Saturday, January 10, 2015
Note From Rob: I thoroughly enjoyed being on George Noory's Coast To Coast Radioas the featured guest. It was great! As they put it:
George Noory, host of the nationally syndicated program, Coast to Coast AM, says if he weren’t a national radio talk show host he’d be in politics. Heard by millions of listeners, Coast To Coast AM airs on approximately 564 stations in the U.S., Canada, Mexico and Guam.
While hosting The Nighthawk, a wildly successful, late-night program on KTRS in St. Louis, Noory was recruited by Premiere Radio Networks to guest host on Coast to Coast AM with Art Bell. He became the permanent host of the phenomenally successful over-night program on January 1, 2003, following Bell’s retirement. Since then, Noory’s audience has continued to grow.
Noory captivates program listeners with his discussions of paranormal phenomena, time travel, alien abductions, conspiracies and all things curious and unexplained. He is driven, he has said, by the desire to solve the great mysteries of our time. From his first days as a radio broadcaster he says, “I’ve wanted to cover stories that the mainstream media never touch—the unusual, the paranormal and things like that. I learned that broadcast was the best business for exploring these issues, and I’ve been doing it for 33 years.”
And I am looking forward to being on Darkness Radio, as well,
Wednesday January 14, 2015 to be live on air from 9pm to midnight CST. To quote the producer, Darkness Radio:
We are a Paranormal Radio Show on the Twin Cities News Talk AM1130 here in the Twin Cities, we are popular internationally as the Host Dave has been on Ghost Adventures, was the Lead Judge on Paranormal Challenge and is the Location Scout of Ghost Adventure and a recurring Fill-In Host for Coast to Coast Am.
So I'm really looking forward to being the "sole" guest on their on Wednesday, which is cool, as well.
Check out the direct links to these shows at the right------------>
Thursday, November 20, 2014
Saturday, October 18, 2014
Now Available At Permuted Press! And At Amazon!
THE GOD FACTOR!
“He who controls the God Factor controls Earth’s destiny … if it still has one.”
An ancient evil lays buried deep in the Superstition Mountains. For young photojournalist, Jenna Blakely, and DARPA agent, Kyle Fortnum, the terrifying discovery is only the beginning of their problems. As they soon find to their horror, in their hands they hold the secret to the ultimate fate of the Earth itself. There are those who will stop at nothing to get it.
Jenna, while on assignment for her magazine, captures a picture of a bright beam of light shooting up into the night sky from the mountains of Arizona. Her editor sends her and a coworker, Peter, back to the site to investigate.
But the strange glow has done more than just piqued her editor’s interest alone. Others have noticed. The event triggers a race amongst deadly opposing forces.
The first is a covert inner circle of the Bilderberg Society, intent on finding an alien weapon to achieve their ultimate goals, ones stated on the Guiding Stones of Georgia.
Opposing them is a secret group of Jesuits known as the Hidalgos. They only owe allegiance to a centuries-dead pope. The fanatical Hidalgos are determined on keeping hidden the location of “tainted” gold, the legendary Cibola, the cities of lost gold.
Kyle Fortnum is also sent to investigate. The beam of light has vaporized a military satellite. The government is alarmed. Moreover, the strange ray targeted a distant LaGrange point in space. There, “something” invisible seems to be lurking.
Then there is Barry, Jenna’s abusive ex-boyfriend and fellow journalist. He’s out not only to steal her story and so become famous, but he wants to exact murderous revenge upon her, as well.
A Jesuit priest wanted for a double killing and sworn to stop anyone from finding the gold, Jenna and coworker, Peter, Kyle, assassins, and a maniacal ex-lover, are all thrust into fast-paced, life-or-death situations. They battle for supremacy in the Arizona Superstition Mountains, those of the legendary and famous Lost Dutchman’s Mine.
Somehow, Jenna, Kyle, and Peter must not only find the source of the light, but discover its secrets in time to stop an alien “something” streaking toward Earth on a mission of total destruction. As if this weren’t enough, there is something more, something else buried in those mountains. This is the lethal secret known only as the God Factor, a thing so powerful, it can destroy the entire population of Earth. And he who controls the God Factor will control Earth’s future … if it still has one.
