My 2000th post critique. Nobel's Dynamite part 1. (1351)

Status
Not open for further replies.

Vertigo

Mad Mountain Man
Supporter
Joined
Jun 29, 2010
Messages
8,672
Location
Scottish Highlands
Well here it is my 2000th post! I was remiss on my 1000th post but was determined to put something together for this one. Sorry it's a bit long :eek: I just couldn't get it significantly shorter. I have posted it in two parts. Oh and my apologies for the slightly clunky writing - I'm not very experienced at this lark!

Nobel's Dynamite Part 1

The day I received the Nobel Prize was certainly the proudest day of my life. Of course it wasn’t really for my own work but rather that of Professor Howard Blake. However that hardly detracted from my pleasure as I accepted in his name. That pleasure wasn’t to last long. I think I now know how Alfred Nobel felt and maybe Oppenheimer too. How will I be remembered?

* * *​

“Who’s he?” I asked, indicating the slightly scruffy looking man sat hunched over some papers across from us. “Looks a little old for the Student’s Union.”

Jerry leant over for a better look. I always envied him his casual ability to recognise almost anyone on campus.

“Ah, Professor Blake. He’s tolerated down here as he’s not really like any other professors, more akin to us students in many ways. I’m surprised you haven’t come across him before; he’s in your physics department.”

“Blake… yeah, I’m sure I’ve heard the name. Does some weird research that he funds himself but doesn’t do any teaching?”

“That’s the one. I don’t think they trust him to teach, he’s chasing some wild idea that’s apparently going to turn quantum physics on its head. But he’s independently wealthy and I believe he made some remarkable discoveries early in his career before shooting off down his little blind alley, so I guess they tolerate him.”

I thought no more of it until a few days later I was knocked off my feet as Professor Blake careened around a corridor bend, looking more like a rugby player than a professor of physics; head down over a huge pile of loose papers cradled in his arms and held in by his chin. Unlike me he was not a tall man and his head connected perfectly with my solar plexus. The result was a shower of confetti from the professor and silent, eye-popping gasps from me.

“I say, I’m dreadfully sorry. Are you alright?”

“…” I’m sure my face was turning purple.

“Here, let me help you up.”

“…” Vague flapping of arms from me as he started to tug under my armpits. “No…” I managed to gasp. “Okay… fine… just… minute.”

“I’m most terribly sorry; I was in such a hurry you see…” He scratched his head looking at the chaos of paper surrounding us, each page covered in illegible writing, probably all his own I surmised. “I guess there’s a lesson in there.”

I smiled ruefully. “It’s alright, no harm done. Give me a sec and I’ll help you pick them up.” Bizarre, I thought, these sorts of incidents usually happen the other way round. I was beginning to understand Jerry’s likening him to a student.

I scrambled to my knees and helped him corral the scattered sheets of notes. “You’re Professor Blake aren’t you?”

“Why, yes that’s right. You’ve heard of me?” He seemed immensely pleased by that.

“I saw you in the Union a few days ago. A friend told me your name.”

“Ah, probably told you I’m some sort of crackpot I expect.” The pleased expression was slipping towards sadness.

“Not exactly; he did say your research ideas were a little… unorthodox.”

He made a ‘hrmmphing’ noise and looked around for any missed sheets. I really didn’t think anyone, even university professors, made ‘hrmmphing’ noises any longer.

With all the papers collected I somehow found myself meekly following the professor in the opposite direction to the lecture I was now missing and in my arms I was clutching one half of his stack of rebellious notes. I couldn’t imagine how he had managed to carry all of them alone, before acknowledging to myself that he hadn’t done so with notable success.

Once he learnt I was a physics student he spent rest of the walk to his office merrily chattering away about his research like I was his personal post-grad assistant. All very flattering but most of it flew straight over my head. I was only a second year undergrad after all. But, damn, he was infectious and I couldn’t help liking the man.

A month later and I was spending almost all my spare time assisting him. He really should have been allowed to teach; disorganised though he was, his sheer enthusiasm for his subject guaranteed that I was learning more from him than all the rest of my official lecturers put together; those same lecturers who loudly disapproved both of his research and my increasing participation in it.

