Star Wars: World War II in SPACE!

Victory_Celebration_ANH
Star Wars IV: Victory Celebration

There’s a fair amount of analysis on the web on how Star Wars, Episode IV, borrows from many sources, including, of course, Nazi Germany.

The fascist aesthetic of Imperial architecture and its uniforms is unmistakable. Palpatine’s rise to power has close parallels to Hitler’s path to dictatorship: appointed chancellor to break a political stalemate (one of Hitler’s making) before, of course, seizing power. So, too, many names come from World War II, especially from the German side (Hoth, for instance).

Here are a number of other World War II parallels, most of which were probably quite intentional on Lucas’ part, although perhaps some were just part of the consciousness of “what war should be like.”

Bundesarchiv_Bild_102-04062A,_Nürnberg,_Reichsparteitag,_SA-_und_SS-Appell
Nuremberg Rally, 1934

Tatooine was, of course, filmed in Tunisia. North Africa was a secondary front but it played an out-sized morale boosting role in Britain and the U.S as (arguably) the birthplace of allied resistance, if more in the imagination if not in reality. It also inspired a number of iconic Star Wars elements:

  • The allied forces complained heavily of thieving, scavenging locals (think Jawas)
  • The Sand People inspiration is perhaps more diffuse but North African raiders have a long history, even if they didn’t figure so much in World War II. Turning farther east, Arab nationalists fought in desert robes reminiscent of both Jawas and Sand People in the Middle East in both wars.
  • Pilots crashed in the desert (like the droids at the start). Many died, some made it out. A few wrote stories about it or inspired fiction, like Flight of the Phoenix.

Battle for Britain provides a rich source of analogs: love the chatter between the rebel pilots, the wing leaders, color-coded squadrons, the command center back at home base? That is all very much inspired by the British defense of the home isles in 1940, from the command and control center (Fighter Command) to the banter between pilots, terminology used, and, of course, the dog fights. There are even historical cases of Fighter Command radio operators (usually female) controlling loved ones in battle, and sadly, losing them in combat as well, including a woman who listened to her fiancee’s death, live.

How about the Millennium Falcon? While it must be based more on a tramp freighter than anything else, the two quad laser canons sure look like defensive machine guns on a B-17. I’d say they are a mix of the turret guns and the waist guns (maybe more turret gun in appearance and waist guns in positioning, in that the two gunners were opposite of each other.) Similarly, the headsets that Luke and Han wore while battling the TIE fighters is reminiscent of the B-17 crew’s gear.

While storm troopers were a creation of the World War I German Army, they certainly lived on in spirit into World War II. Serried ranks of Storm Troopers, especially in later movies, look quite a lot like soldiers at the immense Nuremberg rallies of the 30s. With their height and uniform appearance, as well as the clone angle, they also echo Nazi race ideas.

The age of battleships ended in World War II and while they played second string to aircraft carriers, the battleships are as iconic of that war as are the very similar Star Destroyers. Said Star Destroyers don’t quite rise to an aircraft carrier equivalent (to me) and neither does the Death Star but certainly the TIE fighters dueling with rebel fighters takes a cue from the great air battles of the Pacific War, as do the mix of anti-ship and air-supremacy aircraft of both sides.

None of this is meant to detract from Star Wars in any way. I quite enjoy how Lucas mined World War II for ideas. It adds a whole layer of verisimilitude as well as just being plan fun to spot. And in the mid-70s, when Star Wars came out, World War II was a whole lot closer in living memory than it is now, so much of this must of been accepted with little comment at the time from those who fought the war, many of whom would have been in their 50s.

What World War II analogues do you see in Episode IV or the later movies?

 

 

The eBook nears after a few detours

Current Draft of Book Cover - Copyright 2015 M. Q. Allen
Book Cover – Copyright 2015 M. Q. Allen

It’s been a longer road than I expected (silly me, I believed Amazon’s FAQs on publishing) but I think I have the eBook recipe ready. A final proofread is still in progress but Prince of Leaf and Stone should be live by end of the month.

