Category Archives: Steampunk

Dark, Gothic, and hurtling toward disaster

Steampunks  by Kyle Cassidy

Steampunks by Kyle Cassidy

Well…apparently my current scifi work-in-progress, a short story, is steampunk. Who knew? My good friend, author Lee French, figured it out yesterday at our regular Tuesday morning brainstorming session at Panera. After she pointed it out, I could see it clearly, despite my original thought that because I had set it on a mining-colony world, it was a scifi tale.

I was a little surprised I hadn’t seen it earlier, and once it was pointed out, I could see why I was struggling with the tale–I didn’t know what I was writing.

It began as an exercise in writing from the point of view of the flâneur–the man of leisure, the idler, the urban explorer, the connoisseur of the street. Click here for Scott Driscoll‘s great blogpost on the flâneur. In short, he tells us that: “With a flâneur narrating, you can remove the noticing consciousness from your point of view character to accomplish other purposes.”  

The flâneur  is frequently found in literature from the 19th century.  The story is filtered through his eyes and perceptions–it distances the reader from the immediacy of the scene, so be forewarned: genre-nazis and arm-chair editors who want the material delivered in 60 second sound-bytes of action won’t love it. Literary fantasy explores the meaning of life or looks at real issues, and I tend to write from that aspect. Often, the fantastic setting is just a means to posing a series of questions. Sometimes the quest the hero faces is in fact an allegory for something else. I read good literary fantasy–it tends to be written by men and women who can actually write. Not only are the words and sentences pregnant with meaning, but they are often beautifully constructed, and I learn the craft of writing from reading it.

The Rainy Day, Gustave Caillebotte

The Rainy Day, Gustave Caillebotte

My flâneur is Martin Daniels, a young, wealthy, retired crystallographer. He spends his time roaming his city’s streets and sitting in sidewalk cafés observing his fellow citizens, and making social and aesthetic observations. He regularly finds himself crossing paths with one man in particular, Jenner: a self-made man who came up through the mines.

Jenner is battering against the prevailing social barriers which stand in the way of his achieving a political office that he covets, using whatever means at his disposal. He is uncouth, a barely civilized rough-neck with a bad reputation, but something about him draws Martin’s attention, and so he finds himself both observing Jenner, and listening to the whispered gossip that surrounds the man.

One day, as Jenner is passing Martin’s table,  his hat blows off and Martin catches it, returning it to him. Jenner then introduces himself, and admits that he has been watching Martin for some time. He has a task for Martin, one that intrigues him enough to bring him out of retirement. Thus begins an odd relationship.

Thus my flâneur ceases to be merely an observer, and becomes my protagonist, yet he is reporting the events from the distance of his memory, so he is still the observer.

aesthetic definitionSo what is Steampunk?  Mike Perschon, in his dissertation, The Steampunk Aesthetic: Technofantasies in a Neo-Victorian Retrofuture, has described it as “…an aesthetic that mixes three features: technofantasy, neo-Victorianism, and Retrofuturism.” The key word here is aesthetic.

So how does that relate to my short story? When I looked at it with a critical eye, I realized it incorporates all three of those devices:

Technofantasy: Technology that lacks plausibility, or utilizes fantasy elements as the force or motive behind an action or process. No explanations will be given. The technology exists within the story, not the real world.

Neo-Victorianism: A setting that evokes the nineteenth century, whether it is set there or  not. In my tale, the use of the flâneur evokes a 19th century atmosphere, as do the other constraints I had inadvertently written into it.

Retrofuturism: How we think the past viewed the future. It is set in the distant future, but it is a future I think Victor Hugo would have recognized.

I have always perceived steampunk as cogs and diodes, dark atmosphere, rather Gothic, and with a plot that has the protagonists hurtling toward disaster. Now I know it is all that and more. They hurtle toward disaster, with a nineteenth century flair.

