Intelligence and Rise of the Tsaeb Civilization

What is Intelligence and How is it Used in Fiction?

NASA Header ImageFamiliar components of intelligence are reaction time, sensitivity, problem solving, foresight, and memory.  Novelists often elevate one or more of the components to make their characters more interesting or to give them the necessary ability to achieve plot elements.  Sometimes we pick up hints that a character is intelligent and then we are delighted when she almost magically connects disparate clues and solves the crime.  Dr. Who and Sherlock Holmes are spectacularly successful at this.  In other instances we enjoy watching a character’s routine use of his powerful intellect.  It is fun to watch Lee Child’s Jack Reacher use his exceptionally acute hearing to follow the progress of a professional tail who thinks Reacher is totally unaware of his presence.

Characters are also defined by their temperament, they way they experience and express anger, love, jealousy, regret, and so forth.  Temperament might seem to be the only real concern for character building, because it so clearly distinguishes individuals.  Intelligence, however, sets limits on the expression of temperament.  A smart wise-ass is more likely to produce interesting insults than a dumb one.  And an intelligent character is more likely to notice a detail such as the shape of a tree and see the connection between shape, competitive ability, and history of the tree.  Intelligence determines the depth and richness of a character’s response to experience.

What produces intelligence?  We know that brain size, composition, and internal connectivity are involved, but we only know that these are correlated with measured intelligence (see the references).  We do not know how they work, and we do not know the full list of factors that are necessary.  Perhaps high intelligence requires the presence of structures such as complex hands, thumbs, and voice box, or perhaps an undiscovered chemical.  Whatever the requirements, why haven’t they been met in many complex organisms?  Why aren’t all animals intelligent?

The theme and plot for “Corr Syl the Warrior” required highly intelligent characters with powers of thought beyond human ability.  I used evolution to create them.  I imagined an Earth on which evolution, in its gloriously random way, included intelligence among the traits of the first higher organisms.  I imagined that intelligence was common to all animals, and that along with other character traits, natural selection would continue to improve intelligence.  By the time dinosaurs appeared, most animals were as intelligent as humans are now (see the references).

Before I could use intelligence in my story, I had to answer numerous questions.  A central question concerned competition and conflict.  Would the many intelligent species on Earth have lived and worked together peacefully?  Or would they have built weapons and fought wars?  Observing the warlike tendencies of our modern human civilization, we might expect that universal intelligence would have raged across the Earth like a firestorm leaving nothing behind, perhaps not even the planet itself.  So this is what I decided must happen:  🙂 Continue reading

#EcoSciFi News Turns Two (Months)

Nature Conservation & Science Fiction:  #EcoSciFi

Scoopit LogoThe #EcoSciFi news will have its 1,000th visitor this week.  The paper opened on October 1, 2013.  With content from over 100 sources, the paper provides essential news and information for conservation and writing.  Check it out.

#EcoSciFi:  Nature and Science Fiction on the Web

Am I Benefiting from My Book Reviews?

Insights from My Book Reviews

Corr Syl the Warrior CoverIndie authors read a lot about the promotional value of reviews.  Here I wanted to comment on the feedback I have received.

First, it is worth noting that early book reviews sometimes influence later ones.  The influence appears in the similarity of the topics mentioned and even the phrases used.  Still, there is collective value in the insights the reviews provide.

It is also worth noting that Corr Syl is my first novel.  I have much to learn, and the value I derive from reviews will probably increase as my knowledge and experience increase.

Themes

Most of the 17 book reviews of Corr Syl has received mention the book’s conservation theme.  I had worked to keep the theme firmly in the background, and expected that Immediacy, the Tsaeb philosophy of consequences would receive more attention.  Immediacy indirectly explains humanities many flaws.  Didn’t happen, but I am relieved that none of the reviewers felt that the way I presented the conservation theme was so didactic that it interfered with their enjoyment of the story.

One of the book’s other themes is Corr Syl’s “coming of age” experience.  This is a steady influence throughout the novel, and it is one of the factors in determining the conclusion.  Nevertheless, only one reviewer picked it out as a principal element, and most don’t mention it.  It is a common story element, however, and is probably essential even if not remarkable.

Reviewers mentioned some of the other important elements of the story–the nature of perception and of intelligence, and Corr Syl’s plan for repairing human society–but they said little about them.  I am eager to see what other reviewers will say about these topics.

Genre

Some of the reviewers noted that the story is hard science fiction, but others called it fantasy or mixed the two types.  The difference, of course, is that all the propositions contained within a science fiction story must have explanations that meet the testability criterion.  If the events and features have no testable explanations, they aren’t science, and the story is fantasy or magic.  Stories often contain a mix of testable and untestable ideas, and are properly called “science fiction and fantasy.”  Unlike hard science fiction author, Robert Forward who commented that his story provided a basic lesson in physics, I did not try to explain the evolutionary processes that could produce my principal story elements.  But I tried to stay within the limits of what was actually possible.

Characters

Another interesting thing about these first 17 reviews, is that most of them mention that Corr Syl and the other characters are well-developed.  As I worked on the story, I learned that I am more of a plot than a character writer.  I always felt that the characters needed better back-stories and traits of their own, or as Kris Neri says better “hidden” stories.  Nancy Kress teaches that back-stories determine character traits and reactions.  The back-stories need to be clear in the writer’s mind.  If not, inconsistent behavior can occur and distract readers.  Since my characters are acceptable to some critics, I am further convinced that Roy Peter Clark must be right, writing can be learned.

Read the Latest Book Reviews of Corr Syl the Warrior

Readers’ Favorite sent Corr Syl the Warrior out for review in September.  The five reviews received include three 5-star and two 4-star reviews.  Click here to read Lit Amri’s review and the comments by Bill Howard and others

The Never-Ending Promotional Campaign

Corr Syl the Warrior is in the Booktown Book of the Month contest.   You can vote for it here (scroll down when you get to Booktown’s site).

Want to Be a Reviewer?

I am happy to send free books to reviewers.  If you want to review Corr Syl the Warrior, use the comment form to send me your email address for a Kindle eBook, or your mailing address for a paperback.  The books ship direct from Amazon.  Amazon is the best place to post reviews.  You have to mention that you received a complimentary copy from the author.

The Tradeoff Between Science and Story

See on Scoop.itNature Conservation & Science Fiction: #EcoSciFi

In today’s comments we fretted over the definition of average, oohed and aahed over some DIY costume skills, and (with the help of Gravity’s science advisor) teased out the precise intersection of science and story-telling.

Garry Rogers‘ insight:

When the science is inaccurate the story is no longer science fiction.  It becomes fantasy.  That’s fine, but even fantasy has rules.  Departure from accuracy without new rules can get you bad reviews.

See on io9.com