Using Your Government as a Writing Tool

Today we will talk about the Federal Register of the U.S. Government. (I know. Soon this blog will be guest-featured on Fun with Flags. It’s not everyone who’s waiting to be discovered by Sheldon Cooper.)  Why are we talking about the Federal Register?  It makes sense that I talked about it on my law blog, GroundBasedSpaceMatters, but why here?  Because I like to share.

If you are a citizen it tells you about all the notices of all the rules that apply to you or the businesses you deal with. Just remember, the contents of the Federal Register apply to you.   If it’s in the Federal Register and it applies to you, it applies to you even if you don’t actually know about it.  It’s  legal notice to the world, to everyone from coal miners with pneumoconiosis to members of the military-industrial complex.  If you are a writer, however, it is also grist for the mill.

What is it?  The Federal Register, as you may or may not know, is a repository of recent regulations left by roving bands of regulators. It is also a treasure trove of transportation trivia. It publishes every week day and contains notices of proposed regulations, final rules, agency meetings, petitions for exemption, copyright royalty distributions for satellite transmissions, Coast Guard safety zones, airworthiness directives, and those mysterious self-regulating organizations that the Securities and Exchange Commission keeps mentioning. The Federal Register lets you find things and know things and use them to hurt your characters with. The Federal Register is a thing of beauty.

The Office of the Federal Register, which runs the publication, describes it as the newspaper of the Federal Government. No actual news, however, is allowed. See 44 U.S.C. § 1505(b).  (Paragraph (c) suspends the publication requirements in the event of an attack on the continental United States. (Not sure what that means for Hawaii)).

Why You’ll Like It.  You do not need to be a lawyer to benefit from checking the table of contents every day. If your main character wheels electrical power, he might care about the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, or maybe the emission rules of the Environmental Protection Agency. If your heroine trades in securities, you might want to know what the SEC is thinking of requiring so she can rant about how hard her job is on a hot date. If your main character has a buddy who is a law student taking Administrative Law he can subscribe and treat the Federal Register as a palate cleanser in between all the heavy reading.  It’s kind of like Reddit.  Sort of.  As a space lawyer in my day job, I check the Federal Aviation Administration for commercial space transportation, the Federal Communications Commission for telecommunication satellites, and for remote sensing of our home planet the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, which also has notices about fisheries, lots of notices. I don’t read the ones about the fish.

When I first stared practicing law, the Federal Register arrived at my old law firm printed and bound on cheap, thin paper; the savvy lawyers in the firm would check its table of contents every day to see whether there was anything to fuss about. The Federal Register will now email you its daily table of contents. You can sign up here. Later, when I worked for the Federal Aviation Administration, and I already knew about the things I cared about before they were published, I almost never checked it. I didn’t need to, but I should have, and I would have if I’d known about this email service. I truly believe that.

I don’t know, this whole topic might be too exciting for Fun with Flags.

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Visualization, Early Spaceports, and a Writer’s Friend: Pinterest

I’m worried I see in words. When I read a vivid, painterly writer like Dorothy Dunnett or J.M. Ney-Grimm I feel like I am immersed, virtual-reality-style, in a world I can see and smell. When I try to remember the color of my mother’s couch, I can’t. When I try to conjure an image of what my own couch would look like based on the two color swatches in my hands  the image won’t come. Could I describe a stranger’s face to a sketch artist in sufficient detail to depict a perpetrator? Hell, no. I’d get height, hair, and eyes, and I’m lying about the eyes. I can recognize someone if I see them again—most of the time—but I’d really appreciate it if none of you ever changed your hairstyle again. I’m good with what you’ve got.

It’s different when I read. I can see something even without looking at it.  Words make me see all sorts of things in my head. With the right writer, I feel like I’m reading a movie. It’s also how I write, and when I write I see thing as I describe them in words. The images grow clearer with each word on the screen, and I can enter my own worlds and eventually see all of it.  I just need words to take me there. But if I’m sitting around daydreaming, what comes into my head are conversations and actions, not pictures of places. This made my alien world of Nwwwlf rather difficult at first. I didn’t even know it would be.

Now, don’t get me wrong. I like looking at things. I may have no long-term storage capacity for what I see, but I love beautiful things. I have paint and pictures on my walls, floral fabrics on chairs, and I love gardens, manicured or wild. People are objects of beauty just as much as a painting, and my heart melts with longing when I look at a pot de crème. But my visual imagination lags my language.

