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As part of his quest to explore the worlds and spread his knowledge to everyone, one of my characters took a trip to the world of my story. Some of you might have seen me mention his blog, Metamethian Mind. Well, Metamethos’ latest post there is a look at some of his experience in visiting the world of “Specimen 25.”

If you read the story and you’re looking for a little more, I recommend going over here and reading what he has to say about it. He even revealed some of what happens in the next story, and that one isn’t even out yet!

And in case you missed it, “Specimen 25” is free to download this Saturday and Sunday, August 30-31, at the Kindle Store: http://www.amazon.com/dp/B00N4BKPN4

 

 

First, I want to thank Catherine. She continues to be an inspiration to me, through her dedication, loyalty, and strength of will. I found a beautiful woman, strong and true, whose eyes are a universe filled with hidden light.

More people I want to thank: my dad, Michael Roache; my grandparents, Barbara and Francis Roache; my aunts, Barbara, Paula, Donna, and Lori; my cousin, Matt; Jerry and Debbie Kelley; the Spellman family; and Brian Spellman, Kyle Ledoux, Ken Joseph, Seamus Conneely, Ryan Gadsby, and Mike Gentile.

Also a huge Thank You to Angela, Lana, and Sue over at HBB for selecting “Specimen 25” as the winner of the Booky Award! I’ve been so happy working with the team at Here Booky Booky, and I’m looking forward to doing it all over again.

Here’s the link to where you can get “Specimen 25” on Amazon: http://www.amazon.com/dp/B00N4BKPN4

You can download the story for free for a limited time: this Saturday and Sunday, August 30-31. Otherwise, it’s only .99!

 

Specimen 25

A Primer for Advanced Study from The Worlds Consortium University

 

The Barin-Bál (\’per-ən-\’pȯl), The Children of Fire, are an intelligent species of biped humanoids known for their pale skin, light sensitivity, and bioluminescent black eyes, which produce a bright red or orange glow as a byproduct of respiration. The most ancient, extant worlds with native populations are an estimated 400 to 700 billion years old. Naturally occurring varieties of Barin-Bál have been observed most frequently in highly radioactive conditions, typically located in systems with multiple stars, where planetary life forms evolve in direct opposition to their extreme biospheres.

There is still much to be learned about their biology, in the absence of official correspondence between the Worlds Consortium and any civil, military, or religious organizations of known Barin-Bál societies. However, survey data from the WCU archives provides a large sample of their most common traits. Evidence suggests that Barin-Bál populations most frequently evolve on planets that are in the process of cooling from a lava-rich environment and transforming into a rockier composition, which, in turn, plays a role in the development of their anatomy and physiology.

The average height of an adult female ranges from six-and-a-half to seven feet tall, while adult males are larger, at seven to eight feet. A tall, rigid body type is the most commonly seen, giving the vast majority of the species a lean and wiry appearance, which, by human standards, would be considered unhealthy. This skeletal look is enhanced further by protrusions of bone along the forearms and shins that form thin parallel ridges.

Barin-Bál are not the strongest or most durable predators in their ecosystems, having overall poor constitution and some severe disadvantages, due to their photosensitive skin and a lack of natural armor, such as an exoskeleton. They rely on speed and stealth, as well as a highly adaptive mind. From their earliest times, the Barin-Bál created tools and displayed proficiency at using their environment as an ally against more physically imposing foes.

Extreme cases have been observed in which individuals grow to a size well beyond normal, healthy expectations. These abominations, known to the Barin-Bál as ógæfin (oh-‘gey-fin), show a diminished cognitive ability and speak poorly, or not at all. They often grow to heights in excess of ten feet and weigh twice as much as three average Barin-Bál combined. These hulks tend to be relegated to the fringes in modernized Barin-Bál cultures which cultivate intelligence in favor of strength, but they have occasionally risen to high status among the militant tribes where their tremendous physical attributes can be an asset in war.

The eyes of the Barin-Bál are one of their most striking and recognizable features. At present, very little is known about their form and function. They have rounded, solid-black lenses, which are larger and more ovoid in shape than the human eye. A small, bright light, typically red or orange in color, can be seen flaring up from below these otherwise impenetrable surfaces. Their eyes appear entirely opaque, and foreign light sources are not reflected within them. Several researchers, including a trio of Cartographers involved in the second-wave surveys of recently discovered Barin-Bál worlds, hypothesize that the non-reflective surfaces act as a defense mechanism. Despite their debilitating reactions to direct light, the Barin-Bál do not suffer any impairment of vision when exposed—a feat that has yet to be otherwise explained by the WCU’s ongoing research.

