- About Me
- Great Hugo Read
Lacking a tumblr myself, I can’t exactly re-tumbl this in the proper way. Is it called re-tumbling, or is that just my Twitter influence popping through. Oh god, I’m only a few sentences into this post and already revealing how terribly unhip I am with social media.
Anyway, Joe Hill, author of Heart Shaped Box and the upcoming NOS4A2, was tackling some questions on his tumblr over the weekend when this one came up:
Poppachaos asks: How did you find time to write when your boys were younger? I’m the primary caregiver for my 15 month old son and can’t manage it. Short of locking myself away at night and never seeing my wife, I’m running out of ideas.
Anyone who follows me or this blog knows this is my biggest writing hurdle. I’m not going to post Hill’s entire response here, you can go read it over on his tumblr, but it boils down to a key point: Make your writing fit your life, don’t try to make your life fit your writing. This is, he notes, a period in time when “[j]ust getting a good night’s sleep is a major triumph.”
He suggests figuring out projects that can be written in shorter bursts, fit into the little nooks and crannies of new parenthood. Campbell nominee Chuck Wendig said similar on Sunday afternoon, tweeting:
When #bdub was a wee mote, writing for me was more “burst-driven,” which was hard to get used to. I’m since back on a firm schedule.
— Chuck Wendig (@ChuckWendig) April 14, 2013
Right now, I’m clearly at the point where I’m getting used to the fact that my writing will be burst driven. For now, at least. And that’s fine. In some ways it’s working for me, bursts are great for world building little elements of my generation ship. I’ve actually got ideas for what could be little burst stories within that world, including some fairy tales. I suppose the real transition is away from looking at what I’m not getting done to focus more on what I am getting done.
So I’m going to make it a goal at the end of every day to find something positive to say about my writing progress for that day and tweet it out. Even if it’s not something I would have counted as “progress” in pre-baby times. Think of it as a daily State of the Writer. Today it might be as simple as coming up with how Red Riding Hood would be rewritten after 300 years on the Sarah Constant. For anyone else that a daily writing affirmation might help, join me with the hashtag #DidToday.
Last time in the World Building Questions I talked about the differences between noon, 12pm, and how those two concepts evolved. In doing so I very briefly touched on Universal Time, offsets, and the fact that timekeeping on the globe centers on a spot to the south-east of downtown London just off the Themes River. This is Greenwich, specifically the Royal Observatory therein. More specifically, the line running up the middle of the front door to the roof peak overhead. This is the origin point for Greenwich time, and it serves as such because the British figured out Longitude at sea first. Which has a lot to do with noon. So there’s a fitting transition from asking questions about how we keep time on planet earth to how we keep directions.
Let’s talk generally about the ideas of latitude and longitude first. The earth is a sphere. That’s the first of several lies in this post, but it’s an extremely helpful lie. Around this sphere humanity has drawn two imaginary lines and defined these as origin lines. One is the equator, the other is the Prime Meridian. Locations are then defined by how far north or south they are from the equator, and how far east or west from the Prime Meridian, given in degrees. On earth we call these two measurements latitude and longitude, respectively. Lines of latitude circle the globe, parallel to the equator. Lines of longitude run pole to pole, converging at each end.
The equator is a pretty easy and logical defining line, it’s a circle around the earth perpendicular to the axis of rotation where the days don’t really vary in length and equidistant from the poles. To determine how far north or south of the equator you are, whether at land or at sea, simply look at the sky. For centuries, ancient navigators have known which heavenly bodies to consult and measure to know just where they are in relationship to the equator. The problem is…once you know your latitude is 20 degrees north of the equator, that’s great, you’re somewhere on 19,250 mile long line circling the earth. Where on that line are you? What’s your longitude?
Longitude is harder to work out that latitude. There are no clear celestial signs for how far east or west one has traveled. The easiest way to work it out is through a clock. Here’s how. First you find a clock that keeps reliable time. Then you set that clock to 12pm when the sun is directly overhead. Now, start traveling east or west until noon the next day. Noon, not 12pm on the clock, I’m still being serious about that distinction. When the sun is overhead, look at your clock, and you know how far east or west you’ve traveled by the time shown. How?
Well, it takes 24 hours for the sun to circle the earth. A circle is 360 degrees. If you divide 360 by 24 the result is 15 degrees. So, for each hour that the clock is off, you’ve traveled 15 degrees of east or west latitude. If the clock shows a time before 12pm, you’ve traveled east, if it shows a time after 12pm, you’ve traveled west.
There you have it. Noon tells you where you are. Segue complete!
Alright, it’s a little more complicated than that. Not the math, the math is simple to derive. The difficulty is in that first step: finding a clock that keep reliable time. That’s not too difficult in the year 2013, however clocks of a sufficiently reliable accuracy are a relatively new invention. Clocks of a reliable accuracy that will retain that accuracy while at sea are newer yet. And here is where I’m going to reference A History of the World in 100 Objects, a fantastic podcast and audiobook and hardback that I’ve talked about on this blog before. If you’re curious about history, grab this! The 100 objects range from millions of years old to only three years old, presented chronologically. Object 91 is a ship’s chronometer from the HMS Beagle voyage that brought Darwin to the Galápagos Islands.
