First to Land on a Comet?

This week the European Space Agency (ESA) announced they will choose from among five sites on Comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko for the Rosetta spacecraft’s robot laboratory Philae to land, as reported here, here, and here. Crop_from_the_4_August_processed_image_of_comet_67P_Churyumov_Gerasimenko300px-Rosetta

Philae_over_a_comet_(crop)They claim this will be the first time a human-built spacecraft has landed on a comet.

I beg to differ.

I’m aware of an alternate universe very close to our own, a universe in which an actual manned—not robotic—landing has already occurred.

In 1897.

It’s all documented in my story, “The Cometeers,” a story to be launched tomorrow by Gypsy Shadow Publishing. Yes, that’s tomorrow. The 1st of September.TheCometeers72dpi

That means you don’t have to wait for the ESA to take their sweet time choosing a landing site and preparing to send down the Philae probe. They’re not even attempting their landing until mid-November. That’s not for two and a half whole months!

Who wants to wait that long? You can be witness to a manned landing on a comet as soon as tomorrow.

Also, in my story, the comet isn’t some benign rock way out there at some safe distance.  Not at all.  It’s huge, and it’s hurtling toward Earth.

A planet-buster.

Further, the heroes of “The Cometeers” don’t have fancy computers, or Ariane 5 rockets, or robots, let alone nuclear weapons. All they’ve got is gunpowder. And a big cannon. And their ingenuity.

And a few sticks of gum.

I’ve got nothing against the fine folks at the ESA. Really. The Rosetta mission is exciting, and it has the added benefit that it’s really taking place in our own universe.

Sometimes, though, alternate universes can be fun, too. Read “The Cometeers” and see if you agree. Jules Verne said, “Anything one man can imagine, other men can make real.” It looks like the ESA will soon make something real, something that first blasted like a cannon shot from the imagination of—

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Interview with a Cometeer

Today I’m interviewing the protagonist, Commander Hanno Knighthead, from my story, “The Cometeers,” scheduled for release by Gypsy Shadow Publishing in early September.

TheCometeers72dpiPoseidon’s Scribe: Greetings, Commander Knighthead, and welcome to our blog—er, newspaper. I’m Poseidon’s—I mean, I’m Steven Southard, the Editor in Chief.

Commander Knighthead: Thank you, Mr. Southard. I’m pleased to be here.

S.S.: Can you tell our readers about your upcoming mission?

CDR K.: Well, I think most people already know we’re travelling into outer space to blast Comet Göker with gunpowder to divert it away from the Earth.

S.S.: Can you remind our readers when the comet is due to collide with Earth, if not diverted in time?

CDR K.: Yes, on September 9th.

S.S.: Of this very year, 1897, is that correct?

CDR K.: Yes.

S.S.: Very interesting. Let’s get to some personal matters. How old are you and where did you grow up?

CDR K.: I’m 35 and I was born and raised at a farm near Emporia, Kansas. Born one year after Kansas became a state, in fact.

S.S.: But you didn’t stay to work the farm when you grew up?

CDR K.: No. After reading Moby-Dick, Two Years Before the Mast, and other such books, I felt the call of the sea. I received an appointment to the Naval Academy in Annapolis, and graduated from there in ’84.

S.S.: Pardon me for asking, but how did your parents pick your first name—Hanno? It’s most unusual. Is it a family name?

CDR K.: (laughs) No. My name is Hanover. Hanno is just a nickname.

S.S.: What was your most recent command in the Navy before being selected for the comet mission?

CDR K.: I was captain of the torpedo boat, USS Hopkins, home-ported in Newport, Rhode Island.

S.S.: Are you married, Commander?

CDR. K.: No.

S.S.: Come now. A good-looking man like you, in the prime of health, with a successful Navy career going? I’m sure there are scores of young ladies who—

CDR. K.: I preferred not to subject a wife to the difficulties of dealing with my life at sea.

S.S.: I understand, though our young, female readers will likely wish you’d make an exception.  How were you chosen for this mission?

CDR K.: That was the shocking part. I’m told President McKinley selected me personally.

S.S.: Really? Why? Did the President know you?

CDR K.: No. When I had the opportunity to meet with him in the White House, he told me he wanted someone able to lead a small group of men in a confined craft on a long mission. I’m honored he chose me.

S.S.: As you should be. I understand the rest of your crew for the comet mission was hand-picked as well.

CDR K.: Yes, hand-picked for their expertise in various disciplines needed on our mission—explosives, mechanics, orbital mathematics, comet geology, physics, and other specialties. They’re from the nine countries that contributed the most to finance the expedition.

S.S.: A multi-national crew, then. Do you foresee difficulties in communication?

CDR K.: Not in communication. They all speak English.

S.S.: Your answer suggests you see difficulties of another kind. Do you?

CDR K.: We’re sending twenty three projectiles into outer space, three of them manned. We’re trying to guide the ones filled with gunpowder so they hit a comet travelling very fast, and we’re trying to keep that comet from hitting the Earth. Of course, I see difficulties. I see nothing but difficulties.

S.S.: I meant, do you see problems with your crew, other than communication?