Multiple studies have confirmed that the flickering light that emanates from behind their eyes is directly tied to respiration. The respiratory system of the Barin-Bál is largely a mystery, given the species’ lack of a nose—having only two thin nostrils that exist independently of each other and lack a septum—or any other apparent anatomical feature that aids in filtering air before it enters the body. It is unclear how they are capable of breathing freely in their common natural environment, where the atmosphere contains high amounts of volcanic debris and the surface temperatures can reach oppressively high levels.

The exact function of this optical light is the subject of much debate among WCU members. Among the most popular theories are the Eye-Print Theory, which suggests that each Barin-Bál possesses a unique “signature light” that can be distinguished from all others in the same way humans use fingerprints; and Cartographer S. Howson’s original theory, which makes connections between this light and the primitive mating rituals mentioned in several ancient Barin-Bál writings.

Additional research has shown that this trait is present in all known varieties of Barin-Bál, and that the flickering light effect persists regardless of whether or not they currently reside on their world of origin, eliminating several theories that proposed a connection between the bioluminescence and the atmospheric conditions that have birthed the species.

Barin-Bál have a marked sensitivity to natural and artificial light sources, and are highly susceptible to burns on their skin, even with only minor exposure to radiation. A majority of precursor species of Barin-Bál evolved below the surface of their planets in networks of caves and other natural structures, leaving their future generations unprepared to walk in the daylight above. Barin-Bál skin is a thin and pale white membrane, with some areas being nearly translucent under sunlight. Tiny clusters of veins can be observed through these spots, most notably in the skin around the eyes and near joints of the fingers, elbows, and knees.

Most Barin-Bál have at least a slightly pink skin tone as a result of exposure to direct light, even when great care is taken to avoid it. The burnt skin does not return to its original pale pigmentation after healing. Instead, it becomes leathery and scarred with additional damage. Tribal culture among the Barin-Bál often revolves around ceremonial exposure, in which an individual walks into the light as a rite of passage to adulthood, with tests of endurance involving prolonged periods of exposure. The latter of these practices is an integral part of establishing rank and respect among the warrior caste, with any given tribe having at least one member with a deep red or brown skin tone—the leaders of their respective tribes.

Barin-Bál are primarily carnivorous, using their long, sharp teeth to tear apart their hardy prey. A large variety of armored insects, reptiles, and similar types of fauna make up the bulk of their diet. The prevalence of melee and hand-to-hand combat weapons among tribal Barin-Bál is used by some as evidence that their teeth, though well-suited for ripping apart and chewing food, are not used as natural weapons.

Their average lifespan is comparable to humans, but new research shows that a number of advanced Barin-Bál cultures have begun developing methods of artificially extending their lives. [The WCU cannot confirm or deny the success of these experiments, and is unwilling to engage in the frivolous speculation that has recently overtaken the public discussions of popular science.]

WID: BAR-BAL-0000

Perhaps the best example of a prototypical Barin-Bál world is WID: BAR-BAL-0000, the first universe discovered by the Worlds Consortium that contained living members of the species and home to the planet Aldirnföld (‘awl-durn-føld). Considered by many to be the site of their biogenesis, Aldirnföld contains the highest concentration of Barin-Bál known to the WCU—estimates of the total population are reported to be between one and two billion, to say nothing of their purported colonization efforts within their cosmic neighborhood—as well as several fully developed cities, which easily rival those of other advanced civilizations. These cities are marvels of Barin-Bál science, fertile and hospitable places that would otherwise be impossible without advances in terraforming technology. Fewer than ten million Barin-Bál native to Aldirnföld live in cities or towns, with the majority still operating under tribal codes, scattered among the expansive archipelagos and coastal regions, where food sources are plentiful and nomadic tribes build encampments in or around dormant volcanoes.

The tribes are living the old ways, still beholden to ancient customs and fighting for survival. They have rich traditions of mysticism and practices which prove their respect for the natural world to be of a deeply spiritual nature. On the other end of the spectrum are their more scientific-minded foils. The modern, industrialized Barin-Bál have learned the secrets of their planet through centuries of dedicated experimentation and study. They are now moving to explore and colonize other worlds, as well as learn about other life forms throughout the multiverse.