What John Harrison did was to invent a clock, a chronometer, that would go on accurately telling the time set in Greenwich, despite the constant movement of the ship and, just as important, despite any fluctuations in temperature and humidity. It was a great feat of precision engineering, but Harrison’s chronometers were pioneering, high-quality instruments, made in tiny numbers and affordable only by the Admiralty. Then, around 1800, two London clock-makers managed to simplify the mechanisms of his chronometer, so that virtually any ship – and certainly the whole of the Royal Navy – could carry them as routine equipment.
So this is all well and good, there’s some nice math involved, and I like math. But why is the Prime Meridian where it is, and not one of the infinite other equally arbitrary lines of longitude? When I made that post about noon, I said that the Greenwich Meridian was the Prime Meridian “because an Englishman figured out longitude at sea.” I was London clock makers who perfected the ship’s chronometer, it was the Royal Navy that first used it, and they needed a point to use as their baseline when setting all the chronometers that would go on all the ships. So they chose the Royal Observatory in Greenwich.
It doesn’t entirely answer the question, though, as it only explains why the British chose the Greenwich Meridian. Why did the rest of the world accept this meridian? Simple. They voted on it. In 1884 a conference was held in Washington, DC for the purpose of defining which arbitrary north-south line would be the arbitrary north-south line. 26 nations were invited, 22 voted for the Greenwich Meridian, and the motion passed.
Do I even need to say that the French were one of those opposing. They used their own meridian which ran through Paris, and kept it until 1914. Which means the Prime Meridian has been an international standard for less than a century. Which makes it slightly older than the full international adoption of the modern calendar, but puts it squarely on the list of things you might have thought were international standards longer than they actually have been.
One equator, one Prime Meridian. That’s also how we can know where we are on an arbitrary, but internationally agreed upon, scale of latitudinal and longitudinal measurements. Certainly we now have more sophisticated ways of determining our location, such as GPS, but it all comes down to clocks and the sun.
How do you know where you are at sea without a way to calculate longitude? Answer is, you don’t. Not really. Oh, the best navigators could guess by using a process called dead reckoning which relies on knowing three things: where you were, what heading you were on, and how fast you were going. If I traveled 50 nautical miles east-northeast, I can put a dot on a map 50 nm east-northeast of the dot I drew yesterday. Which was based on the dot the day before. And the day before that. It’s a series of educated guesses which allows errors to compound. Yet it brought Columbus to the new world and back again.
I’ll admit, while a fun transition from time to direction, this is a harder post than usual to come up with world building questions for.
I could posit a planet in tidal lock to its sun has an interesting set of non-arbitrary meridians. It has an equator, and it has the delineation between day side and night side. Since the sun doesn’t rise or set, its position in the sky would always provide an exact location on the day side. The night side would have to rely on purely stellar navigation. This is actually the case in Frederick Pohl’s book Jem, which has a “heat pole” and a “cold pole” instead of a North and South pole, representing the points farthest from the day/night line.
I could posit an uninhabited alien world. Would a human colony on a new planet use its first outpost to define a prime meridian for the planet?
I could posit an inhabited world. Would an alien race come up with another way of defining a point on their globe? I can actually think of one. Start with the equator around the center of the globe, then rotate it a given number of degrees about a set axis. A point on the globe could be defined by the angle of rotation and the distance from the equator. I’m not sure that makes sense as I’ve written it, I might try to diagram it if it doesn’t.
I suppose the world building lesson is that north and south, as we define them, are easy on a rotating body. East and west are a little harder. A society that navigates with something like latitude would need a way to compute that latitude, whether technical, biological, or magical.
Up next: how maps are centered and oriented (“Which way is up?”), and how we tell directions on a day-to-day basis, especially since we have two different sets of four directions we tend to use (“Is that my right, or your right?”).
Chronometer picture via Wikipedia user Phantom Photographer and released under Creative Commons 3.0 Attribution-Share Alike license.
I’m not a Hugo voter. I never have been. It’s not an exclusive club by any means, one just needs to buy a Worldcon membership. Not even attend or intend to attend. Each Worldcon tends to offer a membership level for those who don’t plan on attending but want a chance to vote for the Hugo awards. You can, quite literally, buy a ballot. One of these years, when I feel I have the income to spare, I’ll become at least a voting member of Worldcon so that I may nominate and vote.
So I have no agency when it comes to nominating for the Hugos. Or the voting for the Hugos. Certainly I have no agency when it comes to how the Hugos are conducted, that process involves an open meeting at Worldcon so does require attendance. I say this before setting down to my main point: the Hugo Award for Dramatic Presentation is broken, and needs to be fixed.
In 1958, Solacon saw the first Hugo Award for Dramatic Presentation. It went to the movie The Incredible Shrinking Man. This new Hugo category recognized that the basis of any dramatic presentation is its writing. Until 2002 it was a single category and winners included movies, episodes of TV series, entire seasons of TV series, and even the news coverage of the Apollo 11 moon landing. Starting with the 2003 Hugo Awards the category was split into Long Form and Short Form, with the defining line of 90 minutes.