The main problems I encountered had to do with getting a TOC (table of contents) in my doc, getting a TOC that comes up from the Kindle menu, getting that TOC to look right, and getting the book to open in the right spot. None of those are showstoppers but getting those right can make a book look more professional.

My experience has been with Scrivener for Windows, which is much less featured than the Mac version, in particular missing a feature that lets you set the start of doc.

Things You’ll Want

You definitely want the Kindle Previewer, which despite it’s name, not only let’s you preview your book, it will convert html and epub files to Amazon’s .mobi format.

You’ll also want Send to Kindle which is both a stand-alone app and something that you can get to from your file browser on a right click, which let’s you upload files to your Kindle (or a friend’s Kindle). Thing to remember: it will only appear on a right click for those file types it can upload (.mobi, .doc, .pdf) and not for others, like .epub.

You may also want KindleGen which is not needed for one-off mobi conversion (Kindle Reader does that) but can be used for bulk conversions. More importantly, if you want to write out .mobi directly from Scrivener, you’ll need KindleGen.

What Doesn’t Work: Scrivener -> MS Word -> HTML

Amazon suggests editing your book in MS Word (Scrivener writes out .doc and many other formats), adding an MS Word TOC, adding bookmarks for where your TOC and start page are, then writing it out as Web page, Filtered (html). You then use Kindle Previewer to convert the html to mobi. This does get you a mobi file and there is a TOC embedded in the document but you don’t see the TOC in the Kindle reader menu nor does the start page get set.

I found lots of kind posts on the web saying this does work or ways to directly edit the html to add the start and toc tag but none of that worked for me. Start and TOC remained stubbornly absent. From the posts I found on this, I’m not the only one who can’t get that to work.

What Also Doesn’t Work: Scrivener -> Mobi

Scrivener can write directly to mobi so I tried that. The table of contents does appear in the doc and from the Kindle menu but the starting position is second page of my TOC. This is apparently an issue of at least 2 years standing, not just an odd quirk of my doc.

The Kindle TOC also puts some but not all of my front matter (copyright, dedication, etc.) under a collapsible header.  No matter how I organize my front matter in Scrivener, it doesn’t seem to group all of the front matter under the header.

Still more failure: Scrivener -> epub -> Kindle Previewer

Scrivener can also write out epub files. Tried that, converted them in Kindle Previewer. Same as the direct mobi path.

What does work: Scrivner -> epub -> edit epub file -> Kindle Previewer

After more research, I discovered that an epub file is easily editable because it is just a .zip file. Rename it to .zip, extract the files– which are all plain text– and rezip it when you are done. It’s surprisingly easy.

What you want to do, according to a forum post here is find the guide part of the file content.opf. This file can be edited with any text editor such as Windows NotePad. You will probably find something like the following at the bottom:

<guide>
<reference type=”cover” title=”Cover” href=”cover.xhtml” />
<reference type=”toc” title=”Contents” href=”contents.xhtml”></reference>
</guide>

Before the </guide> (in html <xxx> is like an open parentheses for a particular object type and </xxx> is like the close parentheses), add the following lines (in bold), replacing body3.xhtml with the chapter you want to start with (you can open the .xhtml files in NotePad or Word or your browser to figure out which one is your chapter one):

<guide>
<reference type=”cover” title=”Cover” href=”cover.xhtml” />
<reference type=”toc” title=”Contents” href=”contents.xhtml” />
<reference type=”text” title=”Text” href=”body3.xhtml” />
<reference type=”text” title=”Start” href=”body3.xhtml”></reference>
</guide>

Actually, I didn’t find a source that said to add both of the bold lines (the various pages I found recommended one or the other) but the first one of the two only seems to fix the front matter grouping problem for me, the second one actually seemed to move the start page.

Full disclosure: this didn’t actually move the start to where I told it to go but it did move it to my title page which is much better than the second page of my TOC. So I’m declaring victory.

