How to pitch your novel to Baen Books (maybe)

Earlier this summer I pitched my (unfinished) novel to Baen Books' Contributing Editor Gray Rinehart at a face-to-face critique session at LibertyCon, a three-day sci-fi and fantasy literature convention in Chattanooga, Tennessee.

Unusually for a modern publisher, Baen takes unsolicited manuscripts. Gray is the Slushmaster General - a job, he said, akin to visiting a store and browsing the beginning and back blurb of hundreds of unfamiliar books, to decide which to buy.

Baen is a respected American sci-fi and fantasy publishing house, an early eBook pioneer famous for its focus on plot-driven fiction. Well-known titles include David Weber's Honor Harrington series and the Vorkosigan Saga by Lois McMaster Bujold. Many Baen authors attend LibertyCon, where about twenty aspiring novelists had their synopses and first page critiqued by Gray.

Here's what he said:

Tips for a killer synopsis
  • Gray is a writer as well as an editor, and wants to treat your manuscript as he would like his to be treated. If he likes the synopsis, but doesn't enjoy Chapter One, he'll read Chapters Two and Three to see if the text matches the story. Likewise, he'd prefer your protagonist appear in Chapter One, but - if they don't - he'll check Chapter Two;
  • Your synopsis doesn’t need a chapter by chapter outline though. A big novel might feature several point-of-views (POVs) so subplots and minor characters (e.g. a comic relief character) shouldn’t be in the synopsis;
  • That said, you need to tell the story in the synopsis, rather than giving backstory. He needs to know that Event A leads to Event B leads to Event C;
  • If your character is a criminal (or similar), get that into the synopsis early. Any unfamiliar idea that you introduce in the synopsis needs to be explained. Also, be specific. Don't write your hero 'joined forces to escape the enemy' - he needs more detail. Who did they join forces with? Who is the enemy?
  • Finally, he likes stories about good guys (or gals). Heroes, in other words!!!!!

For more ideas for how to write a one-page synopsis, try this simple guide (my suggestion, the website I used to write my LibertyCon synopsis, and the best I've found).

How NOT to open a novel
  • Don't start with the reader watching someone, watching someone else - it's not interesting. Your character should be taking action, even if that's as simple as going on a picnic;
  • Don't bury interesting facts. Show in the first part of your opening that your protagonist has a special ability, e.g. detecting magical auras, rather than waiting a few paragraphs in;
  • Don't open with lots of technical language - pepper the story later on. Use with care words like 'cerulean' (that's blue). On a similarly pedantic note, don't tell the reader what the character already knows, in dialogue. The Turkey City Lexicon calls this "as you know, Bob..." Avoid writing "you are severely wounded" - it's too formal. Someone would say, "you're hurt!" In general, a smattering of slang, contractions and ellipses can stop dialogue looking the same;
  • Finally, don't open with blatant sexism. You lose a portion of your potential audience right there.
How to open a novel
  • Gray enjoys sensory details, such as sight and sound, and a lively narrative voice. Humour and sassiness is good;
  • He prefers to stay in the present. A flashback is not part of the present action. If your character is starving and bleeding out on page one, any flashback needs to be REALLY INTERESTING;
  • You need to describe action first and not physical description (e.g. someone wearing a red belt). Also, if you're describing your protagonist, the red belt isn't in their POV - they're being described from the outside;
  • Finally, story trumps all. Rules can be broken if you keep people engrossed. For example, it's fine to switch POV mid-scene, provided your story is well-written enough. If you’re deep within a POV and need the reader to know something, the narrator can always take some time to make note of that thing at the end of the scene.
And some finicky technical points
  • Gray has seen novel submissions on lined paper torn from a spiral-bound notebook. He prefers manuscripts typed in 12-point courier in standard manuscript format, numbered pages, with 250 words a page on each page. He'll read without, unlike other publishers, but he prefers that;
  • On the title page, he needs the author's name and address, an approximate word length, and a title. If you haven't thought of a title, a working title is better than 'untitled'.
  • Also, he doesn't like double-sided synopses.

The picture accompanying this post was drawn by Chattanooga artist James Ward who had a stall at LibertyCon. He gave me the drawing as a gift as it was my first time in Tennessee (in the American south at all, in fact).


Free fiction friday: Reinterpreting an award-winning story for fun and (no) profit

The Water That Falls on You From Nowhere won a Hugo Award for short science fiction & fantasy in 2014. The story is about Matt “coming out” to his traditional Chinese parents in a world where water falls on you when you lie.

I loved the fantastical idea of water falling on you when you lied, but felt author John Chu didn’t do enough with the concept. I challenged myself to rework some of the main ideas into a new story. These were:

  1. Cold water falls on you when you lie;
  2. Love causes a warm perfumed breeze (or similar);
  3. A guy is worried about coming out to his parents.

The result is below. If you enjoy writing, why not try it for yourself? Pick a story that you feel could be taken in a new direction and be inspired!

[My comments at the bottom].

We Need to Talk About Christmas

“We need to talk about Christmas,” Matthew says suddenly.

“Christmas?” Danny feels a hot spike of terror down his back, despite the cold. He jerks the mobile away from his ear and blows into the mouthpiece, feigning static, buying him time to think.

Tiny flecks of snow prickle his fingers, left bare by his fingerless gloves. He feels like a wild animal, caged by the spiralling implications of the word ‘Christmas’. He finds himself glancing wildly to and fro across the wide plaza. A blizzard of white flakes dances like radio interference and turns the low bulbous shape of the city hall fuzzy and uncertain. The flagstones at his feet are damp, the snow isn’t settling, but he decides it’s too cold to tell a lie. The blast of icy water would freeze him like a popsicle.

Matthew’s voice sounds tinny, inaudible over the bitter wind. “Look, darling,” Danny interrupts, pressing the phone back against his numbed ear. “I’ve got a meeting in the mayor’s office in five minutes,” he says, carefully, reciting an undisputable fact. “Let’s talk about this… later.”

He thumbs the ‘end call’ button before Matthew can reply.


Leaning against the curved glass wall of the city hall is an old tramp, combing his scraggly white beard with black, fingerless gloves. The ghetto blaster on the frayed grey blanket beside him is belting out, ‘All you need is love’. Danny passes through the sliding doors, signs in at reception, and takes the lift up to the third-floor conference room, all the while thinking of Matthew.

Danny prides himself on being a good liar. No, he corrects himself, a professional liar. He works for liars. He palls around with liars. His job, as a humidity consultant, is to understand truth and – moreover – every technicality for weaselling out of it. In which case, he ponders, why can’t he lie to his own boyfriend?