 

Alright, now that the details are settled, I am here to announce the release date for my first story! I know it took me a while to get this info to everyone, but I’ve been working to make sure everything’s in order. On the plus side, the wait is almost over.

Specimen 25

“Specimen 25” will be released this Friday, August 29th for download via the Kindle Store on Amazon.

For anyone with a Kindle it should be really easy to get a copy, but if you don’t have one that’s alright. You can download one of Amazon’s Free Kindle Reading Apps for your home computer, tablet, or smartphone. That should let you read the story on just about any compatible device. I’ll be sure to share the link to the Amazon page when “Specimen 25” goes live on Friday.

Maybe I’ve said this before, but I think it’s worth repeating: this story is strange. Maybe the image on the cover hints at it, but believe me when I say that that’s only a sampling of the weirdness contained within. Consider this a final, friendly word of caution.

There will be additional stuff going on here at my blog along with the release, so check back here this weekend if you’re interested in learning more about the world of “Specimen 25.” I’m really excited for this, and I look forward to this being the start of a long journey. I’ve put in lots of work to get to this point, but considering what I have planned for the future it’s really only the start–my bags have been packed, I’m double-checking everything one last time, and soon I’ll be ready to set forth.

I also want to take a moment to talk about a couple of key points. First, I want to quickly address my choice to publish this story exclusively on Amazon. There were multiple factors that led me to this decision, but the biggest reason is time. I work a lot, and as a result I have to manage my time. Amazon’s KDP site makes it relatively simple to publish my work, and right now they’re undeniably the leader in digital publishing. As of right now, I don’t have the time to juggle the responsibilities that would come with publishing across more than one retailer, and so I choose to go with the proven name.

The other thing I want to talk about is reviews. I have a favor to ask: if you read “Specimen 25” and you have a few minutes to spare, please consider leaving an honest review on Amazon–unless you’re one of my close friends or family. Reader reviews can mean a ton to new authors, even more so for those of us publishing without the support of a big house. And, of course, the other reason I ask is because I want to know what you think. One of my goals is to keep improving, and knowing how my readers feel about my stories is an essential piece of that. Whether you think the story sucks or you enjoy it, I want to hear about it.

It might seem strange that I’m singling out my friends and family in that last paragraph, but there’s an important reason I did that. There are many in the self-publishing world, including me, who consider online reviews from relatives to be a form of cheating or gaming the system. The reason is that these reviews, in spite of their good intentions, are inherently biased–and the point of reviews is to inform potential readers, which means they should be unbiased. So, instead of encouraging those closest to me to leave a review, I ask that you simply spread the word. Tell people about my story, let them know I’m self-publishing, and maybe they’ll go get a copy of their own.

Thank you to everyone that has supported me in this endeavor. I’ve had a great deal of help along the way, and I’m grateful for every person that pushed me to pursue my craft, every teacher that helped me learn to do what I love to do, and all the people who, in so many ways, shaped the course of my life.

I read your contribution to the New York Review, “Reading Upward,” and I must say you’ve made a terrible first impression on me. You see, I’d not heard of you or read any of your work before, though you write with such conviction of your own importance. Now, I suspect I will find nothing of lasting value were I to do so in the future.

Your argument was well-written and its logic as clear as it was evident. Until you turned the entire piece on its head and exposed it for what it was: a narrow-minded and outrageous continuation of the outdated values of a culture which glorifies exclusion as the essence of great literature. You turned a discussion about reading habits into a judgment of character.

Here’s where you lost me, as you begin the final paragraph and (did you think it would pass unnoticed?) slip in your real motivation in writing about the idea of reading upward. You wrote, “What no one wants to accept—and no doubt there is an element of class prejudice at work here too—is that there are many ways to live a full, responsible, and even wise life that do not pass through reading literary fiction.” You even put it in the middle of the sentence, without elaborating on it at all, as if that would somehow disguise its message. You’ve been talking about class all along, Mr. Parks. These words change the tone of much that preceded them.

You seem very sure of your assertion that “no one” wants to accept it. Who is actually included in this catch-all? Based on the context, I’m left to assume that you’re talking directly to your audience of the enriched and illuminated blowhards who, like you, still cling to the high art/low art paradigm. It is an inherently bigoted and presumptuous point of view, not shared by everyone with intelligence.

