Bill_Ingersoll, The Wordsmith

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6/18/2019 7:00 AM

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I am the author, coauthor, and publisher of thirteen books that I will broadly categorize as "regional non-fiction." Despite being a published writer--or perhaps because of it--I am well aware that getting ahead in this genre is an uphill battle. Therefore, rather than letting some of my story ideas languish or become forgotten, this seems to be a good format to share them.

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Marooned on Giri Minor

The Orion Chronicles Part I:

Marooned on Giri Minor

You are a young recruit in the Astral Navy, serving aboard a minor transport vessel making routine personnel transport runs to Star Base Ishtria. When a malfunction requires the captain to drop the ship out of hyperspace, you find yourself in orbit above Giri Minor--a deserted world with a dark history and circled by uncharted asteroid clouds.

This is a story told in the classical "gamebook" format. This means that it is more narrative-driven and less of a game, and roughly the same length as many printed books in this genre.

Important Stats:

- 19 endings, including 4 "preferred" endings, and 1 epilogue

- 1 abandoned colony

- 1 alien with ambiguous motivations

- 16 passengers aboard the transport ship, 4 crew members, but only ??? survivors

- Thousands of sand-dwelling creatures with mind-altering properties

Can you survive Giri Minor?

(c) 2019 Bill Ingersoll

Secret of the Grass Planet

The Orion Chronicles Part II:

Secret of the Grass Planet

It's been four years since you were rescued from Giri Minor, and because of your heroic actions you have been commissioned as an officer in the Astral Navy. Your first assignment as a newly-promoted lieutenant aboard the Starship Orion: search for the noted xenoanthropologist Dr. Lori Munro and her husband Ander Dyo, who have gone missing on the planet Folvan. As you explore the so-called "Grass Planet," known for its expansive prairie environment and bronze-age civilization, you will find that not all is as it seems.

This is a story told in the classical "gamebook" format. This means that it is more narrative-driven and less of a game, with many unique storypaths resulting from the choices you make. This story is significantly longer than many of the popular printed books in this genre.

Important Stats:

- 39+ endings, told in 185+ pages

- 5 people assigned to your expedition

- 4 missing researchers

- 3 hungry teek-teeks

- 2 Folvan settlements to explore: one village, one city

- 1 closely-guarded secret

Will you unlock the secret of the Grass Planet?

(c) 2019 Bill Ingersoll


Previously in the Orion Chronicles:

1 - Marooned on Giri Minor

Recent Posts

Ogre's Boobs on 6/17/2019 10:18:22 PM

Funny, I think I did know that at some point in the past. So when I was making my comments above about the top stories of 2019, I was basing it off this list. It's odd that "Sir Osis" isn't here, but "Escape from Prison" is.

Ogre's Boobs on 6/17/2019 7:19:40 PM

Yes, I am aware of the history of Avery's story. And like I said, I'm not begrudging its success.

So who won that contest? I was basing my assumption on the reader ratings.

The Mountains of Usul on 6/17/2019 7:14:54 PM

And I should probably dispel the notion that I write "literature." My published work is entirely non-fiction; the books are hiking guidebooks, and the articles are essays on wilderness management and outdoor recreation. This is my first foray in fiction since I was in high school. I did write Marooned on Giri Minor with the intent of marketing it to a print publisher, but after figuring out that was most likely not going to happen, I published it here instead to see what the reaction would be.

So yes I am a published writer, but when it comes to this kind of thing I'm as much a noob as anyone.

The Mountains of Usul on 6/17/2019 6:58:03 PM

The story of which this passage will be a part is about "you" leading a search team to a world with a gravity of 2.3 Gs. Basically, if you weigh 100 lbs normally, you'd suddenly weigh 230 lbs the moment you set foot on the surface. So the characters are physically preparing themselves for this expedition by immersing themselves in the increased gravity as much as possible, taking advantage of the fact that on a starship you can set the artificial gravity to whatever you need it to be, wherever you want it.