From a murdered priest in Boston to assassins in the Arizona wilderness, the battle begins. Powerful and clandestine societies struggle for control of bizarre alien weapons. A government agent and an innocent young woman fight to survive and win out against incredible odds. Somehow, someway, they must save the world not only from alien destruction, but from human caused devastation, as well.
In this science fiction thriller by bestselling and award nominated author, Rob Shelsky, the war is on for control of the God Factor. The clock is ticking down toward zero hour and not for just one apocalypse, but two. The God Factor, an action-packed tale of international intrigue, suspense, and mystery.
Monday, June 2, 2014
Are You a Writer of Fiction? Need To Know How To Write Tales Set In Medieval Times and Make Them Realistic, Not Make Mistakes? Then You Better Check Out This Article:
Pitfalls Of Writing About The Medieval Ages
(Or, How Not To End Up As The Village Idiot!)
Astride his steed, the Black Knight thundered down the road. He raced passed the old abbey. Its crenelated walls thrust defiantly upward, a holy challenge to the forces of darkness. However, the knight knew that his best hope lay in the hamlet ahead of him. It was there he was to meet the White Wizard.
On he galloped. He passed wattle huts of the outlying and poorest inhabitants. He rode by the quaint stone church with its so surprised priest. At last, the knight turned into the main street. The inhabitants scattered like startled pigeons before him. Some ducked inside the bakery. Others fled, some ran into the chandler’s shop. One panicked citizen, a very wealthy merchant, sought shelter with the smithy. The Black Knight reached the Hound and Hunter. It was the hamlet’s only inn.
Right, so that isn’t the greatest piece of writing you’ve ever read. I didn’t intend it to be. Rather, it is a bad example, an illustration of things that can go wrong with a story. This happens when writers assume they know more about a given subject than they actually do. Most of us have read enough medieval fantasies to think it is no big deal in using them as settings for our own stories, right? Wrong!
Let’s start with my bad example. I have my good knight (pun intended) riding past an abbey situated just outside of the hamlet. In all probability that abbey wasn’t there. Moreover, although walled, those walls weren’t likely to be crenelated.
Let’s start with my bad example. I have my good knight (pun intended) riding past an abbey situated just outside of the hamlet. In all probability that abbey wasn’t there. Moreover, although walled, those walls weren’t likely to be crenelated.
In addition, I have our friend passing huts, a church with its priest, then down the main street past the usual shops and smithy until he reaches the local inn. Wrong, wrong, and wrong again. A village, by historical definition, had at least six houses. A hamlet had less. Therefore, there wouldn’t be any outlying wattle hovels. There would barely be any houses at all. In addition, there was no main street.
If anything, it was a wide spot in the road and that was about it. Four or five homes clustered near each other and nothing else, not even a church. You see, another historical definition of a hamlet was that it didn’t have a church. Maybe it was lucky enough to have a small chapel, but that chapel would not have had a resident priest, surprised or otherwise.
We also have to dispense with my bakery and blacksmith. Oh, and forget the wealthy merchant. He wouldn’t have lived in such a hole-in-the-wall place. Lose the inn as well. Unless it’s on a well-traveled highway, there wouldn’t have been enough customers to keep it going. Finally, the chandler has to go, too.
You see, usually there were no businesses at all in a hamlet. One other thing; watch out for young thieves running over rooftops and hiding behind chimney pots, as in Raymond E. Feist’s, Riftwar Saga novels. That’s right -- no chimneys! They didn’t appear until the late Thirteenth Century and then only for the very rich to enjoy. Earlier, even castles suffered along without them.
A hamlet was tiny. Usually, people situated them where several farmers’ adjacent properties met or came together. That was it; not much of anything else, except perhaps a lot of inbreeding and relations that were far too close for comfort, but I digress.
