Near Misses in Technology

For six years I’ve used this blog to aid beginning writers, but starting today I’ll occasionally take on other topics. Technology is fascinating to me, and today’s topic is those near misses in history when someone developed a technology before the world was ready.

What do I mean by ‘near misses?’ I’m talking about when an inventor came up with a new idea but it didn’t catch on, either because no one saw the possible applications or because there was no current need.

When you compare the date of the invention to the much later date when the idea finally took off, it’s intriguing to imagine how history might have been different, and how much further ahead we’d be today.

You’ll get a better idea of what I mean as we go through several examples.

Computers

The Antikythera Mechanism was likely the first computer, used for calculating the positions of celestial bodies. Invented in Greece in the 2nd Century BC, it contained over 30 intricate gears, and may have been a one-off. It is interesting to speculate how history might have been different if they’d envisioned other uses for this technology, such as mathematical calculations. Imagine Charles Babbage’s geared computer being invented two millennia earlier!

I was fascinated by the Antikythera Mechanism and the mystery surrounding its discovery in a shipwreck, so I wrote my story, “Wheels of Heaven,” with my version of those events.

Lasers

It’s puzzling to me that inventors came up with radios (1896) before lasers (1960). After all, radio involves invisible electromagnetic waves, but lasers are visible light. Sure, the mathematics behind lasers (stimulated emissions) wasn’t around until Einstein, but with people monkeying around with mirrors and prisms, it’s strange that no one happened upon the laser phenomenon ahead of its mathematical underpinning.

Charles Fabry and Alfred Perot came close in1899 when they developed their Fabry-Perot etalon, or interferometer. Again, imagine how history might have been different if lasers had appeared sixty years earlier, before radio.

My story “Within Victorian Mists” is a steampunk romance featuring the development of lasers and holograms in the 19th Century.

Manned Rocketry

The first manned rocket flight may have been that of German test pilot Lothar Sieber on March 1, 1945. It was unsuccessful and resulted in Sieber’s death. The first successful manned flight was that of Yuri Gagarin of the Soviet Union on April 12, 1961.

But did Sieber and Gagarin have a predecessor, beating them by three centuries?

There is an account of a manned rocked flight in 1633, the trip made successfully in Istanbul by Lagâri Hasan Çelebi. It’s fun to imagine if the sultan of that time had recognized the possibilities. My story “To Be First” is an alternate history tale showing where the Ottoman Empire might have gotten to by the year 1933 if they’d capitalized on Çelebi’s achievement.

Submarines

The earliest attempts at underwater travel come to us in legends and myths. Highly dubious accounts tell of Alexander the Great making a descent in a diving bell apparatus in 332 BC. There are vague references to the invention of a submarine in China around 200 BC. True submarine development really got its start in the 1500s, 1600s, and 1700s.

Still, think about how much more we’d know today about the oceans if the ancient accounts were true and people of the time had make the most of them. My story “Alexander’s Odyssey” is a re-telling of the Alexander the Great episode, and “The Sea-Wagon of Yantai” is my version of the ancient Chinese submarine.

Steam Engines

In 1712, Thomas Newcomen developed the first commercially successful steam engine. Later, James Watt and Richard Trevithick improved on Newcomen’s design.

However, these inventions were preceded by Hero (or Heron) of Alexandria in the 1st Century AD. He developed a small steam engine called an aeolipile, though he considered it an amusing toy.

What if Heron had visualized the practical possibilities of this engine? Since the steam engine ushered in the Industrial Revolution, could humanity have skipped ahead 1700 years technologically? My story, “The Wind-Sphere Ship,” imagines a practical use for Heron’s engine along with a reason it didn’t catch on.

Other Near Misses?

You get the idea. I am intrigued by the number of times inventors hit on an idea, but society failed to recognize it and take advantage of it, so it had to wait until much later. Are there other examples you can think of? Leave a comment for me. Your thoughts might well be featured in a post by—

Poseidon’s Scribe

My Books, Now Half Price

Yes, the rumors are true. This is Read an Ebook Week, and all of my books listed on Smashwords are half price!

