Thursday, October 30, 2014

Review: Ascension by Jacqueline Koyanagi

Take Firefly. Cyberpunk it up a little...or maybe a lot. Then strand in something scarily close to Peter F. Hamilton's particular brand of weird and you have Ascension.

Jacqueline Koyanagi's debut novel is published by Masque Books, the digital imprint of Prime Books - a high quality small press. (Despite that, I do have a print copy, so they're presumably available).

Alana Quick is a down on her luck freelance starship engineer, who works on whatever ships need repairs while they're in port while struggling with a chronic condition. Until the Tangled Axon comes into port and she's talked into stowing away on a ship which is searching for her sister, the "spirit guide" Nova.

Ascension is not hard science fiction. There's too much in the way of psionics and just plain strangeness involved, making it closer to space opera. And it reads very much as if Ms. Koyanagi was mad that Firefly was canceled and, being a writer, decided to do something about it.

Something very, very good (if not good enough to make up for Firefly being canceled. Sorry, Jacqueline, not sure anyone can do that).

Ascension has some great ingredients - a spunky MC, a romantic I plot that's solid enough for romance readers and low key enough for speculative fiction fans. And when I compare it to Peter F. Hamilton? This book isn't as good as most of his work.

It's better.

Assuming this isn't a one shot wonder, I may have a new author to watch. It's not flawless - few books are. The combination of psionics and quantum theory may not appeal to everyone, and gets a bit new agey in places (spirit guide as a term is just a little bit new age for me). And in some places the narrative gets just slightly confusing - at one point I kind of got lost about a couple of things. But it's an excellent effort and for a debut? It's exceptional.

So, why is it being produced by a small press, even a high quality one? I hate to say it, but I fear it may be because the MC is a disabled black lesbian and the romance is polyamorous...and many people aren't quite ready for that.

Bring on the next book, Jacqueline. I'm going to have to find space on my shelf for it.

Disclaimer: I got the copy free as part of the Capclave membership package. If you weren't lucky enough to be there, you can get your copy here.

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

It Really Is Rocket Science

Anyone paying any attention will know by now that an Antares rocket carrying a Cygnus supply ship exploded seconds after liftoff at the Wallop facility.

The Cygnus craft contained supplies for the ISS and a number of scientific experiments - including a tech demo for the crowd funded telescope ARKYD (NOT, as I initially thought, the telescope itself, although the accident will no doubt delay the launch) and over a dozen experiments designed by student scientists. My thoughts go out to every scientist who lost an experiment, to the launch staff at Orbital Sciences and everyone else involved.

Nobody was injured in the accident - everyone was where they were supposed to be, and well clear of the pad.

What we know now?

Something went wrong at about T+6. One eye witness stated he saw a trailing smoke and fire plume from the rocket. At T+16, after the rocket had cleared the water tower, range safety hit the self destruct to prevent a worse accident. The result was a spectacular fireball and explosion, and a second fireball as what was left landed back on the pad (no doubt the safety officer's intent). Blazing debris was spread across the nearby beach. The pad itself is seriously damaged.

Fortunately, the mission was insured (small comfort for the student scientists). However, Mike Suffredini, the program manager, has promised that all of the young people will be given space on an upcoming mission.

The worst part for Orbital Sciences is the damage to their pad (the only one they have), which may take weeks or even months to repair. In the mean time, the ISS astronauts still have plenty of supplies.

Pure personal speculation. Whatever the anomaly was, in order for the range safety officer to hit self destruct right above the facility, there must have been some concern that the bird was going to fly west instead of east, as it would have caused less damage to the facility and the pad (less replaceable than an unmanned rocket) to destruct the rocket over the water. Or, it was already descending  and he was trying to mitigate the damage. I can't do more than speculate at this point. Accident investigators are likely to be working on this one for a while.

Rockets are tricky beasts and there is no routine rocket launch. Is this a reminder that we need to work harder towards developing alternative earth to orbit technologies? A space elevator has become far more feasible of late. Mass drivers or railguns are unlikely to be feasible on Earth but could be very handy on the moon. And, of course, it's definitely time to look further into solving the spaceplane problem.

Not to knock the great work being done in conventional rocketry by Space X and, of course, Orbital Sciences (despite this setback) - let's start thinking outside the box.

Instead of doing more rocket science, let's do some real innovation.

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Most Ridiculous Launch Scrub Ever

So, Orbital Sciences was supposed to be launching an Antares from Wallop yesterday.

Why not?

Because some schmuck was down range in a sailboat. Said schmuck was not responding to hails.