Thus my sci-fi flâneur is now the protagonist in a steampunk mystery. This short story, which had sort of stalled, is now back on track and fun to write. Through writing short stories we have the opportunity to write in different genres, and stretch our writing-wings.

I learn more about the craft of writing with each tale, and that fires me up, helping me see my longer works with fresh eyes.

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Filed under Adventure, Books, Fantasy, Humor, Literature, Publishing, Self Publishing, Steampunk, Uncategorized, writer, writing

Hunted Heart, by Alison Deluca

Most avid readers of the fantasy genre are fans of the old fairytales as told by the Brothers Grimm and I am no exception. In fact it was my love of fairytales that inspired me to write in the first place. I am always interested in reading other authors’ takes on these fairy tales. It is amazing how differently two authors will tell what began as the same story.

Today my good friend, Alison DeLuca, author of  the steampunk Crown Phoenix Series, has consented to answer a few questions for us, and allow me to share the wonderful cover of her new book, Hunted Heart. It is a standalone book, and is a true fairytale, the premise of which had really intrigued me.

CJJ: Alison, tell us a little of early life and how you began writing:

AD: I always loved reading. My early favorites were Alice in Wonderland, the Odyssey, Arabian Nights, and fairytales of all kinds.

CJJ: Tell us about your most recent book.

AD: Hunted Heart is an adult version of Snow White. Prince Kas is the one threatened by the wicked queen, and the huntress, Tali, is given the job of taking him to the forest to cut out his heart. They end up falling for each other, but not without a great deal of adventure along the way. Yes, there is a wicked queen and my version of a poisoned apple. And we mustn’t forget True Love’s Kiss…

CJJ: How did you come to write this novel?

AD: Someone I met online prompted me and begged me to write the story – she is the J.R. in my dedication. I loved her idea of making the hunter a strong female and ran with it.

CJJ: Do you have a specific ‘Creative Process’ that you follow, such as outlining or do you ‘wing it’?

AD: This book was an exercise in winging! The Snow White structure supported my story, and I was able to take off from there. Writing a fairytale redux is completely addictive – I might have to do a few others.

CJJ: How does your work differ from others of its genre?

AD: It is genderbent, and I’ve set the story in a mythical Norse country. I couldn’t resist including Freja, Iduna, and a few others from Norse tales. It’s also quite adult, with violence and some sexy scenes, and a charity project: Tali, my main character, suffers from some terrible abuse as a child, and so 100% of the royalties go to HelptheChildren.org.

CJJ: Why do you write what you do?

AD: Honestly, because I can’t help it. When I get an idea it needles me until I pin it down on paper. It’s like giving birth, to be honest.

CJJ: I so know that feeling! I know why I chose the indie route for my work, but I’m curious as to why you’ve chosen this path.

AD: I love the freedom indie publishing gives me. I’m able to write what I like and donate the proceedings when I do a charity project like this.

CJJ: What advice would you offer an author trying to decide whether to go indie or take the traditional path?

AD: Both have their merits and challenges. Being an indie does give you freedom but also relies on individual marketing. Traditional publishing gives more support but gives the author little choice on things like covers and presentation. Both are good in their way – each author must decide for herself how she would like to proceed!

 CJJ: Alison–I love the answers you gave my stock questions!  Thank you for giving me this opportunity to get the word out about your charity, HelptheChildren.org.

AD: Thank you so much for having me on your blog, Connie. This was a lot of fun!

And without further discussion, here is that amazing, most intriguing book cover:

HuntedHeart cover final

 

I confess I am blown away by this one, and I have become quite a fan of Alison’s graphic designer.

Alison DeLuca HeadshotAlison DeLuca is the author of several steampunk and urban fantasy books.  She was born in Arizona and has also lived in Pennsylvania, Illinois, Mexico, Ireland, and Spain.

Currently she wrestles words and laundry in New Jersey.

