The Left Hand of Dog Blog Tour: Clarke’s Third Law
Clarke’s third law
Blog post about The Left Hand of Dog by SI CLARKE
In October of 2020, I sat down to write an extremely silly novel – something that would take my mind off … well, off life, the universe, and everything. My first two novels were hard science fiction – anything that went in had to be scientifically sound. That series was about building a self-sufficient colony on Mars – so I had to learn about every aspect of life on Mars.
I’m not joking when I say I did more research for those books than for my master’s degree. I learnt about travelling to Mars, the health impacts of low gravity on the human body, bees in space, ultra-efficient dead body disposal, water on Mars, closed-loop sanitation, sustainable agriculture. I have whole spreadsheets dedicated to calculating the land mass required to feed and accommodate varying numbers of humans.
My goal in writing The Left Hand of Dog was to produce a fun book. I wanted something easy to read – but also easy to write. No more putting in hundreds of hours of research before I started writing. But how to deal with the troublesome science: faster-than-light travel, universal translators, space medicine?
Enter Arthur C Clarke. Clarke’s third law states that ‘Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.’ My main character, Lem, is a human from our world. She has as much understanding of how spaceship engines work and how advanced AI functions as, well, the typical sci-fi fan does. Which is to say more than none – but not very much.
In The Left Hand of Dog, I made full use of that law.
In this extract, Lem tries to understand how she and her friends will get down to the surface of a planet they need to visit.
‘This ship is equipped with four transporters.’
My eyes went wide. ‘We can beam down to the surface?’
Bexley stopped playing with my hair. ‘I have no idea what you just said.’
‘Beam – like, matter to energy conversion and back again,’ I said – feeling very foolish.
‘Oh gosh! That’s amazing. Can your people really do that? That would be phenomenal – just think what we could achieve if—’
I held my hands up in surrender. ‘Sorry, no. My bad. I jumped to conclusions when BB said we could transport down. So, what does it mean to transport then? How does it work?’
Bexley and BB both opened their mouths as if to speak and then closed them. ‘Um,’ said Bexley after a moment. ‘It’s probably best if you ask your AI.’
I’d forgotten that was an option. ‘Help me out here, Holly?’
‘Of course, Lem. How may I be of assistance?’
Huh. ‘What’s a transporter, please?’
‘A transporter is sort of like a virtual pneumatic tube crossed with a tractor beam.’
I scrunched up my face. ‘A what with a what?’
‘A virtual pneumatic tube crossed with a tractor beam,’ Holly repeated.
‘No, but how does it work?’
‘Please clarify: are you seeking a technical explanation or a user’s perspective?’
I forced air out through my mouth. ‘Save the techie bit for another time. Just the basics, please.’
‘A transporter pod is a small engineless craft – usually designed for a single occupant. It is propelled between two points using magic.’
‘Magic!’ I leapt out of my seat. ‘We have magic?’
‘Don’t be ridiculous,’ replied Holly, ‘of course not. But any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic. It is one of your human thinkers who said that. Is it not true?’
I shook my head. ‘Clarke’s third law. Yeah, yeah. I get you.’ I looked at Bexley again. ‘So, transporters, eh?’
Is it cheating? I’ll be honest; it does feel like it. I still try not to stray too far from the bounds of the possible. But if I want to write science fiction that doesn’t require a PhD-level understanding of the science involved, some corners are going to have to be cut. Sorry.
SI CLARKE is a Canadian misanthrope who lives in Deptford, sarf ees London. She shares her home with her partner and an assortment of waifs and strays. She refuses to accept the gender binary.
As someone who’s neurodivergent, an immigrant, and the proud owner of an invisible disability, she strives to present a diverse array of characters in her stories.
Escaping intergalactic kidnappers has never been quite so ridiculous.
When Lem and her faithful dog, Spock, retreat from the city for a few days of hiking in Algonquin Park, the last thing they expect is to be kidnapped by aliens. No, scratch that. The last thing they expect is to be kidnapped by a bunch of strangely adorable intergalactic bounty hunters aboard a ship called the Teapot.
Falling in with an unlikely group of allies – including a talking horse, a sarcastic robot, an overly anxious giant parrot, and a cloud of sentient glitter gas – Lem and the gang must devise a cunning plan to escape their captors and make it back home safely.
