Friday, July 30, 2010

Last Day of Work (for the summer)

Today marks my last day of summer.

That's crazy, you say. Summer isn't over. And Georgia Tech doesn't start until August 23rd.

Both counts are true. However, today is my last day of work for the summer. Today, I pack up my Pro/E manuals, shove my work in a file cabinet where it won't be disturbed for the following year, and turn in my flash drive. Today I turn in my badge and say goodbye to the wonderful land of government budget confusion, phenomenal rocketry, and middle aged men (we really need to bring down the average age at my work place, and we need more girls).

For the next three weeks I will be at home with my family, and then its back to the grindstone. I will make every effort to maintain my blogging schedule while at home. When the school year comes around, we will reassess schedules. As a brief stroll though this blog's history will show you, I don't do a very good job of maintaining my blog during the school year. I pretty much don't do a good job of doing anything but schoolwork over the school year. Even my writing falls to the wayside.

Now I'm going to go pack up my cube and begin the dreaded check-out process. I wish you all good luck with your weekends.

Oh, and I'm going to Harry Potter at Islands of Adventure tomorrow. I'll make sure to give you guys a full report next week!

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Engineering Spotlight: Alisha H., CEE

Name: Alisha H.
Major: Civil Engineering*
Title: E.I.T.**, Bachelor's of Civil Engineering
Company: Georgia Tech...Currently looking for a job...hire me! (Update: Alisha actually has a job now in Nashville, TN)

Why did you want to become an engineer, and more specifically, your particular type of engineer?
I've always been in love with logical concrete solutions. I loved looking at how things were put together and how they stayed that way. Engineering runs in my family. My Dad is a Civil, my Grandpa and Uncle built/designed their own small planes, and my brother has always worked within automotive (including diesel engines). However, I got my love of order and organization from my Mom who is a teacher. I chose Civil because it was the best fit; I was the kid always playing with my brother's Legos and building my own Barbie accessories (tree house, playground, etc.).

What do you do? (At your job or in your research?)
Currently, I am on the job hunt as a recent graduate. My primary interests are in Site Design and Transportation Design. I've also had a couple years experience with a small geotechnical firm in which I designed retaining walls.

Contrary to popular belief you cannot set a building anywhere on a site and expect it to be fine; this is where a Site Designer comes in. A Site Designer takes a site and an idea on location for a building and figures out how to mesh the two by looking at how to move the dirt, where to drain the water, where to run power/water/everything lines, and how to do it with minimal environmental impact.

Do you know road surfaces and traffic signals get designed? Guess what: that's the Transportation Engineer's job. There is so much more involved in roadways than anyone can imagine, so much data is collected and used to run tests.

Finally retaining walls: bet you've hardly ever noticed the walls that hold the road up or hold the hill back so there can be a flatter surface below. These walls are not made up of simple blocks stacked in patterns; no, there is much more behind the surface. There are many types of walls: Cast-in-Place, Modular Block, Baskets, Soil-Nail, Earth Anchor and tons of variations within those. I truly is amazing feat to hold a 40 ft. tall hill with a shopping center on top up and away from a small creek bed with a quiet neighborhood on the other side.

What do you do outside of engineering?
I ride and take care of my horse (sometimes I'm acting Barn Manager at my stable and am in charge of 50+ horses). I design and make most of my own jewelry. I also love to read, spend time outdoors, and create.

Anything else you would like us to know about you or your work?
I truly enjoy and love Civil Engineering. It is a timeless job that we will always need people doing. It can be challenging and a whole lot of fun!

* Technically I'm in the last freshman class that was listed as Civil and Environmental Engineering, before Environmental Engineering got it's own major
** E.I.T. = Engineering-in-Training. This means I passed an 8 hour long exam covering everything I ever learned in college including some stuff I didn't actually learn in college. Passing this test also means that after 5 years of work experience within my degree, I can sit for my Professional Engineering License, P.E.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

A Toad

As a writer, every time I buy a book, I'm aware that I'm buying someone's baby, someone's lifework. If I get halfway through it and realize the book isn't my cup of tea, I still finish the book until the end, because someone's heart, blood, and soul went into making these words. I can appreciate it.

I don't feel bound to finish the series the book was in, but I always make sure I finish the book. With one exception.

Jennifer Murdley's Toad

I read--or rather attempted to read--Jennifer Murdley's Toad when I was in the second or third grade. I had read a few other Bruce Coville books and thought surely this one would be awesome, just like Goblins in the Castle, which I had absolutely loved. However, a few chapters into Jennifer Murdley's Toad, and I wanted to throw the book across the room. Now, years later, all I can remember was that it was about a talking toad, and that I hated it. So even though I had not finished the book, I put it away. I stored it in my shelf of books, never to be read or looked at if I could help it again. Even now, looking at the cover, I feel a strange revulsion. It's been nearly fifteen years since I read this book, and the cover makes me shiver.

It took me at least a year to read another Bruce Coville book, but my friends kept recommending Jeremy Thatcher, Dragon Hatcher and the title was so catchy. I figured Mr. Coville wouldn't let me down twice in a row, and he didn't. I really enjoyed Jeremy's adventure raising a dragon.

Now, whenever I read a book that really makes me want to put it down, I think "this book is a toad."

So why am I talking about this when I should be posting reviews of the books I read this week? Well, I haven't completely read any books all week. I'm currently stuck in the middle of an MG book, and all I can think is "this book is a toad."

The book is actually well written. The characters are well developed. The plot seems to be moving along, introducing interesting elements at just the right intervals. Unfortunately the book is about two topics I hate: pirates and Nazis.

When I was in fourth grade I read Treasure Island and it went on my list of books that I've "read" but didn't retain. It basically means I read every single word but never really strung them into sentences. I just couldn't get into it. My list of books like this only contains three: Treasure Island, The Forbidden Door, and Heart of Darkness. Yeah, that's a pretty wide variety there. Those books pretty much have nothing in common. But anyway, reading Treasure Island basically biased me against boy adventure pirate books.

When I was in eighth grade, every book we read in English was about WWII. Now, don't get me wrong. Reading The Dairy of Anne Frank was enlightening, informative, and moving. But did we then have to proceed to read every book ever written for middle graders about the war? I understand studying our past so we don't repeat it, but by the end of the year, I swore off books about Nazis.

