I’m Always Angry

You often see people/memes saying that anger is a bad thing. Anger is negative. Nothing good ever comes from anger. Bollocks! If you replace “anger” with the word “violence” then I agree, but most of the time people seem to confuse the two. Perhaps you could replace “anger” with “frustration” but only up to a point.

The Hulk, Mark Ruffalo, Harry Tuttle, Modern Cave Dweller, MCD

So, what am I angry about? Well, not everything – I think – but a lot. I’m angry at me, at the world, at people, sometime, maybe, possibly, even you. I am angry that we are not doing more to stop destroying the planet. I’m angry about equality. I am angry with organised religion for exploiting people. I’m angry at banks and governments … for exploiting people. OK, I’m angry at anyone exploiting people. I also get angry at people driving cars with headphones on, or who change the settings on the toaster. Mostly, I’m angry about people accepting this as the way it has to be. I’m angry with people for not being angry enough!

If you care about the world and the people around you, you should be angry. If your not angry, I’ll assume that you don’t care.

As an artist there is nothing worse than hearing someone say your work is “nice” or something equally bland. You want to evoke an emotional response, and preferably a strong one. You want them to either love it or hate it. These are passionate, heart-felt responses. And so it should be for the important things in life. As a human, I don’t see why such passionate responses should be derided and avoided. I also love a great many things – as you can probably imagine they are somewhat the opposite of my previous list of things that make me angry. If I see someone or some organisation-thing going in a direction that I don’t like, then I will rail against them. If I don’t, I’ll be angry with myself!

I’ve been angry for a long time, certainly more than 30 years. I can still sleep at night. Well, not so well, if I’m angry with myself. Despite this, perhaps because of it, I am also an incredibly calm person. When I rail against you, it will be done in a polite manner and with as much respect as can be mustered. It doesn’t have to end in violence, physical, verbal, or other. It never does.

So if someone tells you to stop being angry, certainly given the current state of the world we live in, perhaps the most appropriate response should be – Why aren’t you angry?

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Too much Science in your Fiction: A distraction waiting to happen

I was recently reading a book – a debut science fiction novel released a few years ago. The title and author shall remain nameless for the purposes here, as they are not of importance. Black hole, Interstellar, MCD, Harry Tutle

What I am curious about is how we perceive technology, or science in general, in a story. In particular, when does science and technology take over a story? And how much does it depend on the reader?

We can consider films as well as books if you like. Indeed, if we take a couple of recent and popular films, then we don’t have to worry about ruining the career of a new author. Two recent movies have generated a lot of discussion; Gravity and Interstellar. “Experts” came out and told everyone in great detail, how the films had got it wrong, i.e. the basic science was flawed. I love science fiction and have been enjoying the resurgence in popularity for film and tv as well as books.

So I ask you, what is wrong with suspension of disbelief?

Let’s focus on Interstellar for a moment. Black holes have been popular fodder in science fiction as mechanisms of destruction as well as time travel. In Interstellar they worked hard to get the science right, having one of the worlds leading experts (Kip Thorne) involved all the way. One of the problems that created quite a bit of discussion were the special effects used for the black hole – the details of which are even less important here than in the film. Apparently the film decided to ignore certain aspects of the scientific modelling to make something that they thought the audience would find more believable. I am not a specialist/expert in astrophysics, so for me, this is simply the most intelligent thing that they could have done and any experts complaining about this should just go back and read another text book. Sometimes we perhaps need to be reminded that they are telling a story, not reporting on scientific progress.

Like black holes, quantum physics and things like entanglement, teleportation and Schrödinger cats are difficult to understand. Nonetheless, most people that have heard about them have usually also picked up some intuition about how they work – in most cases through some over-sold, over-simplified, anecdote that scientists are forced to produce and put into a press release that is later poorly presented in popular science news blogs and journals… (/rant sorry about that). Now, the person telling the story has to adapt how they represent these and make sure that it will be close to what the audience will expect. We do not want to jolt the audience out of their suspension of disbelief.

It is not the role of the story teller to be scientifically accurate and I find it one of the most absurd demands that the “expert audience” places on writers.

Having said that, if, as a writer, you choose to go into the details, you really need to make sure that your research is up to it. You should probably also try and get a beta reader that is an actual qualified expert in the area you are writing.