The open-plan office on the third floor is eerily empty, but the air is parchment dry, which is not what he expected. The desks are unattended, the computer screens dark. A phone rings off the hook. As he enters the conference room, a blast of cool, wet air greets him. This is the right place. His feet crackle on plastic sheets – the first thing he notices. The second is the huge window looking out over the Thames, currently misted with condensation. There’s no furniture; the sheeting covers the bare walls and floor.

The mayor stands beside the window, slim hands folded behind her back. She is as he knows her from the court case. Floral shift dress, professional fit and below the knee. Sensible flat black shoes. Dyed auburn hair cut into a severe bob, but shot through with blond highlights - a business woman trying for approachable.

He takes a step into the room and immediately kicks a yellow children’s bucket, placed as though to catch a water leak. As if that would do any good, he thinks. The dull plunk causes her to turn around.

“Good…  morning," she begins. Danny hears the uncertainty in her voice and glances at the window, where the snow is falling. He knows it’s not a good morning. The catch in her voice suggests she knows it too. “Morning,” she repeats weakly. A moment later, a cold, wet wind blows in through the door, rippling her dress.

“Two plus two equals four,” he shouts, dropping into a crouch and throwing his arms across his head, but it’s too late. There’s a hissing, gurgling sound like an exploding tap.  Freezing water splashes across his raised arms and cheek. The mayor shrieks, surprised. When he looks again, her dress is clinging to her, dripping onto the floor, as though she’s been doused.


“Dr Danny Fontana,” he says, getting up and sticking out his hand. “You need some humidity training.”

She looks up at him, cold-eyed.

“I’ve had humidity training.”

Lesson one of humidity training is ‘truthful greetings’. Danny decides not to point this out. He needs this job. He thinks about Matthew again, and then his waterlogged kitchen. Five thousand quid to replace the kitchen. Five thousand and thirty pounds, and a confidentiality agreement, to do… whatever the mayor’s aide wouldn’t tell him when she’d called.

The mayor is watching him. To hide his awkwardness, he straightens his back and pretends to inspect the room. He notices the tall black tower of a WetTech V10.0 industrial dehumidifier, hidden behind the door. The top control panel is dark. Switched off.

“Humidifiers not working?” he guesses.

She shakes her head.

“No, Dr Fontana. I turned them off.”

He raises an eyebrow, quizzically.

“I thought you’d had a flood.”

“We have. Several floods, in fact.”

Danny frowns. He knows the signs of uncontrolled lying. Ruined upholstery. Soaked carpets. Rotten furniture. Watermarks on the walls. He thinks about the absence of furniture. The plastic sheeting. The depopulated, but dry, office outside. He opens his mouth to speak, but she waves him quiet. “I’ve prepared the room and sent the staff home, in preparation for our little experiment.”

“I thought…” he begins, feeling stupid.

“Why you’re here, Dr Fontana,” she says, exasperated. “Is not to give me basic humidity training. It’s to teach me to lie.”


He learned what the mayor, Sadira, meant about lying while she was towelling down her hair in her office. It was not that she couldn’t lie; rather that, like everyone else, she couldn’t tell a lie without getting wet.

“I’ve heard,” she concludes, “That God only punishes the guilty. Those who know they lie.”

Danny crosses himself instinctively. He’s not big on theology, but the idea of divine agency is hard to ignore. He’s sat across the heavy polished desk from her, in a black executive chair, with a plastic cup of coffee on a coaster in front of him. He leans forward to tear open a sachet of sugar, mentally pulling himself back together. She watches him beady-eyed.

“Well, the water knows your heart,” he says, with airy authority, making air quotes with his fingers. “But it has rules like any physical phenomenon.” He likes the technical sound of the words ‘physical phenomenon’; his doctorate was in modern history, not meteorology. He tips the sugar into the coffee, stirring it with his index finger. “The humidity rises with your guilt and uncertainty. Vis-à-vis, it possesses no objective knowledge of truth, as you would expect from God – or, indeed, any other Earth deity, past or present.

She finishes with her hair and drops the towel onto the desk. As she pulls her chair back from the desk, he thinks about the water. How it reflects the human condition back on itself. Psychopaths, who are without guilt, lie as they ever could. The world revolves around us; there is no wider reality.

She steeples her fingers. “But there are ways of lying?”

“They’re advanced techniques. I tell clients to hire a philosopher to recite –“

“A philosopher is no good,” she cuts in, swiping her hand in dismissal. “I need to lie without detection or evasion.”

Now he understands what she’s getting at. The court case against her. He has a vague impression it’s a corruption scandal. Embezzlement or something. He’s fuzzy on the details. Abruptly he wishes he’d paid more attention; boned up on the subject before he took the job. “You need me to do something illegal.”

She leans forward, staring directly into his eyes. “I want my husband not to know I was having an affair.”

A dry, warm breeze is blowing out of a ceiling duct somewhere. He holds his breath. Abruptly, an image of Matthew flashes into his mind. He’s hunched over, crying, ankle-deep in water. Far below the window, a police siren passes. Wooo-Hoooo-Wooo-Hooo. The air stays dry. He lets out the breath. She’s evading him, of course, but at least she believes it. “Fine. Let’s lie.”


Back in the conference room, Danny zips himself into a disposable yellow coverall and ties the plastic cords tight at the collar. The trouble, he knows through long practice, and now thinks again, is how to lie without guilt. The mind chews over guilt with the persistence of a cow on tough grass. Even if the truth is long buried, inventing a lie will bring memories bubbling into conscious thought. The trick, he explains to Sadira, is to write fake memories over the real ones, as though recording over a music track. The lie, in effect, becomes the truth.

An hour later, Danny has taken up position beside the window facing Sadira who sits in the centre of the room. He has told her that they will practice lying. He raises a finger for her to begin.

“On Wednesday 5th August, at 10pm, I was with a female friend in a wine bar.”

She glances up at him, looking for guidance. He nods, encouragingly. Abruptly, the door bangs. He watches, fascinated, as beads of water begin to form, as if by magic, on her coverall. They explode into rivulets, and then – for a second – the outline of her blue coverall is blurred inside a rippling bubble of water. This time he doesn’t bother shouting a proof. He covers his cheek with a sleeve that smells of damp rubber. A gust of cold, wet wind brushes the back of fingers, and there’s a wet popping sound. Water rattles down onto the sheet beside him.