The steps that worked for me are:

  1. Write out a .epub file from Scrivener
  2. Change the .epub file to a .zip file and extract it to a temporary directory
  3. Find the content.opf file (which is usually in a sub-directory) and edit it
  4. Add the two extra lines (above) to the guide section and save the file
  5. Make a new zip file
  6. Rename the zip as .epub
  7. Use Kindle Previewer to convert the .epub to a .mobi
  8. Check it out in the previewer (where the start page for me is actually where I want it)
  9. Upload it with Send to Kindle and check it on a real Kindle (where the start page is not where I want it but is in an acceptable place)

This all seems like it is a lot harder than it should be because how hard can it be to specify a TOC and a start page? But there you have it; it is still pretty clunky. And probably buggy: pretty sure the start page should not be different between the Previewer and the Kindle: Amazon has something broken.

You can probably have Kindle Previewer convert the html files directly without making a .epub (i.e., skip steps 5 and 6) but I didn’t try that.

Also, if editing the html is daunting, there is a free program called Sigil that lets you edit .epub files. I didn’t try it because after many hours of messing around, I wanted to write the html exactly as I wanted it.

There are folks who will do all this for you for a fee. I didn’t price it but it shouldn’t be all that much since this process isn’t that hard once you know your way around it.

Finder Pages

Just a modest clean-up to the site: I’ve replaced the archives and category links on the left which had become bloated and not terribly  useful with a menu strip above with pages to posts by categories.

Next step will be to look at a new theme and probably rework the banner.

Let me know what you think!

Tolkien didn’t do Fantasy Writers any Favors

Cover of "The Silmarillion"
Cover of The Silmarillion

Okay, that’s a bit harsh. What I really mean is Tolkien‘s elaborately crafted setting didn’t do us any favors but the title was getting wordy. That’s not to say that, like many readers, I don’t love his setting. I do adore it, from its linguistic elements to the ring with its history back into the earlier ages of the world. It’s all great stuff and much of what makes The Lord of the Rings (LOTR) the story it is.

The disservice is that such a setting is not a requisite for a good fantasy book or even a long running series. Especially for those of us who come to writing through refereeing fantasy roleplaying games, it can be a time-consuming pitfall. You see, having enjoyed Tolkien’s appendices, The Silmarillion, and other assorted bits, it is easy to take this level of detail as a requirement for a good fantasy setting, when it isn’t. It worked for Tolkien but let’s not forget he was a philologist and university professor: he created this great world as much as for a hobby as for his novel.

You can tell the setting only matters so much because Tolkien actually put very little of it into LOTR. Certainly some is present, but only enough to serve the story. There’s even less of it in The Hobbit. Granted that was an earlier book but it is interesting how little of his great setting shows up in the Hobbit, yet we still love it.

It is easy to forget that and dive into creating an elaborate setting for your own D&D campaign or novel. If you like creating settings, go to it. I love it myself. The thing is neither your D&D players nor your readers are really going to ever appreciate an intricate setting because it won’t matter much to their enjoyment of the game or book (unless you happen to become the next Tolkien but, while fun to daydream about, that might not be a great goal for allocating your time.) These days, most readers seem extremely reluctant to read even a word  of appendix, and who can blame them after so many tedious examples of ones, post-Tolkien?

If you want to be a successful fantasy writer, you certainly do need a good premise. But beyond that, elaborate setting history is dangerous. A the very least, it is a distraction, keeping you from spending your precious time on writing your fiction. More insidiously, if you do create all that wonderful history, you might find it sneaking into your book as unnecessary backstory, sapping the very life from your novel.

So, enjoy Tolkien’s world for the wonder it is but have a care before making one yourself.

Builder of Worlds

A nice survey of general writing tools, as well as some science fiction specific ones.

Wide Awake But Dreaming

I received a new toy the other day:  the beta version of Scapple for Windows.  Scapple is a mind mapping program, a very simple system that allows you to diagram your thoughts and working out plots, characters, locations, anything your heart desires.  I’ve waited for this software for a while, since it’s made by the same people who make Scrivener, and on the Mac version of both programs it’s possible to drag notes from one program to the other when you’re in the mood to think things out in the middle of a complex story.