In practical terms this means that there’s a Hugo category for movies, and a Hugo category for television episodes. Oh, it doesn’t always work that way. Dramatic Presentation (Short Form) has included a web series, a YouTube video, even an acceptance speech from the previous Hugo ceremony. The Short Form category Hugo has been awarded to eight television episodes, the made-for-the-internet series Dr. Horrible’s Sing Along Blog, and Gollum’s acceptance speech at the MTV movie awards. However, for the most part, it’s movies and television episodes. Since the split only two Long Form nominees weren’t movies (both were entire seasons of a TV show nominated as a unit), and only nine Short Form nominees weren’t TV episodes.
Lately that means Doctor Who episodes.
Wait wait wait, Whovians and Wholigans, before you crucify me, understand that I am one of you. I love the show. However, since the relaunch of the series, 22 episodes have been nominated. 2009 is the last year to see only two episodes nominated.
This isn’t specifically a Doctor Who problem, the show is just the latest incarnation of a phenomenon that dates back to the 1968 awards when all five nominees were episodes of the original Star Trek. Enterprise, Firefly, and Angel have also all been double nominated since the Long Form/Short Form split. With the exception of Star Trek landing eight nominations in two years, no show has ever dominated the nominations more than Doctor Who. No show has ever dominated the nominations for as long. And I think that’s a detriment to other shows and to the award.
Fringe, one of the best science fiction shows of the last decade, got its first and last nomination this year. That ties it with Community. Continuum, an original and compelling time travel drama from Canada saw no nominations. Eureka came and went without a single nomination.
I see three potential fixes for the Dramatic Presentation category. Fix number one: a cap in place for the number of episodes a series can have nominated in a single year. Yes, it would be immediately called the “Doctor Who Rule,” I’m sure. Yes, it would see some outcry, and I doubt this proposal could get through the rule amendment process. Which is a shame, as there’s plenty of fantastic science fiction on television that isn’t being recognized.
Fix number two? This is unrelated to the Who dominance. I think there needs to be a clarification of eligibility.
No video game has ever been nominated for a Hugo Award. Ever. io9 ran a series of posts about this a few months ago, and the answers ranged from “but they’re not eligible” to “should they be long or short form” to “they don’t have the same exposure.” The last issue isn’t going to go away by action of the Hugo committee, but the first two can. They absolutely are eligible, it’s right there in the text for the award. A dramatic presentation is defined as, “a dramatized production in any medium, including film, television, radio, live theater, computer games or music.” That there are nominators who might not know they’re eligible is hurdle one. Hurdle two can be solved by some clarification as to how to count a video game. Are we talking just the cut scenes? The full play-through length of a game? The latter is problematic because it varies from player to player.
There are other problems clarification could solve. 90 minutes is the dividing line, however the 2011 winner for Short Form was roughly 105 minutes long. In 2012, Game of Thrones was nominated as a season for Long Form, in 2013 a single episode was nominated for Short Form. Movies that are under 90 minutes, such as Safety Not Guaranteed have no clear home, ineligible for long form and likely overlooked for Short Form.
I think all of these have a single solution, which is my fix number three. Split the category one more time so there are three Dramatic Presentation Hugos:
- Theatrical Presentation for works originally released on the big screen.
- Televised Presentation for works originally intended for television, with a one episode per show cap. Nominations would work the way Emmy nominations work. One episode of a longer series, one portion of a miniseries, or the entirety of a made-for-TV movie. Want a good eligibility rule of thumb? A nominee can only have a single set of opening and closing credits.
- Special Presentation for all other presentations, including video games, animated shorts, web videos, and whatever other silliness the nominators want to include. Basically it’s a home for the other nine nominees that have been featured in the Short Form category in a fabulously eclectic category.
So I’m creating an addition award sub-category. This is with fine precedent. In 1963 the written fiction awards expanded from three categories to four. In 2002, Dramatic Presentation split into Long and Short Form. In 2007, Professional Editor followed suit.
Perhaps we’d still see Doctor Who dominating as winner of Television Presentation, but that’s not a problem. If the voters legitimately think it is producing the best episodes of television, then it should. Some might argue this makes Doctor Who even more powerful, as there’s not chance of a vote split (not that this has cost it Hugos in the past). However, it would be nice to see other shows are least get some recognition that science fiction and fantasy exist on television. And it would give a clear home to worthy nominees that live on the outskirts of the current categories.
I don’t expect any of these changes to happen, but it feels good just to talk about them. Agree? Disagree? Have any Hugo categories you’d change? I’ll be in the comments waiting to hear.
Struggling. But for good reasons. I’m finding more little bits and pieces of time to sneak in some world building or some outlining, some of which you even saw on the blog when I had that rather math-filled post not too long ago. Now it’s not so much about finding times, I know where they’re hiding, it’s a much more insidious problem: overcoming the momentum of not writing. That’s always been one of those challenges for me. When I’m writing, I’m going all guns blazing. If I step away for a while, it’s easier and easier to find excuses to not do it.
