Over the Hump…And a Snippet

Posted: April 30th, 2015 under snippet, the writing life.
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NewBook is now over the hump in rough draft, having crossed the 60,000 word midpoint for this book.   Its first 40,000 words or so have been reworked to improve characterization (which will lead to smoother progress later on. )   It’s unusual for me to have the mid-book slow-down due to characterization problems, but so it was this time.  I expect another slow-down period transitioning over the 2/3 to 3/4 finished problem area, but–if I fixed the characterization problems–that one will be plot related and usually means a mistake made between now and then.

Because this isn’t the book I thought I’d be writing next (even in the Vatta-verse), all the research I’d done setting up for that book is useless in this book.    (Different planet, different climate, different people, different way of getting into a tangle, and thus requiring a different way of getting out of it.)    I watched a video online today that made me think immediately of the differences (about a guy who was handed a bike to ride that had been geared to turn left when you turned the handlebars right, and vice versa.)  However, since the earlier research is not a body-reflex-memory thing, my brain was able to change direction more easily without falling off.

But it’s certainly led me into some odd places for the necessary research, things I’d never thought of researching before because “I don’t write books in those settings.”  Well looky here,  I am right smack in the middle of a book in “those settings.”  The stack of books I’ve bought , the stack of bookmarks on my computer, are an indication of how far down the knowledge tree I was.  Today’s chore (among others) was looking up the biochemistry of anger, because I had written a sentence about someone’s angry response and the medical counter to it…and then stared at it and realized I was running on a vague notion.   And sure enough, the hormones involved aren’t the ones I thought they were.  Being the data glutton I am, I then had to do more digging into every chemical mentioned, but have pulled myself out of that sucking mudhole (I could spend all of several days on this and I need to get words into the file…) to post here and then go back to the conversation that sparked the latest dive into research.  (And you thought all I did was hang out on Twitter and other online time-sinks, right?)   There was the research into geothermal power generation (what does it look like–what buildings are onsite, what is in them, what happens to things that come up out of the ground (desired or not) in the process of using geothermal energy to generate power?

Other questions that have come up and still aren’t answered (despite considerable digging for some of them and even appeals to academics who haven’t answered my emails–and I don’t blame them, it’s just inconvenient for me.)   Given a planet reasonably like ours in size, mass, and chemical composition,  with plenty of water on it,  what would the polar oceanic currents be like if there were A) no continent or sub-continent sized land mass over one pole? and/or B)  no permanent all-year-round polar ice caps.   Here, we have a circulation of both water and wind in one direction around Antarctica…but what if Antarctica wasn’t there?  If it was all water on that end of the world?  Would the circumpolar current of wind and water still exist?

Then there’s “If terraforming involved not only a means of wiping out the native species, but also rearranging land masses–via messing with tectonic plates–and then reseeding with Earth species when the dust had settled, how long before the biosphere recovered and was suitable for human life?”

And others.   Some are important to this story in its “story-present” and some are involved in the “story-past”.   All require thought and looking things up.   I like looking things up.  Sometimes when I’m looking up Thing A, there’s a reference to Thing B…and that looks like it might be useful so I wander over to find out about Thing B, but then…that connects to Thing C –> Thing D  and at D I find a whole bunch of branches to E, F, G, and H, each of which also connects to more than one thing, and then it’s after midnight again.

But now for a snippet.

Where:  Somewhere on Slotter Key

Preceding events:  Explosion in a secure IT/communications facility belonging to [redacted]   One fatality.


“Stupid woman,” the first man said. “Why didn’t she just inform her supervisor–she’d looked up the procedure in the manual.”

The second man sighed, fogging the faceplate of his protective gear. “Now we’ll have to do a new background check on her. Maybe she suspected something.”

“Or maybe she was just bored.”

They cleaned up the mess, and by the time they’d satisfied themselves the area was safe once more, Nils Rolander had arrived. By then, another of the boxes was blinking.

“What a shame about poor Merced,” he said. “I would never have suspected her of initiative.”


As always with snippets, this may or may not be in the final draft, and if it is it may or may not be anywhere near its current position (in terms of chapters.)  But it does give you a fairly good idea of what kind of person Nils Rolander is.


  • Comment by Marian — April 30, 2015 @ 5:08 pm


    I think you have been asking cutting-edge questions there – there is a thought now that the movement of tectonic plates was caused by a massive asteroid hit – so, terraforming au naturel? It happened so long ago they are probably now fighting over just how long the earth took to recover, there being so little evidence to go on 🙂

  • Comment by Nadine Barter Bowlus — April 30, 2015 @ 7:53 pm


    Thing A leads to Thing B leads to….. Used to happen to me all the time when I read the dictionary.
    Weren’t those Things in a Seuss book? 🙂

  • Comment by Christina — May 1, 2015 @ 3:21 am


    For your circumpolar currents: if you haven’t already, I would try searching for a past continental configuration on Earth with similarities to your planet, and then look for oceanic current models. Alternatively, future models for a collapsed Arctic icesheet might give you some results. I’m not quite sure what you’re looking for, but I found a few open-access palaeoceanography papers that looked like they might give you a starting point for further research:

    Two Miocene models (with figures):
    Butzin, Lohmann and Bickert (Paleoceanography, 15 Feb 2011) Miocene ocean circulation inferred from marine carbon cycle modeling combined with benthic isotope records (DOI: 10.1029/2009PA001901)
    Herold, Huber, Müller and Seton (Paleoceanography, 21 February 2012) Modeling the Miocene climatic optimum: Ocean circulation (DOI: 10.1029/2010PA002041)

    And one Permian model, where section 3.3 removes landmasses between 70 and 90 degrees:
    Winguth et al. (17 October 2002) Simulated warm polar currents during the middle Permian (DOI: 10.1029/2001PA000646)

    Hope these may be of use to you (and that the links stay in!).

