Proud as Peaches

My novel, Anomaly, has held #3 position on the Amazon Hot New Releases in High Tech Science Fiction for a couple of days now, and I’m as proud as peaches.

Anomaly briefly sat at #2 for a couple of hours at its high water mark, but by the time you read this it will probably have dropped out of the new releases altogether. For an independent author, though, with no agent and no publisher, it’s quite something to make Amazon’s top ten (in a very narrow field), although it speaks more for the mechanism of Amazon than it does for my writing.

Amazon is more than a commercial enterprise, it is a disruptive and revolutionary democratic/economic force. I love the way those that rate a story are themselves rated by those that have also read that particular story. The reviews are often blunt, which is never easy to take, but is generally balanced and good natured. I’m yet to have any real depth of comments against either Anomaly or Out of Time, but criticism, though never easy to take, is always good, always something that can be learnt from.

Looking back, I’m critical of both stories. I probably shouldn’t say this aloud, but I suspect I’m guilty of preaching from a soap box. I need to relax a little more with dialogue and let it be more natural. So, there, that’s my critical Amazon review.

Anyway, if you’re up for a roller-coaster ride in science fiction, give these novels a whirl. Hopefully, you won’t be disappointed. If you are, though, I’m sure I’ll hear about it through your review 🙂

17 thoughts on “Proud as Peaches

  1. Pingback: the popularity of fiction in history and to society | Olsen Jay Nelson

  2. Hi loved this novel. In the kindle version there is a mistake. Don’t know which page but reads “limits of what mini sub can bare” should read “bear”

  3. Peter, I fear there is a much bigger technical problem that probably can’t be fixed with a quick edit.

    I’m near the beginning, being told that a fixed, non-rotating frame of reference can “point” at something (Vega, some distant galaxy…). How? It’s a *fixed* frame of reference. Oops?

    Since this looks to be a crucial part of the story, I’d love to grok this before I read on, if somehow I’ve misunderstood.

    I’m in Brisbane too, so I’ll buy you a beer if you can convince me, but I think the mistake you’ve made is extrapolating from the gyroscope. A gyroscope is only constrained to a *plane* (not a completely fixed frame of reference), and sure, the perpendicular to that plane does point in a direction, so coupled with a location (that of the anomaly), it would point at a location in space. But that axis is precisely the *non-fixed* part of a gyroscope – it is the one axis that the gyroscope *can* be rotated around freely (buses can turn corners because the flywheel is mounted horizontally). I can’t see how the Anomaly is like that – it is precisely *not* rotating about any axis.

    For example, the UN flagpoles inside the anomaly are pointing somewhere “fixed” in the sky. As are the white lines down the centre of the road pointing somewhere else, so too the steps on the buildings, and every other line you care to pick. But that’s the trouble – you can’t pick – the non-rotating anomaly does not specify one.

    Now, if we just pretend the book never said “fixed frame of reference” and didn’t mention gyroscopes, but instead we take the analogy of the steam engine rod pointing at the piston. This would be a valid analogy, and the anomaly would *not* be a fixed frame of reference, but rather it would be fixed relative to the piston (not Vega, some distant galaxy is mentioned at the point I stopped reading). Now, think about how long that rod is, and how much it varies from a true fixed frame during a 24 hour cycle of the Earth. How incredibly accurate a measure would be need to work out it was always pointing rod-like at that galaxy? Astronomers use measurements from Earth 6 months apart for this sort of calculation, so I can’t see a school teacher working it out in 4 days from reading blogs.


    • Warwick,

      Thank you for taking the time to think all this through and comment upon it. I appreciate your effort.

      Writing is an art, one I’m working hard to try to master. A couple of people have asked about this, so the concept isn’t coming across quite as clearly as I’d hoped. Perhaps I made too much of the term “fixed,” but I’ll explain my logic and perhaps it will be a little clearer.

      We live our lives on what appears to be a fixed landscape. I can get up in the morning, sit outside and watch the sun rise. Over the course of a day, it stretches high in the sky before slowly setting in the distance. My home, the trees out the back, the garden shed, none of them moved, at least, not from my perspective. To me, they’re fixed, stationary. And yet, as we know, this is nothing more than an illusion of perspective. The reality is, the world has spun at roughly 1000 miles per hour, moving at 66,000 miles per hour around the sun, as the sun (along with us) moves at 483,000 miles per hour through our galaxy. Astronomers note that there are some galaxies that are moving away from us at 99% of the speed of light, which is another way of saying, we’re moving away from them at 99% of the speed of light (as neither of us has the right to claim the notion of being “stationary” or “fixed”). I find that quite intriguing.