The job hunt.
They’re easy excuses. And they’re valid and important excuses. But I don’t think they’re necessarily the all-encompassing excuses I’ve turned them into. Anyway, it’s boring to watch a guy beat himself up over stuff like this, so time to stop.
Still, little bits did get done, and in April hopefully little bits more will get done. I’m starting to have some notions for the broader plot of the first Sarah Constant book, and I need to start outlining I want to make the rough draft a Nanowrimo project.
State of the Author’s Bees: We’re getting to packages of bees around mid-month, so we’ll make our second attempt at being apiarists. Apparently it was a rough year not just for bees in Northern Virginia but all around the country. I’m not nearly experienced enough to say our hive failures were colony collapse. Hell, I know at least one wasn’t, since it got starved out by a vicious robbing. The hive that just vanished? Possible colony collapse, possibly something else. We’re still trying to work out what the inscription “Croatoan” means on the inside of the lid.
Great Hugo Read: One last reminder that we’re into the 2013 nominees, since all that got posted over the weekend. We’ve got one book that’s part of a huge series that we cannot possible catch up on (or, rather, I can’t, having read none of them), one that’s the last book of a trilogy that we can, and three that are standalone novels. We’re starting with Redshirts by John Scalzi as our primary read, and Feed by Mira Grant as the secondary read. There may be some truth to the rumor that I decided to start with the book that’s been sitting on my night stand since I got it for Christmas. I also tore through about a third of it last night, which is not my normal reading pace. Spoiler alert: I’m loving it.
The April-August schedule is here. Or here. Or over in the Goodreads group. This year’s nominees are an interesting mix with some high fantasy, some silliness, some seriousness, and some horror. I’ll be talking more about this year’s Hugo nominees and the Hugos in general later in the week, both here and on Unleaded.
Also coming up, there’s an interesting transition in my World Building Earth posts that I hope to get up this week, a natural segue between the concept of noon and the concept of directions that we’ll look at just as soon as I figure out some story telling step off questions to close the post with.
The days are getting longer. Baseball is back. I’m starting to think we’ve made it through the winter, and it’s time for bigger and better things.
So…we’ve got a problem.
See, one of the reasons I introduced the secondary reads is to catch up on series if a later book won the Hugo Award. I’d always intended that these secondary reads may occasionally involve catching up on series for a nominated book. But…what’s one to do when book 14 or 15 of a series is nominated? That’s what happened when Captain Vorpatril’s Alliance was announced as one of the nominees. It’s the 15th novel released in the massively epic Vorkosigan Saga, and slots in as the 14th novel in the current continuity. These novels start showing up in the read in 2018, but I didn’t expect one to show up in the nominees.
So what to do?
I’m going to slot it in with no prereading. There’s nothing else I really can do. I may then skip it myself, even though that’s somewhat against the spirit of the Great Hugo Read, and catch up in December of 2021 if it wins.
There’s another book on the nominees list that’s part of a series, but a much shorter one. I am going to slot the two previous books in that series as secondary reads. So here goes, one schedule, five months, seven books.
Primary:Redshirts by John Scalzi
- Print: Recently released in paperback.
- Electronic: Available DRM-free. Kindle, Nook, iBooks, Sony Reader.
- Audio: Narrated by Wil Wheaton, available from Audible and iTunes.
Secondary: Feed by Mira Grant (Blackout pre-read)
- Print: Available new in paperback.
- Electronic: Available from Kindle, Nook, iBooks, Sony Reader.
- Audio: Narrated by Paula Christensen and Jesse Bernstein, available from Audible and iTunes.
Primary: Throne of the Crescent Moon by Saladin Ahmed
- Print: Available new in paperback.
- Electronic: Available from Kindle, Nook, iBooks, Sony Reader.
- Audio: Narrated by Paul Gigante, available from Audible and iTunes.
Primary: Captain Vorpatril’s Alliance by Lois McMaster Bujold
- Print: Available new in hardback, paperback released in September.
- Electronic: Available from Kindle only.
- Audio: Narrated by Grover Gardner, available from Audible and iTunes.
Secondary: Deadline by Mira Grant (Blackout pre-read)
- Print: Available new in paperback.
- Electronic: Available from Kindle, Nook, iBooks, Sony Reader.
- Audio: Narrated By Chris Patton and Nell Geisslinger, available from Audible and iTunes.
Primary: 2312 by Kim Stanley Robinson
- Print: Paperback releasing on June 25, 2013
- Electronic: Available from Kindle, Nook, iBooks, Sony Reader.
- Audio: Narrated by Sarah Zimmerman, available from Audible and iTunes.
Primary: Blackout by Mira Grant
- Print: Available new in paperback
- Electronic: Available from Kindle, Nook, iBooks, Sony Reader.
- Audio: Narrated By Paula Christensen and Michael Goldstrom, available from Audible and iTunes.