The discussion about gravity in this story is inspired by the fact that as we discover more and more "exoplanets" orbiting nearby stars, our own dear Earth is starting to look rather small. There are theories that habitable worlds may range up to 10 times the size of the Earth--meaning that 100-lb featherweight would weigh half a ton on one of these "super earths." These worlds may very well support life, but humans wouldn't be able to function on some of them.

The purpose is to inject a bit of realism in the story--getting past the "Star Trek" concept of every planet looking like southern California.

Ogre's Boobs on 6/17/2019 6:44:45 PM

As I pointed out before, though, besides "Boobs!" the only other 2019 story to get any kind of attention is Avery's "Innocence Lost," with 262 ratings to date. When you scroll down to the comments, it appears that it gets reviewed every couple days by people whose user names I don't recognize from the forums, as well as from people who don't even have accounts. This tells me that people with no strong connections to the CYS site are finding it and reading it almost daily. (I read "Innocence Lost" myself, enjoyed it, and left a review that was later featured.)

However, the next most-rated game for 2019 (after "Boobs!) is "Knight Order of the Golden Sun," with a score of 6.52 but only 22 player ratings. The last review was Ogre's from 5/2, and all of the reviews seem to be from regular forum-goers. I haven't read this story, but it looks like this might have been a well-received contest winner... that no one reads or talks about anymore.

I don't want to begrudge any story its success--and as I said before, I did read and enjoy Avery's work--but one major difference that I can see between "Innocence Lost" and "Knight Order" is that one is featured on the site's homepage, and the other can be found only by perusing through lists of hundreds and hundreds of noob stories.

Basically, what I'm saying is that the way the site is designed directs new readers to stories that are already successful, while other stories that might also be pretty darn good are probably only read by regular site participants. The difference in the readership rate between a story that is featured versus one that is non-featured seems pretty large, from what I can see.

So perhaps the follow-up experiment to "Boobs!" is not to have Ogre take it out behind the barn, but to actually feature it and see what happens...

Ogre's Boobs on 6/17/2019 7:03:07 AM

I think "Boobs" was successful in proving its point in how stories get ranked (or not) on this site. My hat's off to it.

For those of us who worked our tails off to try and produce something of quality... that no one reads once it's published... it's a frustrating experience.

Ogre's Boobs on 6/16/2019 8:15:46 PM

"Innocence Lost" and "Boobs" are the only two 2019 stories that have been ranked.

The next closest new story has only has 22 ratings, and my own story is stuck at 20.

June Review Contest - WEEK THREE on 6/15/2019 11:09:33 PM

Thanks. Actually, writing those reviews is not much different in style than the type of writing that I'm normally known for.

The Mountains of Usul on 6/15/2019 11:01:21 PM

Note: The above passage is the sum total of today's work. It is also a passage from my upcoming gamebook Secret of the Grass Planet, which will be the sequel to Marooned on Giri Minor. This excerpt will be one of those optional background sections that the reader can choose to click on, assuming you're not Type A and need to rush directly to the main plot. This outtake was fun to write, because even though there is no plot, it accomplishes several things at once, including both world building and character building.

The set up is that you've just been promoted to Lieutenant and have been assigned to search for a missing researcher named Dr. Munro on the planet Folvan, which has a mass 2.3 times that of Earth. Your ship is currently en route, so you are still planning your first-ever mission and getting to know your teammates.

I once thought Grass Planet was going to be finished a month ago, but now I might be lucky if it will be finished a month from now. But the branching structure is complicated (pushing close to 40 separate endings, all of them unique storypaths), and while I have the basic plot elements down, I saw a need to go back through and add a lot more character details, like in the passage above. Hopefully this will make the end product a more compelling read.

In the meantime, please feel free to read and review Marooned on Giri Minor. There have only been 20 reviews so far, so if you haven't been one of those 20 people, I really think you're missing out...

The Mountains of Usul on 6/15/2019 10:55:15 PM

After a long day full of briefings and workouts, team meetings and supply planning, and finally a meal in the ship's galley, you are ready to return to your quarters and get some rest.

