The Heisenberg Compensator School

Chapter Ten of YELLOW ROSES is a royal pain in the ass. I had a version written, and it wasn't spectacular - owed more to LAW & ORDER than my own experiences with the law - but at least it flowed well.

Then I realized I was cheating.

I belong to the Heisenberg Compensator School of Science Fiction, you see. There are two schools of thought - the Asimov School and the Heisenberg Compensator School. In the Asimov School, everything must have an explanation. Everything works according to reality, nothing is left to chance. Tom Clancy follows this school to an extreme - his books are practically technical manuals.

But when STAR TREK first proposed the concept of the transporter, there had to be one smartass scientist who said it was impossible. His name was Heisenberg, or so the story goes, and it had something to do with the disruption of energy in the brain... I dunno. Transporter=impossible. So in STAR TREK: THE NEXT GENERATION, at one point they were fixing the transporter, and someone had to replace the Heisenberg Compensator. Ha!

What does the Heisenberg Compensator do? I haven't a clue. And I don't give a good goddamn. The Creators gave a nod to real science, but they didn't bog us down with twenty minutes about how Heisenberg was wrong, because we aren't here to learn the technical schematics of the transporter. The real story is in the human beings, the characters, the crisis and the aftermath. Screw the machinery.

I love the Heisenberg Compensator. And it's not just for science fiction. I had a good reason for everything about my vampires in the NOCTURNAL URGES series, and discarded everything that would make writing the series annoying. But I wanted to keep the lore that vampires do not appear in mirrors. Problem: There's absolutely no good scientific reason for it.

So when Isabel asks Ryan why they don't appear in mirrors, he says he doesn't know. How can that be? she asks. He shrugs. "We don't know why a duck's quack doesn't echo, either," he says.

This is true. A duck's quack doesn't echo. No one knows why. And you know what? That's all the explanation my readers - or my editor, a much tougher nut to crack - needed. It makes sense that way, for no good reason whatsoever. It's a Heisenberg Compensator.

But there's a fine line between the principles of Heisenberg and cheating. Cheating is when the movie serial ends with the car going over the cliff with the hero still inside, and at the opening of the next one, he jumped out of the car just in time. Cheating is saying "a wizard did it," or pretending the audience won't notice that Kyle Reese can't exist if he's his own father. (Just go with me here.)

Cheating is when you assume the reader isn't as smart as you are, and you can just skate by things that you know to be wrong and hope no one notices. Every time I've tried to cheat, my wonderful beautiful editor (Mary, I love you!) catches me and breaks out her patented cat-o-nine-tails she keeps on hand for author punishment.

I was cheating when I wrote Chapter Ten. I was cheating because I knew very well that the civil suit wouldn't be in place for years, and even the criminal trial would be months in the future, and we can't have a roomful of spectators with a grand jury investigation, and regardless Cat could not be sitting in the room listening to a witness if she herself is to be a witness. Even I know that much about court procedure, and I'm not even a courts reporter.

So I kicked myself, and enlisted the help of the marvelous Dawn O'Leary and Kimberly Hamm, attorneys at law. They gave me the idea of the preliminary hearing, which puts everyone I need in the room and talking about the things I need to talk about.

Unfortunately, I still couldn't get Cat in the damn room during Richard's testimony. Which meant half the scene had to be scrapped. Readers won't get to see Richard testify, or how Sapphire interrogated him, or what Serena was doing as he spoke. That was a good scene, and I hated to lose it.

But it was cheating.


  1. Vampires don't appear in mirrors because they don't have souls. The silver backing can't reflect them.

    They don't have shadows for the same reason. And they don't show up on silver nitrate film. (But they do on color film)

  2. But what if a wizard DID do it?

  3. Angel, Elizabeth's vampires aren't evil or soulless, so that wouldn't have worked for an explanation.

    I did that Heisenberg Compensator thing with BELOVED FOREVER and didn't even know it had a name. LOL.

    Maybe you can use the scene in another book someday by changing the characters' names, etc.

  4. Heisenberg was a physicist, specializing in quantum mechanics, who posited that the more you try to measure something, the less accurate your measurements will be. (Remember in high school physics, when they told us that you could never measure both the speed and the location of an electron, because the act of measuring of those factors has an effect on the phenomenon your're trying to measure? That's the Heisenberg Uncertainty principle in action.) Anyway, the Star Trek writers cleverly chose not to try to explain it away when building transporters, so the Heisenberg Compensators were born and the rest is history... \\geek off\\


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