As with so many things, the internet has come to my rescue. I was looking on One Kings Lane at paintings I wanted but couldn’t get, and there was Country Sunrise by Kenneth Ray Wilson, with its odd colors that do exist in the natural world but not often. A meadow of pale lime receded up a hill.   Grasses of indigo, pale and dark, crowded the foreground. It was alien and strange and looked like my imaginary world, only I hadn’t realized it until just that moment. Sunset Oaks gave a different perspective on the same colors and had the same effect on me. A pang of excitement hit. This really was what Nwwwlf looked like. Then I became sad. I wished I could save the paintings. I could write up the colors really quickly, sure,  but the paintings were evocative and put me immediately into my imaginary world without me having to do a lot of work. I wanted to come back and gaze at it, but the site was a flash sale site of sorts. All would be lost.

Then I saw it, the little circle with a P in it. I could save the picture. I could look at it whenever I wanted to and not pay anyone $379 to do so. I set up a board for Sleeping Duty, the first in my Waking Late series, on Pinterest. I gradually added other pictures to it, a river mill, a rush chair, items and settings that evoked the medieval feel of Nwwwlf. I even have some wacky dudes whose manly posture I like to show to my cover artist.

I created more boards. My favorite might be my collection of Early Spaceports. The Canaletto above will be the cover for an unfinished story about a powersat billionaire who collects paintings of what he calls, you guessed it, early spaceports.  I’ll just be adding a little satellite to the blue, blue of the sky.  The board itself contains paintings of wharves, ports, sailing ships, water, water everywhere, and mysterious paths. A painting of mysterious paths also features in the story. For some reason, that painting is something I can picture in my head, and I keep looking for a real-life version of it. I haven’t found it yet, but I’m getting close. I also have a picture on that board of one of my sons and me, but that’s because it’s a picture of us at a real early spaceport, waiting for the first Antares launch out of Wallops. The launch got scrubbed, but these pictures won’t.

 

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After Action Report: LibertyCon 30

I spent this past weekend in Chattanooga, Tennessee at LibertyCon 30.  From Gray Rinehart’s rendition of the science fiction convention’s theme song set to the tune of David Bowie’s Space Oddity to the panels on new planets, the programming was a delight. So were the people.  I got to see and talk to one of my favorite writers, Sarah A. Hoyt, who is a mentor to many new writers as well as the author of the fabulous Darkship books. My new friend Cheri Partain showed up again this year and created a marvelous slide for my books. Thank you, Cheri!  I was also able to say hello to Dorothy Grant, meet Stephen Simmons, and have a long chat with Jeff Duntemann, who gave me the idea for doing a long essay on space law for science fiction writers.  I am seriously considering this notion.

Jeff’s idea for the essay grew out of a couple of talks I did on space law.  In the first, I talked about the three space regulatory agencies: the FAA, which regulates space transportation by U.S. persons to and from Earth (yes, anywhere in the world); the FCC, which regulates satellite transmissions to and from the United States; and NOAA (the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration in the Department of Commerce), which regulates the remote sensing of Earth.  In the second talk I addressed treaty barriers to space exploration.  My own view is that it is possible to interpret the space treaties so that they do not serve as barriers.  We do not need to regulate everything any U.S. person  does in outer space. We do not need to impose heavy planetary protection costs on private operators.  And, we do not need to read Article II of the Outer Space Treaty to prohibit private ownership of property in outer space.

If you are interested in space law in the science fiction context, I sometimes discuss fiction at my space law blog, GroundBasedSpaceMatters.com.  For instance, this post is about how another favorite science fiction writer broke my nerdy space law heart.

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LibertyCon 30

I’m looking forward to attending LibertyCon in Chattanooga, Tennessee again this year.  I went for the first time last year, and had a very good time.  My favorite panel consisted of a discussion of Georgette Heyer, where I learned that David Weber was a fan.  He was one of the panelists, and told a story of standing in a bookstore with other fans, all women, chatting about Georgette Heyer, the writer of Regency romantic comedies.  Weber was there in his bike leathers.  It was quite a charming picture he painted.

I’ll be doing a couple talks this year on space law.  This is my schedule:

Friday, June 30, 5 p.m. Opening Ceremonies

Friday, June 30, 10 p.m.  Current Regulations on Space Activities

Saturday, July 1, 3 p.m.  Outer Space Treaties and the Legal Barriers to Space Exploration

Saturday, July 1, 10 a.m.  Kaffeeklatsch

Saturday, July 1, 6 p.m.  Reading, with Lou Antonelli

 

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Memories of the DK

The Passive Voice linked to an article in the Bangkok Post about bookstores.  For me it was very evocative.