Ever since you returned to the Orion about a year ago, you have been living in modest quarters down on H Deck, deep within the heart of the ship's spherical forward hull. Now that you have been promoted to lieutenant, you will probably be reassigned to something a little more spacious--but not until after the Folvan mission is completed, Dr. Munro has been found, and the xenoanthropology mission is humming along as if nothing ever happened. Still, that's something to look forward to.

You take your usual route back from the galley on B Deck, a ten-minute trip if no one stops you along the way to chat or get your input on something: take the nearest lift down six levels, follow Main Corridor H3 past four sections, then right down Cross Corridor H7G. You're the second door on the left. You feel unnaturally light as you go, as if you could skim across the floor like a pebble skipped across a surface of water.

The ship's normal gravity is set to 0.95 G, equal to that of the planet Ishtria, the main political and commercial hub for this sector. But since the ship departed Star Base Ishtria you have been logging even more time in the Gravity Gym than before--as many hours as you can, often in the company of your new expeditionary team. During these workouts, you have been subjecting yourself to the 2.3 Gs you will be facing once you reach Folvan in a few days; today alone, you spent a total of five hours in the gym, with a short session in the morning and a longer one late in the afternoon. This means you have been jogging, lifting weights, even just walking at normal speed while weighing more than twice as much as you normally do.

Normally all this workout time would be done in your off-duty hours, but Commander Diston has approved as much gym time as possible for your entire team, all as part of the mission requirements. Thus you have been cleared to use your own discretion when scheduling your time in the Gravity Gym, even during duty hours. And as the mission leader, you want to be as prepared as possible.

The commander seems especially concerned about the impact Folvan's gravity will have on the success of your mission, although Chief Dansmith insists the first officer is worrying too much. Habitable worlds of the size that humans prefer, he has reminded you, are actually at just one end of a larger spectrum. The Miziri, for instance, almost never achieved space travel because of the whopping 6.7 Gs they have to escape just to achieve orbit; a human would weigh half a metric ton on that planet, and so no one goes there without being outfitted with a special suspension harness. Folvan, by comparison, might be large by Earth standards, but its gravity will not be debilitating.

Dansmith might be right, because each time you exited the Gravity Gym today and returned to what you have started to call "ship's normal," the transition seemed jarring. You are almost starting to grow accustomed to the 2.3 Gs. Almost.

When you arrive at the door to your quarters, Room H3881, the lights and HoloScene both come to life the moment your presence is detected in the corridor. The first thing you notice as you step inside your living space is that there are clouds over the distant mountains, as if it has rained earlier today. A distant, silent wind blows through the oto trees, their bluish-green leaves waving like a million little flags in the simulated wind.

This HoloScene program was a gift from your Uncle Croen last year when you graduated from your officer candidate training program on Star Base Ishtria. It depicts the view from his camp in the foothills of the American Mountains back on your homeworld of Usul, near the headwaters of the Elliott River. When he transmitted the file to you, he told you that he had hired a local artist to design the program from scenes he recorded himself over the course of a year. The scene recreates the one you used to admire as a child, back when you spent parts of your summer with your uncle sitting on the balcony of his camp, hoping that a mikloo-deer would wander past.

On some occasions, you and Uncle Croen would venture into the mountains for weeks at a time. Your parents thought it was a horrible indulgence to be spending so much idle time in the Backcountry--not that any of those backpacking expeditions you used to enjoy could be considered sedentary pursuits. The terrain was rugged, and sometimes you would cover twenty kilometers in a single day just to find some secluded campsite, a hidden waterfall, a patch of freshly-ripened guku berries, or a summit vista. But to your mother and father all this seemed like idleness because there was nothing productive that ever came of it, no tangible results to show from all that pointless wandering--especially not when there was a gava rice farm to run back home.

And as they often reminded you, your absence meant there was more for them and your brother to do.

But they also probably understood even way back then that you were never the type of person who was ever going to be happy remaining in one place. So while your mother objected to your long "indulgences" with her eccentric brother, she secretly acknowledged that you were more like him than anyone else in the family. Your father would sometimes criticize your preference to spend all that time "roughing it" in an unsettled area, when so many Usulans had worked so hard for so long to carve a successful nation out of the wilds. Nevertheless, despite their objections they never actually prevented you from going along on one of Uncle Croen's adventures.

