Breaching Blue Chapter 5: The Hunters

breakingblueAll week I’m posting the first five chapters from my absurd work-in-progress, Breaching Blue. Check out Chapters 1, 2, 3, and 4. This concludes our week long mermaid adventure. Enjoy. And, if you don’t enjoy, blame Shiffman.


The reef made them strong. Janthina no longer hesitated to swim above the sunbreak, to explore the illuminated waters above. Each morning, as the sunlight penetrated the twilight waters of the reef, Janthina would rise into the realm of light. The animals that lived in the sun were new. They were active, vibrant, powerful. They moved as if the whole ocean was theirs to command.

Janthina spied Tornus below. The arch of her back was unmistakable. She had grown into a powerful, confident mermaid, broad across the shoulders and strong. Resting on the seafloor, she look like nothing so much as a massive boulder. Tornus sat in a circle with Simnia, Luidia, and several others, fashioning spearheads from a pile of discarded stingray carcasses, their meal from the previous day. The long, jagged barbs were perfect for hunting. They could puncture the toughest scales and would remain lodged until their prey went limp.

The barbs were cheap. The spears, though, required great effort to prepare. The instructions for their manufacture were scattered across the reef. It took nearly a full lunar cycle for Tornus and her compatriots to find enough driftwood, another cycle to grind them down into long, sturdy shafts.  They were solid and  stout. There were none to spare.

Janthina swam down to greet her sisters.

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Breaching Blue Chapter 4: Over the Edge

breakingblueAll week I’m posting the first five chapters from my absurd work-in-progress, Breaching Blue. Check out Chapters 1, 2, and 3. Enjoy. And, if you don’t enjoy, blame Shiffman.


Clymene swam just below the sunbreak, testing the limits of her own courage. The reef was behind her, its unexplored pinnacles rising into sunlit waters. She cut a lazy circle around the coralline towers as she drifted upwards with each circuit. Luidia watched from a distance.

Clymene cast an elegant profile as Luidia looked up from her sentry. Her tail was long and graceful, slimmer than Janthina’s, with a broader fluke. Her arms were long and limber; her fingers reached nearly to her peduncle, where there powerful muscles of her tail met the wide blades of her fluke. Luidia admired her sister. Her own stumpy hands barely reached past her waist, and hers was a bulkier build. Luidia had one advantage over her more streamlined sister. The massive pelvic fins that sprung from the base of her tail were fantastically versatile, she could to pivot and turn with exceptional precision. Where Clymene was constantly frustrated by the tight narrow corridors they continued to discover within the reef, Luidia could traverse them with ease.

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Breaching Blue Chapter 2: Sisters of the Reef

breakingblueSo, after thinking about it for the last 24 hours, I’ve decided to release the a chapter of Breaching Blue every day this week. Enjoy. And, if you don’t enjoy, blame Shiffman.


Tornus examined her new home. She had claimed the highest vantage, the last cavern below the sunbreak, so she could watch her sisters moving across the reef. The mountainous coral atoll continued, transecting the sunbreak and climbing into the illuminated ocean. She could see traces of even more caverns extending towards the surface, caverns that opened into the sunlit waters. She felt dizzy, staring up at the radiant corals above. Her eyes prefered the darkness. The reef offered protection, but only so much. The darkness, where she could sense danger as a wave through her body, where her massive eyes could see what others could not,  where she could darken the pigments of her skin until she vanished into the abyssal backdrop, those offered her the greater protection. The fiercest hunters–blackfish, pilot whales, and beast much larger–waited beyond the sunbreak.

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Breaching Blue: Because Mermaids are the new Vampires.

breakingblueOriginally posted here: Attack of the paranormal mermaid romance novel: Why you should never, ever lose a bet to David Shiffman, the mermaid novel has taken some surprising turns in the last few months. I recognition, I’ve decided to repost the significantly revised first chapter to entertain. Happy Labor Day, US readers!


