The Next Big Thing

With National-Novel-Writing-Month drawing to a close, many writers have their attention locked securely on current projects. Those masochistic enough to succeed with their 50,000 have my sincerest — congratulations. I’m very proud of you guys. Witnessing your progress over the month has been more than a little inspiring. You all deserve a round in celebration: alcohol or applause, your choice.

I found this the perfect time to strike out with my own round of The Next Big Thing. I’d love to learn a little more about what you guys have in store for the future. This is, after all, when things start getting interesting. Edits upon edits, peer reviews. Shining stories are hammered out of the laborious molds you’ve crafted in November.

What better time than the present?

I wasn’t brave enough to undertake the rigors of Na-No-Wri-Mo this year; but in true writerly style, I’ve got my own ongoing project knocking around. I need to put something up here in order to get the ball rolling after all.

So lets see what we’ve got.

1.)    What is the working title of your next book/short story/project?

Yoan ex Novo.

2.)    Where did the idea come from for the book?

Sparks of inspiration trace back well into my childhood. I could try to pin it down to some philosophical fascination I have with the unknowable and the fathomless depths of time… but it’s more likely that I’ve always had a thing for monsters. I always found myself identifying with the stop-motion beasts or poorly hidden men in furry suits. They were my protagonists. They captured my imagination. The original germ of the idea arose a long time ago. I’d always wondered how different things might be if beings like them were running the show.

3.)    What genre does your book fall under?

Solid Science Fiction, if you wanted to paint with heavy brushstrokes. Probably Anthropological SF if you wanted detail.

4.)    What actors would you choose to play the part of your characters in a movie rendition?

What was that I said about guys in suits earlier? I would probably have a seizure if an effects company like Jim Henson Studio or Stan Winston Studio to tackle some creatures portrayed in the story. Though knowing how far motion capture has come, I’d absolutely love if Andy Serkis were involved in any kind of iteration. Gotta have your pipe dreams, you know?

5.)    Will your book be self-published or represented by an agency?

I’ve always imagined Yoan being picked up by an agent, but as I am currently amid the throng of the unpublished, it shall remain in the aforementioned pipe dream category. I do have goals for future self-publishing schemes as well.

6.)    What is the one-sentence synopsis of your book?

A human consciousness from the 21st century is cloned by the next dominant species of a future earth. Bonus sentence: shenanigans ensue.

7.)    How long did it take you to write the first draft of the manuscript?

How can I answer this without sounding more like an amateur? I can’t? Oh. Well – I’ll tell you when it’s finished.

8.)    What other books would you compare this story to within your genre?

Yoan ex Novo would draw its strongest parallel with Jurassic Park. I’d go as far as to say that it’s a parabolic retelling. The ‘once rulers’ of the planet find themselves miraculously resurrected only to butt heads with the new head honchos; though it isn’t meant to be a Crichtonian cautionary tale about scientific hubris. Yoan aims to ask more questions than it answers. Who has the intrinsic ‘right to exist’ in a situation like that, etc?

I’d also compare it to William Golding’s The Inheritors, as it chiefly features a nonhuman intelligence and its means of coping with a very human threat.

9.)    Who or what inspired you to write this book?

Once again, I can’t really narrow it down to a singular cause. Not one person in particular inspired me to buckle down and pull my head out of the clouds. There’s an amalgam of motivation, from my love of sweeping Attenborough documentaries to deeply paranoid Science Fiction about the human condition. Ultimately, it’s a story that I’ve kept bottled up for so long, I feel a bit guilty keeping it out of the sunlight.

 

10.)     What else about the book might pique the reader’s interest?

It’s an adventurous coming of age story about a single person who becomes the focal point that decides the fate of two terrestrial alien cultures. It’s got giant talking neo-monkeys and imprinting corvids that could ace an IQ test. There’s love, genocide, extinction and climate change – long-spanning and epic travails seen through a modern day lens.

I’ll nominate a couple very talented writers to take it from here. Chris J. Randolph, Jeff Ellis, and Scott Zachary (whose teasers for a post-apocalyptic thriller look plain awesome). These are three guys we all need to read a lot more of.

Keep writing everyone. Never stop creating.

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Outward Reviews: All Yesterdays

You know that kid who screamed out the scientific names of dinosaurs he saw during a movie trailer? That kid whom everyone smirked at and whose parents and sibling leaned away from a little too casually? That little guy was me. So with that knowledge, I give you my first book review —

If anything, we dinosaur fans are gluttons for punishment. It’s not like we have anything better to do than slog through the latest iteration of Cretaceous Battle Royal for the umpteenth time. For us, it’s just another day at the office. We really don’t have much of a choice. Hollywood movie monsters garner attention and sadly, that’s about all the seriousness popular media wishes to bestow on the subject of ancient reptiles.

Well known creatures in ways you’ve never seen them: par for the course with All Yesterdays. A plesiosaur uses a camouflage hunting strategy here.

It’s a precipitous and very slippery slope. You’re pretty much guaranteed schlock, even from heavy hitters like the Discovery Channel and the BBC.