I’ve added a few suggested secondary reads. As always, these are completely option, and are intended to either supplement a Hugo winner or prepare for an upcoming Hugo winner that’s part of a longer series. The new secondary reads fall into two categories:
A Song of Ice and Fire
As I previously mentioned, I’m adding the current five books of this series to the read in the assumption that books six and or seven will be nominated for Hugos, and anyone (like myself) who hasn’t already read them isn’t going to want to try to catch up all at once. Assuming that 2015 is the earliest The Winds of Winter will be eligible, I’ve added the books to the following months:
- March 2014: A Game of Thrones
- September 2014: A Clash of Kings
- January 2015: A Storm of Swords
- March 2015: A Feast for Crows
- October or May 2015: A Dance With Dragons
The reason for the “or” there is my desire to keep books out of secondary slots during April-August to keep room for potential prereads for that year’s nominations. So if The Winds of Winter comes out in 2014 and is nominated in 2015 we’ll read A Dance With Dragons in May of that year and The Winds of Winter in July or August. Else, we’ll wait until October.
1966 Complete Read
I’ve been wanting to sit down and read all the nominees for one year, and thanks to a two-part quirk in the Hugos 1966 is the best year to choose. The nominees that year were:
- Dune by Frank Herbert
- …And Call Me Conrad (aka This Immortal) by Roger Zelanzy
- The Squares of the City by John Brunner
- The Moon is a Harsh Mistress by Robert A. Heinlein
- Skylark DuQuesne by Edward E. Smith
Quirk part one: two books tied for the first time in in Hugo history with awards going to Dune and This Immortal. Quirk part two: The Moon is a Harsh Mistress was serialized over two years making it eligible in 1966, when it lost, and 1967, when it won. So we’re already reading three of the five 1966 nominees as part of the main read. So I’ve added the other two books as secondary reads, paired with Immortal and Harsh Mistress (because I am never going to pair a book with Dune, it’s long enough already). So:
- November 2014: Skylark DuQuesne
- December 2014: The Squares of the City
That’s all I’ve got. This weekend we’ll settle on a schedule for the next five months. Then I’ll actually have some non-GHR related posts so that this doesn’t take over the blog entirely.
Here’s the gist of the story. Lawrence Smith, aka Lorenzo Smythe, aka The Great Lorenzo is an actor. At the front of the book he’s approached about a mysterious gig that promises to pay him whatever he might ask. He learns he’s been brought on board to serve as a stand-in for a human politician on Mars named Bonforte, the Opposition Leader in British terms, kidnapped on the eve of being inducted as an honorary Martian.
At a very high level it’s the plot of the political romance Dave, but transposed to Mars.
I’m not going to break down the plot, these posts are largely intended for people who have read the book. Instead, I’d like to take a few paragraphs to discuss my general dissatisfaction with the book. Don’t get me wrong, I liked the book better than I liked The Forever Machine, but that’s a low bar to clear. I didn’t like it nearly as much as The Demolished Man, but that’s an extremely high bar to clear. The question is…where in that rather broad spectrum does the book fall?
Let’s start with my lesser issue with the book before moving on to my chief gripe. Lesser issue: the character of Penny. She’s probably the most realized female character of the Hugo books thus far, but…damn, I need a better cliché than how high bars are to clear. Demolished Man had several secondary female characters, but most of them served for just one or two scenes. The Forever Machine features its techno-magically de-aged female character. Double Star’s main female character, only female character, is Penny. She’s opposition leader Bonforte’s girl Friday with very clear romantic feelings for her boss.
This follows a pattern in Heinlein novels of younger female characters in love with men of authority. It’s certainly not a quirk only of Heinlein, or even only of fiction. Power is a fine aphrodisiac. It’s certainly not daughters begging their father to impregnate them, a plot point of Farnham’s Freehold. Is is a pattern I’ve seen in the few Heinlein books I’ve read, and a pattern I’m going to keep an eye on as we read a lot more Heinlein as part of the Hugo Read.
My broader problem with Penny is not this power aphrodisiac issue. It’s that we’re told at several points in the novel that she is a very capable administrator, has advanced degrees, and even a spot in the shadow cabinet maintained by Bonforte. However, her job when on camera is to faint, cry, and be generally comforted by Lorenzo. Who falls rapidly in love with her, and the male in power falling in love with his female underling is no less troubling of a trope.Alright, a book from the 1950s has some less than ideal gender politics and poorly realized female characters. While I don’t entirely want to excuse Double Star as just a product of its time, it’s also harder to hold it to a modern standard.
So let’s leave Penny behind and sit down with my broader issue with the novel: Where’s the drama?
There are two potentials for conflict. Both of them lie with Lorenzo. Which is appropriate, as he’s the first person narrator of the novel. Conflict one: does he take the job and does he continue with it when it becomes clear he’ll be taking on the role of Bonforte longer and longer. Conflict two: will anyone figure him out?