So why did I pick up this book (I won't give you the name -don't want you to be biased against it) if it was about two things I hated? Well, it's been a long time since I've read either a pirate book or a Nazi book, so I thought maybe I had grown out of my hatred. Apparently I was wrong. But the real reason why I bought the book was that it promised time travel. The back of the book mentioned time travel devices and the title even mentioned time travel. I LOVE time travel. Movie or novel, I don't care. Time travel is just cool.

Unfortunately, time travel didn't actually come into the novel until pg. 100, and even more unfortunately, the time travel is sort of what introduces the pirates. Ugh.

Even though I keep thinking this book is a toad, I'm still reading it. I won't let myself put it down, because this is some author's baby. I want to finish it, in respect for the author. So that's why you have no book reviews today. I'm stuck in a toad, and I won't let myself read anything else until I've finished it.

Oh, and for all I know Jennifer Murdley's Toad might be the greatest book ever. Please don't hate me, because you liked it and I didn't. It was a really long time ago. But I can't make myself reread it--even now--to discover if it has any merit. The cover just sort of gives me the creeps.

And yes, the picture on this post is the version of the cover of the book I read.

It's just creepy.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Nerd Mecca aka ComicCon

I am a nerd. There is no denying it, and I'm actually quite proud of it. A man once said to me, "I don't think your a nerd." To which I promptly responded, "Don't insult me."

I have only been to 2 SF/F conventions, or rather the same one twice, Dragon*Con. I have loved it every time I have gone and plan to go again this year. Cons are so much fun. It's hard to explain to someone who has never been and who isn't a nerd the level of awesomeness. We might be nerds, geeks, and dorks, but by golly we're proud of it.

So last week was ComicCon, which is pretty much the con to end all cons. Granted, ComicCon has gone pretty mainstream of late, much to nerds across the nation's dismay, but it still has more than enough nerd attractions for the likes of me. One of my life goal's is to one day be invited to ComicCon as a guest. That would be the height of awesomeness.

Usually I can ignore the fact that ComicCon is happening, and therefore, don't feel very jealous. This year, however, a couple of my acquaintances via Facebook were in attendance and continually updating their statuses.

As I read updates about meeting David Weber, Brandon Sanderson, Brent Weeks, and Patrick Rothfuss, envy filled me. Nerd Mecca was happening and I wasn't there!

It also didn't help that kept posting articles about ComicCon, too.

Well, I wasn't there, and there isn't much point to this post, outside of jealousy. Granted this is an engineering Tuesday so it should have some sort of engineering application.

Yes, I am a nerd, but not all engineers are. Most of the guys in my office would scoff at the idea of ComicCon, and they pretty much think its ridiculous that I attend Dragon*Con, even if they do watch Doctor Who and Eureka. I was skeptical of conventions, too, until I attended Dragon*Con for the first time.

And yes, attending has brought me to a new level of nerd, but hey, I don't care. I'm a nerd. I embrace it.

So did you go to ComicCon? Do you attend any other cons, like Dragon*Con? Is anyone else out there as jealous as I am of the people who did attend ComicCon?

Monday, July 26, 2010

Not knowing which WIP to work on

I recently finished my fifth revision on WIP #1, my MG Fantasy WIP. I determined to turn my attention to my YA paranormal (not vampires or werewolves!) WIP. It's still being written, so I decided I was going to finish it.

But then I had a burst of inspiration. That burst brought me a YA high fantasy story. However, I was determined to write my YA paranormal, so I recorded my idea - the basic plot, the characters, the query - and then put it away. I saved the idea for another time.

So then I turned back to my YA paranormal, until I received another burst of inspiration, this time for an MG science fiction story. This one I couldn't just put away, it was screaming at me. So I wrote the first two chapters.

This week on several blogs I read about YA books with male protagonists, and that made me want to work on a YA science fiction book I had saved away for a rainy day. I managed to stomp down on that feeling, leaving the work where it is - on my shelf.

With that desire gone, I turned back to my YA paranormal, until I read a couple of blogs that talked about the great desire editors have for good MG. This made me want to work on the MG science fiction story I had previously written the first two chapters in.

So now I'm in limbo, wanting to work on my MG science fiction, but knowing I should finish the YA paranormal first.

Am I the only one who is WIP ADD? Is there anyone else out there who sometimes finds it hard to focus on one story, especially after finishing up a major project?

Friday, July 23, 2010

Spin Stabilization

So yesterday, I posted a little description of what I do, in our first Engineering Spotlight. I know it can be hard to imagine how spinning wheels can basically reorient or stabilize a spacecraft. It was hard to imagine when I first learned about it. But what my prof did then, and what I'm doing for you now, is showed a video that made it a little easier to grasp.

So watch this video!

Cool, isn't it?

This spinning technique is why many satellites are "spin stabilized". This means the satellite is essentially always rotating. Like the CDs in the video, this rotation makes it harder for the satellite to be disturbed. An astronaut can poke it, and the effect will be minimized.

This is all part of Attitude Determination and Control!

Any questions?

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Engineering Spotlight: Mandy P., AE

Name: Mandy P.
Major: Aerospace Engineering
Title: Graduate Research Assistant
Company: Georgia Tech

Why did you want to become an engineer, and more specifically, your particular type of engineer?
From a young age I coveted Geordi La Forge’s job on the Enterprise. I wanted to be the one making space travel possible. Sure the captain gets the glory, but it’s the engineer who makes it happen. Since aerospace engineering is the type of engineering that focuses on space travel, I knew this was the appropriate fit for me.

What do you do? (At your job or in your research)
I am a graduate research assistant at Georgia Tech. I work on a design team that’s designing a small 50 kg satellite that will go to space and take thermal images. My job in particular is the lead designer of the “Attitude Determination and Control” Subsystem (ADCS). And no, that doesn’t mean I’m the team’s morale officer.

ADCS is the system that allows a satellite, or even spaceship, to maneuver in space. The system basically uses instruments to look about, determine where the satellite is, and then uses components to adjust the position. In TV and movies, this is usually done with a propulsion system, and propulsion is a type of attitude control. However, in the real world, propulsion is expensive and heavy. Small satellites usually don’t have the mass budget or cost budget for propulsion. So instead, we use things like reaction wheels, CMGs, and torque rods.

So to give you a specific example of ADCS, in our satellite we determine our position using a star tracker. This device looks at the stars. From the stars it’s seeing and the angle its seeing the stars at, it’s able to determine where the satellite must be facing. This information is then sent to our computer which compares this position to where we actually want to be. If the position is not where we want to be, it sends a command to our reaction wheels. Reaction wheels are basically spinning wheels within the satellite, which spin faster or slower based on commands. This change in their speed changes the orientation of the satellite (weird, huh? – it all has to do with conservation of angular momentum – more on that in a later post). The satellite then changes position, and the star tracker starts the process again by checking the stars. Basically, the position of the satellite can be changed continuously.