Wallops enforces, with the support of the U.S. Coast Guard and Virginia Marine Police, a no-sail zone downrange of the launch site - for the safety of boaters in case something goes wrong. It's quite likely the wayward boater will be fined.

I personally hope his name doesn't come out, or his social media accounts are likely to receive a deluge of nastygrams...

(And really, who ignores stuff like that?)

Monday, October 27, 2014

It's Stormy Out There...

...or specifically on the sun. There's a really big sunspot spewing out big flares right now - and it's already affected some communications on Earth.

Fortunately, this particular storm is not associated with a CME (Coronal Mass Ejection), which could cause much bigger problems (and spectacular auroras).

But yeah. Definitely very stormy on the sun again.

Friday, October 24, 2014

Friday Updates

I just signed a contract with Cohesion Press to include my story, tentatively titled "Jester," in their next SNAFU anthology "Wolves At The Door."

Military fiction.

With werewolves.

Honestly, doesn't that combination just sing?

Thursday, October 23, 2014

I Love It...

...this dinosaur, that is. It's a living, breathing bad movie monster. I mean, the thing has huge hands, a sail back, a head like a mule with no ears...

I adore it.

Also, albeit according to a less than reliable source, it actually took 5,000 years for the lactose tolerance mutation to spread through the European population after the invention of dairy farming. Seems about right to me...

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Reading Fees

I occasionally, as the muse moves me, write non-genre fiction. This means I have to find places to send it.

The largest market is literary journals operated by university English departments. I can't swear to how they work, but I tend to assume (are there any students who can confirm or deny?) that their slush is read by students for credit. These magazines usually pay and some can pay quite well.

However, there is a disturbing and growing trend: Reading fees.

It's actually becoming standard for university-run magazines to charge a $3 reading fee (it's almost always $3) for electronic submissions. In some cases, they don't charge for postal subs. In some cases, they only take electronic subs. The claim is always that this is somehow what it "costs" them to read a story. I've also read "it doesn't cost any more than a postal sub" (not true if you have a higher volume printer, which all writers should consider investing in - I like my Brother HL-2140 a lot and it doesn't take up much more space than a desktop inkjet). This includes, more and more, journals that don't even pay the writers.

But pretty soon they will be able to claim it's "standard industry practice."

Reading fees have never been "standard industry practice." In many areas, reading fees are a red flag that an organization is a scam.

Here's an explanation from one of them, which boils down to: Because you cheapskate writers refuse to subscribe to our magazines, we have to charge you fees, because we have to get money out of you somehow. Oh, and he claims it results in more submissions. Which bothers me more than anything else I've heard. "Writers have no problem paying money to submit."

Why, other than thinking we have no choice? (Which in the literary journal world is likely to become the case - very, very soon - at which point I will cease to submit non-genre fiction and quite probably cease to write it). Most of the time, a writer is paying $3 or even more (some magazines charge as much as $20) for a rejection letter that will probably be a form.

And while $3 doesn't sound like much, it can easily mount up into the hundreds a year (one writer calculated that at his normal submission rate he'd pay about $1,000 just in submissions at that rate). It's very common to submit a story 20 or 30 times before it's accepted.

Ah, but, we should support the journals we submit to?

Of course we should, when we can afford it. But we should not be required to do so as a "cost of doing business." I contrast Apex, which has given me back issues just for entering their contests. Or Dark Discoveries, which gave me a free one year subscription as an apology for a submission that got lost.

And if you pay a reading fee to be published for free, there's a rather nasty word for that: Vanity publishing.

Unfortunately, this will remain a problem as long as writers are willing to pay the fees: And apparently quite a few of us are.

As a note: I have no problem with magazines that have an optional submission fee, ask for donations on their website, etc. That's fine. I don't mind being asked for money. Or even begged for money. I mind being treated as a buyer instead of a seller.

In no other industry are people charged fees just to apply for a job. And in this case, the job might pay $100, $50 or...nothing at all.

So, I'm challenging the writers out there: If you pay these fees, consider why. And consider the fact that by supporting this business model you're part of why it's becoming more common.

And to editors: Consider alternatives such as crowdfunding, asking for donations - I realize universities are letting their literary journals down right now - offering discount subscriptions to writers, charging fees that include a free electronic back issue so the writer is guaranteed something for it (and it also makes them read your magazine). This isn't about us not having money, although most writers would rather spend $1,000 a year on something with a guaranteed return. Nor is it about "writers aren't business people." Some writer's aren't, but many are.

And that's why I for one want to be treated as a vendor, not a buyer.