“They think I’m completely potty, you know.” The professor said one day early on in our acquaintance. “I know the idea of jumping from one place to another instantaneously and anywhere in the universe may seem counter intuitive but then so does most of quantum physics!” Blake wanted to be liked; he hated his pariah status with a passion but his passion for his research was even stronger.

“How does that jump work, sir?” I asked innocently enough.

He looked at me appraisingly. “Hmm, well it doesn’t yet and the quantum field mathematics is probably still a little beyond you!” I smiled at his gentle sarcasm. “However the rest of it is essentially quite simple. You are aware, I trust, of the principle that any particle of matter can (and indeed does) exist in every possible location in the universe simultaneously.”

I nodded.

“Ha, they all accept that ridiculous statement without so much as a lifted eyebrow and yet still won’t listen to my ideas. You see it’s really quite simple; the reason everything is not frantically hopping all over the universe on some sort of grand tour is that it is all governed by probability. Yes, there is a chance that workbench over there could suddenly jump ten metres to the right but the probability is so vanishingly small you would have to wait many times the entire life of the universe to have even the remotest chance of seeing it happen.”

“But it could happen.” I said.

“Absolutely, there is a small possibility that it might appear instantaneously anywhere in the universe. That possibility gets smaller the further away you look and the greater the mass but it is still a theoretical possibility.” After a brief pause he added, “Bear in mind that ‘small’ really is an inadequate word to describe such tiny possibilities.”

“You think you can change those probabilities?” I asked.

“Change? No. Impossible.” But his eyes twinkled. “What I believe I can do with the quantum field is slip out the back door so to speak. The probabilities remain the same but I shift the location they are directed at. Let us suppose the chances of finding that desk at its current location are… I don’t know, say a trillion to one. Well, we don’t change that probability, just the location. So now the chances are a trillion to one that it will be located ten metres to the right. So that is where it will now be; instantaneously! It’s like we’ve grabbed a tablecloth and given it a quick tug. Nothing has been physically done to the objects on the table but they are now sitting on a different part of the tablecloth.”

“You really think you can do it?” By now I was beginning to get excited. This is wild, I thought.

“Absolutely, I’m convinced I’ve almost got the quantum field tuned now. It won’t be long.”

A few weeks later I was ambling my way over to the Physics department reflecting on how my university career had been turned upside down in just one month. Jerry had advised me to distance myself from Blake; “You’ll do yourself no favours, the rest of the faculty will see you in his shadow and they’ll write you off!” But it was too late, I liked the guy and I was addicted to his science.

As I rounded the corner I was confronted by a scene of chaos. Outside the front of the physics building there were dozens of police cars, ambulances and fire engines along with a crowd of onlookers. Three floors up in the corner where the professor’s lab should have been there was just a gaping hole.

* * *​
To be continued...
 
Congratulations on the 2,000th! Well done for adhering to revered and venerable traditions.

Sorry, no time for a critique tonight as I'm meant to be doing something else. However, I'm going to have to pull Part 2 for the time being, Vertigo -- we don't allow two halves posted on the same day to get over the 1500 word rule. Leave if a day or so and add the rest then when you've had a few comments here.
 
It has an easy flowing manner that makes it relatively easy and simple to read.

However, the one niggle is that it does read as nearer YA and lacking authenticity, by simple fact that's it's missing those small details that should periodically enter a text to extend the realism.

For example, there's mention of quantum physics, and ideas, but no reference to existing names in the field, theoretical constructs, or similar real-life detail that really fills out a piece of writing and enforces the suspension of disbelief.

However, that's only a niggle, and I think really depends on the level being pitched. If YA, then not a problem, but if aimed at adult science fiction you have the gauntlet of hard science readers to woo to your side, and I think you're missing that so far.

Still, a decent enough piece, following a standard path so far. :)
 
OK Sorry about that Ma'am. I'll pop the other half up tomorrow sometime. Is it a 24 hour span required between the posts? If so I'll leave a couple of days.

Brian, thanks for the remarkably quick feedback. I was umming and arring about putting more physics in but a) didn't want to scare people off and b) it was getting too big already and c) being a techie myself I know I have a tendency to be a bit info dumpy if I'm not careful. And I agree it does read a bit YA, not my intention but I thought I'd leave it like that.