Hard to believe, but it’s a fact. Read an Ebook Week runs from today until March 11. My entire series, called “What Man Hath Wrought,” might as well be called What Man Half Wrought” since the titles that were $3.99 are now $2.00 and the ones that were $2.99 are just $1.50.

You read that correctly. Get The Wind-Sphere Ship, Within Victorian Mists, A Steampunk Carol, and The Six Hundred Dollar Man for just $1.50 each.

 

 

 

 

Get Alexander’s Odyssey, Leonardo’s Lion, Against All Gods, A Tale More True, Rallying Cry/Last Vessel of Atlantis, To be First/Wheels of Heaven, The Cometeers, Time’s Deformèd Hand, Ripper’s Ring, and After the Martians for only $2.00 each.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Although the books are listed at full price at Smashwords, when you click on any of them, you’ll be urged to enter code RAE50 at checkout to get the half-price discount.

If I’ve totaled correctly, you can get the whole set, the entire series of 14 books (16 stories), for just $27. What a great way to sample the adventurous imagination of—

Poseidon’s Scribe

P&E Readers Poll Results

The folks at Critters.org have announced the final results of the Preditors & Editors Readers Poll for the most popular fiction of 2016.

My story, “After the Martianstied for third (with two other stories) out of thirty-nine entries in the Science Fiction short story category. That’s wonderful! The story earned a Top Ten Finisher emblem, and it ended up in the top eight percent of the entries.

Thanks to everyone who voted for my story.

The anthology In a Cat’s Eye (in which my story “The Cats of Nerio-3” appears) didn’t do as well, placing seventeenth out of sixty in the Anthology category. Still, that’s in the top third of many, many entries. Thanks also to those who cast a vote for that anthology.

You readers did me a great honor by voting. Now I need to get busy, working to ensure the best fiction of 2017 gets written by—

Poseidon’s Scribe

Last Chance, the Final Day to Vote

You meant to vote in the Preditors & Editors Readers Poll, you really did. But time slipped away and you kinda forgot.

Wait! It’s not too late! There is still time to vote, if you do it now. You can vote for my stories, or you can vote for those of another author. It doesn’t matter. Just vote!

Of course, I’d be grateful if you’d cast a vote for my story “After the Martians” in the Science Fiction Short Story category, and for the anthology In a Cat’s Eye, in the Anthology category. My story “The Cats of Nerio-3” appears in that delightful anthology.

According to the latest vote count, “After the Martians” is fifth out of thirty-seven, and In a Cat’s Eye is tied for  thirteenth out of sixty. Let’s vote them each up to number one!

Since you’re almost out of time, click on any of the links or pictures in this post and vote. If it seems confusing, see the more explanatory instructions here.

You can stop reading this post, because this is not the time for reading. This is the time to vote for—

Poseidon’s Scribe

It’s 2017; What’s Your Favorite Story from 2016?

<Clink!> ~kazoo blast~ Happy New Year! Yes, the ol’ Earth made it one more time around its elliptical orbit to a particular, and arbitrary, point. Let’s party!

I know a productive way you could begin 2017. You could click over to the Critters Writers Workshop site and vote in their annual Preditors & Editors Poll for your favorite books published during 2016.

The poll includes a variety of categories. Although it’s not a scientific poll, winning it gives the fortunate author some bragging rights, and even making it to the top ten is an honor.

You could (ahem) even vote for two of my stories. One of them, After the Martians,” is in the Science Fiction & Fantasy Short Story category. In the Anthologies category, the book In a Cat’s Eye contains my story “The Cats of Nerio-3.” The links in this paragraph and the book cover images open a new tab taking you straight to the correct poll category to vote.

