Creating a New World

I’m still excited about my Jakirian Cycle hitting the real world. All three books – The Calvanni, Scytheman and Sorcerer – and now available through a host of on-line retailers including Amazon (For Sorcerer be sure to put “Chris McMahon Sorcerer” into the search engine) . Ebook versions of all three books are currently in the works and should be available from November.

New Calvanni CoverScytheman CoverSorcerer Cover

I’m proud of the way the whole world came together. It has been with me for a long time, and it’s more satisfying than I can say to finally get my Jakirian universe out there. Thanks to all the patient readers of the 2006 edition of The Calvanni, who have waited some time to see what happens in Scytheman and Sorcerer.

The world of Yos was my first major foray into building a unique world.

Around the time I was dreaming up this world, I was reading David Attenborough’s Life on Earth. I think it was that beautiful presentation of evolution that drove a lot of my early work on Yos.

I thought a lot about the creatures and the races, and how they had come to fit into the ecological niches that existed on the world. All of it was driven by the unique astronomy. The world of Yos orbits two suns (OK for the astronomy buffs, technically the centre of mass of the two-sun system). The red sun, which provides only a fraction of the solar input of the yellow sun, regularly eclipses the yellow sun, causing Storm Season. A period initially of intense cold, followed by – you guessed it – violent storms as the world rapid heats up again. This regular period of intense cold gave rise to various evolutionary coping mechanisms.

There were two main routes. Warm-blooded surface mammals who remained active during this time developed the Heat – an accelerated metabolism that provided warmth, but at the expense of the body’s resources. Modern humans on Yos try to resist the pull of the Heat during Storm Season – the time of the red sun Uros. It can keep you alive, but at the loss of control. In the dangerous world of Yos, the overconfidence and loss of inhibition that comes with the Heat can be a deadly weakness.

The second coping mechanism was to get underground. Birds and other animals evolved to be able to dig burrows they could use to ride out the cold. Others went even further, living more and more of their span under the ground. This eventually gave rise to a parallel evolutionary path that existed in the extensive caverns of the Yos. Creatures such as the drakons with their hot acid breath, delved deep into the bedrock, paving the way for others (their prey). Bats were great winners in the evolutionary race. The bounty of the forests of the Yos was drawn down into the caverns, where a whole ecology of luminescent fungi developed, using nutrients from the upper world. Other creatures evolved to eat the fungi – herd animals that never saw the light of the suns. And then came their predators.

Cousins of man – the Eathal – adapted for the caves. They developed acute hearing and a form of echo-location, as well as sensitive eyesight.

Then came new settlers to the upper world, clearing the forests – inadvertently destroying the world below as they robbed the bats of their bounty. And so the ancient enmity between the Eathal and Man was born. . .

Right. Back to world building. Easy to get carried away with this stuff:

One other thing that comes to mind was an idea for the mammal evolution. I wanted a winged race (the Verial), but I wanted them to have hands and wings.

Now in Life on Earth, Attenborough explained how the form of all land animals basically was derived from the same basic quadruped – lizards, monkeys, birds – all had four limbs (and a tail) to begin with. So to have my winged race I needed not only a proto-four-legged, but a proto-six-legged creature. So that’s way on Yos, some land animals have six limbs – or started with them. One example is the narsiit – the winged horse of the plains. It does not truly fly – its metabolism is so fast that when in full flight it needs to extend its wings for cooling, although it does get some aerodynamic lift.  

So all the birds of Yos have two wings and four limbs. In many cases the second pair of legs or arms has become vestigial – I mean who needs the extra weight? But for birds on the ground – or those that need to compete for space in the crowded caverns during Storm Season, the extra limbs really come in handy for fighting . It also means you can shake hands with a bird:)

So what fun have you been having lately with world building?

PS: I’ll be at Genrecon in Brisbane all weekend, so my post replies might be even more weirdly timed than usual

 

Mars Mystery

Hi, everyone. I have been totally crunched by a deadline this week, which is still looming, so I don’t have a post.

In the mean time, here is a link to a story on space.com about the Missing Methane on Mars. Curiosity has failed to find the expected methane – a likely indicator of life –  that was spotted by orbiting survey craft. The plan was to examine the ratio of isotopes to see if it had an organic origin.

So where is the Missing Methane?

Anyone Got any Ghost Stories?

Hi, everyone. I have been totally flat-strapped today and caught out without a post.

I have been busy finishing off my Urban Fantasy Distant Shore, in particular trying to insert a few nice ghost sightings for my chief characters who are beginning to see the Other side of things.

Anyone out there want to share some real life ghost stories?

A few years ago I had a chilling run-in with a pair of possessed masks. That was one New Year’s Eve I’d rather forget. The cat never came back.

Anyone?

Governmentium

Did anyone manage to get a look at asteroid 2012 DA14 on its fly-by? I have been down with the flu so I did not manage the early viewing window here in Brisbane. You can check out coverage of the asteroid here.

In the mean time, you will be thrilled to know that the heaviest element yet known to science has been discovered!

The new element is Governmentium (Gv). It has one neutron, 25 assistant neutrons, 88 deputy neutrons and 198 assistant deputy neutrons, giving it an atomic mass of 312.

