Steve Chatterton
Will Write for Food

Category: ‘Random Stuff’

Science Fiction References in George R. R. Martin’s “A Game of Thrones”

July 21st, 2016 by Steve

A Game of Thrones, the first book in George R. R. Martin's A Song of Ice and Fire series

Before becoming arguably the most well-known fantasy writer alive, George R. R. Martin–author of the A Song of Ice and Fire saga that became the hit HBO series Game of Thrones–used to make his living as a science fiction writer. He made his first professional sale ever to Galaxy magazine when they published his story “The Hero” in 1971. According to Wikipedia, “Although Martin often writes fantasy or horror, a number of his earlier works are science fiction tales occurring in a loosely defined future history, known informally as ‘The Thousand Worlds’ or ‘The Manrealm’.”

First, let us assume that Martin–as a successful science fiction writer–is also well-read in the genre. Second, note that Martin has a tendency to reference other works within his own. This page, for instance, details references to everything from The Three Stooges and Blackadder to Jack Vance and Robert Jordan that can be found within the pages of A Song of Ice and Fire, many of which have been confirmed by Martin himself.

Given that, it seems likely that Martin–whether consciously or not–might also reference classic works of sci-fi in his fantasy work.

I first thought this might be the case when I read Alfred Bester‘s Fondly Fahrenheit in the classic story collection The Science Fiction Hall of Fame Volume One, 1929-1964. In this story of a rampaging robot that develops murderous tendencies when the temperature spikes, someone meets a rather gruesome death–SPOILER ALERT–when the robot pours molten gold over her head. It’s a rather specific way to go, yet it’s oddly similar to the way Khal Drogo crowns Viserys Targaryen–brother of Daenerys, the Mother of Dragons–in A Game of Thrones (published more than fifty years later). I thought I was onto something, and my suspicions were confirmed a few pages later when Bester introduced a new character–Jed Stark. Just in case you’ve been living under a rock for the last few years, that’s just one letter away from a very important character in Martin’s fantasy series.

Coincidence? I thought it might be until I put it on a timeline. Fondly Fahrenheit first appeared in print in 1954, when Martin was only six. But it was anthologized in the Hall of Fame collection in 1970, the year before he made his first sale as a writer in the same genre. It’s very likely Martin read the anthology as part of his research into what makes a great science fiction short story–a sensible move for any aspiring writer looking to break into a specific market.

Once I made the connection, I started spotting other things that appear to have been woven into ASOIAF as I read deeper into sci-fi myself. For instance, in Ursula K. Le Guin‘s classic The Left Hand of Darkness I noticed a chapter entitled “The Mad King”–the nickname of Aerys Targaryen, Daenerys’s father. Then I noticed that the setting of the book–Gethen–was a planet of perpetual winter, reminding me of The North, and particularly the lands north of The Wall, in Martin’s series. In addition, one of the central characters, Estraven–the gender-neutral Prime Minister of Karhide–reminded me more than a little of Lord Varys, the eunuch who also had a tendency to speak in confusing ways. Estraven baffles Genly with his fancy talk in much the same way Varys baffles Ned.

After The Left Hand of Darkness, the next book I picked up was Childhood’s End by Arthur C. Clarke, and as luck would have it I spotted another line too close to something in ASOIAF to be ignored. At one point in the Clarke novel, Rikki Stormgren–Secretary-General of the United Nations when the Overlords descend upon our planet–says, “We Stormgrens always pay our debts.” It’s very close to the unofficial motto of House Lannister: A Lannister always pays his debts.

That’s all I’ve found so far, but–rest assured–I’ll update this page as soon as I uncover anything else. If you know of any connections I’ve missed, please leave a comment below.

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Hemingway App Review

June 8th, 2015 by Steve

hemingway-app

Hemingway App is a new program designed to help in the editing process. It let’s edit your text down to something lean, mean and easy to read. It lets you know when your sentences are getting difficult to read, when you’re using a complex phrase that could be worded more simply, when you’re using too many adverbs, and when you’re using the passive voice. It counts you words and your sentences, and gives you guideline targets for adverbs and passive voice.