When I posted this link a discussion came up about the uses of software for writing, and I mentioned that I’ve used mind mapping software before, and that I’ve used a number of other programs, too, when building a world that is my story.  The question came back, “What software do you use, Cassie?”…

View original post 1,173 more words

One Lovely Blog Award

one-lovely-blog-award-twoThank you to Deby at Wyrmflight for nominating me for the One Lovely Blog Award! What a pleasant surprise. I don’t really know exactly how this work other than what I see in Deby’s post, but I take it that to accept this, I am supposed to do four things: attach the image; thank the person who nominated me; share seven things about myself; and pass along the nomination to seven more deserving bloggers. That probably means I shouldn’t nominate Wyrmflight but it’s one of my favorites :).

Seven Things About Me

  1. I’ve been married 23 years to my lovely wife and have 2 boys in middle school.
  2. I’m definitely an introvert. One definition that sticks with me is an extrovert gets energized by a group encounter and an introvert feels drained. I’ve learned over the years to be more outgoing but I’d take a solitary walk in the woods over a dinner party any day.
  3. I’m a  big reader, although over the years, my reading has shifted more to non-fiction than fiction. I like to read history of any period or geography. Of history, half is military, the rest is all over the place. I especially love something that reveals something of what life and attitudes were like in another era. On fiction, I’m fairly eclectic though I tend to stay away from ‘literary’ fiction.
  4. I’m a daydreamer since as far back as I can remember, a daydreamer of the sort where I would carry a story forward for days or even weeks. Interestingly, in the last five years it has become hard to daydream because it’s difficult to find something new but happily, I’ve found writing lets me continue it: now I ‘daydream’ about the story and work out the different bits.
  5. I started playing D&D in 1978 and quickly branched out to paper wargames (that was their heyday), Traveler, computer games and other geeky fun. I still play D&D regularly as well as, at the moment, Guild Wars 2.
  6. I got into cooking after college and these days, do the holiday diners, weekends and some of the week day cooking. No dominate cuisines but regulars tend to be Italian, Japanese (including sushi!), Thai, braising, BBQ, French and classic ‘American’.
  7. I’m an engineer, which is not just a profession, it’s a state of mind. Not sure if it is because of years of engineering work or I started this way (I think it is the latter) but it’s second nature for me to double check any facts that come my way, be it a history book, a movie, a novel or what have you. I still remember as a teenager watching the Star Trek Original Series episode Wink of an Eye, and picking it apart: if they were moving that fast, they’d catch fire from atmospheric friction and cause hurricane wind forces 🙂

Seven nominees

  1. N. E. White: a fantasy author with a range of posts on writing and tips
  2. Fairy Spell: a fantasy author who posts on fairy tells and their influence on fiction and society
  3. Fabulous Realms: a fantasy author also posting on folklore and myth
  4. Write with Warnimont: great writing tips
  5. Street of Dreams: a poet and essayist
  6. L. Palmer Chronicles: a wide ranging writer
  7. Wyrmflight: one of my favorite blogs on one my favorite topics: dragons!

Thanks to Deby for the nomination and to all the bloggers out there for not only great posts but great comments!

Fusion: it’s really hard

CrossFire Nuclear Fusion Reactor
CrossFire Nuclear Fusion Reactor (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

 

I write exclusively fantasy but my son writes science fiction so we talk about a lot of concepts suitable to that genre. One thing that popped up recently relates to fusion. Fusion reactors and weapons are a long-time staple of science fiction. And someday, we may actually figure out how to make one work but there is a reason why for any point in the last 50 years, a workable fusion reactor has always been “30 years away”: it’s a really tough problem. Although these days, there’s some hope it’s only 10 years away (see some links below).