      When developing the concept for the novel, I thought it would be interesting to propose an unequal meeting of intelligences, where the communication gap was so vast that the probe could land right in front of us and we wouldn’t even know it. A bit like posing the question, does an ant recognise a highway? Or what do chimps make of a plane in the sky? Do they mistake it as something natural?

      From the book, “As the Earth turns each day, the anomaly remains stationary, fixed relative to the stars.” It’s not that the anomaly is stationary in an absolute sense, like mankind once thought of the Earth before the scientific revolution, but that it is “stationary, fixed relative to the stars.” In later editions, I’ve clarified this further with the following sentences, “It is like a telescope tracking a single star over the course of a night. We tend to think of ourselves, our home, our city, as stationary, but we’re on the move, spinning around on this globe we call the Earth. New York is constantly changing the direction it faces out into space as the Earth rotates, so the anomaly is compensating and remaining stationary, fixed on a certain patch of the sky.”

      And that, I think, captures the notion best of all. Telescopes will “fix” themselves on a star and, from your perspective and mine, move through the night so as to stay locked on that star. From the star’s perspective, the telescope dish is stationary, it’s the Earth that’s rotating beneath it. Think of the whole anomaly, the road, the buildings, the flags, etc, as a radio telescope dish tracking a single object over the course of a night.

      Teller realises that we’re assuming the anomaly is moving and we’re stationary, and he simply explores the equally valid alternative that we’re moving and it’s stationary. He guesses it’s like a radio telescope dish and so he looks at what it’s pointing at (and he does say, “it’s just a guess”). By the way, he gets the object wrong for two reasons. Firstly, so he’s clearly not perfect in the mind of the reader, and, secondly, to give a bit of a nod to Carl Sagan’s monumental, genre-making novel/movie Contact. It’s NASA that figures out that it’s pointing at a (fictitious) galaxy (that, incidentally, uses real coordinates in Leo, slightly off the ecliptic, but is deliberately no where near Vega if anyone was inclined to look). NASA simply look up at the same patch of sky and see what’s there, working at right-angles to the slab of the anomaly.

      This realisation, that the anomaly is fixed relative to the stars, is Teller’s point of entry into the story, the start of the lowly hero’s journey into the limelight. It’s the “local guy makes it big” kind of story, although it’s been criticised for that approach.

      Anyway, I hope that background helps make things clearer.

      As a whole, I think the book is a good starting point for me as a writer. Although it hurts to admit it, I agree with some of the Amazon reviews about the writing style and characterisation being weak, and I’m working hard to develop that aspect of my writing. It is a .99c book by an independent author, not a headline novel by a seasoned writer. I hope people don’t loose sight of that.

      As for a quiet beer, I’ll send you an email privately on that. Thanks again for your interest in this novel.

      Kind regards,

      • Perhaps my post was too long to make the point clear: the anomaly does not point at anything. A telescope tracks the *whole sky*, not a particular star (or rather, like the anomaly, it “untracks” the motion of the Earth). You can say “the anomaly is compensating and remaining stationary”, but you cannot say “fixed on a certain patch of the sky”. A telescope, in addition to mechanics that tracks the whole sky, also has a piece that points in a specific direction.

        If the anomaly was a cone rather than a sphere, it too would be pointing somewhere in the sky. If it was a cube, it would be suggesting 6 places in the sky (no, I’m not suggesting such silly fixes). But as a sphere, it suggests no particular direction.

        Possibly you are saying that “up” inside the sphere provides this additional direction. The anomaly started to (not) rotate near midday, and the “patch of sky” is currently close to the sun, so this seems likely what you’re trying to say. However, the UN building is not located in the tropics, so the Sun could not have been directly overhead, therefore “up” could not have been pointing anywhere near the Sun. If you fixed the “patch of sky”, you’d then severely weaken the notion that the anomaly deliberately appeared at the UN (it would be luck that we happened to have placed the UN building where it could some day align with the origin).

