Google Ngram Viewer and Word Usage

I’m currently writing a time travel adventure story that has an American character from 2015 visiting England in 1943.

To make the voice of the characters distinctive and authentic, I not only have to capture the differences between American and English usage, but between modern American usage and 1940’s British usage.

I have found Google NGram viewer an invaluable tool in tackling this challenge. Take this graph for example, which shows that my 2015 American character will probably say “pants”, but my 1940s British character will more likely say “trousers” (but a 1940s American might use either).


Predicting the future in sci-fi

I recently re-watched Blade Runner, one of my all time favourite films (The much-maligned Theatrical Release for those who care about such things. I don’t mind The Final Cut, but I’m not a big fan of the Director’s Cut.)

The story is set in 2019, just three years from now, and important events in the backstory are occurring right now, like Roy Batty’s “birthday.”


The movie was released in 1982, just over thirty years ago (though the Philip K. Dick story on which it was based – Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep (best title ever) – was published in 1968). The conception of the future portrayed in the film was interesting, not only in terms of technology but also social developments.

There’s the proverbial flying cars, and Replicants who are almost indistinguishable from humans, but no cell phones or flat screens. People are moving to “off world colonies” but most of them still smoke!

As a science fiction writer I’ve been trying to decide what the lesson in this is. I think it’s that you should lay off predicting future technology and society unless it directly affects the story, i.e. don’t use tech as the literary equivalent of eye candy.

Even then, you’ll probably get it wrong. But you’ll at least have a shot at drawing out some plausible implications, and perhaps to make the reader question some assumptions about their present. What more could an author ask for than that?

Scif Fi World Building

I promised in my previous post to elaborate on the futuristic world building in Cerelia’s Choice. Checking on the date of that post, I notice five months have passed. Sometimes life gets in the way, big time. Sorry about that.

I love classic space opera as much as the next geeky guy, but it often assumes too much, so that the setting becomes almost irrelevant to the story. I’ve read far too many stories that are in effect nothing more than traditional naval battles set in space.

The reality is that any sort of human settlement beyond Earth will necessarily have to deal with some damn big challenges and constraints.

The least avoidable leap usually made in space opera is assuming some mechanism for faster than light travel. It is hard to have a story extending beyond our solar system without that.

The next biggie is gravity. In your standard space opera every ship has an artificial gravity field, and every inhabited planet seems to miraculously have Earth standard gravity.

The one that really irks me is spaceships designed for faster than light travel in the near vacuum of interstellar space somehow having the ability to land on the surface of a planet, dealing with the drag and friction of an atmosphere when landing, not to mention overcoming the enormous energy demands of escaping the planet’s gravity well when leaving. The design constraints of interstellar travel are so fundamentally different to the design challenges of atmospheric travel that it makes no sense to try building a single ship capable of doing both.

Imagine now the world of Cerelia’s Choice. Yes there’s faster than light travel. But there’s been a recent technological development that has increased maximum speeds by ten times, upsetting the existing economic and political balance, something that is important to the story.

There’s also artificial gravity, but I decided to put some constraints around that to make it interesting. The artificial gravity field is fundamentally inconsistent with FTL travel, so you either have to deal with weightlessness, or have a rotating habitat.

And you can land a spaceship on the surface of a planet, but only one designed exactly for that purpose, and it’s a one way trip. The only way off is by space elevator. They’re expensive to build and easy to control, which underpins the feudal political system of the Empire.

If you have doubts about the romance element of Cerelia’s Choice (what do you mean you don’t like romance?), then just remind yourself that it also contains a lot of well-considered science fiction world building to keep the reader interested.

Science Fiction Romance

I wrote Cerelia’s Choice, my first Science Fiction Romance (SFR), without even knowing if SFR was a legitimate genre.

My reasoning was twofold. First, I love both science fiction and romance (I’m openly a geek, and secretly an incurable romantic at heart). Second, I’ve had very positive feedback on Newton’s Ark and Fuller’s Mine from female readers. Both have romantic sub-plots, but I figured including a more explicit romantic arc might broaden the appeal of my work.

Only time will tell whether my decision to jump feet first into a genre I didn’t fully understand will be vindicated by commercial success, but I thoroughly enjoyed writing the story and am very pleased with the final result.

I only started researching the genre after I published Cerelia’s Choice. What I quickly discovered is that there’s a sort of holy war going on over the question of whether SFR is science fiction with some romance thrown in (SF + R), or romance in a science fiction setting (R + SF).