What do you do outside of engineering?
I like to read SF/F, write SF/F novels, and write this blog. I’m also quite the TV addict. Basically, I’m your standard nerd, but that’s not true of all engineers, as you will see in some of their engineering spotlights.

Anything else you would like us to know about you or your work?
My work is really cool. Satellites rock. ADCS is hard. Yeah, that’s all I’ve got.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

A Book Review: The City of Ember

Title: The City of Ember
Author: Jeanne DuPrau
Genre: Dystopian (MG)
Length: 270

Quality Rating: 8
Content Rating: PG

The city of Ember is underground, and the resources left by the Builders are dwindling. Ember is dying. When Lina finds a half chewed document, she begins to think there might be something outside of the darkness around Ember, maybe another city. And her friend Doon helps her seek out the answers. This was a fantastic read that I could not put down. Our two heroes are far from perfect kids, in fact their desire for glory leads to many problems with their plan to save Ember. I was definitely able to relate to their desire for glory and credit, and all the problems it caused them. I also found Ember to be an intriguing setting, a fascinating idea. Ember is a perfect example of a book where the setting almost seems to be a character.

This book is PG. It explores the idea that authority figures can be corrupt and a cause of problems, which is something that parents of younger aged readers should be aware of. But other than that, violence was non-existent, except for some threat of being trampled, and there wasn't even a whiff of romance or bad language. So it's almost G.

A Book Review: The Siege of Macindaw (Ranger's Apprentice Book 6)

Title: Ranger's Apprentice: The Siege of Macindaw
Author: John Flanagan
Genre: Fantasy (MG)
Length: 293

Quality Rating: 7
Content Rating: PG

Aha! Will's girl is being held hostage and he will stop at nothing to save her! Excellent! This is a plot I love! I love the determined Will in this book. I love how he will stop at nothing to save her. And I love how Will has to use his wits to save her, because he doesn't have the brawn. Definitely an excellent read, and an excellent addition to Will's story as a Ranger.

This one also gets a PG rating.

A Book Review: The Sorcerer of the North (Ranger's Apprentice Book 5)

Title: The Ranger's Apprentice: The Sorcerer of the North
Author: John Flanagan
Genre: Fantasy (MG)
Length: 295

Quality Rating: 7
Content Rating: PG

In this book, Will is all grown-up. He is no longer an apprentice, but rather a young man with a fief of his own. I definitely enjoyed the grown-up aspects of Will, though perhaps he didn't seem grown-up enough at times. He still very much seemed to be the same boy he was before. Which isn't necessarily a bad thing. I enjoyed the new developments in his relationship with his female friends, but sort of wished for a little more. But I'm a girl, and these books are written for boys, so I can guess I understand the lack of gushy feeling from Will.

This book still gets a PG. Enjoy!

A Book Review: The Battle for Skandia (Ranger's Apprentice Book 4)

Title: The Ranger's Apprentice: The Battle for Skandia
Author: John Flanagan
Genre: Fantasy (MG)
Length: 294

Quality Rating: 7
Content Rating: PG

This book is over half battle scenes. Skandia is under attack, and Halt, Will, Horace, and Evanlynn must stop the invaders before they come to their own homeland. In this book our beloved characters mature, giving glimpses of the great people they will eventually grow up to be. It also gives us a hint at some romantic relationships, but no more than a hint. There might have been a little too much action for me, but I enjoyed seeing the whole gang back together and interacting once more.

This book, like the others, gets a PG.

A Book Review: The Icebound Land (Ranger's Apprentice Book 3)

Title: The Ranger's Apprentice: The Icebound Land
Author: John Flanagan
Genre: Fantasy (MG)
Length: 266

Quality Rating: 7
Content Rating: PG

I greatly enjoyed this book! It was definitely an improvement over the previous installment (so I'm definitely thinking it was just a sophomore slump). I felt Evalynn and Will's confusion and fear as they were enslaved. I felt Halt's pain as he turned his back on his life as a Ranger to save Will. This was a book that flirted with deep emotions, and I thought it was great. I could have done with a little more exploration of these feelings, but like many male authors, John Flanagan seems to have a hard time channeling feelings perfectly.

This book does explore the drug addiction and its affects, so parents should be forewarned. But other than that, there is a little fantasy violence, but nothing too bad.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

A Departure from Schedule

My apologies! I interrupt your regularly scheduled Engineering Tuesday post with something pressing in my life.

My first/only boyfriend just got engaged.

For those of you who know me personally, be assured that there is nothing in the way of jealousy in this comment. I am very happy for Sean and Christine, and I think they will do very well together. I wish them all the best of luck in their journey together, and I am sure they will manage to be ridiculously happy. I have known Sean for nearly ten years now, and I know he loves Christine and is very happy to be with her. And he's also lucky to have her. She is a fantastic girl!

So - if I'm not jealous, why am I interrupting the schedule to post about this?

Because my first/only boyfriend just got engaged, and I still haven't had a boyfriend number two.

Sean and I dated during Freshman and Sophomore year of college. I then broke up with him. (It was very mutual - but I initiated it, so I get to say I broke up with him). Since then I've been on maybe two events I would call dates, but I have never actually "dated" anyone since Sean. (Those two dates were not with the same guy).

I'm not really looking for a guy. I'm not desperate by any means. It's just weird that Sean is getting married and I'm still single.

When I was young, I never imagined I would get married out of college. That idea did sort of sneak up on me when I was in college but I brushed it aside. I know that if I marry someone it will be on God's time and not mine.

But I've watched several of my good friends get married recently. And it hurts a little.

All these people are moving on in their lives. They're going on an adventure I can't participate in.

They're leaving me behind.

What will I do when all my friends are married? What will it be like when I'm the only one without a significant other? It means I'll only be able to hang out with my female friends on designated "girl's nights" or "Sci-fi nights" (depending on the girl). And forget hanging out with my guy friends alone ever again. Anyone will tell you that's not appropriate. So I had better be friends with their wives if I ever want to see them again.

In this bleak vision of my future, if I want to go to a movie, I'll probably have to go alone. If I do call up my married friend and ask, they'll probably say something like "Oh, I'm going to see that with my husband or kids..."

Good Lord! What will I do when my friends start having kids?