Yet we come running every time. It’s like an abusive relationship. It’s the only show in town. We’ll put up with nearly any amount of punishment to get our fix of X-treme archosaurs, shot through the corneas to a soundtrack of overdone roars and bellows.

With stereotypes and clichés so ubiquitous, us paleo-buffs have had to produce some pretty thick skins over the years. I myself have become jaded; bracing for the parade of Mesozoic tropes I know are in store. I’ve got my checklist, derisive snorts at the ready.

How many of us have gathered around our TV’s to chuck popcorn and soda cans at every single tired and over-the-top “seen-it-a-million-times” moments? Rolled our eyes at the scientific inaccuracies *where are the goddamn feathers?!* and taken too much joy in pointing out facts nobody cares about?

Almost any recreation will focus on the Hollywood aspect of the animals. Predators bellow victoriously over fallen enemies every other second. Herbivores are nothing but glorified redshirts, glancing around fearfully before the clawed hammer falls in the next scene. It gets to be a bit much.

Animals do strange things seemingly outside their bodily adaptations, hence Protoceratops forage in a tree to get some tasty morsels.

So when such a cool, tall glass of sanity broaches the genre; I sit up and take notice.

All Yesterdays is the first book to confront these overblown notions and call it out for the nonsense that it is. That’s what stood out to me immediately upon reading it. The level-headed assuredness with which it builds a case for what a younger, Mesozoic earth might actually have been like without all the flashing neon. There is a boldness to openly and beautifully speculate within this book. Couple this with a sound scientific foundation for each and every idea and you have yourself a rare cocktail indeed.

It’s a marvel. It’s addicting. And might I reiterate again: It’s so damn refreshing.

But I need to backtrack from here:

All Yesterdays is the brainchild of several well-known names in the field of paleontology and paleontological artistry. Paleozoologist Darren Naish, known for other dinosaur publications such as Walking with Dinosaurs: The Evidence as well as his unbeatable blog Tetrapod Zoology; and artists John Conway and C.M. Kosemen combine their talents and ideas with inspired success.  All Yesterdays is a book that does more than celebrate paleoart. It joyfully turns the subject on its head and forces the reader to look at it from a new perspective.

Some of my most memorable sections were the quiet moments. Several entries juxtapose the incessant carnage seen elsewhere with the doldrums we almost never hear about. A lethargic tyrannosaur, sleeping off its latest kill. Allosaurus and Camptosaurus (mortal enemies in any other light) exchanging an unobtrusive glance at a watering hole. The best was a Tenontosaurus simply walking through its wooded habitat with nary a sickle-claw in sight.

How much of the “external bits” would cover up that familiar dinosaurian outline? If this ain’t too weird for you, you can handle the rest. Think of fluffy Antarctic dinos as the whack-a-zoo bar for entrance.

What All Yesterdays does exceptionally well is the speculation. Obviously my favorite. The authors lead you into each piece of art confidently. They lay out the thought process behind each one, comparing behaviors based firmly in reality, but at the same time making it clear that any such proofs would be impossible to confirm without a time machine at hand. In a way, I found it exciting to finally think of these ancient creatures as animals again.

Knowing that there’s plenty of boisterous mating displays, mud-rolling, unanticipated climbing, and chronic sleeping mixed in with all that unrestrained killing really levels the playing field. What is usually so one-sided becomes illuminated. Its horizon made colorful.

All Yesterdays doesn’t impose to preach about “What it was really like”. It simply gives you the tools and insight to realize that there are many facets of the past that we’ll never know. Brilliant, stunning things that are forever lost in time.

In the end, this is All Yesterdays’ achievement. It’s its sheer power to change your perception using pretty (and at the same time deeply thought out) pictures of awesome dinosaurs.

In the latter half of the book, All Yesterdays even turns a mirror onto itself. It projects a future where the next intelligence of earth discovers long extinct ‘currently extant’ species. It postulates what sorts of reconstructions these beings might produce: a cat, a hummingbird, a baboon etc. (Human killer/parasite/venomous predator, respectively) This is the most tongue-in-cheek segment of the book**, highlighting the kinds of mistakes modern scientists and artists make when visualizing extinct creatures.

It’s expertly done, eye-opening, and I loved every minute of it.

**I adored how everything was tainted towards the vicious and merciless. Baleen whales and elephants became the stuff of nightmares. Also, hippo based on the skull: Just back away slowly and hope it didn’t see you.

For those of you in desperate need of a reprieve from DinosaurusX style programming, you should jump at this chance. As a fellow dino-nazi, I can’t recommend this book any higher. The artwork is stunning. The ideas are fresh and thoroughly backed up, leaving your head spinning with the sheer ingenuity involved.

Even familiar faces aren’t safe. Here, Triceratops sees a facelift thanks to recent quill-nob discoveries way down its ancestral line.

There are lessons here that should absolutely be taken to heart.

If only more would.

Oh, and snag a printed version. A kindle’s black-and-white just doesn’t do it justice.

UPDATE: I’ve just been informed by one of the ‘high ups’ (holy crap actual feedback!) that most of you lovely people will get to see the artwork generously colored. Smartphones, tablets and computers are the way to go. Don’t let my Black and White Kindle shriveled heart dissuade you. Now there is literally no reason for you not to get this book.