Conflict one is appropriately handled. There’s a thin line walked by a first person narrator when he is exploring his own motivations for acting. Consider it too little and the character feels dragged around on a leash. Consider it too much and the character becomes wishy-washy and spends too much of the novel navel gazing. Double Star perhaps leans a little towards the Lorenzo-on-a-leash possibility, but at each point that the character is asked to re-up his commitment to doubling Bonforte, he does spend some time considering the possibilities. This worked. However, it’s not a conflict source that can carry an entire book.
Did I mention the emperor is a huge fan of Lorenzo’s? No? Because of course he is.
Conflict two. Ah. Here’s the real problem. There is a frequently mentioned dread that someone may figure out that Lorenzo isn’t Bonforte, and that the whole charade will crumble to pieces. This conflict comes to a head exactly twice in the novel. In the first instance he’s sniffed out by the constitutional monarch of the human empire. Lorenzo screws up a shibboleth by not knowing how formal or informal to act with the emperor in private. The upshot of this? The emperor agrees with the need for a stand-in and sends him about his way. The second instance is late in the book when one of the insiders of the scheme is left without a position when the new government is drawn up, and chooses to expose Lorenzo during a meeting. The upshot of this? Learning that the conspiracy had long ago replaced Bonforte’s biometrics on file with Lorenzo’s.
Glad that worked out so easily.
The problem is…I don’t want things to work out so easily within the fiction I read. I don’t want the emperor to figure out what’s going on then be fine with it. I don’t want half a chapter’s worry that the gig is up just to find out everything was fixed off-screen weeks before.
There’s some political intrigue, most of which goes on in spite of Lorenzo, not because of it. And…that’s perhaps the biggest problem with the book. A lot of it goes on in spite of Lorenzo, not because of him. His job is to make various speeches. His job isn’t the high stakes rescue of Bonforte. Or, with only minor exception, crafting political machinations. He is, at least, a character with opinions about what’s going on around him, and even an evolving viewpoint on the politics of the man he is meant to stand in for. I don’t need car chases (there actually is on), gunfights, or giant space battles. I just wish…there had been maybe a little more for him to do to balance out the number of things he had to think about.
That wraps up the first three months of the Great Hugo Read. Three months down, 105 to go. The past winners are going on hiatus for a few months to be replaced by the 2013 nominees, which will be announced this Saturday, March 30th, at 4pm eastern time. Check out the Hugo blog for details about how to watch the nominee announcement live. I’ll get a post up by no later than Sunday night with a recommended order for the nominees. For those only interested in the catch-up read, we’ll get back to that in September when we read Fritz Leiber’s The Big Time with a secondary read, Brian Aldiss’s Non-Stop. For those interested in the secondary reads, I’ll have an announcement in about a week with some books being added to that schedule, including a complete read of all five nominees from 1966 in the second half of next year, and where I end up slipping the first five books of the Song of Ice and Fire into the schedule.
So here’s the deal. I’m working on a new project and I want to make sure at least some of the details have actual technical grounding. I’m okay with a little handwavium, it’s probably unavoidable, but I want to at least have some grounding in reality. Problem is, I’m not all that great at actual technical grounding, as the last physics class I took was non-AP physics in high school where I barely got a B. So I might occasionally make these posts, I might make just this one, in an attempt to crowdsource some of my equations. The questions I have are whether I’ve got the right equations, and whether I’m using them correctly, and to also play around with LaTeX a little. But mostly the first two things.
So here’s today’s problem: Given a cylindrical space ship with an internal radius of 6km, how fast must it be rotating to create a centripetal acceleration equivalent to earth gravity for someone standing on the inside surface? I didn’t know any of these equations, but found them at this rather helpful forum post. First, we must find the speed at that 6km point that would produce an acceleration of 9.8m/s²:
That number sounds awfully damn fast, but consider the speed of rotation of the earth at sea level on the equator is roughly 465 m/s. Next step, at least what I’m assured is the next step, is converting this into radians/second:
Finally this can be converted to revolutions per minute. The conversion formula I found is:
Therefore the ship is rotating at a rate slightly faster than once every three minutes. What I didn’t expect is that, since the rate of rotation is a constant, centripetal acceleration increases linearly from the axis of rotation. I’m so accustomed to formulas for gravity having squares all over the place, but this isn’t, strictly speaking, gravity. It’s an acceleration equal to gravity. So at half the distance from the axis of rotation, we can work backwards with W as a constant…
Which is equivalent to half gravity.
My next trick will be to find a formula that describes the rate of descent for a body falling through linearly increasing gravity. That’s less likely to come up in-story, but more for my own curiosity.
Edit: Some further poking around (which, I’m ashamed to say, has mostly been at Wikipedia so far) suggests that 2rpm is about the maximum rotation that most humans can adjust to with no ill effects, so my rotation of nearly 1/6 that rate is shockingly safe in and of itself. So that’s good to know. Now if only it didn’t have a “citation needed” tag.
This is a direct outgrowth of the previous World Building Question, and yes, continues the feature’s fascination with timekeeping that was only briefly interrupted by henotheism and monolatry. It’s a little harder to tie this back to world building, but I’ve got some of my standard questions at the end of this post. Next time I’ll find something else to talk about, I promise. That said, a simple question:
When is Noon?