As I said earlier. It's not that I'm desperately seeking a guy or even want one right now. It's just that I don't like getting left behind. I don't like looking at a future where I have to attend movies by myself. Where I spend my birthday alone.

Because believe me, if all my friends get married, I will spend my birthday alone. Who would choose me over their spouse on Valentine's Day?

So on occasions like the engagement of my first/only boyfriend, I think I'm warranted this moment of self-doubt, this moment of looking at a bleak and desolate future where I am alone.

But I know that I have to trust God. And I have to have faith that my friends won't simply dump me when they get married. And I can't let this vision of the future overwhelm and blind me.

If I'm meant to get married, God will bring someone into my life. If not, God will give me the strength to be a single woman in this romantically paired world.

And I guess I'll always have my little sister. Plan B is always the two of us living together like Jane and Cassandra Austen. Old maids, having a grand time in the world together.

And that will be fun, as long as she learns to cook at some point. I'm not cooking for her for the rest of my life.

Monday, July 19, 2010

Paranormal Fantasy or Light SF?

Between you and me, genres and subgenres can be confusing. Let's say your new novel is about a vampire detective solving crimes in the mean streets of New York. Vampires are definitely paranormal. New York is definitely urban. And detectives are definitely mystery, but no one wants to hear your genre is "paranormal urban mystery". Your other project might be about a group of kids who accidentally invent a laser that blows up the moon. So it's light SF, or is it mundane? Or maybe because of that one paragraph explaining the history of the laser its actually hard SF. And if one of the kids in in ROTC, does that make it military SF?

Yes, I certainly get this. Picking the right subgenre is confusing at best. It's down right treacherous at other times. Authors heads spin trying to imagine all the implications when choosing one label.

But not on any planet is paranormal fantasy the equivalent of light science fiction.

I bring this up because recently on several blogs I've read a comment that says "my work is paranormal fantasy/light SF." Every time I stop and think "WHAT?"

Now, I get the lines between fantasy and science fiction are blurry in some peoples minds, especially when talking about something like science fantasy. But we're not talking about science fantasy here. We're talking about paranormal fantasy versus light science fiction.

In my mind, the difference between fantasy and science fiction is the difference between magic versus science. Is there magic in your world? I don't care if they have space travel. It's fantasy.

So unless your vampires are caused by a mutation or virus (like in I am Legend), your vampire novel is paranormal. Unless your ghosts are actually trans-dimensional beings, your ghost story is paranormal. Unless your werewolves are the result of genetic mutation, your werewolf story is paranormal.

Now I'll admit, zombies can be confusing - so let me define this right now. If your zombies were brought back to life by necromancy, that's fantasy. If your zombies exist because of a virus, that's science fiction.

Am I the only person who struggles to see how people can confuse these two genres? Or maybe I'm the dense one, and its really obvious to everyone else?

I'm not sure, but now I'm going to get back to working on my hard science fiction thriller and my paranormal mystery romance.

Friday, July 16, 2010


As you can probably tell, I've been tweaking things around the blog. If something strikes you as ugly or awkwardly placed, please let me know. I'm trying to make this blog as aesthetically pleasing and accessible as possible.

Changing things has made me wish that I was more fluent in html. Might be time to break out some old CS 1371 notes. I shudder in terror even thinking about it. For those of you who don't go to Georgia Tech, CS 1371 is basically computer science for engineers. Really its just a class about Matlab, but they covered html briefly too.

Ok - now back to incessant tweaking! (If only I could apply this energy to my revisions!)

Beyond Your Imagination

So I really love musicals. They're pretty much all I listen to. (I know. I'm weird). However, I don't actually own that many soundtracks, so my iPod has a tendency to repeat itself. Despite the fact that I've listened to most of my soundtracks hundreds of times, every once in a while something new strikes me.

For example, recently I was listening to the Original Broadway Cast Recording of The Phantom of the Opera. Right before the climax of act one, the Phantom threatens the managers of the opera using these words (spoken not sung):

"Should these commands be ignored, a disaster beyond your imagination will occur."

This sentence pretty much stopped all my other thought processes. A disaster beyond my imagination? What sort of disaster is beyond my imagination?

I began to think about disasters. The oil spill? Definitely not beyond my imagination. I've read enough post apocalyptic literature to clearly imagine that. A awful hurricane like Katrina? Totally not beyond my imagination. I've lived in Mississippi. They frightened us quarterly in school with videos of hurricane Camille. (I'm sure the videos have all been upgraded to Katrina recently). But let's give the Phantom some credit. In context, clearly no one would have said he's going to somehow fabricate some sort of natural or major ecological disaster. The threat definitely comes across as a more personal disaster.

So what disaster's can I imagine for an opera house? Umm....quite a few. I've seen more than enough horror flicks in my time, and I could just imagine the Phantom picking off ballerinas one by one as they get separated from each other. Or maybe a worse disaster in the eyes of his managers - he would do something to all their money! Surely there is a bank vault in there that he could easily break into and steal everything. Or maybe he would have some sort of trap for all the guests that night. Maybe no one would make it out of the opera alive. Yes, if we're going for cataclysmic disasters that the Phantom might be able to pull off that could be "beyond my imagination" then I'm going to guess no one is coming out a live.

But what does the Phantom do instead?

He kills a behind the scenes guy, does something weird to Carlotta's voice, and takes down the chandelier.

Really? That's beyond my imagination? One dead guy. One hoarse woman. A broken chandelier? Sheesh.

His plan might have been beneath my imagination, since it was so small that I never would have considered it (though I could definitely have imagined it) but it certainly wasn't beyond my imagination. I mean that phrase insinuates that its something I can't begin to fathom.

And it really irritates me that the Phantom obviously thinks so little of my imagination.

Because that's what his words insinuate to me. They tell me either he thinks my imagination is completely pathetic or his imagination is so pathetic that this is the worst thing he can think of. (I somehow can't believe that of a character who writes an opera.)

And yes, I realize the words weren't directed at me but at his manager's, but it's something that those of us who command words need to realize. People take words seriously. Even if the words aren't exactly directed at them. Even if the words aren't meant to lead to a certain line of thought, they can.

This is why agents hate it when people start queries with rhetorical questions. Because you open up with "What if a disaster beyond your imagination occurred?" The agent imagines the worst disaster they can, and then read on to see said disaster. But your disaster is not beyond their imagination. It's beneath it. You just insulted your reader, who happens to be the prospective agent.

So be careful with your words especially when wielding such a strong phrase. Don't make the Phantom's mistake.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Engineering Spotlights

If you've read Tuesday's post, you know that I've wanted to be an engineer since I was in the seventh grade.