But things won’t be as easy as they first seem. Lost in deep space and running out of fuel, this chaotic crew are faced with the daunting task of navigating an alien planet, breaking into a space station, and discovering the real reason they’re all there…
Packed with preposterous scenarios, quirky characters, and oodles of humour, The Left Hand of Dog tackles complex subjects such as gender, the need to belong, and the importance of honest communication. Perfect for fans of Charlie Jane Anders’ Victories Greater than Death – especially ones who enjoy endless references to Red Dwarf, Star Trek, and Doctor Who. This book will show you that the universe is a very strange place indeed.
Warnings: anaphylactic shock, minor injury to a dog, this book is not for TERFs.
SI Clarke is giving away four eBooks with this blog tour:
Copyright © 2021 by SI CLARKE – All rights reserved.
No part of this book may be reproduced in any form or by any electronic or mechanical means, including information storage and retrieval systems, without written permission from the author, except for the use of brief quotations in a book review.
Startled by the sound of movement behind me, I whirled around to face three … they had to be children in bunny costumes. ‘What?’ That’s what they had to be, right? I mean, they weren’t actually rabbits. Definitely not. For one thing, they stood upright. Real bunnies don’t normally do that, do they? For another, they were about the size of Spock.
But the costumes looked real in that no skin showed through – not even on their faces – and I couldn’t see any zips. Also, I was pretty sure rabbits didn’t come in pastel rainbow colours. Actually, they reminded me of a toy I’d had as a child. Bunnyboo, I’d called it. Four-year-old me was terribly inventive.
‘Check out your floopy-floppy ears! How adorable are you?’ Nervous sarcasm still intact then.
I was nauseated enough that shaking my head seemed like a bad idea. ‘It was beer I had last night, right? Not, like, psychedelic mushrooms? Maybe some natural tree spore that makes a person have trippy visions?’ No one answered me. Or even looked at me.
Spock sat neatly and dropped her brain in my lap. She lifted a paw towards the nearest of the bunnyboos – for want of a better word. The creature’s mint green fur matched the emerald hue of its humongous Disney princess eyes. ‘Yip,’ said Spock in her smallest, most polite voice.
This is not happening. I must be dreaming. Or hallucinating. Something.
Pulling a device from a holster like a carpenter’s apron, the bunnyboo pointed it at Spock. Or maybe it was merely reading what was on the screen – if it even had a screen. Who was I kidding? I had no idea what they were doing.
Another, slightly taller bunnyboo – this one periwinkle blue with eyes like Wedgewood plates – stepped forwards and ‘spoke’ to Spock as well. That is, its mouth moved and Spock’s full attention was on it. But no sound emerged. Spock yipped again in response to whatever it was I couldn’t hear.
Spock pointed at me with her long, sable nose then looked back at the bunnyboos and emitted a low noise, not quite a growl.
‘Would someone please tell me what the bollocking pufferfish is going on here?’ I demanded. Okay, not demanded. Requested. Well, pleaded. Whined, maybe. Whatever verb it was I verbed, no one paid me any heed.
The bunnyboos of my strange hallucination were too deeply engrossed in their silent conversation with my very real dog to spare me any of their attention. It was like watching a TV on mute – except I could hear movements and breathing and the sound of my heart beating a drum on the inside of my chest.
After a few further moments of this bizarre fever dream, Spock leapt down out of the coffin and turned to face me. She sat on her haunches and looked me in the eye. Then she lifted one paw at me in a clear imitation of the ‘stay’ command I used with her.
A bunnyboo with heather purple fur lowered a rope lead over Spock’s head. Spock stood and followed them from the room.
‘Where are you taking my dog, you fluffy bastards?’ I clambered out of the coffin-bed and scrabbled after them as fast as my besocked feet would carry me. But the thick metal door slid shut seconds before I got to it.
I pounded impotently on the door, screaming, ‘Spock! Come back. Don’t let those fuzzy arseholes hurt you.’ Unable to find a door knob or control panel or anything, I leant against the wall next to the door and slid down until I landed on my arse. I shivered and hugged my knees to my chest.
Why can’t I wake up? Letting my head fall forwards, I cried for a bit, whimpering Spock’s name periodically.
Author Website: https://whitehartfiction.co.uk
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