You can find Alison here:

Facebook – http://www.facebook.com/alison.deluca.author

OR http://on.fb.me/TNWEfb

Twitter – http://twitter.com/ – !/AlisonDeLuca

Google + http://bit.ly/ADGoogle

Author Central: http://amzn.to/ADeLucaAuthorCentral

Pinterest: http://pinterest.com/alisondeluca/

I have long been a fan of all of Alison’s work and have been fortunate enough to have some of my own work  included included along side of hers in a charitable anthology, Christmas O’Clock,  a book of wonderful short stories for children that is available in both paperback and for the kindle. (All proceeds for Christmas O’Clock go to Water Is Life to help children and families in an international effort.)

 

 

 

 

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Filed under Adventure, Battles, blogging, Books, charity, Fairies, Fantasy, Humor, mythology, Romance, Self Publishing, Steampunk, WordPress, writer, writing

Achieving a Balanced Narrative

395px-Ellimans-Universal-Embrocation-Slough-1897-AdI was involved (as a horrified bystander) in an online dispute over how much description is needed in today’s genre fiction.  I walked wide of that mess, as it was clear that one author with an online pseudonym was in assassin mode. The other, whose prose had been harshly critiqued, also using a pseudonym, had called in her flying monkeys, all of whom proceeded to tear the argumentative ‘troll’ to shreds.

Ugh.  What a waste of time for all of us, bystanders included. It should have been a civilized discussion about using adjectives and achieving balance when showing and not telling your story.

Sadly, in this case the troll was right, but his attitude was so arrogant, he negated the value of his opinion, with normally sane people reduced to begging him to just ‘shut it.’

The prose in question was far too florid for my taste, forcing the reader to watch every excruciating, drawn out second as the the main character slowly curved his lush, full lips into a sexy, white smile, his pink tongue just touching his full, trembling, lower lip.

Pardon me, I must go barf now.

I prefer to read work written with in a lean style, as too much showing gets in the way of the story. It becomes a matter of the author forcing his vision onto me, as the reader, and is just as unpleasant to read as a narrative that tells you how to feel.

This is my view on the subject of description in the narrative: when you write about a room, any room, you don’t describe the details of room. You tell the character’s story as he enters the room.

What does the character see? What does he or she do in response to those things? Do they use the old wall-mounted telephone? Do they open the drapes? Perhaps he picks up the newspaper, and continues into the kitchen. Each character is different, and will see and do different things, and through those actions your room will come into focus in the mind of the observer–the reader.

Describing emotions is done the same way as describing the setting. We have all been told over and over again that in narrative, the most intimate way to show a feeling is to show the state of the protagonist’s body.

But how do we do that?  Let’s take humiliation:

Her face turned bright red in embarrassment.  

This sentence is what we call telling–the author has baldly told you how the character feels and why. This separates the reader from the sense of being the character. While the character may feel that her face had flushed, it’s unlikely that she would know the exact shade of red she had turned. To make it from the protagonist’s point of view and keep it simple, just write what happened.

Her face burned and she turned away.

Here is my  thought on this subject: we don’t need to get crazy, and give the minute details of her burning flesh heating up until she could see her nose glowing like Rudolph on steroids…we just need simple descriptions that point the reader in the right direction. If our character is really humiliated you can add one more descriptor, but still keep it simple:

Her face burned, and nauseated, she turned away.  

This is as much humiliation as I would put a reader through in one sentence. Realistically, the protagonist would feel the burning of her face, and would feel the nausea. The reader will taste the nausea if you describe the sensations with too much detail so keep the details to the bare minimum.

With that said, it is crucial that you give SOME clues as to what the character is feeling, as the reader will be completely lost without some sort of visual cues.

640px-Bicycling-ca1887-bigwheelersTake a look at what the protagonist’s body might be doing. What did it feel like when you experienced the same emotion? What did your body do? What did you feel inside? Was there a heaviness in your chest? A lump in your throat? Did you feel light-headed or weak-kneed? Did your face burn? Close your eyes and think about how you experience an emotional moment and allow your senses to take over.

