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From Outline to Skeleton to Scene

We tend to work from an outline when developing a Cladespace book. The outline tends to be fairly high level, generally describing an individual scene. We keep track of which characters are in the scene, the point of view for the scene, the setting, the objective and a short description.

For example, here are two scenes from the outline for Ceres Rising.

Scene 26. Jacob, awake:

  • Characters (POV): (Jacob)
  • Setting: Jacob’s apartment
  • Objective: Demonstrate that Jacob wants to change.
  • Description: Jacob’s sure the arrest really happened. He wants to get better. He wants to use the excuse of Lee’s arrest to stop ink. (He’ll have to, there’s nobody left to transmit the neural modification.) But he wants a firm foundation for reality so decides to ask somebody he knows will tell him the truth.

Scene 27. Visitor

  • Characters (POV): (Mhau), Jacob
  • Setting: Mhau’s apartment
  • Objective: Jacob learns what happened, mostly.
  • Description: Who does Jacob visit? Mhau! But Mhau doesn’t know everything about the arrest—she advises Jacob to seek out Grace.

From the outline, it’s time to develop the skeleton, which is like an abbreviated version of the draft itself. For the above two scenes, the skeleton looks like this:

Jacob’s head is pounding. He’s been Inked for seven hours. Maybe he’s just hungry.

But both hands are hurting too. His knuckles are abraded.

And his right foot feels like its bruised.

He remembers arguing. With whom?

He looks at his hands; was he arguing with the wall while he was Inked?

Inked. Inked. He was arguing with Lee.

Jacob starts to remember, but he’s still unsure.

He remembers the bribe and looks at his ptenda. Sure enough, there are two aborted connection attempts to transfer credits to his ptenda.

But where’s Lee? He remembers Lee being dragged away. He remembers Lee seemingly relieved to be dragged away. Jacob looks back at his hands; he understands why.

He remembers Grace Donner. Towering Grace Donner. Protector Grace Donner.

Some of his fury returns; that should have been his arrest.

He taps his sleep squeeze. He’s surprised when haptic feedback reports that he still has plenty of Ink.

Jacob’s still angry, but he must choose: drop back into Ink or find out what really happened.

He could find Grace Donner and get her version of reality. But he hardly knows her. She took his job. (She didn’t take it, you lost it, he tells himself.)

Mhau will know. She knows everything that goes on at Bode-6.

He’ll comm her. He looks at his ptenda. No. He needs to see her.

*** {POV break, switch to Mhau.}

Mhau hears her door ping. She opens it.

“You look horrible,” Mhau said to Jacob.

She notices his hands.

Maybe she should have visited him last night. But she figured he needed the rest, even if it was in Ink.

“Can you tell me what–”

“What happened yesterday?” she said.

He nods.

She tells him that Lee visited him to bribe him or, if he didn’t accept, to kill him.

Mhau confirms that he didn’t accept and that he actually attacked Lee.

She tells him that Grace showed up and took him into custody.

“How did she know?” Jacob said. “Wait, how’d you know about the bribe attempt. Did Lee confess?”

“He didn’t have to,” she said.

Mhau tells him about the blurp network.

She looks again at his hands.

“You should have Kyran look at them,” she said.

Now that Lee’s locked up, Mhau thinks about Jacob going without Ink.

“You should have Kyran look at you,” she added.

Okay, with the skeleton in place, it’s time to write the scenes!

Jacob woke violently. His right leg twitched and he heard the deep, resonate thud as it vibrated against the crate.

The amount of Ink he’d streamed the night before undoubtedly caused the tremors. But Ink allowed him to forget the now, forget the why. He longed to be anywhere or any when. But he didn’t want to be here or now.

Jacob rubbed his eyes and looked at his ptenda. Inked for seven hours. His head pounded. Oof–maybe I’m just hungry.

Thinking of food was a mistake. He felt a wave of nausea and tried to master it.

Bad enough to sleep here in G36. Throwing up would make it truly, horribly worse.

He steadied himself against the crate and focused on the strong horizontal lines of the other crates in the storage room. His stomach started to calm down.

As consciousness returned, he abruptly realized it was more than hunger. Both hands were hurting, too. The knuckles on his right hand had a dull, throbbing ache while the side of his left hand felt like it had been clamped in a vise. He used the crate to prop himself up, wincing as his right ankle complained, too.

Did I fall?

No, that made no sense. There wasn’t anything high enough in this storage locker.

Was I flailing in my sleep–beating myself against the walls?

Jacob looked again at his hands. They hadn’t looked this bad since he’d gotten in that fight back home with–

Fighting. I was fighting with somebody. In Ink?

Jacob tried to remember. It made his head hurt worse. He knew it had something to do with Ink, or someone to–

Wait. Lee?