At the time, I thought I could just go to college and major in "engineering". I thought that, like the engineers on Star Trek, all engineers were more or less the same. I couldn't have been more wrong.

In the ninth grade, my biology teacher required we write a paper on the career we wished to pursue. (Yes, that is a weird assignment for a biology class). I knew I wanted to be an engineer, and I wanted to work for NASA. So I pulled out my handy-dandy phone book (this was before the internet mindset had set in, but yes I did have internet) and I looked up my local NASA center's phone number. As a student in Orlando, that center was Kennedy Space Center.

I don't remember which number I called, but it eventually paid off. After many many phone calls, many re-directs, and being put on hold a billion times, I received an email. The email said I could interview a NASA engineer via email but that there were many types of engineers at NASA, which type did I want to interview? It then provided a list of engineer types.

So I pulled out my dictionary (oh yes, old school) and dutifully looked up every type. I did actually look them all up, even though it was the very first definition that snagged me.


1. the atmosphere and the space beyond considered as a whole.
2. the industry concerned with the design and manufacture of aircraft, rockets, missiles, spacecraft, etc., that operate in aerospace.

3. of or pertaining to aerospace or the aerospace industry.

(This definition is provided by

And yes, the definition does mean that aerospace engineering is rocket science.

Aerospace engineering was exactly what I wanted to do, and aerospace engineering is what I do.

But there are so many types of engineering, and how is the layperson supposed to be able to tell them apart? As a writer, how do you know if you need a computer engineer or an electrical engineer? And isn't an aerospace engineer just an overly specialized mechanical engineer? And what's the deal with computer science anyway? Is it science? Is it engineering?

And perhaps there is a reader out there who is contemplating becoming an engineer. Maybe you are struggling with exactly which type of engineering you should choose.

So I've come up with the idea of "Engineering Spotlights". Every Thursday, until I exhaust all possibilities, I will post an interview of or an article written by one of my friends about their respective type of engineering. (If I can convince them, but I can be quite convincing). I will probably start with myself next Thursday, just to give my friends of an example of what I'm looking for.

I'll do my best to bring you every type of engineer, from A to Z. And who knows, I might even through in a few of the sciences. I'll also try to give you a broad range within majors, because not even everyone in the same group does the same thing. For example, in aerospace things break down into aerodynamics, combustion, controls, space design, fixed wing design, rotary design...the list could go on.

If there is a particular type of engineer you would like to know about, please let me know and I'll shuffle one of that type to the top of the pile.

And my friends who are reading this blog, be prepared to receive an email from me, asking you to write up an explanation for our other readers. :)

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

A Book Review: Among the Hidden

Title: Among the Hidden
Author: Margaret Peterson Haddix
Genre: Dystopian (MG)
Length: 153

Quality Rating: 7
Content Rating: PG

If you know me, you know I love MG. I'm all about middle grade literature, so I was not at all hesitant to read this book. It's about a twelve-year-old boy who is a forbidden third child and must remain hidden all the time, lest the government find him. Once I got through the first few chapters, the book sucked me in, but those first few chapters were a little painful for me. Mainly because the MC, Luke, did not act or think like a 12 year old should. He felt very much younger to me and several times I had to flip back to double check, thinking maybe he was really eight. This is one of the books I would have had a hard time reading as a young reader. I would have felt a little patronized. However, the story line is certainly good, and as I said, once you get past those first few chapters and just realize that Luke acts a little young, it was a good read. And perhaps the reason Luke acts so young is because he hasn't had a real encounter with the outside world? Maybe. I can slightly convince myself of that.

This book is almost G for there is little violence, no sex, and no bad words. However, there is an event at the end (which I won't describe any further than "event" so as to not spoil the book), that pushes this up to a PG rating. But its certainly a book that younger readers, elementary readers will enjoy.

A Book Review: The Adoration of Jenna Fox

Title: The Adoration of Jenna Fox
Author: Mary E. Pearson
Genre: Dystopian (YA)
Length: 265

Quality Rating: 7
Content Rating: PG-13

This book had been recommended highly on one of the blogs I follow, so I figured since The Hunger Games worked out so well, I might as well try this YA Dystopian as well. While I enjoyed The Adoration of Jenna Fox and even read it all in one read, I found the book to be slightly lacking. The major story line was mostly predictable, though she did introduce one character that I thought was going to play one role in the story and then turned out to not play much of a role at all - which I found rather odd. However, if you enjoy YA Dystopian novels you will probably enjoy this book. It was certainly an excellent book.

This book gets a PG-13 rating for the description of a terrible accident and a rather dark encounter in the woods. However, your average middle schooler should be able to handle it, though you may want to read it with them, just to be aware.

A Book Review: Catching Fire

Title: Catching Fire
Author: Suzanne Collins
Genre: Dystopian (YA)
Length: 391

Quality Rating: 9
Content Rating: PG-13

In this sequel to the phenomenal Hunger Games, Kantiss is living in the aftermath of her victory. But to the government, her victory is an act of defiance that can not be tolerated. This book is not quite as good as the original, since it does not have the same fearful push throughout the entire book. For the first couple of chapters, I was unsure where the plot was going or what the point might be. However, the book quickly picked up and I was quickly drawn back into the nation of Panem, a nation of harsh rules and closely kept secrets. The characters are the same ones we know and love pulled into a situation that tests them all. Definitely a good read.

This book gets PG-13 for violence, just like the first book. It's still not very graphic, but there is death, rebellion, flogging, and all sorts of nasty violent things. That's what happens when you live in a dystopian society.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

One Reason Why I Became An Engineer

My friend, Michael, or possibly his wife Carole, took this picture while they were on their honeymoon. It is the Bixby Canyon Bridge. Now, you may wonder why someone would stop, pull over their car, and take pictures of a bridge on their honeymoon. The short answer is that Michael is an engineer.

Technically bridges are the domain of civil engineers, but I think all engineers appreciate the beauty and sheer awesomeness of these engineering marvels. That's right, I just called a bridge an engineering marvel. Sure, bridges are common place, even mundane, but there is so much more behind a bridge than crossing vast areas of emptiness.

Before the seventh grade, I was pretty much determined to be a straight up scientist. In fact, I wanted to be an astrophysicist. Then, my seventh grade science teacher taught an entire six weeks about bridges.

Beam bridges, cantilever bridges, suspension bridges, truss bridges, we learned it all. And it was the most fascinating six weeks I had ever experienced in school.

