Paginations

Great article on what really happens when flushed out at airlock. Good scifi research here…

As a scifi writer, I love the idea of throwing the bad guy out of an airlock. It’s like the ultimate in poetic justice. Better than taking a lame blaster to the heart, or being eaten by a space slug, or falling into a star. But what really happens to the human body when suddenly exposed to total vacuum? How do I describe it to the reader?

I ran across a great article on Gizmodo last week that sums it up quite nicely. Keep the science tight and accurate, and you can still have a really entertaining death scene. Here’s the article:

http://gizmodo.com/5924522/what-really-happens-when-you-get-sucked-out-of-an-airlock

Love the closing paragraph:

So, while the end of your life in space may not be nearly as dramatic as Hollywood would have you believe, exposure to its vacuous expanse is still going to suck. And, more than likely, you’re going to die. Sorry. Just remember to breathe out first. 

And here’s a great GIF of a classic vacuum-exposure scene. Any other movies come to mind for you?

 

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Naming characters: The Upside of Creativity, and a Trap

A writer-centric post today on one of the most enjoyable parts of being a writer – the creativity it allows me. Specifically, in making up names. I’ve talked before about naming settings (cities, planets) and items (vehicles, weapons, ships), but this post is strictly about naming characters…and a trap one can fall into.

A few months back, I did a beta read for a friend, and one of my critiques was alliterative names. It was a fantasy novella, out of my usual comfort zone of reading, so I didn’t know if that was a theme or style fantasy used. However, after the fourth character was introduced whose name started with a V, I was completely lost. I felt it made it difficult for the reader to follow, especially when a story has several characters that impact the overall story arc using that letter.

Let’s do a little quiz. Here is a photo still from one of my all-time favorite movies (and guilty shoot-em-up pleasures), Aliens. It’s a picture of two of the most visible and popular characters (not to mention two that survived quite long, so they had plenty of screen time). It’s Hicks and Hudson; everyone knows those names. What’s the quiz? BEFORE you scroll down to the answer, answer this – which one is Hicks, and which one is Hudson?

Answer: It’s Hudson on the left, Hicks on the right. Even I to this day sometimes mix them up thinking back to the movie, as they are in so many scenes together, they are integral to the plot arc, and their names start with the same letter.

Maybe you got it correct, maybe not, but the point I’m illustrating is that characters need distinct names from each other, and ones that aren’t overly clichéd (and by clichéd, I mean Cliff Stone for the tough guy, Melvin Poindexter for the nerd, Vlad Bloodworth for a vampire, and so on – they can take away from the story).

I fell into this trap with my first novel, Gabriel’s Redemption, and it wasn’t until the second story in the trilogy was released that someone called me on it. I never caught it. And it was pretty bad, I must say. Two very different characters, one the ultimate bad guy in the book, and one a heroic captain. One was MacFarland, one McTiernan. Holy crap, what a boo-boo.

The reason? I’ve used random name generators online for many character names, and I just keep hitting Refresh until one catches my eye. One that sounds right for the character and is easy to say (a popular character named Varsonofy Panteleimonovich Krestovozdvizhensky is going to stop the reader in his or her tracks). I had MacFarland from a previous idea and put it into the story, but when I got to needing a name for a ship captain later on, I resorted to the random name generator, and it looked good. Never made the connection.

So…did you get Hicks and Hudson correct? Any name issues you’ve run across in books, or traps you’ve fallen into?

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Why an iPad Mini would shake up more than just the tablet world. Look out e-readers…

It almost seems like a foregone conclusion. According to most reports, Apple is gearing up to launch a smaller form factor iPad in the fall, likely October, and likely at the same time they announce the iPhone 5.* And while Steve Jobs adamantly decried the smaller size, because of what’s occurred over the past year-plus in the e-reader and tablet market, Apple is doing the right thing.

* As a techie geek and Apple fan at heart, that keynote will be a must-watch-blogcast for me…seriously, these two products? Drool…

Google just announced what looks to be the 7″ tablet to beat, the Nexus 7, with Android ICS, strong processor, and perhaps most importantly, a Kindle Fire-like price point. So now, the same $199 can buy a full-fledged tablet that can easily have the Kindle app loaded for the full Kindle reading experience, plus a Nook app, a Kobo app, and so on. And while Google usually puts out the Nexus hardware as almost a test bed for manufacturers to see/copy, this one might stick.

So along comes Apple, the heavyweight in the room. No one has come close to matching the iPad success. Yes, some hardware compares well, and you can go on and on about mini USB ports, SD card slots, “open systems”, and all that, but it doesn’t change the fact that the iPad combined with iOS just works. And it sells. Even at a higher price point. An iPad Mini, and I’m going to guess it hits at $299 (because (a) Apple doesn’t want to play in the bargain bin pricing neighborhood, and (b) they know they can get it), would shake up the tablet world once again. But I believe it will do more than that, and that this is the first shot across the bow to Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and even Kobo (who is becoming more aggressive ,and I feel is a very viable 4th distributor).

An iPad Mini will be a very comparable, and better alternative to the Kindle Fire and Nook Tablet (again, like an Android tablet, the various e-reader apps can be loaded), and I think Apple is gearing up to throw some weight, effort, and money behind improving the iBookstore experience. By having their own 7″ (looks like 7.85″, but let’s not quibble…) form factor tablet, with the absurdly easy to use and reliable iOS, they have the perfect platform to distribute ebooks. And I have a feeling that will be part of the keynote in the fall. The iBookstore lags behind the Kindle store (and even behind the Nook store, which is saying something) in terms of ease of search, marketing, exposure, and the like. It’s just not easy to use, which goes against everything Steve Jobs, et al., pushed for.

With the technology, marketing savvy, and maybe most importantly over 100 million existing iTunes customers with credit cards on file, I feel Apple, if they wanted to, could come in and change the ebook game. And this might be the time. And I for one am looking forward to Apple getting off their butts and making iBooks more successful.

Questions: would you buy an iPad Mini? If you have an iPad, would this be a second purchase for the household?

P.S. Apple haters, you’ll never convince me…

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My podcast interview with fellow author Robert Swartwood. It’s cool, I promise.

A few days ago I had the pleasure of being ‘interviewed’ by Robert Swartwood, author of several novels, including The Calling, The Serial Killer’s Wife, Man of Wax, and No Shelter (one of my favorite reads of 2011, with a funny story behind the pseudonym – one which you’ll only know if you listen.) We chat about:

  • How he and I first met (nothing of a romantic nature, I assure you)
  • My thoughts on Smashwords (why I use them as little as possible, and why you won’t see me send SW book links)
  • Our discussion on ebook pricing, the $.99/$2.99 price points, the value of higher pricing, and Amazon as the big bad guy in the room
  • The crap and/or offensive material being published, and what a potential barrier to entry might do to clean it up
  • A little about my Gabriel series, along with a brief sneak preview of my current (non-Gabriel) work in progress
  • And finally, a chance to win my complete trilogy, Gabriel’s Journey, by leaving a comment on Robert’s blog by midnight Monday the 2nd

It’s around 40 minutes long, so if you’ve always wanted to hear my voice (for whatever strange, potentially creepy reason) hit the Play button and continue writing. Here’s the link to Robert’s site:

http://www.robertswartwood.com/insights/in-which-steve-umstead-and-i-talk-about-important-things/

Leave a comment on Robert’s blog, I know he’d love to hear from you guys.

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