Now let’s be fair here; nobody is going to raise a hue and cry (I’ve always wanted to use that phrase) or kick you out of the fantasy genre as being a bad author just because you happen to call a small village a hamlet, or vice versa. For an otherwise well-written and accurate novel, the occasional slip-up will usually go unnoticed by the reader.
However, tossing all sorts of anachronisms into a story is a much bigger issue. It causes major problems with the realism of your tale. You’ve just read the hash I made of that hamlet in my example. Get the point? Describing a true medieval hamlet, village, town, or city isn’t nearly as easy as one would imagine, but it is important to do it right.
Just how imperative is it? Well, that depends on whether you are writing a fantasy that is meant more as a work of historical fiction (that feeling of gritty reality we all love), or whether you are creating your own personal universe as a setting for your work.
If it’s a fantasy or alternate history set in our world, it’s an absolute must to get it as historically correct as possible, because readers know their stuff. Many of them often read stories about the Middle Ages because they like and want to learn more about that period. It’s why I read Michael Crighton’s, Timeline, for instance. (However, the less said about that particular novel, the better.)
With a fantasy universe, anachronisms are not such a looming issue. In any author’s personal creation, houses for instance, could have chimneys. After all, it’s their universe. They can do what they want with it. Hard to argue with that logic, isn’t it? Besides which, it just isn’t a terrible offense to make the occasional anachronistic mistake.
Shakespeare even did it (often). Coincidentally, one involved chimney tops. In his play, Julius Caesar, he spoke of them as being in ancient Rome. Wrong! He also had clocks, church bells, and other things there as well. Wrong again!
Still, there is one important caveat that you as an author should always remember. Your readers, as I’ve said, will forgive you the odd little mistake (oh, those chimneys), and overlook slightly misused words (village-versus-hamlet), but they aren’t stupid.
Too glaring a mistake or just too many mistakes in accuracy and people (editors?) will notice. Trust me; that will be to the detriment of your story and possibly your budding career as well.
Don’t just take my word for it. Your readers are the final and most powerful judges. As an example, an independent reader and reviewer of David Edding’s historical fantasy, Domes of Fire, referred to it as having “teeth grinding anachronisms,” specifically such as “…cookie and mom….” He felt that the author had been just plain “lazy.” Now that’s not a good review when you’re trying to sell books, is it? Of course, David has written many excellent stories and the rare clinker will not destroy him. Besides, his descriptions of castles and fortresses were highly accurate with their outer and inner wards, keeps, and crenellated walls. Still, for new authors such types of reviews may have more dire consequences. (Try to remember those budding careers!)
With real-world historical fantasies or science fiction, it is essential to be accurate. Another reviewer, Alex Ford, of Patrick Tilley’s book, Fade Out, had this to say about it:
“I've only read one third so far but am already annoyed by the anachronisms thrown up…. For example, when written the book obviously dealt with a President who fought in the Pacific theatre during WWII.” [But] “…the introduction to the President's military background states that he finished his aviation training just as the Vietnam War ended.”
That would make an ace World War II pilot of the early Nineteen-Forties not completing his necessary flight training for it until the mid-Nineteen-Seventies, some thirty odd years after World War II ended. That’s not a minor mistake, but rather one that interfered with the reader’s willing suspension of disbelief, and even worse, it “annoyed” the reader. (Major rule: Never annoy your readers!) Yet, despite this gaffe, Mr. Tilley did give concise and detailed descriptions of the various types of fighter planes used, their maneuverability, and how battles actually occurred. Therefore, on many subjects, his research was top-notch, but apparently not all.
Another example, one that personally bothered me a lot, was the “glaring anachronisms” as one critic put it, in the film, Pirates of the Caribbean. The writers for that film set major portions of the story in Port Royal, Jamaica. Unfortunately, the town of Port Royal had disappeared under the sea in a disastrous quake long before the events of this story ever took place. Yes, I know it was successful and a movie, but it was also a piece of historical fantasy set in the real world; it was wrong and somebody wrote it that way. I noticed.
People watching the film noticed (e.g., “glaring anachronisms”). Moreover, books and unlike cinema, rely solely upon their individual merit. Johnny Depp won’t magically appear to save a badly researched novel.