I certainly do not count myself among the “no one” you refer to.

Or how about your confusion as to how, “the right-thinking intellectuals continue to insist on this idea, even encouraging their children to read anything rather than nothing, as if the very act of reading was itself a virtue?”

You’re telling me that we’d be better off encouraging people to skip reading entirely if they’re not inclined to read the kinds of work that you deem worthy? While we’re at it, let’s just burn all the books you wouldn’t consider worth reading and save everyone the trouble of wasting their time. If my tone here seems extreme, it’s only to combat the effusive and airy tone with which you approach the subject. You write as though you’re not spewing the same old argument which has been used time and again to uphold the interests of an entrenched minority in the traditional publishing world. You are intent on propping up archaic stereotypes, which hold education and privilege in high regard, but fail to account for the disparity of wealth, opportunity, and accessibility that remains a barrier to millions of people across the world.

Never mind the fact that having a college education isn’t the only, or even the most, accurate indicator of intelligence. That’s the other ridiculous message embedded in your words, that people who read literary fiction are smarter and wiser for their taste in said literature because they are trained in its high-minded ways.

It’s too bad that you’re so obviously blinded by your assumptions, otherwise I could have told you about my own experiences of reading. As it is, you’ve already revealed to me your disdain for what you, like so many before you, label “genre fiction” and, as a result, as lacking the same value which you perceive in your chosen genre. Don’t tell me literary fiction isn’t a genre–that’s you wanting to create a false sense of distance between one form of art and others, when the true difference between them exists only in their configuration of language. I’m not saying all writing is art, but I’m unwilling to accept your insistence that only a certain type of writing can even be considered for the distinction.

I could go on, but I think my opinion is fairly clear based on what I’ve already said. You are more than welcome to correct me if I have misinterpreted the text or help me understand what it was you were really trying to express.

I admit, I don’t know you as a person, but I believe I’ve learned all that I care to know about you as a writer.

 

Starting with: this video on Youtube (link here) in which Ian McEwan talks about writing, confidence, and some of his own experiences with the process–I originally found the video through an article on the Poets and Writers site. It’s only three minutes long, so I recommend that if you haven’t seen it yet.

Also, I’ve never read anything by Ian McEwan. I’ll have to fix that soon. I was reading some reviews on Goodreads, and I found that he has two short story collections.

I’ve been busy, but I’m still on track with (most of) my stories. Two in particular I want to update you on. One is a revised first draft that I’m almost ready to send to Critters for some feedback. The other is about 1700 words or so, meaning I’m about a third of the way through that first draft (unless something unexpected happens during the second part of the story). I’m a step or two behind where I was aiming for a few weeks ago, but I recognize that’s just me being neurotic. I’m actually making good progress, and that’s encouraging.

What else? More book reviews are on the way. I recently read Why We Read Fiction by Lisa Zunshine, so I’ll have a review for that soon. Also, I’m going to start putting together a feature on some of the resources available to writers looking to learn about world building, and some of the methods that people are advocating in their books. The first part of that will be a roundup of different works I’ve read thus far, seeing how they compare to each other. (I’ll give you a hint: the quality ranges from excellent to “holy crap, someone actually put their name on this?”)

Finally, on a somewhat related topic: one of my characters, Metamethos, started writing a blog. Now, I don’t know exactly how he managed it, but the whole thing was done using my WordPress account. Weird how I don’t remember writing those posts, but my name shows up at the bottom. I read some of his stuff, and a lot of it seemed like whining to me, but he was right to say that his side of the story needs to be told. If you’re into that kind of thing, have a look.

 

Brian Greene is a very intelligent guy, an accomplished physicist and mathematician, and he also happens to be a hell of a writer. In The Hidden Reality: Parallel Universes and the Deep Laws of the Cosmos he deftly guides us through some of the amazingly complex ideas and scientific foundations behind the popularized notion of the multiverse. His explanation of the core concepts at work are thorough, but not laden with excessive technical language or the type of writing that demands a dictionary be kept close at hand. This is a boon to the vast majority of his potential readers, most of whom probably didn’t graduate from Harvard and Oxford, as he begins to talk about the potential for worlds that exist outside of our universe. Greene tackles a particularly murky and labyrinthine area of physics, but somehow distills all of the essential information into language that a non-scientist can digest. He does all of this while firmly grounding his discussions in the larger scientific paradigms which inform any talk of multiple universes.