To start answering this question, I’m going to take the computer programming route and define some terms first. This is important because people tend to think of “noon” and “12pm” as synonyms, but for the purpose of this post they are not. I will try my damnedest to be consistent.
Noon shall be defined as the time that the sun is at its zenith for the day in a given location. This is also called “solar noon,” but I’m going to simplify the term for this post.
12pm shall be defined as when a clock at a given location, set to that location’s time zone, reads 12pm.
Let’s continue now, shall we?
I brought up noon in my previous world building question that provided a brief history of the length of an hour, listed it as one of those clear delineating points of the day for a culture that uses the sun as its primary time telling device. Oh, that’s not to say it’s perfectly clear the exact moment that the sun is as high in the sky as it’s going to get, no big bright flash or bells going off, nothing like that. But it’s generally clear that, hey, the sun is pretty close to overhead.
Now, as to what time that was? Well, there was some disagreement on that. In modern cultures, with the 24 hour clock we’ve globally settled on, it’s close-ish to the middle of the day (more on that later). In several older cultures, this was true as well. Each new day started at sun-up and went until just before sun-up the following day. Of course, under this notion, noon would be about 6 hours into a 24 hour day. Some cultures considered the new day as starting at noon, so it would be 0 hours into the day. Some cultures counted a new day when the sun set, making noon about 18 hours into the day. These don’t make any actual difference, because things were getting done during the day, and all three ways of counting would agree on what day it is.
Today we count new days at midnight so noon happens 12 hours into the day at 12pm. Right?
For a time, yes. For a time when the sun was at its highest point of the day where you were it was 12pm, and twelve hours later would be midnight and the start of the new day. This held on for quite a while. Every city would have its own little mini time zone. In Boston it would be 8 minutes earlier than it was in New York, give or take. When it takes several days to get between cities, little differences of a few minutes in time don’t make a hell of a lot of difference. However when the railroad came around, that’s what things started to change. Which means we’re talking 19th century. Mid to late 19th century at that. What was called “railroad time” showed up in England around 1847 and in the United States in the 1880s. This evolved into the time zones we’re aware of today.
So what time is noon? Well, since an entire 1/24 slice of the globe is now on the same time, it can vary by an hour from one edge of a time zone to another. Except that time zones aren’t straight lines, they have bulges and juts that can create a wider gap than one hour. China, notably, has a single time zone that results in a four hour difference in when noon happens from the western extreme of the country to the eastern.
Then there’s Daylight Saving Time that throws everything off by another hour.
So to answer the question of when noon is. Today, March 21, 2013, noon in Washington DC will happen at 1:15pm. In Nashville, Tennessee and Amarillo, Texas, both in the same time zone, noon today will happen at 12:54pm and 1:54pm respectively. That’s a nearly two hour difference between 12pm and noon in west Texas. In Harbin, China, noon will come at 11:40am. In Kashgar, China, 3:03pm. The Kaliningrad Oblast, that little chunk of Russia that’s divorced from the main body of the country, uses the same time zone as St. Petersburg and Moscow. So while the city of Kaliningrad is almost due north of Warsaw, the former will hit noon at 1:45pm, the latter at 11:43am.
And so on.
Then there’s Zulu Time, aka UTC. Whatever you want to call it, the universal international time zone based around the non-DST adjusted time in Greenwich, UK (for various reasons that boil down to “because an Englishman figured out longitude at sea”) is where noon and 1200 hours are completely and forever divorced. Find the right place and noon will be at 0000 hours, or 12am. This is essential for organizations, like the US Navy, that need to coordinate on an international scale on vessels that might rapidly traverse time zones.
So when is noon? It depends on whether you’re on the western or eastern edge of your time zone. Whether you’re in a state or country currently observing Daylight Saving Time. Whether you’re in a culture that depends on rapid transit. Whether you’re in a culture that needs/values uniformity of time for various transactions. Whether you’re observing a globally constant time. Noon as 12pm served humanity very well for an extremely long time. Now we’re moving increasingly into a society where the day is less defined as the sun and more defined as what we want it to be.
So what does that say about us as a global culture? What would it say about a global culture (either alien or future earth) that fully used UTC? What would it say of a culture that reached a similar technology as earth now has without any form of time zones or universal time, letting each city have its own slightly different time?
Has anyone else been thinking about the nature of time lately? Two weekends ago we lost an hour, an entire hour, as Daylight Savings Time began. Today is the vernal equinox, the transition point where days are once again longer than nights. I know I must think about time around this point of the year, because it was almost exactly a year ago that I started asking these World Building Questions, and started by asking What Time Is It? I’m going to move back to my questions about how time works on earth. So we lost an hour recently, but what is an hour?