Ten minutes later, Sadira stands in a puddle of water. Danny nods to her. “Try again, adding more details, deepen the lie.”

She nods, biting her lip. “It’s 10pm on Wednesday 5th August. I’m in a wine bar called The Meteorologist, near Bank tube station. I’m sat on a sofa beside the window, opposite my friend Helena – “

Two hours later, water is flooding out of the door, into the office. Sadira has invented a red leather sofa and a conversation about cult TV boxsets, but there’s no veracity to the invention. This, he thinks, is a woman without imagination. A woman who will never have imagination.

Sadira stands in the centre of the room, frowning with suppressed fury, dark strands of hair clinging to her forehead. Her plastic coverall is slick with water. Behind her, through the window, the clouds have narrowed to thin wisps and the skyscrapers are silhouetted against a violent orange-red sky.

“Perhaps,” he says, carefully. “We should try again tomorrow. Bring a philosopher this time.”



When Danny gets home at 6pm, Matthew’s waxed duster coat is still missing from the hook behind the door. He flips open his phone and reads the text, ‘Trapped in the lab. Back at eight. Love you, Matt’.

Upstairs in the bathroom, he steps into the shower and slides shut the frosted glass door, running through the lie in his head. You can’t meet my parents for the first time this Christmas. They’re holidaying in Key West in Florida.

He builds a picture in his head of palm trees, white sand, turquoise water. At the tideline, where the surf meets the shore, Matthew is picking up a rock, the sun beating down on his long duster coat, foam lapping against the toes of his trainers. The guilt rises into his throat like bile.

“Matt…” he begins.

The shower cubicle is abruptly cold and damp. Water droplets bead the glass door. He drops into a crouch, hugging himself against the inevitable downpour. As his bare flesh begins stinging with icy needles , he repeats the lie under his breath, louder and more certain with each attempt.

An hour later, his teeth are chattering. He turns on the showerhead and sluices himself down, watching the warm water spiralling into the plughole. He knows the lie isn’t complete – the lie can never be complete. In the bedroom, sat behind the computer table, at the couples’ PC, he finds himself mesmerised by the harsh white light of the screen flickering across tears, glistening like rainbows on his hands. In his open inbox:

Dear Danny,

Hope you are well and your housemate Matthew is well too. I worry about you with your kitchen being in such a mess. You did not tell me what you said to flood the kitchen. Perhaps it is not my business.

I haven’t heard about Christmas and it is now December. Are you going away again this year with Matthew? I still have your present from last year. You told me to wait and you’d pick it up when you visited.

Well, it is all quiet here. Dad and I went shopping for Christmas presents last Thursday. We met Eva’s mum in town. That girl you were friends with in college. Eva has a good job now in London, working at a bank. Eva has just broken up with her boyfriend. I said it was a shame because she was such a pretty girl. Her mum was pleased to hear about your news. I said that was London. You are 27 now and don’t have much success with girls either. Well, that’s just my opinion.

Anyway, it was lovely for you to call me. I have put £1,000 in your bank for the kitchen. I know you told me not too because I am on a pension. I don’t like you both living in a house with rising damp. You will get ill.

I do hope you are ok with your work.

Love you, mum

“I love you mum,” he whispers. A warm breeze brushes against his damp cheek, and he smells fresh grass and spring flowers. He finds his gaze shifting to the photo frame on the table. He and Matthew, arms thrown around each other, on a clifftop in the Canary Islands with the jewel blue ocean behind them. Matthew is shielding his eyes with his hand; his grin is wide and white in the bright sun.

The grin was the first thing Danny remembers about Matthew. They had met two years before, in a bar near Waterloo, shortly after Danny had extricated himself from a particularly boring (and duplicitous) client. He remembered a soft voice asking permission to sit down and, as he glanced up, a slim Asian guy with large dark eyes flashed him an apologetic smile.

They had moved in together, six months later, first into Matthew’s apartment and then – a year later – into their own place. Shortly after that, Danny’s parents had wanted to visit and Danny – not wanting to, or expecting to – had found himself lying, first to Matthew and then to his parents.

He goes to draw the curtains. The window looks over the row of Victorian brick terraces across the street, the bay windows lit by the flickering glow of wide-screen TVs. A car has drawn up in the street and the radio is blasting away.

Danny thinks back to himself at fourteen, sitting at the kitchen table, listening to the Labour party’s abolition of Section 28, the law to stop local authorities portraying homosexuality in a positive light. That was the first time he’d argued with his father about politics. He’d had a hopeless crush that summer, on a lanky boy with tousled brown hair who played winger in the Under-16s rugby team. His father had shouted, “Stop defending queers.”

Now that he thinks about it, he can’t imagine his mother rejecting him. A light goes out in the bay window opposite. He stares, fixedly down at the lightless window and the now empty road, flakes of snow drifting into the light of a Victorian streetlamp. An image flashes into his head – Matthew pulling his battered leather trunk down the road, the hood of his duster coat over his face, like a cowl. He imagines his lover glancing back, dark eyes narrowed with judgement and betrayal. Long ago, Danny realised his real fear was of Matthew’s reaction, of his sweet tolerant partner discovering that his parents were raving bigots.

“I love you, Matthew,” Danny says and, for a moment, the unnatural warm breeze smells of red dust and eucalyptus. Apart from logic, love - he knows – is the greatest truth.


Matthew comes home at eight and microwaves a Waitrose spiced lamb tagine. They sit on the scuffed brown leather couch that Danny’s mother bought them, watching the meteorology reporting on Sky News. The African Sahel is having a drought and a group of women from Suffolk have gone to Chad to lie for rain. The news report shows them standing in the desert beside a jeep, shouting, “I am wearing a hat,” “I am a dog,” “The Phantom Menace was the best Star Wars film.” Water plasters their clothes to their chests and legs, and dark threads begin to spread out across the sand. The voiceover reports that most water evaporates instantly, and the women are organising a mass lie-in for the 29th of January. Above their head, the sun burns down like an angry eye.

“What are we doing about Christmas?” Matthew asks thoughtfully, sliding the tagine packet onto the coffee table.

“Tunisia? Morocco?” Danny says, unable to take his eyes off the screen where the women stand ankle-deep in sand with droplets of water trickling down their thighs.

“Can I meet your parents this year?”

