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.


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.


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.


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

Is the Internet Good for Writing? Part 1: Affirmative – Lingua Franca – The Chronicle of Higher Education

See on Scoop.itNature Conservation & Science Fiction: #EcoSciFi
GarryRogers.comTaking this side of the question is Clive Thompson, author of the new book Smarter Than You Think: How Technology Is Changing Our Minds for the Better. Thompson says he is “regularly astonished by the quality and length of expression I find online, the majority of which is done by amateurs in their spare time.”

The length part, at least, is inarguable. Thompson, a journalist who has specialized in covering technology, asserts, “Before the Internet came along, most people rarely wrote anything at all for pleasure or intellectual satisfaction after graduating from high school or college.” Now, according to his back-of-the-envelope cyphering, people compose about 3.6 trillion words a day via e-mail, blogs, and social media—the equivalent of 36 million books, give or take.

So, does frequent writing provide beneficial practice and improvement regardless of length?

See on

Evil Characters in Science Fiction, #Writing, #SciFi

Evil Characters

Black Widow (CDC)Antagonist characters are often evil.  In fantasy, evil characters are born, but in science fiction and most popular fiction, evil characters develop with experience.  Authors don’t have to detail the experiences, but they probably should have them in mind so they can write coherent characters.

Evil can be mild or extreme.  Some of the familiar expressions of mild evil are envy, insult, jealousy, sarcasm, physical violence, and the selfishness that lets an individual place its interests above the interests of others.  At their least extreme, these behaviors are merely irritating.  At their most extreme, they are dangerous.

Experiments (e.g., The Stanford Prison Experiment) have demonstrated the “situational” nature of evil.  They have shown that circumstances can produce evil behavior with frightening speed.  Because of this, evil is commonplace.  Fortunately, evil rapidly induced, just as rapidly fades.  Hannah Arendt discussed how the “banality of evil” could cause ordinary people to produce something as extreme as the Holocaust.

Nancy Kress describes five types of villains in her book “Dynamic Characters.”  My evil characters are Kress’s ‘examined’ characters.  A term she uses to refer to characters whose experiences you must describe sufficiently to explain and justify the character’s behavior.  As always, Kress makes useful suggestions, and I recommend reading her comments as you build your evil villain.

Evil behavior is often permanent.  Fortunately, evil that is both extreme and permanent requires long bouts of extreme experiences and is therefore uncommon; serial murderers, arsonists, and so forth are rare.  I think of extreme cases of permanent evil as true evil.  Truly evil characters are pure.  They have no altruistic traits.  They will use you for security, fun, and food.  Since they have their own special moral code, they will not feel guilt for their behavior.  They will suffer a sinner’s remorse only if they let you escape or if they fail to make the best use of you.

Here is an excerpt from Corr Syl the Warrior that shows how true evil can develop:  Lactella (click the name then click the excerpt link on the page that appears).

Unlinked Reference

Kress, N.  2004.  Dynamic characters:  How to create personalities that keep readers
captivated.  Writer’s Digest Books, Cincinnati, OH.  264 p.

Nested Stories By Secondary Characters

Stories Told by Secondary Characters

NGarryRogers.comested stories are common literary devices.  Some writing texts advocate treating every chapter as a separate story with a beginning and an end.  Nested stories can be standalone chapters, but they are usually stories narrated by characters within the framework of a chapter.  A character within the main story might recall an experience, or they might tell a fictional story of their own.

I like nested stories; they are fine places to give readers glimpses of hidden themes and character motivations.  They can add evidence for the reality of the main story.  I gave an example in an earlier post about stories told by the protagonist.  Here is an example of a nested story involving secondary characters in the novel Corr Syl the Warrior (#CorrSyl).  The story provides support for subsequent actions within the main story.

News of Allon

As Allysen and two fighters trotted past a picnic area near the new military base, a Danog woman waved them over. 

“Hello.  Do you have a moment?”

Allysen focused.  The woman seemed worried, and she wanted help from Tsaeb.  Odd.  Allysen introduced her group and asked how she could help. Continue reading

Indie Author Deadlines #indieauthor #litchat

Dr. Garry Rogers

Dr. Garry Rogers is Chuckling


By  Dr. Garry Rogers

Agents and editors are generous with deadlines for freelance writers, nonfiction authors, and traditionally published novelists.  Indie authors have only the deadlines they give themselves.  For many of us, our self-imposed deadlines aren’t effective.  We often don’t even notice the faint breeze they stir as they pass by.  We need deadlines to clear away distractions and get us focused.  They are the booster shots that block procrastination.

The Beauty of Deadlines

Consider the deadlines facing business entrepreneurs.  There are deadlines for business formation, finance, facilities, hiring, purchasing, marketing, and shipping.  Each of these requires applications and presentations, and each will have several critical deadlines.  In response to all the deadlines, entrepreneurs sometimes create businesses that earn them millions or billions of dollars.

There are similarities between business entrepreneurs and indie novelists.  The principal one is that both groups are creators, inventors of finely wrought complexity.  So why do business entrepreneurs sometimes get rich, and authors rarely do more than earn a good living?  It’s the deadlines.  The heart-pounding stress of frequent deadlines gives business entrepreneurs greater opportunity for success.

Deadline Magic

Looming deadlines cause wonderful physiological responses.  Scientists have learned that external stress causes your body to begin manufacturing and releasing epinephrine, cortisol, and other hormones.  Your energy level rises, your memory functions improve, your disease immunity increases, and your pain threshold rises.  There may be corresponding physical and mental discomforts; you may loose sleep, you may become nauseated, and you may loose your appetite.  You can moderate the discomfort with exercise, yoga, meditation, etc.  The best moderator, however, is meeting the deadline!  Besides all the other benefits of completing a goal, there is lovely relief when you meet a deadline.