To vote, click the button beside your favorite story’s (or anthology’s) title, then enter your name and e-mail address, then scroll to the bottom where you’ll see the image of a book’s cover (not mine). Type the author’s name of that book in the box to prove you’re not a spam robot. You’ll receive an e-mail to confirm your vote; just click the link in the e-mail and you’re done. Please vote before January 14, when they close the polling.

Recently, In a Cat’s Eye received a five-star review on Amazon by Katherine A. Lashley. She singled out “The Cats of Nerio-3” as one of her favorites in the book, saying it “does an amazing job in exploring the future of humans, artificial intelligence, and cats.” Thank you very much, Katherine!

If you haven’t read “After the Martians” or In a Cat’s Eye, you can still vote for them in the Preditors & Editors poll, but I also recommend reading them. Whether you vote for my stories or those written by others, I thank you for supporting authors. We value any scrap of appreciation thrown our way. Take it from—

                                                  Poseidon’s Scribe

My Story Inspires More Antikythera Mechanism Research

These scientists and anthropologists must have read my story. Is there any other explanation?

NAMA_Machine_d'Anticythère_1
Antikythera Mechanism (from Wikipedia)

ToBeFirstWheels3fLet’s review the timeline. My story “Wheels of Heaven” was published two years ago, in June 2014. “Wheels” tells the story of the Antikythera Mechanism, that ancient Greek geared machine found in the seabed wreck of a Roman ship. Then in September of that year scientists mounted a diving expedition to see if they could find more pieces of the device. I blogged about that expedition.

Although the expedition did not uncover any additional gears, there’s been a new development, reported last week here, here, and here. With Computational Tomography (CT) imaging and Polynomial Texture Mapping, or PTM, they’ve discovered the Antikythera machine came with written instructions, a guide to its operation, an owner’s manual etched on its surfaces.

The newly translated 3500 characters of text refer to parts of the mechanism that weren’t recovered, such as a display of spheres representing the Sun and known planets. The text suggests the device wasn’t an astronomical research tool, nor an astrological prediction tool. Rather it was a teaching aid, an astronomy textbook of sorts.

Well, that would have been useful to know when I was writing “Wheels of Heaven.” In my tale, the machine has no display spheres, and no engraved text to read. The character in my story, Drusus Praesentius Viator, is an astrologer, and does use the machine to make horoscopic predictions. I based my story on the best understanding of the Antikythera Mechanism at the time.

Ah, well, science marches on, I suppose. Science Fiction writers are used to new discoveries rendering their stories obsolete. That phenomenon doesn’t happen as often to writers of alternate history, but it’s not unknown.

Of course, “Wheels of Heaven” is not obsolete. Scientists don’t know for sure that the ancients didn’t use the machine for astrological predictions. It would be a simple matter for me to update my story to include the text and display spheres.

AntikytheraMechanismSchematic-Freeth12
Gear Arrangement in the Antikythera Mechanism (from Wikipedia)

Further, I’m not accusing scientists of deliberately trying to undermine my story. They may well be motivated to find the truth about this mysterious artifact. After all, no one credited the Ancient Greeks with having any understanding of gears before finding this machine containing at least thirty meshing gears. Not just simple gears, either, but some are complex epicyclic gears.

Still, I’d like to think some of the anthropologists might have read, and been inspired by, “Wheels of Heaven.” Could my story have sparked some of the research? Who knows?

Maybe you’re a scientist who’s curious about ancient technology. Or maybe you just enjoy reading good stories. Either way, perhaps you, too, could be inspired by reading the works of—

Poseidon’s Scribe

Making an Ottoman Spacecraft

Yes, the title of this post is correct, not a misprint. And, yes, I’m aware the Ottoman Empire did not build any spacecraft. At least, not in our timeline…

ToBeFirstWheels4I’ve been blogging about some 3D-printed models made by a close acquaintance that depict gadgets and vehicles from my stories. Today I’m featuring the Ottoman spacecraft from my tale “To Be First,” which is combined in one book with another of my stories, “Wheels of Heaven.”

IMG_0104The model she built is the way I imagined it while writing. I pictured a variant of the Apollo spacecraft, but with a Command Module shaped something like the dome of an Ottoman mosque.

