Space Opera With a Twist

Month: April 2016

Electronic Death

The other night, I was listening to some old tunes on my cell phone while reading and I was getting some weird sound glitches in pretty much every album I played.  It quickly dawned on me that the microSD card on which I’d loaded the music was dying a rapid death.  No biggie.  This wouldn’t be the first one to go and it had given me decently long service.  The next day, I purchased a new card, four times the capacity of the old one, and tried to download the data from the old card to the server so I could recover some of it.  My computer valiantly tried to fix the little thing, but in the end, the card died before I could extract what it carried.

Fine.  I had all of my albums digitized on the server.  It wouldn’t take long to fill up the new microSD card and enjoy.  Nope.  Try as I might, at least one of the albums I was listening to when I realized the card was dying – Jethro Tull’s The Broadsword and the Beast (yes, big Jethro Tull fan here!) – didn’t exist, be it on the server or in my CD collection.  The more I thought about it, the more I realized that several albums that were on the old card didn’t seem to come from a CD rip, nor did I have MP3 versions on the server, including more Jethro Tull and at least one Pink Floyd.  Oops.  I had no idea where they came from.  My memory vaguely recalls having purchased said music in the late 70s and early 80s on vinyl and cassette, but the cassettes are long gone though I repurchased a lot of my favourites as CDs.  Not in this case.

It’s somewhat disturbing that I can’t track down those particular albums.  They had to have been transferred onto my old microSD card from somewhere, and the only logical somewhere is the server.  All I can figure is that somehow they vanished during the backup and recovery process a few years ago when I had to rebuild the server after one of the hard drives began to die and the other  had reached the ripe old age of 5 years, which is pretty much your average HDD lifespan.

With everything now stored electronically – pictures, books, music, movies, etc – the possibility of irretrievably losing something here and there, without actually noticing until it’s much too late, becomes a very real issue.  Sure, it beats having a wall of CDs and DVDs, and a bookcase full of print pictures, but a hard drive failure won’t make any of them vanish.  This little contretemps was a timely reminder that electronic death can creep up on you, notwithstanding regular external backup procedures and that safeguarding something irreplaceable does need a bit more care.  Fortunately, I was able to order CDs of the vanished albums, so other than forking over some dollars, there was no lasting harm done.

I’m past the half-way mark on the first draft of Like Stars in Heaven and while daily productivity is unspectacular, it is steady and will allow me to keep the July publication date.  As for Fatal Blade, I’m impatiently waiting for my editor’s comments, due within the next week.

Imagination is Hard

You’d think someone who spent the better part of his adult life in uniform, full and part-time, would be able to invent futuristic military organizations, nomenclature and stuff from scratch at a moment’s notice.  Not really.  For Like Stars in Heaven I’ve had to create a human military organization for a society that – not to reveal any spoilers – hasn’t had a normal past.  The story needs it to be just off-kilter enough so that the reader feels there’s a substantive difference between Dunmoore’s Navy and that organization, which meant coming up with, among others, if not an entirely new rank structure, then new rank names which would have been derived from said society’s own history.

It took me a few days.  I scanned the plethora of fictional rank names filling the internet, historical names from classical antiquity, medieval times and from Earth societies through out the ages.  Inventing rank names in English that actually make sense and are not some sort of gibberish (Grand Moff, anyone?  sounds vaguely x-rated…) or something that sounds dramatically wrong (Senior Ninjasniperleader just doesn’t cut it!) sent me to look somewhere rather unexpected, but, keeping my story in mind, not necessarily inappropriate.  I’ll leave it at that for now, but it’s been a frustrating couple of days and it had to come to a head today because I was at that point in the tale where I needed to either have my nomenclature sorted or use conventional terms which would make things seem wrong to me even as I was writing.

Yeah, imagination can be hard, even if it’s inventing something related to a field in which I’ve been active for many years.  It’s so much easier to fall back into familiar patterns and thereby miss the chance at something different and potentially richer, more substantive.  I suppose that could be applied to life in general, which is something I’ve been reflecting on lately as I try to come up with a new routine that doesn’t involve getting to the office circa 7AM, sorting through emails and placating angry clients, demanding bosses and all the rest of the corporate drama.  It’s still a work in progress, but being able to go to the driving range and loosen up that golf swing on a weekday morning makes for a nice part of my new routine, whatever it’ll end up being.

I’m still on track to get my editor’s comments on Fatal Blade by the end of the month and the work on Like Stars in Heaven is picking up nicely, now that I’ve overcome a few idiosyncrasies (i.e. writer’s block and general laziness).  I should hit the halfway mark of Dunmoore’s third adventure by the time I have to get back to Zack Decker’s latest outing for the next round of polishing.

Turning the Page

The Fatal Blade manuscript now sits in my editor’s inbox.  Tomorrow, it’s back to Like Stars in Heaven and the storyboarding for Howling Star until I get back a long list of things I need to fix with the third installment of Decker’s War.  I’ve slipped more humour into this one than the previous two so I’m interested to see if my editor gives me two thumbs up or a big red line through some of the dialogue.  She’s promised a fourteen day turnaround, so it looks like the end of April for the next polishing phase.