Alright, that’s an easy one. An hour is sixty minutes long. Each of those minutes is sixty seconds long. So an hour is 3600 seconds long. We know the length of a second because it was defined at the 13th General Conference on Weights and Measures, an occasional meeting that sets things like the international standards for metric measurements, and just how many yoctometers are in a yottameter (a hell of a lot). A second, per this SI definition, is “the duration of 9,192,631,770 periods of the radiation corresponding to the transition between the two hyperfine levels of the ground state of the [cesium] 133 atom.” Whipping out a calculator to do the math, an hour is thus 33,093,474,372,000 of…whatever the hell they’re talking about with transitions and hyperfine levels. I was never that great at the applied sciences. As I’ll one day demonstrate when I crowd source some physics questions for an upcoming novel.
This is clearly a modern definition. An extremely modern definition. A definition less than 50 years old with a clarification less than 25 years old that “[t]his definition refers to a [cesium] atom at rest at a temperature of 0 K.” Cesium itself wasn’t discovered until 1860. And yet the human race has had hours for far longer than this definition has been around. For most of the history of the hour it was defined as 1/24 of a day-night cycle. Actually, this is a subtle lie. For much of the history of the hour, it was defined as 1/12 of the period between sunup and sundown. The period between sundown and sunup didn’t get hours because no one was doing anything during them, so who the hell needed to know what time it was? Night was divided, if at all, into watches.
Why 12? I covered that one when I asked what time is it? For those who don’t want to do the back reading, the short answer is “the Egyptians.”
As a side note: back in that post I said “Once a society becomes more advanced, it needs more granular time,” without really going much into it. I’m not really proud of that statement, as my wanderings through history in the last year have smacked down notions of societies as more or less “advanced,” which is really a modern ethnographic concept. To employ better phrasing, the use of granulated time, which flows from broad chunks of the day to hours to half and quarter hours, relates less to the “advancement” of society as it is to the ability to easily know what time it is while on the go. If you’re bustling around Rome and not stopping to check the nearest sundial, all that matters are the periods before noon, noon itself, and after noon. When you stop at a sundial, you could see where the shadow fell and know more broadly what time it was, but the same could be gauged by looking overhead. It’s not until clocks are visible from multiple points in the city, and the advent of portable clocks we call “watches,” that the person on the go could quickly have a better notion of the actual time.
So, alright, an hour is 1/12 of the time from sunup to sundown. This was thanks to those sundials, which started working every morning when a shadow first appeared and stopped working every night when the last shadows slipped into total darkness. There’s a problem with this definition, however. The period from sunup to sundown is not a constant. Here in the DC area the winter solstice produces just 9 hours and 26 minutes (by modern reckoning using the cesium atom) of sunlight. During the summer solstice DC gets 14 hours and 54 minutes (cesium) of sun. Dividing each of those by twelve, the length of a classical hour here in DC would be 47.2 modern minutes on the winter solstice, 74.5 minutes on the summer solstice. This is a significant swing. Playing this out over a modern eight “hour” work day, this would mean working just 377 minutes in late December but 596 minutes during late June.
Which is why it’s fitting to talk about this today, one of the two equinoxes, when the modern definition of an hour is as close to the classical definition as it gets during the year. Actually, this isn’t quite right as most of the world is today experiencing a day of 727 minutes, not 720, but it’s as good as you’re going to get. This is less the day where we get equal amounts of day and night, and more the day that everyone gets an equal amount of day.
Later hours were defined not as 1/12 of the daylight, but as 1/24 of the period from sunup to sunup. This wouldn’t result in 45 minute swings in time seen by the old definition of an hour but would still drift ever so slightly and require clocks to be reset a little each morning. Using DC from March 20, 2013 to March 21 as an example, on the 20th the sun rose at 7:11, on the 21st it will rise at 7:10, resulting in a day that is a minute short, and hours that are each about 2.5 seconds off. Which doesn’t sound like much, until you turn that into 22,981,579,425 of the cesium things.
So when did hours become equal in length? Not until the 1400s. Why? It took that long for the combination of accurate time keeping and a willingness to move away from the previous sunup-to-sunup definition. Technology fighting the momentum of “that’s how we’ve always done it,” just as it will throughout human history on oh so many issues. This technology continues to push forward, and we now understand that what we once defined as an hour isn’t necessarily a constant. But I’d rather not get into that, because I’m far more likely to say something entirely wrong. Or more wrong than the wrong things I’m sure already litter this post.
I like to bring these posts back to world building, so let’s give it a shot. We’ve seen how the hour evolved on earth, and how it was originally tracked thanks to sundials. The sundial is an intuitive piece of technology, by which I mean it emerged independently at several points in human history. So let’s take it out of the picture. How does time keeping evolve on a planet where the light is diffuse, say through a constant cloud layer? There would be a clear morning and dusk as light grew and diminished in intensity, midday could be intuited as the midway point between the two, but no clear progress of shadows would be seen. How would hours be divided by a species who has a sleep cycle that doesn’t line up with the planet’s day/night cycle? Would two clocks develop? What if a culture developed under more extreme cycles, such as those seen in Iceland where the length of a day swings from 21 hours to 3 hours?
There’s one more bit I wanted to go into, but I’m already over 1200 words so I’ll hopefully get to it later in the week. It’s the related, but interesting question: What time is noon?