Hopefully you will find the second half diverging a little from the expected :)
 
Last edited:
Technically, you write well; but you're right, it does read a little clunkily, and I think a lot of that is the dialogue. I don't think you quite inhabit your characters' mouths, as it were: they read a bit like fusty professors from several decades ago, and though your story and setting lets you get away with that much better than others would, I think they could still do with being made a little more realistic. I suggest you try trimming and breaking the dialogue sections down into smaller chunks, because I think your characters say more words than they need to. For example:

“Blake… yeah, I’m sure I’ve heard the name. Does some weird research that he funds himself but doesn’t do any teaching?”

“That’s the one. I don’t think they trust him to teach, he’s chasing some wild idea that’s apparently going to turn quantum physics on its head. But he’s independently wealthy and I believe he made some remarkable discoveries early in his career before shooting off down his little blind alley, so I guess they tolerate him.”

You don't need to tell us that he's heard the name, the "yeah" says as much. And the second paragraph feels too rehearsed (a feeling I get from a lot of your dialogue; remember that in reality people rarely know how a sentence will end when they start it, so complex constructions tend to suggest someone well-used to public speaking or suchlike). I would try something like this:

“Blake… yeah. Self-funded, weird research?”

“That’s the one.”

“But doesn't teach?”

“I don’t think they trust him to. He claims he's going to turn quantum physics on its head. A shame: he made some remarkable discoveries early in his career. I guess that's why they tolerate him.”

Another small example:

I scrambled to my knees and helped him corral the scattered sheets of notes. “You’re Professor Blake aren’t you?”

“Why, yes that’s right. You’ve heard of me?” He seemed immensely pleased by that.

This seems rather stilted and formal, and again, rehearsed. In that situation, would you really add the "aren't you?" I'd cut it down to this:

I scrambled to my knees and helped him corral the scattered sheets. “You’re Professor Blake.”

“You’ve heard of me?” he said, beaming (or something)

Anyway, hope that helps a bit. Congrats on the 2000th post!
 
I was umming and arring about putting more physics in but a) didn't want to scare people off and b) it was getting too big already and c) being a techie myself I know I have a tendency to be a bit info dumpy if I'm not careful.

I know exactly what you mean. I guess the issue to be careful of is that the the professor talks in layman's terms to a fellow physicist, so he shouldn't really need to explain quantum entanglement in the first place - obviously this is for the reader's benefit.

The more demanding your audience, the more you might need to slips in little details - theorist names, construct names, etc, to add flourish to the description.
 
OK Sorry about that Ma'am. I'll pop the other half up tomorrow sometime. Is it a 24 hour span required between the posts? If so I'll leave a couple of days.
Tomorrow night or Weds morning would be fine -- you're getting lots of comment already!
 
I really enjoyed this and got totally carried away by it (and, speaking as not-a-scientist, I thought there was quite enough physics, and I'm still not sure I understood it all...).

It really gets going when the narrator 'meets' Professor Blake in the corridor -- I loved the gasping and the papers. That section made me laugh out loud.

I thought the beginning wasn't as strong, and I think the issue for me was the dialogue in the student union. It felt a bit formal -- not like students speaking to each other.

“Who’s he?” I asked, indicating the slightly scruffy looking man sat hunched over some papers across from us. “Looks a little old for the Student’s Union.”

Jerry leant over for a better look. I always envied him his casual ability to recognise almost anyone on campus. up to here is fine -- um should it be 'scruffy-looking'? I get confused about when to have hyphens and when not to

“Ah, Professor Blake. He’s tolerated down here as he’s not really like any other professors, more akin to us students in many ways. I’m surprised you haven’t come across him before; he’s in your physics department.”
this felt wrong to me -- I wondered about something like: 'Professor Blake. He's in Physics -- haven't you seen him around the department?

“Blake… yeah, I’m sure I’ve heard the name. Does some weird research that he funds himself but doesn’t do any teaching?”'I know the name. Everyone says he's crazy.'

“That’s the one. I don’t think they trust him to teach, he’s chasing some wild idea that’s apparently going to turn quantum physics on its head. But he’s independently wealthy and I believe he made some remarkable discoveries early in his career before shooting off down his little blind alley, so I guess they tolerate him.”
Not this, but something vaguely along these lines?
'They won't even let him teach.'
'I thought they were desperate. Aren't they letting the postgrads teach honours now...?'
'Yeah, but he's off the scale barking.'
'Clearly. What's he do?'
'Something bizarre -- he says it'll turn quantum physics on its head.'
'The funders must think it's worth it. He can't be totally mad.'
Jerry laughed. 'He's self-funded.'