Therefore, I repeat, this much remains true regardless of whether it’s a factually based fantasy done in our own Middle Ages, or one created in another universe -– getting it right is always important.
And just as a side note to this, even with regard to the mighty Shakespeare and his anachronisms, I’d like to point out that essays often discuss them and sometimes not in a good way. Get it? Nobody’s immune to destructive criticism, although some can weather it better than others can.
Anachronistic problems aside, now we know the differences between a village and a hamlet. Right? (You do, don’t you?) However, do you know the differences between a village and a town, a town and a borough, or a borough and a city? Which ones had marketplaces? What were they really like and what are authors’ usual mistakes in portraying them?
Well first, let’s remember the period we’re talking about and what it was like. Medium Aevum (Latin), or the Middle Ages, refers to a period that loosely covers the time from the fall of the Roman Empire (476 C.E.) to the rise of the Renaissance. That’s a long time and authors forget that many changes occurred during it.
So costuming, shoes, etc., are important to research. You don’t want your hero-prince dressed in Thirteenth Century clothing, but sporting Ninth Century shoes. How déclassé; people would talk and not in a good way!
Many famous authors, such as Mary Stewart of the Crystal Cave, make these kinds of mistakes, including most who write about King Arthur. You see, in the late Fifth Century, warriors rarely wore metal armor in England or Europe, but rather specially toughened leather.
British male royalty and nobility still wore their hair in the Roman fashion – short – not the long streaming warrior locks we now visualize them having. In all likelihood, if King Arthur existed then, and contrary to most authors’ descriptions of him, he was probably not and neither were his knights, dressed in shining armor. Moreover, they probably wore their hair quite short. (Sort of ruins the image, doesn’t it?)
During the medieval period, the vast majority of people lived the manor lifestyle. There would be the local lord with his castle, a church or chapel, farmland, and a village or hamlet. Towns were rare and cities much more so. The manor lifestyle had an agrarian-based economy with only the occasional stranger in the form of a peddler, troubadour, or pilgrim intruding into the daily lives of its people.
As a writer, you should remember this. To be realistic, your characters in such a setting should be at least a little xenophobic, that is suspicious of newcomers, although probably still eager for news of the outside world as well. I know, it’s contradictory, but then people often are. However, it does make for creating some fun characters.
Some villages grew to become towns and then cities, while some towns simply grew around a convenient market place where people from different villages met (hence, the English reference to “market towns”). The difference between a town and a large village is then, of necessity, a little vague.
Still, and unlike hamlets, most scholars define them as having switched to a merchant and market-based economy from an agrarian one. Therefore, whether you have a large village or a small town, it should have merchants and marketplaces where people barter, sell, and exchange goods.
Authors often stumble over this fact. I’ve read numerous stories where good-sized villages, even towns and cities, were in the middle of nowhere and with no visible means of support. Of course, this means no trade and so presumably no merchants, and no market place. Whoops!
Another one of David Eddings’ novels of the Belgariad series had a big village located amidst swamps or “fens.” Yet oddly enough, the population lived with many comforts. Just how did they manage to come by these things? Was it by living off frogs’ legs and using dried mud balls to trade for these goods? Was their annual festival fen frolicking? What did they burn for fuel on those damp winter nights -- swamp gas? You see, it’s just not a very believable setting. That village needed a rational source of income. It needed a valid reason for being wherever it was. I’ll tell you what it really needed -- a new location! However, David was very realistic at describing other things, such as the physical discomfort of wearing armor. He was right. It was prone to rusting, rubbing, itching, and smelling.
Towns called boroughs were different from other towns and villages in that they were self-governing; made independent of their lords by paying an annual tax to them. They did this because many villages were actually the property of their local lord and what he said was law. The way to get around that was to become a borough. The word borough derives from the Old English word, burh. It referred originally to simple fortified places, but later came to include larger population centers with defenses, usually consisting of earthworks and/or walls.
