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Snow and escapism

Snow and escapism

Well, so, this happened this week. Generally, by February, Vancouver’s more about the cherry blossoms and rainbows. This February decided to remind us sissy Lower Mainlander types that Vancouver is, in fact, in Canada, and we should learn how to use a shovel like the rest of the country.

It looks a bit like an out-take from ‘The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe’ movie. Look, I’ve even got a lantern.

Until I was six, snow was something that happened to other people. I grew up in the Caribbean and southern Europe, and while sunburn was something that happened with tedious regularity, along with cockroaches taking over the bilges and jellyfish stings, snow was something I’d only read about. (Oddly enough, inĀ  The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe.)

I had my first encounter with snow when my grandmother was taken ill in mid-winter in the UK, and my mother packed me and the warmest clothes we had (not a whole heck of a lot, really), and took off to Brighton to look after her. We arrived at Gatwick in a snowstorm, travelled south in a snowstorm (me wrapped in Dad’s ancient down puffer vest that pretty much dragged the ground at that point), and arrived in my granny’s house to find that in her absence all the pipes had frozen.

To distract me from the fact it was debatably colder inside than outside, my mother decided to broaden my education with a quick overview of applied ballistics, took me outside, and tried to teach me to make snowballs so I could shoot back. Suffice it to say, six-year-old me thought this idea blew massive chunks, that I preferred my ice in drinks, and we could go home any time, thanks.

Sitting and researching topics ranging from harbour approaches to Trinidad to how to analyse blood spatter, it occurs to me that there can be few better methods of escapism from a spell of bad weather than writing, and looking at that satellite view of Trinidad with the snow piling up on the roof outside reminded me of that very cold day in Brighton.

Despite my co-workers’ occasional disbelief, writing is a fantastic exercise in escapism. I actually really do work a full day, drive home through Vancouver traffic (and while Canadians in person are some of the nicest, friendliest people I’ve ever met, the vast majority are shite drivers), and then often head upstairs salivating to write. Or edit. Or, as any author will tell you, perform that vital part of writing known as research (aka screw around on social media while waiting for the words to go).

Lunar eclipse

Lunar eclipse

Super blood wolf moon lunar eclipse

…if, like me, you’re happy with the ‘lunar eclipse’ part, pretty solid on the ‘super’ reference, and are staring cross-eyed at the ‘blood’ and ‘wolf’ part and wondering if you should write an urban fantasy short story, well, then I feel better.

Since I was home-schooled until age twelve with a father who was contagiously interested in things like planetary conjunctions, moonbows, and navigation, things like lunar eclipses were treats I got to stay up late to watch, and we’d smoke the bottoms of glass tumblers to watch solar eclipses. I learnt to use a sextant and take a sunsight before I was ten (and could get within a mile of Dad’s noon fix with my battered and buggered old sextant and my pencil…).

I was therefore the one getting excited about the lunar eclipse this January, especially as it was going to happen at a very civilised hour in the Pacific timezone (I like my occasional weird happenings in the sky, but I draw the line at oh-my-god early get-ups on work days…). I was less certain that the weather would cooperate; the Pacific Northwest has a deserved reputation for being wet. Really, really, wet.

However, there was an uncharacteristic break in the weather, and we got clear skies and a couple of degrees above zero, so the super blood wolf moon eclipse put on an awesome show for us, although we did miss the asteroid that apparently hit during the eclipse.

So what do all the adjectives mean? I got a bit curious.

‘Super’ moon is the simplest bit, and means that the moon is at perigee (closest to Earth in its orbit). It does this periodically, and will appear up to 30% brighter than normal. The term ‘supermoon’, if you take Wikipedia’s word for it, ‘is astrological in origin and has no precise astronomical definition’. There’s me put in my place…

Blood moon. That sounds very dramatic. I’m going to go out on a limb and guess that that’s probably not the astronomical term either. It refers to a total lunar eclipse, and, all world-ending prophecies apart (well, be fair, if you were a primitive hunter-gatherer and saw the moon turn red, you’d probably spin a story about it, too), it gets the name because in a total eclipse, some light still passes through Earth’s atmosphere to reach the moon, and that light loses most of its blue shades on the way through.

I was still lost on what wolves had to do with it. National Geographic to the rescue: it appears that some people with much more free time than I have named each full moon in the year, including ‘blue moon’ – the name for the rare years where there are 13 full moons in a calendar year instead of 12.

So, super blood wolf lunar eclipse; the first full moon of the year, at perigee, undergoing a total eclipse. With an asteroid.

Types of spaceship in the Cortii

Types of spaceship in the Cortii

So what types of spaceship are there in the Cortii?

Actually, there are quite a few types of spaceship maintained by a Base. While the Cortii are primarily infiltration and shock troops, most Bases maintain a sizeable fleet, for defence and to service their contracts.

Canta Class

The most common type is the Canta class. As their hull title suggests, they’re rated for five occupants and carry deepspace drives as well as in-system and atmosphere options. They’re heavily armed by humanoid standards for their size, and it shows in the living spaces: there’s a pilot’s cabin with space for a pilot and a co-pilot, five bunks, and a med-bay that’s essentially a sixth bunk with a lot of med-tech built in. Aside from that, at the further end of the bunk corridor, there’s a cross-section that leads to the sanitary unit (be flexible) on one side and the airlock on the other. On the aft wall, there’s a pair of holosuits for training and entertainment. Because the Canta class is rated for atmosphere, it’s a fairly basic delta-shape.

