Science in the Chronoverse: Primitive Science

When I originally wrote the Tomorrow News Network series back in 2012/2013, I sort of made stuff up as I went along. Which is fine. I had a lot of stories I wanted to tell, and sometimes a writer’s gotta do what a writer’s gotta do.

But now that I’m revising all the T.N.N. stories in preparation for a 2017 relaunch of the series, I find that I’m left with a bunch of continuity problems between stories. So I’m now trying to do the kind of consistent world-building that I should have been doing all along.

In that spirit, today’s post is the first in a series of posts about science in the T.N.N. universe (a.k.a. the chronoverse). Today we begin with what citizens of the chronoverse would call…


Primitive science is what we modern humans think of as classical physics. It’s all about falling apples and the orbits of planets and moons. It’s about objects in motion, and electric currents, and waves of light (not particle-wave duality). Primitive science can give you combustion engines and airplanes, and maybe even computers and rocket ships.

But the most important aspect of primitive science, the one thing that defines it in the context of the chronoverse as a whole, is the illusion of absolute time.

Absolute Time

One second of time equals any other second of time. Every day, every hour, every minute… they’re all the same, progressing at a constant rate. Time never goes faster, never goes slower, and it certainly never turns around to go in reverse. At least, that’s how it seems from a primitive scientist’s perspective.

In the chronoverse, modern Earth looks like a fairly primitive planet, but do not be fooled by appearances.

When the Hykonians visited Earth in 1947, they were surprised to find a civilization already transitioning from primitive science to something more advanced.

When the Hykonians visited Earth in 1947, they were surprised to find a civilization already transitioning from primitive science to something more advanced.

First with Albert Einstein, and then with many others, humanity began to realize that our perception of time is relative, and that time can be affected by forces like gravity or acceleration.

Relativistic Time

By the end of the 22nd Century, humanity would develop its first so-called light-speed drive system. The name is misleading. Spacecraft still couldn’t travel at the speed of light, but they could come very close to it. As a result, relativistic time dilation (as predicted by general relativity) would no longer be a matter of abstract physics but an everyday reality for travelers all over the Solar System and beyond.

At this point, Earth and its growing number of colonies would have fully transitioned from an era of primitive science to a new age of scientific understanding. And with the illusion of absolute time brushed aside, humanity would have taken its first steps toward uncovering the secret knowledge of time travel.

Behind the Writing: Journalists in Time

To be honest, I’ve been procrastinating about writing this post. So far, I’ve told you about the inspiration behind my two main characters: Talie Tappler and Mr. Cognis. I’ve also told you how my favorite professor from college gave me the first half of a story idea.

But where did the second half come from? Unfortunately, that’s a more challenging thing to explain. There’s a part of the story—a crucial part—that’s not really my story to tell. So when we get there, I’ll skip over it.

My Day Job

I work at a small TV station doing video production stuff for the local news. A few years back, we had this reporter—nice, bubbly sort of girl—who felt like she kept covering the same stories over and over again.

Every row home fire, every drug deal gone wrong, every missing person case, every domestic dispute… 95% of the time, these stories ended the same way.

One day, this reporter dropped by the editing room, and we wound up chatting. She was having a rough day. Her assignment involved a local family. The details of what happened to this family, and what would ultimately happen to this family, are not mine to tell. Not in a blog post like this.

The important thing is that this reporter was almost in tears because she knew exactly how the situation was going to play out. She’d covered similar stories enough times. It was like she knew the future, and there was nothing she could do to change it.

Tomorrow’s News Today

My old English professor had suggested I write a book about journalists in space. Basically, my professor was telling me to write what I know. But the idea of reporters flying about on news shuttles, rather than driving around in news vans, didn’t excite me.

Journalists in space might be based on what I know from my professional life, but it didn’t encapsulate everything I’ve learned about the news business. There was something missing. Something critical that my reporter friend was hinting at.

What about journalists in time? What about a news agency that could, through the magic of time travel, bring you tomorrow’s news today? Could that work? It occurred to me that the rules of time travel (don’t interfere with history) have a surprising parallel with the rules of journalism (don’t interfere with your story). That felt to me like a concept worth exploring.

I’d have to let these thoughts percolate for a while. A long while. But between this conversation I had at work and the previous conversation I’d had with my professor, the seeds were now sown for the Tomorrow News Network series.

Behind the Writing: Journalists in Space

Writers hear this question a lot: where do you get your ideas? In two previous posts, I told you where the inspiration came from for two of my main characters: Talie Tappler and Mr. Cognis.

But those are just two characters. The original inspiration for Tomorrow News Network as a concept and as a short story series is a far more interesting tale. It begins with a conversation I had with one of my old English professors.

I’d been out of college for a year or two, and I’d landed a job at a local TV news station. News is a high stress industry, and truth be told, it does not pay well. I knew that going in.

What I did not expect, and what really took a toll on me emotionally, was how little time or energy I could spare for my own writing projects. Work left me so drained. I could barely string a sentence together. Writing a novel? That dream was slipping away fast.

