Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Off again.

I'm going to be out of town once more from tomorrow until Sunday.

Yeah, I'm a rather busy writer right now, but at least it's a good kind of busy.

Monday, May 28, 2012

Don't give up...

It's easy to give up.

I've mentioned before that my riding coach has a very big, very high quality Warmblood gelding. He is a super nice horse, rated at Grand Prix quality.

He is also super challenging to ride. Physically. At one point, she was on the verge of giving up. She was all set to sell him and buy a 'nice little amateur horse'.

Her trainer convinced her to give it a while longe. That, of course, was when everything came together and she worked out how to ride him.

It's often when we are closest to giving up that we are also closest to our breakthroughs. Just food for thought.

Friday, May 25, 2012

The Dragon has...

...flown? Landed? Of course, flight in this context might bring up memories of Pern books.

All humor aside, the first commercially owned and operated spaceship has successfully docked with the ISS. The successful flight will be the first of a number of contracted flights operated by SpaceX and using the Dragon system, assuming the capsule (with a cargo of low value, just in case) makes a successful return to Earth.

The manned version of the Dragon should, if all goes well, make its first flights in 2015.

Thursday, May 24, 2012

A few bits of science news:

1. The Dragon mission seems to be going well. So far the unmanned cargo vehicle has completed several key tests successfully.

2. Researchers have cracked the problem of the Graxel cell, a cheap solar cell that, up until now, was not durable enough to be viable. Of course, they did it with nanotechnology.

3. Another guy has worked out how to store, record and erase digital data...in your DNA. This might eventually lead to a cure for cancer, by rather convoluted means.

4. And Venus will be gliding across the sun for the first time in over a century.

It's getting pretty exciting out there.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Making Plans...

I'm going to be busy, busy, busy.

First of all, I'll be at Balticon on Sunday (just going for the day this year, hoping to maybe go for longer next year). I really hadn't realized until I looked at the schedule just how useful...and writer-focused...this particular con is.

Then next week, I'll be at Origins Gaming Con from Wednesday through Sunday. (This does mean that there will be no blog posts Wednesday through Friday...I should be back live on Monday). While there I'll be helping run the Smithee Awards...and this year we're doing two shows, one on Friday night and the other on Saturday night. Expect to see the crazy crowd wandering around the con, possibly throwing buttons at people. Especially people in costume.

Also, watch this space for some more news that might, or might not, have something to do with the wonderful people at Occult Moon.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Second time is the charm

After having to abort a few days ago, Space X's Dragon flew this morning. This will be, if all goes well, the first commercial vehicle to visit the ISS.

The launch took place before dawn this morning, and was flawless. The rendezvous is scheduled for May 24...let's all cross our fingers for a successful mission.

If it succeeds, then the Dragon vehicles will be rated to deliver cargo to the ISS, with a contract minimum of 12 delivery missions.

We need this. We need these companies to make spaceflight as routine as taking an airliner across the Atlantic. The time will come.

Monday, May 21, 2012


One of the big problems with today's society is that people take short cuts. I'm interested in dressage (and even have a horse available to maybe take to a couple of shows this year). I went to the barn yesterday to ride him. (which ended up not happening much because another horse was lame and he was needed for a lesson).

When I got there, I saw not just my trainer's car, but her horse trailer. She'd brought her personal horse over to school in peace (that is, away from her six year old). He's a 16.3 Hanoverian. (For the non-horsey, 15 hands = 5 feet and it's measured to a point just in front of the saddle, not the head...this horse is, in other words, taller than I am). He's competing second level, schooling third, and is considered a 'professional' quality horse, capable of working at the higher levels. He's beautiful. And huge. And worth more than your car. (Well, unless you have a very good car).

I stuck around to watch her school...and then she turned around and said 'I'm getting tired. You guys should get up'. I thought at first she was joking...this is her 50k upper level horse, not her rescued Thoroughbred who's still working on training level... Nope. She was serious.

There's a bit of a scandal in the dressage world right now called 'rollkeur'. These horses are basically forced into something which LOOKS like a classic dressage frame by the use of heavy hands, harder bits and various devices to pull the head down. I've long suspected that these people, who include Olympians, do it because they can't be bothered to get fit enough to ride these big, powerful horses.