It also gives you a readability grade. Lower is better. A score of Grade 5 literally means someone would need a Grade 5 education to get their head around what you wrote.

For a point of reference, I put some Jean Jacques Rousseau into Hemingway App. I loathed having to read Rousseau at university, and the app backed me up, giving Rousseau a Grade 19 (Poor) readability. It rated every sentence very hard to read.

For contrast, I popped in some lines from Earnest Hemingway’s short Hills Like White Elephants. As one would hope, he hit it out of the park.

Readability: Grade 1 (Good)

  • 0 of 10 sentences are hard to read.
  • 0 of 10 sentences are very hard to read.
  • 0 phrases have simpler alternatives.
  • 0 adverbs. Well done.
  • 0 uses of passive voice.

Good on you, Mr. Hemingway. Apparently, you have quite the future ahead of you.

To see how I might fare, I put in one of my short stories and let the app analyze it.

Readability: Grade 5 (Good)

  • 13 of 84 sentences are hard to read.
  • 11 of 84 sentences are very hard to read.
  • 2 phrases have simpler alternatives.
  • 12 adverbs. Aim for 11 or fewer.
  • 1 use of passive voice. Aim for 17 or fewer.

Clearly not as elegent as Mr. Hemingway. So I proceeded to use the app as an editor, letting it tell me where to whittle my prose down. In less than an hour, I got this score:

Readability: Grade 3 (Good)

  • 0 of 114 sentences are hard to read.
  • 0 of 114 sentences are very hard to read.
  • 0 phrases have simpler alternatives.
  • 9 adverbs. Aim for 11 or fewer.
  • 0 uses of passive voice.

My sentences still ramble for a bit, but I’ve got the readability down from Grade 5 to Grade 3.

Is it actually better? I think maybe it is. I have a tendency to ramble on, and use too many subordinate clauses, as the unedited text I bashed out for this review will bear witness to.

But let’s let you be the judge. Below is the updated version of my story Grasshopper, Ant. Better? Let me know what your thoughts are on Hemingway App in the comments below.

Once upon time, Clive reveled in the warm spring air. He frolicked about, dancing and singing. He praised nature in all its glory as he hopped from leaf to leaf, eating to his heart’s content. He was grateful indeed for his powerful hind legs.

Clive was the living embodiment of living in the now. He wasted no thoughts dwelling on the past, nor did he worry about the future. The only things that mattered to him were what he could see with his own eyes in the here and now. Things like sunshine and daisies and dewdrops. That was what mattered to him. And jumping. Jumping high. Jumping far. Getting a bird’s eye view of the grass all around him so he could find all the best places to eat.

One glorious spring day Clive came across another bug crawling along on the ground. It was smaller and darker than he was. It had pathetically short legs that would have made jumping nigh impossible. Yet Clive was a curious sort, so he hopped on over and introduced himself.

“Hi there,” said Clive as he landed abruptly in the other bug’s path. “I’m Clive. What’s your name, friend?”

“Bloody h***!” said the smaller bug.

“That’s an odd name,” said Clive. “But I’ve learned to celebrate differences and revel in the diversity of creation. Hi there, Bloody H***!”

“Isn’t that nice,” said the smaller bug. “Look, my name’s not Bloody H***. That was an interjection blurted out in surprise. You scared the bejesus out of me, jumping out of nowhere like that. You can call me Rodney, if you like.”

“Hi Rodney! I’m going to go out on a limb here and assume you’re not a grasshopper.”

“That’s right, Clive. I’m an ant, from the anthill on the other side of that tree.”

“Uh huh. Uh huh. And what are you doing? Got time to play?”

“Sorry, Clive,” said the ant, “but I’m gathering food all day today. Winter is coming. I’ve got to do my bit to make sure everyone in my colony has enough to eat so we make it through to next spring. My queen always says, ‘Winter is hard, but you’ve got to get through it. A bug’s got to eat and that’s all there is to it.’”

The ant was truly sorry. He would give anything to kick up his heels, unwind, and chat with the grasshopper. But he realized all his ant friends and relations were still plugging away at it. Foraging like the dickens. Starting to make him look bad.

“Perhaps some other time,” said Clive, ever the optimist.