They drifted, mindlessly, in an eternal, ocean-spanning arc, bare particles of life, unassuming among the myriad. They drifted, wordlessly, no mouths to speak nor eyes to see. No hands to grasp, not that there was anything to grasp in the great circling gyre. They drifted, aimlessly, their purpose obscured by the haze of their own perception, brains unformed, uninformed ganglia pressing against a translucent carapace. They drifted, ruthlessly, the indomitable walls of baleen sheets, the brutal rasp of gill rakers, the insatiable grasp of dangling tentacles, winnowing their numbers. They drifted, together, a cohort growing stronger even as their siblings fell to the inevitable fate of prey among the flotsam. They drifted until they could drift no more, until their bodies, no longer mindless particles, but tiny facsimiles of their future selves, could challenge the current, assert their dominance over the drift.

No longer drifting, they sought refuge.

***

The reef was old. It rose from the seamount, a honeycomb of chambers stacked one on top of the other. They swam around the perimeter, cautiously. The Ocean was a dangerous place. Who knew what strange predators lurked inside the labyrinthine palace? Janthina went first. She squeezed through a small opening, close to the sea floor. The once generous entrance was overgrown with corals, generation stacked upon generation, each polyp building upon the skeletal remains of its ancestors. Whatever creatures carved this chamber, they abandoned it long ago.

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Cascading planetary-wide ecosystem effects of the extirpation of apex predatory Krayt dragons on Tatooine

Author’s note: this post is part of the “Science of Tatooine” blog carnival. Though obviously about science fiction and not the real world, it includes real ecological theories,  and it uses some real peer-reviewed scientific papers as references. Whenever possible, I’ve linked to accessible copies of those papers and explainers of these ecological terms. Many of the same issues are associated with shark population declines. 

ABSTRACT

Predators play an important role in structuring ecosystems, with predator population declines being linked to a variety of negative ecological effects. Here, we present evidence that the planet Tatooine, famous throughout the Galaxy for being a desert planet, experienced desertification as a result of unintended changes in herbivore populations caused by the intentional large-scale killing of apex predators by offworld colonists. Fossil evidence and interviews showing traditional ecological knowledge suggest that once-abundant Krayt dragons were hunted to near extinction by early human colonists. As a result of the decline in predation, populations of large herbivorous banthas populations grew out of control and overgrazed the plants once found throughout Tatooine.

INTRODUCTION

Studies of numerous ecosystems have consistently shown the importance of intact populations predators to healthy ecosystems, with a recent review (Estes et al. 2011 “trophic downgrading of planet Earth”) noting that “the loss of apex consumers is arguably humankind’s most pervasive influence on the natural world.” Population declines of top predators can cause a trophic cascade, resulting in unintended consequences that ripple through a food chain. Sea otter population declines in the Pacific Northwest of the United States resulted in predation release of otter prey (sea urchins), and an overabundance of sea urchins destroyed entire kelp forest ecosystems by overgrazing (Estes et al. 1998 “killer whale predation on sea otters linking oceanic and nearshore systems.) Wolf population declines in Yellowstone National Park resulted in predation release of wolf prey (elk,) and an overabundance of elk destroyed aspen pine forests by overgrazing (Ripple et al. 2011 “trophic cascades among wolves, elk, and aspen on Yellowstone National Park’s northern range.”)  Ecosystem-wide effects stemming from the loss of predators has also been listed as the proximate cause of disease outbreaks (Pongsiri et al. 2009 “biodiversity loss affects global disease ecology,”), increasing destructive wildfires (Perrings et al. 1997 “biodiversity resilience and the control of ecological-economic systems: the case of fire-driven rangelands,”) and overall biodiversity loss (Paine 1969, “Pisaster-tegular interaction: prey patches, predator food preference, and intertidal community structure.”)

Though the planet Tatooine in the Tatoo system of the Outer Rim is known by researchers to have once been covered by oceans and lush vegetation, it is commonly known now as a desert planet (source). While it is famous in Republic circles primarily for being the home of Jedi Master Skywalker, Tatooine also has native sentient species, including Jawas and Tusken Raiders (the latter are derisively referred to by locals as “sand people” ).  Native non-sentient animals include banthas (large herbivores used as beasts of burden) and the now mostly extinct Krayt dragon (a large predatory species that fed on banthas).

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Attack of the paranormal mermaid romance novel: Why you should never, ever lose a bet to David Shiffman

breakingblueTake heed, all those who would dare to gamble against David Shiffman. You will fail.