So, remember to wall or barricade that borough you create. Oh, and the word town was a description only used in England. Nobody on the European Continent made such a distinction. If your setting is, say, in Germany, Denmark, France, or some other continental place, it might be wiser to avoid calling anything a town.
Cities of the Middle Ages were not like the cities of today. Ours are melting pots with fluid and interchanging classes of society. This wasn’t the case then. We’re talking about a time of rigid class and economic structure -- incredibly so. In those days, people didn’t leave the farms for a better life in the city, because there was virtually no upward mobility in either place -- once a peasant, always a peasant. Authors who have their serf hero trooping off to strike it rich in medieval London are making a cardinal error. It just wouldn’t have happened unless, of course, the serf intended to become a criminal, because just leaving his land was a crime. He belonged to, for all practical purposes, the noble who owned that land.
Merchants may get wealthy, but they answered to their betters just as surely as their servants had to answer to them. Nobility, not pleased with the wealth of merchants and guilds, passed sumptuary laws. These laws forbade non-nobles from wearing certain types of clothing, shoes, and jewelry that were too reminiscent of the nobles own costumes.
In Chaucer’s time, for instance, nobility forbade merchants to wear jewelry made of silver, so they wore silver knives and daggers instead, thus dodging those laws. (Don’t you just hate social climbers? The nobles apparently did.)
The point here is that there are more than just physical anachronisms. There are the social or philosophical ones as well. Writers often erroneously subscribe to their characters modern-day viewpoints and belief systems that didn’t exist during the Middle Ages in villages or cities. Freedom of expression, equal rights, feminism, or freedom of religion just weren’t factors in everyday life then.
Guilds, as in villages and towns, also existed in cities. They were often powerful, wealthy, and exercised considerable political force in later years, but not so much during the early Middle Ages. Their focus was hanging onto their particular piece of a city’s monopolized commercial pie.
Loopholes in these monopolies were few, but some existed. A loophole created restaurants. The different guilds controlled all types of food making from bakeries to butchers. Later, an enterprising merchant in France, one, A. Boulanger, opened a place in Paris that sold soup. Guilds considered soups less as food and more as health restoratives, or “restaurants” in French, so they didn’t bother to control it. Thus, restaurants came into being. (Fascinating stuff, isn’t it? Don’t answer that.) Again, although such loopholes were rare, there were some. This fact may be of use in writing your fantasy. It’s one way your character could get around the strict restrictions of that society.
Cities of the Middle Ages often had universities and definitely cathedrals, along with all the support staff, servants, and materials such institutions entailed. In fact, that was one of the main definitions of a city; it had a cathedral versus a church for a town or village, and a chapel or nothing for a hamlet.
Many authors forget or downplay the power the Church wielded in cities of the Middle Ages. David Eddings, luckily, did not fall into this trap. In his Domes of Fire, he had his heroes coming from a rigidly religious, medieval, and theocratic state. He was very detailed about its character, nature, and iron-gripping power. It did not tolerate heresy. This is an excellent real-life portrayal.
However, I’ve read other stories where various authors never mention any church at all, let alone a cathedral, as being in their metropolis. Furthermore, they often have their bigwigs deciding important matters without any clergymen involved.
This is a glaring error. No major decisions about a city, including its defenses, economics, or anything else, ever happened without the presence or potent influence of a priest, bishop, archbishop, or cardinal. Even much later, the enormous power of Cardinal Richelieu under King Louis of France is legendary.
Stories that ignore the potent role of the Church then do not seem very realistic. Raymond E. Feist, in his Riftwar Saga had cathedrals, but he really didn’t dwell enough on the power and influence of the church in my opinion. His religions came across more as cult followings of various gods, rather than powerful state monotheisms.
That creates a conundrum, because small cults worshipping obscure gods, but creating such vast expensive edifices as cathedrals would have been highly problematical. Oh, and he had chimney tops, too! (Can’t seem to get away from those, can we?)
Mr. Feist was excellent, however, at portraying most other aspects of medieval city life. His cities had richness to them when it came to detailing the architecture of such cathedrals (flying buttresses, naves, stone columns, etc.), the everyday life of the inhabitants, dress, and economics.