I was...so right. Just ask my abdominal muscles. I spend enough time in the gym, and I was TOTALLY not fit enough to ride that horse.

How many people take shortcuts because they can't be bothered to get 'fit' enough to do whatever it is they want to do? Whether the fitness be physical or mental...people pay to be published because it takes to long to learn to write well. People harass teachers to give everyone an A because they don't want their kids to have to be bothered with learning. It's an epidemic.

My goal?

To be fit enough to ride that dang horse. Or at least to get some good scores on the pesky Thoroughbred. (He cantered off with me. Three times.)

Friday, May 18, 2012

Mystic Punk

Unfortunately, the project has been formally put on hold. I'll post if that changes.

Ah well.

I have quite a bit more on my plate in any case, with some news that should be announced soon. Very soon, I hope.

I'll also be at the Origins Gaming Con, May 30 through June 3rd. I'll be helping run the Smithee Awards and maybe get even get in some gaming. Just don't let me get bored...then I tend to run around scaring the mundanes.

Thursday, May 17, 2012


I went the entire winter of 2011-2012 without getting sick...only to get a cold NOW. I mean, come on, seriously! It's mid May. I shouldn't be looking for cough drops in the middle of May.

*grumbles* Still had a reasonably productive day, so it's not that bad, but come on...I blame certain horse crazy kids.

Totally blame the kids.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012


I had an incident this week that highlighted a specific area of professionalism.

Somebody sent me spam through a social media direct message system. Which is a little impolite in and of itself, but which I take as an occupational hazard of using social media. This was not on Facebook, it was on a specialist, professional site.

In the spam, he called me 'Jenny'.

There is one person on this entire planet who is 'allowed' to call me Jenny, and that's only because I can't stop her. My mother.

I have not used that form of my name since I left home...and I don't remember not hating it. Call me Jennifer, call me Jen...my friends call me Jenna. Do not call me Jenny. Ever. Bad things happen. I might just turn green and grow a foot, just like a certain fictional Jennifer.

But the real point here is that what this person did was not professional. Using somebody's first name is common with companies these days. It makes the communication feel personal. However, using a form of their name that they don't use? Completely unprofessional.

And if you do that to an editor, it may not matter how good your story is... So, how do you avoid name foobars?

1. Always use the form of a person's name they use themselves. If somebody has their name on their website as 'Robert', don't call them 'Bob'. But if they sign all their blog posts 'Bob'...then by all means, use 'Bob'.

2. On initial communications, use first name and last name unless you know for sure what the person's correct title is. I have screwed up this one before...addressed Stanley Schmidt of Analog as 'Mr. Schmidt'. Oops! He has a PhD... This also avoids the Mrs/Miss/Ms issue. Leave the title out unless you know the correct one to use. And make sure to spell the name right.

3. Don't assume what somebody's name is. I know one editor who has been called Ms. more times than she wants to think about. Always check.

4. If an editor's name is not given, then 'Dear Editor' is acceptable, but always look for a name first. In some cases, periodicals don't reveal who the editor actually is (most common with literary periodicals where a lot of the editing is being done by graduate students).

If you're asking the question of 'when can I switch to an editor's first name only', I personally follow a simple rule. If they address me by first name only and we have a relationship (I've sold something to them in the past, discussed a project with them, etc) then I use first name only. It's simple enough and allows for the different comfort levels with intimacy and informality. One of the interesting things I've noticed is that some genres are more formal than others. Mainstream and literary editors tend to be the most formal, whilst horror? I know more than one horror editor who likes his writers to call him by...his internet handle. Horror people just tend to be very laid back, for some reason. Perhaps it's contrast to the subject matter.

In any case, be careful with names. People can get upset out of all proportion when somebody gets their name wrong...

"Hello, Jenny"


Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Bio nanotechnology

Biology already does most of the things we wish we could do with nanotechnology.

But how about using virii to generate electricity? It can be done.

It's possible that the domestication of the virus will be one of the greatest achievements of this century, both for medical and other purposes. Of course, it's also possible that it will be one of the most dangerous things we have ever done.

