman

by Katherine L. Morse

“Super Mondo chai, please. Two raw sugars.”

Please just get your drink. I have a date with destiny…or insanity…and I really need a cold brew. “Super Mondo cold brew, um, please.”

The woman who had just ordered rocked back on the heel of her ankle boot and commented, “Super Mondo is a good choice. You’re going to need the caffeine for what lies ahead.”

... read more ...

The Codex of Quills – Episode 3: The Pony

By Shelli Frew

Kip tentatively opened his eyes and peered around the shop. Only, it wasn’t the bookstore. Instead of the marine cryptobiology section, the shelves displayed rows and rows of lace, some slightly singed at the edges. A large quantity of star charts and compasses replaced the teen romance. Strangest of all, by far, was the old person giving Kip a pointedly annoyed look. The eyes peering out from behind their shiny spectacles looked like goat eyes. Small antlers sprouted from their head and when they opened their mouth to speak, Kip spied sharp teeth like a cat.

“Young creature, I do say! I did not request any messengers this day. And your friend has damaged some of my lace!”

... read more ...

The Codex of Quills – Episode 4: The Vampire

By Anthony Francis

“This the right grave?” Kip eyed the blockish monument; most of Highgate Cemetery was a gothic tour through Victorian willies, weeded to ruins and taking his calm with it, but this imposing rectangle and dour, bearded bust were clean, had fresh flowers, and bore the improbable name KARL MARX. “Seems … I dunno, too high school econ—”

Lieneye the pony snorted, as if to neigh, Are you doubting me? Extrapolating from the rules for talking animals—don’t piss them off—Kip thanked the diminutive steed and dismounted. He barely had to lean before his foot hit flowered gravel.

... read more ...

Only four episodes are up, but I can't wait to see where it goes next, for I have NO idea where that is. :-)

-the Centaur

The Science of Airships at Clockwork Alchemy 2021

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the science of airships
Hail, fellow adventurers! Clockwork Alchemy goes virtual this year, and tomorrow at 10am I'll be on a panel on the Science of Airships with moderator Laurel Anne Hill and fellow panelists Madeline Holly-Rosing and Mike Tierney. We'll be talking about everything we can fit in 45 minutes, including:
  • Zeppelins, dirigibles and blimps: what do all these terms mean?
  • The history of airships, starting with an airborne chicken.
  • The science of airships, including innovations for flight.
  • The failures of airships - what brought them down?
  • The future of airships - airships on the drawing board!

Sign up here, and the full schedule is also online.

We're the first panel, at 10am Saturday, and our panelists include:

Laurel Anne Hill [Moderator]

Laurel Anne Hill—author and former underground storage tank operator—grew up in San Francisco, with more dreams of adventure than good sense or money. Her close brushes with death, love of family, respect for honor and belief in a higher power continue to influence her writing and her life. She has authored two award-winning novels: The Engine Woman’s Light (Sand Hill Review Press), a gripping spirits-meet-steampunk, coming-of-age heroic journey, and Heroes Arise. Laurel’s published short stories and nonfiction pieces total over forty. She has served as a program participant at many science fiction/fantasy conventions, including the World Science Fiction Con and World Fantasy Con. She’s the Literary Stage Manager for the annual San Mateo County Fair, a speaker, writing contest judge, and editor. And she’s even engineered a steam locomotive. For more about her, go to http://www.laurelannehill.com.

Madeleine Holly-Rosing

Madeleine Holly-Rosing is the writer/creator of the award-winning Boston Metaphysical Society graphic novel series. Previously self-published, it is now published by Source Point Press. The series also includes the award winning prequel novel, A Storm of Secrets, and an anthology.  After running eight successful crowdfunding campaigns, she published the book, Kickstarter for the Independent Creator.  Other comic anthology projects include: The Scout (The 4th Monkey), The Sanctuary (The Edgar Allan Poe Chronicles), The Marriage Counselor (Cthulhu is Hard to Spell), The Glob (Night Wolf), The Infinity Tree (Menagerie: Declassified), and the upcoming, The Birth (Stan Yak Vampire Anthology).

Michael Tierney

Michael Tierney writes steampunk-laced alternative historical fiction stories from his Victorian home in Silicon Valley. After writing technical and scientific publications for many years, he turned his sights to more imaginative genres. Trained as a chemist, he brings an appreciation of both science and history to his stories. His latest novel is Mr. Darwin’s Dragon. Visit his blog at www.airshipflamel.com.

Anthony Francis

By day, Anthony Francis teaches robots to learn; by night he writes science fiction and draws comic books. Anthony’s best known for his Skindancer urban fantasy series of novels including the Epic eBook Award winner Frost Moon and its sequels Blood Rock and Liquid Fire, all following the misadventures of magical tattoo artist Dakota Frost trying to raise her weretiger daughter Cinnamon in Atlanta.

Anthony also writes the Jeremiah Willstone steampunk series, following a young female soldier in a world where women’s liberation happened a century early – and so, with twice as many brains working on hard problems, the Victorians invented rayguns and time travel. In addition to her debut novel Jeremiah Willstone and the Clockwork Time Machine, Jeremiah appears in a dozen other stories, including “Steampunk Fairy Chick” in the UnCONventional anthology.