I spent almost seven years in Thailand as a kid. I used to spend hours in the DK bookstore in Bangkok, one of the few English language bookstores at the time. It was probably not as large as I remember, but I think it was three or four stories tall, and I clearly recall where the science fiction could be found, on an upper floor toward the street side. It stocked British imprints, and I still have the Edgar Rice Burroughs and Robert Heinleins I bought there, with the half-naked people on all the covers. It was always sunny and hot when I went there, and the store had a certain strange smell unlike other bookstores. I can’t describe it, but I’d recognize it if I came across it again ever. And, no, it wasn’t pot. That strange smell I finally identified when I went to college.

When we moved north to Chiang Mai, I would save my allowance and send it with my mother for a list of books I wanted her to get for me from the DK when my parent visited Bangkok. When I graduated from horse stories to science fiction and historical novels, I always needed more Heinlein and more Georgette Heyer.

I don’t recognize any of the names of the stores in the article, but I wonder if DK was a variation on or an Anglicization of Dokya.

Madeleines have nothing on the DK.

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ABA Air and Space Law Forum June 8

I am looking forward to the American Bar Association’s Space Law Symposium this Thursday, June 8, 2017, at the University Club in Washington, D.C.  The Symposium will be all day, and at 2:30 I will be on a panel called Mars, the Moon, and the Legal and Policy Implications of Human Space Exploration.  I will talk about the FAA’s human space flight requirements, pose a question about planetary protection in the context of human settlement, and maybe stray into the issues surrounding authorization and supervision of U.S. persons in outer space.

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Old Books with Awesome Covers

We’re on vacation, and I went into a bookstore in Brandon, Vermont, yesterday.  It’s called the Book and Leaf (tea leaves, that is).  It has a nice selection of books, including young adult books right at the front of the store.  It was a little upsetting that there didn’t seem to be a section devoted solely to  science fiction on the walls.  However, there are three drugstore-style book carousels that hold old, well-nigh vintage paperbacks, including pulp science fiction.

Oh, my goodness.  The covers on these things.  They’re intense, with livid colors, deranged damsels, and men with backstories.  Everyone is simmering or cowering, and there’s a lot of leaning and lunging.  So I bought Pagoda, by James Atlee Phillips. According to the back cover, the New York Herald Tribune described it as “Fierce…Swift…Electric.”  The blurb says “This is a tough, hard-hitting novel about a washed-up American flyer who gambled his life for a fortune in the broiling war-ravaged jungles of Burma.  Here are the hard-bitten and cynical men out for a quick million, and restless, avid-eyed women who are part of the winner’s spoils.”  Irresistible.  I spent a chunk of my childhood in southeast Asia, and my dad would tell stories of goings-on in Burma, so I picked it up.

It cost $5.00 plus tax (about the price of an indie e-book) and came in a nice plastic wrapper.  I felt some trepidation removing the wrapper, but finally decided I wouldn’t be able to read it unless I did.  It has that old book smell, and the edges of the pages are red and feel rough.  I’m a little afraid to read it, in case it’s better in my imagination.  I’ll report back if it’s awesome.  Read what you will into any silence.

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Book review: The Tally Master by J.M. Ney-Grimm

My friend and former college roommate J.M. Ney-Grimm just released her latest fantasy novel, The Tally Master.  Now that I’ve fully disclosed all biases, I will tell you it’s wonderful.

It’s set in the bronze age Northlands of some of her other novels, and this one is a mystery.  It’s a strange sort of mystery.  Our hero, Gael, is a former mage who now tallies the ingots for the citadel of a troll warlord who fights against the humanity that Gael was once a part of.  Gael keeps a narrow hold on his vision of his life, for it is full of questions that he would rather not face, until the day he realizes that ingots are going missing somewhere between his vaults and the smithies.  Then it all starts to unravel, as this seemingly simple problem leads him deeper into understanding his friends and all their secrets and what he himself must do with this life he’s leading.

We barrel along as all the politics of the troll citadel play out, as Gael remains ignorant of the secret of the person closest to him, and as the highly detailed, fully realized world unfolds before our eyes.  Do you ever read a book where you feel you are inside the world, not just inside people’s heads and hearts?  The Tally Master gives you that.  It also gives you a driving need, Gael’s driving need, to find out what is going on with those ingots, because the answer to that question gives you the answer to a lot more.  I’m being deliberately vague to avoid spoilers, but let me just say this one is worth checking out.

(And remember to leave a review.  If you like a book it helps the author even if you just leave two sentences.)

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Free short story by Sarah A. Hoyt

A free short story set in one of my favorite science fiction series, the Darkship universe, is available here:  https://accordingtohoyt.com/2017/05/02/lost-and-found-by-sarah-a-hoyt/#comment-446483  Check it out.  It’s a real treat.

 

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