Intervention – The Observer Series Part 2

Part Two of the Observer Series will launch on 30th January on Kindle – It is available for pre-order now:

Amazon.co.uk  or Amazon.com also other Amazon sites worldwideIntervention cover

The continuing story of Cathy Rodriguez – a Senior Observer in the Interplanetary Geographic Service. The story follows on from Part One The World of Fives

Cathy is recalled from her Observer duties as she is asked to establish first contact with a new life form. Meanwhile the Conspiracy to prevent humans changing their non-Intervention policy continues to try and kill her. Together with Marta De Jaste, a Senior Investigator, and Tony Briggs her former jailer and security officer, they travel to the chosen planet.

On the planet Tullymeade, Karloon Niesta, a disgraced scientific observer, detects a strange anomaly. A discovery that will change his planet forever.

In deep space two groups of survivors try and recover from their battle in orbit above the planet Freevur

Intervention – Part Two of The Observer Series

A taster of the story to come – Adapted from the records of The Interplanetary Geographic Service

<<Comms Transmission SGRINC67564 − 3680-04-19-1402:16.23 burst Key XGDES2056Blowfish#@GEOSURVEYS & XGDES2056Blowfish#@COLSERV
Data Load: 1.2Tb compressed.
Survey inspection methodology: x25-theta.
Mission: 28427335f: Report 225: Comment: Mission Complete!
Reporting Officer: SupGenCol/GenGeo Rodriguez in Command Survey Ship Theta-Carmalite. In command still.
Sector: Tesla 281 Segment X-ray 132 sub-segment one. There aren’t any other sub-segments
Mission Objectives: Observe, probably the dullest mission I have ever been on apart from the collision with the asteroid/mini planet/moon whatever it was. Oh, and the rest of the millions of collisions, explosions, random debris, etc.
Earth Distance: 326,853LY. A very long way from Earth – never been this far out before.
Mission Date: 3680-04-19. Time to head in.
Population: Report 226: Comment: None, still none and will still be none in a billion years
Physiology: Report 227: Comment: Ditto
Secondary Population: Report 228: Comment: None
Language: Report 229: Comment: None, but mine is getting worse – again
Sun – System Planets: Report 230: Comment: New planetary system forming in this arm as expected with high density of Helium and Hydrogen particles. Explosive elements appear to have been caused by clash of paths of two L type gas giants, hence causing what appeared to be a super nova. Of course that was fifteen Earth years ago based on light speed explosion detection from nearest Bot. Data shows possibility of L type resulting from the mess but the jury is still out. Will require full GeoServ analysis to confirm but we’d need another half billion years before finding out for sure.
Any planets, that might have been in the original system of the star are long gone. Radiation levels are exceptionally high and there is a lot of physical debris preventing closer approach. Probes in place but several have been lost to high velocity impact. Theta-Carmalite received minor damage before withdrawing further out. Okay it was a bit more than minor damage but we’re fixing up nicely.

Situation unstable so please warn my followers or chasers of the dangers and not to get too close.

Ship Status: Report 230: Comment: Damage repaired. Probe stocks at 30% of total. Crew bored, you told me I would be.
Recommendations: Time to head in, I need a glass of real wine from CarpaMax.
Comms Transmission SGRINC67564 − 3680-04-19-1402:16.23 burst Key XGDES2056Blowfish#@GEOSURVEYS & XGDES2056Blowfish#@COLSERV>>
<<Comms Transmission SGRINC67564 − 3680-04-19-1403:38:28 burst Key XGDES2056Blowfish#@GEOSURVEYS & XGDES2056Blowfish#@COLSERV
Reporting Officer: DirFus/IntSupDir Constantine Del Quiller. Acknowledged Mission Complete, Proceed CarpaMax, I shall see you there!
Comms Transmission SGRINC67564 − 3680-04-19-1403:38:28 burst Key XGDES2056Blowfish#@GEOSURVEYS & XGDES2056Blowfish#@COLSERV>>

The Writer’s Craft

I thought I would take a break from actual writing to show you some of the tools I use to put the story together. As an example I am using Intervention the second part of The Observer Series. Whether what I display makes it into the final cut we will have to see. I am over 50,000 words into the story.

The main tool I use is Scrivener, the chapter manuscript is in the centre of the screen with the list of proposed chapter headings, characters and places/scenes on the left. All my writing is done here and the formatting for eBooks and Paperbacks using Scrivener’s Compile feature.

