mrcreek: beetle in flight (pic#265196)
Apparently I have written a postscript describing the science behind all of my stories except The Pioneer (not counting Polymer Monopoly, which I am still turning into a full-length piece). So, here are some reflections on Shebbin's adventures. Does the plot in fact revolve around a biotechnological concept that could save the world? Read on.

Mot? )
mrcreek: Rana palustris, the pickerel frog (Default)
If you've had a chance to read Trail, here are some spoiler-heavy thoughts about the science and ideas behind it. If not, you could always go read it now (remember to read Sequence first).

Rar! )
mrcreek: Rana palustris, the pickerel frog (Default)
What follows is a rough potential first chapter for an unfinished plot. Before I write out the whole story, I am posting this because I want to make sure that the world I am building makes sense. Unlike my previous stories, this isn't technically science fiction (in the sense of "fiction that sounds like a scientist would say it's plausible"). Rather, it's more like biochemistry-themed steampunk fantasy. If you have taken advanced placement or college biology, you should be able to follow along quite easily. However, I want all readers to be able to understand what's going on, even without the background knowledge. After all, most fantasy stories introduce novel terms and concepts that are made up out of whole cloth, and the readers absorb them without difficulty. My goal is for this story to be the same way, except that many of the components actually come out of a science textbook. I guess what I want to know is, should I describe the technology in more detail or less? Should I use more jargon or less? To what extent should I call things by their proper names? And so on. Take a look (warning: contains lethal violence).

Though I am now known as the simple triphmonger who brought down the robber baron Ezekiel Montgomery, none of it would have happened if one of my globular moped's pseudopods hadn't gotten itself denatured. Without that pothole, you would still be choosing between triph and trout to this day. But I'm getting ahead of myself. )
mrcreek: beetle in flight (pic#265196)
I have posted The Pioneer at originalfiction. Here are the details:

Title: The Pioneer
Genre: Original Science Fiction
Rating: PG for non-explicit references to reproductive biology, mild violence
Summary: A young hominid growing up on an alien world finds her peaceful life disrupted by shipwrecked space travelers.
Notes: The sequel to The Gardener. Contains spoilers for The Gardener, obviously. Approximately 9,000 words. Five chapters and an epilogue.

This is probably my most generic story yet, both in terms of the "hero's journey" plot structure and the "mysterious visitors from outer space" trope, but I think the creativity comes out in the speculative biology. See this post for random musings about the background to this story. I hope you like it.
mrcreek: beetle in flight (pic#265196)
If you enjoyed "The Gardener," you can look forward to the sequel I am writing, "The Pioneer." I'm still putting on the finishing touches, but here are some reflective thoughts about The Gardener and a hint of what is coming next (without any plot spoilers for either story, so read ahead without fear).

I'm not familiar with very many stories set in the far, far future like this one is. I'm not sure why that is the case, but I really enjoy how this setting provides almost limitless worldbuilding while still being grounded in the history and biological realities of life on Earth as we know it. Extraterrestrial life is a fascinating concept, but it's kind of overused in science fiction, and I'm a bit of an alien skeptic anyway (if they exist, and if they are at least as complex and intelligent as multicellular terrestrial life, and if they are close enough to us in the universe that we'd be able to interact with them, then that would be really cool, but the probabilities associated with each of those ifs might be pretty small). Terrestrial life after millions of years of evolution gives you many of the same imagination benefits as aliens, while remaining slightly more plausible. Plus you can assume that something different evolved in every solar system seeded by humans, which can be combined with diverse technological and cultural advances, leading to practically infinite storytelling options. Human differentiation raises other fascinating questions. What if racial variation were real and significant, not just skin deep?

The idea for "The Gardener" originated when I wondered what phenotypic plasticity taken to the extreme would look like. Would a totally plastic species have a high probability of survival? How would it interact with other members of its species that occupied distinct niches? In the story I don't go into details about how the fungus species evolved, but in my head I assume it included natural or directed horizontal gene transfer, so the fungus didn't have to reinvent from scratch many of the adaptations found in various species today. As a biologist, I'm tempted to include detailed physiological descriptions of some of these forms, but to keep the action moving I have mostly maintained brevity. Some of the adaptations can be (I hope) inferred by the reader; e.g. the vegetation is black because that pigment would absorb the full energy spectrum of sunlight, an improvement over green chlorophyll. One challenge in writing was to avoid taxonomic terms; there are no "birds" or "insects" in Yorel's world, because every organism is a fungus, not an animal, even if it looks and behaves like an animal. But the distinction between taxonomic words and ecological words can be blurry. For example, a "carnivore" is either (taxonomically) a member of a particular order of mammals, Carnivora, which includes cats, dogs, and weasels, or it is (ecologically) any meat-eater, such as a shark or a venus fly trap. Yorel's world includes carnivores of the latter sense but not the former. Another interesting challenge was to avoid the trappings of sexual reproduction, since the fungus reproduces with spores. There is no pollen in Yorel's world, for example. Although there are "fruits" and "flowers," I assume these have an asexual purpose, such as to attract mobile organisms to spread spore.