EDIT: Oops. I'm too slow. Ahem. Replace this critique with: What HareBrain said.


And for added value, I didn't get the connection between these two bits:

“However the rest of it is essentially quite simple. You are aware, I trust, of the principle that any particle of matter can (and indeed does) exist in every possible location in the universe simultaneously.”

I nodded.

“Ha, they all accept that ridiculous statement without so much as a lifted eyebrow and yet still won’t listen to my ideas. You see it’s really quite simple; the reason everything is not frantically hopping all over the universe on some sort of grand tour is that it is all governed by probability.
wha? Wah! if everything exists everywhere at once then why isn't the bench everywhere at once? I don't understand. (I don't think I need to, and I'm perfectly happy not to, but if you're going to hang the story on this particular detail, I thought maybe you should know :) )
 
Last edited:
Looking at it again, I now wonder if it is meant to be set a few decades ago. It has something of a 1950s feel, and the student calling Blake "sir" adds to this. Nothing wrong with that; in fact, I quite like it.

I liked this line a lot:

I couldn’t imagine how he had managed to carry all of them alone, before acknowledging to myself that he hadn’t done so with notable success.

A slight Wodehouse influence, perhaps? ;)

I should have said before that I liked the science, and I found that aspect of it intriguing. But this puzzled me:

Let us suppose the chances of finding that desk at its current location are… I don’t know, say a trillion to one. Well, we don’t change that probability, just the location. So now the chances are a trillion to one that it will be located ten metres to the right. So that is where it will now be; instantaneously!

Do you really mean trillion to one, i.e. one in a trillion? Why would the chance of it being in its current location be so low? I'd have thought it would be almost one?

Looking forward to finding out how it ends!
 
Vertigo, thank you for giving me the opportunity to read your work.

I have to say that the opening didn't really grab me but, fortunately I persisted. :) I think the last sentence would make a better opening sentence.

The story is interesting and I certainly want to read more. As for the technicalities, you aren't going to please everyone so don't fret too much over it. For me, it's just about right.

I'm not going to say too much, just that I thought some of the writing was a little formal. Three examples of this leapt out at me:
before acknowledging to myself

I asked innocently enough.

I smiled at his gentle sarcasm.
but there are more. I think you need to adopt a more 'conversational' style and this would help the story to 'flow' more.

Good luck with it. :)
 
Hi Vertigo,
I thought this was meant to be 1950s as well, maybe influenced by your recent reading matter. It certainly comes across to me as very Bletchley Park. Assuming this is the vibe you're going for, I think you've achieved it.

I quite liked the prologue, although the ominous tone was very different from everything that followed.

One thing...
“I say, I’m dreadfully sorry. Are you alright?”

“…” I’m sure my face was turning purple.

“Here, let me help you up.”

“…” Vague flapping of arms from me as he started to tug under my armpits. “No…” I managed to gasp. “Okay… fine… just… minute.”
The "..." seemed too informal for the rest of the story. You might be better describing it in a more orthodox way. Also, "Vague flapping of arms " might be better as a proper sentence.

But I want to know what happens. I'll be looking forward to that now.
 
Wow thanks for the great feedback. I really do wish I could write well and I know that I just have to keep trying and improving. But all your comments help no end! And HB I thought I wrote technically quite atrociously (though I do try to make an effort!) so thanks for that one!

HB 1: yes you are absolutely right. Every time I try to write dialogue it comes out clunky. I have to practice more. I think I'm better than I used to be. But gah!!!! I wish I could have come up with the dialogue you provided first time around!

Brian: it is a difficult balance as evidenced by Hex's comments.

Hex: as you say you picked up on the same dialogue problems that HB did which is valuable in itself. Unfortunately the second bit is exactly correct, It's one of the reasons why one of the greatest luminaries in the quantum world once said he didn't believe anyone actually understood quantum physics. Instead they strive to understand the consequences. That's why I put in that bit about "that ridiculous statement". Unfortunatly it is sort of critical to understand or at least accept because it is critical to how the "jump" works. Maybe I need to stress more that although ridiculous it is true.