Screen Shot 2015-05-02 at 10.21.39

In the continuing absence of an iPad version for Scrivener, I use Index Card when I am away from my desktop Mac. It does link with Scrivener but it s not the same.

MainCorkboardStackCount-300x400

The next tool I use is to keep my timeline straight. This is Aeon Timeline which integrates with Scrivener. This one shows a couple of Arcs (chapters or scenes) with events and then cross linked to characters, scenes etc. I do not need this for all my stories but when it gets complicated i.e. with travel, synchronous events, etc.  it keeps things organised

Screen Shot 2015-05-02 at 10.21.20

Next comes the ever present Excel. Nothing very clever here, apart from all the ratios and calculations to convert Earth measurements and time into my alien settings. Of course I do not need this for every story but I find it essential in my SciFi. I like to think that my stories could work if you ignore the faster than light etc elements. Before I used Scrivener and Aeon, I also used it for character lists and timelines i.e. calculating how old people are and what day of the week it was/will be.

Screen Shot 2015-05-02 at 10.22.03

Finally, there is, of course, research. In the screen shot below, from a Physics site, (http://www.physicsclassroom.com/class/circles/Lesson-3/The-Value-of-g), I was checking up on how G is calculated, then using the formula in Excel to calculate for my other planets. Research varies considerably from Google Maps for other stories to University research papers that I read when writing To The Survivors about how viruses spread.

Screen Shot 2015-05-02 at 10.23.46

I know that many writers use other tools from simple text editors to complex design systems for covers. I use PaintShop Pro for that. One of my last Windows only tools. Keep trying to learn others but have not found a layered system one (that can import my old ones), as easy to use – I just wish there was a Mac version – come on Corel anyone would think Macs were new!

I have also used  a CAD program for laying out physical buildings. I have also used mind- mapping software – that was in An Agent’s Rise and I actually created the mind map I had the characters do.

Creating Editions

Aside

I am trying to decide if I should create different versions of my latest books to attract more types of readers as not everyone has a Kindle or other e-Reader, nor wants one.

For my first book, An Agent’s Demise, I have Hardback, Paperback, Kindle, and Smashwords versions. The ePub is also on iBooks and B&N therefore on any e-reader like the Nook. I am in the process of creating an Audio version via ACX.

For my second, To The Survivors, I dispensed with the Hardback, iBook and B&N but there are Kindle and Smashwords versions. The book is on ACX but I have had no takers for auditions.

For book three, The Persuasive Man, there are Kindle and paperback versions although I changed paperback format size. There is no Smashwords version.

For the two latest books, An Agent’s Rise and The World of Fives, there are only kindle versions.

All books are in English, (UK not USA,Australian, Canadian or other versions) although there are some dialogue elements in other languages. I have looked at creating translated versions via Babelcube and Fiverr, with no success so far.

So instead of writing new books should I take some time to create the missing Smashwords and Paperback versions? I used Lulu for my initial outings. Then I look at the downloads numbers from Smashwords or the sales through Lulu and think it is not worth the effort. Will audio versions be any more successful? Would translated versions be welcomed in non-English speaking parts of the world?

So instead I have written a blog about the decision to be taken. In the end it will come down to mood and how the creative juices are flowing or not.  Now it’s time to fire up Scrivener and see where the mood takes me.

Beta Readers

Anyone looking to be a beta reader for the sequel to An Agent’s Demise called An Agent’s Rise or the first part of my Sci-Fi series called The World of Fives – please get in touch

The Population Time Bomb

After writing about numbers and calendars I got into a discussion on the GoodReads forums about dystopian concepts and backdrops and the impact of rising populations the population time bomb I might call it.

 https://www.goodreads.com/topic/show/1486060-what-is-the-most-overused-dystopian-cliche

The discussion some of which I have repeated in this blog was mainly with Will Once a fellow GoodReads author http://www.will-once.com/

We were discussing dystopia or utopia in the future. Will wrote:

Nano technology and stem cell research are interesting because they hint at a possible utopia/ dystopia that we may be heading for. As medicines, improve we are living longer – that much is evident. What happens when the world is full of millions of 200 year olds? Do all the young uns find that the only work they can get is as doctors/ nurses and social care workers? And that they can’t afford to buy a house because the old folk aren’t dying off to release their houses back into the market.

In 1900 the average life expectancy for a man was in his fifties. He probably didn’t get much time to enjoy his retirement. Now the average life expectancy for a man is in his 80s. Some are saying that the first person to live to be 200 may have already been born.

And now the £64,000 question. Will that lead us to utopia or dystopia?

