Monday, April 30, 2012

Steam Reads: The 21 Day Countdown to Queen Victoria's Birthday

I recently joined the Vancouverites for Steampunk book club group entitled "Steam Librarium & Consortium". Last month we each chose one Jules Verne book for discussion. I decided to read the fine book "From the Earth to the Moon" by Jules Verne, published in 1865.

Members of the Baltimore Gun Club met regularly to discuss the design and building of weapons, but once the American Civil War had ended the membership is left to a humdrum existence. President Barbicane of the club puts forth the idea about building a projectile that could be shot from the earth, and aimed at landing upon the lunar surface. His companions rally forth to put the plan in motion. 

Shortly thereafter President Barbicane receives a telegram from a Frenchman by the name of Michel Ardan, who writes that rather than a globe-shaped projectile, it should be capsule sized, and he wished to travel within it.

This rattles the cages of most of the membership. Captain Nicholl seems to be the arch rival in this book, skeptical that they can't undertake such an astronomical enterprise, let alone have a man land on the moon.

Much of the book is concerned with calculations of the size and materials of the capsule, width and substance of the cannon, and how far it is from the earth to the moon. Since I'm not an astronomer nor artillerywoman, I have no idea how accurate these calculations may be, but from a search on Wikepedia, it is said that Jules Verne should have been on the NASA team.

The Fiction part of Science Fiction comes into play when the characters believe that the moon contains a breathable atmosphere in her canyons, and that there may be "Selenites" inhabiting the moon. 

What I found eery about the book is that they named the huge cannon or "space gun" with the name of Columbiad, and that the capsule was launched from Tampa Town, which is not too far from the Kennedy Space Centre in Florida. So either Verne had his calculations bang on with Florida being in perfect alignment with the moon, or NASA thought it a great idea to follow the book?!

The book is also humourous in parts with the rivalry between Barbicane, and Nicholl and the calculating competitions they have with Ardan.

Book one ends with them worried that the capsule has stopped, before reaching the moon. Interestingly Verne makes mention of Earth's "second" moon, a satellite that has been in orbit around the earth that cannot be seen by the human eye. 

There actually has been a second "moon" that has been in the news recently. Of course it isn't the same one that existed in 1865, as these satellites eventually escape the gravity of the earth and continue their journeys around the sun. Astronomers like to argue over whether these can actually be considered "moons" as they are in fact satellites. I like to think so. 

I haven't read book two of this series yet, but it is named "Around the Moon", which I gather is a glimpse of what is to come.

I would recommend this book but suggest you skip past the tedious pages of calculations. Do stop and read the astronomical descriptions of the earth and the moon as I learned many facts while doing so.

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Thrilling Thursdays Presents: What the Cat Saw

A short flash fiction story of the thriller genre.

Please note the PG13 rating, some scenes of violence.

"You look a bit tired today, you came in late last night," Pete commented to his wife over the morning paper.

"I know, the girls wouldn't" stop chatting," Sue replied back. 

She tapped tuna off the spoon and into the cat food dish. After laying the dish at Mimsey's paws, she joined her husband at the breakfast nook.

Pete thrust the newspaper towards her face.

"I knew that crazy neighbour across the street was abusing his wife. She killed him in self-defense."

"What," his wife shrieked. She grabbed the paper to steady it. She rapidly read through the story. 

"How awful! I think they were called the Smiths. It says she's in a coma and may not make it."

"What a tragedy," Pete said. They both mused about the incident.

"I'm off to work now." Pete put his cup down, and grabbed his coat and briefcase from behind the chair.

"Have a good day dear. I'll try to continue to enjoy my vacation," Sue said, visibly shaken.

He paused by the door. "Where did you say the cat came from?"

"I found her outside, she was drenched and starving," his wife replied back.

Pete took a long look at Mimsey. 

"She looks like the neighbour's cat, I saw one just like her in their yard."

"Just as well she's here then. No one to look after her now, not that they did anyway, poor thing." Sue reached down to stroke the cat. 

Later that morning Mimsy lay on their bed. Her paws twitched and her tail swayed back and forth in her sleep.

In her dreams she was fleeing.

"I don't want that cat around here no more," an angry man's voice cried. 

Mimsy felt herself being grabbed and pulled into the air. A door crashed against its frame and heavy feet stomped down a set of steps.

