2. Writing Work nuts & bolts world building

Where do superpowers come from?

Power: personal, unique power. Power is the centerpiece of every Rough Passages Tale. Who has it, what happens when people gain it, how it can and can’t change their lives, how the uncertainties and adverse aspects of power rollovers  make that world different than ours…this can be deep story stuff.*

How do those powers work? The short answer is: no one knows. That’s one of many things that makes writing about it interesting.

Everyone with a rollover powers taps into some kind of energy, but that’s where certainty ends. Some poz can see this energy post-rollover, other feel it, all are affected by it and use it one way or another, but what that energy is, or how it works?

It’s still a mystery.

Why? For one thing, it’s impossible for nulls to detect, so disbelief hampers research funding. For another, the phenomenon is less than a hundred years old. The scientific community is still at the stage of documenting, describing, and postulating mechanisms based on existing established systems.  Think radiation in the early 1900’s, electricity in the 1800’s, or chemistry in the 1700’s.

All the uncertainty results in a constellation of valid ideas, wrongheaded hypotheses, and wild-ass speculation.  It also supplies thesis fodder for doctoral candidates and researchers in every field of study from physics to psychology. Ambitious scientists dream of being the next Curie, Faraday, or Mendeleev.  And lots of them already think they have uncovered Major Truths that are dead wrong but fit the facts.

Want an example? (You’re getting one.) Take an observable fact: T-series trolls can ramp up their own abilities and provoke each other into radical physical changes by tapping into their powers near each other. At its worst, the feedback loop will drive them into a collective, destructive frenzy. They train hard to control this effect, called rampage, because a mindless stampede of berserk armored giants is hard on real estate and anything else that can’t get out of their way.

Let’s look at the current scientific model. Explanations for T-series power use are based on studies of pheromone communication and hormone-driven metamorphosis in other species. The model fits the observed data and is an accurately predictive tool…in most cases. Most importantly it allows for engineering useful tools like rampage detectors and assorted training devices. So everyone accepts it as accurate.

But as the Watchmaker of the world, I’ll let you in on a secret. Rampage and powering up aren’t triggered physically.  The model has cause and effect flipped. It’s a pure energy phenomenon, a matter of resonance and exchange from more powerful individuals to less powerful ones, one that has the effect of triggering hormone releases.

Is any of that information useful to you, dear reader? Probably not. But speculation is fun, and so is trivia collection. So I thought I would share.

The takeaway for today? Power is tricky. People are fallible. And science is a process.

*Paranormal personal powers are not the only kind people deal with every day. Power can come from social status, political position, cultural acceptance, and economic prosperity too. Upending people’s lives after they’ve spent decades establishing their place in the socioeconomic power structure that is modern society? Well. That makes for super-duper drama. And drama makes good fiction.

Oh, and the BOOKS! Here are links to the buyable stories. Because they’re awesome.

2. Writing Work world building

Breaking the future: chip rot

In the future history of my Restoration stories, the United States (and the rest of the world) is in the midst of new Renaissance. To have a Renaissance–a rebirth into enlightenment–there must first be darkness. Here’s an overview and a closer look at one of the destructive elements I used to break the world.

(PS: I don’t know why my worldbuild stuff comes out in a boring, pseudo-academic writing style, but it does. Every time. #Sorrynotsorry)

The true costs of the Revision Years won’t be tallied for generations. Countless biological, chemical, and nuclear weapons were created and released worldwide during those years. On top of those self-inflicted damages, natural diseases arose in the seething poisoned wreckage left after riots, uprisings, and insurrections.

Somewhere in that polluted patchwork landscape chip rot was born, and it is not hyperbole to say its birth was nearly the death of modern civilization.

First off, what chip rot isn’t: it isn’t a single-source problem. It isn’t one plague. It is many. The demon’s name is Legion, and that is why to date, more than forty years after its first catastrophic appearance, researchers are only beginning to successfully combat its root causes.

The name is a  designation assigned early on,  while it was erroneously thought to be a terrorist nanoweapon. Like many inaccurate designations (see “patient Zero” for the AIDS epidemic) it was catchy enough to stick in cultural memory long after its inaccuracy was exposed. Multiple groups claimed responsibility, but none of those claims held up under scrutiny–and the scrutiny was intense.

It’s easy to understand why early conclusions pointed to a manufactured or engineered contagion.  While the damage spread in ways that mimicked a virulent disease, the results made no biologic sense. And if someone did design a weapon to destroy modern civilization, it would probably look like chip rot.

Timing saved the world. If the initial disaster had hit a few years earlier, technological advances might have been erased along with much of the infra-structure required to rebuild it.  But chip rot appeared after the Global Restoration Conference. For all the havoc it wreaked and all the research shelved  in the wake of its appearance,  the crisis it caused was the making of many a fledgling government. It was exactly the kind of crisis citizens  could rally to fight together.