My family moved shortly thereafter, driving from Ocean Springs, MS to Atlanta, GA. Every time we crossed a bridge I explained to my family (who were trapped in the car and could not escape) what made this particular bridge special and why it was holding our weight. How awesome are bridges, I thought, that they can stand for centuries and still hold the weight of tons of cars!

So how did this love of bridges convince me to become an engineer? Well, scientists don't dirty themselves with such low things. They don't bother with something as mundane as bridges. They worry about the theoretical and abstract. And yes, there are theoretical engineers and practical scientists, but that is when I discovered I wanted to be practical. I wanted to create things in the here and now that people could enjoy and use. I wanted to better society now, not several years from now after someone else applies the theoretical science I discovered.

That was the year I knew I would be an engineer. At the time I did not know about differences like civil engineering versus aerospace engineering. I just knew I had to be out there, building, creating, and adding to the betterment of mankind.

Because that is what being an engineer is about. It's about creating technology that helps and furthers people.

At eleven years old, I knew.

Engineering was and is my calling.

Because don't mistake me, my readers, being an engineer is a calling. To be an engineer requires passion, equal to the passion a writer has for words. Why else would a person suffer through five years of the sheer torture that is an undergraduate engineering degree? It certainly isn't for the fun. It's for the love.

Remember that next time you need to create an engineer in your writing. A true engineer needs passion, she needs to love what she does.

And my engineer friends, remember that day you knew, that moment you first realized you had to be an engineer. When school gets hard or your boss changes the requirements of the design once again, remember you choose this way of life because you love it. When you get laid off because of laws enacted on Capitol Hill, remember that being an engineer is who you are. Do not be discouraged. I know the economic times are hard and that our space program is in disarray. But just remember that moment, remember that dream, remember that child who wanted to reach for the stars and better humanity. Remember being an engineer is not just a job, it's a lifestyle. It is part of who you are.

"Never give up. Never surrender."

Monday, July 12, 2010


The art of the query is something that eludes me. Once I've written a novel it's just so hard for me to turn it into a blurb. How can tens of thousands words be made into like 300? What if what I think is the cool attention getter in the story isn't what an agent thinks is cool? So much stress!

Recently I've taken to writing my query before I write the novel. In this method, I can't get bogged down in details because there are none. I think its working well, for the most part.

Unfortunately, the project I am currently revising and hoping to submit is not one I wrote the query before hand for. I'm really struggling with it. But maybe you can help!

I sent in my query to for a critique! Click THIS link and go help advise me on my query!

And yes, I use my real first name on that website. :)

Friday, July 9, 2010

A Perfect Ten

This week I did something unprecedented on this blog. I gave a book a perfect 10.

For those of you who are unaware, my content scores are given on a 1 to 10 scale. The lowest score I've ever given is a 5, and I don't really foresee giving anything lower than that. So it's really sort of like a 5 to 10 scale - where everyone gets a 5 because to be a published book you have to be semi-decent. If I give lower than a five, then it truly means something is awful.

So what do I mean by each number I give?

  • 5 - This book was awful and I sort of regret reading it. I will not recommend it to my friends, in fact, I'll do the opposite. Example: The Law of Nines
  • 6 - This book was ok. I don't regret reading it, but I don't know if I will recommend it to my friends. It would have to be part of a really great series to get that. Example: The High King's Tomb
  • 7 - This book was good. Not phenomenal, not bad, but good. I enjoyed reading it and will probably recommend it to friends if its up their particular alley. Example: The Vanishing Sculptor
  • 8 - This book was great. I will recommend it to anyone who likes the genre, will probably spend a little bit of time contemplating its hidden meanings, and will probably one day read it again. Example: Pretties
  • 9 - This book was excellent! It's a must read. I will recommend it to everyone who I know likes reading, and I will definitely end up re-reading it at some point. A 9 means this book makes it onto my list of favorite books. Example: The Name of the Wind
  • 10 - This book was stunning. Everyone must read it. I will recommend it to everyone who is literate. It is one of my favorite books and will reread it multiple times. I'll read it when I'm uninspired, so it will inspire me. I'll read it when I'm bored, so it will excite me. I'll read it when I'm sick, so that I still feel active. I'll probably read it aloud to my kids one day. Example: The Hunger Games
  • "Greatest Books of All Time" - ok, this isn't a number. If I post a review for one of these, I'll still just give it a 10. But what is my criteria to be one of the greatest books of all time? It has to be a book that makes me want to reread it yearly. It has to entertain me every time I reread it, and it has to teach me something new every time I reread. Their are currently only two books on this list: Ender's Game and A Wrinkle in Time.

In general, I tend to give a lot of 7s and 8s. A handful of 9s dot the reviews, and I rarely give out 6's or 5's. I hate giving bad reviews. Most every book has a redeeming quality that makes it worth at least a 7.

But if 9's are great books I'll definitely re-read, what's the real difference between a 9 and a 10?

In a 10, I need to feel like the main character is me. I need to relate with the main character on such a deep level, that everything they say resonates within me. Meg Murray, Ender Wiggin, Kantiss Everdeen, these are characters that I feel express parts of my soul. Am I a girl tesseracting through time and space to save my father? No. Am I a boy in Battle School trying to save the human race? No. Am I a teenager stuck in some weird version of gladiator meets survivor? No. But parts of these characters are all me. Like Meg I sometimes feel monstrous, and I want others to fix my problems for me. Like Ender I was a very bright child who sometimes felt separate and distant from others, and my older brother resents me. Like Kantiss, I would give my life for my younger sister, and I would want to trust even in a world where everyone is trying to kill you. All these characters are a part of me.

This is what makes a book truly stunning. It's not how you can outsmart me and turn everything I know on its head. That will get you a 9. To get a 10, I have to feel so deeply for your main character that they are a part of me. To get a 10, your main character and I need to have something in common.

This is why, in general, I dislike YA books so much. I can never relate to the whiny, rebellious, angsty teenager. That was simply not me as a teen and never has been.

But Kantiss wasn't a whiny, rebellious, or angsty teen, and I related to her.

And that's what makes The Hunger Games a 10.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Hot and Cold

Recently, at work I've been working on a heat transfer problem. The basic problem is that I have a cement room that is built into a hill so only one wall is facing atmosphere. Everything else is under the ground of the hill. There are no windows, there is one regular door, and one garage-esque door. The question is: can twenty-four people survive in this room for 2 hours, with no air conditioning, if the temperature outside is 100 degrees Fahrenheit?

