My Life This May: In Which I Finish My First Year of College,Win a Free Book, and Climb Over Rocks in Search of Seaweed

Hello, and welcome to today’s (celebratory) “My Life This Month” post! I am going to deal with the things in the title in chronological order, so finishing my first year of college will have to wait a couple paragraphs, but that is mostly what I’m celebrating this month.

I actually won the free book at the very end of last month. I was surprised and pleased, since despite entering various giveaways whenever I get the chance (nothing better than free books, right?), I have never won one before! I reviewed the said book, Edge of Oblivion by Joshua A. Johnston, last week, so you can click here to see what I thought of it.

Now on to the main event! Halfway through this month, I finished my first year of college, which is a little crazy. It seems like I just started. I was thinking about it, and I’ve learned so much since then, and not all about academics:

  • Having a good teacher makes a class that much better.
  • Gas prices fluctuate constantly. Try not to fuss too much.
  • Don’t discount anything before you’ve looked into it. Your last option might become your first.
  • Backups happen, and there may not be a way around them. Leave the house early enough that you can sit in traffic and still be early to class.
  • An empty lecture hall is a rare and beautiful thing.
  • Chemistry is a hard subject. Grade scaling is necessary and good for your GPA.
  • Calculus is easy. (Stranger things have happened.)
  • It is possible to eat applesauce with a fork. (Seriously.)
  • Commuting can be frustrating because it makes it harder to make friends.
  • Commuting is great because your only roommate is your cat and you get to see your family every day. Plus, when your residential classmates are complaining about packing, you can smile to yourself and think, “I don’t have to do that. . . .”
  • That first semester is rough. Give it time, and college will become one of the best experiences of your life.

I have finished a variety of classes this year:

  • General Chemistry I and II
  • Introductory Biology I and II
  • First-Year Writing
  • Professional Perspectives in Biology
  • Calculus for Life Sciences
  • Global Public Health Issues
  • Myths and Misconceptions about Nuclear Science

And here’s what I hope to tackle next year:

  • Principles of Genetics
  • Genetics Lab
  • Organic Chemistry I and II
  • Applied Biostatistics
  • Introductory Physics I and II
  • Biotechnology and Society

Hopefully, the scheduling will work out for half of those in the spring.

Even though I’ve officially finished my classes for the year, I’m still at UNH for the summer. I mentioned last month that I got a research fellowship to study seaweed, and this week, it started. On Monday, I found myself slipping and sliding over rocks trying to get under a bridge and find a very specific kind of seaweed.

Porphyra umbilicalis, a type of nori, or sushi seaweed. (Image not mine)

The goal is eventually to domesticate this seaweed, P. umbilicalis, but first we have to find out what species it is. On Thursday, I and the grad student in the lab got some samples from Dover Point, under another bridge (I’m fairly sure the people walking by thought I was crazy when I started shouting to the grad student that “I found some!”). I extracted the DNA from those on Friday, and next week, hopefully, we can use the DNA to identify what species we got (as long as I, ahem, actually got DNA out of the extraction).

As far as writing goes, I made some progress on my book this month, even with finals week smack in the middle. I rewrote most of the beginning, which made it a good bit shorter (it was proportionally too long for the book), and started putting in a new scene. Editing goes slowly, but it does go on. I also gave in and started outlining another idea that has been nagging at my brain for months. I’m not sure how far I’ll go through with it, so I won’t give you any tidbits just yet, but I hope (right now) to have it outlined fully by the end of the year, so that by the time I send Windsong off to beta readers, I’ll have something else to start writing.

And that’s my life this month!

What was your life like this month? Did you get much writing done? Have you ever won a free book? Did you also finish a year of high school or college? If so, post in the comments, and we can celebrate!

 

 

 

What I’m Reading: Edge of Oblivion by Joshua A. Johnston

When a great evil attacks his interplanetary Confederacy, Naval Commander Jared Carter is sent not to the front lines, but to chase down ancient religious artifacts that may hold the key to destroying the new enemy.

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My copy, which I won in a giveaway.

After reading the back cover copy for Edge of Oblivion, I was really excited to read it. It sounded so interesting. While that proved to be true, it unfortunately did disappoint me a little. More below.

The Story: Many years in the future, Earth’s history has been lost during a mysterious dark age. Malum, a planet-sized ship in service of “the Master,” appears on the edge of Confederal space and works its way in, vaporizing people and ships as it goes. Nothing in the Confederal Navy can make a dent in Malum, let alone defeat it. So the Navy’s higher-ups send interceptor commander Jared Carter off chasing the only lead they have: a fragment of an ancient religious text which contains the same compound as Malum’s hull. Jared Carter and his crew chase that lead across several different planets and ultimately up to Malum itself.

I thought the premise was the best part of this book. The storyworld (or worlds; this is a space opera, like Star Trek and Star Wars) was beautifully developed, particularly the history of the Confederacy. I’ll discuss that more later on. The story of the interceptor crew chasing down an old, forbidden religion in a time when religion is looked down on was also interesting. The pacing was perfect, keeping me hooked through action and reaction scenes. And the theme (hope) was woven in subtly at the beginning through all the despair and became more obvious at the end, which I liked.