With that memory in your head, write it down.

Just remember that it is crucial that you don’t over do it. Just like riding a bicycle, you must have balance in your descriptions: there must be enough description to intrigue the reader, but not so much it overpowers the story.

 

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Cover Reveal: The South Sea Bubble, by Alison Deluca

Alison DeLuca TNWE myrddinAs I have mentioned before, I am in love with fabulous art, and I totally adore beautiful book covers.  I have been working on covers for my own books,and was thrilled to find some of the best art in the world in the public domain, free and with a creative commons license allowing it to be remixed and used in anyway.  While my books have always had great graphics, thanks to the awesome Ceri Clark, prior to Tales from the Dreamtime, the art I have found for her to work with  wasn’t what I really wanted, and I wasn’t sure how to achieve what I wanted to see on my book covers. Beginning this year ALL my books will have much more appropriate art, eye-candy (in my opinion.)

Selecting art to cover your book is apparently a common problem, as I have seen some fairly awful book covers sold under the auspices of major publishing houses, so I don’t feel too badly in regard to my own sad efforts.

Alison DeLuca HeadshotToday my dear friend and fellow co-founder of Myrddin Publishing Group, Alison Deluca is revealing the cover to her new book, The South Sea Bubble, the 4th and final installment in her wonderful steampunk series, The Crown Phoenix Series. The book is due to be released on November 5th, 2013.

Alison’s bio doesn’t do her any justice:

“Alison DeLuca is the author of several steampunk and urban fantasy books.  She was born in Arizona and has also lived in Pennsylvania, Illinois, Mexico, Ireland, and Spain.

Currently she wrestles words and laundry in New Jersey.”

This woman is so much more than those few words tell! She is a rock to those of us who rely on her wisdom and sharp humor to get us through the twists and turns of the publishing world.  Today, she has agreed to let me give you all a sneak peak at The South Sea Bubble and the beautifully conceived and put together cover cover!

But first–the Blurb:

An Edwardian hospital hides many secrets:

A mysterious patient lurks in the cellar…

A secret passage leads to danger…

Coded messages reveal new riddles..

Visions of danger haunt the people of Grimstead Manor…

Lizzie and Miriam find horror, adventure, and romance surrounding the strange vessel known as The South Sea Bubble.

“Compulsive reading!”

“Addictive steampunk.”

BUT  wait…. I’ve read the first three books in the series and I’m DYING to read this book.  Let’s have just a teensy look inside:

Oh, stop the dramatics,” Simon groaned. “What on earth are you talking about? Of course I’m not leaving until we sort all of this out and you tell me what – is – going – on!” His voice rose in volume on each successive word.

Miriam looked at him. Her eyes were dark and very direct. “No, Simon.” Her lower lip trembled, but she took a deep breath and seemed to recover. “I will not.”

“Oh, is that so?” His voice dripped with sarcasm. “And I suppose you think I’m just going to waltz off and forget all about you, Lampala, and last summer.” He raised one finger and stabbed the air in her direction. “I’m not going to, my girl, and don’t you forget it. I will not give up on you, although apparently you have given up on me.”

Okay. They’re grownups now…. having a bit of a tiff…. This book intrigues me already. I’m all about it!

I pressed Alison to talk to me about how she and her cover designer worked together to come up with the cover.

My cover artist throughout the Crown Phoenix series is Lisa Daly, my best friend from high school. We continued the theme of showcasing main characters on the front, although this one shows Simon, the first male cover.

Lisa and I chose the model because not only does he embody Simon’s physical characteristics (good looks, blond hair) but also his strong-willed, hot-tempered personality. No wonder Miriam found herself dreaming about him at night.

We got permission from Joachim Muller, a German photographer, to use his image of the lovely octopus in the lower left corner. Also, the bathysphere, which is the South Sea Bubble, frames Simon – a theme within the story.

