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“I saw the angel in the marble, and carved until I set it free.”

what he was aiming for

The Vision. What he was aiming for…

Michelangelo believed that he could see his subject in the material that he’d use to sculpt. Taking his philosophy as creative people we might envision our art through the medium we work with. With regards to writing – and to some extent, the world building of many disciplines – the story might be contained in its themes, characters and ideas, but deeper still, in the very words we use to “sculpt” them. The selection of these would dictate what we can create with them.

When one begins to write, the creator must have that same vision that Michelangelo had for his statues – to see the story beyond the words they are about to use. The writer takes their themes, characters, action – their ideas – and begins to sculpt. But inevitably there is a time when the material, whether it be word or stone, leads to something that the writer/sculptor didn’t see. A fracture hidden deep in the marble, a character suddenly confronting a decision that needed to be made though wouldn’t make sense. The work ends up in a form the creator didn’t intend to shape.

What then? What does the creator do when their creation starts walking away from their vision of it?

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Turns out this is a bad week for SF fans. I owe a lot of my current fascination with space opera to Iain (M) Banks, and so the news of his condition was like a knife twisting in my gut. I’m glad he still has things to look forward to with his marriage and honeymoon, but he deserves much better.

At the time I had started reading Consider Phlebas, his first Culture novel, I hadn’t read SF for about six years, and actually reading very little. I was also separated from my wife at that time and generally in a demented mental state. Tough times. I took a chance on Consider Phlebas after seeing it many times at Bakka Books, seduced by its cover and the staff’s recommendations. The opening quotes and the first three pages hooked me as few novels do, and the rest of its pages jacked open my skull and dominated my brain for years to come.  The man is a living mountain of SFA few years later, I realized that he was the forefront of “the New Space Opera” and I feel he still is.

He is a blessing to science fiction, tearing down what was once a dismissed artform and reinvigorating it to such a degree that its audience has grown widespread and most importantly, the genre respected again.  Iain brought us hard science, compelling ideas, stunning creativity and scoops of the irreverence and thought provoking themes that make his work so damn likable and hard to put aside.

I tip my hat to his creative soul and wish him all the best in the face of this disturbing news.

Deepest regards,

–Ken

 

To Iain,

Thanks for creating something that turned my life around, and gave me something precious: a new horizon to explore.

— Ken

the-next-big-thing1Thanks to the kindly C.B. McCullough (still not sure if a distant relation!) Pan Spectrum Analyzer has been nominated for a blog-hop: The Next Big Thing.  I’m a bit too humble for my own good, so writing something like this feels rather weird to me, but here we go.

What is the title of your book?

And we’re off to the hard questions already.  It actually doesn’t have a name yet, so I’ve been forced to resort to “Pan Spectrum Analyzer” or just PSA to tag it.  Its not even really finished, but it is kinda. I have no idea what it might finally be called.

What is the genre of your book?

Considering the specification of what science fiction is, I’ll have to say Sci-Fi, as the novel itself isn’t based on a scientific notion. It is slathered with science-fiction tropes though, with nods of space opera through and through.

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Upper deck detail of the Latent Pulse, showing crew related features.

Upper deck detail of the Latent Pulse, showing crew related features.

I find that designing deck plans for imaginary spaceships to be a meditation into pseudo-engineering. At its most basic level, it draws us further into the imaginary world of our creations, encouraging us to think about aspects of it we wouldn’t do otherwise. As a writer and game designer, I’m able to visualize the action of my stories, or the progress of a player, or the inhabitants of this imaginary environment. At the other end of the spectrum, it is an exercise of applying all kinds of reasoning to its imaginary function, strengthening a concept and bringing change to it to make it feel more… real, though it is unlikely any of these exercises will be made into real things.

There is no real methodology for the process of creating one – our approaches will be entirely different based on our purpose for hashing the design out from thin air. It may be about visualizing the environment, so one can describe a single room; it may be the act of arranging obstacles or furnishings to provoke game play strategies, it may be to stage an action sequence in a novel, or an encounter in a tabletop RPG.

Copyright Ken McCulloch 2012

Latent Pulse development Concept sketch

What is going to be put forward here is a collection of points for the Starship designer to consider while planning their decks, in the hopes of drawing about a deeper sense of accomplishment and rationality within the design. Regardless of the actual result of the process – whether a “realistic” design is achieved or not, since how can we prove it one way or another – the most rewarding aspect of it is the thoughts that arise from it. Just as in meditation.

These thoughts are what came to me as I designed the Latent Pulse, a medium sized FTL freight/trading vessel from my WIP novel, Pan Spectrum Analyzer. Each one forced me to move elements about, rethinking their placement, use and relevance both to the design and to the narrative of the novel.

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There’s an interesting aspect to the thing referred to by fans as “Canon” with regards to the individual creations. Its forms a life raft, if you will, of information, upon which the imaginations of both the creator and fan (viewer, reader, player, etc) stays afloat. Without the idea of “canon” material, a creation cannot have its own fundamental identity.

Wikipedia defines the term “canon” as:

In fiction, canon is the conceptual material accepted as “official” in a fictional universe’s fan base.

By default, this is the set of information defined by the author(s), creators and other people working creatively on a specific. When writer Jimmy Joe describes his character smoking Indonesian Kretek cigarettes, that’s canon. When fanfic author Jammy Johns suggests he smokes Camels, its not.

Canon is what keeps the wolves and bears at bay. But it can also be a hazy, vague and infuriating thing to define properly and protect. Yet it is also the first thing to lay by the wayside when popularity hits and more and more people want to share in it.

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