What do Arthur C. Clarke and Robert Heinlein have in common?



What do Arthur C. Clarke and Robert Heinlein have in common?

Well, aside from the fact that they are science fiction icons, they knew how to write stories that kept readers engaged. They have been huge influences in my formation as a sci-fi reader and now as an author.

Of course, this was not something that I did intentionally. It just sort of happened all by itself. The only reason I discovered that my style had been so influenced by these giants was when my editor made the comment after working on my second novel. He told me that my work  “feels like a combination of classic swashbuckling Heinlein with the intellectually satisfying harder science of Clarke” A.T.

Now, that floored me. This guy reads A LOT of science fiction and is a well respected editor. Who am I to argue? At the same time, that is a heck of a lot to live up to. Talk about pressure!

Now, I really don’t know if my work will stand the test of time as Clarke’s or Heinlein’s have, but the reason I’m confessing this to you is that I wanted you to know what to expect when you read my books.

I like to write stories that engage the reader and keep them on the edge of their seat, if possible. I like to create intriguing characters that will be remembered. And as an erstwhile professional scientist, I want to honour the way the universe works by keeping things real with respect to the science. If that makes my style like a melding of some of the greats, then I am satisfied with my efforts.

The Isolating Internet

Digital Illustration of a surreal Woman

As time passes, I find myself more often than not feeling old. This is particularly true when I have interactions with people under the age of forty. 

First, let me state for the record that I am not old. 

I will be 59 on my next birthday, which according to my master plan, means I have not yet entered middle age. Yet as time passes, I am finding more reasons to feel disconnected from people born in the last three decades.

When my peers and I used to socialize, back in the Cretaceous period, a polite introductory conversation might have sounded like this”

“Hi, I’m Doug.”

“Hi Doug, I’m John.”

“Pleased to meet you. I haven’t seen you at this golf course before. Do you play here often?”

“Once or twice a week. How about yourself?”

“I try to get on the course three times a week.”

“Wow, you must have a lot of work flexibility to be able to play like that.”

“Yes, I am semi retired and like to play as much as possible. How about yourself. What do you do for a living?”

What you may or may not have gleaned from this hypothetical conversation is that there is a passing back and forth between the speakers, each one prompting the other to contribute and reveal a bit about himself. Sort of like a serve and return in tennis or badminton. This sort of interaction happens easily between people of my generation and older. In fact, it seems to happen this way for most people who did not grow up using social media. Social norms have changed, and I blame the internet for the problem.

When I try to engage people in Gen Y or Gen Z in conversation, it seems to be very one sided. I will introduce myself and they will respond with their own name, but they rarely initiate any conversation beyond that. They do not usually make polite inquiries of me or what I do, but are more than happy to tell me everything about themselves when I ask. They seem to have lost the skills for common social interaction, and give the impression they don’t give a damn about anyone else, but I do not believe that is the case. I think social media has trained them to this behaviour.

Gen Y & Z grew up with the internet and are intimately connected to social media. The hallmark of conversation on Facebook or Twitter amounts to a person making a posting about themselves: “I went to the Brave’s game tonight. Boy, did they play poorly.” 

The response to this from their online friends is to react to the original posting and the focus of the conversation remains, for the most part, centred on the topic or the original poster. The communication becomes one sided and if any of the friends wants the world to know about their current life activities, it behooves them to declare it in a post of their own. Social interaction has become an exercise in standing in the town square and shouting out the news about your life.

The result of all this seems to be a generation of people whose norm of social interaction consists of self declaration and little apparent interest in the lives of others unless they choose to declare. It all comes across as self absorbed and is a sad testament to where the internet is taking us.

It is ironic that something called social media seems to be contributing to the decline of social interaction. I wonder what other two edged benefits of our interconnectivity have yet to reveal themselves? It’s good fodder for a science fiction author.

Me and Leonardo Da Vinci


No, I’m not intending to compare my self with the great Leonardo Da Vinci…or maybe I am?

For most of my life I’ve been cursed with a constantly growing, diverse number of interests. It only takes one look at the bookshelf in my office to convince anyone that I’ve dabbled in a lot of stuff.

For example: I have 45 books on the subject of golf, equally as many on photography, multiple volumes on drawing and painting. 

There are books about chess, physical fitness, computer programming, neural networks, books on internet marketing, travel, history, anthropology…

I have at least three bibles and numerous books on christian spirituality. Then there are all the books I’ve bought on the subject of writing, dozens of novels and a few books from my attempts to learn german and spanish.

None of this includes the three boxes of geo-science technical books languishing in my garage. Nor does it even consider the hundreds of physical books I no longer had room for and was forced to sell many years ago.

Let’s not even talk about what I have on my iPad!

What I’m trying to say is that over the years I have been interested in a wide variety of subjects, not unlike the great master, Leonardo Da Vinci. I am hardly a master at most of the things I’ve studied, although I am a fairly decent golfer these days. And I don’t think my writing is horrible.

Da Vinci was a master because he explored things during a time when few things were deeply questioned. He exhumed and dissected human corpses in order to teach himself anatomy. He designed and tested various kinds of flying machines after studying the flight patterns and anatomy of birds. Not satisfied with the representative art of the time, he refined the use of perspective in his paintings.

Leonardo was a genius and lived at a time when one person could come close to understanding the sum of human knowledge. Leo had a habit of starting projects only to abandon them to move on to the next shiny object. By today’s standards he might have been diagnosed with attention deficit disorder (ADD). I like to think that his mind worked ahead of his hands and he saw early when a project was not going to live up to his expectations, abandoning it so his time could be spent on more fruitful pursuits.

In the times we live, when the volume of human knowledge is exploding at a geometric rate, it is no longer conceivable that a person can possess the sum total of learning. We no longer have to study subjects under threat of arrest. We no longer have to develop base concepts from observation or first principles. All we need do is surf the internet and most of what we wish to learn is at our disposal. Can you imagine what Leo might have accomplished in the twenty-first century? 

I think poor Leo would have been overwhelmed. Like me, he might flit from one shiny topic to the next in search of something to master enough to add to the science or the art.

Now, I’m not arrogant enough to suggest I posssess anything like the genius of Leonardo. Had I lived in his times, chances are I would have been little more than a peasant or a soldier; a cleric or a monk. I doubt I would have had the courage or tenacity to rise above the cultural expectations and taboos of the day in order to push forward the envelope of knowledge. I would probably have been just as curious, but would never have risked what he did in order to sate his muse.

Leonardo lived at the right time for his genius and the world is better because of that. I am living in the right time for me to satisfy my diverse interests. Perhaps I will eventually produce something for posterity. I can only hope to.