For inspiration, she used this model, designed by Dan Marohl, who is known as sterling500. For mine, she deleted some harder-to-print details like retrorockets on the Service Module, and substituted the mosque-shaped Command Module, with a very impressive spire.

IMG_0105When painting the model, I added some writing on it. I would have loved to write “Ottoman Space Agency” in Ottoman Turkish, but I settled for what I could easily find—the motto of the Ottoman Empire, pronounced “Devlet-i Ebed-müddet” or, ironically, “The Eternal State.”

IMG_0107“To Be First” takes place in an alternate historical timeline where the legendary exploits of Lagâri Hasan Çelebi really happened. That is, a man actually took flight in a rocket-powered chair in the year 1633. (I found out about this legend watching an episode of the TV show Mythbusters.)

IMG_0109In the backstory of my tale, that event did not fade into obscurity, but rather prompted the rapid development of rocketry by the Ottomans. Three hundred years later, when my story takes place, the Empire is a vast—and advanced—superpower. It’s just 1933, and the two heroes of my story are on their way back from the first manned mission to the Moon.

IMG_0108Before re-entering Earth’s orbit, they encounter a weird ionic storm, which sends them to an alternate universe…ours. The story involves these two Ottoman lunanauts dealing with a comparatively backward Earth in the grip of a worldwide economic depression. On this Earth, the Ottoman Empire is gone and rocketry is in its infancy.

“To Be First” is really about the two rocket-men themselves, as Yazid learns from Kemal about the human yearning to explore.

I’m very pleased with the model, and would love to read what you think about it, when you leave a comment for—

Poseidon’s Scribe

Making Leonardo’s Lion

An artistic acquaintance of mine has been making 3D printed models of vehicles and gadgets from my stories. Today I’ll introduce another one she made, the mechanical clockwork lion from my book “Leonardo’s Lion.”LeonardosLion5

It’s a modification of the one available on Thingiverse here, designed by YahooJapan. She added a cutout section showing gears inside. I painted the model myself.Lion 1

According to some accounts, Leonardo da Vinci made a working, mechanical lion. It was toward the end of his life when he was living in France. Records aren’t clear, but the newly crowned King of France, Francois I, met Pope Leo X in Bologna on December 19, 1515. Either the lion was presented at that event, or was commissioned then and given to the king at a party two years later.

Lion 2The lion could walk, move its head from side to side, and open and shut its jaws. It then sat on its haunches; its chest cavity opened, and a bouquet of lilies fell out. The lion was the symbol of Pope Leo X and lilies symbolized France, so this mechanism represented the strong bond between the two.

Lion 3

 

 

 

 

 

In our modern world of automated gadgets, it’s difficult to imagine the effect such a lion would have at a party in the early 16th Century.

Lion 4I got to wondering what might have happened to that lion afterward. My story, “Leonardo’s Lion,” takes place some fifty years later. The lion stands forgotten in a storeroom, hidden among numerous other gifts presented to previous kings.

A ten-year-old boy named Chev comes upon the lion after escaping an orphanage. He’s able to get the automaton working, and is small enough to ride on its back. Inside the lion, he finds a message Leonardo had meant for King Francois I to discover, and a clue to a world-changing secret. Thus begins Chev’s ride on the lion’s back, through a country torn apart by warring religions.

In potential future improvements to this model, I’d love to have movable legs, a swaying head, and a seam for the chest cavity.

I welcome your thoughts about my model. Leave a comment on this post for—

Poseidon’s Scribe

Making the Queen of the Clouds

The advent of 3D printing has made it economical to design and make some of the gadgets, vehicles, and character figurines from readers’ favorite stories. I’ve been working with a 3D printing expert to make some objects from my own books.

WithinVictorianMists9Readers of this blog already know about the Ring of Gyges from my story “Ripper’s Ring,” and the Martian tripod fighting machine from “After the Martians.” Today, I’ll discuss the Queen of the Clouds airship from “Within Victorian Mists,” a model I first displayed publicly at BALTICON last week.