“Stranger things have happened,” said Rodney noncommittally.

***

Spring segued into glorious summer, and the bug’s paths crossed yet again.

“Rodney, right?” asked Clive, as he lay on his back on the petals of an open flower.

“That’s right, Clive.” Rodney marched around a tree carrying a seed over his head. “What are you up to today, buddy?”

“Sunbathing,” said Clive. “Though I’m getting rather bored of it. I think I’d much rather be singing. Or dancing. Mind you, I’ve always wanted to write a novel, or perhaps a screenplay. It’s about a cop who solves mysteries in her spare time. Perhaps I should make a start on that. Unless of course you’d maybe like to jump and play together.”

“I appreciate the invitation, mack,” said Rodney, “I really do. But the queen’s upped the foraging quota this week. I’ll be busting my ass till sundown at least.”

“Maybe another day,” said the grasshopper.

Rodney felt guilty about getting his friend’s hopes up. He knew his commitments would never allow this relationship to become anything more.

“Listen, mack,” said Rodney.

“It’s Clive, actually.”

“Yeah. Listen. You might want to think about gathering some stuff for yourself sooner than later. Remember? ‘Winter is hard, but you’ve got to get through it. A bug’s got to eat and that’s all there is to it.’”

Clive pondered this nugget of wisdom for a millisecond. “I wonder what’s happening in Milan right now,” he blurted out. “Or Paris. Haven’t you always wanted to bound merrily down the Champs-Élysées?”

But Rodney had already shuffled off out of earshot, his prized seed held high.

***

The sun-filled delight of summer soon turned into a cold and rainy autumn. A cold, miserable winter followed quickly. The ants stayed in their anthill, for snow blanketed the outside world. They had all the food they needed to get through until spring.

One day, though, just before Christmas, Rodney got a message. There was someone at the front door to see him. When he got there, he saw his friend the grasshopper. Clive looked chilled to the bone, and emaciated from weeks of going hungry.

“What’s become of my glorious grasshopper friend?” said Rodney. “You used to have it all. How I envied your carefree life of leisure.”

“I was reckless,” said Clive. “Please forgive me, my dearest friend, but I never heeded your words of wisdom. Had I paid attention to your guidance, I might not be in such a miserable state. I might have something to eat besides endless fields of snow as far as the eye can see. I miss the juicy blades of baby grass. The leaves of the mighty oak. The stately oats that grow in the fields over the hill. What I wouldn’t give, dear friend-”

But we’ll never know what he wouldn’t give. At that moment, Rodney’s friends and relations poured out of the anthill. They swarmed all over the grasshopper, ripping him limb from limb. They carrying the severed chunks of grasshopper down to their queen below.

Rodney picked up his friend’s disembodied head. The antennae still twitching. Eyelids still blinking. Mandibles soundlessly asking Why? He said, “Listen, mack, I tried to tell you. Winter is hard, and I’m sorry you blew it, but a bug’s got to eat and that’s all there is to it.”

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The Problem with Me

May 29th, 2015 by Steve
Photo by Mike Rose

Photo by Mike Rose

Here’s the problem with me in a nutshell. I want to write a story called Hearsay Heresy. All I have is a title, but I really like the way the words stand together. I actually believe it has promise, when I don’t think critically about it.

Also, I want to write a novel called Nothing Yet. Again, all I have is a title. But I want to write it, see the whole process through, start to finish, from writing character sketches to getting it published, all so I can play out the following scene in real life…

Stranger:
So, what do you do?

Me:
I’m a writer.

Stranger:
Have you written anything I might know?

Me:
Nothing Yet.

And then I walk away slowly with a big ol’ Cheshire Cat grin on my face. All set up, no punchline.

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Working Faster in Scrivener with Additional Substitutions

May 26th, 2015 by Steve

addl-subs

In the previous article on Working Faster in Scrivener with Auto-Complete List we examined a way to pre-populate a list of auto-complete suggestions specific to the document you’re currently working in so little lists will pop-up as you type, allowing you to quickly select words from that menu and save yourself a little time in the long run.

