Star System, Galaxy, and Universe are not Interchangeable Terms

THIS IS AN OPEN LETTER TO SCIENCE FICTION WRITERS, PARTICULARLY SPACE OPERA WRITERS, AND ALSO PARTICULARLY TO NEW WRITERS

You really need to get this hierarchy straight:

For the most part, planets revolve around a sun. This is called a Star System.

Stars (with their collective planets) are generally found in big collections called a Galaxy.

Galaxies all exist in a Universe.

YOU REALLY NEED TO KEEP THESE TERMS STRAIGHT.

To simplify it, think of it this way: If a planet was a house, then the Star System is a street of houses, and a Galaxy is a very large city. A Universe is the entire continent.

Also, a note about distances:

Planets inside a Star System can be very far away from each other, but they’re still within the gravity well of a star.

Stars are usually very, very far away from each other, so far away that it takes their light years — sometimes hundreds or thousands of years — to reach each other. That’s why we use the term lightyears as a unit of measure.

A lightyear is 5,878,499,801,210 miles.

Carl Sagan

That is also why we generally use the science fiction term “hyperspace” to cheat and jump from one star system to another, and to bypass the reality of a thing called “time dilation” which would make plotting any kind of fictional story a real challenge.

GALAXIES ARE VERY VERY VERY VERY VERY VERY VERY FAR AWAY FROM EACH OTHER. It takes light hundreds-of-thousands, or millions, or even billions of years to reach each other. Even using “hyperspace” you need to stress how in the heck you can go that far, even if it’s a simple statement that the technology pokes a hole in space to enable instant travel across ANY DISTANCE. If you establish that up front, you might get away with it, but … and this is a big point:

You must respect the vast distances between all these celestial objects, and have a grip on what they all are. Bonus points if you have a good knowledge of what a black hole is, and a quasar, and other exotic and strange things such as a neutron star.

You will never be able to look up into the sky and see something happening at that very moment to a star. If a sun is destroyed by a “Star Killer,” you won’t see it happen from a neighboring star system for years.

Major goof made in a recent Star Wars movie

You should also know that there are many different types of stars, ranging from giants to dwarfs, and various colors, and each color means something — and is an indicator of how much heat and radiation that they spew forth.

But above all, do not get star systems and galaxies confused.

If you do, your readers will laugh at you.

Following Your Passions to Success

When I was a kid, I wanted to be a scientist. Still to this day I am still passionately interested in science. What stopped me from becoming a scientist, though, is I have a mental block when it comes to higher forms of math.

In modern speak: I can’t math. But in reality I can, I just was too ADD (literally, thought I wasn’t diagnosed with Attention Deficit Disorder until I was in late my 40’s). I was too distracted to push my way thought the math and learn it.

So I drifted into the next logical path, and decided I wanted to be a science fiction writer. And I became one (albeit with very limited success). But then I learned during this journey that the publishing industry is rife with the same petty squabbles, bullying, and rivalry as High School (which I hated) and so I took the Groucho Marx route: I don’t want to belong to a club that would have me in it.

I also used to make Super 8 films with my teenage friends, but I never considered going into film making as a profession. Odd, because that is now a large part of my profession — and one I really enjoy. I daresay I enjoy it much more than writing fiction, though I think that is mainly due to it being an instant gratification endeavor. Much like photography, which is also a large part of my day-to-day profession.

Speaking of photography, I just won another first place in a world-wide (though niche) photo contest.

I’m a winner! And this is an escalator. Exciting, I know.

Another thing I used to do as a young teen, and never seemed to realize I could have done it as a profession, was make silly recording. Well, now there’s podcasting, which I’ve been doing for years, and I’ve even done it professionally.

What actually kept me employed for a large part of my life was computer industry work, and that’s because I have some sort of odd supernatural affinity for it … and it for me. I once wrote a short story about a “voodoo computer healer” and — even though I have never levitated anything (like the character in the story does) — I can in many cases hold on to a laptop or touch a cable and heal the technology. Scoff at me if you will, but at one job they used to have me come sit in the finance offices while they ran payroll because they were convinced the check printers would not break down if I was there. Even now my girlfriend, who is an IT master, has me come over to work on the stuff that stumps her, and 7 out of 10 times all I have to do is touch it and it starts working again.

I kid you not — and no, I can’t explain it.

To sum up: If I had concentrated on any of these interests, and specialized in it, I could have made a career out of it. It’s just pure luck that all these interests which I followed eventually congealed into one career that has helped me succeed. You couldn’t have predicted it, because my profession didn’t exist 20 years ago.

So my friends, you can take it from me: follow your passions, and do not give up. They will lead you to success, though it may not be the success you were expecting.

The Secret Novel

I am writing a secret novel. I can’t talk about it. Or at least, I can’t reveal what it’s about.