He tried to focus on Lee but was only getting snippets, some of which he thought might be Ink and others that teased as reality. More distinct than his memories, however, were his emotions. He was angry, angry about something he couldn’t quite recall, something that made him–

Lee tried to bribe me.

Wanting confirmation, Jacob tapped his ptenda. He focused on two aborted connection attempts, both trying to deliver credits to his ptenda.

“Lee!” he shouted, viscerally scanning the storage locker, yet knowing Lee wasn’t there.

Don’t scream. Headache, right?

He saw Lee forcibly dragged away. Indeed, he seemed to remember that Lee seemed relieved to being pulled out of the storage room. Jacob looked back at his hands, turning them over and seeing the bruises.

Grace Donner took Lee away. Towering Grace Donner. Protector Grace Donner.

Jacob seethed at the vision of the protector pulling Lee away. He had taken Lee down and it should have been he that arrested the roider. Not some offworlder, not some tourist. His anger made him shake, unnerving him with its bright fiery spark. He needed to find some level of calm or his cranium would split.

Ink.

Jacob reached around and tapped his sleep squeeze. After seven hours of Ink, he knew his timeshare would have expired. He jumped when its haptic feedback indicated he still had plenty of timeshare. All he’d have to do is tap it and all the messiness would vanish.

He glanced at the door.

Or I could march out and really find out what happened.

Jacob knew that Grace Donner was staying at Kyran’s. He could go there, and the protector would clearly tell him what had transpired.

But she took my job. He shook his head, knowing that she didn’t take it, he’d lost it.

He knew a gentler path to the truth. Mhau. She knows everything that goes on at Bode-6.

Jacob reached his ptenda, intending to comm Mhau but stopping as he saw his hand shake.

I really need to see her.

***

Mhau Tapang sat at her workbench staring at the impact cannon. She had never approved of this particular tool. She’d balked when Jacob purchased it cheaply for her a year ago. Back when neither had much money. Now that she had a decent cash flow, she didn’t understand why she should be wasting her time repairing this particular piece of junk.

She knew why, of course. It was because Jacob had given it to her.

She unbolted the access plate and exposed the massive solenoid. She sighed her frustration and glanced at the winding. There were her sixteen previous repairs of the superconducting wire staring back at her. Now she just needed to find where to make repair seventeen. This was precisely why she hated this cannon. The manufacturer had used an incorrectly doped wire and it was prone to thermal breakdown after negligible use.

“I hate you,” she said to the cannon.

She grabbed the magnification goggles and strapped it over her eyes. Flipping on the switch, she started a detailed examination of the winding. If this repair were like the last several, she foresaw several hours of tedious, boring work.

The goggles beeped as the display brought potential malfunctions into focus. But as she checked, each one turned out to be a false positive.

Ping!

That was odd. A particularly loud alert. Mhau frowned as she considered whether the goggles were perhaps now malfunctioning. She didn’t know enough about the optical circuitry to repair the goggles and new ones would cost the equivalent of about ten impact cannons.

Ping!

This sound was not a good sign. The goggles weren’t even highlighting an area on the display or–

Ping!

Mhau realized the alert wasn’t from the goggles. Someone was asking to be let in. She glanced at her ptenda and was surprised to see who it was. She bounced down the hallway to the entrance and opened the door.

“Gak!” Jacob was momentarily startled as her goggled face came into view.

Mhau removed the goggles with one hand and reached out to Jacob with the other.

“Come in. I wondered if you’d be stopping by.”

He stepped tentatively inside and took the nearest seat. It was a small bench that she kept near the door.

“C’mon. You can do better than that.” She guided him deeper into the room and pulled out two chairs. Jacob was wan and shaky.

“You look horrible,” she said. “Oh! Your hands–” She frowned. “Do they hurt? Do you want me to–”

He shook his head.

“I knew I should have visited you last night,” she said. “But I figured you’d need the rest, even if it was in Ink.”

Jacob stared at her. “Can you tell me what–”

“Happened to you last night?” she said.

He nodded. “Please. It’s all weird, I’m not sure what’s real, what’s Ink–I thought maybe you could help me.”

Of course I can help you.

“Lee decided to bribe you–and if he couldn’t bribe you, he was going to kill you.” She reached out and stroked his knee. “But honey, you stood up to him. You didn’t accept!”

Though he looked pitiful, she was proud of him.

“In fact, you attacked Lee. Grace intervened and arrested him.”

“How did she know?” Jacob asked. “Hold on. How’d you even know about the bribe attempt? Did Lee confess?”

“He didn’t have to,” she beamed. “Grace used the blurp network to monitor Lee. She heard everything!”