Kind of similar to splitting the atom.

Is there any technological advance that has not been both a ploughshare and a sword?

Monday, May 14, 2012

Review: Shadow of a Dead Star by Michael Shean

For once I'm not reviewing a big name. And here's a disclaimer - Shean is a coworker of my husband's. So, now you know that even people I know get honest reviews.

For a debut novel this is very good. I have read better, but I have also read far, far worse. It is also refreshing to discover classic cyberpunk noir, a neglected genre of late. The book is published by a new small press and the quality of the editing could be better (the cover, however, is really good...I didn't realize until just now that Shean did the cover design himself - good work). I found the book a highly enjoyable read, if perhaps a little cynical - but then, it's noir. I've never really managed noir. I'm a cynic, but apparently in the wrong way to pull it off.

My only issue was with the twist ending. I won't say what happens to avoid spoilers, but I did not find it worked for me. Other people may have a different opinion. It's worth giving this guy a chance if you're feeling like supporting the independents.

It's available in both Print and Kindle versions, but only from Amazon.

Friday, May 11, 2012

Review: Foundation by Mercedes Lackey

On the whole, I like Mercedes Lackey's work. It's good for a light read, when I want something I don't have to think that much about.

Foundation is her return to Valdemar after an extended creative break. Fans of the series will like it, and I definitely think it's better than To Take A Thief. (The break clearly did some good). However, I was personally confused about the timeline.

I thought from the description that it takes place before Vanyel. In fact, it takes place afterwards. It is also very much aimed at fans. If you aren't familiar with Valdemar, go find yourself a copy of Arrows of the Queen - Foundation rather assumes you know more about the theme and genre.

That said, it's more of the same in a good way. If you like Lackey's work, I recommend it. If you don't, then this isn't likely to change your opinion of her. Like most of her Valdemar books it would also be a good read for young adults.

Thursday, May 10, 2012

What's on your plate?

Humans have plenty of interesting traits. One of them is our ability to eat almost anything. (Humans cannot eat actual carrion or high cellulose plant material such as wood and grass).

If we find something we can't eat, we'll go out of our way to find a way to eat it. Take the common English stinging nettle. It's a plant you don't want to argue with...the slightest contact with the edge of the leaves and you'll come out in hives. Cook them, however, and goodbye nasty acid, hello tasty green. (I'm told it makes great pesto).

People will even risk eating fugu, which can kill you if the chef didn't prepare it correctly. Humans will eat anything. Even, in some cultures, each other. It's part of what makes us such a flexible species.

But there's something else about humans and food. If I say 'grits', most of you will think 'American South'. If I say 'Vindaloo', India pops into mind.

Different humans eat different things. There's reasons for this, of course. First of all, in the past, we could only eat what was available in our immediate region. On top of that, other environmental factors can affect what people eat. The Japanese, for example, eat raw fish. Why? Because on their harsh islands, wood was too valuable to burn. All Japanese cooking is designed to use as little fuel as possible. And while the rest of us can enjoy sashimi, only the Japanese get full nutrition from it, thanks to special gut bacteria unique to them.

We also make a big deal out of eating. We celebrate with feasts, we court...and later strengthen our pair bonds...by sharing food. We remind ourselves of friendships with cookouts and pot lucks. But we do all of these things differently.

Thinking about this made me realize something. How we prepare food and how we eat it is not just an aspect of culture - it's an entire separate language. Food defines who we are and it says something about who we are. You can learn more about a culture by their food than by any other means short of living there.

So, next time you travel, don't go looking for a McDonald's. Throw caution to the wind and eat with the locals. You'll have more fun and you might just learn something.

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

No Big Deal

This Sunday came a milestone: I jumped Bo.

Bo is my trainer's Thoroughbred who had a rather unpleasant past - in fact he was found in a muddy corral, a bag of bones, filthy and completely untrained. I've been helping work with him some and had been riding him over ground poles. Now, I hadn't jumped a horse over any kind of fence other than trail obstacles...this millennium. No kidding. Oh yes, and thanks to the abusive behavior of my trainer as a child, I'm terrified of jumping in an arena.

