‘The Dent in the Universe’ Blog Tour: The Writing Process Of E.W. Doc Parris
Listen here. I’ve been asked to write a little about my writing process, and, this being the internet and your attention being tugged at by the siren call of your busy lives, I reckon I don’t have much more than 750 words to do my duty. So here’s what I’ll do; I’ll try to define the sort of speculative fiction audience I’m hunting for, then I’ll tell you what I think they’re thirsty for, and then I’ll try to wrap it up with my tricks for slating that thirst. How does that sound? Good. Let’s dive in.
Speculative fiction is just a name, a relatively recent buzzword, for stories that seem to lean more heavily on the writer’s imagination in the writing— and the readers in the reading. A story about a Wall Street hedge fund manager absconding with the hard-earned retirement funds of poor old ladies, for example? Well, that takes no imagination at all. Things like that happen every day of the week. Writers who write about those stories are usually called journalists if the names haven’t been changed or literary fiction authors if they have.
There are a few branches on the Speculative Fiction family tree. They are more alike than you and your Thanksgiving dinner guests. They all start with the same unspoken question in the storyteller’s mind: What if? How elaborate the rest of that question defines whether a story is science fiction or fantasy. But to me, the ground truth of speculative fiction is in that core question. What if women were forced by the state to bear children against their will? What if cities became alive at some point in their development? What if you could send IP traffic back in time?
Those are all wonderful premises of speculative fiction (The Handmaid’s Tale, The City We Became, The Dent in the Universe – in case I was too subtle).
I’ve never been confused about the sort of books I was cut out to write, the sort of readers at whom I was aiming my stories. I grew up reading science fiction as I ate my cereal before school and after all the homework and chores were done. I’m a fan of Star Trek, Star Wars, and Marvel—gobbling them all up in their first run in most cases. Those fandoms are my peeps.
And those people have needs.
What do all those IP universes have in common? Great characters with big problems. Whether it’s the crew of any Star Fleet ship, a group of scruffy rebels, or a team of mutant teenagers— they all had rich lives with friendships and rivalries, hopes and dreams, and great victories along with tragic losses. These were human-sized characters in situations that left them feeling overmatched and overwhelmed. But then they rally, accept responsibility, and do what they must. If those struggles aren’t relatable to everyone these days, what is?
Are they spec fic? Certainly. In their day, I would have said Star Trek and Star Wars were sci-fi, while Marvel was fantasy. Both Star Trek and Star Wars dealt with science that was discarded 20 years earlier, but I didn’t know that then. I wouldn’t read The Dancing Wu Li Masters for another decade or so. But now, with more than 60 years of quantum mechanics behind us, I’d put them both in the science fiction fantasy category. Don’t @ me.
So. My tricks? My approach to writing for these readers is simple. First, I start with the question. What if…? Everything flows from there. Second, I conjure characters and explore their lives, motivations, flaws, foibles, and even/especially if they’re morally f*ck*d, what makes them lovable. Third, I throw big problems at them—hopefully, problems they created. That’s simple, right?
But here are my one personal rule for all of that, my commitment to myself as a writer and to you as a reader: The science has to be right. Or at least right enough. Some aspects of quantum mechanics make it impossible to get a straight answer out of the people who know. That gives us all wiggle room. If there’s a time machine, it has to make sense. Zombies? They have to make sense.
You have to earn your tropes, ladies and gentlemen.
I’ve placed my wager that, following those guardrails, my stories will, sooner or later, attract the readers I’m looking for. The trap is set. The bait is in place. I’ve found my hiding spot.
Now it’s a waiting game.
Huh! 750 words!
To resuscitate his fading celebrity, tech CEO Stephen Lucas would sell his soul for one more hit. When the subspace network for his holographic gaming empire crashes, his hardware guru makes a discovery proving that, though the mechanics may differ a bit, Einstein was right once again— information can be sent backward in time.
Lucas sees a dream product for procrastinators. Want a pizza now? Send your order back in time 30 minutes. Forgot to make reservations at that chichi french restaurant two weeks ago? No worries. Buy that PowerBall ticket. Invest in that stock. Make a FaceTime call to a loved one that passed away a month ago.
In a culture built on instant gratification, Lucas knows he has a hit that will make Wall Street sit up and beg. But when he rushes into beta testing, he learns that the stuff dreams are made of can quickly become the stuff of nightmares.
Warnings: violence, torture, body horror, branding, implied cannibalism.
Doc is giving away a $50 Amazon gift card:
Direct Link: http://www.rafflecopter.com/rafl/display/b60e8d47282/?
Before he hit enter, the display on his right blinked and displayed a log entry. The display directly in front of him showed the log of the interaction, a white line of text that showed what he’d typed, Watson, come here. I want to see you, and the time sent, 630231 milliseconds. The display on the right, the one that flashed before he hit enter, showed the same.
Walrus said, “Look at the timestamps. The sending input occurred at 630231 milliseconds. The receiving event happened at 629931 milliseconds.”
Stephen looked puzzled. “The clocks are off? That’s a 300…?” he checked his math, “300-millisecond difference.”