Jacob’s hands were trembling. “You should have Kyran look at them.”

She wasn’t certain if the trembling was due to his ordeal with Lee or with Ink. With Lee locked up, is Jacob going into Ink withdrawal?

“I’ll go, too. We should have Kyran look at you.”

Rude wake-up call on Ceres

I’ve been woken by my phone in the wee hours with Nagios telling me that a server has gone down. For Mhau Tapang, the systems engineer at Bode-6 on Ceres, it’s no different. And if that wasn’t bad enough, she has a message waiting from her boss, the aposti stationed on Mars.

Zweeeep! Zweeeep! Zweeeep!

Mhau cringed, squinting open one eye and then the other. The piercing crit fail alarm jolted her out of bed. She fumbled for a moment, wrestling on her jumpsuit, then bounced over to her workstation. The artificial gecko, Boot, clung to a wall and swiveled its head toward her as she sat down. Ignoring the robot, she tapped the display and as the schematic for Bode-6 comm systems blinked into view, she saw that the interbode messaging circuit was down.

Damn. Not another.

She silenced the audible alarm, then dug deeper into the offending system, scrolling backwards in time over the past half hour. Increased latency was the first symptom, followed by seemingly missing data, followed by complete protocol breakdown.

But this is a redundant circuit!

She opened a second probe screen next to the first and stared in utter disbelief. Both redundant circuits were showing exactly the same errors at exactly the same times. Mhau knew this should be impossible. The backup circuit used the old-time surface fibre run, laid down a century ago. The primary circuit was a modern above-ground laser repeater.

If nothing else, they should have differing error times.

She swiped at the primary circuit, bringing up the remote console. Although the comm circuit showed DOWN, telemetry to the next node upstream was still sporadic. Maybe she could initiate a reboot that would propagate down the entire length of the circuit.

Mhau pressed the reboot badge. Even if it did work, she knew gratification wouldn’t be instantaneous. She watched as a cluster of nodes went OFFLINE. The node out by Digby chasm went yellow for a moment, then green. Two adjacent nodes, each separated by five kilometers also came back online shortly after the Digby.

Keep going.

As more circuits winked green, she felt confidence return. Mhau pinged the backup circuit and sent a remote reboot command racing down toward the nearest node. The primary circuit was nearly all green now, and she smiled as a pair of nodes returned on the backup circuit.

C’mon. Just a little more.

She glanced at the alarm queue. Three nastygrams had cleared themselves, though the parent alerts remained open. Mhau reached out and touched Boot on its head. The robot flicked its metarm tongue and scampered further up the wall. It was teasing her, wanting to play, not understanding she needed to concentrate on connecting Bode-6 back to the world.

“Critical alarm rescinded. Situation normal,” the bode’s artificial female voice said over the system comm. Mhau nodded, but didn’t smile. This was the third spurious failure in as many days and none of them made any sense. A week ago, she had begun to relax after Grace had arrested Lee Larchmont. But bliss hadn’t lasted long once she’d begun wrangling unruly circuits. Redundant unruly circuits, she corrected herself.

Boot’s whirring caught her attention as it moved down the wall and onto her workstation. It approached her left hand tentatively, then climbed aboard her forearm. She decided she liked it parking there, though it make her use of the workstation awkward at best.

As she closed the comm system display, she noticed a belt network message had arrived while she slept. Mhau sat up straight as she recognized the sender ID: 0x02 0x2e 0x07 0x01 0x08 0x02 0x08 0x01 0x08 0x02 0x08.

What does he want?

On Being Tim Trouncer

Tim Trouncer’s consciousness can be much larger than a human. When his PodPooch chassis is connected to external sensor data, he can roam far and wide. I had fun writing this little snippet, a scene from Ceres Rising.

Tim stretched his mind and visualized the sensor data encompassing Bode-6. To the east was a mote of silver, and though visually distant it bristled with telemetry. It was the belt cruiser Marmutt and it was on final approach to the colony.

“The Marmutt will be here shortly, Grace,” he said.

Tim saw vectors race from the ship, bending above Bode-6 and spiralling down toward it.

“Approach Control has cleared it for Chamber Three,” he added.

He heard shuffling at his side, though he maintained his focus outside the colony.

“Another round of extortion try this. This time, I’ll be there,” Grace said.

Tim looked away from the vectors and back to the Marmutt itself. The ship was bigger now, though much of its geometry remained hidden behind tags of additional information. Tim pawed the tags and as he scratched the surface he saw data well up from deep beneath the Marmutt.

Three heartbeats? He sauntered closer, certain he was only seeing the crew on the bridge. Yes, there were three souls on the bridge, that wasn’t the problem. Where were the passengers? He dug deeper, and as layer upon layer of data flashed before him, he saw only cargo.