Thank you so much for allowing me to showcase this on your blog, Connie!

***
And here, my friends, is the gorgeous cover, revealed at last:
The south sea bubble Alison Deluca
Due to be released November 5, 2013

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Filed under Battles, Books, Fantasy, Humor, Literature, Steampunk, writer, writing

Cover reveal,Tales from the Dreamtime

Tales from the Dreamstime jpg 2013Great covers sell books! I love great covers, but haven’t always been that good at creating them.

This is the cover of my soon-to-be-released book, Tales from the Dreamtime, a collection of two short stories and one novella.

The image is The Lily Fairy by Falero Luis Ricardo. The image itself is in the public domain, because the original author or artist passed away over 100 years ago. Thus, instead of crediting the artist with a © symbol, we use a different  method:

 

Luis Ricardo Falero Lily Fairy 1888.

{{PD-Art|PD-old-100}}

The credit line is extremely important, as you must always clearly represent on the copyright page of your book each person with an interest in the work.  You must have on file a license clearly granting you permission to use the image in way you intend to use it.

In the case of public domain artwork, a good source of free artwork with clearly written  creative-commons licenses is Wikimedia Commons.  There is a limited number of works that are suitable for my purposes, and some of the best ones have restrictions clearly stated on them. This picture, however, has the following provenance clearly stated on the bottom half of the page beneath the picture:

Author
[show]Luis Ricardo Falero (1851–1896) Link back to Creator infobox template wikidata:Q2744493
Description
Lily Fairy
Date 1888
Medium oil on canvas
Source/Photographer [1]
Permission
(Reusing this file)
Author died more than 70 years ago – public domain
This is a faithful photographic reproduction of an original two-dimensional work of art. The work of art itself is in the public domain for the following reason:
Public domain This work is in the public domain in the United States, and those countries with a copyright term of life of the author plus 100 years or less.
This file has been identified as being free of known restrictions under copyright law, including all related and neighboring rights.

The way you are to credit the artist is also clearly expressed in a link:

Courtesy credit lines[edit]

Public Domain media do not require credit line or any kind of attribution; however, reusers are encouraged to attribute author (if known) and inform users that the work was released into public domain. Below are suggested creditline formats for the reusers:

License Author Source Credit line
{{PD-self}}
{{PD-author}}
{{PD-heirs}}
John Doe Own work John Doe / Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain
{{PD-old}} John Doe publication / self-scanned John Doe / Public Domain
{{PD-self}} [[user:JohnDoe]] Own work user:JohnDoe / Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain
{{anonymous-EU}}
{{PD-anon-1923}}
{{anonymous work}}
anonymous publication Public Domain

582px-Il_Pordenone_001b_detail_sheet_music

I have found many old masters that I use on this blog on Wikimedia Commons.

“Public domain” means nobody claims any rights to the property, either because they gave them up or because time or some other factor ended copyright. Anyone can use it for any purpose. For instance, anyone can publish and sell a copy of “A Christmas Carol” because it is no longer copyright due to age.

“Royalty free” means “I own it, but I am allowing you to use it under specific conditions without paying me royalties for it” A Royalty free license does have qualifications. For instance it might allow you to use the work but not to sell copies. Many times you pay the artist a onetime fee and then you have the rights to use the work within the limits of your contract.

Bedermann dreamstime_14266940Affordable Royalty Free art can be found on Dreamstime.com, and the price ranges from $1.00 to $75.00. There are thousands of images on that website. iStock.com is another great royalty free website.  Their contracts are clear and printable and the credit lines are also clear. You always have a record of your purchases through them, on the website so your provenance is never in doubt.

Being an indie is a lot of work, and you really have to be your own art department. It is a lot of fun, I find. I have even tried making my own cover art, with mixed results, but I really learn a lot from these sorts of experiences.