Just remember though, that authors miss a real opportunity to add depth and dimension to their work when they fail to portray powerful churches as a big part of that life. After all, there’s nothing like an evil prelate to give a story a lively interest.
Cities often had ports, were major hubs of trade and commerce, and unlike villages, they often constituted the political centers of power. Cities could result from the growing together of towns or boroughs that were located near, and traded with each other. The ancients founded some cities deliberately. The Romans built Londinium, now modern London, in just this way. Constantinople, now modern-day Istanbul, is another example. So again, location is important, as any real estate agent will tell you. Site your towns and cities where there is a reason for them to be, such as at the crossroads of major trade routes, along a navigable river, or near a deepwater harbor.
Why worry about these distinctions between hamlets, villages, towns, and cities? Why be so thorough and careful about what’s in them and where they’re located? The answer is simple; again, it’s willing suspension of disbelief. If your readers aren’t buying your setting, they cannot and will not suspend their disbelief in your story. To put it another way, they’ll think your work is garbage! Worse, so will those infamously fussy editors to whom you submit your fantasy. Again, this is not to say that some fudging isn’t okay. Small village or big hamlet; who cares? Just don’t go too far with it.
Less important, but still a factor, is trying to avoid the more common writers’ pitfalls. For example, don’t have the innkeeper serving his customers their food at a table and the characters then using forks to eat it. In reality, people brought their own boards upon which the innkeeper placed their food (hence the term “bread and board”). They used only a knife and/or a spoon. Forks were an invention of the Italians during the later Renaissance Period. (“Sporks” came much later and only after the invention of plastic.) Oh, and villagers and townsfolk really did love to gossip. However, there were no local coffee houses -- no coffee, or tea for that matter, so the local church was also the local gossip centre along with inns.
To have a good fantasy set in our medieval period, or the author’s own universe, is to have one that seems realistic. Therefore, you as the author should know your subject. Research it. I’d wager that most fantasy authors aren’t even aware that there are technical differences between hamlets or villages, or that the classification of communities such as villages or cities involved the type of church they had.
Know your subject, because only in a well thought-out world can characters truly flourish, be three-dimensional people to the reader, and be a place where a good plot about them can unfold. Whether you use a city, town, borough, village, or hamlet, try to portray it as a place where real people lived, worked, and sometimes played.
Beware! If you don’t take care in your writing to do this, to strive for accuracy and realism, then you may end up not as a successful writer, but rather as the village idiot. Luckily, I think hamlets were too small even to have those…
Tuesday, April 1, 2014
Saturday, March 15, 2014
This Alien Earth Settings For Sci-Fi/Fantasy Writers Who Just Want To Stay At Home!
The wormhole was open at last. Kevin, clad in the very latest protective environmental suit, stepped through it.
He stood on the surface of a strange world. A monstrous gibbous moon hung just above the eastern horizon. It dominated the black-reddish sky. Stars could not compete with its brilliance. His readouts showed a complete lack of oxygen and deadly levels of carbon dioxide. There seemed to be no life anywhere and it was hot, very hot. Air pressure was incredibly high, and only Kevin’s suit saved him from being crushed. He felt a shudder. Earthquake! Where he stood, the ground pitched and rolled beneath him and then lifted high. Boulders clattered and tumbled. Rocks rolled and crashed. An alarm sounded. Kevin glanced at his altimeter. He, and the darkling plain he stood on had just risen almost a kilometer high!
Just then, a strange dark wall appeared on the horizon. He heard an incredibly loud rumble. Kevin realized, belatedly, the wall was a giant wave of black water rushing toward him. It must be a thousand meters high! Just as he stepped through the wormhole again, it occurred to him that the moon of this world hadn’t been as large as he’d first thought, but just very close to the planet, instead, and so creating the tremendous tides.
He stood on the edge of a slumping cliff. Below him, receding into the distance was an ancient seabed, an endless expanse of vitreous, ochre-and-yellow sand dunes. They looked like waves of frozen Venetian glass. There was almost no atmosphere at all on this world. Unfamiliar stars glittered brittle and hard in the night sky.