Humans have been living on Usul for centuries--ever since the first colonists, who were fleeing a place called America on Old Earth, awoke from a long cryosleep and saw an inviting blue-and-green world outside their viewports. These were people who had risked everything on an impossibly long voyage at sublight speeds for the chance to build a new agrarian society on a new world, free of the mistakes that had driven them from the old one. To them, a life of happiness was one that was full of meaningful labor, with a direct connection to the land beneath one's feet. Those pioneers found everything they ever wanted when they landed near the mouth of what is now the Alexander River and discovered rich, loamy soils and a nearby ocean teeming with tasty wingfish.

In all the time since the planet was first colonized, only three river valleys and an eight-hundred-kilometer section of the coast have been settled; the interior, called the Backcountry, is mostly mountainous and too rugged to appeal to the planet's population, which to this day still consists mostly of farmers and animal tenders. On Usul, there are entire continents that have been left untouched.

Uncle Croen's camp is practically on Usul's frontier, the place where the roads come to an end and human habitation occurs mostly on a seasonal basis. When Aunt Anine was still alive, the two of them had planned to live there fulltime, offering guided tours into the American Mountains for adventurous off-world tourists--who, generally speaking, were far more interested in wandering the Backcountry than most Usulans. But then Aunt Anine was killed in an earthquake when you were two years old, and Uncle Croen gave up that dream. He kept the property, but he lived in a town down the river and only visited his "camp," as he called it, every now and then--and never alone.

Of all your relatives, Uncle Croen was the only one with whom you identified. He did interesting things; he knew about other worlds; he read stories; he was aware of current affairs in the Council of Altair, the alliance between Earth and the twelve planets settled by humans. He had acquaintances on Tyuu, the most exotic of the human colonies, and every month he received a shipment of grabacco from Kaitoo, which he would smoke in a pipe while you were camping out in the mountains together.

So to you, this simulated view occupying an entire wall of your quarters is more than just scenery; it is a reminder of your childhood, or at least the pleasanter parts of it. Those mountains, which are now being raked by wispy clouds blowing inland off the ocean as the last of the summer daylight fades, are places you've been, friends that you hope to meet again. 

This artificial window sometimes makes it easy to forget you are deep within the belly of one of the most advanced spaceships in the Astral Navy; but without it, you would have no view of anything at all. Because the decks in the Orion's sphere are concentric, no one's quarters have real windows--because no rooms face outward. Everyone on board would feel like animals returning to their stalls at the end of their duty shifts were it not for the HoloScenes.

The flipside is that with so many holograms aboard it can sometimes be easy to forget where reality ends and the images begin. For this reason, many of the permanent walls and furniture throughout the ship are trimmed with wood, stone, or other natural surfaces, to help everyone feel grounded in a familiar environment of tangible objects.

But despite the artfulness of the HoloScene, there are two factors that remind you that you are beyond all doubt still on the Orion: the hum of the ship's engines and life support systems, which seem to course through the bulkheads like the blood of a living organism; and the artificial gravity, which Chief Dansmith had adjusted to 2.3 Gs, so that you could further immerse yourself in a simulation of Folvanic conditions, even while in your own personal space.

You have mixed feelings about the latter. On the one hand, you can see the wisdom in spending as much time as possible in the increased gravity, so that by the time you land on Folvan it will seem like less of a shock. The more exposure, the better. But on the other hand, it is hard to get comfortable. You had been looking forward to plunking yourself down in the chair nearest the HoloScene, trying to wade your way through more of Dr. Munro's log entries, but now the cushions feel like they're too thin, or too under-stuffed, because you can feel the frame of the chair underneath you. After a moment it dawns on you that it's not the chair that has changed, but you; because of the increased gravity, your body weight now exceeds the design specifications of your furnishings.