This problem seems straightforward, but its actually fairly complex. I've been working on it for a while now, so its much on a mind. I am not going to spend this post boring you with the details of my heat transfer analysis. I am, however, going to bring up a point that a lot of people don't realize.

Hot and cold are like light and dark.

You might think I've gone insane at that statement. You might think "duh". Or you might just be confused. So let me explain.

As I'm sure most of you are aware, darkness is just the absence of light. Darkness cannot overwhelm light. It cannot fight light. If you shine light into darkness, the darkness goes away. End of story.

Granted, this is not talking about metaphorical darkness. I'm talking about the real thing. As in a room with no lights on versus a room with lights on. I cannot create darkness in a brilliantly lit room except by shading an area from the light.

Cold is the same thing. Cold is the absence of heat. If I have a piece of ice and I place it on your arm, I am not giving you coldness. I cannot give you coldness. Rather, the ice is taking heat from you.

I can create heat. I can run around, and my body will produce heat. I can hook up a computer, and my computer will create heat. You know how a light bulb might be 60 W? Well some of that wattage is converted into power that the light uses to work, and some of that wattage is converted into heat (because the light is inefficient).

I cannot create cold like this. You might laugh and say "That's ridiculous! My freezer creates cold air." Yes, it does, but it does this by taking the heat from the freezer and dumping it somewhere else. "Creating cold" is really just moving heat.

So what's the lesson in this post for writers? I'm not really sure. I guess it's to be aware. You cannot put some sort of machine in your story that creates cold unless that cold is going somewhere. Granted the device could be a heat sink, something that is so cold that it basically sucks all the heat around it into it, taking the heat from the air (or anything else) around it. Cold will suck away heat until the cold object and the hot object are at the same temperature. So if your crazy machine is at 10 Kelvin and the surrounding air is at 260 K, the machine will pull down the air's temperature until they're both at the same temperature - which will not be 10 K. It will be somewhere between 10 K and 260 K.

It's like putting ice in your water. The ice sucks in the heat from the water, making the water colder. However, by taking in the heat, the ice is raising its temperature, which makes it melt. Eventually its all one substance and at the same temperature.

Oh, and a note in case you don't know. For math problems you always use Kelvin or Rankin, never Celsius or Fahrenheit. Kelvin and Rankin are absolute. As in absolute zero. You can't have a negative Kelvin or Rankin temperature.

So that's it. Be aware, and please don't "create cold". Just transfer heat.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

A Book Review: The Hunger Games

Title: The Hunger Games
Author: Suzanne Collins
Genre: Dystopian (YA)
Length: 374

Quality Rating: 10
Content Rating: PG-13

If you read this blog regularly, you probably already know I have no love for YA books. In fact, I generally avoid the YA section at all costs. However, I had heard a lot about The Hunger Games, so I decided I might as well give it a try and read it.....All I can say is "wow". I literally just finished this book. As in two minutes ago. I could not put it down. I made myself put it down for a little so I could revise a story, but the allure of The Hunger Games was too distracting. I couldn't write. I couldn't concentrate on my own work. I had to know what happened in this book. The Hunger Games has everything going against it - it's YA, it's written in first person, and it's present tense. But all of that just makes you feel like you're there with Kantiss. You are with her as she gets thrown into the horrific hunger games. You are with her as she fights for survival. You know why she is making all the decisions she does and you feel everything as she does. I don't give '10's lightly. In fact, if its a book a enjoy I usually just give it an '8'. I consider '9's to mean a book is special. I have never before given a 10 on this blog, but this book deserves it. You need to go out right now, buy this book, and read it. You won't regret it.

This book gets a PG-13 rating because there is lots of violence. It's a book about an epic fight to the death between teenagers. Granted the violence isn't very graphic, but I still feel a PG-13 rating is necessary. If you have a younger reader who would want to read this, you might want to read it as well. And you won't regret it. This book was truly fantastic.

A Book Review: The Infinity Gate

Title: The Infinity Gate
Author: Sara Douglass
Genre: Fantasy
Length: 527

Quality Rating: 9
Content Rating: R

I was a little scared of this book, I admit. The DarkGlass Mountain books were so epic. How could it all come together? I feared she would end it ambiguously, leaving me confused and unsure. I shouldn't have worried. Sara Douglass did not disappoint. In every part of the book, I wondered how this part was not the end - how she would draw it out another four hundred pages - but "draw out" is not the word I would use for how she did it. Every part built into the next. Every moment led us to the end. And she left us with the hint that there could be more books. We could see the return of Axis SunSoar (YES!), and we could see the return of darker forces. She sets up the end for another epic series. I can only hope she actually writes it!

This book is R for use of the f word, fantasy violence, sexual content, and deep betrayals.

A Book Review: The Twisted Citadel

Title: The Twisted Citadel
Author: Sara Douglass
Genre: Fantasy
Length: 548

Quality Rating: 9
Content Rating: R

In this second installment of the DarkGlass Mountain Trilogy, Sara Douglass continues to weave together her fantasy worlds and memorable characters. She takes relationships that we think cannot be salvaged and melds them back together into unbreakable bonds. She transforms ancient evils into even worse evils. She brings deception and betrayal to new levels. She truly is a master of the concept that everything must get worse for the characters in a story. Yet despite it there are moments of love, hope, and joy within the story. It is a magnificent tale, and a perfect middle book.

This book is R for use of the f word, sexual content, fantasy violence, and dark betrayals.

A Book Review: The Serpent Bride

Title: The Serpent Bride
Author: Sara Douglass
Genre: Fantasy
Length: 673

Quality Rating: 9
Content Rating: R

I love Sara Douglass. She's one of my favorite authors, and this first installment of the DarkGlass Mountain Trilogy does nothing to ruin my favor of her. This book was awesome. She brings back characters I love (Axis SunSoar of The Wayfarer Redemption Series among others). No one makes me love and hate characters like Sara Douglass does. No one makes me simultaneously love and hate characters like she does (Axis SunSoar being the perfect example of someone I love and hate all the time). All of her high fantasy series are fantastic, and if you've never read Sara Douglass, you should go out right now and buy her books. But don't start with this one. You'll just be confused. Start with The Wayfarer Redemption. (If you're not in the USA it will be called Battleaxe).

This book is rated 'R' for multiple uses of the f word (a surprise in high fantasy), fantasy violence, dark betrayals, and sexual content. Still a good read.