The Characters: The principal characters were Jared Carter, his interceptor’s crew, and the religious men who have the all-important text fragments. One of those men, Nho, stays with the crew after being rescued by them and becomes a mentor of sorts. He was my favorite character, probably because he was the best-developed, although I also liked Vetta and Darel, a couple of the alien crew members. All the characters seemed a bit underdeveloped at first, but they were revealed more later on. Jared, the protagonist, felt particularly bland to me; although he got slightly more interesting later on, he still wasn’t as compelling as Nho or Vetta. I’m hopeful that he’ll get more interesting in subsequent books (this is the first of a series).

The Writing: This is where I had my biggest problems with this book. The story was well plotted, but there were various errors in the way it was told. Mainly, there was a lot of telling rather than showing, in a couple ways. A lot of telling words were used (“Jared saw,” “Jared wanted,” “Jared thought,” etc.), rather than showing the reader what was going on inside Jared’s head. There was also a lot of infodumping, sometimes for no apparent reason, as when a chapter started with several paragraphs on the ways pirates might track a ship in space. (This did not turn out to foreshadow any event later on.) Characters’ backstory was also infodumped in several places, and there was a lot of contrived dialogue used to convey information. None of that got in the way of the action scenes, though.

Overall: Edge of Oblivion is an interesting book with an original premise, but the message of hope in Christ would have been much stronger had the writing been stronger and the characters more interesting. This was a debut novel, so I’m hopeful that things will improve in the rest of the series. It is worth the read for the story’s sake alone.

What do you think? Have you ever read a space opera? Have you read Edge of Oblivion? Did you enjoy it? Tell me in the comments!

A Blurb on Bioinformatics: Why We Geneticists Need Computers

I was going to write a longer post for this week, but due the three finals I’ve had in the past two days and the one I have coming up on Monday, I found myself scrambling to put a post together. I may tackle the Human Genome Project (today’s intended topic) another time, when it’s not finals week. Today, I will offer one of my favorite scientific rants: bioinformatics.

Or, why geneticists should learn computer programming. (Image not mine)

The above image shows you a schematic (technically called a “space-filling model”) of DNA, deoxyribonucleic acid, one of my favorite molecules and one of the most awesome things in the universe. (But I digress. . . .) Here is a simpler picture of DNA for you.

(Image not mine)

 

 

This image clearly shows the iconic DNA double helix, along with something very important: base pairing. As you may have heard in high school biology class, DNA’s information is encoded in the “base pairs,” pairs of nucleotide bases (adenine, thymine, cytosine, and guanine) that hydrogen-bond with each other. (Don’t worry about what a hydrogen bond is. It doesn’t really matter unless you’re a biochemist. What matters is that the bases pair.) Adenine (A), as you can see in the image, only pairs with thymine (T), and guanine (G) only with cytosine (C). This is responsible for a lot of important properties of DNA, such as coding for proteins and RNAs, which I won’t go into here. This is why knowing the “sequence” of bases along the DNA in a chromosome, or in an entire genome (all the genetic material in an organism), is useful.

Here is an illustration of chromosomes for you. (Image not mine)

The problem with that? Any given organism (even a bacterium!) has a lot of DNA.

Take humans, for example. Almost any given cell in your body (except red blood cells, which have no nuclei) has a copy of your entire genome, coiled up into 46 chromosomes, two copies each of 23 unique chromosomes (except the X and Y chromosomes, which are not copies of each other, per se). All together, those little chromosomes contain about 2 meters (5-6 feet) of DNA. Think about it: if stretched out, your DNA would be about as long as you are tall. That’s in each cell, folks.

It staggers the mind. Which is why we need computers.

This is where we get “bioinformatics”: using computers to study life. (Image not mine)

Genomics (the study of whole genomes) is having a revolution right now. And this field of study relies on computers, so guess what? Bioinformatics is big. Programming classes are offered for bioscience majors, and bioinformatics options for computer science majors. Though I’m not a genomics student, I will probably take a bioinformatics programming course later in my college career, because that’s where the field is going. And there you have it, ladies and gentlemen. My genetics rant for the day. I hope you enjoyed it.

(Image not mine)

Have you ever heard of bioinformatics? Do you like DNA as much as I do? (I know, I know, I’m a nerd. . . .) How about computers? (I don’t like them very much, but it’s great if you do. The world needs more computer people.) Share in the comments!

Beautiful People: May 2016

Hello, all! It’s time for another round of Beautiful People, a link-up run by Cait @ Paper Fury and Sky @ Further Up and Further In. Beautiful People is all about getting to know one’s characters. I did this in March for my character Mirage (you can read more about her book here). This month’s featured character is her brother Crow.

Crow--face, intense look. Hair needs to be flatter and darker. :):
Crow is the protagonist of my fantasy series, Windsong. (Image neither mine nor completely accurate)

So, on to the questions!