Where Are the Deadlines?

How can you get deadlines?  For independent authors it’s tough.  Contests and grants have deadlines, critique groups have deadlines, and challenges such as the national novel writing month have deadlines.  And of course, you can set goals and deadlines for yourself.  Unfortunately, you can find ways to excuse yourself from any of these deadlines.

Giving Your Deadlines Teeth

You have to give power to your self-imposed deadlines—awesome power beyond your control.  You can do this with social pressure.  Extreme social pressure is hard to ignore.  To give a deadline the power to make you puke, pick meaningful, not just memorable dates—instead of a phase of the moon or a national holidays, choose your wedding anniversary, your mother’s birthday, your girl friend’s birthday, or your first-born child’s birthday.

Next, and this is the really critical part, tell everyone your goals and your deadlines.  Tell your family, friends, fiancé, neighbors, writing groups, coffee shop servers, Facebook followers, high school graduating class, and others.  Especially don’t forget your enemies.  You want to be sure that there are people are looking forward to sharing your success, and people who will delight in your failure.

Danger of Powerful Deadlines

Good strong deadlines will have you refusing afternoon softball games, camping trips, children’s football tournaments, and even dinner dates.  If you forget to exercise and eat properly, your health may suffer.  But with experience, you can learn to create powerful deadlines that increase your chance for success, fame, and fortune.  Millions?  Maybe.  Billions?  Don’t forget your doctor.

The True Beauty of Book Covers

Book Covers:  Behind the Beauty

GarryRogers.comI only recently began to question the old line, “you can’t judge a book by its cover.”  Having never really given the subject any thought, I always assumed that the sole purpose of a book cover was to attract buyers.  I thought of it as an advertising gimmick that served a commercial purpose and had nothing to do with the quality of the story.  I felt that plain covers might be more honest and desirable.

When I completed my first novel, “Corr Syl the Warrior,” my attitude changed.  I was concerned that since I had no reputation at all, there might be no readers.  I was confident that some readers would like the story, but I was feared that those readers might never stumble upon the book.  I decided that I needed a snazzy cover.

The only thing I knew about eBook cover design was that the fonts had to be legible at thumbnail sizes.  Other than that, I assumed a book-cover designer would create something attractive that would appeal to potential buyers.  I checked a few websites for examples, and chose a designer that had made some science fiction covers.  I provided a one-paragraph book description and a few pictures, and sat back to see what she would produce.

The designer did a great job with what I gave her.  She proposed a few options, suggested colors and fonts, and ended up doing a beautiful job.  Along the way, I thought more about book covers and realized that I had missed an opportunity.  I began looking closely at the covers on the books on my shelves and I realized that book covers could play a significant role in telling a story.

With shapes, colors, and text, a cover could set a mood and it could illustrate important story elements.  An author could use the cover to foreshadow important events within the story.  I realized that the cover could also help define characters, give a real glimpse of a setting, and give clues to the story theme.

The first book I read to myself, “Tarzan the Terrible,” has gone through numerous printings since its publication in 1921.  And it has had at least 20 different covers.  The covers range from simple text to images that seem unrelated to the story, and to images that illustrate important scenes and the story theme.

Tarzan the Terrible

Tarzan the Terrible

As a child, I often wondered what the image on the cover was.  I imagined several possibilities, and finally settled on one.  I think it depicts a particular scene in the story.  I could be wrong.  If you think you know what the image is, add a comment.

Book covers can be more than mere advertising, or even works of art.  They can be beautiful, informative, and suggestive all at once.  A cover designer might achieve all that, but a designer working together with the book’s author is more likely to take full advantage of the opportunity the cover provides.  If the author can describe what the cover could show, a good designer can probably put it together.

So, can you tell a book by its cover?  YES, if the author takes the time to help with its composition.

Send an email to Garry Rogers or make a public comment using the reply field below the email form.

Nested Stories told by the Protagonist #indieauthor #LitChat

Nested Stories told by the Protagonist

The protagonist in a novel often imagines or recalls events that are not part of the main story.  Nesting small stories within a story is a common literary device sometimes referred to as mise en abyme.  An article in Wikipedia discusses the many types of nested stories.  Here I am referring to stories narrated by a protagonist and nested well with a main story. 

Nesting self-contained stories within a larger narrative is probably as old a technique as story telling itself.  The storyteller often draws the story from a remembered experience, but sometimes tells a fictional story heard or invented.  A nested story may make up the bulk of a chapter; it can even stand alone, seemingly unrelated to the main story.  Steinbeck uses the latter in his depiction of the two boys in Chapter 26 in Cannery Row

Some books are composed entirely of stand-alone stories framed by a unifying plot.  Canterbury Tales and One Thousand and One Nights are examples.  Collections of children’s stories such as Winnie the Pooh are similar, but repeating characters, not the plot unite them.  One of my projects is a collection of children’s stories united by a single character whose excesses of ego and poor judgment, creates circumstances that form the plot for each story. 

Nested stories serve many purposes.  Steinbeck used them to give insights to his theme.  The stories can also show character motivations and they can reveal details of history and background for the main story.  Thus, they can support the reality of the main story. 

Here is an example of a nested story told by the protagonist in the novel Corr Syl the Warrior.  It is contained within a chapter, and it is obvious fiction.  It serves to elaborate on the background of the protagonist’s culture and his occupation, and it foreshadows a tragic scene involving the protagonist and a childhood friend. Continue reading