Being in the middle of a holy war is never a good idea, so I’m not going to venture an opinion, but Cerelia’s Choice is definitely R + SF. I say that because it follows the classic romance plot: boy meets girl, boy and girl don’t like each other, boy and girl are forced by circumstances to spend time together and the attraction grows, then something happens and they don’t like each other, then something else happens and they do like each other again, but then when they realize they are meant to be together some outside force stops them, and finally they overcome that obstacle and live happily ever after (HEA).

The science fiction setting is still important, and I put a great deal of thought into the world building (something I will elaborate on in a later post), but it is the romance that drives the story forward. We meet the romantic leads, Cerelia and Jefferson Rydel, in the very first chapter, and from there are left wondering, how do they end up together? You’ll have to read the book to find out!

Cerelia’s Choice – Paperback Available

The paperback version of Cerelia’s Choice is now available from the following sites: (and also the other EU stores)


Unfortunately for my Aussie readers, Amazon have not yet brought their print on demand capability to Australia yet, which is a crying shame considering how overpriced books are there.

Note, Cerelia’s Choice is enrolled in Amazon’s Kindle Matchbook program. If you purchase the paperback, you can download the ebook for free.

Cerelia’s Choice is Finally Here!

My latest novel, Cerelia’s Choice, is now available in ebook format on Amazon (US, UK, Australia, and the other stores). The paperback should be available in a week or two.

I’m really proud of this book. It’s a mix of space opera and romance, and I feel I’ve done a decent job of being true to both genres, resulting in a story with a little of something for everyone. I have a picture in my mind of the scene in The Princess Bride, where the grandfather is explaining to the boy that the book has sword fights and pirates and giants and chases, and of course true love. Well there are no giants, and the fighting is all done without swords, but the rest is true!

Cerelias Choice Kindle Cover

 A beautiful princess.

A handsome space pirate.

It could be a match made in heaven—if they survive…

When the luxury spaceliner carrying Crown Princess Cerelia across the Galactic Empire is attacked by space pirates, she is forced to flee for her life in the company of the ship’s captain, Jefferson Rydel. Having left behind her home and family forever to marry Lord Veraney, the man she has selected to succeed her father as Emperor, her disappearance throws the Imperial succession into question and destabilizes the Empire.

As she struggles to adapt to a harsh and challenging environment completely unlike the refined, sophisticated, and comfortable world she has always known, she discovers again and again that Captain Rydel is not what she thought he was.

Has he really uncovered the secret of Earth, its location lost in the passage of time and regarded by most as a myth? It would be a discovery to rock the very foundations of the Empire, its fourteen worlds each having been selected and terraformed to resemble as closely as possible humanity’s supposed original home. Or is he nothing but an unprincipled charlatan exploiting the hopes of millions?

Whoever he is, she has no choice but to accept his help. As they fight to stay ahead of the forces trying so desperately to kill her, and to stop the plot against the Imperial throne, she begins to wonder if she has found what she always longed for but never believed she would find—a man she can truly love without turning her back on the duty she was born to fulfill…

Discworld Mourns

All of Discworld mourns today at the news that Terry Pratchett has had his final meeting with Death.

I love the Discworld novels far more than any other fantasy works I’ve read (I generally prefer my fiction with a little science). They are satire at its very best – laugh out loud funny wrapped around biting political and social insights.

It’s a close run for my favorite between Going Postal and Making Money, but the latter wins for its profound observations on that most ethereal substance – money – that we all seem to spend so much time pursuing.

Wherever Sir Terry is now, he can take comfort from knowing it’s turtles all the way down.

Newton’s Ark – Countdown Deal

This coming weekend (starting Friday 16 January US Pacific Time), I’m running a Kindle Countdown deal on Newton’s Ark. The price will be reduced from the normal $2.99 to $0.99 (£2.99 to £0.99 in the Amazon UK store).

If you are wondering whether it is worth your time or less than a buck of your money (seriously?) I summarized some of the reviews in this recent post for your convenience.

Unfortunately Kindle Countdown deals are only available in the US and UK stores at the moment. Hopefully Amazon will extend this to the other stores soon. My Aussie readers will be used to it though – being treated like second class citizens in a digital world that really ought to be the harbinger of a unified global marketplace. It will happen, eventually.