Now, to be fair, the jump was very small...especially for Bo's lanky 16h+ frame.

How did I do it? Just the same as the ground poles. No difference. No big deal. I was able to make it no big deal and swallow my own fears. Let's just say the only problem with Bo was that he was enjoying it a little bit *too* much.

It's the same with any other milestone. Make it no big deal. Whether it's submitting to a pro market for the first time, sending your first novel out to an agent or applying for a job you aren't sure you're qualified for - you do it just the same as you have the smaller things. Then everyone, including you, can be calm about it and before you know it, you will be flying high.

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

A confession.

My mother never read Where The Wild Things Are to me as a child. Neither did my father. In fact, I've never read it. I don't know the plot. I have no clue what it's about.

Truth is, it was just never that big in England. I listen bemused as my friends talk about reading it to *their* kids.

Maybe one day I should read it. Just so I actually understand what they're going on about. (No, I didn't even consider the movie, it looked awful to me).

So I'm sort of on the edges of the amazing impact this book has had on generations of American children. Even more embarrassing, I could not have told you who wrote it.

Maurice Sendak, that's who. A minor deity in the field of children's books that I never had the chance to appreciate, but who's influence I have definitely seen on others. The key thing was that he wasn't afraid to be scary. And kids like to be scared. For that matter, adults like to be scared.

Sendak died today of complications from a recent stroke. He was 83 years old. His most recent book was published only last year, and perhaps there might yet be a gem hiding in his desk...

Monday, May 7, 2012

Review: The Cold Commands by Richard K. Morgan

I'm going to be honest. I have several problems with this book. True, it has an interesting storyline and some fascinating characters. The world building is, on the whole, well done. It's well written.

Here's the thing, though. First of all, it really seems as if Morgan is trying to be George R. R. Martin, or at least to ride on his coat tails. I love Martin, but Morgan? You are not him. Don't try. Be yourself.

Second thing? This is being touted as an amazing epic fantasy debut, but the more I read, the more convinced I become that it's all a massive bait and switch...and it's really some kind of weird post transcendental/post apocalyptic science fiction. Either we're being conned by marketing (possible) or Morgan just can't quite give up science fiction. Either way, I like genre bending. I like it a lot. What I don't like is something being sold me as one thing and turning out to be another.

Also, a little bit less swearing would be nice. I realize that's how he intends his characters to talk, but swear words and derogatory terms lose impact when over-used.

I like Morgan. He's a decent writer. But this work falls short of being great.

(Also, as a note, both this book and the prequel, The Steel Remains, contain graphic violence and some fairly explicit sex, including M/M and F/F. It doesn't bother me, but it might bother some readers. And, of course, appeal to others).

Friday, May 4, 2012

Technology and freedom

I was thinking earlier that technology increases freedom. It allows us to travel further, communicate better, have things we would never have had before. It increases our lifespan.

Here's the thing, though, does technology also reduce our freedom? One could make a case for the desire to have things reducing freedom (more hours spent working, etc).

Any thoughts on the matter?

Thursday, May 3, 2012

Review: Omnitopia Dawn by Diane Duane

It's been a while since I've read anything by Duane, although I've always thought her to be a good author (and, based off of limited contact, a nice person, too).

Her latest offering is the first of a new trilogy, and it's...dangerously close to being cyberpunk. Except that the corporations aren't all evil and the rebels aren't at all good. Her style has not changed that much - it's very transparent and relatively simple. The plot? It might be a little predictable to anyone who knows the genre, but it's well written.

I wouldn't recommend this book to anyone who likes their books deep, with meaningful themes and layers of literary meaning. But it's fun, entertaining and a good, light summer read, especially for geeks and gamers.

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Review: Terminal World by Alastair Reynolds

I don't normally go for the brand of apocalyptic, the world is on the verge of ending fiction popularized by Gene Wolfe. At first glance Terminal World (despite being marketed as space opera) is yet another example.

Somehow, the world has become split into zones, in which only certain levels of technology work. On top of that, its getting colder and at some point in the past, the moon was broken into two pieces. Even the last city of man, Spearpoint, is divided into zones.