Being an indie is a s much about the learning the ropes of the publishing business as it is anything else.  I have learned that just owning the rights to use the art is only the first step to a good cover. You must either be able to use Photoshop (mondo expensive) or Gimp (free), both of which are startlingly difficult to learn the ropes of.  Not only that, you must understand how a book cover is laid out. There are YouTube and Amazon walkthroughs, which is a free education but also which is complicated.

My advice? Hire a graphic designer with experience in designing book covers. It is well worth it. My own choice of artwork is dictated by my both my pocketbook and the image’s relevance to the story, but I find that good graphics can really make a great cover.

I have a graphic designer, Ceri Clark, who does the graphics on my book covers, because I don’t have the eye for them. My advice? Hire a graphic designer with experience in designing book covers. I know I already said that, but that is my advice, lol!

So here is the blurb for my new book, Tales from the Dreamtime

Three grownup Tales from the Dreamtime in one novella…

A conversation with Galahad
A prince on a quest and a goddess in mourning
A stolen kingdom and the Fractal Mirror 
Three tales of wonder and great deeds 
Three tales of heroes and villains 

Open the door and enter the Dreamtime, the world of fairytales, the flower of all that is delightful and mysterious, frightening and amazing.

It will be offered for sale as an ebook by Monday August 12,2013 if all goes as planned.It contains three tales:

TABLE    OF    CONTENTS

1     Galahad Hawke (a short story)

2    The Tale of Prince Darién (a short story)

3    Arrabelle and the Prince of Thieves (a novella)

Each tale is written with my own particular brand of let-the-chips-fall -where-they-may take on traditional fairytales.

I may yield to pressure and pick up the story at the end of  Galahad, turning him into a novel during NaNoWriMo this year–he is an Arthurian tale with a Steampunk twist. Nothing is certain yet!

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Filed under Adventure, Books, Dragons, Fairies, Fantasy, Literature, Steampunk, Uncategorized, writer, writing

What the Writer Reads

knights-round-table-2I love author blogs. I love the way authors who write novels think, and that is what I love about author-blogs. You get the raw mind in action when you read these works of art.  For example, today  before breakfast I read:

J.D.HUGHESA Few Thoughts About SnowIt’s an awesome post, and the way he describes the scenery and the thoughts that snow inspires in him is really beautiful.  Quote: “I live in a rural area and for the homeless here there are fewer places to escape nature than there are in the city. Every winter, with a regularity that suggests premeditation, an unfortunate is found frozen to death behind a stone wall, in a field or even a doorway and the death is recorded as misadventure. I doubt that person’s life was much of an adventure (I might be wrong), but to dismiss it with an innocuous word like ‘misadventure’ is an insult to the dead. Perhaps we should call it manslaughter or culpable homicide – in the Scottish legal sense  –  since we all partook in the death, by omission, or just by being too busy to notice someone slip from being a live human to being a dead misadventure.”

Then, oddly enough, I was inspired to read Carlie M.A. Cullen’s lovely flash-fiction post on Spring. Quote: “Birds warble as they flit from bough to bough; small creatures rustle the undergrowth, reminding me that soon their offspring will be born.” Such a lovely post today.

After that, Johanna Garth’s wonderful blog Losing Sanity made me laugh and think of how entertaining children are, and what a mystery their minds are. Quote from ‘Life Lessons From a Little Boy: “Mom, life is a lot like chess,” he told me as I stopped to photograph and tweet a picture of golden daffodils.

“How so?” I asked.

“You have to  have an open mind. Be ready for anything. If you just concentrate on one way of
winning you might not see all the other ways.” He was wearing his oversized blue  hoodie and ripped jeans. Suddenly I had a glimpse of him as an adult, possibly  wearing the exact same outfit.

I really identify with Johanna’s experience as a mother–the most entertaining, intelligent people I know are children. When I read her blog I get a bit of my own experience raising children back, and it makes me smile.