In that first incarnation, the organic frameworks used for common components throughout the electronics industry literally rotted away.  Another early chip rot plague targeted metal alloy materials, oxidizing and eroding disk storage and tape collections as well as processors themselves. Priceless decades of information dissolved overnight. A third wave went after materials commonly used in optical data transmission.

Computers were affected of course, but communications systems fell silent too, and power grids went down and stayed down for months when multiple units critical to the intricately-balanced  distribution systems lost their electronic minds. At its first appearance, hysteria and speculation added to the difficulty of addressing the issue. The silicon scares and the aluminum riots, for example, all did irreparable damage in their own right.

But ingenuity won the day–ingenuity, inspired guesswork, and  profligate use of component stockpiles to keep research going ahead of the destructive curve.

Detection marked the first breakthrough, a victory won even as the sophisticated laboratory microscopes used to locate and identify the contagion were lost. From there, the development of chemical identification tools and strict epidemiological protocols allowed for prevention and then containment. Humanity’s overall technological baseline slipped back decades– a century or more in many areas–but the foundation systems under the electronics had been built to last. Brute force engineering solutions were seldom pretty or maximally efficient, but they could keep the lights on and the water flowing.

All three initial variants of chip rot were caused by prion-like molecules that bonded with their target material and disrupted other molecular bonds. To date those variants remain the hardest to protect against and to eradicate when outbreaks occur. Its origin has yet to be traced.The time elapsed between first reports and total collapse of affected systems was so short it seemed to spring up everywhere at once, but recent epidemiological  research has narrowed the field to “somewhere on the Pacific Rim in the northern hemisphere.”

The particles at fault could be transmitted by unwitting users, contaminated tools and cabling, even through close proximity over a long enough time. Draconian measures are required to contain the spread when chip rot crops up, and it still does, and will, until someone finds a way to attack and neutralize.

And those forms aren’t the only types of chip rot, only the first and worst. Regional outbreaks of component failure are an inescapable fact of modern life. Thirty eight different transmittable biologic contagions have been identified since Restoration.

Battling chip rot is just a cost of doing business, one more hazard of living in the electronic recovery. Software issues are still common too, so malicious programming  is a constant danger as well. Often forensic investigation must be done in conjunction with with technical analysis  to determine the cause of a given system failure.

Biologic solutions which would have been obvious a century ago were rejected for ages for reasons that had nothing to do with rationality. All the other plagues released during the Revision Years put biological manipulation and genetic modification  firmly into the unthinkable taboo category. Those fields of research are so tightly regulated and circumscribed with legal restrictions that the potential losses far outweighed the possible gains–until quite recently.


The plots of Controlled Descent, Flight Plan and Novices all touch on the effects chip rot would have on the tech base–from the cost-effectiveness of retail gadgetry  to the availability of air conditioning.  Since Flight Plan’s plot is the one most closely tied to chip rot, that’s the title I’ll plug today.

Flight Plan. Available in ebook, paperback and audio.


2. Writing Work world building

The Letter

This week’s bit of world-building fluff. From Rough Passages.

This is the letter that R-factor carriers dread. Receiving it means at best your life as you know it is over:  you’re about to become a social outcast who will face harassment, physical harm, and rejection for the rest of your living days. At worst it’s a death sentence couched in bureaucratic double-speak.

Dear <NAME>

Your Ackerman-Chung R-factor activation test result for the year <YEAR> is: POSITIVE.

Your name, status, and Federal identification number have been forwarded to the Department of Public Safety, and you will report to the nearest Adaptation & Placement Facility by <DATE> at the latest. Failure to comply will result in legal action and involuntary internment in accordance with Federal legislation referencing Ackerman-Chung deviation and Public Safety jurisdiction. (ref: FL1834-87/1981, FL 2543/1981)

A list of available facilities is attached. All efforts will be made to accommodate you your preferred choice, but vacancies at the time of your internment and the nature of your transition may require transfer to any DPS-certified facility. (note 1)

Prepare for a stay of one to twelve months. If further training and/or containment is deemed warranted by the personnel in charge of your transition, you may at any point be remanded to the custody of the Department of Defense, USMC Mercury Battalion, for additional training in compliance with appropriate laws . (FL729-87/1943, FL 11/1959) (note 2)

The DPS highly recommends a visit your local Administration office at your earliest convenience. Specialists there can determine how best the Department can meet your and your family’s needs and will assist you with transition paperwork and all necessary travel arrangements. Appeals for hardship exemptions can be filed at that time. Due to the unpredictability of transition outcomes, all active R-factor citizens are encouraged to put personal and financial affairs in order before reporting in.

If no DPS office exists within reasonable distance (refer to FL803-66/1946 for specifics) then you may access the national DPS hotline for assistance with any questions. Under the above circumstances you must also sign and return this letter in the enclosed envelope to any United States Postal Service Facility to confirm its receipt. You remain responsible for reporting to one of the DPS Adaptation facilities on the attached list before the date listed above. Payment vouchers for public transportation will be provided via the USPS. (FL2591-14/1962) (note 3)

All arriving program participants may bring one (1) small suitcase up to 2000 cubic inches for clothing and personal effects. A list of prohibited items is attached. Additional FAQ materials can be found online. Meals, bedding, appropriate training equipment, medicines, (note 4) and personal hygiene supplies will be provided by DPS personnel for the duration of your stay.