This article is going to deal with enabling additional substitutions, allowing you to use shorthand for long chunks of text you find yourself typing over and over. For instance, if you write about science often, sometimes you’ll need the long form of a term, like deoxyribonucleic acid. It’s usually shortened to DNA, but sometimes you’ll have to write it out in full, and perhaps look up the spelling.

By enabling additional substitutions you can program a unique text string, such as ‘dna/’ to represent the longer string ‘deoxyribonucleic acid’ so that when you type ‘dna/’ Scrivener automatically converts the text to ‘deoxyribonucleic acid’ for you. I recommend using a dedicated escape character, like ‘/’, to delineate the end of a shorthand snippet. If not, typing the name ‘Edna’ would result in the automatic conversion to ‘Edeoxyribonucleic acid’, and nobody wants that.

Bear in mind that additional substitutions are not document specific and will be available in every document you work on so long as additional substitutions are enabled. This could be a blessing or a curse depending on your situation.

The Nuts and Bolts of How to Do It

Go to Tools/Options and click on Corrections. At the bottom of the Options pane is a section called Substitutions followed by a checklist. The last item on that list says ‘Enable additional substitutions’ — make sure that box is checked.

Below and to the right you’ll find a button that reads ‘Edit substitutions…’ Clicking on that opens another pane called Substitutions. Here is where you build your list of snippets.

Click on the ‘+’ button (bottom left) to open yet another pane. You’ll see two text boxes, one labeled ‘Replace:’ and the other labelled ‘With:’ Type ‘dna/’ in the Replace box and ‘deoxyribonucleic acid’ in the With box to get the handy-dandy DNA example for you, or start building your own list to suit your own purposes.

Auto-Correct You Most Common Typos

Do you mispell misspell a lot of words? If so, it’s additional substitutions to the rescue for you.

Click the ‘+’ button and fill in ‘teh’ for Replace and ‘the’ for With and you’ll never spell have ‘teh’ pop up in a document again.

But what if you want ‘teh’ in a document. Say you have a story that takes place with lots of internet references. Then open the Substitutions list again to replace ‘teh/’ with ‘teh’. I know, the shorthand is actually longer in this example, but life is quirky and so is Scrivener.

If there’s anything else you want to know about Scrivener that I haven’t covered yet, just ask in the comments and I’ll see how I can help. Thanks!

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Working Faster in Scrivener with Auto-Complete List

April 23rd, 2015 by Steve

auto-complete

So, you’re writing a novel, and you’ve foolishly chosen to name a character something like ‘DeGraaf’. All left-hand typing, two capitals. What a pain in the butt. Why, why would you do that? You’re going to have to re-type that name about four thousand times over the next hundred thousand words.

Well, fear not! You can always program macros into Microsoft Office so you can type shorthand into Word and it’ll automatically replace it for you.

But wait, you’re working in Scrivener? Me too! Here’s what you do now that macros aren’t an option. It’s a little thing called the Auto-Complete List.

You’ll find the Auto-Complete List in the menus by going Project -> Auto-Complete List, or by the handy dandy keyboard shortcut ctrl+shift+4. Then you’ll see the little pop-up menu in the pic above. Hit that plus button and you’ll get to put in a new word or phrase you find yourself retyping far too often, like ‘Auto-Complete List’, for instance.

Then go to Tools -> Options (or shortcut F12) and click on the Corrections icon. Make sure the Word Auto-Complete ‘Suggest completions as you type’ box is ticked, and untick the ‘In script mode only’ box (unless you’re working exclusively on scripts, I guess).

Then, start typing away. When you come to the word you need a shortcut for, type the first letter. If you only have one word on the Auto-Complete List that starts with that letter, you’ll see a little pop-up box with only that word in it. Hit enter and Scrivener finishes the word for you.

If you have more than one word, the pop-up box will have all those words listed in alphabetical order. You can use the arrow buttons to go down and back up the list. Highlight the word you need and hit enter. Or, start typing more letters. The list will get smaller as you type more. Narrow the list down to the one word you need and hit enter.

Did I mention that the Auto-Complete List is project specific? That way you can tailor your list to every new piece you work on. How cool is that.

Next topic – Enabling additional substitutions to mimic the Office macros across all your projects!

Posted in Random Stuff | 1 Comment »