Today the Dragon Wins

"Today the Dragon Wins" offers information from Fantasy Author and Professional Editor Sandy Lender. You'll also find dragons, wizards, sorcerers, and other fantasy elements necessary for a fabulous story, if you know where to look...

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Sandy Lender is the editor of an international trade publication and the author of the fantasy novels Choices Meant for Gods and Choices Meant for Kings, available from ArcheBooks Publishing, and the series-supporting chapbook, What Choices We Made.

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Sunday, August 12, 2007

Science Reality
Or...consider your audience when gleaning your inspiration from space

It occurred to me while watching the happenings of the current space shuttle mission that history will teach us nothing. And I'm not just channeling a fantastic Sting song. Consider for a moment how our nation grieved when Columbia exploded across the morning sky and we lost her crew in what should have been a routine homecoming. . . Routine.

Today I sit here thinking how ridiculous it seems to hear that NASA might deem it necessary to send its astronauts out to repair the 3.5-inch-long and 2-inch-wide gash on Endeavor's belly this week. They might consider that important enough to repair. This isn't science fiction where Jean luc Picard can tell Data to raise a shield and wrap the ship in protective energy to get through reentry. Last I heard, NASA hadn't integrated Asgaard shielding technology in our space program. This is reality where, just a few short years ago, one of our few ships actually flew apart because of this problem and our people died.

And now we have the problem again.

And there's a civilian on board.

When you're experiencing temperatures of up to 2,300 degrees Fahrenheit during reentry and have the added joy of not-so-friendly gases pounding your shell, you don't want a hull breach. And therein lies my point of this post for writers. How many of you reading along at home knew that the atmosphere exposes our astronauts to temperatures of 2,300 degrees? Come on. Give me honesty. You knew it was pretty darn hot, but did you know the actual numbers?

How about the gases up there? Can you name them? (I'm a fantasy author. I make up this stuff for the worlds I create, but I can tell you right now that we've got about 0.9% argon, about 0.03% carbon dioxide, about 0.002% methane, 78% nitrogen and 21% oxygen. Now, I had to look up the percentages in a couple places to be sure, but we speculative fiction writers just have to carry around bizarre knowledge.) But I'm getting off track. Here's the point: Every one of you knew what a hull breach was. Why? It's on every sci-fi space show you've ever watched. Farscape, Firefly, Star Trek (all of them), Stargate SG-1, Stargate Atlantis, Battlestar Galactica, etc. "Hull breach" is in our vernacular. Your audience will recognize it in a heartbeat. You can use it without worry. You can have a character shout, "Ohmigod, Captain, we've got a hull breach on deck 8!" and your audience will feel the tension. (Of course, there better be some great context or that's going to be pretty cheesy dialogue...)

What else are you giving your audience, though? Let's say you're writing sci-fi and you're listing the gases the crew is plummeting through. I can guarantee you someone out there besides me knows them all. And if you mess one up, that reader will be verrrrry disappointed in you. You'll knock him or her right out of your tense and full-of-action scene if you mess up that detail and pull him or her out of the story. He'll sit back in his comfy reading chair and think, "wait a minute, why is so-n-so choking on radon?" If they're plummeting through earth's atmosphere, give them an overdose of methane, give them a pocket of carbon dioxide, but don't go crazy and toss in something that oozes up out of the ground and doesn't occur up there. Unless this is post-globally-warmed Earth and something apocalyptic has happened. Then all bets are off...

Lessons? You want to do your homework; research your topic so your writing is accurate and worthy of your audience's intelligence level. They're paying attention, you know. Also, you want to keep in mind that not all of them are on that higher sci-fi level. Everybody knows what a hull breach is, but not everybody knows that argon makes up approximately 0.9% of our breathable atmosphere. Not everybody knows you get smacked with 2,300 degrees of searing carbon dioxide (and other stuff) upon reentry to that atmosphere. So you've got the interesting job of writing for a wide group, haven't you? But that's half the fun of this job! Admit it! (Try making up a new language and introducing it in the midst of a war-and-romantic-plot-development fantasy sometime...My publisher's going to shoot me.)

In the meantime, I ask you to pray and/or send positive thoughts for our astronauts on the current mission at the space station. They're placing new beams on the station and doing what astronauts do. Barbara Morgan is the teacher who was Christa McAuliffe's backup for the mission in 1986, so she's up there now living her dream. I wish her well and offer my congratulations. As a fantasy writer who is living my own dream of being published at the moment, I feel the rush! Of course, I'm not hanging off a space station risking my life...

To Barbara, Charles Hobaugh, Rick Mastracchio and Dave Williams of the Endeavor crew, we wish you well this week and hope you get home safely.

"Some days, I just want the dragon to win."

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Blogger Laura M. Crawford said...

Great article! And they will all be in my prayers, sweetie!

Laura :)

10:10 PM  
Blogger Sandy Lender said...

Thanks, Darlin'!
And, yeah, I'm fretting. Hopefully all will be well, right?

Sandy L.
"Some days, I just want the dragon to win."

12:49 AM  

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