HB 2: You noticed my recent reading then. Actually I didn't consciously set out to emulate PGW's style but I did notice it slipping in (obviously made quite an impression; I did enjoy his writing style) and thought it suited. However the downside is that I also noticed, as did you, that it made if feel older rather than future as is the intention (near-future though). Re the trillion I get confused when I switch from .5 to 50% to 1 in 2 and I may have expressed in incorrectly. I wanted to use the trillion to one wording as that emphasised the huge odds better than a probability of 0.999...999 (actually they are a lot bigger than that). I think I would be right in saying the odds are a trillion to one against finding the desk ten metres to the right and a trillion to one on that it will be where it actually is. I might need to re think how to express that bit to make it clearer.

Mosaix: your formal comment is very interesting in that I have actually done quite a lot of professional writing but all of it is technical writing; very formal in nature. I suppose I shouldn't be too surprised if it carries over. I'll need to watch out for that. Also I agree about the beginning - it needs to grab better. If you manage to read the second half you'll see why it needs to have that content but you are right it is weak.

And thank you all for taking the time to comment it is greatly appreciated. And I always love the fact that in this place I really don't need to be quite as terrified as I always am before posting something like this. You are all very kind!
 
Vertigo -- the sciencey stuff is fine -- I loved the ridiculousness comment. I just can't get my head round all of it. That doesn't bother me -- I'm happy not to understand and I had no problems with any of the rest.

As long as you don't expect me to understand in order to get the story, then that's fine!

(I think you do yourself an injustice -- you write very well. I really did get totally pulled in by the collision in the corridor, and I didn't come out again until the end of the excerpt)
 
Alchemist: Unfortunately as you'll see from my comments above it was not really meant to be the 1950's. That said I did want to give the impression of Professor Blake as being very much that kind of 50's character. Out of his time really, a maverick buried in his own work. The ominous tone comes back big time in the second half. Note sure quite what you meant by the "..." and an orthodox way. Maybe something like:

I couldn't get a reply out and I'm sure my face must have been turning purple.

"Here, let me help you up."

I still couldn't speak and vaguely flapped...

Hex thank you again for your additional comments. I don't think it's actually important to get the science other than as a background for the idea of "jumping" an object to a new location that could be anywhere. You are very kind Hex and I am actually quite pleased with this effort (If you root around a bit you might find an earlier attempt of mine from maybe a year odd back and I think this is quite a bit better). However I do still see an awful lot of weaknesses and stuff that has to be learnt!
 
I couldn't get a reply out and I'm sure my face must have been turning purple.

"Here, let me help you up."

I still couldn't speak and vaguely flapped...

Yes, that's what I mean. Unless "..." is an accepted convention.

:eek: *becomes mired in self-doubt*
 
"..." seems pretty standard in the rpgs I play.

What do you mean that doesn't mean anything?
 
It appears I've learned something new today, then. And with only 25 minutes to spare!
 
Yes, that's what I mean. Unless "..." is an accepted convention.

:eek: *becomes mired in self-doubt*

"..." seems pretty standard in the rpgs I play.

What do you mean that doesn't mean anything?

I must admit it didn't look right to me, I just couldn't think how to put it without overdoing it. It's one of those things that's easy to express visually but not so easy in words.

Oh and Hex with you loving the meeting passage I meant to mention that we had a professor at uni just like that; you literally had to dodge him as he charged down corridors hidden behind piles of boxes/books/papers. How he never injured himself I'll never know.
 
Hi Vertigo, I enjoyed it. I didn't understand a lot of the probability stuff but as you know that's my science limitations rather than your explanations. :eek:

It had a nice period feel to it. as others have picked up the dialogue is a bit clunky and I wonder are you trying to use it to explain things but then saying them in the dialogue exactly as you would have tried to explain it yourself rather than in their own words. Does that make sense? I hope so.
 
Yes I think that's exactly what I'm doing. I think it's something I have to practice at. I do believe I'm better than I was but maybe that just show how bad I used to be! I need to practice using different peoples voices - it's haaaaard :eek:
 
Status
Not open for further replies.

Similar threads


Back
Top