"No!" cried a woman's voice,"Bring my cat back." Tiny steps followed.

Mr. Smith threw Mimsy against the fence. The cat fell on the ground and lay stunned. Now was the time to run but she was concerned for her mistress. She watched as he pushed his wife against the fence. Mimsey watched the fence give way as her mistress fell in a tangle of wood right down the embankment.

The cat launched herself at her enemy's head. The man struck her aside. 

Mimsy landed hard on the grass. She watched horrified as her beloved human's body hit the concrete paving below. She didn't have time to see if the body moved. She braced herself for a kick from the man's boot.

Her eyes whipped to a movement from behind the man. There was a blur of red hair and the green flash of a bottle as it struck the side of the man's head.

Blood and small bits of bone mixed with the champagne as it spewed across the grass. 

A woman with red hair scooped up Mimsey and they ran.

Suddenly, Mimsy woke up to her tummy being rubbed.

She gazed up at Sue. 

"Wake up liitle kitty. You're having a bad dream." Sue kept on stroking her. "I promise I will always take care of you."

Mimsey started purring and gazed up in adoration at her new red-haired mistress.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

A Writer’s Retreat – Or the act of withdrawing from society to stay at an asylum in order to produce productive literature

After participating in Debra Kristi’s flash fiction challenge, I've been thinking long and hard about organizing my own writer's retreat. Needing an avenue to start at I checked online for writing group retreats. I found that nothing fit my date or price range. This took me back to the Lower Mainland where I live. Since I'm considering three days minimum, the hotel route could be pricey. 

One promising option I've found is shared office space for $5 per hour, but the downside is there could be several office-related distractions ranging from cell phone calls to chatting with the other cohorts in the room. Still, outside distractions may not be as bad as at-home distractions of cat, laundry, crafts, renos, Internet, steampunk, TV, the list goes on..... I’ve made it a fine art of keeping myself occupied at home over the years and now there are many things to occupy my time.

With all these distractions it means very few hours per week spent doing any sort of writing, let alone the kind of fiction I want to write.

My patio: distraction or inspiration? has this definition of the word “retreat”:

1. the forced or strategic withdrawal of an army or an armed force before an enemy, or the withdrawing of a naval force from action. - This sounds like a great idea for a short story!

2. the act of withdrawing, as into safety or privacy; retirement; seclusion. - This is exactly what I need to do in order to get some writing work done.

3. an asylum, as for the insane. - This could be the spot for me.

Other retreat options include staying at a friend’s place, sitting out on the patio, visiting a cafĂ©, sitting in a park, and locking myself in a closet.

Please stay tuned to find out when I will vote myself out of the house for my top secret writer’s retreat.

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Flashing Debra Kristi

Earlier this week I was catching up on Debra Kristi's Blog and reading about her self-induced writing retreat, located in a secret location. I thought about how wonderful it must be to get away from it all.

Taking a break from her book, she was inspired to write a flash fiction story. She challenged her readers to choose one of her photos and write a flash fiction story on their own blog.

I chose a photo depicting snowy ski runs above a Bavarian-style building. Here is my story.
I awoke around 7 am after a sound night's sleep. I lay in bed and rubbed the palms of my hands together before doing cat stretches. Yoga was a great way to wake up in the morning. I sat up and moved my hand to pick up the glass of water on my nightstand. One glass of water in the morning replenished the body.

I thought about the long day yesterday, packing up and gathering supplies, then trying to secure transportation. 

I had nearly downed my glass of water when I spat out the last mouthful. There was bright sunshine seeping through the edges of the curtains.

I threw the glass down and leaped out of bed yanking the curtains open. The sunshine was blazing in the sky. Grabbing the binoculars from my window sill I looked through the lenses and scoped out the ski runs. There were seven visible to my eyes. 

After a long study I could not find humans or otherwise on the runs, but I did notice one thing. 

The snow was not as tightly packed on the hills as last evening, and I could hear a dripping noise outside my window.

Just then the door to my suite slammed against the wall, causing me to drop my binoculars.

My cohort cried, "Get packed up now, the snow is melting! We have to get to higher ground."

I nodded at him and started packing up my gear. It was done in record time.

I took one last look around the room. This would have been the perfect location to get some writing done.