My teacher listened to my worries, offered advice and encouragement, and as a sort of passing thought, suggested that maybe my experiences in the news business might sow the seeds of some future writing project. She knew I was in to science fiction, and she said she foresaw me one day writing an epic adventure about some sort of outer space news organization.

I think I mumbled something like, “Yeah, maybe.” But honestly that idea didn’t excite me. I mean, how would space news be different from regular news, aside from being in space?

Jy21 Space News Channel 10

Okay, I guess there’s some comedy potential, but not enough to carry me through a major writing project.

But as I said, this was just the beginning. I didn’t realize it at the time, but my favorite professor from college had just given me half of an idea. The other half would soon follow.

A Cog in the Machine

Last week, I told you about the inspiration for Talie Tappler, the morally ambiguous main character of Tomorrow News Network. She’s a journalist. She’s a time traveler. And she does not time travel alone. The original inspiration for Talie’s sidekick, the cybernetic cameraman Mr. Cognis, dates back to a much earlier period in my creative life.

My latest illustration of Mr. Cognis in his cybernetic exoskeleton.

My latest illustration of Mr. Cognis in his cybernetic exoskeleton.

It was high school. I had to write a short story for English class, and I decided I wanted to write science fiction. I was a nerdy teen; what else would I want to write?

I came up with a story idea about a man of the future, a man with cybernetic enhancements grafted to his body and his brain. Due to the laws and customs of his day, this man was forbidden from having emotions.

I named this man Cognis, because all too often he felt like nothing more than a cog in the machine. But this name had a double meaning, because Cognis was intelligent enough, cognitive enough, to question his lot and seek some deeper meaning in life. Which would lead him to “experimenting” with “illicit emotional simulation programs.”

I thought I was being clever, packing my page-and-a-half story with symbolic allegorical stuff, casting society as the bad guy, and making a not-so-subtle allusion to drug use. Just the kind of stuff my aging hippie of an English teacher would love, or so I thought.

As I recall, my teacher gave me a C, which was probably generous of him, given how pretentious and angsty my little story was. And that was the end. I never wrote another word about Mr. Cognis, the emotionless cyborg who got addicted to emotions. At least, not until I started developing Tomorrow News Network and realized Talie needed a cameraman: a cameraman who might, on occasion, meddle with history when he wasn’t supposed to.

Excerpt from “The Medusa Effect,” story #1 in the Tomorrow News Network series:

“You were feeling compassion, weren’t you?” Talie said. “Don’t deny it. Look, there’s nothing wrong with emotions. I have a whole bunch every day, but you have to use them responsibly!”

Cognis flicked a switch on his forearm, and a crestfallen expression formed on his face. “I’m sorry,” he said.

“Oh, turn that thing off,” Talie snapped.

And thus began a long and proud tradition in Tomorrow News Network of salvaging my old, abandoned story ideas.

More Golden Than Gold

Inspiration can come from totally unexpected places at totally unexpected times.

I was in church. I probably should have been paying attention to the mass, but there was a woman several rows in front of me. A very pretty young woman who kept playing with her hair.

I know, I know. Why would a good Catholic boy like me notice such a thing during mass? How shameful. Let’s set that aside for a moment. More than anything else, it was this woman’s hair that caught my eye, and for whatever reason it really got my creative brain going.

She was blonde, but not like any blonde I’d seen before. Maybe it had something to do with the low lighting, or the haze of incense, or the strange colors cast by the stained glass windows, but her hair seemed to sparkle in the darkness. It was almost luminous.

“A color more golden than gold,” I thought to myself. After mass, I hurried out to my car and wrote those words down on the back of an envelope. I’d been struggling with a new story concept, and I needed a main character. I wanted her to be both beautiful and terrifying, the kind of person readers could love and hate at the same time. I wanted to do a lot with this character, and I had no clue where to start.

Other character traits would come later: the violet eyes, the blue suit, the cunning smile and profoundly insensitive sense of humor. Eventually, my new character would get a name and become the morally ambiguous Talie Tappler, reporter extraordinaire of the Tomorrow News Network.

My first attempt to draw Talie, dated 2011.

My first attempt to draw Talie, dated 2011.

But it all started with one central image that appeared before me—miracle-like—while I should have been paying attention in church.

Tomorrow and Tomorrow and Tomorrow…

This blog and the writing project that goes with it have languished for too long.

It’s time to fix that.

Be warned: Talie Tappler is watching you...

Be warned: Talie Tappler is watching you…

I’m currently in the process of rewriting and reediting all the stories in the Tomorrow News Network series. There will be a relaunch, coming soon.

In the meantime, I’m taking the stories down from this website. I do not make this choice lightly, but I believe it is the best thing I can do for the series.

Over the next few months, this blog will document my journey through the revision process. The plan (fingers crossed) is to republish the Tomorrow News Network stories in ebook form. This will be an entirely new experience for me, and I’m more than a bit nervous.

... and Mr. Cognis is recording your every move.

… and Mr. Cognis is recording your every move.

Stay tuned for updates on my progress. Hopefully I won’t go down in flames, as so many of Talie and Cognis’s victims—I mean, interview subjects—have done.