Last Thursday, the folks I worked with for over seven years held a retirement lunch in my honour.  It was a small, intimate gathering but a few people who left the organization some time ago showed up, to my immense delight, including the lovely lady who took a chance and hired me eight years ago.  She’d retired almost a year to the day before I did, so I was thrilled that she cared enough to attend.  Saying my farewells to these folks wasn’t as easy as I’d thought, but I’m glad we got together one last time.  As my former boss said, it was closure for all of us.  I hope to stay in touch with at least a few of those with whom I was closest, but based on what I’ve seen over the years, retirees tend to drift away quite fast once the bonds created by spending half our waking hours together fade into the past.

I know some of them are onto my new career, so if they’re reading this – it was an honour and a pleasure to work with all of you and if you’re in the mood to vent some work-related frustrations on a guy who understands and has the freedom of his own daily schedule, you know how to contact me.

Work in Progress

I’m deep into the re-write of Fatal Blade (Decker’s War – Book 3) and should be done early next week, when the manuscript is due with my editor.  Then, it’s back to Like Stars in Heaven (Siobhan Dunmoore – Book 3).  I reorganized that manuscript on Sunday under a new to me system I’ll be using to break down all my work from now on.  It’s called Scrivener and will hopefully help increase my productivity.  Since I like to always have at least two books under development at any time, I’ve also begun to outline the fourth Zack Decker adventure, provisionally titled Howling Star.

If that sounds like a lot, it is, but since writing is now my full-time occupation (other than the basement renos I need to complete before October), I’m sure that it’ll all come together.  I had initially planned on publishing two novels this year, but it just might be possible that I’ll put out three, with the fourth Decker coming out in the late autumn timeframe.  All I really need to do is find a daily routine that’ll maximize the use of my time, though as I’ve heard from friends and family who’ve retired from their corporate jobs, they’re busier than ever now.

Am I having fun yet?  You bet!  Kissing Mrs Thomson goodbye when she leaves for her cubicle job early in the morning and then settling into my comfortable home office to spin yarns for a growing readership is a dream job come true.

Old Age and Treachery

Mrs Thomson and I just got back from a wonderful week of scuba diving in an undisclosed location with a bunch of great friends.  These weeks are always awesome.  The diving, of course, is sublime; the food is plentiful, tasty and weight-gain inducing; the surroundings are almost hypnotically peaceful and the people, well, they’re the best part of it all.  It was a smaller gang than last year’s outing to the same location, but as always, quantity and quality bear no intimate relationship with each other.  Suffice to say that we thoroughly enjoyed each other’s company.  We did mourn the passing of a friend who’d traveled with us last year and who left this life a few days before the trip.  While Mrs Thomson and I were only acquainted with him from that one occasion in 2015, our other companions had known him for a long time and his was indeed a life well lived.  Rest in peace, Todd.

On the return trip, I had the occasion to reflect on the adage that says old age and treachery will always beat youth and exuberance.  Whenever possible, I will pay a small premium to get seats with more leg room, usually in the exit row of the aircraft, and this trip was no exception.  While we were sitting in the terminal waiting to board, my lovely wife overheard a group of young louts – from our own home town and apparently in the hospitality industry no less – conspiring to invent an imaginary ailment so that they could convince the gate agent to evict us from our exit row seats (for which we’d paid an additional fee).  Sadly for those little scammers, they used the exact row number and seats they were targeting, thereby setting off Mrs Thomson’s internal alarms.  Their ringleader went off to speak with the gate agent and returned to chortle happily at his fellow little scumbags that it was all going off like a charm and that the losers now occupying the nice seats were about to be surprised, not realizing that the intended victims were sitting no more than two feet away.  I had my own chat with the gate agent moments later and that was the end of that scam.  We conversed with the louts, who of course lied through their teeth and were otherwise trying hard until the agent put a stop to it.  When we got into line to board five minutes or so later, the ringleader was all oiliness and insincerity, no doubt chagrined that his attempt to use Canadian diffidence to get his intended victims to back down, lest there be a scandal, failed to work.

We overheard the part of town in which the ringleader’s family apparently runs a few restaurants and I so look forward to renewing our acquaintance in a place where his livelihood lies, so that I can give him a smile and remind him of where we met and under what circumstances.  Mess with me, will you?  Karma has a way of repaying people like that, but where are we going as a society when young people who evidently aren’t hurting for money, based on the place we were, felt it appropriate to act this way?  No doubt, we end up in the kind where a fictional character like Zack Decker needs to kick butt and take names.  Speaking of him, now that I’ve had my Spring break, so to speak, and am as of today officially retired from my day job, all connections to my former employer severed, I’ll be plunging into the first re-write the moment we’ve recovered the dog from the boarding kennel, topped up the larder and unpacked the bags later today.

Since I know my traveling companions will eventually read this: thanks for a great week.  We had a hoot and a half and you let me get my week of acting like an extrovert so I can live the other fifty-one as a contented introvert.  Let’s do this again, same time, same place, in 2017.