Archive for September, 2010

Interview with an Oracle

September 23, 2010

This was written originally as a character interview promoting Rast, my fantasy novel to be released next March. I’m enlarging on it here (well it’s my space, isn’t it?)

CH: Hi, folks. First off, this is me, the author, setting up the interview. To interview the Pythian, one has to descend a long passage beneath the Palace of Rast to the underground chamber where the Oracle resides. Another thing to mention is that the Pythian is given to breaking out into riddles in blank verse. To give the setting, I’ll quote a passage from a chapter in Rast where the Prince goes down to consult him.

<Step after step wound away before him. His feet followed them down and down, around and around, as if the way would hypnotize him. The bronze studs of his boots clacked on the hard stone until there were steps no more, merely a steep sloping tunnel to slip and scuff down into the depths. He descended in a flickering bubble of light that seemed as a globe, drawing him down into a darkened, petrified ocean. And then, all at once, he was at the bottom.

His light became a glimmer in a wide chamber. At the far end two green orbs appeared as from an empty void. “Egon,” came a resonant voice. “What a pleasant meeting.”>

CH: Here we are in the pitch black chamber … don’t become bogged in the thick dust … it’s a bit creepy. Can’t see a thing. Whoops, there are the eyes in the distance, like two green moons.

“Oh, hello. Have I met you before, dear boy?”

CH: Boy? That’s a good one, I’m seventy-one.

“Pshaw. I’m at least a hundred times that. But should I know you from somewhere?”

CH: I did write the book.

“Mere triviality. We are the creatures who inhabit it –.
“Empty pages only blow in wind
“When no spirits reside therein”

CH: I guess you’re right about that. But one thing I didn’t establish in the book was this matter of all magic creatures being connected. How does that work?

“Interests in common
“Common discourse make”

CH: Uhuh … so what form does it take?

“No phone have we;
“No Internet.
“We may reside in diverse abodes
“And fixed as mountains or the sea …”

CH: Yes, I know all that but how do you do it … telepathy?

“I’m coming to that. Don’t interrupt.”

CH: Sorry, but I don’t have your millennia to pursue these answers.

“Fault is yours; creator-man.
“Builder of worlds fantastic.
“Written a better self prognosis should you have.”

CH: I didn’t get the chance.

“Then what merit is yours
“Ink bedraggled scribbler?

CH: You took that from a line in my book.

“So sue me for plagiarism.
“Mighty author, what power hast thou
“If a minor character
“Has wit to baffle your designs?”

CH: Okay, already. Characters have to possess the freedom to be themselves.

“So I may choose my answers?
“Foretell or obfuscate
“As I may delight?”

CH: Will you let us get on with the answers if I concede your point?

“Meaning, dear boy?”

CH: You’re right.

“I generally am. Did you come for some advice, or a foretelling of your future?”

CH: You might let me know how many copies of Rast will sell.

“Your pecuniary question is moot
“Since your task is done
“And other eyes and minds will take their route.”

CH: Thanks, I believe I already knew that.

“Oh, think a lot of ourselves, do we?
“Is that the right you claim
“As writer of the book?”

CH: Hmm. Should we get back to this oracle business? What would be the best avenue of book promotion?

“Does a poor magic creature
“Residing in dark, bereft?
“Offer words of value
“For so little consideration?”

CH: Oh, you mean I didn’t bring you your honey toasted roaches?

“Aha, not so dull after all.
“Visit the palace kitchen
“Catch the morsels (plenty reside therein)
“And tender them to me.
“I may answer your question then … or not.
“You see – the future is easy not to learn.
“Goodbye.”

CH: Drat. Here I am on the way up the passage. Sorry I wasn’t able to find out more about the Pythian and his world. Magic creatures are not easy to handle.

Character Interview – Henrik Matah 2

September 11, 2010

TWV: Welcome back, Dr Matah. I was hoping you’d tell us about some of your work this time – and how you determined the development path you did.

“The choice of path wasn’t mine alone, of course. I discussed our options with not only the engineers but with all the other departments represented in the Iskander mission.”

TWV: A very quick recap for those unfamiliar with the problems of the Iskander is probably in order here.