My own reading of the book was colored by my admittedly biased view of the topic (because I firmly believe that we are part of a multiverse) and by my desire to contextualize some of the ideas that frequently play a large role in my fiction writing. If I’m going to write about characters that cross over into other worlds and venture into realities that do not fit within our conventional model of a single universe, I need to at least understand some of the science underlying these fictional pursuits. I wanted to have a better idea of what it means when people talk about infinite space and the possibility of worlds beyond the range of our senses.

The scope of possible topics within the text would appear to be limited by his focus on one particular set of theories, but after reading it all the way through I can safely say that this is not at all the case.

Do you know how many different theories propose the idea of a multiverse? I didn’t have any idea how many there actually are until I read this book. Greene takes us on a tour of nine different theories, each of which has its own proposed set of features and logic to explain the existence of a multiverse. There’s the Quilted Multiverse, in which our world would be part of an infinitely large expanse where the conditions of reality are repeated over and over. The Inflationary Multiverse proposes that we might be part of an ever-expanding space that eternally continues to create bubble universes propelled ever-farther from each other. And the Quantum Multiverse seeks to show how there could be a parallel universe for every possibility inherent in the probability waves which make up a key component of quantum mechanics. That’s only a third of the different forms of multiverses Greene writes about, and already you can begin to see how dense—from a reader’s perspective, not in a literal, physical sense—the subject of parallel worlds is once you get into the details.

I found this book on Amazon when I was searching for something to read that I could both enjoy and learn from—for me The Hidden Reality accomplished this to a degree I wouldn’t have guessed. There’s more to the book than a long series of scientific theories broken into their respective parts, because Greene goes a step further to show some of the practical applications—and consequences—of viewing our existence as part of a larger reality. For example, late in the book Greene goes into detail about the Simulated Multiverse in which technological advances reach a point where we have the capacity to simulate entire digital universes filled with simulated inhabitants capable of thought, who are also able to create such universes within their own. Once this idea is established in the mind of the reader, which takes some time and considerable effort, he then takes the idea of the Simulated Multiverse to its furthest logical extension: that it’s theoretically possible our universe is actually a simulation, created in some other realm and existing only as data that has no equivalent physical form tying it to reality. How would we know if that were the case, and what would it mean? Greene attempts to answer some of these questions throughout the text. It’s in these sections that the text becomes more than a mere ‘Idiots Guide to Parallel Worlds.’

Of course, the information contained in The Hidden Reality is not as hidden as the supposed other worlds made possible by the theories it talks about. Greene’s purpose in writing the book was not to propose some new insight involving multiverses or theories advocating their existence. This text is meant to provide a strong basis of understanding for anyone looking to learn about multiverse theory and all it entails. In that sense, it’s a complete success. With a little determination and an open mind, most people could read this book and come away with a better understanding of how such amazing things as doppelgangers and higher dimensions could one day be considered scientific fact—no longer relegated to the domain of science-fiction. It’s important to note, however, that Greene is cautious in his approach and informs the reader of the healthy skepticism that many physicists have when talking about multiverses.

If you have a background in science, this book probably won’t have much to offer for you. But if you’re an average reader, like myself, with only a basic knowledge of the subject and a desire to know more, this is a great place to start. I haven’t read other, similar books, but that’s on my to-do list. There are other scientist-authors venturing into the speculative territory of parallel worlds, and I’m curious to see how their work compares to Greene’s. Until then, what I can say for sure is that Brian Greene is a more than adequate source for learning the basics of the physics that are behind current theories of the multiverse.

The final verdict on The Hidden Reality is that it’s an illuminating look into some very strange science, one that I think holds some appeal for anyone who’s willing to stretch their mind some. For writers that work in the genres of fantasy, science-fiction, and horror, I’d say this is a must-read—unless, again, you already have a working knowledge of the physics involved. I didn’t have a lot of experience with physics to use as a base for my stories, but I had the urge to find that base. I wasn’t looking for an ultimate, comprehensive source, but enough to say with some confidence that I do actually know what the hell I’m talking about. Having invested some time into learning more about the subject, I now feel better prepared to write stories that are built upon, and grapple with, the idea of multiple universes.

As always, I know there’s still plenty left for me to learn—but I’m on the right track now, thanks to Brian Greene and his thoughtful, well-written tour of the science of multiverses.