Thursday, December 12, 2013

Thursday Takeover: Matthew Graybosch Talks Research

It's time for the Thursday Takeover! Today, Matthew Graybosch is here to talk to us about research for his novel Without Bloodshed. You can follow Matthew's writerly exploits on social media (Twitter, Tumblr, Facebook, Google+, and Goodreads) or by visiting his website

If you want to get to know the Starbreaker series a bit more, Matthew has written two short stories and a novelette set in the Starbreaker universe. The novelette Steadfast: Part One features Naomi Bradleigh and can be found on the Curiosity Quills website. Morgan Stormrider is featured in the short stories "Tattoo Vampire" and "The Milgrim Battery" that appears in the Curiosity Quills charity anthology Primetime (proceeds donated to no-kill animal shelters). 

For now, let's get to know Matthew and the first book in the Starbreaker series, Without Bloodshed a little bit before he takes over.

About the Author: 
Matthew Graybosch is the author of Without Bloodshed, a near-future science fantasy thriller set in the Starbreaker universe. Without Bloodshed is published by Curiosity Quills Press and currently available. 

According to official records maintained by the state of New York, Matthew Graybosch was born on Long Island in 1978. Urban legends in New York suggest he might be Rosemary’s Baby, the result of top-secret DOD attempts to continue Nazi experiments combining human technology and black magic, or that he sprang fully grown from his father’s forehead with a sledgehammer in one hand and a copy of Bulfinch’s Mythology in the other — and has given the poor man headaches ever since.

The truth is more prosaic. Matthew Graybosch is a novelist from New York who lives in central Pennsylvania. He is also an avid reader, a long-haired metalhead, and an unrepentant nerd.

About The Book:
“All who threaten me die.”

These words made Morgan Stormrider’s reputation as one of the Phoenix Society’s deadliest IRD officers. He served with distinction as the Society’s avenger, hunting down anybody who dared kill an Adversary in the line of duty. After a decade spent living by the sword, Morgan seeks to bid a farewell to arms and make a new life with his friends as a musician.Regardless of his faltering faith, the Phoenix Society has a final mission for Morgan Stormrider after a dictator’s accusations make him a liability to the organization. He must put everything aside, travel to Boston, and prove he is not the Society’s assassin. He must put down Alexander Liebenthal’s coup while taking him alive.

Despite the gravity of his task, Morgan cannot put aside his ex-girlfriend’s murder, or efforts to frame him and his closest friends for the crime. He cannot ignore a request from a trusted friend to investigate the theft of designs for a weapon before which even gods stand defenseless. He cannot disregard the corruption implied in the Phoenix Society’s willingness to make him a scapegoat should he fail to resolve the crisis in Boston without bloodshed.

The words with which Morgan Stormrider forged his reputation haunt him still. 

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Take it away, Matthew!

I suspect other novelists are more meticulous in their research than I was for Without Bloodshed and the rest of Starbreaker, but an exhaustive explanation of my own research might still prove lengthier than is suitable for a guest post on Mara Valderran's blog. Instead, I will provide a few examples of elements in my novel for which I wanted to provide an especially strong factual basis.

General Infrastructure in Without Bloodshed.

From the beginning of my novel, I show that the world is subtly different from our own despite an opening set in London by describing the infrastructure. The state of a city's infrastructure can tell attentive readers much about that city's society, such as whether it has the wealth and political will to carry out large-scale public works projects.

For example, I mention that the streets and sidewalks are heated to prevent accumulation of snow and ice. The technology to do this is already available, and in use in American municipalities like Holland, MI (http://www.hollandbpw.com/Green_Initiatives/Pages/Downtown_Snowmelt_System.aspx). Holland, MI's public works department uses pipes filled with heated water, but electrical engineer Scott Brusaw of Sagle, ID wants to use super-strong glass and solar power to keep the roads clear and generate clean power (http://www.cnn.com/2011/TECH/innovation/01/19/smart.roads/).

In addition to heated pavement, I mention the street lights, which are tinted and shielded to reduce light pollution. I did this based on information presented by the International Dark-Sky Association (http://www.darksky.org/). Though I'm not a member, I approve of their mission and personally dislike the way our fear of the dark drowns out the stars.

Finally, there are the Tesla points, which provide localized wireless power transmission. Named after electrical engineer, Nikola Tesla, they're an extrapolation of over a century of research and technological development. (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wireless_power)

Weapons in Without Bloodshed

I didn't want to be that writer whose prose makes their ignorance of how weapons work apparent to all. I can't afford it, not when many of my characters supposedly possess military-level training. Since I lacked such training myself, research was the only way.

I started by obtaining general knowledge of how various types of firearms and swords work. I then made a point of deciding what sort of weapons my characters would carry, why, and what tactics they might use with these weapons. I also bought a .22 semiautomatic rifle and spent time at an outdoor range shooting at targets with my father, who's far more enthusiastic about firearms than me and has a small collection including a bolt-action Remington manufactured under contract to Mosin-Nagant just after WWI. I also considered buying a sword, but my wife vetoed the idea.

In addition to real-world firearms, the plot of Without Bloodshed also involves a firearm designed for a specific purpose: killing demons. In the Starbreaker setting, demons are non-biological intelligences who create bodies of plasma contained in electromagnetic fields when they wish to kill, as conventional weapons cannot harm these bodies.

I had to research electromagnetic and directed energy weapons and figure out a weapon which could be mass-produced and issued to infantry, and settled on an assault weapon based on coilgun principles. Unfortunately, this weapon works just fine on human beings, doesn't run out of ammunition, and doesn't overheat unless you fire on full auto. It's a massacre waiting to happen.

Computers and AI in Without Bloodshed

My day job as a programmer and at-home usage of various Unix-based operating systems like Linux and FreeBSD (I'm writing this on a System76 laptop running Ubuntu Linux) allowed me to write with more authority about computing tech in the Starbreaker setting, and use real-world apps like BitTorrent, SSH, talk, and IRC in a fictional context. In addition, all of the world's AIs provide trusted users a manual interface adhering to the POSIX standards.

However, because I'm a self-taught programmer and don't have the benefit of years of study in a computer science major at a university like SUNY or MIT, I had to figure out not only how to justify AI capable of human interaction, but explain why such AI would willingly serve people without simply rehashing Asimov's laws of robotics. Nor could I remain content with an overview of Turing's work. I had to dig deeper, and make what sense I could out of concepts like "Friendly AI". (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Friendly_AI)

Despite my research, I decided to handle benevolent AI the way Ray Bradbury used to handle rocket ships: they exist, and that's all I really need you to know. Fortunately, I never claimed to write hard science fiction. Perhaps I'm closer to hard fantasy (http://www.swantower.com/essays/philosophy/hard-fantasy.html) since I tried to think through every aspect of my setting, plot, and characterization with a reasonable degree of rigor.

Whether I succeeded is for the reader to decide.

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