A Book Review: The Burning Bridge (Ranger's Apprentice Book 2)

Title: The Ranger's Apprentice: The Burning Bridge
Author: John Flanagan
Genre: Fantasy (MG)
Length: 262

Quality Rating: 6
Content Rating: PG

This was almost a 7. Perhaps I should have given it a 6 and a half. I simply didn't enjoy it as much as the first book. I found half of the story line to be a little disjointed and I still have a sense of confusion whether the series is actually high fantasy or set in ancient Britain. It's hard to tell for those of us who aren't British history experts. However, the story of Will and his friends does progress. Will and Horace's friendship grows, and I love how Horace continues to come to Will's aid without ever thinking about it. I enjoyed this book despite its minor problems and I have great hope for the next book. I'm thinking this book was just a sophomore slump.

This book, like its predecessor, gets a PG rating for some fantasy violence, duels to the death, and insinuation of terrible things done to others.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010


As an engineer, I have a tendency to use a lot of acronyms. Where I work is even worse. You can’t follow meetings unless you know all the acronyms because people utter sentences like this: “We just put out a RFP for the ECS system. LDEs can find it on ddms and hopefully it will come in before the SSRR.” Needless to say, my first couple of weeks at my job were filled with confusion.

To ease your confusion, today I am providing a list of acronyms and abbreviations I tend to use. In the future I will make sure I link all acronyms and abbreviations back to this page for your easy reference. There will be both engineer and writer acronyms.

I will add to this list as I think of other acronyms or use other acronyms.

Without further ado:

ACS Attitude Control System
ADS Attitude Determination System
ADCS Attitude Determination and Control System
AE Aerospace Engineer(ing)
CD&H Command & Data Handling
CDR Critical Design Review
CEE Civil and Environmental Engineer(ing)
ChemE Chemical Engineer(ing)
COMM Telecommunications System
CS Computer Science/Scientist
ECE Electrical and Computer Engineer(ing)
ECS Environmental Control System
EPS Electrical Power System
FCR Flight Competition Review
GPS Global Positioning System
KSC Kennedy Space Center
LDE Lead Design Engineer
MC Main Character
ME Mechanical Engineer(ing)
MG Middle Grade
MSE Material Science Engineer(ing)
NASA National Aeronautics and Space Administration
NRE Nuclear and Radiological Engineer
PM Project Manager
PSE Project Systems Engineer
RFP Request for Proposal
SF Science Fiction
SF/F Science Fiction/Fantasy
SSRR Subsystem Requirement Review
WIP Work in Progress
YA Young Adult

Sorry about the lack of appropriate formatting. I need to brush up on my html.

Monday, July 5, 2010


Today is a holiday, so there is no real post. Right now I'm driving from Pensacola, FL (where my parental units live) to Titusville, FL (which is where I live during the summers for my co-op job).

I schedule all my posts - that's how you're getting this even though I'm driving.

However, I felt you all deserved to know that I got into the advanced writing class I mentioned on Friday. The stressful wait is over and all was a success! Hopefully I'll learn a lot in the class. This just means I need to finish revising Spirit Riddled by like July 10th. Hopefully I can do that.

I hope you're enjoying your holiday!

Friday, July 2, 2010

Funny Things I Enjoy

So I recently applied to an advanced writing class that only accepts 5 participants. We’re all supposed to hear back tomorrow and the waiting is a little nerve wracking, so I decided to make today a little more humorous. So voila, links to funny things I enjoy. (I would have inserted them in, but I think that’s copyright infringement. Let’s go the legal path shall we?)

Women in engineering. It's all pressure.

Dividing by zero. It's not good.

The best movie ever. Seriously. I would go see this in a heartbeat.

Some Doctor Who love from a classic Doctor.

The joys of being a TA. Times two.

TV science. It's all lies.

Stuff Christians Like & Vuvuzelas. What's not to love?

More vuvuzelas. Annoying sound? Yes. Awesome word? Yes.

LOLC + Bible = awesome or appalling?

Ok, that's enough funny happiness for now. Hopefully this will lighten everyone's day a bit. And for future reference, I usually go to Piled Higher and Deeper and Stuff Christians Like for my daily dose of happiness. I recommend them to you as well.

Do you guys have anything funny you would like to share?

Thursday, July 1, 2010

To FTL or not to FTL?

So this is somewhat a continuation of Tuesday's post on the speed of light. It's also moderately related to a post I read recently on the League of Extraordinary Writer's*. The post inspired this one, though if it read it you may wonder why. It's basically about hard science fiction against soft science fiction. I don't know if I agree 100% with what was said - I have a love of hard science (I am an engineer) - but I agree with most of what was said. Characterization is very very very important. However, this post has nothing to do with that. It has to do with a small offhand comment. The writer states that in the Firefly universe as created by Joss Whedon, there exists FTL travel.

That caused me to stop reading the article right there. All thoughts of characterization and hard scifi vs. soft scifi flew from my mind.

And I would like to note this is the problem with soft science fiction being too soft. If the writer says something scientifically wrong its going to take an engineer like me out of the story. It's going to make me roll my eyes and think "this person didn't do their research". And let's face it - who reads science fiction? Engineers and nerds like me.

Anyway, back to FTL. So what is wrong with this sentence? Nothing exactly. For all I know the Serenity has FTL capabilities. For all I know, Joss Whedon has written in his story Bible somewhere "and they have faster than light travel". This could all very well be true.

But I have seen no proof in the show or the movie that it is true. It takes the Serenity at least hours to travel between planets - which as far as I know are all in one solar system. Sometimes it takes days. This indicates that they cannot travel faster than the speed of light.

For you see, it takes the sun's light eight minutes to get to the Earth. That's right eight minutes. It takes the sun's light a little over 5 hours to reach Pluto. So unless the Firefly solar system is ginormously large - with FTL travel they should be able to fly from their system's sun to the reaver's planet Miranda in like 6 or 7 hours, not the days they normally take.

So if your science fiction writer, you can see that you may not even need faster than light travel. If your science fiction society only lives within the Earth's solar system, why would you need to travel faster than five hours from the sun to the outermost planet (err...or not planet. What is Pluto these days? Planetoid?). How much of a hurry are you in?

Faster than light travel is only needed if you want to travel fast between our solar system and a more distant one. Or if you want to travel between galaxy's. So before you assume that your universe needs FTL, just remember Firefly. It takes Malcolm Reynold's days to get anywhere, and it never hurt the story line. Maybe it won't hurt yours either.

*If you don't read the League, you really should. I love their blog. I don't even write dystopian fiction, and yet I find their blog to be thought provoking and interesting. I suggest you go by there and read some.