Then, a startling line of crimson appeared across two-thirds of the horizon. A vermillion sliver peeped above the lines of dunes there. The sliver grew into a monstrous crescent of ruby sun, great spots clearly visible on its roiling, heaving, and seething surface. His readouts showed the heat and radiation levels soaring as the scarlet sun rose. In the distance, he could see the dunes glisten sanguinely, looking red-wet, as they began to melt once again with the heat of a new-born day, one born from hell. He waited no longer. He would die here if he didn’t leave. Without hesitation, he stepped through the wormhole once more.
Okay, I think we must all have the point by now. Barring just a touch of literary license
(more or less--probably more), these scenes could well have been Earth at one time or another, and probably actually were to some degree. The first scene was meant to be from early Earth not long after the oceans had formed. The last one was our planet in the far future, before our dying red sun engulfed it. Of course, there may have been no sunrise, because the Earth might have just one face eternally locked toward the sun by then. So this was just a touch of literary license here, if you will.
You see, we think of our planet as being static in its environment and only undergoing changes slowly, over vast amounts of time. But we forget just how different the Earth was at various stages of its existence. Yes, we all know about the dinosaurs and the ice ages. We know how different things must have been then, but I don’t believe most of us truly comprehend, viscerally, on the gut level I mean, that it goes far beyond that. When people picture the dinosaur or ice ages for example, they mentally people it with those strange animals, or glaciers, but keep everything else pretty much the same, oceans, blue skies, puffy white clouds.
Most of us don’t take into account that even the air would be different. For example, the oxygen levels during the Carboniferous period would have been much higher than now. Fires would have ignited quickly, and burned ferociously. Moreover, there is strong evidence for microbial life forms living as far back as 3.85 billion years ago.
Prokaryotes, single-celled life forms without a nucleus, may have also existed; yet dangerous viruses or bacteria only rarely come up in sci-fi stories and seldom in time travel tales. Why not? And an ice age is nothing compared to a Snowball Earth, when the entire planet was white, low in oxygen because of little plant life, but getting ever higher in its carbon dioxide mixture. You wouldn’t be able to even breathe there. There were many times in the past, and there will be again in the future, when our planet was, or will be, fundamentally and totally alien to us, so different, we wouldn’t probably recognize it as ours. If you were somehow transported to those eras, you would probably believe you were on another planet altogether.
It wouldn’t just be the animals romping around that would make you think this, or how hot or cold it was; it would be just about everything, every aspect of what you think of as familiar would be different--plants, animals, terrain, even the skies and the stars in them. I’m betting you’d find that planet incredibly hostile and strange, and probably unsafe and/or unfit for colonization by humans. How different could it be? Well, for instance, a few million years either way would make the heavens appear utterly different to us, with a multitude of unfamiliar stars forming strange constellations. Judging by them, we wouldn’t even be able to tell if we were on our own world then. Planets might well have been in different orbits, looked very different. Something big happened to Uranus, for instance. And even a Mars-like world probably crashed into the Earth at one point.
And as for Mars, at one time, it may have looked much like Earth--a blue world instead of red. And, depending on whether you went forward or backward in time, the moon would be closer or farther away. It might disappear altogether; look different, without its mares, totally different patterns of craters. Or it might eventually wander away from earth altogether billions of years from now, or come crashing down on us in the far future. We do know the moon is receding from the Earth at close to 1.5 inches a year, and so once was much closer.
So, travel back far enough in time and you will have a bloated moon with a different-looking face suspended above you, filling the night and day sky, causing tides that would yank the land out from under you, as high as a kilometer before dropping it back, and thus causing numerous tremors at the top of the Richter scale. Go far enough into the future, and the moon will be so far away that it will appear tiny, a bright speck in the sky. Our day will be longer, and tides virtually nonexistent. Several billion years from now, the moon will be 1.6 times farther away than it is at present. Its period of revolution will be about 55 days.