I will reveal why it’s secret: because if I tell people about it, I’ll lose interest in finishing it. This has been my problem all my life.

I get a novel idea (I get them all the time, I can’t help it – I seem to have a brain that is wired for stories). I start writing it. I get excited, I tell people about it, I tell them about the characters.

And then I start losing interest, because … now I’ve already told the story. So it gets put away for a while until something sparks an interest in it again, and then the cycle repeats itself.

Then, on my last book, Forever And For Always, the premise and the details are so bizarre that I was embarrassed to tell people about it, so I kept my mouth shut. I would occasionally tell friends that I’m writing “a book about people having to fix physics, because someone broke it,” or “I’m writing a sequel to the last three books in the series.”

End result: I finished it in record time.

So then I started a new one, but I told most of my friends and family what it was about, and guess what? I lost interest. The book sits about 1/3 finished, gathering dust.

So now I have this fun idea for a new novel, and I’ve started writing it, and … I’m going to keep it a secret.

Let’s see if I can finish it before the end of the year.

Donnie Darko: Holden Caulfield as Ressurrecte​d by Philip K. Dick

Ten years ago today, I wrote the following in this very blog:

I knew there was a reason I really liked the enigmatic film “Donnie Darko.”  It turns out writer/director Richard Kelly is a fellow Philip K. Dick fan.  I stumbled across this today in a serendipitous moment whilst searching for something completely unrelated:

First-time writer/director Richard Kelly purposefully wanted “Donnie Darko” to be a genre-busting tale that would mean vastly different things to different people. Kelly offers this explanation of the film, “Maybe it’s the story of Holden Caulfield, resurrected in 1988 by the spirit of Philip K. Dick, who was always spinning yarns about schizophrenia and drug abuse breaking the barriers of space and time. Or it’s a black comedy foreshadowing the impact of the 1988 Presidential election, which is really the best way to explain it. But first and foremost, I wanted the film to be a piece of social satire that needs to be experienced and digested several times.”

Richard Kelly

Present day update:

This is still one of my favorite movies because I so admire the way it was written and put together. Also, here’s some sage writing advice from a more recent 2017 interview with Richard Kelly:

“My movies will take place either on the eve of an election, or in the aftermath of an election.” This device effectively timestamps the narrative in a unique place and time. It’s hard not to make a wormhole of our own between the time depicted in the movie and the current American climate following the 2016 U.S. presidential election.

Film Daily Medium.com article, Why ‘Donnie Darko’ is just as relevant today as ever

My takeaway is to back up something I’ve already taken to heart. If you place your story in a specific time and place, it can never be outdated. It exists in history.

Cry Me A River, Please?

You Are Here … Or Not

Just like light is both a wave and a particle, and Schrodinger’s Cat is both alive and dead, we both exist, and don’t exist.

We are made of atoms, right? But atoms are made of smaller things, and those are made of even smaller things. In between all of these tiny things are enormous spaces — so much so that we are actually made up of mostly empty space — but even stranger, when you get down to the very smallest components that make up existence … there’s nothing there. It’s just a field of probability. It’s a soup of random, roiling strangeness.

At its very basic level, reality is about as tangible as a thought. And it’s all connected, it’s all one thing. It’s all a vast web of patterns of force.

That’s it. That’s all that’s there.

Nothing at this level separates us from anything else. We, and the rest of the Universe, are all one large pattern. If reality is like an ocean, we are waves on the surface.

Next time you’re angry at someone for cutting you off in traffic, remember, you and your car, and that other guy and his car, are all one thing.

You’re mad at yourself.

So calm down. Relax. Not only are we all in this together, but we are also everything that exists.

To Be A Bird

Oh, to be a bird! A flick of the feathers, a pump of the wings, and the Earth drops away. To surf the currents of air, to dive and swoop and soar! To land on food and carry it off into the sky, and not have to leave a tip. To take a vacation down south every winter without having to worry about time off requests. A tree is your bed, and the great wide open is your home.

Oh, to be a bird.

 

I wrote this in my journal on this day twelve years ago. I don’t remember writing it, and I don’t remember why I wrote it.

Best Theme for WordPress

I have two favorite themes for WordPress.

Out of the hundreds of thousands of available themes spread out across the entire Internet, the two I like best are actually default WordPress themes: “Twenty Seventeen” and “Twenty Sixteen.”

They’re full-featured, customizable, uncomplicated, free, and supported by WordPress.

I just spent three hours searching through thousands of free and paid themes, tried out nearly 30 of them, and found the complication and frustration level of the majority of them just didn’t make it worth the bother. I fell back to the good old minimalist Twenty Sixteen for this one (and I’ve been using Twenty Seventeen for my main website since … well, 2017.)

Images, or lack thereof, are what make a website. If I want something extremely customized I build it by hand.