Danny feels himself stiffen against the armrest of the sofa although, by now, he can’t remember why. With the cadences of a robot, he says, “Oh, darling, but I spoke to my mother. She and dad are going to Florida, touring Key West and Miami, flying out on the 22nd and coming back on the 4th January. They want me to visit after that - for my sister’s birthday.” He pauses, holding his breath, somehow expecting the door to bang with an icy wind. The news report has moved onto flooding in the North of England. A flow chart pops up to explain global sea level lies; the oceans expanding from the constant influx of water. As Danny lets out his breath, he realises he feels nothing, just a cold dead blankness.

Matthew places a slim warm hand on Danny’s thigh. “Dan…”  His dark eyes are sad and searching. “Dan, you know you lie? I mean, not you lie, but you teach people how to lie.”

A niggling sense of unease trickles between his shoulder blades. “Yeah, baby,” he says, feeling a stupid smile creeping across his face.

“You wouldn’t lie to me, would you?” Matthew asks.

He places a hand on Matthew’s shoulder. Beneath the thin cotton t-shirt, it feels painfully fragile, the bones as breakable as bird’s wing. A guilty panic grips his windpipe. He wants to look at the flickering TV, the crumpled tagine packet on the table, anywhere but at his lover. He takes a deep breath and forces himself to look back deeply, sincerely. “Matt, I’d never hurt you, you know that.”

Matthew flashes him a thoughtful look, as though he’s a biochemical puzzle to be solved. In the sullen silence, he picks up the tagine packet and worries the tattered film with long elegant fingers. “I didn’t ask that.” He shreds a sliver of plastic between his nails; a stand-in for their relationship. “I’m worried I can’t trust you… I’m worried you’ve… you’ll learn to lie.”

Danny laughs.  He thinks about the black mould growing on the door handle downstairs and the absurdity of it, “Remember the kitchen?”

Now Matthew laughs too, his eyes widening. “I love you, Danny,” he says, and – a moment later - the living room door rattles and Danny feels the reassuring warmth of a breeze against his face that carries the promise of spring.


The humidity philosopher, Frank – a slim skinny man, with the bushy ginger beard of an academic - is due to arrive at 10am. When Danny finds him in reception, he is talking to a twenty-something woman in a heavy black coat with a baby carrier who, as it turns out, is Sadira’s aide Grace. As they ride up in the lift together, Frank pulls funny faces at her three-week-old boy Kai.

Back in the conference room, Frank sets up while Danny describes the plan to Sadira. The philosopher will recite carefully-selected truths – as he believes them – while she tells her story. “It relies on what’s called the coherence heating of truth,” he says. “Say I tell you, ‘the sun always rises’. I must also believe ‘the Earth orbits the sun’ and ‘the laws of physics stay constant over time’.” He pauses, feeling a hint of dampness against his cheek, and realises – belatedly – that he hasn’t believed in the laws of physics since the water began. “A humidity philosopher makes those beliefs… well, internally consistent, thereby creating a stronger truth. “

“Can he do that in court?” she interrupts, turning to Frank, who is tapping on the rubber-coated keys of a thick yellow waterproofed laptop.

Frank looks up, raising an eyebrow.

“Yes,” Danny answers for him. “His truths have a range of a hundred metres, depending on the proposition."

Danny sends Frank into another office. When he returns to the conference room, Sadira has shrugged off her coverall, her legs straddling the heap of crumpled blue plastic. Water trickles down her face as though she’s run a marathon.

“Take a few hours break, Dr Fontana,” she says, looking past him to the door. “My aide, Grace, will show you out.”

Danny turns his head slowly. Grace – now without her baby carrier - is waiting beside the door. He looks back to Sadira, noticing for the first time the stiffness in her folded arms. A stiff finality, he thinks, feeling his heartrate accelerating. “When should I… come back?”

She turns away from him, towards the window. “The philosopher is no good. Come back when you’ve thought of a better plan.”


His mobile rings while he’s queuing at the coffee stand in the plaza. Danny peels off a fingerless glove, spurred by a warm wind blowing off the Thames, and thumbs the ‘answer’ button with the other hand. Matthew’s number pops up on the screen.

“I found an email on your computer last night,” he says.

Danny’s mouth is instantly dry. “An email?”

“You didn’t tell me about your parents.”

Danny blinks, his eyes filling with tears. “Baby. I’m sorry, alright. I’m sorry, I can explain…”

“You lied to me,” Matthew interrupts.

“Matthew…” Danny begins, before realising the phone has gone silent. Pulling it away from his ear, he sees the screen display a faded ‘call ended’. Then it flashes back to the menu.

For close to half an hour, Danny leans against the concrete wall overlooking the river, staring out over the churning grey water. So many lies. The Thames is rising year on year; within a decade, he’s read, they’ll need a bigger barrier to keep back the tides. He walks back across the plaza beneath a sky that feels to press down with heavy black clouds.

Outside city hall, beside the entrance, the old tramp is sitting on his  grey blanket. The edges are frosted with ice. With a strange feeling of déjà vu, Danny realises the ghetto blaster is still playing ‘All you need is love.’

The sliding doors open. A wind, as hot as a desert, blasts out from inside. As he walks into the reception, he sees Grace pacing beside the lift, bobbing the baby carrier up and down. She looks oblivious to the world, her long dreadlocks dangling around her face. Just before he reaches her, before she looks up to greet him, he makes out her words, ‘I love you.’

"I love you," Danny murmurs, thinking of Matthew leaving the house that morning. He remembers the warm breeze melting the icicles around the door, as he whispered, "I love you." He remembers whispering again, and watching the damp footprints on the doormat fade to nothing.

He looks back for a moment, outside to the old tramp, and his fingers rub the cool glass screen of his mobile. ‘All you need is love,’ he thinks. He nods for Grace to follow him and steps into the lift.


My thoughts

I've had some 'interesting' feedback on this story. One person loved it, one person hated the original and my reinterpretation, and it came 7 out of 10 entries in a short story competition (so they didn't like it either).

I personally don't think it works and I'm going to blame the original concept. The conceit of the story is that the world revolves around Danny (literally). He is God. His mood states can defy the laws of physics, bring rain to deserts and melt the coldest of ice. I've written about this before with reference to The Day The World Turned Upside Down. That won a Hugo Award in 2015 and, in that story too, reality is a gigantic metaphor for the main character's worries.

Writing about water falling when you lied wasn't as fun as I expected. Trying to combine it with a (sort-of) coming out tale created two badly-joined story arcs, one emotional and one speculative. Both could have done with more space and time to develop.

[Incase you're wondering, my 'Matt' isn't Chinese-American because I didn't want to make a hamfisted mess].