 I responded:

This is exactly the backdrop that is driving much modern sci-fi. I am trying to see how we get to the utopia without a significant event to force change. Global warming will have an impact but forget industrial CO2 emissions, the cause of those emissions is population growth, worldwide causing demand for products and resources. Add to growth better healthcare which extends life and you have a double whammy. Previous growth led to exploration to the Americas from Europe and then to Australasia. Earth’s population is rapidly on the way to seven billion without the impact of better healthcare. Curing disease is a very noble act but there is a knock on effect.

I think there will be a worldwide food and water crisis at some stage unless food production and water preparation can be increased significantly. Of course that would mean a better survival rate thus increasing the problem. For exploration we either populate the current uninhabited areas or find more space – Mars anyone?

All those actions require energy and fuel so until we have fusion power or get over our hangups over nuclear we will continue to generate more carbon. As for renewable ever tried a dull overcast day with no wind! Unless we can store the renewable energy we will always be limited that means batteries or pumping water to use as hydro electric at night/dull/windless. Tidal barrage is a possibility near coasts but fusion holds the key.

To which Will responded

I‘m not sure that emigration to Mars (or anywhere else) is really going to be the solution. As you say, we’re currently at 7 billion population. This number is increasing by an extra billion every 12 years or so. If we assume that the growth stays the same and we want to keep earth’s population static, then we would need to ship one billion people to Mars every 12 years.

That’s 83 million people every year. Or 233,000 people every day.

Let’s say that our spaceships can each carry as many passengers as an Airbus A380 – that’s 853 people in an “all economy” configuration (and also coincidentally twice the number of passengers that Star Trek’s Enterprise could carry, but let’s be optimistic).

Let’s also be really generous and say that the trip takes just 48 hours, including loading and reloading the passengers at either end. That is definitely into NC1701 levels of speed and probably needing transporter technology to get folks through the transit lounges.

We would need a fleet of 550 of these spaceships operating 24/7.

If that wasn’t bad enough, Mars would be filling up at a rate of 1 billion people every 12 years – for the first few years, but then accelerating to up to 2 billion every 12 years thereafter (their own 1 billion growth plus the 1 billion shipped over from earth).

If we started this programme tomorrow and assume that Mars was instantly colonisable, then within about 60 years Mars would be as full as the earth is now.

Oops.

A more likely scenario is that we are either going to have to learn how to live with hyper-population and/or start talking about euthanasia/ population control – eg the Logan Run idea of death at the age of 30 and/ or the Chinese one-child per family policy.

The future may well be one of minimalism. Fewer possessions, less energy consumption per person, smaller homes, less travelling, Hong Kong style city living.

 So much for my Mars idea…As I like numbers I thought I would explore the discussion with some statistics. The World’s population has increased from 2 Billion (probably under reported in the developing world) to 7 billion in a little over eighty years.

The statistics of course hide a lot of variations from life expectancy. The numbers and extension of age has a primary causation of living beyond age 1 and then age 5. Public Health improvements are the main reason life expectancy has increased and the reason life expectancy in the developing world is still so low relative to Western Europe and Japan. The number of 100 year-olds is doubling every 13 years and this rate is increasing.

Public health will improve in large potential population areas in Sub-Saharan Africa and the Asian populations of India, Pakistan, Indonesia etc. and South America continues to expand. We will have a double whammy not just in terms of greater birth rates but better and longer survival rates. More children will survive to adulthood, to produce more children and those same children will live longer.

Now tie the population to carbon emissions, I’ll use the USA and India as examples. The USA has 4.4% of world population in 2010 figures. India has 17.4%. Respectively they produce 17.3% and 6.4% of carbon emissions. Therefore USA has a quarter of the population but produces three times the carbon for it’s higher standard of living. The population in the USA has a greater life expectancy than India therefore they not only produce more carbon per head per year but for longer. If India was to raise it’s public health and consequent carbon emissions to US standards of survival and consumption, their population would nearly double, average age would increase and consumption would increase by nearly 300%. To achieve that consumption without different forms of energy is simply unrealistic. We do not have the fossil fuels on earth to produce that much energy. The impact of the carbon emissions on global warming would be well in excess of the predicted temperature rises.

I’ll not get into the argument of whether this is man made or not. It’s a pointless discussion. The rise is happening. Anyone who has been lucky enough to visit a coral reef can see the impact of pollution on coral over the last thirty or forty years. Call it temperature rise or just pollution in the water, the coral is dying regardless. Fish stocks are declining in virtually every species.