It seemed innocent enough. I was in the middle of a job search, paying the bills with consulting, freelance work, and science writing while pursuing the next academic appointment. Finally having a bit of time, I wrote a science fiction novel, something I’ve always wanted to do. Sometime last summer, our resident shark fanatic made a dangerous suggestion. “Why don’t you just cash in on the mermaid craze?” “Fine,” I said, “if I don’t land a job by 2014, I’ll write a marine science-inspired paranormal mermaid romance novel.”

It’s 2014. This is Breaching Blue.

Below, for your enjoyment, is the first chapter.

If you’re interested in my other writings, you can check out Fleet and Prepared on Amazon or read my short story, The Lucky Ones, at Nature. And a huge shout-out to Mark Gibson, who writes the excellent marine science blog, Breaching the Blue, and was kind enough to let me use the inadvertently parallel name. For obvious reasons, this is not the final draft.


Chapter 1: Sisters of the Reef

The reef was old. It rose out of the seamount, a honeycomb of chambers piled one on top of the other; each chamber perfectly sized for Janthia and her sisters. This reef was made for them.

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5 fantastic nautical science fiction novels

Enterprise versus Enterprise. From ForeignPolicy.com

Enterprise versus Enterprise. From ForeignPolicy.com

One thing I’ve discovered by publishing my first work of nautical science fiction is that the field is incredibly small. There just doesn’t seem to be that many SciFi writers taking their stories out to sea. This seems strange to me, as most of the great space operas are really nautical tales. There’s a reason that TV Tropes has an exhaustive list of entries under “Space is an Ocean” (and, for that matter, “Space Whale“, because we can’t ever have enough Moby-Dick-in-Space stories). It isn’t a coincidence that the US Navy has named at least 7 ships Enterprise (FYI, the aircraft carrier CVN-80 Enterprise is actually bigger than the starship NCC-1701 Enterprise).

So here are my 5 favorite maritime science fiction stories.

Title page for 20,000 Leagues by Jules Verne

Title page for 20,000 Leagues by Jules Verne

Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea by Jules Verne.

The Grand Daddy of maritime science fiction, 20,000 Leagues still holds up. Even though the science is dated, Verne’s insight shines through, predicting the deep-sea gold rush more than 100 years before we even knew about the geologic formations that would produce seafloor massive sulfides. Considering that almost one-fifth of all deep-sea hydrothermal vents are currently at risk for deep-sea mining, Captain Nemo’s declaration that “in the depths of the ocean, there are mines of zinc, iron, silver and gold that would be quite easy to exploit” is particularly prescient.

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Are you Prepared for the end of the world? An excerpt from my latest novella

preparedPrepared: A novella from the world of Fleet went live in the Amazon Kindle store this afternoon. This short story expands on the world the we first encountered in Fleet, where sea level rise and global pandemic have reduced human civilization to a few scattered enclaves. In Prepared, we are taken to the beginning of the end, the fall of the last major coast metropolis, where a small group of doomsday preppers are making their final stand.

You can find Prepared on Amazon and at Smashwords. Nook, iBook, and other editions are coming.

Excerpted below is chapter 1: Bug Out.


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A scientist writes science fiction – thoughts on self-publishing my first novel

Early this month, I completed and self-published my first science fiction novel through Amazon’s Kindle Direct publishing service (and, a few days later, as a paperback through Createspace). The ideas for the book were conceived over a long week in August, while vacationing with my parents at a rental house in St. Michaels, Maryland. Wandering through the low-lying eastern shore towns started me thinking about the kinds of stories we would tell hundreds of years from now. Thus, the central conceit of Fleet — that it was not a tale of environmental devastation but of people living their lives in a post-sea-level-rise world — surfaced.

Writing Fleet was a marathon. All told, from the first day that I started outlining characters and deciding what the central story of Fleet — uncovering a human disaster caused by desperation and betrayal, then buried at sea — to the day I hit publish on the Amazon server, Fleet took a little over 3 and a half months, during which time I was also moving across the country, finishing several scientific manuscripts, and looking for a job.

Having now had a few weeks to decompress, I think it’s a good time to reflect on the book, what I tried to accomplish, and where it goes from here.

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