Detecting a Death Star and other gravitational wave ideas

If you follow the news, you'll know that last Thursday (11/02) scientists detected for the first time gravitational waves -  tremors in the fabric of space and time. The discovery confirmed the theories of Albert Einstein, who predicted their existence 100 years ago.

If you're a science fiction writer, what does that mean for you?

Well, first, let's explain gravity waves.

Imagine that space is a elastic sheet, which warps beneath planets or stars to create a gravitational well**. The larger the mass, the greater the pull of gravity around that object, and the deeper the well.  The deepest wells are black holes, caused when a gigantic star collapses to an infinitesimal point.

Gravitational waves are caused when a massive event - like the collision of black holes - releases so much energy that the elastic sheet ripples and shudders.

Around 1.3 billion years ago, two enormous black holes - each about 30 times the mass of the sun - collided. The resulting shock waves in the fabric of space time travelled across the universe and washed past the Earth around five months ago. They were detected by the Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory (LIGO), a gigantic instrument based in America.

Why do we care?

Detecting gravity waves allows us to see the universe in a new way. We can "listen in" to gravity waves passing through the universe, rather like using a seismograph to detect earthquakes or a radio antenna to pick up sounds.

According to theoretical physicist Michio Kaku in the Observer newspaper, we could potentially determine exactly what happened at the moment our universe was created.

“This is still speculation, but if we have space-based gravity detectors orbiting the Earth or sun, and we detect radiation from the incident of the big bang, we could run the video tape backwards and therefore get insight into what happened before the big bang. That is, what triggered the creation of the universe,” Mr Kaku told the Observer. “Of course we don’t know, but some people believe perhaps there was an umbilical cord that connected our baby universe to a mother universe. There are many theories being proposed, but they are not testable. Once we have space-based gravity wave detectors, we should be at the brink of being able to test for the impossible, that is, the world before the big bang.”

The Observer continues:

As scientists discover more about gravitational waves, some of the proposed theories in mainstream science fiction movies may begin to emerge as reality.

“A lot of the things you see in science fiction revolve around black holes, because black holes are strong enough to rip the fabric of space and time. If space is a fabric, then of course fabrics can have ripples, which we have now seen directly. But fabrics can also rip. Then the question is what happens when the fabric of space and time is ripped by a black hole? We have no way of empirically answering that question, because we know very little about black holes—but now we have a telescope. A telescope that can look at the very instant which two black holes collided and this could open up a whole new chapter because we don’t know what happens when you fall into a black hole, it’s a controversy.”

There are several theories to this controversy—including the notion that, when you fall into a black hole, you disappear—and that’s the end of the story. Another theory is that, when you fall in, information oozes out. Others believe you pass right through, like what happened in the film Interstellar.

“If you saw the movie, Interstellar, starring Matthew Mcconaughey, they actually use computers to simulate what happens if you fall into a black hole. If you just look at the math, not the physics and disregard radiation, quantum effects and stuff like that, there is another universe at the center of a black hole. The black hole is a ring—it rotates very rapidly—and if you fall into the ring it’s like going to the looking glass of Alice, so some people think the universe is like that. I work on something called String theory, and in string theory we start with membranes which can collide like beach balls or soap bubbles, and when these bubbles collide that’s the big bang, or when they peel off and bud into two bubbles, that’s the big bang. Of course this is speculation, but we hope to launch the first space-based gravity wave detectors in 2034. The European Space agency has recommended launching of their first space-based gravity detectors, so I think there’s going to be many nations setting up gravity wave detectors in space. Our gravity wave detector now is 2.5 miles long. These space-based detectors could be millions of miles across, because there is no need for shielding, no need for a tube or a vacuum chamber, space is empty up there. You could have three laser beams connecting 3 satellites in a triangle and that could be the basis of a new generation of space based gravity detectors. So a new chapter in Astronomy, as well as Theology, could be opening up.”

Space-based gravity detectors could - in theory - detect a 'Death Star' or 'Starkiller Base' operating in another star system.  To be detectable, the galactic superweapon would need to completely annihilate the planet.

"If they simply blew the planet to smithereens, the mass would still be there, just spread," Derek van Westrum, a scientist with NOAA’s National Geodetic Survey who works on the Earth's gravity field, told me by email. "This would make some pretty small, (currently impossible to detect) waves.   But if that planet/sun were blown away into pure energy (the death star would have to be pretty far away) , the missing mass would make very large gravity waves."

The Death Star would need good shielding against the enormous energies released and either a long range or an improbably fast getaway.

"In the real life example of the two black holes colliding, three suns worth of mass "disappeared" into  waves," van Westrum told me. " That amount of energy was brighter than all the light in the visible universe.  (if you blew up a sun this way, you'd want to be very far away!)"

One thing we can't do - now we know Einstein was right - is 'surf' a spaceship on the gravity waves rippling through the universe.  "The waves travel at the speed of light, and there's no way 'catch up to them'," van Westrum explained.

Tiny gravity waves are created when matter (such as electrons) is created from energy (such as light). Using the powerful energies released by matter-antimatter collisions  to power a gravity-wave 'surfing' ship is possible.  The spaceship would need to create enough matter to surf across space time.

"Matter- antimatter collisions turn mass (say electron and proton to use a real life example) into energy, E=mc^2.  (you get a lot of
energy for a little mass)," van Westrum explained. "Gravity waves are due to accelerating (or creating) mass.  If you took pure energy and made mass out of it, you'd technically generate a tiny gravity wave, but now the equation works against you:  the mass (needed to make the wave) is a tiny E/c^2.  (Unfortunately, c^2 is a huge number)."

Such a spaceship would need a gigantic power source. According to van Westrum, "You'd be much better off using the energy you have to propel a ship, not make gravity waves."

** This isn't a correct model of spacetime, but it's easy to visualise.

Find out more about gravitational waves

If you're a science geek, you might want to read the Physical Review Letters paper announcing the first detection of gravitational waves. A simpler explanation can be found at PHD comics.

For a fictional alternative

Alastair Reynold's space opera-cum-alternative-history thriller Century Rain includes a discussion of gravity waves [thanks to the Unnamed Fan for the suggestion].

Ask questions or suggest theories in the comments or on the F.L.T. Tumblr.


Yes, he is scary...

And I'm very proud of him... He's my first major model painting project. He's a Tyranid Tyrannofex, a massive biomechanical war engine from the Warhammer 40K universe.

The Tyrannofex has the armour and fortitude of a living battle fortress and its bio-weaponry eclipses that of its foes' most powerful main battle tanks in both quantity and destructive potential

Tyranid painting is knitting for geek girls who like large insectile monsters. My husband bought him for me last Christmas. He took a fortnight to paint, on-and-off, when I was too tired to do anything else. The paint scheme is Hive Fleet Leviathan with a few adjustments.