You think of calling Uncle Croen on the HoloComm, but when you call up the Interplanetary Almanac on your datapad you see that it's late at night back home. Usul and the Orion are on different time schedules; whereas the ship is tied to Earth's twenty-four-hour daily cycle, a solar day on Usul lasts 29.3 hours. Sometimes your evening aboard the starship coincides with evening at Uncle Croen's house, but more often it does not.

The last time you spoke with him was nearly a week ago; you had called him on the HoloComm when you had first heard of your potential promotion and the upcoming mission to Folvan.

"That would be cool," Uncle Croen said. "Exploring a strange new world. Sounds right up your alley."

"But commanding the mission?" you said. "Do you think I'm up to it?"

"Of course I do," he said. "With all of these opportunities you've had recently, I'm surprised you doubt yourself."

"It's one thing to be part of a mission," you said. "It's another to be in charge of it."

"You're in charge of projects all the time. People see you as a natural leader, so I think you just need to trust your abilities. They will probably take you farther than you can ever imagine."

With the holographic projection, it was like he was sitting in your quarters with you, sitting back and enjoying the view of the mountains just like those days on the balcony of his camp--but with one glaring difference: because of the vast interstellar distance between you, there was a thirteen-second lag in the hyperspace signal that was connecting you. When you spoke, Uncle Croen acted like he didn't hear you, until the thirteen seconds had passed. Communicating through hyperspace requires patience; instead of babbling on to fill the awkward pauses, you need to make your comment, stop, and wait for the other person to have a chance to hear you and respond.

When another thirteen seconds passed and you didn't reply, Uncle Croen continued. "I think you need to do this. I think you need to take on this mission. You are the type of person who craves responsibility, and will never be satisfied following someone else's direction--otherwise you'd be here now tending to your gava rice paddies. OK, I get it, you're still pretty young and you still have some doubts about who you are and what you can do. But if it's true what you tell me, and you are one of the top picks for this 'Grass Planet' assignment, then you will be cheating yourself if you don't take it."

"I guess you're right," you said. "It's just that if I fail at this, it will be a bigger deal than miscalibrating a particle sensor. When you're in charge of a planetary mission, all of the decisions fall on you. Your team counts on you. Yes, I want this promotion and this assignment badly. But now that it might actually happen, it's kind of scary."

"Look, did you call me hoping I would talk you out of this?" he said after the lag. "I remember you telling me about that time on Giri Minor, and those training missions to that Ishtrian moon. You had no problem taking charge then. And clearly your commanding officers see your potential now. So why all of this self-doubt?"

"I don't know," you said. "Just nerves, I guess."

"Nothing unusual about that. Look, kid, you'll do fine. Just trust yourself. I know if I was lost on some forsaken planet, I couldn't think of anyone better to come rescue me."

Now, as you sit uncomfortably in your chair, watching the simulated darkness of night settle over the wooded mountains in the HoloScene, you wish you could resume that conversation with Uncle Croen.

When you are in those mission briefings with Commander Diston, or discussing the preparations for your mission with Lieutenant Hun-Spruk and Chief Dansmith, your mind is clear; you can see the outcome that needs to be achieved, and the direct path to get there. As you've been planning the amount of supplies you'll need, or estimating the level of support you'll require from the Orion's bridge, no one has expressed the slightest doubt in your judgment. Even Chief Dansmith, who you feared would be second-guessing your every decision ever since that incident in the Sensor Array Control Room, has been notably supportive.

Nevertheless, there are times when you're alone with your own thoughts when things seem less clear, less certain. But Uncle Croen is probably right. Scratch that: he is right. You will never know what your limits are until you go forth and meet them.

It's just that you wouldn't mind hearing him tell you that tonight.

All right, you think, the metal skeleton of your normally-comfortable chair is starting to cause actual pain. You can't concentrate on any of Dr. Munro's logs, and your mind is growing foggy from fatigue. Clearly it's time to go to sleep. So you change out of your duty uniform and follow your nightly routine, and then climb into your bed.

Except that when you do, you find it to be nearly as uncomfortable as the chair. Note to self: Remind Chief Dansmith in the morning to have one of his friends in the ship's stores outfit your quarters with furnishings more appropriate for 2.3 Gs.