Quillon is a pathologist who specializes in the weird. When an angel...a human genetically engineered and technologically enhanced to be capable of flight...is found dead on one of the ledges of Spearpoint, it's only natural for the 'clean up crew' to take the corpse to Quillon. Except that the angel is not, quite, dead.

Quillon has the flaw of the average Reynolds protagonist - he's not particularly likeable, although he isn't as much of a jerk as some. His goals combine personal survival with solving the mystery of the world and trying to save as many people as possible.

I really liked this book, and not just because it has airships (like bacon, airships make most things better). Although it takes a little bit of belief suspension to grasp the 'zones' and their effect, the plot moves at a good pace, the characters are detailed and I can even forgive him the obvious twist (which I won't reveal as its a spoiler). I'm rather hoping there will be a sequel in the offing.


Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Restrictions and creativity

As anyone who knows me knows, I have a great fondness for comic books. Especially 'traditional' superhero books. So sue me...I like over the top guys and gals in ridiculous costumes beating up on equally ridiculous criminals.

When you use the word 'comic book', that is what most people envisage. When comic books first came about, though, this was completely not the case. The popular comic strips and books of the twenties and thirties covered the full gamut of genres - science fiction, western, horror and even erotica. In fact, the most popular early comic books were mysteries. Then, in 1938, Jerome Siegal and Joseph Shuster created the most iconic comic book character of all time - Superman. Strongly influenced by John Carter of Mars, Superman was the first comic book character to have powers considerably beyond those of mortal men (although he was very weak compared to his modern counterpart). Batman followed a year later. Slowly, the superhero genre began to push out the mystery genre...but it was but one trend amongst many. Horror comic books were extremely popular.

Then in 1954 something happened. Comic books, with their brightly colored covers and relatively little text, tended to attract kids. The most popular books were horror. A backlash against comics began, headlined by Dr. Fredric Wertham's 'The Seduction of the Innocent'. In answer, the industry created the Comics Code Authority.

The CCA banned horror comics pretty much completely and gutted the detective and crime comics which, at the time, were more akin to CSI or Homicide: Life on the Streets than anything seen in later books (for example, the CCA banned the explicit descriptions of criminal methods, making it impossible to do a police procedural). Publishers looked to superheroes to fill the gap.

With the over the top, larger than life heroes and villains, it was a lot easier to fill the requirements. The CCA did not allow sympathy for the criminal, so the villains were made even more villainous. Who can feel sorry for The Joker? Good was always to win and the criminal to be punished. However, if good always wins, then you run out of villains. On top of that, the CCA also prohibited excessive violence. The answer? To make it part of the superhero code of honor never to kill the villain - a classic trope of mainstream superheroics that, while it has faded lately, is still definitely present. Interestingly, the CCA also banned, in its initial form, exaggerating the physical qualities of women. Over the years, the CCA was changed. For example, the ban on mentioning adult homosexuality was removed in 1989.

In 2011 DC stopped submitting titles to the CCA for approval, leaving it essentially defunct, although some small publishers still follow the rules of some version of it or other.

However, it has a lasting legacy. Although, these days, the ban on heroes killing villains has become ragged around the edges - comic books are more willing to explore accidental deaths in combat and their impact on the heroes. Alan Moore's Watchmen ditched the 'heroic code' altogether (it was published in 1986). Six years later, Image comics (which never, to my knowledge, sought CCA approval) was formed by a number of sub imprints, including WildStorm. WildStorm comics were emphatically supers, but oriented towards adults, and included characters quite willing to kill, with morality often closer to Marvel's Wolverine than mainstream superheroes, as well as several openly gay characters. (WildStorm was shut down in December 2010 and some of its characters rolled into the 2011 DC relaunch).

Without the CCA, I think the comics industry would have been quite different. And the modern concept of the true hero - fighting only when he must, killing only as a painful last resort, and always holding to his personal morality - might well not exist. The 1939 Batman shot criminals dead...

We now live in a society in which more and more people do see violence and killing as a last resort. It might be that something good has come out of the evil of censorship in this case.