To get a naturalistic 3D look on the Tyranid flesh, I used Bleached Bone (old Games Workshop paint) instead of Ceramic White for the base layer. I washed with Warlock Purple (magenta) and Liche Purple, overpainting with Bleached Bone each time, and then highlighting with Skull White.

The basing used Army Painters Wilderness Tuft, Snow Flock and Summer Growth on a Citadel Sand base with a Devlin Mud overwash. I accessorised with body parts - note the 'artistically' disemboweled guy bleeding out into the dirt on the bottom right.

[Bigger picture on Deviant Art].

Spoiler-free (and spoilered) thoughts on Star Wars: The Force Awakens... with added conspiracy theories...

The short unspoilered version:

The good news: This is a good film. Not as good as the original films, but infinitely better than the prequels. You can safely wipe the horror of them from your memory. Call this Episode IV of the series and get on with your life.

The bad news: The Force Awakens is a remix of A New Hope, and feels oddly - uncomfortably - familiar to anyone who's seen the original. Yes, it's 100% Star Wars.  No, it's not a reboot like Star Trek (2009). It's a wholly new film - set 30 years after Return of the Jedi - that rehashes the plot of the original.

Interested in my thoughts? Read on:

[su_spoiler title="Long discussion WITH SPOILERS" style="fancy"]

Imagine for a moment that, in 1972, a dictator arose in Germany. He didn't have a moustache, but he did Nazi salutes and wore pseudo-Prussian military uniform. He was a snivelling loser. He was also, bizarrely, Winston Churchill's son by a German mother.

Anyway, he signed a non-aggression pact with the USSR. He held talks with Britain whose PM was - somewhat coincidentally - the secret son of Hitler and Eva Braun, whisked out the bunker in Berlin in the nick of time and desperate to live down his heritage.

And then - as though he'd never read a history book - this dictator invaded the Eastern Bloc and started a war with Britain. Except he had nukes this time. And bigger zeppelins. America had inexplicably disappeared (except for New York, which got bombed once destroying the entire US military). And everyone lampshaded the Second World War...

Does this sound weird? And weirdly familiar? Congratulations - you have just read the alternative history version of The Force Awakens.

There are many good things to say about The Force Awakens. The fight scenes are excellent, the story rushes along, and there's some kickass nostalgia for the fans.  There's a cantina scene with jazz players. There's a Hoth-style snow battle. There's even a dogfight around an Imperial Star Destroyer crashed in the desert on Jakku.

Star Destroyer

The new good guys - Finn, Rey and Poe - are engaging additions to canon. Finn is an ex-stormtrooper who can shoot a blaster (accurately) and wield a lightsaber. Rey has a backhistory more like Anakin Skywalker than Luke. The droid BB-8 is adorable and... well, a dog.


[Not all droids are dogs. Most dogs are not droids. That droid is a dog. A round, rolling, beeping dog. It even makes spaniel eyes with its black optical lens. Awwwww...]

Trouble is, the plot both rehashes A New Hope and tries to update it. The rebels destroyed the Empire at the end of Return of the Jedi and set up a New Republic. The Republic exists, but the Rebel Alliance also exists and is now 'the Resistance'. There's also the First Order, who pretend to be the Empire, but - in reality - appear to have only two Sith Lords and one star destroyer... Oh, and a superweapon.

This raises questions... lots of 'em. And unlike John Scalzi, I asked them long before the credits rolled.

Who are the Resistance resisting? Not the Republic. According to Wikipedia, the Republic 'backs'  the Rebel Alliance as a 'military force'. So the Rebel Alliance is the Republic's army? Nope. It behaves a ragtag band of outlaws. No uniforms, no rank insignia, lots of hiding out in underground HQs.

Obvious conclusion: the Republic have no regular army. They employ the Rebel Alliance as mercenaries.

Why is the entire Republic battlefleet destroyed in a single assault? Do they only control one planet? Is the rest of the galaxy lawless? Under the control of system-wide governments? Riven by civil wars sparked by the collapse of the Empire? An interesting question since the First Order - who presumably control territory - are portrayed as a force for order (but uniformly evil).

Obvious conclusion: The First Order control territory that the Republic isn't policing. A right-wing Star Wars revisionist could have a field day with that...

How did the First Order build a planet-sized superweapon without the Republic noticing? Where did they get the labour? The materials? The galaxy-spanning Empire struggled to build the Death Star 30 years before. Yet despite the Empire losing territory, losing key personnel - its supporters somehow build a weapon of unprecedented size.

Obvious conclusion: Technology advances fast in the Star Wars universe.

Why was the First Order so rubbish? They should've trained more Sith Lords. They should've built an entire space navy before building a superweapon. They should've learned not to have a single vulnerable spot on a superweapon, and not to put their shields in a single facility. But, nope. They made EXACTLY THE SAME MISTAKES AS THE EMPIRE.

Moreover, their junior Sith Lord is a misfit emo teenager and Darth Vader wannabe - the sort of kid who stabs up a school in Sweden. Not someone you'd have running a galactic Empire.

And, finally, they use the most blatant fascist imagery since the Norsefire party in V for Vendetta.


No one is going to willingly join a movement that uses black symbols on red banners, does Nazi-style salutes, has speeches made by a spitting, bug-eyed lunatic like General Hux. And which bases its uniforms on an Empire that lost a war bigtime. No wonder they have to kidnap stormtroopers as children. Their PR sucks.

Obvious conclusion: The First Order are not, in fact, a credible threat. The Starkiller Base is an overpowered terrorist weapon. The Resistance is a small task-force sent by the galaxy-spanning Republic to mop up a bunch of Empire wannabe losers.

Star Wars: The Force Awakens is Republic propaganda produced after a terrorist attack by Empire sympathisers on Hosnian Prime.  The film portrays the First Order as badass to excuse the Galactic Senate for failing to detect the Starkiller Base. That's the only explanation that makes sense...[/su_spoiler]

[Review] The Three Resurrections of Jessica Churchill by Kelly Robson

Jessica slumped against the inside of the truck door. The girl behind the wheel [...] kept stealing glances at her. Jessica ignored them, just like she tried to ignore the itchy pull and tug deep inside her, under her belly button, where the aliens were trying to knit her guts back together.