CDR K.: (hesitates before answering) I think it’s no secret that leading a crew of well-educated civilians experts presents different challenges that leading a crew of a few officers and dozens of enlisted men. Having said that, I look forward to the mission and have full confidence every crewman will do his job.

Steven Southard: I know you’re a busy man, so I’ll end here by wishing you and the rest of the Cometeers complete success. The rest of us are depending on you.

CDR Knighthead: Thank you. We won’t let you down.

As a reminder, my story, “The Cometeers,” will be launched in early September. I think you’ll find Commander Hanno Knighthead has, if anything, underestimated the challenges he’ll face on this mission. Challenges imposed on him by—

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The Story behind “The Cometeers”

As I mentioned in my News page, Gypsy Shadow Publishing has accepted my story, “The Cometeers” which will be published as part of the What Man Hath Wrought series. The intended launch date is in early September.

TheCometeers72dpiHere’s the marvelous cover, designed by Charlotte Holley.  Yes, that’s a planet-destroying comet headed right toward the Earth.  But if you look closer, you’ll see an silvery man-made projectile on an intercept course.  Just possibly, its occupants might save the entire world.

Inquiries have been streaming in from every corner of the planet (and from some of the comets), asking what this story is about. Far be it from me to deny my fans information about my latest tale.

Here’s the book blurb: A huge comet speeds toward a devastating collision with the Earth, but no one will launch space shuttles filled with nuclear weapons. It’s 1897. Instead they’ll fire projectiles from the Jules Verne cannon and try to deflect the comet with a gunpowder explosion. Commander Hanno Knighthead isn’t sure he can motivate his argumentative, multinational crew of geniuses to work together. It turns out one of them is a saboteur. Then things get worse. Only a truly extraordinary leader could get this group to cooperate, thwart the saboteur, and jury-rig a way to divert the comet. Lucky thing Hanno brought his chewing gum.

Armageddon-poster 1998If you recall the 1998 movie “Armageddon,” then you can think of my story as Steampunk Armageddon.

I don’t recall the exact inspiration for this story. As stated in this post, and this one, I use the “seed and twist” method of coming up with story ideas. In this case the seed is the standard save-Earth-from-destruction idea, and the twist is to set the action in Victorian times.

My problem became one of technology. They just didn’t have sufficient know-how in the Nineteenth Century to divert or destroy a comet. It’s an open question whether we really have the technology today.

640px-From_the_Earth_to_the_Moon_Jules_VerneTherefore, I assumed the world of Jules Verne’s novel From the Earth to the Moon.  In that world, men had already achieved space travel in 1867. With funds from many nations, the Baltimore Gun Club had built a 900 foot long cannon outside Tampa, Florida, and launched a projectile containing three men.

My story is set thirty years later and no one has used the cannon since, due to the enormous expense. With a giant comet on the way, however, something must be done, so every country contributes what it can.

You can’t simply launch projectiles full of gunpowder at the comet and expect to hit it. The target is too small, the distance too great, and the calculations too imprecise. You must send men up also, in separate projectiles, to travel with your gunpowder bombs to make the necessary course corrections along the way.

That plan should work.

Unless something goes wrong.

“The Cometeers” will launch in September. For further updates, keep visiting this blog and reading the posts by—

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Keep Up the Pacing

Today we’ll tread through the topic of pacing in fiction. If you’d like readers to maintain interest in your stories, you might want to step along with me.

PacingThe term ‘pacing’ refers to how fast the reader is reading, and the speed at which the story’s events take place. A good writer not only controls the pace of reading, but also varies that pace throughout the story. Fast-paced scenes are followed by slow-paced ones, and then another fast scene, etc. Jamming too many fast scenes together leaves a reader overwhelmed and lessens each scene’s impact. Slow scenes that are too long or not separated by a fast intermediate scene can bore the reader.

Even within a scene, some pacing should occur. There will be slightly fast moments in a slow scene and slightly slow moments in a fast one. Pacing relates to rhythm, and it’s important to keep varying it.

            Fast

Use a fast pace for action-packed portions of the story. Examples of emotions felt by characters in these scenes are anger, fear, energy, excitement, joy, and surprise.

Create a fast pace with short sentences and short paragraphs. Keep the writing plain, free of modifiers. Use brief and impactful verbs. There should be more dialogue, and it should be snappy. Some sentence fragments.

In other words, you’re maximizing the “white space.”

            Slow

A slower pace allows the reader to catch her breath and more fully absorb what happened in the faster scenes. A relaxed tempo serves to emphasize important points, let characters to refresh and recharge after action sequences, reveal character backgrounds and motivations, and permit characters to react and reflect on moments of high drama as well as to plan for future events.

The slow paced sequences allow better expression of these character emotions: anger, fear, astonishment, awe, and disbelief. Yes, anger and fear can belong in both the fast and slow parts.

To slow down the pace, stay with more narrative and less dialogue, make use of longer sentences, and embellish the prose with descriptions. Don’t overdo any of those, however; your aim is to keep the reader interested, not bore him.

Alternating

As mentioned, my advice is to alternate the fast and slow sections. Also alternate fast and slow paragraphs, and sentences within a paragraph. Such variation avoids monotony and keeps the reader intrigued enough to stay with your story.

This isn’t the only fine blog post about pacing. You can find others here, here, here, and here.  Thanks for striding along with—

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