“Yes, the commercial charter that was to take us to fulfill our development contracts on the colony world N-3 – to begin the basics of its technological development – went astray and brought us to an alternate Earth, called by its inhabitants Gaia. We did not know how to find our way back to ‘our universe’ – still don’t – and so we have had to build ourselves lives on Gaia.”

TWV: If any Earth people were to find themselves stranded on the 17th century Gaia, I’d suggest the hundred and ten specialists on the Iskander were probably the best qualified to cope.

“We did have advantages in that way, but even so, starting to build a technological infrastructure on a world without technology has been a labourious business.”

TWV: You had some useful technology on the Iskander that could be put to work in short order.

“We have the automated production facilities, but they were totally inadequate for the volumes of production we needed, even at the beginning. We had to start an industrial development.”

TWV: The steelworks and the steam engine plant?

“Yes. Not very innovative, but it made sense to follow the path the Industrial Revolution did on our world. We not only needed to produce and sell desirable products immediately to earn ourselves a living, we had to start training the local people to use them – to be able to repair and to build them, and of course, to need them.”

TWV: And the war materiel was your earliest product.

“I’m not proud of that, but war fighting innovations were the most profitable, at that stage. The people with the most money were the rulers and nobility in a 17th century kind of culture and they were the ones whose political squabbles most often led to open warfare.”

TWV: And Iskander’s assistance to the Autarch of Tarnland, fighting to free his country from the nations who had ruled it for a hundred years, resulted in spectacular victories that opened everyone’s eyes to the value of Iskander technology.

“Yes, but don’t think it was only our improved muskets, our cavalry revolvers, and our rifled cannon that gave his armies victory. You mentioned our useful technology that had travelled with us on the Iskander. The radios we had brought to help us in our development work on N-3 provided the Autarch’s forces with the instant intelligence that wins battles. While his opponents struggled to find their way through the ‘fog of war’, the Autarch’s commanders had Iskander officers with the radio communication links at their elbows – and satellite imagery from the orbiting starship – to provide sure information on which to base their actions.”

TWV: And the radio developments have been almost as successful as desirable products as the war materiel.

“Yes. Somewhere around 15% of all European merchant ships now carry radio receivers that give them accurate time for navigation and accurate, timely weather reports broadcast daily from the Iskander in its stationary, equatorial orbit.”

TWV: And many households and establishments have receivers to listen to the Iskander news broadcasts, as well as the advice and instruction programs that offer everything from cooking and health information to lessons in accounting and agriculture.

“Yes indeed. We have to admit we include healthy doses of propaganda with the news and information – nothing dishonest, but with a clear modern Iskander viewpoint instead of the time honoured, and often mistaken, Gaian ideas.”

TWV: And these radios are sold to anyone? Isn’t Iskander careful to keep strategical secrets?

“Oh sure, but we are mass producing the receiver chips aboard the Iskander. Not only does no Gaian know what principles the advanced radios operate under, they have no way of knowing how the components are made. No disrespect to the Gaians but they could no sooner reverse-engineer these radios to learn our communications technology than a monkey could understand electricity from toggling a light switch. All the radio users know is that putting the receivers in sunlight, to power them, enables the programs to come out of the speakers.”

TWV: I see. However you use a different path with the steam engine technology.

“Yes, because we are using steam as our instruction medium for creating the beginnings of a technological culture. We want Gaians to learn steam and become good mechanics, and good workers for our future developments. Mastering steam will result in a future work force that can handle the really modern technology many years in the future – perhaps in the world when the children and grandchildren of the present Iskanders will need them.”

TWV: Yes, this is a forever story you are building. I wish I had more time and space to continue this, but I must close now. Please come back sometime and tell us more about turning a simple world into a modern, complex one – and the pitfalls that must be avoided, too.

Character Interview – Dr Henrik Matah, Director of the Bergrund Industrial Complex.

September 1, 2010

TWV: Welcome to The Wildcat’s Victory, Dr Matah.

“Call me Henrik, I don’t have time for titles and rank.”

TWV: Yes, of course. Do I see where Gisel got her own impatience with formality?