Fighter class

After the Canta class, there are two single-occupant hulls that serve very different purposes. One, the smallest of the Cortiian fleet, is really a cockpit on a whole lot of armament and a massive in-system drive. This is the fastest of the Cortiian ships, and because of its size, unless its drives are running full-bore, it doesn’t show up very well on most types of scanner even if it is being actively hunted. It is not deep-space capable, although it is just about atmosphere-capable. They can’t take a lot of damage, but because they’re almost impossible to pinpoint on weapons targeting and can out-accelerate most tracking estimates, it takes a lucky shot to damage one.

Scout class

The other single-occupancy hull type in the Cortii is known as a scout, and it does exactly what it says on the packet. It’s based on the same hull as the fighter, but with about a quarter of the armament and a deepspace drive and a lot of stealth tech instead. It also offers an extended cockpit that allows for a bunk unit and very basic sanitation behind the pilot and surveillance area. Because there’s a whole lot of active and passive jamming systems bolted onto a hull that’s close to impossible to catch on a scanner in the first place, these are the ship of choice when a Base needs eyes on something and doesn’t want anyone else to know about it. They have basic armament, but the main idea with this ship class is not to get caught in the first place.

Cortia class

These are the Cortiian equivalent of a battle platform, at about a quarter the size of the FPA equivalent. As the name suggests, they’re intended for a Cortia-unit, but can be handled short-term by as little as a single Canta. They are only borderline atmosphere-capable (as in, you’ll probably survive re-entry with a good pilot, but getting off again might be dicey), and can be configured differently for different missions. They’re designed to operate independently for extended periods of time, and can carry twenty fighters in their bays if need be. Because they’re capable of taking out anything up to and including a planet, they tend to induce anything from extreme respect to outright panic.


There are some, but they’re the Cortiian-manufactured equivalent of load-haulers anywhere, and are mostly drives. If they’re going anywhere where they might conceivably run into danger, they’re escorted. The Cortii use an instantaneous transport system under treaty from the species that invented it, unlike most of humanoid space, so unless there’s some actual reason to send items via a shorthauler, by and large they’re sent through that system.

Accidents, unfriendly fire, and escape pods

….Cortiian ships do have them. All except for the fighter class, which simply doesn’t have space aboard and which requires a spacesuit to pilot, the bunks serve as the escape pods. They’re built as self-contained cryo units, and if jettisoned, will seal and put their occupant into deep-sleep. There’s enough of a drive to get them away from an exploding hull, and enough of a sensor array to look for breathable atmosphere. However, as they only broadcast to Cortiian receivers, and tend to explode if tampered with, getting picked up in one relies on a Cortiian ship being the in right place with its scanners turned up to full gain.

The fruitcake at the centre of the Galaxy

The fruitcake at the centre of the Galaxy

Fruitcake at the centre of the galaxy?

I stumbled across a Guardian article recently on astronomers’ research into amino acids in interstellar space – yeah, I know, sounds pretty dry even for a sci-fi writer. However, my persistence was rewarded when I got a bit further in and got to the wonderful line ‘…they failed to find evidence for amino acids, they did find a substance called ethyl formate, the chemical responsible for the flavour of raspberries. …it also smells of rum.

So, while astronomers still haven’t found evidence of sentient life on other worlds, there may well be fruitcake. After that, there is no form of sci-fi that can be considered too weird.

For me, that was one of those moments of sitting and chortling at my screen and realising that no, you really can’t make this shit up. A flash-fic about the fruitcake at the centre of the galaxy was a bit too far out even for me, but if you feel inspired, go for it and please drop me a link in the comments. Somewhere, the ghost of Douglas Adams is having a field day with that one.

“Not only is the universe stranger than we imagine, it is stranger than we can imagine.” ~Sir Arthur Eddington (probably)

There is of course an argument to be made (right, yes, my characters make it too) that the first reaction of any sentient species to humanity on Earth would be GTFO, and that’s why the hunt for other lifeforms in the galaxy has so far met with such a complete no-show. That, or possibly they’re all busy filling up on fruitcake.

Etymology Excavation: Judas goat

Etymology Excavation: Judas goat

What is a ‘Judas goat’?

Originally, a Judas goat refers to a goat trained to make its way into a herd of beasts marked for slaughter, so that they will follow it into the slaughterhouse. The Judas goat itself is then spared from slaughter so it can do the same thing again. (Wikipedia)

The animal in question varies, but the reference is to the figure Judas Iscariot in the Christian Bible, who betrayed Jesus’s identity and ultimately led to his execution. The details of the story vary widely, but the use of the term ‘Judas’ for a traitor has been in use since the C15th (Etymonline.com).

Some examples of Judas goat used figuratively:

  • ‘He’s a Judas goat. He led the whole army into a trap.’
  • ‘That girl’s a Judas goat. Any stupid decision she makes, the entire squad follows.’

It can be used figuratively for a person being used to bait a trap, or for any figure leading others to disaster. All you really need, in terms of world-building, is a rumoured or actual figure who through design or stupidity, caused a disaster. It doesn’t need a lot of build-up (ancient scroll, anyone?) and can be used for local colour in a range of situations.

What is etymology, and why are you excavating it?

Etymology is like the archeology of a language (definition: the study of the origin of words and the way in which their meanings have changed throughout history).

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