So off with you! Go find Majungasaurus.

Antediluvian: Words on Wednesdays

A piece of flash fiction inspired by the good folks at The Write Practice and their word of the week format. Constraints were to include a President and a storm. The times we live in, eh?

Also! Congrats Obama.

Antediluvian

adjec­tive:

  •  of or relat­ing to the period before the flood described in the Bible
  • made, evolved, or devel­oped a long time ago
  • extremely prim­i­tive or outmoded

The hibernating ship Anomalocaris began to stir after a universe long slumber. Ageless subroutines booted to life on a solar scale. In the time it took a nearby star to first luminesce under thermonuclear fusion, Anomalocaris’ antediluvian systems managed to become self-sufficient.

Life signs spiked deep within the rousing vessel. A president awoke to raucous clamoring that permeated from outside the hull. He ran a diagnostic and learned that a system was ejecting far too much radiation to conform with known stellar parameters. This universe could not be so different; he was awake after all.

Sensors reached out into the storm, relying on outmoded detection algorithms. Equally antediluvian methods filtered data effectively, yet slowly. Feedback reported in an instant. The president’s display banished pools of darkness from his face with a shock of plasma. His irises contracted in the light.

Anomalocaris’ armor plating, usually relegated to protection against eroding timespans, was under direct attack. Bombardment rocked her as she woke. Had been pummeling while she slept. He checked: For millennia. A static appraisal revealed that there was indeed an intelligent cause. Radio bands were chockfull of chatter. Alien sounds.

“Kids these days,” the president said. His voice was a rasp. He’d wake his constituents. It was time to go to war.

The End of the World has a Commentary

The end of 2012 appears to be angling towards batshit insane after all. It might not be on par with a Mayan foretold apocalypse, but between the east coast of America getting pummeled by a hurricane and news of talking animals coming to light, even hardboiled skeptics like me are beginning to take notice.

Belugas may have to trade in their old monikers of “canaries of the sea” to something a bit more appropriate. Is your money on parrots or mockingbirds?

In all seriousness, learning about several “high-profile*” animals taking to spontaneous mimicry is all that’s keeping me going. It’s good to know that when climate change eventually kills us off, parrots won’t be the only animals to carry on our linguistic legacy.

First up, we have a beluga whale who needed a little personal space. NOC (named after nasty little insects “no-see-ums”) apparently uttered a phrase from every ghost story you’ve ever heard. “Get out.”

When he was nine years old, NOC began to emit calls many octaves lower than cetacean norm. The haunting, garbled sounds appeared very similar to human frequency speech. Such spontaneity is a first. As you can imagine, dolphins have been taught to mimic human language (along the lines of teaching the apes to sign), but this could be the one of the first instances of a beluga whale taking it upon itself to mock exemplify hominid sounds.

Sure, it’s amazing to hear a whale babble incoherently, but it gets better. Or creepier. Or maybe just closer to home.

Next: A male Asian elephant called Koshik was recorded ‘actually speaking Korean words’. Though his vocabulary is limited, Koshik can clearly be understood by other Korean speakers. It turns out that in the formative years of calf-hood, the elephant was only exposed to humans and human interaction. He was taught several simple commands (which I strongly suspect influenced his lopsidedly “commandy” current vocabulary. “Sit down” and “lie down” make up one third of the words he uses.)

Koshik reproducing the devilry that is human speech. He uses his trunk for the tough bits; namely all of it.

Elephants are consummate mimickers. They sometimes emulate lyre birds and imitate manmade sounds such as car engines. That doesn’t make it any less creepy when you learn that Koshik reproduces his trainers down to their individual voices.

None of this comes natural to these animals by any means. There are plenty of extenuating circumstances that has led to their impersonations. Creating such sounds is obviously well outside what their bodies can produce naturally. A massive elephantine throat and the pitched nasal calls of belugas are hardly suited for the job. Both of the animals have to physically modify their ‘vocal apparatus’ to get the job done.

Koshik substitutes his trunk for mobile human lips. And it works startlingly well. He’s able to reproduce tone and enunciation to a degree that is unreal.

NOC had to increase the pressure in his nasal cavity to get it right. He over-inflated a few key elements of his anatomy (which doesn’t sound comfortable by any means) to reduce the pitch of his regular, screeched calls.

There’s a long distance between imitations and actual full-fledged language, of course. It’s a stretch between “Polly want a cracker” and “Hey, want me to drop by the local market for some chips?” But the implications are there. I thrive on implications.

Earth is changing around us. Storms are gettin’ bad and I’m ready to head for the hills when the coastline decides a change of scenery would be in order. Our perception of animal intelligence has also changed much over the last few decades. There’s simply a lot more to them than we once thought.

There’s still so much to learn. I hope we can stick around for the coming golden age in animal communication. Hell. Wouldn’t it be awesome to be part of the creation myth of the future elephant civilization?

*By “high-profile” I of course mean; candidates for sentient intelligence, or; our replacements.