  • Comment by elizabeth — May 1, 2015 @ 8:15 am


    Thanks–I’m visiting the links & bookmarking. Big help.

  • Comment by elizabeth — May 1, 2015 @ 8:24 am


    Marian: Yes, terraforming au naturel can occur, and given the recent evidence of lunar geology it’s clear that something smacked our planet hard enough to knock off a moon-sized chunk, but in the context of writing…so much more interesting if there’s an intention that maybe didn’t have quite the results intended instead of a cosmic accident. It leaves evidence that the characters involved can find and interpret, misinterpret, speculate about, and act the basis of their guesses. In the right contexts here (new volcanic islands, for instance) “life” returns fast enough that geologic time isn’t an issue, though human lifespan is. And if someone is helping it along–providing the right chemical environment and enough water…it creates all sorts of interesting questions whose answers are speculated on, but not yet answered definitively…the preferred habitat of the science fiction writer.

  • Comment by elizabeth — May 1, 2015 @ 8:26 am


    Thing A has always led to Thing B for me in dictionaries, encyclopedias, and libraries. And classrooms, where I had trouble learning that sudden intense curiosity about this particular bit of a topic being covered shallowly was not welcomed by most teachers.

  • Comment by Kip Colegrove — May 1, 2015 @ 5:13 pm


    If curiosity weren’t one of the core characteristics of the human species (along with playing with language) there would be little science (and less science fiction).

  • Comment by GinnyW — May 3, 2015 @ 8:11 pm


    I would think that the environment would “settle” pretty quickly from a geological upheaval. At least as long as the point was to get rid of most of the life forms, for the purpose of planting new ones. From the (very little) that I have picked up concerning catastrophic extinctions, the long term problem is re-establishing the balance(s) between life forms.

    I try not to think too hard about the realities of “terraforming” when it crops up in fiction. It seems to be a convenient term to explain humans in earth-like environments on other planets. But when I start to think it through, I find it astronomically improbable that the people who have made/are making such a mess of earth’s environment would be able to pull it off. I am glad that you are more successfully engaged in the process. They are certainly interesting and appropriate questions.

  • Comment by rkduk — May 6, 2015 @ 5:42 pm


    Since tectonic plates move due to human-scale-slow mantle circulation, it would require long-term adjustments to the energy (thermal, chemical, gravitational) gradients in the mantle to move plates in directions and/or rates that they weren’t already. It would be relatively easy to “mess up,” if the timing/magnitude/depth/lateral location/means of adjustment were just a tiny bit off. Lots of room for simple errors with unexpected consequences. Such as the instigators were in a hurry (100 years instead of 100,000) and tried to push things too fast … Lots of inertia would be involved, which can lead via human impatience to backlashes of all kinds.

  • Comment by rkduk — May 6, 2015 @ 5:55 pm


    Oh, yes … about that “sucking mudhole”. Someone recently called it “going down the rabbit-hole”. It’s irresistible to start and impossible to stop until the brain buffer completely backs up and overflows.

  • Comment by elizabeth — May 7, 2015 @ 12:21 am


    Yes–sucking mudhole or going down the rabbit hole–if you have that kind of mind, you’re going there. And even after the brain buffer overflows…as soon as there’s any space in it, either the same or another attraction will start the process again.

    It’s particularly active when faced with a chore you really don’t want to do (whether it’s professional or personal) and leads to an intense fascination (and trip down the rabbit hole) with things that would normally be considered terminally boring but can be classified as “necessary research”.

    Children with this type of mind learn early that “homework” or “term paper” can often get a parent off their back about periodic (if not regular) chores. Homework may be terminally boring, but it’s better than scrubbing the window and door frames…and sitting at a desk with schoolbooks, a dictionary, and some other reference books open, and the pencil or keyboard busy convinces the average parent that the kid is working hard. Which they are. At avoiding whatever chore the parent had in mind. (You don’t have to ask me how I know this. You can figure it out.)

    And the kid does learn useful stuff by plowing through an encyclopedia or several.

  • Comment by Gareth — May 7, 2015 @ 3:14 am


    Still applies when older – there’s a job you are putting off doing and you glance at something else which may need doing but leads to something else which leads… However a lot of those odd facts do come in handy later.

  • Comment by Daniel Glover — May 7, 2015 @ 1:30 pm


    Asimov’s robot series kept getting larger and larger (and larger) computers as he attempted to stay ahead on the modeling front.

    So you’ll need a pretty big computer to model the plate tectonics and all the sentient and non-sentient interactions.

    We haven’t done to well in the here and now to model financial models (just some food for thought).

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