Why do I say this? Let’s go back to the book that I don’t want to talk about. There are a lot of references to ideas, technologies and concepts, from modern quantum physics. Now, here is my concern. I have a PhD in quantum physics – I think I’m probably too close to the concepts to casually suspend disbelief. I was too busy talking to myself about how absurd things were and how the author had got something wrong, to actually focus on the story. I kept losing track of the story. Admittedly, the start was rather dense and there were a lot of characters and concepts to introduce, but I was distracted by the technology, by the science.

I know that this sounds like I might be contradicting myself here, but unlike the interstellar produces, rather than remove detail and simplify, the author here, chose to go into a lot details that were perhaps not necessary. For the expert, the attempts were awkward and it felt forced. For the non-expert they failed to leverage the knowledge, (popular) intuition and expectation of the reader, and I suspect most would have also been jolted out of their suspension of disbelief.

There is a nice quote from Paul Franklin (special effects god) in a Wired article about this how they visualised the black hole in Intersellar

It’s very easy to fall into the trap of breaking the rules of reality, … And those rules are actually quite strict.

Have you had similar experiences? Do you have to not read books that are too close to your expertise?

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A Library, but not a book in sight

I have (almost) no books in my house. That doesn’t sound right, I hear you say, especially for someone proclaiming to be a writer. But I had to say it because it’s mostly true. Don’t go away, there is a happy ending. OK, if you can’t wait, I have a lot of e-books. Anyway, for the less impatient… There are actually some books in our house but I have for most of my adult life led a rather transient existence. The consequence of which is that with all the packing and moving and lugging from town to town, I’ve often been obliged to lighten my load. Many a friend has benefited, along with various local libraries – those people really love free books.

Trinity College Library, Modern Cave Dweller, Harry Tuttle

For those of you that are concerned, you’re so sweet, I really do have quite an extensive e-library. Library is perhaps somewhat of an exaggeration. Until recently these were scattered over myriad devices and in more formats than I thought existed. So what do I do? I seem to have settled down over the last few years and might even let myself imagine that I won’t move again for a while, so do I start building up a paper library again? To be honest, I’m not sure that it won’t go all pear shaped and I find I have to move again. Also, for some time now I have been moving towards a paperless existence – partly enforced by the aforementioned inability to stay in one place. That and my apartment is only so big.

Recently – longer than I care to admit – I have been trying to gather all of this together and get it all organised, you know, like a proper library. No, I’m not finished! To achieve this noble goal, I have chosen to use Calibre. I tried it years ago, but as I said nothing was particularly organised, so I just left it in a corner as another unfinished project. Yes, I regret that. Why? because now I have thousands of books to go through. Some of them are easy. Some need reformatting – I’d like as much as I can in epub. Do I have a good reason for that? No, not really. Most importantly, in terms of time, is that the tags for these books are nightmare. And by nightmare, I mean something really scary, not something written by a teenager that’s afraid of the dark.

Let me give you an example of the tag-madness. What in the world of tags does “FIC028000″ mean? Don’t answer that. Another favourite is “book”. It worries me what sort of person thought that this was a helpful identifier. Why are the tags a mess? My collection has accumulated over some time: some of it is free; some of it is from Project Gutenberg; some of it is from friends and I probably should have paid but I haven’t yet worked out how I feel about buying the same book multiple times, and of course there are those that I’ve just bought over the years – because that’s the right thing to do. Even after all that, when you find sensible, credible tags, there is a question of taste, or education and I don’t always agree with how a book has been labelled. Did I mention that I can be a little OCD, which is both Obsessive Compulsive Disorder as well as Occasionally Considered Dangerous.

In any case, I am enjoying having all of my books in one place – two if you count the backup. However there are a couple of thing that I do miss about having “real” books around. Books smell wonderful! There is something special about that and I’m not talking about the hallucinogens caused by the little bugs eating them – they’re not that old. Hallucinogenic books are a real thing.  The other thing I miss, is browsing the book shelf and the covers. It’s a stupid thing, and of course we never judge books by their covers, although I saw someone remark recently that a good cover can make you a lots of sales…

Anyway, this has been my choice, my compromise. I have given up the smell and the pretty covers for a virtual library. My take home advice then, for the young and old alike – Start to organise your e-library today. Even if you are lucky enough to have a real one. And please please please, for your own sanity in later life, tag everything.