1. How often do they smile? Would they smile at a stranger?

Not very often. Crow has a tragic backstory (more on that below), so he doesn’t often have reason to smile. And he certainly wouldn’t smile at a stranger, because he is very suspicious of other people.

2. What is the cruelest thing they’ve ever been told? And what was their reaction?

He was a slave when he was a child, and has been told by various slave drivers that he’s worthless and so on. His outward reaction is defiance, but inwardly, he struggles with trying not to believe them.

3. What is the kindest thing they’ve ever been told? And what was their reaction?

Crow has only had one friend (sad, I know; how I torment him), who once told him that he was brave for standing up to the slave drivers. This has basically given him the guts to escape from slavery and be a survivor.

4. What is one strong memory that has stuck with your character from childhood? Why is it so powerful and lasting?

See number 6.

5. What book do you think your character would benefit from reading?

This is a good question. He could definitely benefit from reading the Bible, but besides that, he could start with Raising Dragons by Bryan Davis. It could teach him a bit about selflessness.

6. Have they ever been seriously injured? How severely? How did they react?

So this question was tailor-made for Crow, and the answer also answers number 4. When he was ten, he suffered a very severe injury (one that should have killed him), leaving a reddish, welt-like scar on his face and upper body. The memory still gives him nightmares. It’s basically his worst memory and one of his defining experiences.

7. Do they like and get along with their neighbors?

Hmm . . . well, Crow lives in the forest, so his neighbors are animals. Apart from hunting them for food when necessary, yes, he gets along pretty well with them.

8. On a scale from 1 to 10 (1 being easy and 10 being difficult) how easy are they to get along with?

Probably 9. He doesn’t like having to interact with people.

9. If they could travel anywhere in the world, where would they go?

Any dense forest far away from civilization where he could be self-sustaining. See number 8.

10. Who was the last person they held hands with?

He doesn’t remember, but most likely either his mother or Mirage, both of whom he hasn’t seen since he was four (and he’s sixteen now).

That’s it for this month! Hopefully, I will have another Beautiful People character profile for you next month.

Did you enjoy reading about Crow? Have you done Beautiful People this month? (If so, put your link in the comments!) Do you write fantasy? Do you have any antisocial characters? Tell me in the comments!

Book Quote 3: The Silmarillion

. . . Iluvatar spoke to Ulmo, and said: ‘Seest thou not how here in this little realm in the Deeps of Time Melkor hath made war upon thy province? He hath bethought him of bitter cold immoderate, and yet hath not destroyed the beauty of thy fountains, nor of thy clear pools. Behold the snow, and the cunning work of frost! Melkor hath devised heats and fire without restraint, and hath not dried up thy desire nor utterly quelled the music of the sea. Behold rather the height and glory of the clouds, and the everchanging mists; and listen to the fall of rain upon the Earth! . . .’

Welcome to my third book quote post on The Story Scientist! (This must mean I’m entering my third month of blogging. Wow. . . .) I post book quote analyses on the first Saturday of the month. I have previously examined quotes from The Fellowship of the Ring and Oliver Twist. Today, I draw from the first part of one of J.R.R. Tolkien’s lesser-appreciated works: The Silmarillion.

This is what my copy of The Silmarillion looks like.

Because this book isn’t so well-known, the excerpt requires a little explanation. Here, Iluvatar (basically God) is talking to Ulmo (angel of water) about Melkor (the devil), up in heaven at the beginning of time. So, let’s see what we, as writers, can learn from this quote!

1. Old-fashioned language can be hard to read. This is probably half of why people struggle with The Silmarillion. Most of it is narrative, more history than story (this is one of the few bits of dialogue in the first part), and the characters tend to talk like Shakespeare. While this is appropriate for Iluvatar, who, as creator, is set apart from the rest of the characters in the book, all the “thees” and “thous” can be hard for the modern reader to wrap his or her head around. If you’re going to use old-fashioned language like this, do it sparingly and, as Tolkien has done it here, in a way appropriate to the characters (as everything really should be written, right?).

2. Philosophical concepts can enhance novels. Look at the quote again. Iluvatar really isn’t just talking about water here. He’s talking about how even the evil spawned by a fallen angel can enhance the good. Melkor brings cold, which creates beautiful frost; he brings heat, which creates beautiful clouds. Iluvatar is saying, in a much grander way, “There’s always a silver lining.”This brings in one of the central themes of this work: good versus evil. It’s great to incorporate big themes into your story like this.

3. Prose should be beautiful. I’ve talked about the eloquence of Tolkien before, but I love it so much, I can’t help but bring it up again. 🙂 The beauty of this prose lends itself to the grandeur of the history Tolkien relates to us in The Silmarillion. So really, this should read, prose should be beautiful if it lends itself to the story (or the piece of description, or whatever it is you’re writing). In this case, it does, so it works well.

That’s all for today! Have you ever read The Silmarillion? Did you like it? Do you think old-fashioned language is hard to read? Do you ever write characters who say “thee” and “thou?” What kind of themes do you enjoy reading about? Tell me in the comments!