Alison DeLuca’s wonderful blog, Fresh Pot of Tea was on a subject near and dear to my heart–beauty and aging. Quote from her post, Lovely Age: “After watching Driving Miss Daisy on a date years ago, I turned to the fellow who had brought me to the movies.  “You know,” I said, “Jessica Tandy really is a stunning woman.”

“What?” He was horrified. “But – she’s old!”

Yeah, I broke up with him not long after that.”

Alison cracks me up, with her ability to tell the painful truth and make you laugh at yourself.

Then there are the helpful blogs, like Mary W. Walters’ blog The Militant Writer. This week’s post was particularly interesting to me as it is on marketing. Establish a S.M.A.R.T. book promotion goal is this weeks title. Quote: If “to sell books” is all I’m striving for, I’m never going to get anywhere. It’s like setting myself the goal “to lose weight” or “to read Tolstoy” or “to learn another language.” Those are ultimate goals, but they are not specific, measurable, attainable, relevant or time-sensitive goals, which is what SMART stands for (more on S.M.A.R.T. goals later).

I’ve learned a lot from following Mary’s blog since I began this journey.

These blogs are only a few of the ones I read this morning.

All in all, I spend the first one to two hours of the day reading blogs that show up in my email or blog-reader.  Some of the best writing on any given subject is out there in blog-form and it’s FREE!

Get out there and read, my friends.  And if you are an author, do me a favor, and BLOG!

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The Alternative Guide to Alternate Realities

The Infinity Bridge by Ross M KitsonToday we are going on a voyage, visiting three very different realities, or as I like to think of them, Blogs.  We are on a progressive blog tour, guided by the incredible Ross M. Kitson, author of the Steampunk fantasy, The Infinity Bridge.  Part I of this tour is today, here on Life in the Realm of Fantasy

Part II will be tomorrow Dec 13, 2012 at  www.alisondeluca.com – Alison Deluca’s wonderful blog.

Day III will be at Ross’s own blog http://rossmkitson.blogspot.co.uk

I encourage you to check out these blogs and follow this post through all the realities it travels through!

>>><<<

Alternative guide to Alternate Realities 1: Literature

By

Ross M. Kitson

One of the key aspects of my latest book, The Infinity Bridge, is the existence of parallel universes or alternate realities. As the book is written for the teen market upwards (MG/YA is the latest term, to avoid the patronising ‘kid’s book’ I suppose) I spent a good while musing about whether to include a meaty information dump in the next about the ideas of alternate reality. And here’s an odd thing- the more I thought about it, the more I realised that as an idea in fiction/TV/film it is so thoroughly established that I didn’t need to bother!

I think my first exposure to the idea of alternate reality came in the form of comics (which was pretty much my first form of literature anyhow). I’m going to ramble about those in a separate post—for this one I’m going to focus on alternate reality in books.

The idea that history may have taken a different course, and the ramifications of that, have been a popular theme for centuries. The first works about the topic popped up in Victorian literature (N Hawthorne’s short story ‘P Correspondence’ and C Holford’s ‘Aristopia’) but the real boom in the topic came in the pulp science fiction of the forties and fifties. During this time some awesome writers, including Heinlein, L Sprague De Camp, Poul Anderson, Andre Norton and Larry Niven turned their hand to the topic. In many of these works we have protagonist able to cross between the alternate realities, often armed with knowledge of their own historical variant, via portals or machines. In some tales they are ‘police’ figures (the best example of this being H Beam Piper’s Para-time books, which I read recently and absolutely loved) trying to address some renegade or some disruption, whereas in others the individuals are more passive in their roles, thrown into the new reality and learning of its variance as the reader dose.

The concept of parallel worlds and alternate history progressed from the pulp SF realm and into that of more popular and conventional literature. A recurrent favourite of the genre is the course of World War 2 being changed: Philip K Dick ‘The Man in the High Castle’ describes the Axis powers winning WW2 (and has a character in it who writes a book about the Allies winning!); Robert Harris ‘Fatherland’ is a similar very popular example. I’ve yet to read one where Adolf has a better moustache, however.