The model airship is the one available on Thingiverse.com here. It was designed by Arnold Patrick Martin, who goes by RealAbsurdity on Thingiverse.

I painted mine a cream color. I know the airship in the story is silver, but I wasn’t sure my silver paint would be light enough. I later realized I could have mixed silver with white to lighten the hue.

WVM3

“Within Victorian Mists” is steampunk, and airships are common in that genre, but the Queen of the Clouds is actually a small part of the story. WVM4The main gadget in the tale is the laser hologram invention of the male hero, Stanton Wardgrave, but that wouldn’t be much to look at. The airship makes an appearance near the end when the female lead, Josephine Boulton, is about to board it and leave Stanton forever.

WVM5The concept of clouds/steam/mists/vapor/etc. is a main metaphor and symbol in the story, so Queen of the Clouds is an apt airship name.

For this prototype, I selected a design available online. If I were a 3D Printing designer, there are a few things I’d change to make the model truer to the story, aside from the color discussed above. First, I’d make the whole hull slimmer. Second, the Queen is a steam-powered dirigible (I know, not practical, but it’s fiction) with smokestacks, so I’d add those. Third, I’d add more propellers, and each would have just two blades. Last, there should be three gondolas underneath, not just one.

Please let me know what you think of this model. Have any of my stories inspired you to make your own 3D printed objects? If so, send pictures of them to—

Poseidon’s Scribe

After the Martians – the Cast of Characters

Today I’ll introduce you to the four major characters in my new book, “After the Martians.” The alternate World War I of my story has brought them together in and near the Black Forest of Western Germany in 1917, some 16 years after the Martians’ failed attempt to conquer the Earth.

AftertheMartians72d

In order of their introduction in the story, let’s meet them.

  • Private Johnny Branch is seventeen, an American from Wyoming. The hero of my story, he’s enthusiastic about getting to fight in the war, and thrilled to be driving a Martian fighting machine, a tripod. He grew up listening to, and reading about, the Martian War. Like boys across the nation, he built rudimentary models of the fighting machines and waged little battles with toy tin soldiers, pretending to be Teddy Roosevelt in the Battle for Washington, D.C.
  • Second Lieutenant Henry Wagner is about twenty-three, and commands the fighting machine driven by Johnny. Their machine is part of Crazyhorse Troop, Tiger Squadron, Third Armored Cavalry Regiment. He’s from Norristown, Pennsylvania, near Philadelphia. He’s been in the war since the beginning and is now seasoned by battle, and quite skeptical about the war. He looks forward to the end of the war, when people can develop peaceful uses for Martian technology.
  • Frank Robertson is a photographer for “The American Magazine,” initially assigned to send back pictures to give the public a sense of the life of a doughboy. As the war has gone on and casualties have mounted, his editor tells him to snap some shots of American heroism and gallantry in battle, to keep up the patriotic spirit. However, it’s hard to get close to the action in a modern war, with Martian heat rays and poisonous black smoke.
  • Hilde Gottschall is an old German woman living in a wooden cabin on Feldberg Mountain. She lost her husband in the Martian War and her son in the Great War. After the death of her daughter-in-law, she lives alone with her infant grandson, Andreas Gottschall, whom she calls her Schätzchen (darling). She is cynical and angry about all wars.

In addition, there are a couple of minor characters with bit parts, but those four are the major ones. Each of the latter three influence Johnny in various ways as he matures toward full adulthood.

On a separate note, I’m hoping to speak on a panel or two at BALTICONBALTICON50_banner_1, the science fiction convention in Baltimore, next weekend. At a minimum, I’ll be signing my books on Saturday from 1:30 to 2:30, and I’ll be reading from one of my books on Sunday from 7:00 pm to 7:50.

I’ll post my complete schedule when it’s approved. If you’ll be in the area, you can meet, in person—

Poseidon’s Scribe