 

Two facts help to put this into perspective. First, fusion releases a lot of energy, right? We’re all familiar with the enornmous blast of a fusion bomb with the largest ever, the Tsar Bomba coming in around 50 megatons (and supposedly capable of 100 megatons: the Soviets scaled it back so their drop plane had a chance of escaping the blast.) An uncontrolled fusion reaction can release a lot of energy (though keep in mind thermonuclear bombs are typically a fission-fusion-fission reaction). However, more sustainable fusion reactions proceed at quite leisurely rates: in the core of our sun, with all the vast energy it produces, a cubic centimeter produces a whopping 276 microWatts. It so hot because it is so big. There’s a lot of these paltry, energy producing cubic centimeters in the solar core.

 

Nuclear weapon test Mike (yield 10.4 Mt) on En...
Nuclear weapon test Mike (yield 10.4 Mt) on Enewetak Atoll. The test was part of the Operation Ivy. Mike was the first hydrogen bomb ever tested, an experimental device not appropriate for use as a weapon. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

For comparison, that’s about a quarter of what you, a mammal, produces in a cubic centimeter of your body. It’s on par with what a reptile produces. That energy rate must have been what the makers of the movie, The Matrix, must have been thinking of when they made the machines want humans as energy sources. That rationale, by the way, is one of the most bone-headed premises in the history of science fiction. Yes, humans produce energy at that rate. Simply burning the food would produce the same energy (and both require the same amount of oxygen). But ultimately food is just repackaged solar energy. Find some way to convert the solar energy more directly to machine power. Adding humans into the loop makes no sense whatsoever. (And yes, I recall the Matrix Earth was all cloudy… where does the food for the humans come from?) Think about it: the sun with all its mass and its very dense core (~160 times water at 15M degrees Kelvin) manages less energy that you produce in an equivalent volume of your body. Go cheeseburger-reactors!

 

The Sun is a natural fusion reactor.
The Sun is a natural fusion reactor. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Stellar fusion is more efficient in higher mass stars where other fusion reactions are available but in the end, even a very high mass star isn’t making that much energy in a cubic centimeter. Whatever processes we use for a fusion reactor (and options are nicely described in the Wikipedia articles linked above), it would have to be a lot more energy dense than stellar reactions.The other thing to keep in mind is that if we can jack up the fusion reaction rate to something useful for power production, we will be making a vast amount of radiation by-products. Many years ago on a (unclassified) tour of the fusion reaction experiments at Lawrence Livermore National Labs, the presenter mention that at the time, estimates suggested that every single atom in the inner chamber of a fusion reactor wall would be displace six times each year. That’s really not a good thing for metallurgy: even if you can cool the reactor core walls, it’s going to get pounded to dust. Interestingly, the suggestion, at least at the time, was to use a blanket of liquid lithium as the inner “wall”: it carries heat and as a  bonus, the high energy neutrons reacting with the lithium atoms would produce deuterium, i.e., fuel for the reactor. As with so much in the fusion business, for that actually to be viable, much would have to be worked out and I have no idea of the deuterium production rate turned out to be useful. Still, interesting thoughts.

Where does that leave fusion reaction for science fiction stories? Well, they are an accepted staple (along with anti-matter reactors) so they can be used as-is with no explanation in most stories. Perhaps in a near-term science fiction story some nod we have to be made to how these worked but the Wikipedia articles and other resources have plenty to work from there. But as with the problem of how to get a dragon to fly to fly, these challenges can offer interesting facts to reference for verisimilitude or even make an interesting premise for a story. I don’t call these issues out in order to say you can’t use fusion in your stories, I call them out because details like this could make for interesting elements in a story. (And because it is fun to slam The Matrix for using humans as batteries. Geeze that was stupid. Yeah, I know they had a better rationale and they decided to dumb it down. They succeeded.)

There are potentially similar problems with fusion weapons, especially man portable ones, but there things aren’t quite as bad as they seem: for something man-portable, the energy release is relatively close to the man using the weapon. Therefore, you don’t need a vast amount of energy released and therefore you aren’t necessarily generating a lot of non-thermal radiation by-products (not really sure how much, you’d have to do the math).  But in the end, there are probably a lot better ways to release tactically useful energy than causing a fusion reaction in proximity to the soldiers using the weapon, who presumably want to survive the discharge of the weapon.

Happy fusing!