"The Pioneer" takes place twelve years after The Gardener ends, and it focuses on the new character that was introduced in the epilogue. It begins kind of like "Little House on the Planet," but then the young heroine's peaceful life is disrupted when strange visitors land and are not happy with the fact that they are not permitted to leave. I can't say more without any spoilers, so you'll have to check out the story when I get it posted.
mrcreek: manatee (pic#265186)
After recently reading "Steller's Island" by Dean Littlepage, I have become fascinated by the life of Georg Steller. He is a rather neglected historical figure, but what an badass scientist! He travels halfway around the world from Europe, across Siberia and the North Pacific, to Alaska on the exploratory voyage of Vitus Bering, becoming the first scientist to visit the west coast of North America and making the first European contact with Native Alaskans. Their vessel is shipwrecked on an uninhabited island, the captain and many other sailors die, almost everyone gets scurvy, and the stranded survivors are forced to spend the sub-Arctic winter in hillside borrows. And what does Steller do in this situation? He founds the science of marine mammalogy and conducts some of the most rigorous and invaluable research of his day, including the only description of the now-extinct Steller's sea cow. He also helps the other castaways build a new boat from the remains of the old one and return to Asia. He wrote the first scientific descriptions of many species, several of which now bear his name. His insights included everything from the close relationship between the peoples of Alaska and Siberia to the importance of eating fresh green food to avoid scurvy. He also had a very intense, enthusiastic, and quick-tempered personality that was probably both entertaining and infuriating to witness.

Steller died while returning to Europe. However, if you imagine he did not, I think there is a lot of potential here for alternate-history, maybe steampunky Steller fan fiction. Consider the possibilities:

1. Steller as an environmental superhero of the Pacific Northwest. Steller stays in America, teams up with the locals who have superb seafaring kayak technology, and constructs, I don't know, some sort of giant kayak pulled by Steller sea lions or something, defended by harpoons and gunpowder. Although Steller loved to shoot animals, I can imagine him discovering the advanced ecological principle of "if you kill them all, there won't be any more left." He cruises around protecting the sea otters from the fur trade and presumably saving the sea cows from extinction. And doing science, of course. This is, after all, a man who once traveled hundreds of miles out of his way by dogsled just to get paper to press his plant samples (seriously).

2. Steller discovers the theory of evolution 100 years before Darwin (yes, his whole voyage took place in the mid-1700s, before the American Revolution, and certainly before Humbolt, Darwin, Wallace, or most of the other pioneering naturalists you may have heard of). The parallels between Steller and Darwin are rather remarkable: born almost exactly a century apart, both men visited unpopulated Pacific islands and studied the fauna in detail, including flightless cormorants which have evolved only in those two locations (the one Steller observed is now extinct, so we don't really know if it was truly flightless). Steller's writings contain hints of Darwinian ideas, but if he ever followed them through to their eventual conclusions, he never wrote about it. If he had only lived as long as Darwin, modern biology might have been jump-started a lot sooner.

3. In actual historical fact, Steller described a "sea ape" he observed from the boat. Most historians think this was a fur seal that he just didn't get a good look at, although he observed thousands of fur seals yet he apparently still considered the ape to be something different. What was the deal with this sea ape? Did it have affinities to sasquatch? Maybe Steller has more adventures tracking it down.

4. Steller changes the course of history through interactions with later-arriving explorers of the North Pacific sailing for Russia, Spain, or Britain (Grigory Shelikhov, Juan Bodega y Quadra, Captain Cook, Alexander Mackenzie, George Vancouver, etc.), famous Native Americans (e.g. Chief Seattle as a child), assorted pirates or other folks whose visits to the Pacific went unrecorded (Ben Franklin? Voltaire?) or even Lewis and Clark (who finally get there when Steller is very old and the action is long over).

5. Romance. Not much is known about Steller's sexuality, although he presumably didn't care for his wife very much, as he abandoned her in Europe and was in no hurry to get back to her, even after returning to civilization. But if you're into speculating about that kind of thing, you do have a bunch of men sharing close quarters in cold weather.