The loss of fish as a food has been largely offset by the growth in agricultural production. Most of this food has gone to people who can pay for it rather than who need it to survive, because the cost of production has to be paid for somehow. The World’s altruistic efforts to provide Governments, NGOs and the UN with funds to help famine victims only increase the pressure to grow and distribute food.

Unfortunately, I can see a future of famine for much of the Earth’s population. The West maybe partially immune because we have money to buy the resources, but that is until the demands outweigh the resources around the world. We must discover either new energy or new ways of producing and distributing food and water. We could use desalination plants for water but they need energy to run the process and create other waste in the form of carbon emissions and other toxic waste. Once salt has been removed where is it put…

We could irrigate the deserts. This would require massive investment in digging, and then pumping water, more energy and would have it’s own impact on local climate. If you visit southern Arizona (Yuma to the Californian state line) you can see this in action, desert turned green but the locals will tell you the climate has changed from dry desert to humidity. Of course the ancient Egyptians did this with the Nile so it’s nothing new.

So all we need are:

  • Clean renewable energy
  • More food
  • More water
  • Or population control

Otherwise we will have famine. We already do! It just doesn’t grab the headlines everyday although South Sudan was in the news this week. We have battles over resources around the world. They can be dressed up as political arguments and religious disputes but the underlying causes are frequently resource driven. Food, water, energy or control of these.

The Colorado River used to flow into Mexico; the trickle at Yuma that crosses the border had been used for farming, recreation, and power generation in the USA. This leaves very little for the Mexican neighbours. Water resource is already a huge issue in parts of California. The growth of Las Vegas as a city impacted the available water resource for Los Angeles and the available power generated by the Hoover Dam hydroelectric power plant. California’ population has been growing 6.3 million in 1910 census to 37 million in 2010 census. In one person’s lifespan, albeit a centenarian, a 600% population increase. As far as I am aware no new natural resources have been created in California for several billion years. Human beings have found some, maybe all, imported even more.

Droughts and floods in the UK have been met with equal levels of surprise because we cannot fund water distribution or flood defences within current tax, or payment levels. In a drought we can’t move water to drought areas and in a flood we cannot pump it away for storage. We do not want to build reservoirs, which could provide hydroelectric power. We seem to lack the vision or will for large infrastructure projects especially in the crowded expensive south of the country. The very area where demand for power, water, sewage is the greatest and growth is the highest.

To solve this will take massive sustained long-term investment, but the world does not seem to be awake to the issue. After all it will take more time than the next election window. As a final example of the absurdity of the situation I’ll pick on Coca Cola (no offence to CC but they are big enough not to care). It spends $2.9 Billion per annum on advertising its products. The largest Fusion Research effort, ITER, is costing approx. $15 billion for it’s 35-year lifespan and is 11 years late so far. In other words Coca Cola spends more per year advertising its products than the world spends on fusion research. In fact CC’s advertising spend is larger than the GDP of thirty of the poorest nations. Yet CC will need water, ingredients, and power to produce its products for the expanding world population. Where exactly are these resources to come from? This is not a rant on the failures of capitalism, socialism, communism or any other ‘ism. Where are the answers to the problem? We need food, water, and space to live and breathe clean air. We need to distribute it as fairly as possible.

Unless we can discover ways to produce more with less then the population time bomb will continue to tick. On the forum, Will finished part of the discussion mentioning Human Rights – one child per family as China experimented to reduce it’s population growth. That’s another whole realm of discussion and for the fiction writer another opportunity for stories on dystopias. I haven’t sneaked a book link in until now so hear it is – My To the Survivors story has a virus do this correction… I can’t see many utopias awaiting the human race. Mother nature/God/evolution has in the past sorted the problem out. If one species grows too big it starves or a disease reduces the levels. For the last few thousand years human beings have strived to overcome the balancing act that naturally occurred. Perhaps another major balancing act for human beings is overdue.

A Year of Writing

I   have now completed my first year as an author. My first book An Agent’s Demise was not actually published on Kindle until the end of January 2013. Paperback and hardback versions followed via Lulu.  Even writing the words I am an author still seems strange. I prefer the term writer but that also seems pretentious. Not as pretentious as I felt when friends and family asked me to sign my first editions!
 