 

Cat’s Eye Gemstones: Chatoyancy

Fine color Cymophane with a sharp and centered...
Fine color Cymophane with a sharp and centered eye. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Most folks have seen the tiger’s eye type of cat’s eye and the similar hawk’s eye. This is a silky orange (or blue for hawk’s eye) sheen to a usually opaque stone. More valuable and exotic is a cat’s effect in a translucent stone. There are many gemstones that can exhibit the cat’s eye effect. However, in the gem trade, a cat’s eye stone means cymophane, which is a variety of chrysoberyl. (Another variety of chrysoberyl is the famous color-changing alexandrite. The transparent variety without a cat’s effect is just called chrysoberyl.)

Chatoyancy is the fancy term for “cat’s eye” and literally comes from the French chat (cat) + oeil  (eye) or variously the present participle of chatoyer. The effect is generally caused by very fine crystals within the gem arranged in parallel. The easiest way to visual how this works is to move a spool of shiny thread under a single point light, such as the sun or a bright bulb. The silky sheen on the threads is essentially the same sheen you are seeing off the microscopic, aligned inclusions in a chatoyant gemstone.

English: A cabochon of tiger's eye
English: A cabochon of tiger’s eye (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

In general, for a good cat’s eye effect, you need enough inclusions to make the stone translucent although a faint cat’s eye may occur in mostly transparent material. The inclusion is often rutile, a form of titanium oxide which can also form larger, beautiful golden inclusions in quartz, i.e., rutilated quartz. If the inclusions are oriented on a multi-fold axis, you can get asterism but that’s a subject for another blog post. Interestingly, rutile inclusions can be the cause of a bit of cloudiness to otherwise fine rubies or sapphires. Often heat treatment will cause the rutile to dissolve back into the gemstone, clarifying it and greatly improving its value.

Gem.rutile.600pix
Polished rutilated quartz (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

In hawk’s eye, quartz replaces croidolite fibers (a type of asbestos). In tiger’s eye, the iron in the croidolite has oxidized to a brownish color. In thecommon and quite inexpensive variety, the stones are opaque. However, there is some hawk’s eye and tiger’s eye that is more transparent. In most cat’s gemstones, the stones are translucent, often with a beautiful glow as in the picture above. A very fine cat’s eye is said to “open up” as it is turned in the light. That is, the band is general very sharp but can widen a bit as the stone is turned.

Cymophane is highly prized and can get somewhat expensive, especially above a carat. In addition to body color, the sharpness and centering of the eye effect will determine value. Cat’s eye effects in other gemstones can vary in price depending, as always, on rarity and beauty. In the last few decades, you can also find artificial fiber optic crystals polished as spheres, bears or cabochons. These are very affordable and often are dyed in vibrant colors.

For the fantasy writer, cat’s eyes gems offer another dimension to your ornaments, especially if you describe the way the eye moves across the gem. Maybe in your fantasy novel, when the eye “opens” you actually see a pupil or there is some other magic effect, say a flash of light that illuminates secret letters. And “cymophane” is a word that might add a touch of the exotic to your project.

PS: draft 2 is complete on my current project 🙂 Next up is an outline (ugh) then a ‘quick’ draft 3 before letting readers take a look at it.

A New Look to the Site

With many thanks to Stephanie Pui-Mun Law for generous non-commercial use of her artwork, I’ve decided to revamp the site and go with my own artwork. This isn’t because my artwork is better (my artwork is to hers, as teeball is to the pros) but because I’ve ridden on her coat tails long enough.

She’s one of my favorite artists, with a lush, dreamy style. Should I ever self-publish, I plan to explore her artwork for a cover (don’t know if she does covers or if I can afford one but worth a look 🙂 )

You can find her site at: http://www.shadowscapes.com/. She is also on DeviantArt as: http://puimun.deviantart.com/ where you can purchase her artwork. She also did the artwork for the gorgeous Shadowscape Tarot.

There’s also a bit of re-vamp on my About page.

Some of Stephanie Pui-Mun Law's wonderful work
Some of Stephanie Pui-Mun Law’s wonderful work