I have no immediate plans to write a story about Steller, since so far I can't find I way to keep the cheesiness down to an appropriate level, but who knows, maybe these ideas will come together. Mostly I just wanted to gush, and maybe spark some else's imagination.
mrcreek: silky anteater (pic#265189)
Head over to [community profile] originalfiction to read my latest story, Trail. Here are the specs:

Title: Trail
Genre: Original Science Fiction
Rating: PG-13 for moderate (mostly creature) violence, sexual dialogue
Summary: Grad students Don and Barbara embark on another adventure in evolutionary genetics, linking them once again to Starlight and the beasts of his world.
Notes: The sequel to Sequence. Contains spoilers for Sequence, obviously. Approximately 13,000 words. Eight chapters.


mrcreek: silky anteater (pic#265189)
I am writing a sequel to Sequence, called Trail. Apparently my primary use for this DW account will be as a medium for writing and posting short original science fiction stories. Who knew?

I didn't have any aspect of Trail in mind when I wrote Sequence, so it's more like fan fiction of my own story than a planned series. I liked the characters, the theme of using genetics to solve a mystery in a suspenseful adventure, and the blending of two stories from different time periods. It's hard for sequels to be as serious as the original, largely because a greater suspension of disbelief is necessary ("You mean those same people who had all those remarkable things happen to them the first time found themselves in another set of unlikely circumstances?"). So I had a little more fun with this one, and it's more about the characters, action, and animals than about the plot and the mystery.

I want to talk a little about the science and creative process behind Sequence. Since I'm about to start spouting spoilers for Sequence (but not for Trail), I'd better bury the next few paragraphs.

Recommended that you read Sequence first )

Anyway, I should have Trail up soon. I'm really enjoying writing it.
mrcreek: Rana palustris, the pickerel frog (Default)
The final version of Sequence is now posted publicly at [community profile] originalfiction . Thanks to [personal profile] smirking_muse for being a thorough and helpful beta, and to [personal profile] wintercreek for comments and inspiration.
mrcreek: Rana palustris, the pickerel frog (Default)
I am writing a science fiction story. I suspect it will end up being over 10,000 words long. I'm billing it as a "molecular evolution thriller," inspired by Michael Crichton novels (the good ones), Sagan's "Contact," the move "Pi," and "The Da Vinci Code" (but with DNA instead of artwork). A message lies hidden in our very genomes, accessible in public web databases to anyone who can discover and decipher it. Those who know of the secret fight to control it for religious, military, or scientific reasons. The heroes find themselves racing to understand the mystery before it's too late. Also featuring cool prehistoric beasts.

This story is original fiction, not fan fiction, and there will probably be little or no sex in it. If anyone is still interested despite these drawbacks, please take a look. I plan to post it, one or two chapters at a time, in closed-access posts. If it sounds like something you'd like to read, subscribe to me and I will almost certainly grant you access. It's not ready yet, but it should be soon. I would appreciate any feedback you care to give me. I may take the DW feedback I receive and edit the story into a final draft that I'll post publicly.
mrcreek: Rana palustris, the pickerel frog (Default)
"Imagination is more important than knowledge." –Albert Einstein

As a scientist, I traffic in knowledge. My professional task is to discover true facts about the natural world. The role of imagination in science is sometimes underappreciated by non-scientists, but it is essential to formulating new hypotheses and ways to test them. Scientists use imagination as a means to reach the goal of knowledge.

This Dreamwidth account is about doing the opposite: using knowledge as a means to reach the goal of imagination. Here, I will appreciate imagination for its own sake, using what I know to be real to help me contemplate what could be real, in this universe or another. If developing my creative and wondering side helps me to be a better scientist, perhaps leading to an indefinite positive feedback loop of imagination and knowledge, then, well, yay. If not, I suspect it will still help me to be a better person.

This account is also a celebration of my relationship with my best beloved partner, wintercreek. As a humanities type, she plays opposite me in Snow's Two Cultures. With our distinct interests and backgrounds, we balance each other like a yin-yang and help each other to grow. She has introduced me to the world of fandoms and transformative works. Part of what I plan to explore here will be the similarities and differences in the ways that she and I approach and appreciate stories and build upon them.

As a youth, I thought of myself as both a scientist and an artist. I spend more time on the science part these days, but at various times in the past I have invested a great deal of time and energy writing songs and poems, drawing cartoons, acting in plays, and throughout all of these activities helping to tell stories. I hope I continue to do so in the future.