“You mean from me? Strange idea – I don’t think she takes my part in anything.”

TWV: If you say so. But to go back a little – surely you have frequent noble dignitaries visiting Bergrund? Who deals with the issues of protocol?

“Count Bergrund used to, and now his daughter Katya – my wife – takes care of massaging royal egos and noble sensitivities.”

TWV: Ah – you have married again? I didn’t see an announcement.

“We had a quiet family wedding about a year ago. It was a busy time at the works, so we didn’t want to be interrupted by some huge social occasion.”

TWV: And Lady Katya was accepting of the situation?

“Why should she not?”

TWV: Grand weddings are the norm on Gaia, especially if the union is one of social significance. I would have thought she might have been keen to show off her catch. You were a very eligible bachelor.

“Ahem. (Looks embarrassed) Perhaps not in the situation – you see … well. She was …”

TWV: Pregnant? So you have a new family?

“A son, Agraj Bjorn. Named for my father and Katya’s, as is the custom here. But I assure you she is enjoying a great deal of social life since the child was born. She also presides over protocol and arrangements at official Iskander functions, and has become a regular visitor at the royal court in Stadholm.”

TWV: Indeed? Iskander and the royal family of Tarnland are close friends? I thought from some of Gisel’s problems that there had been a cooling of relations in the past year or two.

“Hmm. I don’t like getting into politics, but there was a situation for awhile. We were able to fix it.”

TWV: Really? What happened?

“My idea, in the end. I merely cut the Autarch in as a partner in the Iskander Steel Enterprises. He gets 20% of the profits from armaments and seems very content.”

TWV: Then you are a consummate politician after all. You and Gisel are alike in that. But that isn’t the whole of the Iskander holdings, is it?

“Not by any means. Steel Enterprises is the armament factory – then there is Iskander Steam, that builds the boilers and steam engines; Iskander Maritime, our shipbuilding; Iskander Aviation, our new aircraft factory; Iskander Electric; Iskander Domestic … makes stoves, refrigerators and all that … well, you get the idea. We didn’t put everything in the same basket.”

TWV: And where does the Iskander-Felger Partnership figure?

“It too is separate, and has dealings with all the other Iskander enterprises on its own account. Even the young people have a firm of their own.”

TWV: Who? Gisel and Yohan?

“Yes. They have a company called Industrial Fastenings. Makes threaded bolts, nuts, wood screws, springs – lots of items needed for Gaian entrepreneurs to modernise their own factories.”

TWV: Really? Gisel is into nuts and bolts – seems very mundane for a gal with her reputation.

“Not at all. She and Yohan are very shrewd. Fastenings and springs are fundamental to upgrading the industrial infrastructure of Gaia. The nuts and bolts, as it were.”

TWV: (Chuckle) Yes I see. So it’s very profitable?

“(Laughs) Very. I wouldn’t be surprised if she doesn’t turn out to become the richest of all the Iskanders. She did have a head start with prize moneys and awards for service to other governments – then the salaries and bonuses from the Partnership.”

TWV: So, what do you think her holdings are worth?

“Oh, you’d better ask her. But she started with about twenty thousand Ducats when the Partnership started – say about four million Dollars in your currency. Probably adds a million a year now – or would if she didn’t have all the outlays for her own interests,”

TWV: The women’s rights thing?

“Yes – and the Workers’ Brotherhood. But let’s say no more about that – she’s in a very deep game there and I wouldn’t want to make things difficult for her.”

TWV: But you do approve of developing the social background of Gaia’s workers as well as their technical skills?
“It’s all of a package … isn’t it? You can’t run an industrial revolution with serfs and peasants.”

TWV: As the Tsars of old Russia found out.

“You mean Lenin’s revolution? Something like that, but we hope to be able to manage the extremists better. Industry needs a social democratic basis to thrive, but … that’s politics again. I’m an engineer. Ask me about Iskander’s technological developments, not it’s political strategies.”

TWV: I certainly will, but perhaps another time? We’re about out of time for this interview. Perhaps you’ll return soon. You can bend my ear with your engineering enthusiasm.