Four Questions for the Writing Process Blog Hop

A special thank you to Shelina from “A Writer Inspired” for inviting me to participate in “The Writer’s Blog Tour” or “The Writing Process Blog Hop,” whichever name you prefer.  Shelina’s blog has become one of my favorites, doling out writing advice with a quirky sense of humor.  Also, please check out Shelina’s short story series, “Ava’s Interpreter Diaries.”  I promise once you start reading, you won’t be able to stop!

The Writing Process Blog Hop is all about getting inside the heads of our fellow writers to find out what makes them tick.  This is accomplished using four seemingly straightforward questions.  So without further ado, here are my answers.

1. What are you currently working on?

In July of 2013, I dropped from a full time job to part time employment in order to focus more on my writing.  The transition has been much more complicated than I expected, and it’s taken me almost a full year to get my head straight.  Right now, I’m working on Tomorrow News Network, Volume One, an anthology of the T.N.N. stories from 2012.  Each story has to be polished and re-edited, and I’m also writing ten brief bonus stories to help tie the original stories together.  The final product should be available through Amazon Kindle and CreateSpace by the end of this year.

2. How does your work differ from others in its genre?

The Tomorrow News Network series revolves around one central character: Talie Tappler.  What’s different about her is that she’s not the protagonist.  She’s not the antagonist either.  Talie is a journalist who travels through time, arriving at newsworthy catastrophes before they take place.  She never lifts a finger to help anyone, but she also has a way of passively allowing the bad guys to get what’s coming to them.  At best, we could call Talie morally ambiguous, and I think that’s what keeps people coming back to read more about her.  As one of my readers told me, Talie is the kind of character we hate and love at the same time.

3. Why do you do what you do?

The answer to this is surprisingly personal.  Back in 2011, I became dangerously ill.  I won’t go into details here, but I could barely walk, I spent all my waking hours in agony, and it was a struggle to concentrate on anything for a prolonged period of time.  Yet somehow, I managed to write what became “The Medusa Effect,” the first of the Tomorrow News Network stories.  I have no medical evidence to back this up, but I believe T.N.N. saved my life.  At the very least, it gave me something to focus on to help me overcome the pain, and it gave me a little extra motivation to get better.

4. How does your writing process work?

It’s complicated.  It involves calendars and checklists and pie charts.  It involves praying the Rosary and, every once in awhile, eating a bowl of alphabet soup.  There are many weird and wacky aspects of my writing process (or “writing strategy,” as I like to call it), but here are three of the more important ones.

  • Aimless Research: I just completed a five-page outline on how the Sun works.  Nuclear fusion, the photosphere and chromosphere, the so-called “long walk” that photons take as they meander through the various layers of the Sun’s interior… it’s all in there, and I currently have no plans to ever use it for a story.  Instead, I wrote this outline as part of my ongoing self-education in science.  I want to ensure that I’m as familiar with as broad a range of scientific knowledge as possible so that if something like the “long walk” ever does come up in one of my stories, I’ll already feel comfortable writing about it.
  • Word Hunting: Sitting down in front of a blank page can be intimidating, so instead, I curl up with a dictionary and/or thesaurus and start hunting for interesting or unusual words.  I often search for words related to a specific concept, something relevant to the scene or story I intend to write, and then start compiling a vocabulary list.  Soon, without even meaning to, I start stringing phrases together, then complete sentences, and before I know it, I’ve got several chunks of my story scribbled down on bits of scrap paper and the backs of old envelopes.
  • Editing with Friends: A lot of writers will tell you that writing is an inherently solitary activity, but it doesn’t have to be that way.  A tradition has evolved among myself and a handful of close friends.  Whenever I finish a story, I invite my friends over for dinner and throw an editing party.  After we eat, I read my story aloud while they follow along on hardcopies, often interrupting me with questions, comments, or suggestions.  They’ve called me out on mistakes I never would have noticed, and they’ve also praised me for stylistic devices I never realized I had used.  This is beta reading as a social activity, and the advantage is that as we go through the story I get to see in real time which parts my friends find confusing, exciting, or boring.

As part of this blog hop, I’m supposed to invite some other bloggers to participate next week.  I don’t want to put any pressure on anyone, but if these bloggers are interested, then it’ll be their turn to answer four questions on Monday, May 26th.  And if they don’t, then I still get to post links to their amazing blogs.

  • Soliloquies: a gentle mixture of writing and philosophy from Michelle Joelle.  Ever since I discovered this blog, I have had a lot to think about (especially after our comment thread last month on modern day slavery).  Click here to visit Soliloquies.
  • Planetary Defense Command: a blog about defending the Earth from poorly written Sci-Fi novels.  The illustrious commander of our planetary defense force has turned book reviews into a whole new art form.  Click here to check out our planet’s defenses.
  • Linda Frindt: Linda is a good friend of mine and a regular at my editing parties.  She’s currently writing a children’s book about cats… or possibly a cats’ book about children.  I keep forgetting which.  Click here to visit Linda’s blog.