Wednesday, October 27, 2010

A Move in Progress

Due to the recent news that I would be allowed to finish my degree at a University, I have decided to take up the offer. This requires moving the family closer to the campus, so we are in the process of packing everything up in boxes to go on the road.

Moving is such an expensive endeavor, and I would not normally make such a decision; however, several factors have been involved in going through with this:

  1. the University is paying for my tuition to attend there (doesn't include books, but it's still fantastic)
  2. the company I work for is willing to transfer me (and is looking forward to having me there)
  3. the housing arrangements have been taken care of quickly and worry free
  4. and our landlord at our current residence is waiving the lease for remainder of time here (a wonderful gentleman, we are going to miss him).

What does this mean for my book and my research? Merely a change in environment. I am currently halfway through the first short story that will give a background to the complete novel. I am taking a page from the Orson Scott Card "school of writing" and will have chapter headings that parallel the context of the chapters themselves with flashbacks and "little-did-they-knows." I will post when I send it off to a sf mag to review for publication, and if it is accepted, I will reveal which magazine it is appearing in.

Meanwhile, I am a fan of the Food Network Challenge and just saw a really cool episode last night called "Flying Sugar." The competition was to create confectionery "flying machines," and there were some great steampunk-themed designs. Watch the Food Network to see it on October 30th.

Friday, October 22, 2010

Steampunk Past Almost a Reality

As a way of explanation as to why I have embarked on this route to imagine a history rewritten, I submit to you a key element to which the steampunk past made possible could have hinged.

A steam-powered device used for computation was imagined in 1837 by the amazing Charles Babbage, who called the contraption an "analytical engine". It remains one of the greatest inventions that ever was conceived but never came to fruition, due to a variety of reasons, including Babbage being turned down for governmental funding that would have made his dream a reality.

Babbage died before he could see out the construction of the analytical engine himself, with only partial pieces finished (on display in the London Science Museum), and a demonstration version of what he termed a "mill" completed by his son Henry P. Babbage. The "mill" was essentially a CPU, an arithmetical unit able to perform all four arithmetic operations, plus comparisons and square roots. If built, the analytical engine would have been about the size of a small steam locomotive, and capable of holding approximately 20.7 kilobytes of memory, with 1.7 kilobytes of expandable memory.

Before frowning at the juxtaposition of the massive size of the entire device to the seemingly small size of the memory capacity, keep in mind that it would have been in many ways more advanced than some of the first computers that emerged a century later in the 1940s, as it would have been digital, programmable, and a "universal Turing machine" long before Alan Turing introduced his own concept in 1936.

All of this begs the question of how much of a setback this put the advance of technology, and if even greater advances and scientific breakthroughs could have been possible by now. And, if so, would the results be beneficial or detrimental to our society as a whole?

Interestingly enough, science blogger John Graham-Cumming has started a campaign to finally build the marvelous device while using Babbage's original blueprints stored at the Science Museum in London. If built, it would the first complete working model of the machine. It would also be a humanitarian endeavor, as Mr. Graham-Cumming has stated his intent to donate the completed machine to either London's Science Museum or the National Museum of Computing. His website is asking 50,000 people to pledge money towards building the machine. So far, 3,448 have already pledged their support; however, 46,552 will be needed by the deadline on January 31, 2011 to make an important piece of potential steampunk history a present-day reality.

Monday, October 18, 2010

What A Novel Idea

Well, I have been working on my piece of science fiction for some time, and am beginning to lay some groundwork to start on the first part of the novel. I am thinking of writing a few short stories to provide a glimpse of the world in which the novel takes place to introduce the characters and milieu. This will give me a chance to publish them as a test bed for gauging the success of the novel as a whole.

All in all, the hardest part of the process is trying to find the time to do it in. I am a promotional and marketing director as well as a core artist of a fine art gallery. Between that and the actual breadwinner job I have (art isn't doing so well in this economy), I have had little time for my writing until recently.

The book itself is a retro-futuristic novel that explores what could have happened if the steam-powered analytical engine was built with computer technology based on steam power developing from there. Think of the advances in quantum science that we would have had by now if that were possible. For my story, society will have had to come to terms with some grievous errors made in the name of science, leading it to eschew the push for advanced technology (say goodbye to the electrical grid).

Instead, the society in my novel will take a not-so-graceful step back to the drawing board, so to speak, building scientific understand from the ground up based on new principles that are in harmony with environmental needs.

If only it were that simple! There will always be the individuals that do not want to go along with the status quo and for reasons either noble or otherwise, they will work against the societal standards. The conflicts should be interesting.

Part of my writing process is to sketch and paint the world in which the story takes place as a means to express and develop the backdrop. So, I will post my pieces here to help convey what I envision that world to be. Stay tuned...