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Phase One Complete – Bring on 2015!

I claim to write science facts to science fiction and beyond. I have been, for some time now, more focused on the facts than the fiction. This remains the case – this year I have published or submitted around 10 scientific papers, which is an incredibly good year no matter how you look at it. So if we look at the fiction side of things, I’m still taking baby steps, but this is a long game and this was always the plan.

Tazio Bettin, Harry Tuttle, Modern Cave Dweller, Writing, ScifiThis year the goal was to read and write as much as I could, without worrying too much about what it was. In a sense, it was a quest to find my style, and more importantly, improve how I write. The only way to do that is to write. I now have first or second drafts of a handful of flash fiction, two and half shorts as well as two novels – one about the third done and the other a bit less, but both are fully planned.

What have I been writing? I would say SciFi, but if you’re after space cruisers and alien battles, there is not much here for you yet. Trust me, this to will come. Currently, there is a heavy dystopian influence in a lot of the work – possibly too much, but it is what it is and it is more symptomatic of where I have been coming from lately and where I am heading.

I am not of the opinion that just because it is dystopian, it should be be dark and depressing – I prefer to see the positives.

In any case, I am trying to avoid a lot of the clichés for dystopian novels, but eventually, I’ll have to let you be the judge of that. In the end I am interested in the story underneath.

In the coming year the scariest part of the process will begin – I will start to share my works. If all goes well, these will slowly start to appear either directly here, or, if I’m in a super optimistic mood, published somewhere. If I could get a short story published next year that would be absolutely fantastic. There, I said it.

So, this is the last in my promised “12 for 21” series of posts. The web site is in transition at the moment. There will be a some major changes to how things are done around here in the new year – hopefully you will enjoy them, or at least find them interesting. There should be some new pages and hopefully some of my stories will start to make their appearance as well. Exciting times, if only for me!

The goal this year was to be a writer, the goal for next year is to be an author. Let’s see how that goes. Wish me luck!

Artwork by Tazio Bettin webpage: taziobettin.deviantart.com

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The Harry Tuttle | MCD: Mailing list

In an attempt to take myself too seriously, I decided to start developing a mailing list. Every author is told to do this and nearly every author starts it too late – or at least it would have been better if they’d started before. So, in an outrageous whim of ambitiousness, before I publish anything at all, you now have the chance to sign up and follow me on this crazy adventure.

I am just starting out and everything, from my writing, to how I want to publish, what sort of author/writer I want to be, is rapidly evolving. My goal is not to saturate you with a weekly newsletter telling you how great I am. The plan is primarily to email you when my stories are, or are about to be, published. As time goes on, there may be other noteworthy events, but let’s not get even further ahead of ourselves.

I look forward to hearing from you.

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From Science to Science Fiction

In my ongoing struggle to balance my day job as a scientist and my passion for science fiction it occurred to me that I could reconcile this by simply stating that:

 I write science – from fact to fiction.

 As a scientist one is typically writing about the latest results – at least that is what we would like to be doing. In reality we also spend an increasingly large amount of time writing project proposals, which is in fact writing about what we want to do in the near future, but is perhaps not even possible yet.Then, if one is really unlucky, one has to write “roadmap documents” and “vision statements”. Typically the later discuss what we can imagine to do if 5, 10, 20 years. This is very hard and requires a certain perspective over a field, or even many fields, of research. Furthermore, if we’re honest, once we get past five years, these uncertainty on these “predictions” rapidly increases. In polite company one might argue that these are educated guesses. If we were increasingly honest, we might simply say that they are a guess. Obviously, the time scales involved depend on the filed, its maturity and how fast progress is being made.Teleportation, science, scifi, mcd, Harry Tuttle

So it is that with my science fiction writing, speculative fiction if you prefer, we can see that as simply an extension of this – typically I would be looking beyond the 10-20 year time scale, certainly into guessing territory, and imaging “what if?” In science fiction, I am free from the constraint that I actually have to prove or demonstrate what I claim will be true. Nor do I have to worry about respecting the currently accepted laws of Nature but the “what if” question remains the starting point.