Eventually, our world’s rotation will take fifty-five days (same tidal friction problems) and thus the moon may appear to stay in one place forever, hanging over just one portion of our planet. Anyone living on the wrong side of the planet would have to travel far to see the moon hanging in the sky. You see, only beings living in certain regions, but nowhere else on Earth, could see it. Can you imagine how strange this would seem to people alive today? Try visualizing living on an Earth where one day is equal to fifty-five of ours, and it only takes seven of them to make a whole year.
The weather would be awful, too, on such an Earth. There would be intense heating on the sun side, terrific cooling and freezing on the other. Violent winds would be one probable outcome. Migrating oceans might be another. Oh, and don’t forget to throw in a couple billion years of evolution (if life survives that long), and you would have an Earth unknown to us, one that is truly alien, indeed! Even the sun would be much larger and a different color--a brilliant red.
Okay, so if we travel far enough through time either way, we end up on a planet that seems nothing like our own. Length of day, temperatures, landmasses, atmospheric constituents (or none at all), size and proximity of moon (or whether we even see or have one), tides, weather, life forms, unrecognizable star patterns, strange plants and animals--all of it will be in the future, or was already in the past, vastly different from what we know today. Great places and times to set stories in then, aren’t they? (Who needs other planets when you have ever-changing Earth?) How about changes occurring now? There is global warming and the possibility of a sudden ice age onset (another Big Chill?), but what about other things?
Did you know, for example, that on any given day there are about twenty-four volcanoes in an erupting phase? In the past, so many volcanoes let go at once that they severely altered the constituents of the atmosphere. They produced lava fields that covered thousands of square miles (so-called Siberian Traps) and caused major biological die-offs, perhaps the biggest one in Earth’s history. Think of the stories you could write if this were to start happening again--now? And this isn’t even taking into account super volcanoes. These monsters do not often erupt, but when they do, the consequences are chilling.
The Yellowstone Caldera in Yellowstone Park, Wyoming, is one example. For a long time we didn’t even know it existed. It wasn’t until NASA wanted to test some heat sensing equipment that we realized the caldera was even there. Visitors walked around Yellowstone every day, enjoying the geysers and boiling mud pots, not the least bit aware they were perched precariously atop an active super volcano. Many geologists consider it to be (currently) the most dangerous one on Earth! It erupts about once every six hundred thousand years or so. That means it is due any time now for another such eruption. And remember, many scientists believe one such super volcano, about 70,000 or so years ago, reduced the human population on the entire planet to a mere few thousand! Again, this is an excellent idea for a story setting.
If the Yellowstone Caldera blows, it will mean total devastation for hundreds of square miles around, sending tons upon tons of soil and debris high into the atmosphere. This debris will make the nuclear blast at Hiroshima look like a child’s pop-gun toy by comparison. A nuclear-style winter will engulf the Earth. Plant life will suffer and die, and then the rest of the food chain (meaning us) will, too. Ash up to five inches deep could cover the United States and most of Canada from coast to coast. Much deeper layers of ash (feet thick) will plaster enormous areas of North America, wreaking havoc on the Great Plains breadbasket. (Word of advice: should Yellowstone go off, run don’t walk to your nearest supermarket and stock up on those canned goods! Trust me; you’ll need them.) Is that enough of an alien planet for you?
Earth is hardly static. Transformations are happening all the time. Our planet careens from one wild swing to another, suffering numerous and swift changes that have catastrophic results for life on land, and in the seas. Some scientists, for instance, now think that ice ages might come in mere decades, instead of over centuries.
Changes on this alien Earth are always occurring and every day. They make great concepts for stories with settings and plots limited only by a writer’s imagination. Whether it is an author setting his or her stories in the beginning of time, Devonian period, Dinosaur Age, Ice Ages, far future, or just a few decades from now, Earth is the perfect alien planet for your story. Think about it. And it isn’t just science fiction. Many major fantasy authors have used past ages of Earth for their settings. Next time, we’ll discuss truly alien worlds, how to create them, and how not to mess it up big time when doing so! When building planets from scratch, one has to be very careful!