        As to the whole book (I just ignored the error and read on), it’s as excellent as the Amazon rankings suggest! Given the length, sacrificing a little character development is probably understandable, and I rather think of it as a “lateral thinker makes big” story. Most of all, your focus on the scientists (including Teller) as the heroes is very much appreciated and puts this book firmly in the “hard SF” box (once you fix the err… anomaly in the science).

      • Warwick,
        You’ve got some good points, and I appreciate the challenge of clarifying the logic.
        My thinking was along the lines of radio telescopes, which are directional. Yes, they track with the apparent motion of the whole sky, but the dish (in the anomaly’s case, the slab – which, incidentally, would look like a filled in dish) is at a right angle to the direction the anomaly is facing/pointing. To make this clearer to readers, I will expand future editions and clarify this using points from our discussion.
        In regards to what the anomaly is pointing at, you have an entirely valid point. It is fiction, so work with me on this, and we’ll see if we can come up with something quasi-plausible. The book occurs in the heat of summer. For arguments sake, lets say it occurs right on the summer solstice, so the sun is apparent at its northern most point. The sun is still not directly over NYC, but it is as close as it’s going to get. The anomaly is pointing at something off the ecliptic, so we don’t need the sun to be directly over head, just close. For the sake of the concept, let’s suppose that the road faces slightly downhill, facing south, reducing our angle even further, and from here I think we could play with the exact coordinates to come up with something that’s in harmony with what’s described in the book. Also, there is an acknowledgement in the book that the anomaly doesn’t turn completely upside down, because it is not pointing at something directly over head. But, yes, all this makes it somewhat fortuitous that the anomaly appeared before the UN building and not, say, in the midst of the Pacific or the Sahara, or any other random place on Earth.
        All fiction relies on the suspension of disbelief, or it would be non-fiction. It’s always going to stretch the bounds of credibility in some regard, but hopefully not too much. My favourite recent credibility blooper along these lines occurred in the remake of Star Trek. The outbound journey to Vulcan takes place in the length of an argument between Spock and Kirk. They were clearly travelling at Warp Factor Hollywood.

  4. But what belief are we needing to suspend? A school teacher says something nonsensical to a group of scientists “hey look, that road always points to Vega!” and instead of just laughing at him, they think it’s a great idea. Reader of SF are accustomed to suspending their own disbelief, but this would require suspending the disbelief of the characters themselves.

    What I suggest you do is build back up from the “engine rod” analogy. That one is correct. No way it can work for a galaxy though sorry – that’s a rod zillions of times the diameter of the engine wheel, so it would be basically parallel. Normally, a stellar parallax observation is over 2AU (observations 6 months apart so from opposite sides of the Sun), but I think it can work over a short period (3 days in the book if I read it right) when you’re just trying to point to “some nearby star” in a general region in space (“Leo”), which will suffice for the plot. I can try to help with the maths if you don’t have a real astronomer you can call on.

    • I appreciate your interest in all this. I am going to revise this section in the novel as it does need clarification, but I will stick with the telescope analogy, expanding it to a radio telescope which is valid and works in quite well. We use radio telescopes like this all the time, and the shape of the slab, with a bowl of earth beneath the intersection, is suggestive of a radio telescope dish, so it is an easy segue, a plausible means by which Teller could figure this out, noticing the similarity.
      In any work of fiction, it’s important not to appear contrived. Now, all fiction is contrived by its very nature, but it shouldn’t appear that way. I’ve taken pains to try to avoid the reader concluding that Teller knows all the answers, making sure he has a few key points wrong or not-quite-right. So, to my mind, it makes sense to leave NASA to come up with the more accurate engine rod analogy.
      Kind regards,

  5. Note that the engine rod analogy is completely and utterly wrong for a distant star (and ridiculous for another galaxy). All but the very closest stars appear to be at infinity for any parallax motion we might measure over a few days, so you can’t tell where the piston is (since there is not any actual rod). Here’s a picture to explain: – you can work out which star A is “pointing to”, even without knowing which point around the face is doing the “pointing”, but B could be pointing to a star a long way in any direction, or more more correctly, there is no evidence that it is pointing anywhere at all, and any school teacher who suggested otherwise would be laughed at by their class, let alone a scientist. It’s fine to have the teacher notice that the face on B is stationary as the wheel turns, but not for them to suggest it points anywhere. For a reasonably close star, very careful measurements of the faces would reveal a specific location, or at least a general area within the precision of the measurement.

    It’s your book, of course. But you do ask for corrections to the science in the afterword.

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