Anthony is co-editor of the anthology Doorways to Extra Time and a co-founder of Thinking Ink Press, publisher of the steampunk anthologies Twelve Hours Later, Thirty Days Later, and Some Time Later. He’s the artist of the webcomic fanu fiku and he’s co-author of the 24 Hour Comic Day Survival Guide. He’s participated in National Novel Writing Month and its related challenges over 20 times, recently cracking one million words written in Nano.

Anthony lives in San Jose with his wife and cats, but his heart will always belong in Atlanta. To learn more about Dakota Frost, visit facebook.com/dakotafrost or dakotafrost.com; to learn more about Jeremiah Willstone, visit facebook.com/jeremiahwillstone; to learn more about Anthony and his appearances, visit his blog dresan.com.

You can also take a look at my previous presentations on the science of airships, which I've been doing on and off for about 10 years now, for more details ...

Hope to see you virtually there, or in the air!

-the Centaur

Day 139

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cinnamon frost

Sketch - I mean, full sketch, like with roughs and rendered inks and stuff, not a 15-minute Sharpie exercise - of Cinnamon Frost. Other than forgetting her whiskers, I think this came out well. While I did use a reference image, it's not precisely the same character (Cinnamon has way more voluminous hair, almost but not quite an afro), so it's hard to judge how well it came out with regards to proportions et al: girl headscarf

Mirror reflecting it, it doesn't look too bad. Looking over it, there's a little weirdness with the exposed shoulder being too far out compared to the size of the head and the shape of the chin, but in my defense, I was focusing primarily on the hair and headscarf, and the shoulders were an afterthought in the render.

tsorf nomanniC

Drawing every day.

-the Centaur

Viiictory, Twenty-Nine Times

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camp nano april 2021 SO! Once again, I have written more than 50,000 words in a month - this time, on Dakota Frost #7, SPIRAL NEEDLE, which is close to being finished. (Yes, yes, YES, I know, Dakota Frost #4-#6 and Cinnamon Frost #1-#3 are not edited yet, editing is harder than writing, and pays less than teaching robots to learn. I'll get to them, I'll get to them, I promise). I can't figure out the new Camp Nano interface to make it cough up the usual winner banner, so you'll just get that screenshot instead. camp nano april 2021 b This is my twenty-ninth victorious Nano challenge and thirty-first attempt overall. That's great stick-to-it-ness, but I was behind for much of the month, not getting my feet under me until the 10th, but I managed a big pushes two weekends a go and a huge push last weekend, leading to me briefly getting ahead of the game right around the 28th, making today an easy coast (1500 words finished me off, though I wrote through to a notch over 1,667 words just for completeness). According to my records, that 8,154 word push on the 25th was the second most I've ever written in a day, topped only by my 9,074 word mad push to finish PHANTOM SILVER, Dakota Frost #5, on July 30th, 2016. camp nano april 2021 c Overall, a bit behind this month, which was pretty rough OKR (Objective / Key Result) planning at work. I love the IDEA of OKRs - say what you want to do (Objective, for example, write roughly 1/3 of a novel) and how to measure it (Key Result, for example, 50,000 words in the month of April), but this time it took us until almost the 20th. 3 weeks is way too long to spend on planning for a quarter's worth of effort. OH, almost forgot, an excerpt:
The questing metal fingers of the Plague Witch's "broom" branched and lunged at me. The Salzkammergutschwert’s black blade swept through the metal spikes, as cleanly as a Larry Niven variable sword through tissue paper. The Plague Witch recoiled, whirling the broom-thing, striking its black kettle end on my overextended sword hand. The Salt Chamber Sword sang out across the street, slamming into a fire hydrant in a hiss of water. But that movement naturally carried me forward, as I thought it would, and the moment the Plague Witch raised her head, I shoved my free hand at her, jamming onto her pointed beak a magical silencing wreath made of glowing vines and Technicolor feathers. “Oh, shaddap,” I said, drawing the wreath tight just as she tried to scream. The Plague Witch squeaked—she had a mask, not a beak, so the wreath couldn’t actually shut her mouth, but it could effectively gag her, and as she flailed her head, I kicked her. “And siddown!” And as she stumbled back, for a moment, I thought it was going to work. The Plague Witch writhed. I seized the Waystaff. Nyissa seized my arm. “I suggest retreat!” she cried. “No argument!” I yelled back—but retreat was not so easy. The silencing wreath wasn’t a free design, like my bluebirds or butterflies, but was an ad-hoc construct made from—and attached to—my vine and peacock tattoos, which tugged at me. “Some difficulty!” “Dakota!” Nyissa cried, pulling me away. “Let go!” “She’s got me,” I said, my feet slipping on the street. Oh, this had been a bad idea: as the Plague Witch struggled, the wreath self-replicated, drawing more and more silencing power from her own strength—but the design was imperfect, and was reeling me in towards her. “Nyissa!” Then things happened very, very quickly. Nyissa—my bodyguard, my bride-to-be, my love—darted forward, seized the Salt Chamber Sword in a burst of spray, and swung wildly at the tattoo vine connecting us. But the Plague Witch, flailing, swung her damaged broom at Nyissa—impacting her stomach. Nyissa didn’t even scream: she just doubled over in a splash of blood. The broom swept through her as the Plague Witch stumbled away, her body taken through a forward tumble, the lethally sharp sword falling from her hand—and severing the magic-tight tattoo connection. My vine snapped back to me, hurling me to the pavement. My wind went out. The Plague Witch tore off her disintegrating crown of vines, and screamed—
-the Centaur