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New Author
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I currently have three books published and available. To The Survivors and A Persuasive Man followed An Agent’s Demise in May and August respectively. To say they were all written in 2013 would be misleading. An Agent’s Demise was originally started in 2006 then disappeared until November 2012, when a change in work circumstance led to what was supposed to have been a three to six month break but turned into nearly a year. Writing filled my time, and frequently took over all my time outside of hunting for work, but that is another story and not the purpose of this blog.  Then there is the joy of that first review (good) the despair at the first bad which meant that someone other than friends or family had actually ready my scribble.  Of course making number one in free downloads was fantastic however short-lived!

I wrote back in September in a blog called Advertising for the Self-Published Author of my experiences in trying to sell my books; I thought it would be worthwhile to share my sales figures, not as a way of boasting (there is little to boast about and I don’t want to discuss A Persuasive Man) but as information to my fellow new authors, I have excluded all physical copy sales (nearly all directly to me) – they don’t change anything and SmashWords sales which total less than 10 – so here goes.

Book Stats 1

I have cut off the first couple of months of An Agent’s Demise as this distorts the charts due to the number of Free Downloads and my brief number one position, using KDP Select so here it is on its own.

Book Stats 2

The impact of various advertising campaigns I have run has been disappointing to say the least. I have not been able to attribute any increase in sale to promotions through:

  • Book Daily
  • Project Wonderful
  • GoodReads

These campaigns have cost hard earned money, which can only be recovered through higher sales. So far I would have to say they are a pointless waste of time and money.  I cannot even be bothered to list the actual statistics, number of views (allegedly hundreds of thousands) the number of clicks (tens) then the number of attributable purchases (0)

I did save money initially, by not Professionally Editing (in progress as I write) nor did I pay for cover design, promo video (I only have one) web site design or formatting. I purchased Scrivener and Aeon Timeline software after trying others.  Add in costs for ISBNs, review copies to approve physical output, then there are the library copies British library and the others.  I may never publish a physical copy again simply because of the cost.  In other word I have to purchase 7 copies of each book version just to fulfill these requirements.

I have set up two blogs, this one and one for the forthcoming Sci-Fi series The Interplanetary Geographic Service, a Facebook page and tried Twitter as guided by my betters. For book two I created a YouTube video. I have attended one writer’s workshop but personal selling has been non-existent much like my paperback and hardback sales. I did not join GoodReads until March. I updated my LinkedIn profile to include my new status.

So after my first year what are my conclusions?

KDP Select worked (for the downloaders) for An Agent’s Demise but of course free means nothing for the author.  I am not convinced free actually leads to any reviews or even readers. Amazon knows whether someone downloaded for free but do they know if they have read it?  Does a free download lead to a greater likelihood of a review?  I left KDP Select alone for To The Survivors it has never been free except for a couple of Review Copies but remains my best seller.  For A Persuasive Man it has been very difficult.  It has had more advertising then any of the others, and KDP Select Free promotions and recently a KDP Countdown.  I recently received some personal feedback on the book, which may explain its lack of sales or at least partially explain the reason.  I shall be addressing that over the next few months.

I have several new projects underway:

  • The first part of my proposed Sci-Fi tale The Observer Series – The World of Fives has had a couple of Beta readers
  • An Agent’s Rise the sequel to An Agents Demise is nearly done.
  • New editions of An Agent’s Demise and To The Survivors after editing will be out soon
  • Adjustments on The Persuasive Man
  • My collection of short stories
  • A thriller on revolution
  • More ideas in outline or just paragraphs
  • More ideas about other genres
What have I learned:
  • Building an audience takes time – if I wanted patience I’d be a doctor
  • Advertising has little if any effect – If an advertiser disagrees then put your money where your mouth is.
  • Marketing in any form, including writing this blog, significantly reduces available writing time
  • I’ll never understand how the algorithms that Amazon uses to rank sales actually work
  • Nor which Amazon search expression should be used to describe the books
  • We need more books in more varied categories
  • Too many writers, not enough readers, and even fewer reviewers
  • I have interacted with hundreds of new people around the world making friends with many – may that continue and expand
  • I love writing!
  • That being ranked in the hundred thousands is OK when it’s out of several million!
  • Pushing Publish is always going to be scary.
What would I do differently?
  • Professional editing before launch – if only it was financially feasible for many new authors.  Payback could take several years.
  • Think about a marketing plan, but don’t expect any return
  • Don’t check sales everyday, write more instead
  • Learn from fellow authors – thanks GoodReads – but not all advice will work and don’t pay for the advice.
  • Get more Beta Readers – contact me if you would like a Kindle copy for private review.
  • Blogging and commentating is OK but that is not writing
  • Keep writing!