If returning this letter as your official registration, please list your preferences below so staff can better accommodate your needs during your time in DPS custody:

Room: smoking/non-smoking

Meals: vegetarian/vegan/ other diet (please specify)


The Department of Public Safety thanks you for your cooperation.



Central Office of Adaptation & Placement

United States Department of Public Safety.


  1. Adaptation Facilities currently open to(continental US)
  2. Prohibited Personal Effects List


  1.  Due to uneven geographic dispersion, there may be no facility vacancies in your immediate vicinity. Facilities have been listed in increasing geographic distance from your address. Transportation will be provided at no cost by all common carriers. Not all facilities are suitable for all types of transitions.
  2.  Military supervision of no less than one (1) year is compulsory for certain power classes. Please check with your local DPS office or the national website for the current listings. These designations cannot be legally appealed.
  3. Postal records indicate you do NOT qualify for assistance from the national hotline. Be aware there are substantial fees associated for unauthorized access of this service. If you believe your case is not being handled well by your local DPS office, please file a complaint online or through the USPS. Forms available on request.
  4. All personal medical records will be forwarded to the appropriate DPS personnel upon receipt of this release.

Not nearly as much fun for the characters as having some wizened old mentor show up on your doorstep to proclaim, “you! You are the Chosen One!”

Loads of fun from the author’s perspective.

Oh, right. BOOKS. Here be a link to buy my books:

2. Writing Work world building

More on Restoration Week

Another national holiday coming up, so here’s more on my imaginary national holiday.

The guiding principles of Restoration Week are: Remembrance, Duty, Courage, Sacrifice, Faith, Commitment, and Hope. Each ideal got its own day.  Here’s a bit about each, couched as elementary explanations that might be used in a children’s civics class.)

  • Day One: Remembrance:
    • Begin by remembering that we destroyed ourselves. Remember how pride, selfishness, and anger threw this country and all the world into chaos. Remember and honor those who gave the last full measure of devotion to the resurrection of this great nation. Remember those who came before you. They made Restoration happen. You will make it succeed. Each of us must be steadfast in our loyalty if our new union is to long survive
  • Day Two: Duty
    • Freedom is not free, citizenship is earned, and while we stand united, no one of us will fall. When everyone offers time and talents to the greater good, then we all share in the benefits. We are all in this together, like family members who don’t always agree but who do always pull together to help one another. Respect your family. Take pride in your service.
  • Day Three: Courage
    • Rebuilding our nation was not a safe, easy undertaking. Do you hold fast in the face of physical danger? That is one form of bravery. Do you speak out when you see others are belittled or abused? Do you embrace those who scorn your personal beliefs? Those things require courage too. Be brave today.
  • Day Four: Sacrifice
    • Count your blessings, and honor those who fight and die to ensure that you might keep them. What have you sacrificed? What have you given up, to help others and to add to the community? Today, take time to reflect on the balance of your life.
  • Day Five: Faith
    • Believe in a world larger than yourself. Skepticism is healthy, but cynicism is an ugly strangling disease. Look in your heart and ask yourself: what do I believe in?
  • Day Six: Commitment
    • The Restored United States is committed to the proposition that all of us are created equal. What are you committed to achieving? Do you make dreams come true? On this day, commit to at least one goal for the coming year, for yourself and others.
  • Day Seven: Hope
    • We are who we are today because the power of hope drove a select few to accomplish miracles. They kept the faith, committed their hearts to the service of others, and sacrificed their lives to our Restoration. Rejoice in their victory.

Holiday observance is a cultural activity, and practices change with every generation. Christmas today is not celebrated as it was when I was a child, far less what it was when my grandparents were children. Traditions evolve. Here’s how I decided the observances would affect the identity for each day at the time of my novels happen:

Remembrance: devoted to family memorials and  kick-off parties with subdued, socially-conscious or historical themes.

Duty: family gatherings & gifting

Courage: the day for dares and limit-pushing, and for commercial promotion of adrenaline-rush diversions. “Try A New Hobby Day”

Sacrifice: “Sackers” use the day as justification for making sure “haves” they think are too complacent sacrifice material goods  so they’ll better understand society’s “have-nots.” Bluntly put, it’s an excuse for vandalism.

Faith: originally and deliberately designed as a secular spin on faith, a wide array of religions use this as a day for evangelism.

Commitment: Always the lowest key and least-defined of the celebratory days, it is considered by most to be a “breather” day before the carnival climax of Hope weekend.

Hope: The country’s annual excuse for throwing huge parties. Like New Year’s Eve, only without arbitrary countdowns disrupting the celebrations at midnight.

I could’ve made a chart of comparison or something, but no. I don’t have the patience. This is all I gots, so it’s what you gets. Happy reading.