“Grace, there aren’t any passengers aboard,” he said.

He heard more shuffling, then a familiar pressure against his mimic coat.

“What do you mean no passengers?” Grace asked.

Mars Descent is here!

Grace Donner never thought she would go to Mars: she was raised in Cloister 11, a low-technology paradise walled off from the world outside. Now she has landed on a frontier world, an alien world—a world whose survival is threatened by loss of the very technology Grace disdains.

Traveling the scarcely-terraformed dunes of Mars and its settled canyons and domes, Grace and her companions desperately search for a way to end the crisis. And in the midst of political ferment, luddite warfare, and technological disaster, Grace will face her own frontier: What is human? What is machine?

After much writing, editing and proofreading, the 2nd book in our series, Mars Descent, is now on sale at Amazon!

Read Chapter One, here.

Raspberry Pi NAS

Fair warning: this is not a HOWTO. I’m going to throw around terms like NAS, Samba, cron, UUID and rsync without explaining them. It’s my hope that somebody interested in replicating this will go out and figure out how to do it on their own. Learning how to use your Raspberry Pi is part of the fun!

There’s much to love about network-attached storage (NAS). What I don’t like is the lack of redundancy. True, if you have major bucks you can get a very nice QNAP system, but I wanted something simpler and cheaper—you know, something like a big terabyte drive with a twin for a backup because hard drives do crash. Oh, and I’m not trying to solve the issue of disaster recovery. It’s true: if a meteor hits the house, both hard drives will be destroyed.

So how about this? Two USB 3TB drives and a Raspberry Pi? The Raspberry Pi exports one of the drives via Samba so that Macs and Windows boxen are happy. Late at night, the Pi’s cron does an rsync from one drive to its backup.

The two drives are formatted as ext3. I’ve seen some folks talk about using NTFS, but I just can’t bring myself to do it on a Linux system. After creating the filesystems, I ran blkid to get the UUIDs necessary for /etc/fstab—otherwise how would one know which drive is which?

I’m currently in testing mode, but it works pretty darn well. For example, copying a 20GB tarfile (several years of .jpg pictures) from my MacBook Pro over Wi-Fi to the NAS took 118 minutes (2.8MB/s). The speed is not too dissimilar from using cloud storage.

I have sshd running on the Pi, so I don’t need a keyboard connected nor an HDMI monitor. Both drives have their own power supplies, so the two (underpowered) USB ports on the Pi are acceptable. After an hour or so of inactivity, the drives spin down and it’s just the little Pi using power at that point.

I’d also recommend assigning a static IP address to the Pi to make it easier to connect to. Raspian is the operating system of choice for this venture. You’ll only need to install the samba, samba-common-bin and rsync packages.

My First Program

first_computer_program

Nerds start somewhere. For me, it was Period 6, sitting in Room 201 at Alexander Fleming Jr. High. The year was 1979, the masterful teacher was Timothy Desmond and the language was FORTRAN.

Our first programming assignment was to print our name. We wrote out the program on a gridded sheet of paper, then carefully bubbled in punch cards. Our little stack of punch cards would be sent downtown to a mainframe and we’d get back the printout.

The crinkled edge makes it a bit hard to read, but the date of compilation was September 17, 1979.

Over three decades later, I can ssh into a Linux server in the cloud, use apt-get to install FORTRAN, enter the program using vi and then:

corey@hindmost:~/fortran$ cat first.f
C     CMT NAMELIST 1A
      CHARACTER N*20
      N='COREY OSTMAN'
      PRINT *,N
      STOP
      END
corey@hindmost:~/fortran$ gfortran first.f -o first
corey@hindmost:~/fortran$ ./first
COREY OSTMAN

For me, it didn’t stop with FORTRAN. I went onto learn BASIC, 6502 assembly language, Pascal, C, Perl, C++ and PHP. But it all started with printing my name.

Four-Day Planet Audiobook

It’s hot this 4th of July, and it reminded me of a planet that rotates slowly on its axis, yet orbits close to its star. The intro to the short story reads:

Fenris isn’t a hell planet, but it’s nobody’s bargain. With 2,000-hour days and an 8,000-hour year, it alternates blazing heat with killing cold. A planet like that tends to breed a special kind of person: tough enough to stay alive and smart enough to make the best of it. When that kind of person discovers he’s being cheated of wealth he’s risked his life for, that kind of planet is ripe for revolution.

Read by Mark Nelson, who’s doing a fantastic job bringing golden age sci-fi back to life.

This public domain Librivox recording is from December 17, 2010.

You can download a zip file of MP3s here. For further options, visit the Internet Archive or Librivox.

The ebook version is available via Project Gutenberg here.