So begins The Three Resurrections of Jessica Churchill, short horror fiction in Clarkesworld, and a striking verbal remix of every alien parasite film you've ever seen. It's hard-hitting, unflinchingly grappling with rape and suicide, without trivialisation and in less than 6,000 words.

It's an impressive achievement and justifiably high ranked on this year's Nebula Award Reading List. I've already used it as an example of 'good openings' in a piece of feedback I gave to someone. It's not remotely ideas-driven, but I'd be happy to see it on a Hugo ballot and may nominate it myself.

The only misstep is that Three Resurrections is set around 9/11. Whatever symbolism the author was going for with the terrorism comparison was lost on me, and - from the comments below the story - many other people too.

[Review] Folding Beijing by Hao Jingfang

Folding Beijing, a novelette published in Uncanny Magazine, depicts a fantastical future Beijing where the skyscrapers fold and unfold  like origami in a forty-eight-hour cycle. Each time the city folds, a new space is revealed, and its inhabitants begin their day. Five million enjoy the use of twenty-four hours and seventy-five million split the remaining twenty-four.

It's a wonderful and evocative metaphor for a divided and unequal city. The story itself follows Lao Dao, who lives in the poorest sector - Third Space - as he illegally smuggles messages to earn the money to pay his adopted daughter's kindergarden fees.

This is a wonderful story on every level. Lao Dao's quest is mainly a magical mystery tour through the setting, but it's sufficiently compelling that there's no chance of getting bored. The ideas and social commentary comes thick and fast. Among the best being the banquet in First Space where Lao Dao overhears bigwigs discussing making tens of millions from Third Space redundant - as though they were simply numbers in a spreadsheet.

And there's an amazing sense of place:

Customers packed the plastic tables at the food hawker stalls, which were immersed in the aroma of frying oil. They ate heartily with their faces buried in bowls of hot and sour rice noodles, their heads hidden by clouds of white steam. Other stands featured mountains of jujubes and walnuts, and hunks of cured meat swung overhead. This was the busiest hour of the day—work was over, and everyone was hungry and loud.

I can't recommend Folding Beijing enough. It's an intoxicating mix of economics, physics and politics delivered through the everyday life of an ordinary man. The author is a former student in physics, economics and management from probably the best university in China... and it shows.


The Super Mario Bros. approach to #storyplotfail

Today I read an unpublished novelette that - in theory - was a page turner. A former mind-swap expert treks to a remote monastery to look for his ex-wife who's hiding as a mind upload in a virtual-reality maze where she can never be found.

This novelette - which I'll call 'Mind-Swap Monkey Business to save its author's blushes - had every element of a good story. The mind-swap expert is witness to a terrible (corporate) crime. His story opens with an dramatic fight scene with a monkey in a rainforest, he has a rumble with a monk, and then - at the climax - with the head of ze evilz korporation. It had some hard SF ideas about mind uploading. Every sentence was beautifully crafted.

And yet... well... it took me three hours to read 16,000 words.

So what went wrong?


If you've ever played Super Mario Bros on a Nintendo console, you'll know the plot. Princess Peach is kidnapped and the intrepid hero, Mario, goes on a quest to find her. He treks across the Mushroom Kingdom, leaping giant fires and dodging bottomless pits  - WOW! - he fights Goombas - POW! - he goes on subquests to collect big coins - YAY! - he reaches Bowser's lair, only to discover 'his Princess is in another castle.'

Mario is just a player-controlled sprite and we don't care about him (much). We don't know why he cares about Princess Peach - he just does - and he doesn't grow or change from his trials. The plot of Super Mario Bros. isn't going to keep you playing the game - it's simply there to railroad you through the platforming action, the precision jumps and warp pipes.

I've read several stories with the Super Mario Bros. problem, of which the most memorable was Flow - nominated for a 2015 Hugo Award. The main character drifts through a 'series of unimportant events' - mildly impeded by nothing in particular.

Some thoughts...

Super Mario Bros. Plotting happens when the author knows stories need a problem, action scenes, and a climax, but  isn't sure how to assemble them in an interesting way. So they move the narrator from A to B to C, deploying scenery and the occasional punch-up, but without anything fundamentally changing.

In Mind-Swap Monkey Business, our mind-swap expert goes on a magical mystery tour through several  literary 'levels' - each with a minor challenge to overcome. We have the 'rainforest level' where 'Mario' fights a monkey. We have the 'monastery puzzle level' where Mario mind-swaps a monk to get into the maze. We have the mine cart level! The spaceship level! The underwater/sea level where 'Mario' is arrested for three paragraphs and told (pretty much literally) 'your Princess is in another castle'!

The result is akin to watching someone else play Super Mario Galaxy on Wii. Or, more pertinent, reading about someone playing Super Mario Galaxy on Wii.



Three ways to solve Super Mario Bros. plotting

Set up the stakes... fast

The quite excellent horror short The Three Resurrections of Jessica Churchill begins:

Jessica slumped against the inside of the truck door. The girl behind the wheel [...] kept stealing glances at her. Jessica ignored them, just like she tried to ignore the itchy pull and tug [...] under her belly button, where the aliens were trying to knit her guts back together.

The story is about, well, body shock and alien resurrection. In Mind-Swap Monkey Business, the narrator spent nearly two pages walking to a monastery and fighting a monkey. Was this relevant? F**k no, not really.

If the reader doesn't know where the narrator is going, or why, they're not going to stick around for the denouncement. So you need to set upfront:

  • Why does the mind-swap expert - or Mario - care so much about his ex-wife/Princess Peach?
  • What will happen if he fails to rescue her?

If this is a short story, this needs to be established within a paragraph.

Make the stakes big... even in a novelette

In the brilliant new Alastair Reynolds novella, Slow Bullets, narrator Scur is:

  1. Trapped aboard a spaceship orbiting a dead planet thousands of years into the future with;
  2. The man who tried to torture her to death.

Someone needs to find someone because... simply isn't enough of a motivation. You need to have some life-changing reason why they need to find the other person. If in doubt, crash an evil moon into your planet. Mario must rescue Princess Peach in 24 hours or the Mushroom Kingdom will be destroyed and time will reset.

Legend of Zelda: Majora's Mask on the 3DS. Excellent game!
Legend of Zelda: Majora's Mask on the 3DS. Excellent game!

Make your action scenes matter

Any action scene needs to be the payoff to something. It needs to advance the plot. It needs to make things better or worse for your character. If your character trips over a tree branch, running away, they need to be forced to fight... or be captured. The scene needs to matter. Otherwise, you could write 50,000 words of tripping over tree branches again and again.