Let’s consider an example – Teleportation. This is a subject that fascinates the general public. The first experiments were performed back in 1997-1998 and since then many groups around the world have demonstrated this in a wide variety of physical systems. The teleportation that takes place in the lab, however, is far removed from the vision that everyone has from Star Trek. There are a couple of very important points that one needs to consider scientifically. The first thing is that matter, a person if you think of Star Trek, is not teleported, only the information pertaining to how the matter goes together is teleported – the information is then used to reconstruct the matter (or person) at the other end of the teleportation channel. The teleportation does not allow faster than light communication – some communication needs to be sent between the departure to the arrival location, so that the matter is reconstructed in the correct order.

So, if I want to now extrapolate over the next few years, I  know that in the last 15 we have gone from teleportation over a few centimetres to over 25km and that this has even been done in the normal fibre optic cables that we use for a daily communication. So I could make an educated guess that in the next 15 years that we could increase this distance in a linear way, we did 25cm then 15 years later 25km, so in another 15 years we could do 100,000km, which is over twice around the planet. Does that sound absurd? There needs to be a few things to fall into place to make that happen but the technology is all progressing. Thing is that I know that if I can already get to a few thousand km then the rest is “easy”. In any case, I keep my scientist cap on and I’m only thinking of teleporting information and not people.

Now, if I take off my scientist hat and put on my bowler – you can chose your preferred writing cap – then I can start to relax, or at least ignore, some of these annoying artefacts of reality. I could imagine that I want to teleport someone from one planet to another. I could go a step further and think about doing it in the case of an environment such that humans, as we know them, can not survive. I could imagine a life form based on Silicon instead of Carbon and I just teleport the information necessary to reconstruct a Silicon based version of myself on this new planet. Then the “what if” game starts to be really interesting. I haven’t started to think about messing with the faster than light communication but I might leave that for another time…

In the end, I can be happy that I only have one job and that’s always thinking “what if”. Sometimes I have more constraints than others but it all helps and my imagination also gets time to play.

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A French Proverb That Could Save a Writer’s Soul

Petit à petit, l’oiseau fait son nid is a french proverb that dates back to 1835 (dictionaire de l’Académie). A more or less literal translation would be: little by little the bird makes its nest. In daily speech, the lazy things that we are, this is often shortened to “petit à petit”. As in: “How is it going?” … “Petit à petit” – little by little.  It is extremely useful in a wide variety of situations, for example, when you really don’t want to go into detail about what you’re doing. More often though, it is an admission that you’re probably struggling to make progress at all today and you just want it (the day) to end  so you can start fresh tomorrow.writer quote, de niro, modern cave dweller

So it was that this made me think of the life of a writer. We run around collecting all sorts of bits and pieces of ideas, text, pictures and weave them like threads into ideas until, eventually,  some form starts to appear.  A story. A nest. I’ll leave the metaphor there for the moment, but leave it as an exercise for the class – yes you – to run with that metaphor and see where you find yourself!

Despite my well publicised lack of time (OK, mostly whinging on my part), this year is progressing quite well – petit à petit. Which you can also take to mean that it is not going backwards. So, not going backwards is great. I am not writing everyday but I am writing more and more frequently. I’m reading more. Like an athlete, this year is about training, about getting into shape, and being mentally prepared and capable. I stalk follow so many wonderful writers on the various interwebs and am learning the ropes, finding new (to me) authors, publishers and web sites and generally getting drunk on the information overload from all of those passing before me. Building a nest is not as easy as it looks, so while I’m picking up all the pieces I still have a way to go.

With that in mind, I share with you a beautiful quote from Robert de Niro on the mind  of a writer: “The mind of a writer can be a truly terrifying thing: isolated, neurotic, caffeine addled, riddled by procrastination, and consumed by feelings of panic, self-loathing and soul-crushing inadequacy. And that’s on a good day.” I get that. I accept that. And to a certain extent, I revel in that – it gives perspective and allows one to resonate with joy, with sorrow and see the best and worst not only in oneself but in others as well.  It is that ability to observe, engage one’s imagination, and then run off in the most unexpected direction that is a writer’s greatest responsibility. Then, we must do what we must do – writers write.

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