In MG-YA books the theme is quite a popular one too. I recently read Time Riders by Alex Scarrow in which three teens are recruited by a futuristic agency to help ‘mend time.’ The first novel explores the idea that time travellers go back in time and assist Hitler by stopping him attempting to invade Russia. The ramifications are that an alternate timeline is created, which alters the present in which the heroes occupy. My 10 year old son took the plot in his stride, and when we talked about it had no issues about the whole concept!

Purists of the SF genre would ponder whether works of alternate histories are fantasy or SF, namely is there any science behind it (I feel like Jennifer Aniston in a shampoo advert… ‘now here comes the science’).

Semantics would argue ‘alternate histories’ are not the same as ‘parallel universes.’ The idea is that parallel universes co-exist, namely they run along at the same time, whereas only one ‘alternate history’ can exist, i.e. the history has changed and continues along its new course. For me this is pretty pedantic, but since I grew up with the ideas in Star Trek, Dr Who and comics I’m hardly a hard-core sci-fi buff…

There is a school of thought in Quantum physics that gives a degree of theoretical credence to parallel worlds and alternate histories: the Many-Worlds Interpretation, or the ‘relative state formulation.’ It’s the sort of quantum theory advanced since the 1950s and sufficient to make you reach for a large spliff and say ‘Hey, man’ as someone in a brown corduroy jacket begins to explain it. Its basic tenet is familiar though- every event even at a quantum level, can go a number of ways. As a result there are a myriad set of possibilities that extend out from each other in a never ending tree. There was a famous thought experiment to do with a cat, a radioactive isotope and a vial of poison (Schrodinger’s Cat, not to be confused with Schroder’s piano in Charlie Brown). I’ve rambled enough now, so I’ll leave you to seek that one out yourself (or follow Douglas Adam’s Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency where the cat had got bored and simply wandered off).

To me the popularity of the alternate history is that it forces us into questioning our world, querying about how things came to be how they are, and extending that idea from simple practical aspects (what if we flew around in airships not planes) to greater moral and ethical considerations (what if the philosophy of the Nazis were part of our own daily belief structure; what if the Americans lost the War of Independence and remained a colony of Europe, how would it alter their perspective of the world and their Constitution-based beliefs?).

I think that the idea of alternate reality, alternate history and parallel worlds is so ingrained now in our literature that it hardly needs explanation and I think a massive part of that is the progression of the idea from 50s sci-fi into the popular realms of TV and Film.

And in my next post on the topic, I’ll explore that some more….

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Part II will be posted tomorrow Dec 13, 2012 at  www.alisondeluca.com – Alison Deluca’s wonderful blog. http://alisondeluca.blogspot.com/2012/12/the-inspiration-behind-adventures-of.html

Day III will be at Ross’s own blog http://rossmkitson.blogspot.co.uk and will run on December 14, 2012!

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Ross M. Kitson

Author Bio

Ross M Kitson is a published author in the fantasy genre, with an ongoing series (The Prism Series), a number of short stories on Quantum Muse web-zine and several stories in Steampunk and fantasy anthologies.

His debut series for Myrddin is due for release in October 2012, and is a sci-fi series set in modern day York. It is written for ages 12+, although its combination of killer androids, steam-powered airships, kick-ass heroines and action packed chases will appeal to all ages.

Ross works as a doctor in the UK specializing in critical care and anaesthesia. He is happily married with three awesome children, who nagged him incessantly to write something that they could read. His love of speculative fiction and comics began at a young age and shows no signs of fading.

You can Follow Ross on Twitter:   @rossmkitson

You can find him on Facebook  http://www.facebook.com/TheNuKnights http://www.facebook.com/ross.kitson.9

Ross M Kitson’s Books are available at Amazon.comUS and Amazon.comUK.

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