These 312 particles are held together by forces called morons, which are surrounded by vast quantities of lefton-like particles called peons.
Since Governmentium has no electrons or protons, it is inert. However, it can be detected, because it impedes every reaction with which it comes into contact. A tiny amount of Governmentium can cause a reaction normally taking less than a second to take from four days to four years to complete.

Governmentium has a normal half-life of 2- 6 years. It does not decay but instead undergoes a reorganisation in which a portion of the assistant neutrons and deputy neutrons exchange places.

In fact, Governmentium’s mass will actually increase over time, since each reorganisation will cause more morons to become neutrons, forming isodopes.

This characteristic of moron promotion leads some scientists to believe that Governmentium is formed whenever morons reach a critical concentration. This hypothetical quantity is referred to as critical morass.

When catalysed with money, Governmentium becomes Administratium, an element that radiates just as much energy as Governmentium since it has half as many peons but twice as many morons. All of the money is consumed in the exchange, and no other byproducts are produced.

Weird Planets

exoplanet

This year has produced some amazing discoveries in the planet-hunting arena.

Notable among these is the announcements of more ‘super-Earths’.

The planet HD 40307g is the most distant from its sun of six planets found in its system, and takes 200 days to orbits its star. At seven times Earth-mass, bets are on as to whether this planet is rocky or a Neptune-like world. Astronomers put it at about 50:50. The system is around 42 lightyears away. Not only does it orbit in a habitable zone, the target system is also close enough to potentially image directly in the future using the next generation of space-based telescopes. Bring it on!

Gilese 163c is another planet in its stars habitable zone, also estimated at seven times the mass of the Earth. The planet orbits a red dwarf slightly dimmer than old Sol and zips around it in 26 days [red dwarfs are the most common star type in the Milky Way].

Other discoveries showed planets where you least expect to find them – in multiple star systems. Solving multiple-body problems like that give even the most brilliant mathematicians a severe headache. But that does not stop us from seeing what’s out there.

The gas giant PH1orbits a pair of stars that are part of a four-star system [in this case it would orbit the centre of mass of the two stars]. The first planet found in a four-star system. It is bigger than Neptune, and easily big enough to host rocky moons approaching Earth-size. Unfortunately its location makes it too hot for liquid water – its temperature is estimated to range between 251C to 340C (484-644F).

The best thing about PH1 is that it was discovered by two amateur astronomers as part of the Planet Hunters program. So non-professionals get to play too!

A number of binary systems with planets have now been found, some with planets near the habitable zone, such as Kepler-34b and Kepler 35b. Each would get that double-star sunrise, just like Tatooine. Both planets are big, and around 5000 lightyears from Earth. So no exploring just yet.

As for the closest planet, that is a rocky planet orbiting Alpha Centauri B, 4.2 lightyears from Earth. No need to pack the swimsuit – unless you like doing laps in lava. It orbits its sun in a little over 3 days at a distance one tenth of Mercury’s orbit. Ouch.

Find more info and some good pics here.

What were your favourite discoveries of the year?

Gems

Running late today – getting an internet connection has been a little tricky. Of course I am completely relaxed. BTW do you like my new profile shot to the left there?

I was thinking about writing craft and how as writers we gradually extend our skills and accumulate bits and pieces of knowledge. Anything of worth seems to come pretty hard indeed. The question I was asking myself was – what is the single best Gem I have learned? It’s a hard question to answer, and probably impossible because everything in writing seems to be interrelated. The knowledge and realisations that will enhance one person’s writing may be unhelpful for another. Each writer approaches their work from a unique perspective. Each will do some things instinctively, struggle with others and have unique blind spots.

After a bit of consideration, I decided that just going chronologically would be the easiest approach. For me, the first Gem was understanding the importance of plot. My first novel draft was written off the cuff with just the smell of a story. That was fun, but it quickly derailed into a mess that was going nowhere. I binned it. After that I spent more than four months writing out (by hand) a sketch for every single scene, right down to key pieces of dialogue and movement. This enabled me to play with subplots and get a sense for overall arcs. I don’t go to that level of detail anymore, but I do plan the whole story by chapter and scene.

After that, the biggest penny drop was at a short workshop on story writing. The presenter outlined a simple framework of three interrelated elements: CHARACTER, SETTING, CONFLICT. That really enhanced my writing, particularly short story writing. I think this was when I realised that Setting has to be integral to the story – so integral that the setting cannot be removed from the story. The acid test being that if the setting element can be removed from the story then it is not supporting it – a capital crime for a short story where every element must pull its weight.

Then – and this was derived after a long, slow slog, rather than a lightbulb moment – I understood the role of point of view. Over a long period of time I learned to control it and use it. I learned to convey what a character was thinking from another character’s PoV through gestures, hesitations and leading dialogue.

I have increased my understanding of creating both emotional resonance and character sympathy – hook – but I think I’m in for a long haul before I have the mastery I need. This is what I really want to understand right now.

What are your greatest Gems? What do you want to learn next? Better still – what are your killer tips on creating emotional resonance and hooking a reader?