Walrus grinned. “Negative 300 milliseconds. The clocks aren’t off.”
“The time server is off?” Stephen knew that was the culprit in the outage.
Walrus shook his head. “Nope. These two chips are in perfect sync to FTL time.”
Stephen stopped and thought. The message appeared to be arriving 300 milliseconds before it was sent. “I’m not getting it,” he said.
Walrus laughed and did his little dance again. “Yes! You are! Tell me what you see.”
Stephen said slowly, “The message looks like it’s being received before it was sent, 300 milliseconds before.” Walrus grinned, and Stephen continued, “But that’s not possible. What’s causing the discrepancy? If the clocks aren’t wrong and the time server was working properly…?” He shook his head.
Walrus’s grin widened. “It’s a time machine.”
Stephen leaned back a bit from the desk. “Right.” Walrus let it sink in. “What do you mean?” He thought Walrus was speaking metaphorically.
Walrus laughed and said, “I mean, this is a time machine.”
Stephen looked at the set-up in front of him. It was a hacked sChip on a breadboard and a couple of displays strung together with cables and alligator clips. This wasn’t a time machine.
Walrus relented. “I’ve tweaked the power supply to dial in a tiny phase variance in the I/O to this sChip, like our customer did by accident. The tensor array interpreted this as an attribute, sending the signal to a point in time before it was sent. 300 milliseconds before. About a third of a second.”
Stephen recalled the chain of events. The right display refreshed a fraction of a second before he hit enter. Examining the log, what he had typed was there. Watson, come here. I want to see you.
He frowned and thought for a few seconds. “A third of a second? It’s the least impressive time machine imaginable,” he said. “This crashed the time servers?”
Walrus nodded, finished his cola, tossed its crushed container in the recycling bin, and peeled open another. “Essentially. I’ve cleaned up the effect, and I’m not messaging the time server. The timeserver would have ignored an invalid time sync transaction. It’s programmed to dump garbage bits. This wasn’t garbage, it was a perfectly normal sync transaction, but the handshake was out of order. The time server software questioned its own reality. It wobbled, tried to regain its equilibrium, and tipped into cascade failure.”
“It’s fascinating, but…” Hard-wired by the last six years to search for a new product, Stephen’s mind was searching for a use for what he was seeing. “I mean, it is cool, but it’s useless—a weird trick of physics. What can we do with it?” He thought for a little more. “This is IP data?”
Walrus shrugged, “It’s a packet like any other packet.”
“So, if it’s packets, then it’s IP, then it’s anything. Form data, text, jpegs, audio, video, holo.”
Walrus nodded and grinned, “Sure. You could surf the web of 300 milliseconds ago…”
Stephen interrupted him, “Can we extend that? Could we rig these in series? Go back further?”
“We could do it more elegantly than that—How much further?”
“You tell me, what’s the theoretical limit?”
“Well, you’d need a receiver. So whatever we end up making would only go back to the first chips that go online. We make a chip today, turn it on, in a week, we could go back to that moment but not before, right? The longer we’re online, the further back we can send things.”
Stephen shook his head. “We couldn’t go back further than tonight?”
Walrus nodded. “There would be nothing to send it to. As soon as we flip the switch on our time machine, we’d be establishing a time horizon. But say we turned on a receiving device tonight. In a year, you could send a message back to tonight. That would be a year in your past. In two years, you could send a message back two years, on and on, until the end of the world.” He laughed and said, “You know that old site, The Way Back Machine? The internet archive? This would be like that but live. You could actually surf the web of the past. Leaving comments on a video from a year earlier.”
Stephen frowned dismissively and said, “What good would that do? I can leave a comment on that same video today. The entire internet is available back to the 90s.”
Walrus smiled, “But it’d be radical!” Radical was not the goal. Stephen needed a killer application, a product everyone would want. Walrus’s stomach growled loudly. “Man,” he said, “I’m starving. Wanna order a pizza? Hey man, that’s what we could do!” he said jokingly, “We could use it to order pizza a half hour ago, so it arrives…” and he snapped his fingers.
Stephen froze. His pupils widened. Instant Pizza. Instant delivery. Instant gratification.
The entire computer industry of the last forty years was built around delivering everything as quickly as possible. Meeting the desires of the customer. Right. F*ck*ng. Now. If no one ever went broke underestimating the American people’s intelligence, as Mencken might have said, it would follow: no one ever went broke catering to their impatience.
- About the Author
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E.W. Doc Parris is an American writer known for matter-of-fact, hard science fiction grounded in the current scientific weltanschauung, leavened with wit, and kindled by the warmth of human relationships.
Born within the nation’s capital Beltway, Doc makes his home in the foothills of Virginia’s Blue Ridge. A self-taught software developer and solutions architect, he’s made a decent living over the years as a set designer, graphic designer, animator, 3D modeler, iOS developer, puppeteer, and educator.
In addition to his centuries-spanning WalrusTech Reality series, Doc is currently working on his next novel, Land of Nod, an exploration of A.I., nanotech, and the human brain’s neural network.
Author Website: https://www.ewdocparris.com