And finally... if your character doesn't give a s**t, make sure the reader does

Two weeks ago, I took the first 15,000 words of my SF crime-thriller A Murder at Perihelion to SF&F writing group  Spectrum. Part of the feedback was that - although the writing was 'propulsive' - my narrator Troya was wandering from place-to-place, without much urgency and with no hint of a plan. Super Mario plotting in action.

Even if a first-person narrator is - like Troya - so laidback they're practically horizontal, you need to make clear what the stakes are. Then the reader can peek through their fingers as Troya saunters into danger, is pathologically casual about the trouble she's in and - at extremis - gets drunk and goes AWOL at precisely the wrong moment.

As to whether Troya's the best narrator for a crime procedural? Hey ho, a problem for another day.

Choosing your own reality...

In the comments of a Guardian article about the cult-like nature of Britain's shrinking political parties:

Technology has driven cultural changes, what we see is what politics looks like when people have so much control over what they see, and who they speak with.

Social media allows us to choose our friends and block, mute, ignore or unfollow people we don't agree with. There have been various studies done on group polarisation and how people form opinions and act in a world where - as that commentator writes:

they can essentially choose their own reality and only associate with those who agree with it.

The consequences of a society being dominated by insular, self-selecting tribes is a great topic for science fiction.

And a bit scary to boot.



Ten snarky comments about Donald Trump

Everyone else has opinions on Donald Trump. I'm British, but we've getting plenty of coverage over here. So, hey, why shouldn't I join in the fun.

1. No, I'm not going to point and yell "fascist". Yep, Trump's egotism and nativism is somewhat 1930s jackboots-&-genocide, but fascism is mostly a boo word for bad people. You can safely replace "fascist" with "stupid ugly poopy-head" in most articles about the US presidential contender and - not only is it funnier - but it will read exactly the same.

2.  Donald Trump is an Alt-Right candidateHe's not a conservative - he's not conserving anything. He was a democrat. He comes from New York. What's the best way to rile up New Yorkers? Sound a bit like a Nazi... His virtue signalling is against out-of-touch left-wing elites.

3. Yep, Trump's freaking extreme. When Nigel Farage, leader of the UK Independence Party, says you've "gone too far”... You've probably gone a bit far. Never mind moving the Overton window - Trump's smashed it, vaulted over the windowsill and is now running down the street outside, naked and painted purple (I'll leave you with that image).

And yep, he's an egotist. He ramps up the outrage, tests his insults on the fly and gets free media coverage (his biggest campaign expense has gotta be his hair colourist - at 69, he'd be the oldest US president in history) - but I suspect he believes at least some of his schtick. You don't go single-issue  immigration by accident.

4.  He knows frick-all about Europe and, specifically, Britain. Trump said about Muslim communities in the UK: 'We have places in London and other places that are so radicalised that police are afraid for their own lives'.

  • Muslims in London = 1,012,823. Or 12.4% of the population
  • Muslims in entire United States = 2 - 7 million. Or 0.9% of the population
Dear Mr Trump,

As a Londoner, I have faced on countless occasions a density of Muslims that would cause some of your supporters to reach  for a tac-nuke and an AK-47. I have faced them in the Ocean Estate, one of the most deprived areas in Britain. I have faced them on the down escalators in Stratford, Newham - among the top five boroughs in the UK for Muslim population. On Thursday I faced a lady wearing a mustard hijab, texting on a pink mobile, for three stops on the Docklands Light Railway in east London. I faced her unarmed and alone (except for the other 50,000 people crammed into the carriage).

I am MORE COURAGEOUS than Captain America. GIMME MY AWARD FOR BRAVERY, dammit!

Yours, former workie on a local newspaper in Tower Hamlets
(people in Tower Hamlets who self-define their faith as Islam = 35%)

[Or, Mr Trump, you could stop acting like the 35% of Americans who don't have passports, and those who've visited London, oohed and ahhhed at Buckingham Palace for 15 minutes, and then got on a coach to Oxford].

5. Make America great? Sure, Trump wants to make Americans great at cowering under tables. The UK has seen approximately three successful terror attacks by Islamic extremists in the last decade, killing less than 100 people. Compare this to the 37 people hospitalised by tea cosies in 1999 alone. Obviously the only way to make Britain safe is to ban teapot ownership until someone works out what the hell's going on. It's not about coffee loving, it's about safety.

6. Nope, I'm not trivialising terrorism. Londoners are used to terrorism.

1996 Docklands Bombing
1996 Docklands Bombing. Two people dead, £100 million in damage. I visited Docklands in 1997 on a geography field trip and saw the rebuilding work. Then - in 2008 -  I interviewed survivors of the attack.

7.  He doesn't confine the stupid to EuropeTrump wants to deport 'illegal aliens' - of which he claims there are about 11 million. That's about 3.5% of the American population, akin to deporting the whole of Portugal. Not getting sentimental about it - that could cost an estimated $400 - $600 billion, about enough to shield the exhaust port on a Death Star. And that's before you get into how the frick you deport a Portugal-sized population 'humanely' (last time I saw 'humane' was describing a mouse trap. Trump evidently plans to lure anyone remotely Mexican into a big plastic tunnel and airlift it into the Sierra Madre Oriental) .

8. That said, he's NOT the worst thing in the Republican primaries - sorry, Mainstream American Media. Never mind eat the poor. I don't know where to start with Rubio's tax cuts where - according to US think tank Citizens for Tax Justice - more than a third of the benefits (34%) would go to the wealthiest 1%. Or, in the case of Senator Ted Cruz, why not stop collecting tax entirely? That'll benefit everyone - billionaires, ISIS, the poor, sick and elderly... (but, hey, Trump being mean to an attractive blonde news anchor... that's the real story, right?)

9. And Trump's not going to win the US presidency (probably). His 35% support is among Republican voters, who make up about 9% of the US electorate - the scale of Americans who believe the Apollo Moon landings were faked. Heck, Trump could probably pose in a white sheet waving a confederate flag and that ~9% would remain unfazed (and, nope, Donald, that wasn't a suggestion).

Trump's a celebrity. He's got brand recognition. 68% of his backers would still vote for him if he ran as an independent - according to a Suffolk University (Boston) poll published Tuesday -  but he's also got the highest unfavourability rating of any candidate, Republican or Democrat. 60% of likely American voters just don't like the guy.

10. What all that means is.... I'm not getting my panties in a bunch over Trump.  And neither should the Mainstream Media.

[Hat tip to Whatever for the 'List of Donald Trump' idea]